InterCom, a customizable weekly newsletter for language professionals, is provided by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) at the University of Oregon. InterCom is sponsored through a Title VI Language Resource Center grant.

Topic of the Week: What is it? Participant Interaction and MOOC Participation

Jeff Magoto is the director of the Yamada Language Center at the University of Oregon and a member of CASLS' Advisory Board. He has been teaching and researching Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) for more than 25 years.

Over the past year I had the opportunity to work with a talented team of teachers and instructional designers to develop two MOOCs (massive open online courses): Shaping the Way We Teach English: The Landscape of ELT and Paths to Success in ELT (see course outline here).

Sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Office of English Language Programs and the University of Oregon, the courses ran back-to-back in Spring 2014 on the Coursera platform (and are slated to run again in Winter 2015).

From the outset we wanted to build a cMOOC, a connectivist MOOC (Downes, 2009), which we interpreted as an online course where participant interaction would be fundamental. Besides the cMOOC’s roots in collaborative learning and constructivism, we saw participant interaction as the key to overcoming the challenges of the “massive” part of the course: the many different backgrounds, ages, prior teaching experiences, and kinds of training our anticipated 6000 regular participants would be bringing to the MOOC.

So with interaction as a primary goal, here are some of the key elements of our course design for our second course, Paths to Success in ELT.  Each of these met with various successes and failures, but having learned a lot from our experience with The Landscape of ELT  they brought us closer to our cMOOC goal.

  1. A predictable (but not necessarily sequential) path through materials and assignments. For most this meant a methodology of: experiencing, understanding, experimenting, and applying.
  2. Required forum participation (for content areas); a system for acknowledging meaningful contributions.
  3. Guest moderators in forums—they’d not only bring a fresh perspective to the weekly topic; they’d see and hear things about the state of the MOOC that we wouldn't.
  4. Peer-to-peer evaluations of lesson plans (this stretched over 4 weeks and was the major assignment of the course). A sample lesson and rubric as InterCom's Activity of the Week: The Ideal Language Teacher.
  5. Multiple opportunities for reflection and revision (and to catch up).
  6. Opportunities for informal interaction: we offered an optional weekly contest based on a vocabulary learning technique, What is it?, first described by Nation (1978). Participants see thumbnail-size photographs of artifacts from around the world (mostly everyday objects, but very culturally specific), and had to guess what they were. They could either post to the “I know it” forum, or the far more popular (and interesting) “Let me guess” forum. Winning guesses were chosen at the end of the course based on creativity, cultural insight, and helpfulness in leading others down the right track. Accuracy mattered less than fluency.

Below, I’ll briefly discuss the most surprising for us, the last one, #6, the optional weekly contest.

For fans of radio quiz shows the fact that a contest generated as much forum traffic as it did may not be surprising (on average more than 300 per week participated, more than 1200 viewed the posts). One of the big challenges of MOOC teaching is constructing tasks where both risk-taking and risk averse students have an equal chance and interest in taking part. And where even those not participating are moved to listen in on what’s being talked about. That’s what What is it? seemed to accomplish: encouraging participants to take part in a simple guessing game seemed to encourage their participation in other, more high stakes areas of the course.  As one participant commented:

Thank you again for appreciating my answers in the contest forum—sometimes I was really at a loss about what the objects were—but I have learnt from my most creative students that it's worth giving it a crazy try, if that means reinterpreting the world around us in a positive and funny way! I will definitely use the "mysterious object" game in my classes.


Downes, S. (2009). Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge. In Collective Intelligence and E-Learning 2.0: Implications of Web-Based Communities and Networking, Harrison Hao Yang and Steve Chi-Yin Yuen, eds. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Nation, P. (1978). What Is it? A multipurpose language teaching technique. The English Teaching Forum, 16(3), 20-23, 32. Retrieved from

Wilson, G. and Stacey, E. (2004). Online interaction impacts on learning: Teaching the teachers to teach online. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology . Retrieved from

Activity of the Week

  • What Makes an Ideal Teacher

    Contributed by Jeff Magoto

    This lesson plan, What Makes an Ideal Teacher, was developed by the course team and used as one of the examples in the peer-evaluation phase of the first MOOC course, Paths to Success in ELT. (See Mr. Magoto's accompany Topic of the Week here) The lesson plan below and the accompanying rubric (available here) were the topics of our “massive” course webcasts (more than 50 attendees in each) where we used a combination of lecture and small group learning to further our goals of increasing interaction among participants.

    The intent of our lesson planning tasks was, of course, methodological: improving the process, substance, and critical awareness of language that a teacher brings to her daily preparation.

    But as in most MOOCs where computer grading is not possible because of the size of the course, peer evaluations serve two purposes: they provide feedback, and they open up another area of inquiry for the course community, in this case, learning about different teaching contexts and the opportunities and constraints that are inherent in them.

    Download the lesosn plan here.

CASLS Spotlight: ANVILL: A Speech-based Toolbox for Language Classrooms by Mandy Gettler, CASLS Associate Director

Through its Title VI National Foreign Language Resource Center grant, CASLS provided seed funding to the University of Oregon Yamada Language Center (YLC) to develop A National Virtual Language Lab (ANVILL), a web-based platform that helps teachers create opportunities for language practice.

