Normally if we were asked to think of the media form where we would most likely expect to be asked to find all the nicknames of a fruitfly species, we might think of a school exercise book. However, by effectively deploying what might typically be educational content instead inside everyday social media, ILoveBees was able to more easily provide learners with authentic audiences and an immersive narrative.
While at first some of the learning applications of the new media technologies used in ILoveBees may seem surprising, it is important to realize that most of the technologies that power the internet were created to facilitate some form of learning from other internet users:
The earliest generation of web technologies focused on having machines learn from humans. For example, at the core of the now ubiquitous google search engine is an algorithm that analyzes which websites link to which other websites, as a way of measuring which websites different website creators consider valuable or relevant to particular topics. In this way google is able to aggregate the intelligence of every website creator in the world to learn what the most relevant sites are. Similarly, Amazon.com monitors what customers search for and purchase in order to learn what its most popular products are.
As the web is evolving, many of the most popular new technologies are those that allow humans to directly tap into and learn from the intelligence of other human beings. Social bookmarking software allows users to view the bookmarks of other users to share insights on useful resources. RSS aggregators allow large social networks to propagate news and information instantly. Social search applications such as google co-op and outfoxed allow users annotate the search results of friends (or students in other countries). Social networking sites such as 43 things connect people around the world learning the same hobbies to help mentor one another. Wikipedia aggregates expertise from amateur masses. The list goes on and on and on.
For a while now, numerous foreign language penpal sites have been available to connect learners of one language with learners of the other. In some cases, people are able to naturally spark stimulating multilingual conversations by themselves. In other cases, people simply discuss their favorite ice cream flavor, then get bored and leave. As sites like fanfiction.net demonstrate, cross-lingual exchanges work best when one of the participants has specific a expertise, besides language ability, that the other participant is interested in learning from. As ILoveBees demonstrates, by connecting together different social web applications, we can create situations where the distributed expertise of all participants is both publicly known and made meaningful to the group -- we simply need someone to create such activities.
If only one thing could be said about the nature of youth culture outside of school today, it would be that they are more visibly producing media (through remix techniques or otherwise) rather than simply viewing media. Inside school, teachers find it important -- if for no other reasons than assessment -- to have students to produce media of some form. It is logical, then, that we should look at the ways in which people are voluntarily producing media outside of school, to find ways to make media production stimulating and meaningful.
Currently, many educators are finding value in using multiple language versions of Wikipedia as a reference resource in the foreign language classroom.
However, to only view Wikipedia as a reference resource discards the core of what makes Wikipedia Wikipedia. As "The free encyclopedia that anyone can edit", Wikipedia opens numerous possibilities for having student edit and contribute live articles. As noted earlier, in one case an instructor found that simply telling students that their work would be used to create a secondary website resembling Wikipedia still showed dramatic motivational increases in their engagement with the assignment. Presumably this classroom chose not to use the actual Wikipedia so as not to overwhelm students unfamiliar with the assigned content for that particular class. However, for topics in which students have enough expertise to write more authoritatively (i.e. about American popular entertainment culture), it would be possible for students to meaningfully contribute directly to the L2 version of Wikipedia.
Perhaps an easier route, however, would be to use one of the many Wikimedia spinoffs. Following the tremendous success of their encyclopedia project, the Wikimedia foundation decided to try using the same model to create a variety of other works. For example, Wikinews seeks to create comprehensive news sites in each language -- allowing students to write live news articles to share with L2 speakers about their L1 country and culture. Perhaps the most interesting spinoff, however, is Wikibooks. Here people all over the world contribute different activities to form textbooks for a variety of subjects -- including numerous foreign languages.
By having students contribute to creating an online foreign language textbook at their level, by definition, ensures that content will be aligned with class learning objectives. Furthermore, it guarantee's an audience relevant to the students -- peers in the same situation they are in. And finally, it gives students an opportunity to have a voice in shaping the materials available for foreign language instruction to reflect their interests.