Watch the video recording of this Office Hours session, or keep reading for a full transcript. For those interested in reading the conversation that took place among participants and the resources shared, the chat transcript is also available below.

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Audio Transcript

Office Hours: Developing OER for Language Programs 


  • Apurva Ashok (Director of Open Education, The Rebus Foundation)
  • Karen Lauritsen (Publishing Director, Open Education Network)
  • Sadam Issa (Assistant Professor of Arabic, Michigan State University)
  • Sarah Sweeney (Project Coordinator, Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL))
  • Carl Blyth (Director, COERLL) – Carl was scheduled to speak but was absent.
  • Christian Hilchey ( Senior Lecturer, Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies, University of Texas at Austin)
  • Regina Gong (Open Educational Resources (OER) & Student Success Librarian, Michigan State University Libraries)

Apurva: Welcome everybody, welcome to another Office Hours session. My name is Apurva Ashok, I am the Director of Open Education at the Rebus Community, and I’m joining you all today from Toronto and from the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the First Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples. I am very grateful to be living here and working here and to join you remotely and start a conversation about OER and language programs. 

I’m going to pass it over to Karen, who is from the Open Education Network and who has been a wonderful collaborator these past four years or so that we’ve been running Office Hours events. 

Karen: Thank you, Apurva. And I am very happy to be joining all of you here today. I am coming to you from San Luis Obispo, California, the traditional land of the Chumash people. And today we’re going to be talking about OER for language programs. We are joined by three guests. Unfortunately Carl Blyth, who was expected to join us from COERLL, is unable to make it today. But luckily, we still have a couple of people from the program who can talk about their experience. 

So the Open Education Network is a community of professionals working to make higher education more open. And one of the ways we do that is by partnering with the Rebus Community, as Apurva said, for almost four years on these monthly Office Hours. If this is your first Office Hours session, just to orient you to what to expect in the coming hour, we will hear introductions very briefly about five minutes or so from our guests. 

And during that time we invite you to think of questions and comments in the chat, because after the introductions we’ll turn things over to you to really drive the conversation. And hopefully help you learn what you need for what you’re interested in or what you’re trying to do on your campus. So, without further ado, I would like to introduce our guests.

Today, we are joined by Sadam Issa, Assistant Professor of Arabic at Michigan State University; Sarah Sweeney, Project Coordinator at the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning, otherwise known as COERLL; and Christian Hilchey, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. And today, we’re talking about OER for language programs. And Sarah is going to kick us off. 

Sarah: Thank you and thank you for having us today. So as Karen said, I am Sarah Sweeney, I’m Project Coordinator at COERLL. So COERLL is based at UT Austin, so I’m coming to you from Austin today. But we’re funded by a federal grant, a Title VI grant that is meant to increase the capacity of foreign language learning in the United States. So we do a lot of work with people in Texas, but we also work with people all over the country with teachers, faculty and students to develop OER. 

So we’ve developed full curricula textbooks, PD modules, lesson plans and videos and all sorts of other things. And we also do professional development, and I wanted to, while I mention that I’m going to put two links in the chat before I forget. So we have some office hours of our own coming up, which are different than these office hours. They’re just for dropping in and asking questions. 

And then, we also have a course about OER specifically for language educators. And then we also do workshops for teachers about OER and also about language teaching. And I guess so, a little bit about COERLL we started as a different center maybe about 15 years ago. But we’ve been an official language resource center for 11 years now. And when we first started out, we developed a lot of bigger projects that were really heavily developed in the backend. 

So we had web developers creating platforms for the content. But as we’ve gone on, we’ve progressed to making more resources that are more smaller scale or using tools that already exist and advising people. So they won’t need as much professional help developing their resources, but they can do it themselves. And of course, that’s because that makes the resources more adaptable, and it allows us I think also to work on more projects with people because we’re putting the tools in the hands of the people. 

So we’ve been using H5P a lot more recently and Google Docs, but we also use WordPress a lot. And of course that adaptability is also perfect for language learning because languages are always evolving and changing, so it’s really nice to be able to make edits whenever you need to. And we’ve also been focusing more on emphasizing to people the practices of open education not just the resources themselves. 

So, starting off really developing resources, but now we’re really trying to emphasize the practices as well and build a little bit of a community. And I guess I’ll talk a little bit about the benefits of OER specifically for language learning, although I think that probably the other language faculty will probably do a better job of that and get into the specifics more. But we found that OER is so rich for language learning just because there’s so many opportunities to use authentic materials. 

And go out on the internet and find all these different examples of language and culture being spoken by all sorts of different speakers. So that’s one really great benefit and you can also show a lot of linguistic variety with authentic resources. Whereas a lot of traditional language textbooks just have maybe one way of speaking, more traditional standardized language. 