"The original goal of ANVILL was to free individual schools from having to fund proprietary, expensive language labs that require company-specific software, training, and maintenance," shares YLC Director Jeff Magoto. "Many small schools couldn't afford these types of language labs."

Approximately 75% of ANVILL users are teachers in established programs looking for a way to extend language practice outside of the classroom. The remaining users are teachers in an online or hybrid course who integrate ANVILL into an everyday tool in their program.

YLC offers ANVILL, built on open-source software, for free to language educators. ANVILL includes templates for listening comprehension activities and speaking practice. Voiceboards are the tool used most by teachers. In less than ten minutes, teachers can create a task and let students respond to a teacher prompt or to each other.

YLC is planning improvements to ANVILL, including the integration of input and output activities, the development of interactive training materials, and the space for teachers to create a community around using the tool in the classroom.

Language Corner

Twitter Accounts for Arabic Learners

Source: We Love Arabic
Language: Arabic Back to Quick Links

Here is a list of suggested Twitter accounts that Arabic learners can follow:

Japanese Teaching Material Purchase Grant

Source: Japan Foundation Los Angeles
Language: Japanese Back to Quick Links


The Japanese Teaching Material Purchase Grant program is intended to assist educational institutions in the U.S. to purchase teaching materials (textbooks, audio-visual materials, dictionaries, teachers’ reference books, etc.) for their Japanese-language courses by providing financial support not exceeding $1,000.

The next application deadline is September 15, 2014.

For full details go to

Article about Oktoberfest

Language: German Back to Quick Links

Here is an article about Oktoberfest in Germany and in the United States:

Day of German Unity Caption Contest

Language: German Back to Quick Links


Are you a wacky wordsmith? A polished polyglot? A language lover? Then you are the perfect candidate to enter’s latest contest! This year is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the German Embassy will be celebrating throughout October and November. The German Embassy is giving away five tickets this year to their Day of German Unity celebration at the German Ambassador’s Residence. Each ticket will allow entry for two guests.

The Day of German Unity Contest is a caption contest. Each week on Monday, will post a photo of the Berlin Wall and it is your job to write a caption for it. Starting August 18, they will post a photo on Mondays and name a winner on Fridays.

For full details about this contest, including the terms and conditions, go to

French Audio Resources

Language: French Back to Quick Links

Recently FLTEACH listserv users have been sharing links to audio resources in French. See the original query at and then click on “Next” by “By Topic” to see the responses.

French-English Word Borrowings

Source: France Amérique
Language: French Back to Quick Links

Here is a French-language article about words that have been borrowed from English into French, and vice-versa:

Billetes: Activities for the Beginning of Class

Source: Zambombazo
Language: Spanish Back to Quick Links

Billetes is a new activity type from the Zambombazo website specially designed for the beginning of your Spanish class. You can access them here:

Using Bananagrams To Learn Spanish

Source: Spanish Playground
Language: Spanish Back to Quick Links


How can Spanish learners use the Bananagrams game? Well, they can play the normal game, of course. However, the game can also be adapted in several ways, as suggested in this blog post from Spanish Playground:

TV Series: America’s Secret Slang

Source: History Channel
Language: ESL/Bilingual Back to Quick Links


American’s Secret Slang is a new TV series on the History Channel. Here is the series description from the History Channel’s website:

“The history of America is buried in a surprising place—the unique phrases we use every day. What’s the story behind our most popular slang phrases, from “dyed in the wool” and “long in the tooth” to “three sheets to the wind” and “dead as a doornail?” Even words as simple as “hello” and “goodbye” contain secret messages—powerful hidden records of the American story.”

Watch videos from the series at

Read a review of this resource at

10 Ideas for Games in the Classroom

Source: ELT Experiences
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links

Here are ten ideas for games in your language classroom:

More Beginning of School Ideas

Source: Various
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links

Here are some icebreaker activities for the beginning of school:

Here is a thought-provoking blog post on using learning stations on the first day of school, and what you can learn from doing so:

Teaching Technique: “Send a Messenger”

Source: Reflections of an English Language Teacher
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links


Our InterCom theme for August is Interaction. In a recent blog post, English language teacher Lizzie Pinard describes a simple technique to encourage interaction among student cooperative groups. Read her blog post here:

Keeping Games Communicative

Source: Musicuentos
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links

We at InterCom excited to see this recent blog post from Musicuentos about keeping games communicative; it fits perfectly with our August theme, Interaction. Read the blog post here:

Immersion Days at Wright State University

Source: Wright State University
Language: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Spanish Back to Quick Links


Every year Ohio high school students have the opportunity to attend immersion days at Wright State University. Here are the dates of the different language immersion days in the coming year:

German Immersion, Wednesday October 29, 2014 (
French Immersion, Wednesday November 5, 2014 (
Spanish Immersion, Wednesday November 19, 2014 (
Chinese Immersion, Thursday February 12, 2015 (
Arabic Immersion, TBA in March 2015

