At first glance, a survey of the most popular MOOCs seems to offer little to those in the foreign languages. The format most closely resembles a large university lecture course and seems to be a poor fit for language courses, which ideally are small to allow maximum production and feedback from the instructor as well as personal interaction with peers in the target language.
However, you might not realize the original MOOC, now often called a cMOOC, created by George Siemens and Stephen Downes focused on having students create their own learning networks of practice and reflection. As a result, the format of a cMOOC included a web of rss feeds from blogs, link aggregators, and Twitter created and consumed by the instructors and learners.
Instead of looking at what’s missing, let’s think of the possibilities.
What if language learning MOOCs offered ways to foster online learning networks? Think of the advantages in connecting language learners with native speakers for mutual exchanges. Language exchanges are well established in our discipline, and by combining these exchanges with the content and structure of a traditional course, we can provide our students with a richer experience. And informal learners familiar with learning networks but who don’t have access to traditional coursework could receive structured language education.
This is the goal for The Mixxer, a website I created for connecting language learners and teachers for exchanges via Skype. This semester I plan to add to the networking site two short MOOCs — English as a foreign language and Spanish. I’m working on creating lessons to address the core skills using open educational resources from COERLL, Connexions, and BBC Languages. The lessons will include activities for learners to complete with their language partners that build upon the content. The Mixxer already has functions for learners to connect with a language partner, but to further facilitate this I’m adding regular open events whereby native English and Spanish speakers who signed up for either course will be matched and connected to each other via Skype.
I am just starting on the lessons and am anxious for links to more open content, preferably like those from COERLL that have a structured sequence of content and exercises. If you know any other open resources or have ideas for EFL or Spanish lessons, I’d very much appreciate a comment below.
Todd Bryant (@MixxerSite or @bryantt) 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.