And then, also there’s so many different modalities for practicing, speaking, listening, reading and writing. So we use a lot of tools, or a lot of our project directors use a lot of different tools that aren’t necessarily open source actually but that are open access. So for example Hypothesis for social reading, or Voki or Quizlet, those can all be integrated into the OER as well. 

And a lot of times we’ll do that by linking out to those resources from the resources on our site. And then, another thing too that we focus on because of our grant is less commonly taught languages. And that includes indigenous languages, as well, and so Christian will address the less commonly taught languages, because he’s in Czech. 

But we’ve found that when people develop resources for less commonly taught languages, because they’re OER they get a lot more visibility because people want to learn those languages, but there aren’t as many resources. And also, a lot of less commonly taught languages maybe publishers aren’t as willing to publish new materials for them. So people often find that there’s old textbooks that are using old-fashioned approaches to language teaching. 

So OER really offers an opportunity to get more visibility for less commonly taught languages and to update the pedagogy. So that’s basically all I was planning on saying, but I look forward to hearing everyone’s questions. 

Karen: Thank you, Sarah. Over to you, Sadam.

Sadam: Thank you, Sarah. Thank you for inviting me to talk about our experience with OER at Michigan State University. As Apurva and Karen stated, I am an Assistant Professor at the Linguistics Department at Michigan State University, teaching Arabic. I would like to start talking about how the idea of developing an Arabic OER textbook started. I guess it started maybe 14 years ago without being really aware about it when I came to the States for the very first time as a Fulbright Scholar teaching Arabic at Beloit College in Wisconsin. 

At that time, I was teaching Arabic and that was my very first exposure to teaching Arabic to non-native speakers of Arabic. At that time, I had the opportunity to also study foreign languages. So I studied French, and that’s where the comparison started. The comparison between the Arabic textbooks available at that time, with French textbooks. Obviously, Arabic is totally different from French or Spanish. 

But with regards to certain areas we thought that we should tap on the French or Spanish textbooks, like organizing textbooks based on themes, which is lacking in the Arabic textbooks. Obviously, a year after I also started to study Spanish at the University of Wisconsin Madison, when I joined the university as a PhD student. I was also teaching Arabic as a teaching assistant. 

And that’s where, as I said, the idea of creating an Arabic textbook that in principle mimics the structure of the French and Spanish textbooks. I was maybe a little bit exaggerating to say that I was able to study Spanish and French by my own, without the help of the teacher. Because the textbooks are so wonderfully structured, thematically based, lots of authentic videos, lots of pictures. It was communicative. 

And they were actually based on ACTFL guidelines, which is in my opinion and my colleagues in the Arabic program who co-authored the Arabic OER textbook with me agree on that the current Arabic textbooks first of all, they don’t have themes, and they are not based on ACTFL guidelines. And that’s one of the driving forces for us to start this project, to fill this huge gap. 

Notably also, about 75% of the students who study Arabic in first year drop Arabic by the end of second year. And part of it based on our conversation with the students is the difficulty of the language. Yes, Arabic obviously is one of the most challenging languages. But I believe that there are other techniques that could help students to have better proficiency in Arabic. 

One of them in my opinion is design the Arabic textbooks based on themes as well as the activities that are included in the textbooks are aligned with ACTFL guidelines and can do statements. Although the current Arabic textbooks, or the most popular textbook that we’re using is very popular and it’s almost used in every university in the States called Al-Kitaab, which means the book. 

But it is not based on ACTFL guidelines. Believe it or not, after six weeks, we spent the first six weeks teaching students the alphabet. Which is understandable, but after six weeks the very first word that students learn is the United Nations. Literally, you may laugh, smile, but this is totally fine. And this is a reality. The very first word the students learn after they finish with the alphabet is the United Nations. 

Whereas in Spanish for example, we learn words related talking about yourself, study, then about shopping, fruits, vegetables, colors. Colors in the current Arabic textbook are introduced in third semester Arabic. So now, in my opinion, this encouraging for students to continue studying Arabic. Because obviously the easiest part to talk about is ourselves, our surroundings, food, colors, clothes, and so on and so forth. 

So in the Arabic program, that was the first driving force. Then in 2016, we had the chance to create hybrid classes. So we teach Arabic every single day, five days a week. So we emptied Friday to be totally online. And we created a communicative lesson for our students, either to prepare students to the classes on Mondays, or to recycle the concepts that they have learned like during that week. 

And that’s also sort of prepare us to our OER textbook. Then, we sat in one of our Arabic program meetings and we said, “Okay, let’s do something different.” And the idea to create a textbook obviously is a very laborious process. It requires really lots of money and lots of resources. And the easiest part was to create an open resource. And that’s where we officially started our project. 

