A Treasure Trove of Videos for Language Teaching

A Treasure Trove of Videos for Language Teaching

Photo credit: YouTube user Pefu & Lukyson Creative Commons License

From the editor: The following is a portion of a transcript from an interview with Dr. Christian Hilchey, which was originally published in COERLL’s newsletter. Dr. Hilchey explains how to search for and get inspired by openly licensed authentic videos.

We use films. We use songs. But oftentimes, we can’t share those because they are copyrighted. I started finding these excellent videos by conducting searches for open content on YouTube. I would go to YouTube and search for content under an open Creative Commons license. Unfortunately, some key words weren’t working for me at all.

Finally, the best key word that I stumbled upon was “vlogs” (video blogs). And then I combined the key word “vlog” with another word like “Christmas.” So, “vlog Christmas” or “vlog zoo” or “vlog vacation.” And I found that there were a lot of people posting vlogs and that they weren’t a one-off kind of thing. Typically, the kind of person who was posting a vlog was… writing several dozen about their personal experiences. So, what I found helpful was to go to specific users themselves to find the richest content. Once I found a good vlog series, I would search through it like an archive. It really was as simple as that. But the key was to find the right vlog. At that point, it was looking for patterns in the archive. What kinds of videos were they posting? How did they title their videos? So it was really about finding that rabbit hole that previously was unknown to me. But once I found it, I was amazed by all the good content and was able to mine it quite easily. It changed things for me overnight. I went from having no open video content to having a surplus of really excellent materials to choose from.

A lot of times, as educators, we are looking for really specific content. I think to find the “good stuff,” educators need to be more flexible. Instead of looking for something specific, it is better to find high quality content and then think about how to incorporate it into your lesson or materials. Actually, I think that my experience looking for open content reflects my experiences fifteen years ago that led me to learn Czech so successfully. These language-learning experiences with native speakers weren’t necessarily planned. They were experiences talking about things that I didn’t expect them to say or talk about. So what I have found is that being more open to what could be useful to the learner, what could be said, has allowed me as an educator to think outside the box and to say, “OK, I wasn’t planning on talking about this content in this particular way, but there is a lot here that I can use for the classroom.”

Take an early chapter in a first year program. You are probably teaching [students] to name items. So, the focus is on nouns. If you start to look around, you will notice that people are naming things in real life. So, for example, I found a lot of videos where people give tours of their homes. And during the tour, they name items: “This is my television. And this is a chair I bought at the flea market.” Utterly mundane but really useful for language learning. Another example of a really great video I stumbled upon was a trip to the zoo. A Czech family visits the zoo and they point out and name all the different animals. The content was interesting and fun and it was perfect for learning animal names. Again, this was not something I was planning. But when I found it, I knew that it could be the basis of a lesson. I hadn’t thought about taking my students on a trip to the zoo, but why not? There are some very large zoos in the Czech Republic! It is not normative or typical to discuss Czech zoos. But they certainly exist.

You do have to watch and to listen to these videos. Sometimes, I will immediately dismiss a clip because the audio is bad or the video is sub par. Although… the fact that someone isn’t looking perfectly into the camera and isn’t wearing a mike often makes the video more real. I am trying to balance the issues that come with lower production values with the advantages of extemporaneous content. I remember the textbooks I used when learning Czech and we would mock the videos: “Don’t these actors sound silly!” Whereas, in these videos, the people don’t sound silly, they just sound real.

To learn more about vlogs:

Christian Hilchey is a lecturer in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of “Reality Czech”, a full curriculum of open language materials for introductory Czech.

Searching for open authentic resources online

Searching for open authentic resources online

Image credit: COERLL Creative Commons License

Authentic resources are essential for language teaching and when they are open – by carrying a Creative Commons or other open license, as opposed to a copyright – they present even more opportunities. On a practical level, if anything you do with copyrighted material ever leaves the walls of your classroom, you could potentially get in legal trouble. But in addition to that, if you ever share the lessons you create using authentic resources with colleagues, your use of openly licensed materials will allow them to make their own modifications and copies of your work.

We recently surveyed some language teachers and faculty about their techniques for searching for authentic resources, and most of their great ideas revolved around copyrighted materials. This makes perfect sense: copyright is pervasive, and materials with a copyright are easier to find and often more polished. But we hope that little by little, authors and creators will learn to change how they use outside sources and publish their own work, with licenses that give credit to the author and access to all.

