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Beating the drum in Barcelona

One week after Open Education 2010 conference and the Drumbeat Festival both wrapped up in Barcelona and I’ve finally cleaned off my desk enough to write about it, just in time to discuss some negative comments that are going around.

I had a lot of fun at the Drumbeat festival. I met a lot of interesting people, showed my work to many interested people, and the “festival” structure of the event (part-conference, part-un-conference, and part-makerfaire) encouraged a lot of mixing and interaction I would not have experienced at a traditional conference where I would have been sitting with other wiki people getting past the narcissism of small differences all too common to such highly-focused gatherings.

There has been some talk over the past week about all the things the conference was not. It was not a pure un-conference open to all, it was not multilingual, it was not a revolution. I understand the disappointment that gives rise to these criticisms. The intersection between education and technology can be both an exciting and a depressing place to work.

Technology is rapidly changing how we communicate and store information but institutions in general, and educational ones in particular are slow to change and even slower to re-engineer their basic principles of operation to incorporate outside changes. No conference was going to resolve this systematic tension, nor would it have been wise to pretend to solve it by excluding everyone with money or everyone with business-friendly leanings.

What Mozilla did instead was facilitate a discussion between parts of the community that don’t often come into contact with each other. While the Open Education conference held earlier in the week had a number of interesting talks, I did not meet the wide spectrum of people there that I did during the Drumbeat festival. This was a hugely useful to me in my work. I got lots of different perspectives on what I’m doing, learned a lot about what else is going on in the field, and made some great connections for future collaboration.

Would I have liked more of a multilingual focus? Sure! I run a language instruction non-profit, and spent the opening night of the conference showing everyone how easy it is to make Catalan lessons. I’d love for people to focus on language all the time. But I respect how hard it was just to get everyone into the same space and get everyone excited about working together.

More than anything, that is what I see Mozilla Drumbeat doing. They pull us together, they get us moving, they beat the drum. It is even in the name! It is great work and work that Mozilla is uniquely positioned to do.

Everyone seems to agree that lots of great people went to the festival and everyone had some great interactions there. To me those are signs Mozilla is doing their job well and making these productive meetings of cultures more commonplace. Getting us together is what drummers are for and you can’t blame them for the structural tensions that cause us to have different viewpoints and priorities when we get there.

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. Each push will focus on a simple task that should only take a few minutes of your time and we’ll be blogging about the whole effort each week. As always, your participation is what makes this project work, so come over to the site and take a look.

How to Translate

Translating a lesson is done with three easy steps.

First, load the lesson you want to translate.

Second, copy the lesson into the right area of the wiki for its new language. To do this, hit the “copy” botton at the top of the page and enter in a new name for the lesson, starting with the language code for the new language and a “:”. So, if you are translating the Introduction lesson into Hungarian, you would enter “hu:Bevezetése” for the new name, which is the Hungarian for “Introduction”. If you are translating it into Portuguese, you would enter “pt:Introdução”.

Third, hit the “edit” button on your new lesson and replace the English sentences with versions appropriate for your language.

Now you have a brand new language lesson that you can share with anyone! Congratulations and thanks for helping improve Wikiotics. When you are done, please add a link to your lesson here so we can all appreciate it:

The Languages

Currently the system has areas for 25 languages and we have the introduction lesson translated into five of them:

(ar) Arabicمقدمة
(af) Afrikaans
(bs) Bosnian
(ca) Catalanó
(cs) Czech
(da) Danish
(de) Germanührung
(en) English
(eo) Esperanto
(es) Spanish
(fi) Finnish
(fr) French
(he) Hebrewהקדמה
(hi) Hindi
(hu) Hungarian
(id) Indonesian
(is) Icelandic
(it) Italian
(ja) Japanese緒論
(ko) Korean소개
(nl) Dutch
(no) Norwegian
(pl) Polish
(pt) Portugueseção
(ro) Romanian
(ru) RussianВведение
(sk) SlovakÚvod
(sv) Swedish
(tr) Turkish
(uk) Ukrainian
(zh) Chinese简介

If someone has already done the translation you were planning to do, you
can skip right over to the final step and edit the existing page to
improve the lesson quality.

Let’s see how many more of these we can create by the end of the
week. Just let us know if you would like to translate into any
additional languages and we will add them to the system.


The Wikiotics Team

Update #1 (12:01 Eastern Oct 12, 2010)

We’ve got Portuguese and half of the Japanese translation done
already. This is great work everyone! I’m going to keep updating here
and adding links to new lessons as we get them so check back. And don’t
forget to add a link to your new lesson to when you’re done translating!

Update #2 (14:23 Eastern Oct 12, 2010)

Thanks to Soassae from #learnanylanguage on freenode, we now have an
Italian version of the lesson. We have also added Hindi as a possible
language on the site so we’re up to 8/26 now. For anyone who is curious
about how we selected the initial languages to support, we based it on Wikipedia size, but just ask if you want any other languages.

Update #3 (16:18 Eastern Oct 12, 2010)

#learnanylanguage on freenode comes through agaimember psychicist doing a Dutch translation. That brings us up to 9/26, possibly with more languages supported tomorrow.