But also, we had also to get some other funding to host experts in the field to do a pedagogy and a workshop on that. And actually, we invited Christian Hilchey to participate in that pedagogy, but unfortunately that pedagogy workshop has been cancelled due to COVID. So, but we are still thinking of holding it, since we still have the funding. 

So we have been introduced the OER at the library at MSU and Regina Gong who is here helped us tremendously to really create that open resource for our students that primarily designed communicative activities and tasked based activities based on ACTFL guidelines and can do statements. And also, create textbooks that are thematically based. 

Karen: Thank you, Sadam, I am sorry to interrupt, but thank you so much for the introduction to that book. I want to hand things over to Christian and then we’ll definitely get back to hearing more about your project. 

Christian: Hi everybody, thank you also for having me here today. I’m really glad to speak with you. So, I’m going to be telling you a little bit today about my project, Reality Czech. I am sending Reality Czech to you now, the link in the chat if you want to take a look at it. I do really well with some media in the background. So I’ve actually selected some slides to share with you today. 

Reality Czech when it got started, I really did not plan on it being this huge project that it ended up being. But it really just kind of naturally snowballed. A lot of that had to do with how I began to understand the affordances of open and really what open will allow us to do in terms of integrating all sorts of media into our lessons and our classrooms. So here you can just see some of the data about the textbook itself. 

And something that Sarah mentioned when she was talking about it, the idea with the textbook is that it be as open as possible and really capture the essence of those five Rs that we really want anybody who uses it to be able to remix and reuse the content, retain it in any way that they see fit. So you can for example take any of that content and open it and create a copy in your own Google drive or download a PDF or a Word document of any of the lessons. 

The actual title, Reality Czech, was something that I developed because I was looking at the kind of content I was planning which was originally these sets of interview questions. This is all based on ACTFL guidelines. The real problem with so many of the Czech textbooks out there was that we had so much of a focus on grammar and so little focus on actual communication. 

And so I wanted something that would get the students talking constantly. Grammar would be the tool that helped them talk, not the reason that we were studying the language. We weren’t studying the language so that we could learn different grammatical forms and grammatical phenomena. And so, I call it Reality Czech specifically because it was based on these reality style videos. 

There are over 240 of them that I created for the textbook. And they all are focused around these questions. Here’s one for example what do you do when your head hurts? I won’t actually bother playing the video for you all, sorry, when you have a headache, that was a direct translation of the English when you head hurts or of the Czech rather. So, the speakers in this will answer usually I have a drink of water or usually I take a pain pill or something like that. 

And so this notion of then getting my students to listen to other speakers talking about this, and then getting them to also share their own lives and their own experiences. So it gets them to understand Czechs and Czech culture. It also gets them to share this kind of information with each other, make comparisons, and so this is really all directly influenced by ACTFL guidelines. 

And really what we need to be doing in our classrooms, making those sorts of comparisons. So let me skip past that. It’s a flipped classroom, a blended classroom, and so my students really learn most of what they need to know before they even walk into class through these various pre-class lessons. In class then we take lots of time to just practice the language, whether it’s playing little games to learn vocabulary or asking questions about what they like to do on vacation or various things like that. 

And then, post-class gets them to write, gets them to really express themselves a lot using what they learned and what they practiced in class. So we really build every day, and it’s sort of this wash, rinse, repeat every day and really trying to build those skills. I like to use as you’ve seen through these slides a lot of images, and that’s what I sort of alluded to at the beginning, the affordances of open. 

The more images, there are just people out there sharing all this great content with us. And why not utilize it? And what I realized is there’s almost if you can imagine it, there probably is a free image out there for you. I just wanted to give what I would call an extreme example, I wanted to give my students the language, I wanted them to be able to talk about what the weather was like yesterday. 

And so, that they could talk about for example it rained yesterday so I stayed inside. Or it was sunny yesterday, so we went on a trip. And so here you can see just an example of an image that’s evocative, that puts the students into the mood to learn about this topic, weather in the past, what was it like. Or what do you usually wear, mining the Flickr account of one user who posted a lot of pictures of themselves and put them all under an open license. 

I’m able to give an example of what this person usually wears. So, there’s a lot out there that we can use and also I discovered vlogs. And really, there are all these vlogs that are available for our students to be able to take advantage of. And because they’re open, I can retain them, I can modify them, and I can do all of the things that we love about OER. And so, really, this whole process of creating a textbook changed my pedagogy and changed the way I started to think. 

And I started to think differently about how we create materials. I started to really think open. What does that mean? And for me, my curriculum, how I planned it in the beginning which was I have this idea for Czech and this is what it’s going to look like. I made this whole elaborate plan for Czech. We need to have this in unit one, this in unit two. A lot of it was very much based on grammatical phenomena. 