Sometimes it is harder to find content with open licenses when searching with very specific search terms or specific topics in mind. Even copyrighted materials can be hard to find when you have a very specific resource in mind. As Rachel Preston, a French teacher in Austin pointed out,

Being flexible on search terms and going into my searches with an open mind often help me find resources that I would not have conceived of that are relevant and interesting.

If you let go of some of your requirements, a video or a text that seems to have no topical relation to what you’re doing in class can still be useful and interesting, with the right scaffolding. Christian Hilchey has some interesting tips on this in his interview in our newsletter. (In case you do want to narrow down your options quickly, Rose Potter suggests, “Always include the language, city or country in your search. For example, if you are looking for a sample of jai alai include, ‘jai alai basque Spain’ or you may end up with images from… around the world.”)

Another important aspect to finding open authentic resources is other people. It probably seems obvious that other teachers can help via social media, word of mouth, professional organizations, or blogs. But librarians may also be able to help; even without language knowledge they should understand licensing and online resources. You can also enlist students to search for resources. It teaches them digital citizenship, gives you an idea of what they’re interested in, and generates a whole stash of materials in a short period of time.

And of course if the internet doesn’t give you what you’re looking for, the outside world might have more realia than expected. Marcelo Fuentes, a grad student at the University of Minnesota, suggests,

I would encourage educators to use more materials obtained by themselves. You don’t need to travel: you can find materials in other languages in practically any city. Those pictures of graffiti, menus, brochures, etc., have a story, a connection to you, and because of that they will be much more interesting for your students than most things you can find online.

Or, you can follow German teacher Anke Sanders’ advice and get creative to make your own pictures, audio, or video. If you do make your own creations, remember that putting a license on them will allow others to benefit!

If you do need to use copyrighted materials (which includes anything with a ©, AND anything not labeled with a license), make sure you know the rules of fair use, and if you are having trouble staying within those boundaries, it is legal for you to link to copyrighted resources from your lessons, as long as the resource itself isn’t included in your creation. It can even be a good idea to try contacting the copyright owner for permission to use their content.

Whether it is an article about hot air balloons in Québec, a website about being green in Costa Rica, a video about the whistling language of the Canary islands, a video of middle school students talking about their vacation plans in French, or a video about traditional medicine in Spanish, there is a wealth of knowledge out there! Read more about ideas for searching in our newsletter article and please add any ideas for openly licensed authentic resources in the comments below.

Some authentic resource recommendations from the language teaching community

Creative Commons licensed authentic resources

  • CC Search allows you to search multiple websites for open content, depending on whether you are looking for audio, video, images, or text
  • Wikis, such as Wikicommons
  • Public domain image repositories such as http://www.publicdomainpictures.net and Pexels
  • You can search specifically for open content on Google and YouTube. Learn more in our newsletter article.
  • COERLL materials are all Creative Commons licensed and available for 15 languages

Copyrighted authentic resources

  • Corpora, such as the collection from BYU
  • Using the search term “infografía” plus a Spanish word or phrase (this idea comes from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell – see her blog for more authentic resources tips)
  • Notes in Spanish offers authentic conversations between a Spanish woman and her English husband… Some of the podcasts are a bit outdated, but many contain cultural themes/topics that are still relevant today. Students like listening to the conversations as it represents natural conversation between a native Spanish speaker and a non-native speaker. I like them because they expose my students to the Castilian accent while also serving as a springboard for culturally (and linguistically/grammatically) oriented conversations to emerge in my class.” – Joshua Thoms (Utah State University)
  • Several teachers recommended tourism sites, such as http://www.rendez-vous.tv/, recommended by Nancy Guilloteau (University of Texas at Austin)
Availability of Foreign Language materials in OER repositories

Availability of Foreign Language materials in OER repositories

Photo credit: flickr user gotcredit.com Creative Commons License

Here at COERLL, we encourage teachers to use Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP) in their classes. One way to begin using OER and OEP is to search for and use pedagogical materials (lessons, activities, and courses) that other teachers have posted online in OER repositories. To help navigate through the many options, we’ve gone through all of the OER repositories we know of to see what the benefits are of each one, and how much language content is available. This is a summary of what we found, we hope after you read this you will want to either search on some of these sites, or upload your own materials for sharing! And please let us know in the comments if you know of other repositories not included here!

