Blog posts

WikiConference USA

This past weekend was the inaugural WikiConference USA, a New York area conference focused on all things wiki. I presented a summary of our work with PS 9 at a session on Saturday morning and was privileged to share a track with Gabriel Thullen, a Swiss computer and media teacher who helps students contribute to Wikipedia as early as 7th grade. It was wonderful to see others who are working directly in schools and, as always, I was very pleased to talk with language teachers from as far away as San Francisco and Canada.

Language exchange launch

Last night we began the second stage of the Last Language Textbook campaign at Brooklyn’s PS 9 elementary school. Fifteen parents and teachers gathered together to start a new language exchange organized around the materials that Wikiotics Fellows Claribel Sanchez and Jarrett Carter spent the summer building. I am happy to report that everything went very well and the group is scheduled to meet again on December 2nd to continue learning basic Spanish vocabulary and practice their first English/Spanish dialogues.

Learning Bilingually

This September the Last Language Textbook is coming to the Teunis Bergen PS 9 School in Brooklyn. Our Wikiotics Fellows have spent the summer building resources to help parents of the school’s bilingual education students learn along with their children. On September 8th we will be introducing these new materials to the community and showing how parents can get involved by building materials for each other, their children, and by participating in school sponsored language exchanges.

Building for the world

How do you build globally useful teaching materials? In the first year of our Last Language Textbook (LLT) campaign we have tried a number of approaches, from international workshops to online courses. Our conclusion? Start by building materials that are immediately useful to one community and empower teachers to adapt, rebuild, or share those materials for use in different circumstances. For the second year of the LLT campaign we are taking that lesson to heart and refocusing our international efforts locally on the dual language program at a Brooklyn elementary school.

The Last Language Textbook – New Delhi workshop

On October 25th and 26th I was in New Delhi running the second workshop in our Last Language Textbook workshop series. A dozen teachers from all over India and I spent two days exploring the capabilities of the Wikiotics tools and building lessons for their students. You can see all the lessons we built on the Indian workshop page, including our second Panjabi lesson and this great podcast lesson on asking permission, which was written from scratch by two teachers who were completely new to Wikiotics.

A report from Wiki Workshop One

This past Saturday was the first Wikiotics workshop, an event we have been discussing for many weeks. We had some great participants representing a whole range of New York’s educational organizations, from universities like Adelphi and Columbia, to the Metropolitan College of New York (MCNY), and the informal group Friends of the United Nations English club group organized to support the UN language school. During a few short hours we designed and created 4 new lessons, brainstormed topics for 11 more, and, while we were at it, recorded audio for all of our Spanish lessons.

Building a lesson: Podcasts

What is a Podcast? Last week we looked at the Picture Choice lesson format, which combines text, audio, and pictures into a type of interactive flash card format. This week the focus is all audio with our Podcast lesson format. A Podcast lesson is what we call any lesson made up entirely of audio. These can be short dialogues, traditional “repeat after me” courses, or any combination of purely audio elements you can imagine.

Building a lesson: Picture Choice

This week we are going to build a picture choice lesson, which is an interactive lesson format that combines simple text, audio, and pictures. As mentioned last week, picture choice lessons are particularly good for building vocabulary and explaining easily picture-able relationships like number, size, location, relative position, color and other physical adjectives, etc. There are two basic ways to build a picture choice lesson: to review material or to lead students through new material.

Building a lesson: The Foundation

This second post in the “Building a lesson” series will give you some general tips for building online teaching materials along with Wikiotics-specific instructions to walk you through building lessons on Choose a topic The first step in building a lesson is choosing a topic. Since language covers anything you can express, there are an almost limitless number of potential topics. Honestly it is a bit daunting so we have created a simple curriculum of introductory English topic here on our Last Language Textbook campaign pages (Level 1-Stage 1, Level 1-Stage 2, Level 1-Stage3, Level 2-Stage 1, Level 2-Stage 2, Level 2-Stage 3).

Building a lesson: The Lesson Types

On October 13th we will be running our first workshop, “Wikiotics and Dimsum”, where we will be working with a number of first time lesson builders. To help all of them, and all of you reading this who want to help but have never built a language lesson before, I am starting this series of “How To” blog posts giving you an in depth view of how to build each of the four Wikiotics lesson types: Picture Choice, Podcast, Phrase Choice, and Storybook.

Wikiotics is having a workshop!

