One of the great early benefits for language learning was the availability of authentic content. At first students could find newspapers from abroad, then radio, then other kinds of multimedia, and finally even connect and interact with people via blogs, social networks, and Skype. The challenge is no longer availability, but rather finding and organizing the content so that’s accessible and of interest to the students.
Pageflakes is an rss reader that allows you do this very elegantly. For those unfamiliar with rss readers, it’s bascially a way to pull in content from various sources to create a person portal page. I set up a series of these pages (flakes) for the intermediate German classes. Each page is for a specific city and this works well since the textbook is also organized by focusing on one of these cities for each chapter. What’s nice about the portal is that this information unlike the text is dynamic. Students living in these places blog about their day in the location, video clips from the city are shown as are newspaper articles and so on. You can check it out here:
Of course, if students wish to add content, that can also be added to the portal. I know professors have structured their courses at Dickinson before as a virtual or imaginary semester abroad with students doing everything from finding apartments to taking classes. This would provide students with real time content to create these stories and give them life.