Edukwest: Talking with Kirsten Winkler about italki

September 21st, 2009 | Posted by Kevin in media - (Comments Off on Edukwest: Talking with Kirsten Winkler about italki)

If you don’t know who Kirsten Winkler is, you really should. She is a professional language teacher who has become an expert in the field of online language education. Between her blog and her E-Teachers Academy and conferences, I think there are few people who understand the evolving space of online language education as well as she does. You could say Kirsten is the equivalent of techcrunch for online language learning.

One of her main projects is called Edukwest, and she has been interviewing a lot of inspiring people in the online language learning space. She asked to interview us at italki, and we gladly took the opportunity.

Here’s the direct page to the interview

And here’s that interview embedded (you’ll need a proxy to view it if you’re in China):

We covered a lot of topics in the interview, and one thing we hope that is clear is that it is an exciting time to be a startup in this area. The technology and the market is evolving very quickly, and we’re only just seeing the start of these new and potentially world-changing ideas. I believe everyone shares this core belief that technology can play a critical role in improving the old way of language learning. The impressive thing about Kirsten is that she has actually met and interviewed a lot of these people!

Again, if you want to know all the latest news, as well as engage in the latest debates about online language education, read Kirsten’s blog or follow her on twitter (@kirstenwinkler). And of course, you can also get involved and influence the shape of things to come just by commenting on a blog or sending emails!

Last night, we got the opportunity to present at the E-Teachers Academy Conference on Communities and the Power of Crowdsourcing, hosted by Kirsten Winkler (@KirstenWinkler). We’re always impressed with how Kirsten is able to organize these conferences with so many of the key players in our space. There were presentations from Languages Out There, Busuu, Wiziq and us.

Kirsten has written a more detailed review of the conference, and the presentations are all embedded on her blog. If you’re interested in the specific comments, you should definitely take a look.

Overall, we thought the attendees were positive on the value of communities for language learning, but much more skeptical about the potential in crowdsourcing. The sense was that people could rely on help from other members in a community, provided the community was well run and focused. However, the product of collaborative work from the community was generally lacking in creativity and often of very poor quality.

At italki, we have tried crowdsourcing in many areas of our site, and we are well aware of the difficulties in crowdsourcing. As we mentioned in our presentation, you don’t always get the perfect answer when you want it. However, we are definiely positive on its long-term potential. We have just updated our community-based site translation feature, for example.

In addition, we do think it is possible to collaboratively create language learning materials, particularly if the license for the content is under the Creative Commons. Our inspiration here remains Wikipedia. We agree that art and literature designed by committee sounds awful. However, we think it is too pessimistic to say that basic materials for language learning can not be created collaboratively. It seems to run contrary to experience of impressive resources being released for other academic subjects (see MIT Open Courseware, and Connexions).

It was an interesting conference, and the discussion gave us a lot to think about. We want to give special thanks to Kirsten again for organizing it, as well as Wiziq for hosting the event with their virtual classroom. We’re definitely looking forward to the next one!

Kevin and the italki team

etcon-logo250x75This morning (China time), we had the opportunity to attend the E-Teachers Academy Conference on Virtual Classrooms, hosted by Kirsten Winkler.  It was one of the most interesting conferences we’ve seen on the future of the virtual classroom, and the panel was made up of some of the most forward-thinking companies and teachers in this evolving space (view list of panel speakers).

We were definitely impressed with the potential in virtual classrooms, and we’re sure that as the technologies mature, we’ll begin to see more of these classrooms gain wider acceptance.  There are many important features which are not presently integrated or handled well by standard communication tools like Skype, such as whiteboards, direct document viewing, shared screenshot viewing, and group / class management.  One thing that is clear from the conference is that virtual classrooms are being designed with significant input from teachers.

If you’re interested in following this debate, you can follow Kirsten on twitter (@KirstenWinkler) as well as the ETCon twitter itself @ETConference.  We’re definitely looking forward to the next conference.

Kevin and the italki team