Read about past immersion days at

Native American Language Revitalization Legislation in the 113th Congress

Source: LSA
Language: Indigenous Back to Quick Links


The Linguistic Society of America is currently engaged in a campaign to educate and inform members of the U.S. Congress about the benefits of Native American language revitalization. There are two bills currently pending in both houses of Congress which seek to enhance efforts to revitalize Native American languages:

 H.R.726/S.2299 Native American Languages Reauthorization Act of 2014
 H.R.4214/S.1948 Native Language Immersion Student Achievement Act

The LSA is working with its Committee on Endangered Languages and their Preservation (CELP) and allied organizations to raise awareness within Congress about the importance of Native American language revitalization. If you are interested in communicating your opinions about this legislation to your Senators or Representatives, you can go to this link:

Learn more about the current round of legislation at

Survey: Many ELL Teachers Feel Unprepared for Common Core

Source: Language Magazine
Language: ESL/Bilingual Back to Quick Links


As students return to school from the Summer break and districts scramble to prepare for the full administration of the assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a new survey shows that teachers are feeling less confident about CCSS than ever. Teachers of English language learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities are especially discouraged.

The report published by Education Week Research Center, “From Adoption to Practice: Teacher Perspectives on Common Core,” surveyed 457 teachers and instructional specialists in K-12 schools from states that have adopted the CCSS. …

According to the findings, most respondents were familiar with the CCSS, but less familiar with the aligned assessments currently being developed by the two national consortia, Smarter Balanced and PARCC and 39% responded that they had no familiarity with the assessments. Less than half of respondents believe that their curricular materials and textbooks are aligned with the CCSS. Only 31% of respondents agreed that they have access to high-quality materials that are aligned with the CCSS.

Read the full article at

Read a related article at

Blog Post: Listen to Your Classmates!

Source: Andrew Weiler
Language: ANY Back to Quick Links


In a recent blog post, Andrew Weiler points out the importance of listening to fellow students to improve listening skills. He goes on to point out that true interaction is much more than simply talking: “One way you can take your listening to a new level is to respond to what people say… NOT say what you have on your mind.”

Read his full post at

Professional Development

Roundtable on Learning-Oriented Assessment in Language Classrooms and Large-Scale Assessment Contexts

Source: Columbia University
Content Area: Assessment, Curriculum Design, Learning Science, Methods, Standards Back to Quick Links


The Teachers College Columbia University Roundtable in Second Language Studies (TCCRISLS) brings together experts from around the world to examine and discuss theory, research and practice in the area of second language (L2) studies. The topic of TCCRISLS 2014 is Learning-Oriented Assessment (LOA) and its application in L2 classroom and assessment contexts. LOA is an approach to assessment that prioritizes the centrality of L2 processing and the promotion of L2 learning outcomes in a variety of learning and assessment contexts.

This year’s TCCRISLS will take place at Teachers College, Columbia University, October 10-12, 2014.

For more information go to

PSMLA Annual Fall Conference 2014

Source: PSMLA
Content Area: ANY Back to Quick Links

The Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association annual fall conference will take place October 17-18, 2014, at State College. The theme is “Many languages, one state: Let’s collaborate!”

Visit the conference website to see the conference schedule, browse the conference sessions, and register:

Center for Applied Linguistics Launches a New Website

Source: CAL
Content Area: ANY Back to Quick Links

The Center for Applied Linguistics has launched a new website. The new website will provide the latest information about CAL’s research, projects and resources. You can browse our new website on your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone at

Conference: Community-Based Heritage Language Schools

Source: CAL
Content Area: Culture, Curriculum Design, Heritage, Learning Science, Methods, Policy/Issues/Advocacy, Specific Purpose Back to Quick Links


Community-Based Heritage Language Schools: Promoting Collaboration Among Educators, Families, and Researchers
American University
September 27, 2014 | Washington, DC

Many language communities in the United States have established schools and programs to teach a wide variety of heritage languages. These programs face similar challenges, which include maintaining sustainable funding levels, involving families fully and effectively in the language development enterprise, finding and supporting effective teachers, developing curriculum and materials that engage students and promote learning, and receiving recognition from the formal public and private school education community.

This conference will bring together teachers, administrators, and parents involved in community-based language schools, along with language researchers, to explore ways to address these important issues together.

Visit the conference website for more information:


Book: Computer-Assisted Language Learning

Source: Cambridge Scholars Publishing Back to Quick Links


Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Learners, Teachers and Tools
Edited by Jeong-Bae Son
Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Computer-Assisted Language Learning: Learners, Teachers and Tools is an examination of contemporary issues related to learners, teachers and tools in computer-assisted language learning (CALL) environments. It explores the interrelationship among the three components of CALL and presents the findings of recent work in the field of CALL. As the third volume of the Asia-Pacific Association for Computer-Assisted Language Learning (APACALL) Book Series, this book is a significant contribution to CALL communities. It offers great opportunities for readers to engage in discussions on CALL research and practice and provides a valuable resource for applied linguists, researchers, language teachers and teacher trainers.

Visit the publisher’s website at

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