Criteria for evaluating repositories

This criteria was loosely based on Atenas and Havemann’s key OER repository themes of searching, sharing, reusing, and collaborating, set out in their 2013 article ‘Quality Assurance in the Open: An Evaluation of OER Repositories’, which can be found online here.1

  • availability of language content – does the repository have at least some content for language learning, and is it easy to find?
  • tools for vetting – does the platform provide for peer reviews or some other vetting/editorial process to assure teachers access to quality content?
  • ease of remixing – does the platform encourage teachers to edit materials and personalize them for their students?
  • licensing information – are licenses clearly marked? do licenses allow for fair attribution, sharing, and remixing of content? are Creative Commons licenses encouraged?
  • metadata quality – does metadata facilitate searches using different criteria (e.g. languages, proficiency level, etc.)?
  • any other qualities that create an engaging and creative space for sharing materials and ideas,such as tools to help teachers communicate and interact with each other

Repositories with language materials


A well respected and mature (started in 1997) repository for lessons and activities. There are lots of options for collaboration and communication, so that it’s not just a repository but a community around sharing resources.

  • Lots of language content
  • Peer reviews are available for many of the entries and Merlot’s editorial board selects their favorites
  • Teachers can discuss the materials with each other in a comments section.
  • Easy to create a learning exercise around the materials.
  • Licensing information is clearly marked (not all content is Creative Commons licensed)
  • The longevity of the platform has allowed the best materials to emerge over time – here’s a list of some award winning ones

Open Textbook Library

The best part about this textbook repository is the elaborate rating system and emphasis on peer reviews and the vetting process.

  • There is a detailed list of criteria to guide users in reviewing materials.
  • Licensing information is clearly marked.
  • Some COERLL textbooks have just been added to the language page!

OER Commons

OER Commons is a large repository for any kind of materials (lessons, activities, textbooks, etc.). It has tools in place for thorough evaluation, remixing, creation, and licensing.

  • About 700 language materials and language support for resources and metadata
  • Users can evaluate materials based on Common Core standards and an extensive rubric. There is also a general rating available (out of 5 stars).
  • The system guides users in choosing a Creative Commons license upon upload
  • The lesson builder allows teachers to create new materials or reuse existing.

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

Full courses available from Carnegie Mellon, for teachers looking for structured and complete courses.

  • Chinese, Spanish, French, Arabic
  • Plentiful guides and resources for teachers.
  • Licensed with a CC-BY-NC-ND license.
  • Users can add content but can’t remove or revise content from a course.
  • Free for instructors and independent learners, $50 for enrolled students.
  • Compatible with LMS.
  • Statistics about student use help teachers track progress and help Carnegie Mellon research education theories.

Open Course Library

Professionally laid out materials are easy to find and edit in this library of courses from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

  • 3 levels each of Spanish, French, and Sign Language
  • All materials are in google docs which makes them easy to modify.
  • All content is clearly marked as Creative Commons licensed.

Language Resource Centers (LRC) portal

The website for the 16 national Language Resource Centers (of which COERLL is one), where you can search a list of over 800 classroom and professional development materials.

  • Language content only (there are materials for LCTLs too)
  • Lots of criteria to help users narrow searches down
  • Materials have been vetted by language specialists


Curriki does a good job of emphasizing community, and its wide range of review options helps users to sift through a lot of activities and other content.

  • 2765 entries under “World Language” content, but not all are for language teaching
  • Review options are plentiful: Members can give ratings and reviews, Curriki reviews some content based on Technical Completeness, Content Accuracy, and Appropriate Pedagogy, and there are collections curated by Curriki (no curated language collections yet though)
  • There is a separate community for teachers to discuss how to use materials.
  • Choosing a license is a prerequisite for uploading materials
  • Users can align materials with standards.


TES is a repository where teachers share activities. Some activities cost a small fee but the World Languages section and the remixing tools make this site worth looking through.

  • American Sign Language, Ancient Greek, Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, etc.
  • Teachers can review materials
  • All content is labeled with a license, either Creative Commons or the TES teaching resource license
  • Their related site, Blendspace, encourages remixing and is easily accessible from TES
  • Share My Lesson allows users to build a lesson plan around TES materials

MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) makes course materials from MIT classes available for the public.

  • A good range of languages represented.
  • All instructor created materials share a CC BY NC SA license
  • Course materials includes any combination of syllabus, calendar, list of readings, assignments, online/related resources, study materials, instructor insights, and sometimes even course videos.
  • Though the instructor created materials are free and openly licensed, some of the course materials referenced are not free or open.

