Implementing an OER Site?

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After spending many months away from blogging during a period of many demands on my time (reentry into teaching and shared governance meetings after a year-long sabbatical; a self-imposed obligation to co-edit a volume that has been more problematic, more time-consuming, and more rewarding than anticipated; an overcommitment to conferences and to collaborative projects; new course development), I return.

This blog entry will address a project that I expect to pursue in the near future, perhaps in collaboration with my spouse. It is an OER site that will have two or three distinct functions. In essence, it will demonstrate the use of French television news for helping students develop language skills, critical thinking and increasing their intercultural understanding. Of course, the site will present open and free materials and modules that teachers of French can download and adapt for their own use. However, the site will also include demonstrations, guidelines and advice for those teachers, suggesting ways in which they might adapt the materials that we present as open and free resources, but also ways in which they might begin to develop their own activities, modules and materials based on readily available streams of news media.

In short, we would offer ready-to-use materials (OERs), but we would also seek to help teachers use our instructional strategies and develop their own news-media-based lessons and activities (teacher-training OERs). It might make sense to split our project into two parts, setting up one site for making news-based lessons and modules readily available, and a distinct site devoted to professional development, training teachers to create such materials and employ the instructional strategies that we have been using in our own courses. Indeed, there might even be room for a third site with a more theoretical and research-oriented focus.

Why am I only “considering” the project, rather than simply doing it? Why am I talking about it here, rather than actually implementing it elsewhere on the web? In part, it is because it the project is complicated and we are not sure how much time we can afford to invest. There are decisions to make that we do not feel fully capable of managing properly. We have not yet figured out the best way to arrange things or to present the material that we would like to make available.

At this point, I believe my spouse is going to work with folks at her own university to format and upload materials to someone else’s OER site. She will then invite teachers and higher education faculty in French to view and use the materials, then ask for feedback. That will give her a sense for how to proceed.

In my case, I expect to begin building the teacher-training site that will offer theoretical frameworks and other resources for helping teachers understand the implications and potential advantages and pitfalls to using the television-news-based approach to language learning. The site would also display demonstrations of the method and suggest ways in which the strategy might be adapted to a wider variety of levels and institutional circumstances.

Finally, let me point our why, in our pedagogical area, we believe that using television news to teach students at the intermediate, intermediate-high and advanced levels in a second language (in this case, French) is a good idea. First, television news reports are authentic documents, intended for consumption by native speakers, not by language students. Authentic documents are very helpful for making progress in understanding and using authentic, native-level language. Secondly, by inviting students to note those aspects of news reports or the reporting/editing/presentation conventions that surprise them, one can help students become more aware of particular cultural differences. By reflecting on those differences, students can develop better understandings of target-culture attitudes and thinking modalities. One can focus also on differences in news conventions and engage in reflection on their significance. Third, many news reports directly provide cultural information. Fourth, news videos can provide a variety of accents, expressions and ways of talking about real events. Fifth, the news helps students establish connections to real-world events and to understand the contemporary French-speaking world.

For this approach to work well, the new reports must be chosen well. For that reason, it is important to train teachers in how to discern the most appropriate and potentially productive streams of information and specific reports. Additionally, it is helpful to gives teachers a set of tools and strategies for transforming exposure to a news video into a meaningful experience for language learners. That is why we believe that it would be most helpful not only to provide Open Educational Resources in the form of well-chosen news videos and lessons or modules based on them, but also to help teachers discern for themselves those issues which arise when trying to capture and present to students portions of the news stream. Hence, the need for a second site that focuses on professional development around this instructional strategy.

It is a not uncomplicated project that we have been considering. But I think that, at this juncture, we need to take the next step. My spouse will figure how to present specific lessons, modules and materials. I will begin creating a site, keyed to her OER contributions, that will explain how the approach works and why it is worth pursuing.

We have our work cut out of us in the days and weeks to come. We are going to take the next step, partly to toot our own horns. (After all, we have been using television news quite successfully in the French language classroom for over a decade. Why not show off our approach and get some credit for it?) However, we are also doing it because we believe that this approach can be extremely helpful for developing critical thinking, cross-cultural understanding, intercultural communicative competence and global citizenship skills and predispositions. The world needs better, more open-minded, more “inter-culturally skilled” global citizens. Our project to create OER sites will be a modest contribution for moving toward those goals.

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