We need to have this and then sequence it in this way, and the like. But that really changed because what we end up doing is we impose a lot of our own baggage onto what we believe should be taught in a language course. What we have maybe for example experienced in other textbooks that we’ve taught out of. But I like to take this metaphor of a farmers’ market because there’s so much great content out there that we can adapt and use for our own uses. 

When I go to a farmers’ market, I can’t necessarily predict there are going to be tomatoes there. Here’s an example where you don’t see a single tomato in sight, but you do see some really great produce. And when I got to a farmers’ market, something I really love to do, I take a look around, what looks good today. And so, for me, the idea of designing an open curriculum was about seeing what’s out there. What can I build on? 

How can I build on the successes of others? Their great material that they’ve shared with all of us and so that’s been my journey in a very quick nutshell.  What it has meant for me to create open materials it was this very transformative experience. It very much transformed the way that I think about pedagogy and how I can offer the best learning environment for my students. 

Apurva: I like the metaphor you carried through. I’ll just mention as Karen has indicated in the chat. This is really the time where we turn it to all of you to continue the lovely conversation that all three of our guests started. So if you have questions or comments or thoughts or if you’re working on language OER projects of your own and would love some advice about where to source images or videos or vlogs or all of the rest, or create those interactive activities that I’ve seen in Sadam’s book, please do go ahead and begin asking. 

While maybe folks are thinking of a question, I might pose one to the three guests to kick off the conversation. I noticed in Sadam’s book, which I was browsing while he was speaking earlier and Christian with yours as well, there are just numerous non-textual elements that go into making a language book more engaging, dynamic and essentially useful for students. 

Where do you start off with the planning or the sourcing around these elements? And Caitlin is asking in the chat what interactive elements or activities have your students been most excited about or engaged by? Feel free to jump in, any of you, and answer this question as it applies to your languages, to your contexts, to your books. 

Sadam: Can I start? Well, honestly, I think what excites the students most is they have particular themes. And the themes for each respective level is suitable to that level. So first year, etc, they have really related. 

Apurva: Sadam, we lost you briefly. You were mentioning but first year?

Sadam: Yes, so for first year for example, students have topics related to things that they would like to talk about, unlike the other textbook. And the vocabulary that we integrated in these themes are practical. So they can talk about themselves, they can talk about their surroundings, they can talk about colors. And not wait a year and half until for example to be introduced to colors. Second, it’s interactive, so the students can really communicate with the textbook independently. 

Okay, their free time and their self-check, obviously. There is also circulation of the vocabulary, so any grammar section, you’ll find let’s say activities where have sentences that circulate the vocabulary. Also, readings, okay as well as culture. Third, I thought that also my students really get excited about the images that we have. The authentic videos that we uploaded there. Something sort of missing in the current Arabic textbook. 

Apurva: Thanks, Sadam. And Christian, it looks like you also had more to add. 

Christian: Yeah, I was just going to say there were two questions there, right? What most excites our students as well as how do we go about this process? So, I’ll start with that second question, what do I do to start off and how do I go about that process? And it directly goes back to what I ended with in my presentation because I’ve tried for example a lot of times when I have an example sentence or many example sentences to demonstrate some sort of new phenomenon, new vocabulary or whatever. 

I start it sometimes with the sentence, and then try to illustrate it, and that wasn’t always that fruitful. And so a lot of times actually I would go on an image search. And start just playing around, seeing what’s out there. And then, I would find images that would inspire me. So letting yourself get inspired by what’s out there I think is really a fruitful way of going about things. 

In fact, actually, when I’ve had to do it the opposite way, it ends up being very stressful. And so, I really like that building on the content that’s already out there. As for looking for images, there’s a lot of open image repositories that I utilize. My favorite places to go are either Wikimedia Commons or Flickr. Flickr is really actually fantastic, even if you can’t necessarily find through a search exactly what you’re looking for. 

I’ll give you an example right now, I’m also working on the images for a Croatian textbook. And sometimes I can’t exactly find the precise place that I need, but I can sometimes find somebody’s album from a trip. And I can just leaf through and I can find they didn’t label it, but I can find their image, so I can find some theater or I can find some café downtown or something like that. 

But so, I look at those resources. There’s also a lot of public domain resources that are available. So you have things like, you have sites that offer open images that are under similar open licenses but not quite public domain like Pixabay or Pexels and things like that. These are all images that are free for us to use. And so, the second question that you asked was what excites my students the most? 

I think what they really enjoy is that we don’t have any in class instruction. We just practice the language the whole time. That means we’re playing games, we’re doing group work, we’re doing pair work, we’re doing presentations. It feels authentic. And I think that authenticity that bringing both real whether it’s videos, vlogs that I find or some of these interview videos that I created, that really makes the language feel living. 

Versus when I used an older textbook that was black and white, very few images, walls of text, things like that. It was hard to really feel connected to the text, the language and what we were doing. So I know that’s a more vague answer.

