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.

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