Open Content Means Open Data

Open Content Means Open Data

Photo credit: flickr user Tayloright Creative Commons License

When we talk about the importance of open content, there are a few clear advantages that are consistently mentioned including access, cost, and the ability to remix. Often neglected from the discussion is the data created and collected by learners when using online resources. Much in the same way Facebook, Google and Amazon have created business models by providing online resources and then monetizing the data, we should be aware the same model exists in education as well.

This isn’t to say that all open content creators are ignorant of the importance of their data. EdX has made the improvement of online education a central part of their mission. However, we should all take this a step further. First we should very publicly guarantee the privacy of all data created by learners using our projects. Anonymized data will only be given to researchers in accordance with their institution’s research review process and will not be sold under any circumstance. Second, we should be open about the data we are collecting and encourage researchers in the field to make use of our datasets.

For The Mixxer, a social networking site for language learners seeking to language exchanges via Skype, this means providing a clear (and extremely short) privacy policy. I also include an invitation to researchers on the About page and will present the type of data available at IMFLIT, a conference on Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), tandem learning, intercultural communication, and foreign language learning.

Compared to many other open education resources, The Mixxer is rather small with between 30 and 40,000 active users per month. However, as a social networking site, I do collect significant data on each user to help them find potential language partners, including their native language(s), language(s) they are studying, and optionally their age and country of residence. Connected to this data is site activity including frequency of visits to the site, number of friend requests, and any writing each user has submitted along with corrections they have received or provided. This data can also be used to send targeted surveys to ask users about their language learning. To get a better idea of the type of data that can be collected, see my paper on FLTMag.

I should also mention the kind of data that I cannot or will not provide. For most users, the exchanges themselves happen separately from site via Skype. While they can message each other on the site, I am not willing to provide the texts of these messages for privacy reasons, and they would not provide examples of negotiation of meaning seen in many research studies. I also do not have any reliable information on the level of proficiency of users in their target language. Potential surveys could ask about level of proficiency, but researchers would either need to rely on self-assessment of users or provide a means of assessment.

Anyone interested in potentially using datasets from the Mixxer website or with questions about using the site as part of the course, please feel free to contact me. I can be reached on Twitter @bryantt.

To learn more about the role of student data in education technology:

Todd Bryant is the liaison to the foreign language departments for the Academic Technology group at Dickinson College and an adjunct instructor of German. Todd created The Mixxer to help connect language students with native speakers. His interests include the immersive effect of games in service of foreign language learning, such as the use of World of Warcraft to teach German.

Reflections on AAAL 2014

Reflections on AAAL 2014

With a record-setting 1,600 attendees from 60+ countries, this year’s AAAL Conference was the biggest and most diverse in its history. COERLL was pleased to host a colloquium during the conference, which was organized by Joshua Thoms (Utah State University) titled “Open Educational Resources (OER) and Foreign Language (FL) Education: Investigating the Effects of OER on FL Learning and Teaching.” Despite the 8am time slot on the last day, the colloquium was well attended by a mix of academics, government officials and administrators. The purpose of the colloquium was to discuss questions about the impact of OER on foreign language education in the US: How should we frame the research questions? How can we compare different OER? How can we share findings in a way that benefits the open education movement?

In my presentation, I framed the OER movement in terms of its shared goals and values. Unfortunately, foreign language teachers conflate OER with all online resources. So, in my talk, I made it clear that OER are defined by their open license that explicitly gives rights to end users, the so-called Four Rs: the right to reuse, the right to redistribute, the right to revise and the right to remix. These rights enable teachers to adapt pedagogical materials to their own classrooms and teaching practices. But do they take advantage of these affordances? That is an important question that calls for further study.

The other presentations, all empirical studies, sketched out the beginnings of an exciting OER research agenda. Fernando Rubio (University of Utah) discussed his experiences teaching a Spanish pronunciation MOOC with 500 students. Rubio measured levels of interaction (learner-to-learner, learner-to-teacher, learner-to-pedagogical content) in three different environments: hybrid, online and MOOC. Rubio found that the inclusion of OER promoted strong levels of learner-content interaction. High levels of all three forms of interaction were not likely and, according to Rubio, not necessarily desirable. Rubio showed that high levels of one type of interaction resulted in efficient learning experiences even when the other two types were present at low levels.

