How does one teach and learn effectively in our digital age? In a world inundated with information, how do we build and sustain a healthy community of learners? Or, to put it simply, how can we learn well together?
I haven’t blogged or written publicly in sometime, but these are the questions that I’ve been reflecting on for several months; these were the challenges that spurred me to create Language-Corner.org, the first (to my knowledge) group-oriented, open space for groups of language learners.
In my opinion, the answer to these modern, teaching challenges lies in creating a conducive and collaborative online space for groups of learners, not simply a space for individual learners. Learning works differently in groups. To be successful, learners need to be able to share, learn and discover within a group, and a group needs to be able to guide and challenge individuals when necessary.
Groups are the key to a successful and healthy learning community, because by contributing within a group, individuals can learn to share what they already know and learn from others what they don’t.
In our post-modern and ever evolving world, not all questions come with cookie-cutter answers, and not all answers can be googled or found in Wikipedia. As such, individuals must be be able to ask questions without obvious answers, and groups must be able to find and define possible answers and solutions. There must be room for discussion.
In the sense of social constructionist theory, learners become teachers, and teachers continue to think of themselves as lifelong leaners. There is equality in learning, sharing and discovering together. Language-Corner.org is the meeting place for groups of learners journeying towards socially created knowledge.
Last semester I used a standard HTML site for sharing class resources and also a MediaWiki site to successfully create a space for collaborative writing amongst groups of writers. I also made an attempt at adapting Moodle, one of the largest, open source Learning Management Systems in the world. There were bumps and difficulties in all of these solutions, because the group space was either too narrowly defined or too broadly public. There were other obvious problems, like ease of use, what you were expected to do, and where to find what you needed. There were also less obvious problems about what was the general purpose of a class website, of online learning or of what is often called “blended learning,” which means creating a mixed workspace for in-class and out-of-class projects and discussions.
The core tenant of Language-Corner.org (and Eduglu from which the site is based) is that groups need a flexible space of settings and tools in order to learn well together.
Individual groups can define the tools, features or applications they need for their goals. The two most obvious and probably most universal features for any group are a space for discussion and a space for materials. Materials can be generally thought of as the place to post all of the required documents for a class like a syllabus or class readings.
The discussion space can be used in any number of ways. For example, you might post a question or topic that a group can discussion online as well as perhaps in class. You might also post an article and some reflection questions for students to read for homework and then post their thoughts and comments in that discussion thread. The discussion is flexible enough to be used with various kinds of media and in way where discussions are easy to follow and participate in.
Since every group’s needs and wants are different, group spaces are customizable accordingly. Currently, Language-Corner.org has several other features or apps that group administrators or teachers might employ in their groups. Groups can create polls to quickly get the opinions of the class. There is a space for creating an imageboard where students might post pictures and comments. There is a feature or application for quizzes, which can be used for essays, multiple choice quizzes or collecting assignments.
Currently, there are several other site features under development. The site wiki will be for individuals to contribute and collaborate in creating a knowledge base about learning languages and about cultural differences around the world. The vocabulary and flashcard feature, which is currently in early development, will be a supplement to the knowledge where groups can create lists of key vocabulary with definitions and learning and remembering aids (like memes or mnemonics). With vocabulary and flashcard area has lots of potential for language groups to work together in making vocabulary acquisition more engaging, more effective, and, most importantly, more memorable.
As with any project, I am open to any suggestions and ideas on how to improve the site even more in the future.
*Language-Corner.org was created using open source technology and code from Drupal and EduGlu, and it is currently under active development. *