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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.

Weather lesson (after)











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.

Lessons of the collaboration

It was great to collaborate with some other users on this lesson, try out our tools for working together on a single lesson, and all the other things this push was designed to accomplish, but the best part for me was seeing how the structure of the lesson helped to keep us honest and keep our work useful.

The original weather lesson contained three types of vocabulary: words to talk about light (cloudy/sunny), words to talk about precipitation (raining/snowing), and words to talk about temperatures (hot/cold/cool/warm). As we all tried to find better pictures for the lesson, it became clear that this last group, the temperature words, was giving everyone trouble.

The problem was simple, we fell into the native speaker trap of trying to combine too many concepts in a single lesson. Temperature is much more easily illustrated as a property of things, like foods or beverages, rather than by pointing a camera outside and trying to capture the essence of “cold”. When we tried that, we all came up with different representations, some were animals in the sun, some were people outside surrounded by fall foliage.

Instead of depending on these personal cues, we broke temperature out into a separate “Temperature lesson and moved combined all of the best weather pictures into a Best of Weather lesson. The result is much more grounded and easy to incorporate into other lessons through shared vocabulary.

Temperature lesson

Teaching what they need to know

It is all too easy when trying to teach someone material that you know very well, like your native language, to gloss over the complexity underneath and forget just how much information there is to share. Breaking that material apart and illustrating it are great ways to keep your lessons useful to those who are coming at them with fresh eyes. If you are interested in trying such a system, give wikiotics a try.

Special thanks to jchan, Qalthos, stevensne, colannino, and trose, for building their own versions of the lesson and making the collaboration possible.

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. The pictures we have right now could use some help, and that’s where you come in. Please take a moment to help us clear up the weather lesson by finding better pictures.

How To Participate:

    1) Log in (we’re going to use some special abilities of logged in users to make collaboration easier). 

    2) Go to the lesson and click on “Copy” at the top.

    3) Enter “user:YourUserName/Weather” into the copy box and hit enter

    4) Click on “Edit” at the top and change any of the images you want to replace using the “find new image” link next to each page. That will let you search on flickr for a better picture. (If you are getting too many results, try clicking the “Restrict to project’s Flickr group” box when you are searching.)

    5) Save your new lesson and add a link on the Weather talk page.

    As always, thanks for being part of the community!

A note on user pages
    Think of user pages as a wiki section just for you.  No one else can edit pages in your section so you can build or collect lessons there and know that they will always stay as you left them. Now that you know how, feel free to copy any other lessons on your user pages and tinker with them, or build your own material to share with students and colleagues.

Crossposted with the Wikiotics Foundation blog.

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.

You may have seen some of their projects before, like the video chat client for the deaf that landed on BoingBoing back in June. Once students complete the class they are eligible for independent studies, campus jobs, co-ops and Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships. The goal is to partner with interesting mentoring organizations where their development talents can help solve real world problems, which is where we come in.

Regular Drumbeat users may recognize Taylor from our comments page. In fact our Drumbeat project launch is what brought Wikiotics to the attention of Taylor, Nate, and the folks behind FOSS@RIT, spurring this collaboration into existence.

As our team of developers continues to grow, we will continue expanding and stretching what is possible for the Wikiotics community. The weeks ahead are going to have more activity pushes like this week’s Translation push so it is a great time for any interested developers to come on board and see how everything fits together

Crossposted with theWikiotics Foundation blog

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.

There are many ways for you to help that cost no money but are vital to the project's success. All of them center around you. It doesn't matter where you are from or how much you know about computers, it doesn't even matter if you know a second language, you have something to contribute.

You can help by taking pictures and adding them to our flickr pool. You could turn some simple sentences into a lesson, or edit an existing one. If you have an artistic flair, you can help by re-designing our website or making an icon/emblem for the project. You can even help just by talking.  Leave some encouraging words in the comments here, tell someone about the project, or drop us a note when you see something interesting about language instruction or open web technologies.

It all helps so please, the next time you are writing a check for some other charity, remember our community and all the other ways to give. Your help is exactly what we need.

Cross-posted with the Wikiotics Foundation blog.

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.

That intro lesson already exists in Spanish and Chinese. If you know another language, just use the "copy" button at the top to move the English version to a new location, say "Portuguese_-_Introduction" and edit those English sentences away!

As always, have fun and please feel free to correct the existing translations, find more appropriate pictures for the sentences, add new material, or any other kind of tinkering you enjoy.

More information is available at our Contribute page and all our existing lessons are recorded in this handy list

Crossposted with the Wikiotics Foundation blog