Wikibooks and Wikiversity

Wikibooks and Wikiversity are both run by Wikimedia. There are currently a lot of incomplete materials there but with the ease of editing, options to add auxiliary materials, and discussion tools, these platforms could be a rich resource.

  • Many languages (mostly reference grammars) on Wikibooks, some on Wikiversity
  • Discussion tabs encourage community and collaboration
  • There’s an option to add exercises on Wikibooks
  • Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License


LORO is all language content! It contains mostly activities rather than whole textbooks or collections. It’s supported by The Univesity of Southhampton and the Open University.

  • Exclusively for languages
  • Users can comment on or “like” materials
  • All content is CC licensed.

Repositories with fewer language options but with a unique angle on OER

Some other repositories are set up well but have little or no language offerings. I’d like to mention them anyways as examples of all the ways a repository can encourage sharing and collaboration.

  • Portland State University Open Text offers a carefully curated set of textbooks with a growing number of language books
  • BC Campus Open Ed has all the right tools for building a community of collaboration around the available CC licensed textbooks, including detailed criteria for peer review and resources for adopting and modifying texts.
  • The Orange Grove is the state of Florida’s repository. One of its best features is its detailed metadata which makes it easy to search for content.
  • Gooru offers CC licensed collections of materials, and many other features such as games and tools for remixing content and measuring student progress.
  • OpenStax CNX offers fully vetted, modularized textbooks, and an option for sharing activities and lessons.
  • The Sofia Project is a smaller repository, but it’s interesting to look through because of the large amount of auxiliary materials, like syllabi, rubrics, schedules, assignments, projects, exams, and even sample student assignments.
  • The Global Text Project is a grassroots approach to textbooks and encourages teachers to adopt books and work with their students to make them better.
  • The Saylor Foundation provides well organized and complete CC licensed courses with a lot of auxiliary material, and peer review and feedback are encouraged.
  • Storyweaver is not quite a repository but it offers a good model for collaborative language work… anyone can upload storybooks in any language (41 languages represented so far), and members of the community can comment on stories, share on social media, translate them or edit them for different levels of readers.

Other repositories

Areas for improvement

  • Tagging: Some repositories appear to have more language content than they do because content in a foreign language is tagged under the same category as content for teaching foreign languages. So for example, a Portuguese lesson about biology for Portuguese speakers could be in the same category as a Portuguese learning lesson for English speakers.
  • Use cases: Most repositories don’t specifically encourage a teacher who uploads a resource to explain how they used the the resource in their classroom. This information could help other teachers save time and give them new ideas about teaching methods.
  • Remixing: Editing materials is a key aspect of OER, but some sites do not encourage it. Some repositories do encourage edits in their platforms, but the resulting new material is not usable outside of the platform.
  • Popular tools: Some of the most widely used platforms (for example, YouTube) offer free resources for education, but don’t always provide important tools: peer review options, search terms compatible with educational criteria, and open licenses.

1Atenas, Javiera and Havemann, Leo (2013) ‘Quality Assurance in the Open: An Evaluation of OER Repositories.’ INNOQUAL – International Journal for Innovation and Quality in Learning , 1 (2). pp. 22-34.


Ecologies of Knowledge: The Role of Libraries and Librarians in the OER Movement

Ecologies of Knowledge: The Role of Libraries and Librarians in the OER Movement

Our presentation at this year’s AAAL conference highlighted several findings from a survey distributed to 155 university-level language program directors (LPDs). The study provides a snapshot of the progress of open education in the field of language learning in the United States. In one section of the survey, we asked LPDs questions about whether or not they had considered the library as a resource to support development and use of open educational resources (OER) in their foreign language (FL) programs. Seventy-three percent of respondents indicated that they had not considered the university library as a resource. This particular finding underscores the need for increased collaboration between LPDs and their institution’s library/librarians. This unique cross-disciplinary relationship will be key to the ongoing proliferation and incorporation of OER materials and tools in FL education.

University libraries are, at their very core, diverse knowledge ecosystems that provide a wide range of services and materials to the university at large. With respect to FL education, librarians can be vital partners in the process of encouraging FL faculty to incorporate OER in their courses. These information professionals excel in areas of evaluation, location, and organization, and each of these topics represents an area critical to the widespread adoption of OER. We have only scratched the surface of the potential of OER and the benefits of collaboration between librarians and the disciplines. Some interesting examples are out there: UMass Amherst Libraries; Open Textbook Library (University of Minnesota); PDX Open (Portland State University); and Open Course Library (Washington Community & Technical College). However, as you see in these examples, foreign languages are underrepresented. The bright side of this is that we are at a moment of exciting opportunity and potential.