Karen: Thank you. Amy had a question in the chat, there was great conversation going on in the chat. Amy would like to hear from all of you about the work and considerations you make in making the resources fully accessible. She has a few projects going and some interesting questions are coming up. Feel free to unmute, Amy, if you want to talk about some of those questions. Here they are. I should just read the next sentence. 

For example, with languages that use different alphabets and characters from English, Arabic, Japanese or alt text for images that don’t defeat the learning goals, etc. Thoughts on accessibility. 

Christian: I can say that the alt text is the next step for Reality Czech, we’re not quite there yet. But it’s certainly necessary and something that we should all strive towards doing. I put all the alt text in English because I think the purpose of my images are so that they can see something that can correspond to the Czech text. If you’re visually impaired, you want to be able to see a description of what that is that you can understand fully, so that you can see how it connects to the Czech text. 

For me to put alt text into Czech, I don’t know if that would serve the purposes necessarily of alt text. So I haven’t had to worry about that at all. But I could see some reasons to put alt text in the target language, I just haven’t run across that yet for my own project. 

Karen: Sarah, how do you handle that at COERLL?

Sarah: Well, we’re a little bit in the same boat. We’ve just started really addressing all these accessibility things. So, it really depends for our resources. Some of our resources have video transcripts and some don’t. But now we’re trying to make sure all of them do. And I think most of our projects do not have alt tags yet, so we’ve been starting to talk to project directors about starting to add them. 

So that’s something we’re pretty behind on, but I agree with what Christian was saying about putting it in English so it’s easy to read for students. I’ve also been thinking that well, we haven’t tried this yet, but I was thinking that could be a fun open pedagogy project for students, because I know I’ve gone to accessibility workshops where they have you come up with fun alt texts for images. 

So I don’t know, maybe the students could work on the textbook and add their own alt text or something like that. Because it’s a big job sometimes if there’s so many images, then it would be nice to I think get a lot of people involved in that task. 

Apurva: And Regina has been saying in the chat that the second year OER that Sadam and Iman have been working on is undergoing an accessibility check. Sadam, Regina, did either of you want to describe what the process has been for the first year book released already?

Karen: Regina, you’re muted. 

Regina: Yeah, I am muted. So the book that’s now available at the MSU publishing page is actually the first year, second semester OER. So right now, what I just put in the chat is that the first year, first semester book, right Sadam, that’s beginner Arabic is already finished. We’ve done the copyediting and Sadam and Iman are teaching with that OER in the classes for Fall. 

But we’re not yet ready to release it to the whole world, because we’re still doing the full accessibility check. And like what I said in the chat, I give that first semester to the faculty to teach with the OER, refine and incorporate the feedback from the students so that they can make the necessary changes. Typically, I release it as soon as the semester is over or beginning January. So that we offer a resource that is robust, high quality for the other faculty to adapt and revise as they see fit. 

Apurva: Yeah, that’s a wonderful plan and I especially appreciate the time you’ve taken to really make sure that you’re getting the student feedback because with a lot of language OER in particular, you want to make sure that it’s meeting those goals that you’ve set out. I am seeing another question in the chat from May who teaches classical Chinese. She’s wondering and maybe this is for Christian, where do you find those vlogs? What’s the search process like?

Christian: So the discovery of vlogs, it happened one really late evening, I was still trying to figure out what Reality Czech was going to be. And I’ll just admit it, it was a little bit rudderless at that point. And I started going online and I knew that for example YouTube and Vimeo allow you to put an open license on your content. But my searching up to that point hadn’t yielded a whole lot of great content. 

And then, I realized that there were several international words that users all around the world apply to their videos. These international words, I did a little bit of looking around, they’re in English, but you might have somebody who does videos in French or Spanish or German or Czech or Russian, even scripts that don’t use the Latin alphabet and they’ll still put in their title something like vlog. 

So I started actually googling vlog and I would actually, sorry, not Google, but actually going into YouTube and vlog and then just any other word out there that I was curious about. So, for example vlog Christmas or vlog vacation. And that led me to start to discover not only really good content, but really good creators of content. 

So I would go into their channel and realize not only do they have a few videos that are titled vlog, but they have a couple of dozen other videos that have other titles and they’re also under a Creative Commons license. And so, this allowed me to really quickly get way more content than I could ever, ever handle. And so, I mentioned some of these international words, so another one is Time Lapse. 

So this is something that for example I’ve been using in my first year Czech class over the last couple of weeks. They have just been introduced to a good number of vocabulary words, and we’re starting to learn the plural. So what happens if I see a time lapse of a city? What are the things that I see? Well, I see cars, I see buildings, I see trees, I see buses, I see trams, I see all of these different things that suddenly I can get the students to watch this time lapse video. 

