The Center for Language Study at Yale has the crucial role of supporting language teaching faculty in ways that promote pedagogically sound as well as most relevant manners of language teaching/learning here at Yale. And in that effort the center sent us an email announcing an online course tackling Open Education Resources (OER) by Peer to Peer University (P2PU). During that same week, I received another email announcing a Webinar organized by a specialist working with STARTALK and Occidental College World Language Project under the title ‘Strategies for Meaningful Interpretive Communication’.
Like any language instructor who wishes to improve their game – as the saying goes –and who has little time to spare, I found myself wondering whether or not this was worth my while. Both opportunities – varied as they are – offer interesting perspectives for 21st century language teaching, but would they be as beneficial as I hope they would be? Hopeful but reluctant, I decided to venture on both and give it a try. As a test of whether or not it is something I would recommend I also decided to keep these questions in mind: What have I learned? And if there was one thing I want to share with my colleagues, what would it be?
Open Education Resources (OER), I learned, are not considered so only because they are “open” as the title suggests, nor only because they are used in “education”. Little did I know that OER is considered so when users modify the original content and build on it, and then return it to the original producer in its new modified version. This process ensures that these materials vary, expand and have more to offer. According to this definition, I also learned that none of the resources that I have been previously using fall under and OER, mainly due to the fact that whatever changes or modifications I was making were done in a separate and isolated manner and my materials were not making it back to the original source. The course did also supply with a bunch of resources that may be used as OER; for language teachers they offered the link to the Center of Open Educational Resources and Language Learning . For general uses, one of the participants shared a site called Wiki playlist where separate pages of Wikipedia can be saved in one spot in order to be used later as homework or assignment.
Meanwhile, the STARTALK/Occidental College webinar discussed with good amount of details and actual examples strategies for using authentic materials (aural and written) to guarantee meaningful communication. For example, the presenter stressed, the instructor can vary their speech is a way that uses simplification, expansion, restatement, speed, articulation and the use of cognates with the aim of leading meaningful communication. Additionally, supportive questioning techniques and authentic interaction with peers can guarantee comprehension.
These were two different takeaways from two different online training sources that were executed quite differently. Peer to Peer University does exactly that to ensure that your time is not being wasted; it uses peer discussion, feedback and evaluation in every step of the course. Moreover, at the end of each major section, the site asks more experienced peers to allow (or not) newer peers to pass that section and be granted the passing “badge”. Harnessing peers’ experience ensures that both sides increase their knowledge, leading to a double sided benefit. As to the webinar, its strong point was the use of real time interaction to address individual questions and concerns, which ensures a very personalized experience.
The two points above were the points that I would like to share with my colleagues. But more importantly, I think, I want to say that online training does work, and it is worth your while and you do benefit from it when – and I stress this – it is done the right way.