Amy Rossomondo (University of Kansas) discussed the results of her study that sought to determine the learning outcomes of intermediate Spanish students who used Acceso, a Spanish language OER developed by Rossomondo and her colleagues. Based on oral exam data, Rossomondo found evidence for statistically significant gains in grammar and vocabulary. However, she noted that measuring progress in interactional strategies and dispositional learning was problematic based on the rubric she and her colleagues were using. She called for the development of more granular rubrics for better assessment of those learning outcomes.

The last presentation by Joshua Thoms and Becky Thoms (Utah State University) summarized the findings of their recent national survey of 155 foreign language program directors (LPDs). According to their survey, 33% of the directors were familiar with the concept of OER, an encouraging figure. However, a smaller percentage of the directors were aware of open licenses or the services offered by their campus libraries to help find OER and vet their quality. As possible solutions, the Thoms’ suggested that LPDs become more familiar with the work of reference librarians who are key allies in the open education movement.

The colloquium ended with remarks by Steven Thorne (Portland State University) who emphasized the complex relationships between modular OER and users who construct their own learning networks in open online environments. Thanks to everyone who took part in this historic colloquium on the empirical study of the impact of OER on foreign language learning. Let’s hope that it inspires further research in this area.

Carl BlythCarl Blyth is Director of COERLL and Associate Professor of French, UT Austin.  His research includes CMC,  cross-cultural and intercultural pragmatics, interactional sociolinguistics, and pedagogical grammar.  He is project director of eComma, an open-source annotation application to facilitate more “social” forms of reading.

Investigating the Effects of OER on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching at AAAL

Investigating the Effects of OER on Foreign Language Learning and Teaching at AAAL

This weekend, the 2014 American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) Conference begins in beautiful Portland, OR. Center Director Carl Blyth will co-host a panel with Joshua Thoms of Utah State University, which will focus on Open Educational Resources in the Foreign Language context. Steven Thorne of Portland State University, Fernando Rubio of the University of Utah, and Amy Rossomondo from the University of Kansas will join in on the panel presentations and offer up perspectives about the affordances of openness, the benefits and challenges of using OER in foreign language programs, and even demonstrate comparisons of student interactions in technology enhanced language learning MOOCs.

The “unofficial motto” of the 2014 AAAL Conference is “change.” And, while much of that motto reflects a shifting of the conference format, it seems to be a particularly relevant theme to frame not only the larger exploration of the role of OER in foreign language education, but also the conversation about investigating the effect of OER in foreign language teaching and learning. OER is often seen as something of a disruptive technology in the context of education; the perception of its value and potential impact varies widely among faculty, administrators, and students. While understanding these impressions certainly plays an important part in assessing the value of OER and learning more about its function in various educational contexts, there is an equally important role for an evidence-based approach to both shore up and dismantle particular claims.  

COERLL-Newsletter-Spring-2014_thumbnail-medium copy

Here at COERLL, we just wrapped up the spring issue of our bi-annual newsletter entitled “Research for an Open World.” In it, we focus on the idea that organizations like COERLL have a real opportunity to advance a research agenda by taking advantage of various data capture and analytics tools available to us – like Google Analytics and Facebook Insights. While the software largely provide demographic data and lend insight on general characteristics of the users of particular online resources we make available, we know that unpacking and analyzing these data is a small, but significant first step in developing a more complete picture of how teachers and learners utilize our resources and the impact they may have. 

In the coming weeks, we look forward to talking more about the AAAL discussion – especially taking a closer look at some of the panel participant’s empirical research projects that investigate the effects of OER on foreign language learning and teaching. In the meantime, we invite you to take a look at the Spring 2014 newsletter and also check out a one-page handout we made – Open Educational Resources: The Basics – for last week’s Open Education Week  Celebration.