As part of our ongoing Last Language Textbook campaign we will be running a daylong workshop this October 13th to build introductory English language materials to send with the newest Kids on Computers computer lab deployment, to a rural Junior high school in Mexico. During the workshop we will expand and customize existing lessons, adding our voices, pictures, and experience with English to help some great kids begin their studies. Native English or Spanish speakers, photographers, language teachers, students, and general open education supporters welcome.

Wikiotics on P2PU

July is all about growing the community here at Wikiotics; last week with my trip to Washington DC for Wikimania and today with the launch of our P2PU course: “Build the LLT“. If you are interested in using Wikiotics or helping to Write the Last Language Textbook but want some help learning the tools, this course is for you. Whether this is your first time helping someone learn language or you teach professionally, our course will walk you through the steps.

Wikiotics at Wikimania

I just booked my ticket down to DC for this year’s Wikimania, which will be my first. Send me a note if you are going too and want to session-hop together. Looking forward to talking about the wiki world and the Last Language Textbook project with the Wikipedia community.

The Last Language Textbook

How do you build free language education in every language, for everyone? This is the central question that motivates our work at Wikiotics and today we unveil the first step toward that goal. We call it “The Last Language Textbook.” The Last Language Textbook is a campaign to build a completely free collection of language lessons that can serve as a textbook replacement, available on the web, for anyone learning introductory English.

The next billion students

Part of what makes working in educational technology exciting are the occasional moments you have that are exhilarating and daunting at the same time. I had one such moment recently while putting together a funding proposal, specifically when trying to answer the question “How big is the problem you are trying to solve?” Since language education is a vast social enterprise, any attempt to come up with a total number of students is necessarily a general approximation.

The Face of Wikiotics

Back in December, Jim, Laurent, and I spent a week in New York examining every part of Wikiotics, what those parts look like and how they fit together. We have been working behind the scenes all this year to implement the design from that week and I am proud to say that the most public element of it is now visible; has a new face. We hope you will agree that this rebuilt page is both more functional and more attractive than the last version.


I’m happy to announce that Wikiotics will be presenting at the tenth annual SCALE, the Linux Expo of Southern California, this coming January. Those of you in the LA area or who, like myself, will be traveling in should stop by January 20-22nd and see the presentation or stop by our table on the expo floor. SCALE is actually the first conference that Jim and I went to as Wikiotics so I am especially gratified that we get our first exclusively Wikiotics focused presentation opportunity here as well.

Speak and the world will listen

When Jim and I founded Wikiotics almost four years ago, one of our goals was to make it as easy to exchange native audio recordings as others have made it to exchange flash cards. Our first step towards that goal was adding audio to our existing picture and text “picture choice lessons“. Now, I am proud to say that we have built our first specifically audio focused lesson type, one whose materials can be collaboratively edited and then streamed from the site or downloaded for offline practice.

MeetUp and MobilityShifts

September was a very social month here at Wikiotics, including discussions with the folks at P2P University and the first gathering of our MeetUp group NY teaches language to the world here in New York. We are planning to continue that trend in October, including new meetups and my participation in MobilityShifts, a conference on the future of Education going on in NYC all this week. I’ll be speaking on a panel this Friday discussing the issues involved when you move learning online and into the public.

Taking OSCon by Wiki

OSCon was a wonderful experience, and not just because the weather back home was 30-50 degrees warmer. During the three days that Jim, our volunteer Jamela, and I ran the Wikiotics booth, we were almost constantly busy talking to interested people and showing off the site on our lovely borrowed monitor. (Thanks for the loan Kenny!) It was a great turnout, especially since our fledgling resources kept us from offering the kinds of swag, food, and other tempting prizes that always move so many feet during conferences.

OSCon and the Unconference

Jim and I are in Portland, Oregon right now, in the midst of two great events, OSCon 2011, which begins on Tuesday, and the Community Leadership Summit, which just wrapped up this evening. This brief space between the two seemed like a good point for an update. New blog First of all, welcome to the new blog! After the drumbeat project’s spring re-design removed blog functionality from all the project pages, we’ve been a bit too isolated, and too busy to build new communication infrastructure.

Wikiotics Monthly Update (May-June 2011)

Here’s a brief recap of the past month (or two) in Wikiotics: Summer Pilot program For the last six weeks or so we’ve been working to support the English language programs at the New York Public Library, who we made contact with after our presentation at the Digital Media and Learning 2011 Drumbeat science fair. The NYPL runs a series of classes focused on the “We Are New York” series of Television shows put out by the city.

Wikiotics logo design contest

We are holding a contest to design of a logo for Wikiotics. More details at Feel free to leave feedback if you have thoughts on the entries so far. The contest will be open for another 72 hours.

