Last December, I participated in a symposium organized by Ed Dixon and Christina Frei from the Penn Language Center. Focused on “advancing language education beyond the classroom,” the symposium convinced me that the foreign language community must become more involved in the open education movement. Here’s why…
One of the speakers at the symposium was Daphne Koller, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and co-founder of Coursera, a company that designs MOOCs for the global public.
Daphne spoke about Coursera’s strategy of partnering with top universities to make education freely accessible. The goal is to reach millions of students worldwide by designing effective MOOCs in a range of disciplines. While Daphne presented a compelling vision, several educators raised concerns.
Sophie Queuniet, a French language specialist from Columbia University posed a pertinent question: “Will MOOCs be the end of foreign languages? Will we end up teaching the world in English?” In other words, will Coursera and other American attempts at MOOCs perpetuate the global dominance of English? Sophie’s question echoed a recent special volume of the online journal Language Learning and Technology entitled “Hegemonies in CALL.”
It was clear from Daphne’s response that she had thought deeply about the linguistic challenges of MOOCs. She pointed out that while most of Coursera’s MOOCs are indeed in English, students often form study groups in their native languages. And some students actually form groups to discuss the material in foreign languages! In other words, students are practicing foreign languages within the boundaries of an English language MOOC. Daphne went on to say that Coursera is actively seeking courses in other languages besides English. The bottom line is that MOOCs need foreign language specialists.
Open online education is a great opportunity for the foreign language community. We understand the difficulties of educating students across cultural and linguistic boundaries, and we have been on the forefront of active, collaborative learning for decades. So, let’s seize this incredible opportunity. Our community’s expertise can truly change global education.
So, here is my question: How can we get foreign language educators more involved in MOOCs and in open education?
Carl Blyth is Director of COERLL and Associate Professor of French, UT Austin.