These are some supplementary note on a presentation for later this week. The topic is Open Language Learning, and it is based on several papers I have written over the course of my MA and on a blog post from 2011. The slides and some useful references are posted at the bottom.
The basic idea is an open language learning system that is simple, minimal cost to learners and can be adapted for support to existing courses. Here, the idea of Open pertains strongly to access in that language students who live in countries where the target language is not spoken can have access to effective ways of improving their second language skills. One of the purposes of the program is to help students learn autonomous learning strategies, that not uniformly cultivated in cultures across the globe. In my own context of Japan, it is common to find students that are not comfortable with being challenged to learn autonomously.
In my presentation I won’t spend very much time in describing how the system works, so I want to spend most of my post here to expand on this. From the learners perspective, they would decide to sign up or join the course and initially take three 1 week, high instruction based units. The first unit explains the course to learners, many of whom may have never used distance learning methods before, and walks them through (in target language) setting up various educational media (blogs, twitters, facebooks, etc) that they will use throughout the course. The idea isn’t for everyone to sign up for everything, but to give learners some information so that they can make an informed choice on which media might suit their own interaction style.
The second and third intro units guide students through things like searching in target language (from now on, English), CMC interaction basics, and some basics and encouragement for taking control of their own initiative. Other topics, such as assessment (or lack of), web etiquette, privacy, and continuity (or lack of) maybe tackled, as well. These initial units also get students motivated and accomplished in simple tasks in an environment that may be new to many of them. For those where learning online is old news, the units can be completed easily or even skipped.
Next, and continually after this, learners will choose a 2 week “topic” to participate in. The topicss themselves can be designed by anyone. Ideally, facilitators or language teachers from anywhere will take the time to set up the small suggested requirements for the topic (which are listed on the slide). Over time, learners should set up their own topics based on their own interests and add them to the available list for other learners to participate in. Examples of topics, or strings of topics, could be various cities around the world (each city lasting for a different 2 week period), types of recipes or restaurants, current world events, anything. People study language as a means to connect to information just as much as they study it for it’s own sake.
The purpose of the suggested requirements is to provide some sound and researched instructional techniques into the program as a whole, and to give people a place to start from. Structure, here, is a starting point, and where it goes from the start depends on what the learners do and what the facilitators suggest. Each person who creates a topic them becomes facilitator of that topic. Their role, while ultimately is up to them, is to support the learners in language and autonomous learning: if they are in a position to do so they should provide English language feedback directly and indirectly, and if they are in a position to give autonomous learning advice or help, they should do so. As well, facilitators should actively connect learners to each other, to past participants in a topic, to others in different topics, to other facilitators and to content. Interaction is not restricted by topic and time; people in any topic, now or past, or even just out there, can benefit from language interaction and practice.
So, in this sense, it doesn’t really sound like much. It’s an agreement between people (learners and facilitators…often the line between the two blurred) to search out language use, interact using target language, and to build content through this interaction. It gives learners a starting structure, a non-essential structure that doesn’t limit interaction between topics, but promotes it. The structure can be dialed down or up, and altered to suit their own style. It also gives educators and institutions a way to support second language students comprehensively, before problems arise, using the power of peers and distributed content. The main goals of the program are increased language feedback and increased learner autonomy, and this can be adapted to almost any type of language learning situation.
Rethinking Learner Support in Distance Education (chapters by Phillips, Mizoue, Mills, Kenworthy, Aylward)