Drone videos work the same way. I can get them to then describe just what are the things that you see? List them all out. Additional ones were for example Hall, Hall is actually an international word and if you’re not familiar with what a Hall is, it’s where somebody maybe buys a lot of different clothing items. And then, they try them all on and there are a lot of Hall videos that are open.

Additionally there’s Unboxing, that’s a commonly used international word. I haven’t had a lot of success with Unboxing, or rather I haven’t really tried very hard to put an Unboxing video into my language classroom. I’m forgetting some, I’m sure, but that basically gets at it. Actually, I have them listed right here. 

Karen: Christian, maybe as you think of them, please drop them in the chat, it’s so fun to hear about them and think about all the ways the internet can be leveraged for language learning, like an Unboxing video. It’s really fun to imagine. So the next question is from Liz and I think we talked a little bit about this in the chat as well. But maybe specifically for Sadam and Christian, but also generally for Sarah, are textbooks written for one year or multiple year studies?

Is there a traditional way it’s done in language learning? Is that changing? I think many of us can think back on our time spent learning a language and often there would be maybe one book for one year, is that still the case? How is it working?

Christian: I’m happy to start on that one. Right now, Reality Czech is primarily a first year textbook. However, the way that I’m developing now is I’m developing additional chapters that one could not conceivably cover in the first year. And so the idea is everybody has a different setup. For example, I was teaching five days a week and I know other universities might have a Czech class that’s three days a week. 

And so, for me to create a book that’s necessarily going to be called first year, well it really just depends on how much you meet and how much you can cover in that year. Right now, I for example cover eight chapters in the first year. I used to cover 10 but I found that pace a little bit too fast. So we have 10 chapters that are developed right now, that were the first year curriculum, but now I’m actually pushing two of those chapters into the second year and developing two more chapters. 

So at this point, I’m quite a good ways towards what will eventually be something that could be used in the second year curriculum and beyond. I don’t know what it means to be a second year book anymore. I know what it means to help my students gain more and more proficiency. But as if there’s some sort of artificial cut off that this is what makes first year and this is what makes second year, I don’t know if I truly understand what that is anymore. 

So that’s where we are, I’m just continuing the development process and basically stacking more on top of it. And so, yeah. 

Karen: Yeah, thank you. Sarah, is there anything in the COERLL catalog that sort of typical starting point or trends? 

Sarah: I would say most of the resources are for first year, but then we hear from people using our resources all over the country who are using them in all different ways, like spread across two years or condensed into one semester even. So it seems like people are really using them all different ways. I think some people are developing more modular things now, too, which might not work as well for beginning language courses. 

But for intermediate language courses where the students already have a foundation, can make different modules and different topics or something and can mix and match. 

Karen: Super. Sadam, feel free to respond to that, I know we’ve talked about your different books for first and second year. There’s also a new question in the chat. And we’ll start with you. How long did it take you to develop your textbook? How many people collaborated with you? You have a co-author and I note Regina supported your work, so maybe you could talk about that support as well as any stipends and release time to develop your textbook. 

Sadam: Well, thank you. That’s a good question. The short answer is when we start really writing the actual textbook, probably a year and a half, two years for first year. But the idea also started when we were doing our hybrid classes, starting in 2016. So we used some of the materials that we use for the hybrid classes. And obviously developed them and refined them for the Arabic textbook. 

It’s a very laborious process, it’s me and my colleague in the Arabic program, we used to spend tens of hours of work per week until we were done with the first semester Arabic textbook and second semester textbook, which is for the whole first year. We’re thinking of doing it for the second year. But we haven’t really practically started. We really want to see how the first book or the first year OER textbook works for the students. 

And see the results, actual results, since we are implementing and piloting it with our first year students. And obviously we can gauge that through different ways, obviously observation because we are teaching that course. Maybe ask students formally and informally to provide their feedback. 

But a more reliable scientific way is to really conduct some OPIs with the students towards the end of each semester and see whether the students really score the appropriate language proficiency level at that particular point of the semester. And then, look at the data and results and obviously move forward or not. 

Karen: Thank you, Sadam. Regina, feel free to jump in if there’s anything you want to add about the program structure or support. I have a question for you, Sarah. You talked a little bit about how COERLL is shifting from the resources and focusing on the resources to moving towards practices and supporting open practices. Can you say a little bit more about that shift and what that looks like?

Sarah: Yeah, well I would say that we’re still developing resources with people. And I don’t want to say that we’re developing the resources because the project teams are developing them and we’re supporting them. But I think so, although we’re still churning resources out, we’re just trying to have more projects that are a little bit more collaborative. Like for example, we have a community for teaching Spanish as a heritage language. 

And so, there’s a community website on there where teachers can go and ask questions and share ideas with each other. And we collect resources there from all different places and they all have open licenses on them. And then, at our workshops we tell people about the licenses. So the main point of the workshop is to learn about teaching Spanish as a heritage language. 