Successful libraries are always evaluating the services they provide and asking what they can do to better serve their constituents—students, faculty, and staff, and in our current environment a crucial part of the answer to that question for all of these user groups is “embrace open!” This is a common thread within the OER movement in that it is, at some level, about improving the learning experience for students. We all know about the economic reasons for embracing OER, but the benefits of OER go far beyond the economics. Open educational resources can add authenticity and vitality to the foreign language classroom and create an environment where both students and faculty are more engaged participants.


Becky Photo_Small

Becky Thoms is the Scholarly Communication and Copyright Librarian at Merrill-Cazier Library at Utah State University. She manages USU’s Institutional Repository and provides education and outreach services related to intellectual property, scholarly communication, and all things open.




Joshua J. Thoms is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Applied Linguistics at Utah State University. His research interests include the role of classroom discourse in L2 learning and teaching, computer-mediated language learning, and issues related to foreign language textbooks/materials.

Explore Open Education Week 2014

Explore Open Education Week 2014

The third annual Open Education Week celebration is underway this week, March 10th – 15th. The event is organized by the Open CourseWare Consortium, and serves as an opportunity for the global community of open education practitioners, educators, and creators to raise awareness about the movement and demonstrate the impact open resources and open practices have on teaching and learning throughout the world.

The Open Education Week website acts as landing page for a wide variety of events, resources, and other information about Open Education.  Spend a bit of time on the site to find an events taking place around the world, including free online webinars, locally hosted events, conferences, and even online discussions and forums.

Here is a taste of the webinars happening this week that may be of interest to foreign language educators:

March 10, 2014
eMundus: Open education, open online courses and virtual mobility

March 11, 2014
Opening Up Together: Forming an Open Educational Resources Collaborative

March 13, 2014
Resources for Teaching English as a Second Language

March 14, 2014
Sustainability in OER for less used languages

Over the next week (and beyond), we are eager to begin uncovering all the amazing resources within the Open Education Week website. We certainly encourage you to do the same and look forward to hearing from you about your participation in Open Education Week – especially about which resources you found helpful or inspirational.

Visit http://www.openeducationweek.org for more information about the week and events happening in your area.

LOTE Institute 2014

LOTE Institute 2014

Last week, COERLL had the pleasure of being invited by the Region XIII Education Service Center to present on our work at the Languages Other Than English Institute 2014, held here in Austin, TX. This year, the Institute focused on “Celebrating Our Global Learners,” with sessions like Culturally Responsive Teaching in the LOTE Classroom (Tina Dong – Austin ISD) and Strategies and Steps in Differentiation: Blended and Flipped Classrooms (Sheila Jordan – Round Rock ISD). Our first session, Open Educational Resources for Language Learning, introduced educators to the wide variety of foreign language Open Educational Resources available through COERLL and from a variety of online referral websites like OER Commons, MERLOT, Language Box, Jorum, etc. Our second session, SpinTX – Bringing Authentic Spanish Videos into the Classroom, provided a more in depth look at SpinTX – a website created here at COERLL featuring authentic heritage spanish videos for language learning.

It is always a pleasure to meet and speak with teachers directly about their needs and to hear more about the challenges in finding “the right” materials for teaching. We are always curious to know more about what teachers need in order to be effective in their teaching – whether it is finding high quality and applicable teaching materials to supplement or accompany a textbook, learning how to effectively use various technologies and web tools to create materials, or just discovering a forum to speak with others about their experiences and interests. Understandably, it is difficult to sometimes know where to start. S0, we encourage you to check out our recent talk from the LOTE Institute here and if you have any questions about the websites and resources mentioned or have suggestions of other great content, please get in touch! And, if you’re specifically interested in SpinTX, be sure to check out the new Lesson Ideas page on the SpinTX website.

An Open Assignment Bank … For Languages

An Open Assignment Bank … For Languages

From the editor: We’re happy to repost this entry with permission from Barbara Sawhill. You can catch more of her thoughts at Language Lab Unleashed. We welcome Barbara to our community of language educators for the progress of OER.

