One of my favorite example’s of using Web 2.0 for language instruction has been the use by our Japanese department of the social networking site Mixi along with our Skype exchanges on the Mixxer to intergrate interaction with native speakers throughout their first three years of Japanese. For a while, I had hoped to imitate this interaction in other languages by combining their language exchanges via Skype with written exchanges on other country specific social networks as well. Unfortunately, it seems Facebook is well on its way to ruling the western hemisphere at least. China, Japan, and Russia may keep their local networks for a while, but it’s going to hard to stop Facebook’s momentum.
I’ve been looking at courses that are open to the general public for free as part of an upcoming presentation on open content. The idea is quite amazing. One “facilitator” is needed to organize the students and set up discussions. The rest of the course depends largely on the students themselves, though it usually consists of online group discussions, readings (recommended and self-chosen), and a final project that is peer reviewed. Example courses include the FacebUOC project and the Connectivism course from Downes and Siemens.
The Mixxer up until this point has focused on organizing single and isolated exchanges between one of our students and a native speaker. It seems the student would benefit much more if we could provide a system that encouraged this relationship to be maintained for the duration of the course, if not longer. Students often do friend their partner via Facebook etc., though no structure is given to encourage future meetings.
Beyond friending each other on the Mixxer and Facebook, I’m a at a bit of a loss. The current exchanges work, largely due to their incredible flexibility and reliability. By directing a student to work with an individual, both are mostly lost. Unlike the connectivism course, the language exchanges don’t scale very well. I could increase the flexibility and reliability by adding students to groups. The larger the group, the more flexible and reliable. However, the size is inversely proportional to the amount of language our students would use.
The key would seem to be to offer both sides an incentive and easy format to follow to continue the relationship, without it becoming a requirement for either. I’m very open to ideas if anyone has any suggestions.
As the semester gets under way, we’ve already had quite a few language exchanges via Skype. Some of the languages have partner classes with whom the students communicate throughout the semester. Others schedule events in the Mixxer and thereby invite native speakers of our students’ target language for an exchange via Skype during class time. There are also usually a handful of classes each semester that assign students to find a language partner on their own in the Mixxer and conduct an interview. Usually this interview is then combined with other research to create some sort of project or presentation.
Of course, language exchanges don’t necessarily have to be limited to Skype. Another possibility is for the students to keep a journal using either a blog or twitter and connect with native speakers in written form. There are sites that encourage these kinds of exchanges as well. Lang-8 is a popular site that lets native speaker suggest corrections in the comment section. The Mixxer gives each user their own wiki where learners can write and then request corrections from native speakers. Another possibility is to have the students in the class form their own community and correct each other. We could host such a community on the Dickinson Blog or students could form their own using Ning, Twitter, or Blogger.