A conversation with established Yacapaca author Nick Verney reminded me that about 16 months ago I overviewed the very nascent state of Spanish language resources. There were seven groups, of which five were public. None had really got off the starting blocks. Here is what they looked like:
I predicted a shakeout and offered tips for those who wanted to run the most successful group. A year and a half later, this is the result:
What a difference! In total, we’ve seen 2,400% growth in that time. I am not sure if some of the old groups have disappeared or been renamed, but either way there are clearly two groups that have succeeded (out of a total of 15 now; the rest are so small they don’t appear in the list).
The top group is Nick’s (no surprise there). So, Did he follow my advice? Well, partly. The group certainly is well named and described, with a good colophon. But Nick has restricted membership to his own department, rather than keeping it open as I recommended. I’m beginning to think he may be right about this; a tight authoring team is hard to build remotely.
I also recommended that authors produce a range of objective and subjective (free text) material. Nick and his group have ignored free text altogether, but they have worked hard to introduce variety into the quizzes. They use the full range of question types, with lots of images and sounds. They also integrate them with resources from elsewhere, which I think is excellent practice.
So Nick scores 10/10 for a great group which produces excellent, and popular, Spanish resources. I think I’ll give myself a 5 and a “must try harder”.
We are starting to see competition hotting up to become the main Spanish authoring group. There are now seven groups. All are set as ‘public’, meaning any teacher can join them. Two have no questions or tasks, so they don’t appear in the author group list yet.
As you can see, it’s very early days for any of these groups. Only one has more than one question, only one has more than one member and two don’t even have colophons yet. Surprisingly, none have a concise and attractive description yet.
The general rule for any group moderator trying to get their group up to critical mass is that you have to push like fury in the first few weeks. Here are my tips for early-days author group building:
- Get the basics in place – Name, colophon, good description, open access.
- Write at least 20 questions as quickly as you can. Keep them simple, so they are quick to do. You can do the fancy stuff later.
- Compile one or two quizzes that people can try out. Even if they are not perfect, they will build both your confidence and that of other group members.
- Write at least one short-text test, and perhaps an ePortfolio task. They are quick to do, and will appeal to teachers who don’t particularly get on with quizzes.
- Write to every teacher who joins the group and welcome them in. Find out what they hope to achieve and what they might contribute. Keep your expectations low, though. In most groups, only about one member in ten actually contributes.
- Notwithstanding the above, the day the group takes off will be the day you recruit one other teacher who can match your energy. I’ve seen this time and again.
And meanwhile, good luck to all the Spanish group moderators!
Until recently, language materials have been noticeable on Yacapaca only by their absense. I have had correspondence recently with a few teachers who are starting to write materials – particularly quizzes and short-text tests. I thought it would interesting to look at just how the subject is developing. Here are the authoring groups currently named for languages. Only some are public, i.e. appearing in the Author Groups lists and available to join:
Of these, only the Latin and Russian groups have any significant resources in them as yet. The others have a smattering of questions and perhaps a couple of short-texts. Experience shows that most of these fizzle, but some will fly. The ones that succeed are those that gain critical mass early on their lives, usually driven by the energy of a single author, and then broaden out to develop their own creative community.
So, if you are thinking of writing MFL resources, what is your best strategy for long-term success? Start your own author group and risk duplicating the effort of others? Or join in one that is already going, but if so, which? Here is my recommendation:
- Join all the authoring groups for your language.
- Write to the group moderator (you can do this as a group member) and ask about their plans. If you get a positive and energetic response, make that group your “authoring home”. If not, leave the group and move on.
- If all that fails, start your own authoring group. Make it public and publicise it with a nice colophon and well-written explanation of what it’s about. Engage with anyone who joins (or applies to join if it is ‘Moderated’ type) and let your enthusiasm infect them. But don’t kid yourself; it won’t take off until you have written a good stack of initial content.