I’m a big fan of the creative work that happens at the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) at The University of Mary Washington.

Digital Storytelling 106 (ds106) is one of the many creative ideas that DTLT  has spawned, and it certainly has a presence on the web. I have been watching ds106 (and I have sometimes participated, because that is what you are expected to do) and also wondering what ds106 – a course about using media in a creative way for digital storytelling — could teach those of us who are interested in using media in a creative way  for language learning.

To be clear: I am not looking for new shiny tools or cool apps. What I am looking for is creative and fun ways for students to speak, listen, write and read in a second language. I am thinking about fun tasks to develop language skills. And I want to  integrate free, open, available tools and objects into exercises for developing languages.  And then I want to share them with everybody.

So here is my idea:  What about an open assignment bank for LANGUAGES?  I know what you are thinking, jeeez louise aren’t there enough of those out there already? True, yes there are, but many of them are tied to specific textbooks, courses and lesson plans.

I’m thinking more broadly, more generally. And yes, more open-ly.  Like ds106, I want to make it possible for anyone to suggest an assignment and for everyone to try them out.

And, rather than re-inventing the wheel, maybe there are ds106 assignments that are already in the hopper could be stolen liberated repurposed for language learning. I’m pretty sure the DTLT folks are into sharing, and wouldn’t mind seeing that happen.

So here we go.  Here’s a start. Here is a link to a rudimentarygoogle form where you can add ideas to  a language assignment bank. Please add something, please share it with others.  Please think about ways to incorporate existing open resources into the mix.

Ready?  Let’s see what we can create together.

Barbara Sawhill portrait

Barbara Sawhill has been working for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for about 15 years. In addition to teaching Spanish she runs a somewhat unconventional language center. Prior to this adventure in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to write, read, swim, and watch the Red Sox. And sometimes she blogs over here and here as well.

Meet the iTunes U Language Learner

Meet the iTunes U Language Learner

Have you ever wondered about those students who are learning foreign languages on iTunes? There are over 600 free language learning collections on iTunes. People are using them. What do you know about these students?

Earlier this year, I presented a paper at the e-Learning Symposium in Southampton University in the UK about the iTunes U language learner. I wanted to share the results with you. The findings show that most iTunes U learners have quite a different profile compared to university learners: from their age and gender to their occupation and motivations for accessing iTunes U language resources.

Before watching, think about who you think the iTunes U language learner is. Mostly male? Mostly female? How old? What do they do? Do they listen on mobile devices or on their home computers? Do they think they are learning by engaging with the language resources they download from iTunes U? And what implications do the answers to these questions have for the design and implementation of iTunes U resources from your own institution?

Now watch the presentation.

How do your answers to the questions above compare with the actual results? Feel free to comment on your impressions and implications for teaching and learning through iTunes U.

Fernando Rosell-AguilarFernando Rosell-Aguilar is a lecturer in Spanish and coordinator of iTunes U content for the Department of Languages at the Open University, UK.

Read more about open language learning on iTunes.


Shareworthy: COERLL’s Webinar Series

Shareworthy: COERLL’s Webinar Series

Your foreign language department will thank you for sharing COERLL’s Webinar Series, all about open educational resources (OER) for language learning. Here’s what we covered:

Finding Open Media for Foreign Language Instruction Learn how to search for and find high-quality authentic OER (multimedia, realia, interviews, etc.) for use in language teaching and learning.


The Practice of Using and Teaching with OER Explore the practice of implementing OER into teaching and learn specifically about integration of COERLL’s popular French curriculum, Francais interactif, into foreign language classrooms.


Focus on SpinTX: An Open Video Archive for Language Learning We unpack one of our most recent projects, SpinTX–a resource for bilingual Spanish speakers in Texas. Learn how to search and tag videos for features that match your interests, and create and share your favorite playlists.


“We’re Committed to Openness in Content Creation”

“We’re Committed to Openness in Content Creation”

From the editor: We had the opportunity to interview Scott Rapp, co-founder of the Instreamia language learning platform and the designer and instructor of a new first-year Spanish MOOC (4,762 students enrolled). Check back with Open Up to find out about Scott’s new Language Teaching MOOC for creating blended learning environments.

OU: How did you learn Spanish and what motivated you to create Instreamia?

SR:  My brother, Ryan, and I each spent two years abroad volunteering, Ryan went to Japan, and I went to Honduras. Learning Japanese and Spanish was a necessity.