But then, people also learn a little bit about OER at the same time. So, yeah, that’s one example of how we’re just trying to build a community around OER and get people in touch with each other. They can share open ideas at the same time as learning about language teaching as well. And also, we’re trying to get students more involved in that slowly. So, that’s something I think we can work a lot more on. Yeah, so that’s one example. 

Apurva: Thanks, Sarah. I’m wondering could you possibly maybe drop into the chat a link to the vast language collection that you have at COERLL? Because I’ve come across so many resources from your site that I’ve sent to other educators, instructors. I know Christian and Sadam have both shared their books as well. I also noticed this week that Pressbooks has put out a language learning collection in their directory. 

I’ve just dropped in a link to that. One of the things that I’ve always found when I’m supporting language learning projects is to just scour the repositories and databases and the Open Textbook Library as well for other language OER, even if it’s not in the same language as the one that teams might be producing. It’s just so nice to get the inspiration from others. Like today with the vlogs from Christian and with all the H5P and just the methodological approach that Sadam was describing. 

It looks like we have about eight minutes left. So I might just encourage folks in our audience if you have any burning or final questions, please do drop them in now. Speakers, if you have any questions for each other, please feel free to ask away. And Sarah, thank you, it’s nice to see that there’s also the badging incentive for folks to develop language OER and to submit and be featured on the COERLL site. 

Sarah: Well, I had a question for Sadam, first time to address this, so when you mentioned the OPIs I was wondering if you actually tested this out? Like if you tested your students’ proficiency levels when they were using old resources and compared that to when they are using your OER? Because I would be curious to see that research. 

Sadam: Yes, that’s actually the best way to do it, to really come up with the scientifically reliable data. I did not officially really think of your methodology, but I think I should do that. We were thinking of testing the students after they are done with this current semester, since we are already using it. Also, the second semester after the end of the Spring. But in the Arabic program, I am the one who is responsible for conducting the placement tests. 

And part of the placement test is doing unofficial oral proficiency interview. And I know where the students are. And I have obviously the recordings of these placement tests, and I have the scores. I can compare obviously the scores, the old scores with my future scores and see if there is a difference. Yeah, that could also give us a better idea. I have the old ones, the old tests. Those who studied the old textbook. 

Then, I will be having by the end of this semester in Spring, new tests and compare them with the old ones. But that’s a good way of looking at it, good solution, thank you, Sarah, appreciate it. 

Karen: So, as you may know from reading in the chat, I have a link in my clipboard that I was letting Apurva know, since we’re starting to wrap up to please think about what you may want future Office Hour conversations to include. We do have a way for you to drive our future conversations and topics. And so, if you have a moment, please let us know in this quick and easy form. 

Are there any other questions or comments that we may have missed in the chat? Regina has been providing some additional details about the support that they offer at Michigan State. Feel free to let us know if we missed anything before we thank our guests. 

Apurva: I think we got all of the questions that are in the chat. But it looks like this conversation on OER and languages is not certainly the last. Regina mentions that at the upcoming Open Education Conference in October, she’ll be moderating a panel with Sadam and Iman supporting OER creation in the least commonly taught languages. So if you all can get a chance to attend there, I would highly recommend it. 

And Sarah has also mentioned that COERLL is going to start doing office hours for language. So, if you’re a language educator, if you’re working on an OER language project, please feel free to drop into those sessions. And Sarah, can you remind us, anyone is welcome at those drop in webinars, is that right?

Sarah: Yes, correct yeah, it’s specifically for languages, but anyone working on language projects. 

Apurva: Wonderful, I know that there are a few people in this room today who are working on OER projects, and I think we might want to continue the conversation at Office Hours ourselves. But that would be a great place to start. Thank you all, and I’ll just turn maybe to all three of you speakers. Any final words on your end before we officially wrap up for today? 

Christian: Other than just thank you for having me and thank you for letting me share some of my experiences. It was a joy to both talk to you and it was a joy over the last several years to build this project out. So, it’s a lot of work to do a project like this, but for me at least it was very rewarding. 

Sarah: Yeah, thank you and I hope we can all keep in touch about all the great work everyone’s doing. 

Apurva: I think we’re echoing thanks all around. Karen, I’ll let you close us out for today, in that case. 

Karen: Okay, thank you everyone for joining us at Office Hours. Thank you to our three guests, Sadam Issa, Sarah Sweeney and Christian Hilchey. It was a delight, and we look forward to seeing you again in the future. Take care. 

Apurva: Take care everybody, thank you.