Wikiotics Monthly Update (March 2011)

SCALE 9x Ian and I hosted a booth at SCALE 9x in Los Angeles on February 26 and 27. We had live demos of picture-choice lessons (with audio!), and we showed people how to edit lessons. Many people stopped by, and many people were excited about the project. DML2011 Ian attended the Digital Media and Learning Conference in Long Beach, California, March 3-5. Among other things, Wikiotics was a last-minute entry into the “Drumbeat science fair.

Wikiotics Monthly Update

This is the first of what I plan to be a monthly update on progress and happenings in the Wikiotics project. Hopefully it will help keep everyone involved aware of the work that others are doing. If you have anything to add, just reply-to-all on this email. Or, in the future, send me an email by the end of any given month and I will include it in the next update.

Lessons just for you

Last week we explored how to use collaboration inside the Wikiotics community to build better lessons for each other and we saw how this can produce great results for material like weather vocabulary. But what about the parts of language that are more complicated? What about concepts like “beautiful”, “fun”, “boring”, and “interesting”? We each have different ideas about what these concepts look like and we are unlikely to be able to come to a consensus opinion.

Pictures keep you honest

One week later I am proud to announce that our weather lesson is both more attractive and much more effective thanks to some great collaboration by our users. You can see that the new pictures are much easier to tell apart, especially the raining and snowing ones. In addition, the sun is now clearly visible in the “sunny” picture and there is no Eiffel tower in the “cloudy” picture to cause confusion about subject.

In the News

The collaboration with RIT’s FOSS@RIT campaign I blogged about last week is now the subject of a press relase from the school here. Currently we’re at the top of the University homepage! Welcome to all the RIT students who have found Wikiotics through that release. Crossposted with

Wikiotics week 2: Talking about the Weather

Last week Great job last week everyone! We got the Introduction lesson translated into 14 new languages and made five more languages available for Wikiotics users building lessons. This week we’re focusing all that effort on one lesson, talking about the weather: This week Talking about the weather is a daily activity in people’s lives, but many of the concepts are difficult to represent in pictures. “Cold” vs “Cool” or “Cloudy” vs “Overcast” for example.

Students of Free Software

Thanks to the FOSS@RIT program, Wikiotics is proud to welcome two new developers to the project, Taylor Rose and Nate Case. Both are students at the Rochester Institute of Technology and veterans of the FOSS@RIT program. FOSS@RIT houses an innovative introductory class “Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software Development” designed to give students real experience with free software all the way from the principles of copyleft through the communication and development tools used to build systems like Wikiotics in a global community.

Time to Translate

After a productive summer of software building, we would like to introduce the first version of the Wikiotics community site. In order to test everything out and introduce the site’s new capabilities, we’re asking everyone to help out and translate our Introductory lesson into as many languages as possible. If you know how to write “This is a boy” in one or more languages, we need your help. This will be the first of four week-long pushes that will culminate with a lesson building session at the Drumbeat festival in Barcelona.

Contributing is giving too

After a year of careful planning, and a fair bit of last minute scrambling around, Wikiotics is now a recognized charity in the United States. This is generally the point where new charaties shift into fundraising mode and ask for your support in the form of a check. I’m not going to do that. If you are interested in Wikiotics, if you care about language instruction or believe in the power of the open web as a teaching tool, please take a moment now and support our charity, not by writing a check, but by joining our community.

Go Ahead, Make My Lesson

I’m proud to announce that we now have a simple interface for editing and translating lessons on! This is some great work by Jim that lets us get on with the fun part, making and playing with lessons. If you have a minute, take a look at our example lesson (in English) and play around. The “edit” button at the top will let you change the text and pictures that are there, add new text and picture pairs, or rearrange the existing materials however you want.

Engaging Everyone

One of the biggest difficulties in open web education is building your project in such a way that it engages everyone rather than only the group of technologically savvy people who already understand the value and values of the open web. That is why we built Wikiotics from the ground up around materials and contributions that anyone can make. If we can empower people to help each other, we will teach them about the power and importance of the open web as a natural part of their work, just as Wikipedia has done for millions of people around the world.

The Drumbeat of education

As many of you may know, I’ve been working on a language education project for the last two years, ever since running into a wall with my own Chinese studies. That project is called Wikiotics, a combination of “wiki” and “semiotics“. So far we’ve spent our time building tools for creating interactive language lessons like this sample lesson for English. The Grant On Monday we applied for funding from the new Mozilla/Shuttleworth “Open Web fellowship” program to try and support the project through a year of community building.