Years later we were both working for Deloitte–Ryan in Japan and I in DC. We began discussing our strategies for learning languages, which was especially on Ryan’s mind as he had to do everything in Japanese, and he was also constantly being asked how he learned Japanese and recommendations for how they could learn English.

We decided that a well-indexed set of reference tools combined with natural language processing really took a lot of the tediousness out of learning a language. We gradually worked on building a product around RSS feeds and text-based sources when the “big idea” hit me like a ton of bricks: What if we could go beyond text-only sources, and focus our strategy on subtitled videos? Then we could integrate our powerful toolset into a video player! This led to other breakthrough innovations, like the dynamic exercises and adaptive learning with time-series depreciation that Instreamia includes today.

Originally called StudyStream, the Rapp brothers renamed their resource to Instreamia before rolling out their Spanish MOOC in January 2013.

OU: Why did you decide to make your courses open?

SR: Developing the Instreamia software, we wanted it to have a positive impact on the most people possible. We also recognized that many of the ideas for improvements and future developments would come from language learners and teachers, and that has proven true time and again. We still feel strongly that content development efforts by educators (including ourselves) are best made in Open Educational Resources. Our platform can’t work without excellent content, and obtaining and maintaining licensing for hundreds of videos, learning modules, dictionaries, and explanations would greatly undermine the scalability and versatility of our platform.

OU: But you are going to start charging a $99 registration fee? (Learn more.)

SR:  All the investment in Instreamia has been founders’ capital. Before quitting Deloitte, Ryan put away a substantial seed investment that he was able to live on for over a year while he began the development of Instreamia. I still work full-time, and work on Instreamia and the SpanishMOOC in my free time, and invest a portion of my salary to Instreamia.

We knew the time would come for us to change from an entirely free platform to having paid services or premium features. We want to stay true to our decision of making all the content free and open, and we will continue to publish all the materials we or any users create through Creative Commons.

OU: What were the factors behind the decision to charge the fee?

SR: During our initial offering of our Spanish MOOC, we realized the level of effort and commitment to our students (especially hand-grading assignments) could not be handled solely by volunteers. We were faced with a difficult decision: we could shut down the Spanish MOOC offering altogether, degrade the experience by excluding any teacher interaction, or … offer an improved course with paid TAs and graders, and charge a registration fee. We decided to add the fee, so we could offer a much improved learning experience.

OU: What are aspects of your courses that remain open?

SR: Our technology and code-base is not open-source. It’s proprietary and has a patent pending. But we’re committed to openness in content creation. Here’s how teachers, graders, and even advanced learners can contribute to each of our content categories:

  • Native-Content Subtitled Audio/Videos – These are either user-created (under CC), Instreamia-created (under CC), or they are used with permission from YouTube. Teachers can write text, record audio, and translate the transcript through Instreamia’s Video Editor.
  • Instructional Videos – These are videos we make available on our YouTube Channel (under CC). Any teacher can contribute by creating their own YouTube channel and embedding their videos on the Instreamia Lesson Creator.
  • Lessons – These are either user-created (under CC), or Instreamia-created (under CC). Teachers can write text, embed Instructional Videos, and create exercises based on the Native-Content library.
  • Grammar Explanations –  These are lessons with special indexing, so that teachers and graders can direct their students to them. For example, typing @gustar anywhere in a lesson or comment would create a link to the Gustar grammar explanation.
  • Dictionary Entries – Every word has audio pronunciation (Forvo, not CC), definitions (Princeton’s WordNet, free license), and multilingual relations, or translations (Instreamia, CC). When a user notices a word with an inaccurate or missing translation, he/she can edit it, so our users are making our translations better all the time.

As a community we can make and maintain content that frees us from using archaic textbooks. (See “Got Textbooks? From This Century?”) Together as a group of educators, we can provide a better learning experience without having to license content. This will make teaching languages more scalable and affordable, and it will allow for rapidly-evolving curricula.

OU: Do you have any questions for our readers?

SR: We have so much to say and to discuss, and we’d love to hear comments from you!

  • How would your classroom change if a computer were able to assign and grade homework based on each individual student’s needs?
  • What methods have you found to make students fall in love with the subject matter

Scott RappScott Rapp is professor of SpanishMOOC, an open initiative to teach Spanish to large groups of people online. He is also the co-founder of the adaptive language learning platform Instreamia, which enables blended teaching by dynamically creating interactive lessons based on native content.