Laura Loves Languages

A place for many opinions

2015 Update to Chloebentley’s Blog

To all my friends and family, I am blessed to be blogging in my sixth decade. I still have so much more I want to do, even though what I do right now is enough activity for at least six people. Last month, I walked a 1/2 marathon called the DC Rock n’ Roll. Cannot tell you how elated this achievement makes me.

For seven years, I have been helping all those who are searching for a cure to fight multiple sclerosis, alongside the most badass fighter I know, my own child. She is an inspiring advocate for health of body, mind and spirit and a true inspiration to our whole family. She is frankly the first reason I have paid such attention to my own diet and fitness level. I am in the best shape physically as I have been in many years,as a tribute to her and thanks to her.

I am still in the most exciting profession that anyone can have, a career in World Languages. This profession has brought me full circle from teaching French and Portuguese in the early years at my alma mater and now at ,y own institution. Presently, I teach all of my classes online, through one of the pioneers in distance learning.

I continue my journey in the world of OER, the solution to making educational materials to the world. This year, I will be working as Editor of MERLOT World Languages for 15 years. Through MERLOT, I have become involved in the MERLOT Africa Network. I am very proud of this work.

So what shall we talk about?

April 1, 2015 Posted by | Community College, e-learning, Languages, MS Awareness, Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments


Dr. Bakary Diallo, rector of the African Virtual University presented the learning architecture and e-learning solutions currently in use in educational institutions in 27 African countries.  Currently a blended mode of instruction is used incorporating Internet, CDs and mobile technologies. Access to higher education in Africa  is often adversely affected by economic issues, bandwidth, outdated curricula and teaching and learning methods. Open educational resources are at the center of the AVU conceptual framework which draws inspiration from promising practices from other areas of the world and adapt these  to an African cultural context.

Dr.Diallo announced plans to release 73 Math and Science & ICT modules prepared by Africans, working with organizations like the MERLOT Africa Network. 

Solomon Negash introduced the audience to the MERLOT Africa Network. This project is about developing partnerships with institutions of higher learning to collect content and share ideas.  he introduced us to eGranary, a  tool that allows users to use Internet sites on an intranet when a web connection is not available.

Infrastructure challenges are huge in Africa, according to Negash, but he encouraged the audience members to share his vision to think big and start small.

August 8, 2008 Posted by | e-learning | , | Leave a comment


I cannot tell you all how wonderful it is to attend an e-learning conference online, as gas prices hurdle to $4.19 at my local gas station and the comfort of my living room surrounded by my dogs replaces airport gates and runway waits. (Ha ha! sorry for the pathetic rhyme.)

At any rate, a number of us on the MAN (MERLOT Africa Network) are attending e/merge and I thought it’d be very interesting to leave comments on this blog about what we all learn there. Today, I listened to the narrated presentation by Irene Ficheman of Sao Paulo, Brazil who compares today’s learning environments to digital ecosystems. We are reading many of the same people- Prensky on Digital Natives, Paulo Freire on learning theory and some new names for me which I will look at soon.

At any rate Ficheman talks about how learners, teachers, content and software act and interact (or not)

so that students can gain knowledge in a dynamic learning environment. We have a good opportunity for reflection on the roles of teachers and learners as actors in this environment. For deeper learning, it seems that the more interaction the better. (So, let’s speak up.)

Anyway, I look forward to checking into this Digital Ecosystem discussion tomorrow and to hear the voices of MAN colleagues so that we can all later interact with the digital ecosystem that is e/merge. I am honored by the privilege to learn from colleagues, Bronwyn and Maggie, who taught us netvibes yesterday.  Earlier in the week, they showed and Facebook. During the  portion, I came across George Siemen’s  Connectivism presentation  from 2005 and, coincidentally, also his blog post about the recent e-learning Africa .

July 13, 2008 Posted by | e-learning | , , , | Leave a comment

e/merge 2008

What a week!!!

I began it at Carnegie Mellon University for a workshop sponsored by the Open Learning Initiative. I got to know their French Online course up close and in person. It was a fabulous f2f experience and  I am thrilled about the prospect of continuing to connect with my new colleagues there. It shows the longevity and proves the utter logic of OER that after all these years of OCW and OLI, we are building a network that aims at providing more access. Even more important to me as an individual practitioner, this work provides us a forum in which we can discuss what really constitutes quality in online teaching and learning. I really need to have these conversations. To have them with  language educators was real ‘icing on the cake”.

One interesting point that came up here regarding instructional design of online courses was the study on the expert blind spot. (Nathan and Petrosino 2003 . Preconceived notions on how concepts should be presented can cause a disconnect between teaching goals and learning outcomes.  five days later, I keep hearing the message “You do  not think like your students and they do not think like you”. When we build and teach our online courses, we need to keep this difference in thinking in mind.

The rest of this week, I have been participating in a superb online conference sponsored by the Centre for Educational Technology in Cape Town, South Africa: e/merge. From the website:

“e/merge 2008 – Professionalising Practices is the third virtual conference on educational technology in Africa and builds on the e/merge conferences in 2004 and 2006. e/merge 2008 will take place online from 7 – 18 July 2008.”

So far, I really enjoyed a presentation by Howard Rheingold, whose work I have followed since his book  The Virtual Community years back. He now has a very interesting course going on at UC Berkeley called Visual Communications/Social Media. His class as explained on his online syllabus is super participatory with subheadings like “Participation mandatory”, “Leadership required”. He has students interacting in ways that immerse them in collaborative tasks while using all the new tools,blogs, wikis, etc.. .  Anyway, he was a keynoter at e/merge and his talk was followed by a robust discussion by educators around the world.

