The rise in the number of MOOCs in the past year has been nothing less than astounding. Perhaps even more surprising is the uniformity of the structure used by 99% of these offerings: videos of lectures posted within a very traditional looking LMS along with a discussion board and multiple choice quizzes. It seems strange that an innovation deemed to be so disruptive would follow such a traditional pedagogical model.
Having a course that is entirely open and online certainly presents some unique challenges. The large numbers of students in these courses is no doubt the reason why their creators followed traditional lecture models. However, along with these challenges come opportunities as well. Their scale allows them to participate in large real world projects, alternate reality games, and simulations. This opportunity to engage the real world is especially valuable for the foreign languages.
For as long as people have been learning foreign languages, access to native speakers and authentic materials have been valued. As a result, educators have taken advantage of each new development of the internet. At first teachers used the web as a source of authentic reading materials and later multimedia. As the web became a communicative platform, teachers connected their students with native speakers as part of a language exchange, first via text and then via voice and video. A MOOC in the foreign languages should not follow a model whereby increased enrollment is inversely proportional to the opportunities for feedback and communication available to the student. Instead, it should embrace the open aspect of the course to foster partnerships among language learners, allowing each student to be a tutor of their native language.
With the Mixxer I have already created such a community. Over 100,000 users already use the site to find language partners as part of a mutual exchange for conversational practice. Some of them, including our own students, are enrolled in a traditional course. Most are independent and non-traditional learners looking for an opportunity to communicate that otherwise would be unavailable. For both of these groups, it would be very helpful if I could provide lessons that progressed from beginning to intermediate level grammar and vocabulary and integrated the language exchanges. In many cases, the grammar and vocabulary portion already exists on open content sites produced by universities or governments. I’ve begun creating these lessons using content from the BBC and Voice of America for English and the Cervantes Institute for Spanish. I’ll use these lessons to launch a combination Spanish/English MOOC in the summer. However, to extend these lessons and MOOCs to other language combinations that I do not speak, I will need additional support.
Thank you for considering my proposal. I’ve created a very short video which I will use to help publicize the combination of MOOCs and language exchanges below. It provides a view of the Mixxer website to give a better idea of how the MOOCs can be created within the language exchange community and describes the role ACTFL and other foreign language standardized assessments can play in the future of open language learning.
MOOCs for languages can connect language learners and native speakers