The traditional publisher model of expert authored, professionally edited language teaching course books is often necessary, but seldom sufficient for optimal learning.
Although they are a wonder of high quality teaching content, scope and sequence, and production values, course books have their issues. They may take 3-5 years from conception to classroom, and are usually designed for general appeal to a passive mass audience. They are expensive to produce. Authors are far from the needs of different cultures, different students, and different teachers. Contentious topics are avoided.
Thus, the problem is keeping content relevant, current and personalized. Today, slang, technology, and cultural references evolve more quickly now than before. Content and references have lost validity when they are 5 years old (and often when they are 5 months old). And they may have not been personally relevant to the student anyway, since a “common denominator” approach invariably leaves many students yawning.
So what’s a teacher to do? Well, most teachers have the solution: they supplement the core course book to one degree or another. They supplement with web resources, authentic material, teacher- and school-developed content, content from other course books and resources, and activities and projects that teachers come up with on the fly.
And, critically, they supplement (or, for the Dogme folk, replace) with content brought to the learning process by the students themselves.
If a teacher has the skills, resources, and experience, the result can be an optimal mix of pre-defined language content, and personally, culturally, and professionally relevant and engaging content.
But, it’s not easy. For most teachers, we’re talking analog: photocopiers, tape, manila envelopes and file cabinets. For other teachers it’s a mind-boggling succession of web 2.0 apps, user names, and passwords…each one cool and useful but scattered around in info silos throughout the net. What each approach has in common is a lack of time to implement it.
Today’s digital technologies will soon open up possibilities for meeting these challenges. Group authoring platforms and collaboration tools will allow groups of teachers (and students) to work together, pool their energy, and create materials and lesson plans that in terms of both quantity (definitely) and quality (optimally) were formerly only possible from publishers. Print-on-demand, e-learning, and PDFs provide a delivery mechanism that again was previously only available to large publishers.
Large-scale collaboration will lead to the same result in language learning material that Wikipedia brought to encyclopedias: a dramatically wider range of topics (Wikipedia has 10 times the articles of a traditional encyclopedia). This long tail of content will provide the custom course work that will result in radically personalized learning – we’ll have as many courses as we have students. And as we’ve seen with Wikipedia, it’ll be fast and it’ll be cheap. And most importantly, what it will be is open.
So, the coming collaborative content has many advantages: speed, relevance, flexibility, personalization, the capacity to mix authored, student-generated, authentic and web content into a more rounded approach. Through collaboration, this “360° content creation” adopts and adapts content from a wide range of sources, leading to learner-centered content that transforms passive learners into active, and a mass audience into personalization.