This virtual conference is employing every kind of new technology to connect participants. As much as I love to visit  places physically, it is wonderful to be able to experience so much collective  expertise without leaving home. This is particularly true since air travel has recently become so difficult, grueling and painfully inconvenient. (Hear my anguish??) I see no reason why we can and should not greatly augment the online component of all major conferences, partly as an access/inclusion issue for people who cannot attend f2f , as well as  for many other very good reasons.

July 11, 2008 Posted by | e-learning, Languages | , , , | Leave a comment

e-learning Africa -First Pan African Forum on Open Educational Resources

Gerry, Moustapha, Laura of the MERLOT Africa Network

Gerry, Moustapha, Laura of the MERLOT Africa Network

At the AICC conference center in Accra, talking about MERLOT in an African context. Catriona Savage from UNESCO Education Sector, Paris, France presented first on Open Educational Resources. Open educational resources are educational materials and resources offered freely and openly for anyone to use and under some licenses to re-mix, improve and redistribute. Open educational resources include:

  • Learning content: full courses, course materials, content modules, learning objects, collections, and journals.
  • Tools: Software to support the creation, delivery, use and improvement of open learning content including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and on-line learning communities.
  • Implementation resources: Intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design-principles, and localization of content.

She spoke about the UNESCO perspective on the international OER movement. The OER movement began in 1998 with the term ‘open content’ coined by David Wylie. In 2001, MIT Open Courseware became the first large OER project. She talked about Rice University Connexions intiatives that provide a response to the limitations of traditional textbooks and the University of the Western Cape Free Courseware Project. Health OER is a project between South Africa, Ghana and the University of Michigan dealing with Health education resources.

UNESCO themes include Education for All-Building knowlege societies. With Hewlett Foundation support, the OER movement has been growing as has the availability of free educational content worldwide. Ms. Savage addressed the priorities of the UNESCO OER community. In Africa, some of the priority issues are:

  • Awareness raising
  • Communities
  • Capacity Development
  • Sustainabilty
  • Quality Assurance
  • Copyright
  • Learning support services

Raising awareness through community building and network development are highest priorities.

The OER Wiki

Dr. Bakary Diallo, rector, talked next about the African Virtual University, (AVU) begun in Washington, DC at the World Bank and now based in Nairobi, Kenya. The topic was to increase access to high quality higher education in Africa. Barriers:

  • Limited classrooms
  • Outdated curricula
  • Teaching and Learning Methods
  • Research capacity
  • Access to OER
  • Bandwidth

The AVU seeks collaborative partnerships for the creation, design and dissemination and utilization of OERs. Dr. Diallo stressed the importance of addressing the issues surrounding working in an African historical, philosophical, psychological and cultural context. AVU is establishing collaborative partnerships with MERLOT and the MERLOT African Network. There is a plan to release 73 AVU Math and Science modules as OER.

Dr. Moustapha Diack continued with a talk about “Open Solutions” to increase the availability of OER, to promote free access to scientific literature through Open Access and to adapt open source solutions for learning design and community building. Global and regional policies need to be aligned in this movement to promote truly open access. Diack promoted MERLOT as a premier e-learning community and the MERLOT Africa Network as a means of facilitating networked partnership between US and African institutions affiliated with MERLOT. Open Access resources he mentioned included:

  1. Directory of Open Access Journals
  2. The Hinari Program
  3. The Agora Initiative

I came all the way to Ghana to hear Vikram Savkar, the Publishing Director of Nature Publishing Group, who also happens to be the son of my dear colleague at NOVA, Reva Savkar, Professor of Chemistry at the Annandale Campus.  He spoke about the importance of tertiary science education in Africa. Without access to current quality science research, it is a challenge to provide good education and build capacity. Among solutions to the challenges alluded to by all speakers were: Open (Me-learning) & print materials, centers of excellence and private and public partnerships. Vikram Savkar hasworks on the Nature Science Education library of searchable, reusable digital content, a community of teachers and learners who can collaborate online and tools to permit the community to interact with each other and the content. The key theme in all of these presentations today, including Vikram’s is partnerships- academic, industrial and government partnerships.

Questions and Answers followed: What is the best opportunity to promote OER? Catriona Savage mentioned “talking about OER , telling the story of what works and what does not.” Gerry Hanley of MERLOT talked about “planning for action”. He encouraged the forum participants to have dialogues in their countries after experiencing MERLOT firsthand at the afternoon workshop. Dr. Diallo stressed the importance of addressing different needs and different perspectives.

A question from the audience was about interpretation and translation needs of the OER movement as well as training material about how to effectively use ICTs for teaching and learning. How will we adapt materials for different cultures? Panelists all recognized the needs for multilingual solutions.

Another question raised was about how we will keep track of quality in ICTs? Community built around the content, peer review and user comments, as in MERLOT, were all promoted as means of making decisions about quality.

All speakers talked about the critical need for faculty development in the area of teaching well online. The participants were encouraged to join MERLOT and start making use of the free and open library.

This afternoon, participants in the forum will attend our MERLOT hands-on workshop and get a chance to start to build their own personalcollections of learning objects.

May 28, 2008 Posted by | e-learning | | 2 Comments