Update #4 (17:27 Eastern Oct 12, 2010)

And by “tomorrow” I mean right now. We’ve added support for both
Slovak and Bosnian since anonymous users made the translations without needing a place to put them. Those are both now in comfortable homes and while we were in there we added support for Hebrew so Arabic wouldn’t need to be the only right to left script in the collection. So that brings us to a total of 12 translations out of 29 languages that we have support for. Clearly we need to add more languages! Keep up the great work everyone.

Update #5 (18:00 Eastern Oct 12, 2010)

Ask and you shall receive. Thanks to yosko from #learnanylanguage we now have a Hebrew translation. Much appreciated yosko. We’re now at 13 of 29 languages.

Update #5 (10:43 Eastern Oct 13, 2010)

The multi-talented yosko starts us off strong today with a new French
translation as well as a native speaker’s take on the Spanish version.
We have also added support for Icelandic to the system and will be
adding Afrikaans later today.

Updte #7 (13:54 Eastern Oct 13, 2010)

Thanks to Manel from #learnanylanguage, we now have a Catalan
translation of the introduction lesson, as well as the correct spelling
of “Catalan” in this blog post! Thanks Manel. That brings us up to 15/30

Update #8 (15:40 Oct 13, 2010)

…And then there was Arabic! I also forgot to mention in the last
update that we’ve added Afrkcaans as a supported language, which is how we got to 30 possible languages. With the Arabic translation, we’re now back up past the half-way point with 16/30.

Update #9 (10:46 Eastern Oct 14, 2010)

Thanks to an annonymous user we now have an Afrikaans translation, bringing our total up to 17/30. Great work there. It is also worth noting that a couple of users have been going through and improving some of our existing translations, particularly the Chinese and Japanese ones. So if you looked at those earlier, take another look and try out the “history” tab at the top to view different versions.

Update #10 (11:34 Eastern Oct 16 2010)

Thanks to one Martin Falk Johansson, we now have a Swedish
translation up. Thanks Martin! That brings us up to 18 of 30 languages
here in the final days of the translation push.

Update #11 (13:10 Eastern Oct 17, 2010)

As we wrap up our first activity drive, it looks like a rough Korean
translation is going to bring us up to 19 of 30 languages. That means
that we’ve had 14 new translations done over this week, while expanding the Wikiotics language support to five more languages. We’ve also had a couple existing translations, notably Spanish and Chinese, updated and corrected by native speakers. All told, a great week. Thanks to everyone who has helped out!

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 basic materials of language instruction are things that anyone can make. If you think our Introductory English lesson would be more effective with pictures from London, or if you think it would work better for you if it used pictures of the people and activities in your personal surroundings, you can change them. That is true whether you are a professional web designer and photographer or a kid with a camera phone. Point. Shoot. Teach. It is that simple and it is the only way our lessons get built.

If you want to turn our Chinese lesson into a Mandarin or Cantonese one, you don’t need any special training or programming expertise, all you need are a dozen sentences of recorded audio. If you don’t speak either of those dialects, there are more than a billion people who could record them for you. Our goal is to make that kind of sharing as simple as possible so that not only can some of the Mandarin speakers in the community record audio for you, but you can easily record some English sentences for them in thanks.

The raw material of language instruction is easy to make, but before the open web, there was no easy way to gather enough of it together in one place to create a universal language resource, just as there was no way to build a universal encyclopedia. The open web is the only way to make communication and collaborative creation easy enough to build either of these projects. That is the lesson that millions have learned from Wikipedia and it is why using Wikipedia as an example will let you start a conversation about the open web with almost anyone, regardless of their level of technological expertise. If we succeed in empowering people to teach each other language, there will be millions more who understand this lesson and how see the “open web”, not as an abstract concept about free technological infrastructures but rather as a vital structure supporting the activities of their daily lives.

Crossposted with

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. The goal is to show people the value of the open web by engaging them in a productive community activity, like Wikipedia’s encyclopedia collaboration, that can only happen on a free and open web. The focus of our community is language instruction; our focus is showing people in the language community how the open web empowers them to do things that would otherwise be impossible.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the lack of free, high quality, language instruction material or wondered why tools like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur can still charge hundreds of dollars for tiny amounts of language instruction inside interfaces that are less flexible than you average web page, check out our project. Our tools will allow the community to build rich, interactive language instruction materials, materials that are as easy to create, re-mix, and share as Wikipedia pages.

Getting Involved

We can always use more people and getting involved at this stage is really easy, just check out the project page and leave some comments. Wikiotics means a lot to me so I really appreciate the effort, even if it is just signing up.

If you want to do more, we’ve got a Flickr photo group where we’re collecting pictures for use in language lessons. If you have any CC licensed* pictures, join up and add away. Pictures with clear subjects are easiest to use for language instruction but anything you can imagine using is welcome. Think of them as picture flash cards for sentences like “the girls are walking” and you’ll get the idea. This picture is the best I could do from searching flickr’s current pictures, but I’m sure you can all do better with your cameras and some willing subjects.

We’re also in the midst of heavy technological development for our back-end software, a lovely new wiki called ductus, built from the ground up to handle this kind of rich interactive content. If anyone is interested in python, django, and the possibilities of git-based wiki development, check it out.

*CC-BY or CC-BY-SA specifically

Crossposted with