Chat Transcript

00:16:57 Sarah Sweeney:
00:21:29 Regina Gong: Here’s the link to the Elementary Arabic OER that Sadam and Ayman have written Feel free to share with anyone on your campus. It’s truly one of a kind and I’m so proud to collaborate with our faculty on this project.
00:21:36 Apurva Ashok (she/her/hers): Thanks, Regina!
00:25:34 Regina Gong: One thing that is unique with their OER like what Sadam has mentioned is that it conforms to the ACTFL standards/guidelines.
00:29:24 Amy Hofer (she/her): Thanks Sadam, I’m just emailing the link to your book to the Oregon grant team working on a beginning Arabic project!
00:29:24 Christian Hilchey:
00:36:10 Karen Lauritsen: Your questions are welcome! Please feel free to start posting questions for any of our guests in the chat.
00:37:50 Karen Lauritsen: Here are COERLL publications that are in the Open Textbook Library:
00:37:50 Sadam Issa: Thank you Amy.
00:38:10 Amy Hofer (she/her): I’d love to hear the speakers talk about making their resources fully accessible. I have a few projects going with interesting questions coming up. For example with languages that use different alphabets/characters from English (Arabic, Japanese) or alt text for images that don’t defeat the learning goals, etc.
00:38:19 Caitlin Balgeman: What interactive elements or activities have your students been most excited about/engaged by?
00:39:38 Mei Kong: Christ. Where do you to find the Vlogs?
00:41:10 Liz Scarpelli, University of Cincinnati Press: Are the textbooks written for one year or multiple year study?
00:41:55 Sadam Issa: We finished first year and we are planning to move to second year here at MSU
00:42:20 Sarah Sweeney: Reality Czech is one year.
00:42:58 Amy Hofer (she/her): Here’s where I’m collecting links to open image repositories FYI (lots of ideas sourced from Heather Blicher’s list)
00:43:05 Apurva Ashok (she/her/hers): Thanks Amy!
00:46:28 Regina Gong: Their 2nd year OER (Sadam and Ayman)—Beginner Arabic is done but not ready to release it yet to the world since we are still doing the full accessibility check. Also I allow one semester for our authors to teach with the newly created OER so that they can incorporate students’ feedback and so they can revise and improve more.
00:46:55 Regina Gong: Stay tuned. 🙂
00:49:16 Joshua Newman [he/him/his]: I think it’s important to note that at MSU, our OER grant program and development process is designed by Regina to include Accessibility considerations from day 1 of the development process.
00:49:58 Amy Hofer (she/her): Thank you for the replies!
00:50:17 Apurva Ashok (she/her/hers): Excellent point, Joshua! Building in accessibility into your workflow from Day 1 can make all the difference.
00:52:55 Sandra Martins: Hull or hall?
00:53:02 Sarah Sweeney: haul I think
00:53:02 Apurva Ashok (she/her/hers): Haul!
00:53:10 Sandra Martins: Tx!
00:54:00 Christian Hilchey: international words — vlog, timelapse, haul, unboxing, roomtour
00:54:52 Caryn Connelly: To Christian and Sadam: how long did it take you to develop your textbooks, how many people collaborated with you, did you get support (stipends and/or release time) to develop your OER textbook?
01:01:13 Apurva Ashok (she/her/hers):
01:01:19 Sarah Sweeney:
01:01:55 Sarah Sweeney: To anyone developing language oER, you can earn a badge from us and be featured on our website:
01:02:57 Regina Gong: @Caryn the OER Award Program at MSU for which Sadam got a grant offered $4,000 for creation of OER
01:03:04 Cheryl (Cuillier) Casey | she/her: Thank you for sharing all of these great resources!
01:03:28 Regina Gong: And another $4,000 for the Beginner Arabic Our that they’ve just finished
01:03:34 Regina Gong: *OER
01:03:55 Karen Lauritsen: I’ve got the google form on my clipboard so can drop that in
01:04:06 Donna: Thank you for sharing these great resources!
01:04:50 Karen Lauritsen: Future Office Hours:
01:05:02 Regina Gong: If you are attending Open Ed conference next month, I’m moderating a panel
01:05:08 Caryn Connelly: Thank you, Regina! And thank you, Sadam for your answers as well.
01:05:10 Regina Gong: Sadam and Ayman are there
01:05:28 Sadam Issa: Thank you
01:05:29 Sarah Sweeney: Reminder that COERLL has office hours for language OER coming up!
01:06:01 Nancy Wood: Thank you!
01:06:26 Amy Hofer (she/her): Great topic, thank you to the speakers!
01:06:41 Ashley Morrison (she / her): Thank you all! This was great.
01:06:53 Jennifer Snyder: Thank you for the resources and ideas!
01:06:54 Apurva Ashok (she/her/hers): Thank you all – such a pleasure to hear and learn from you!
01:06:59 Mei Kong: Thank you all!
01:07:08 Sandra Martins: Thank you all!
01:07:13 Edith Jaco: Thank you!