Let's talk about the courses

Steve, By putting the course schedules in the library I mean the scheme of work, i.e. the Excel spreadsheet I e-mailed to Mark outlining the content of each lesson and giving the number of each article in the library that I was planning to use.

It wasn’t obvious to me (and so I don’t expect it to be obvious to the students) what the article number is or what you do with it, so putting a copy of each article in the same collection as the scheme of work, or a hyperlink to it, makes a lot of sense.

Annett, Anapaula, as you say, with beginner courses the material has to be assessed fairly carefully to make sure that the learning curve stays reasonably constant. The obvious (but perhaps tedious) way to do this would be to create a brand-new account, then one by one add the articles to the workdesk and mark them as read, keeping a note of the number of new words introduced in each article. We would be aiming for, what, 150 new words a week? Fewer? More? Definitely in the early days of “Who is She?” it would be several episodes each week, or else 3, 4 or 5 episodes could be amalgamated to form a week’s worth of study.

I agree Steve, intermediates are capable of understanding authentic texts and there is no reason that they should not use them, if the level is reasonable.

With intermediate texts it gets harder to assess complexity, because you can no longer make assumptions about which words intermediate students have already encountered. I seem to remember posting on the forum 4 months or so ago about this, ah yes, it’s here:

I’ve been taking texts from the library and running them through this tool:

…which gives me an idea of how complex they are, but it’s a slow process and not really definitive unless we all agree on a yardstick for text complexity for each language.

I thought I might re-start my advanced course running each month. I’m still thinking about what to offer intermediates. As I said somewhere up the page I think it’s appropriate for many tutors to offer different intermediate courses.

I’m sorry to have gone on so long about this, I hope it’s not been too boring to read!

I think there may be a (temporary) difficulty with creating a new account to assess complexity, as the courses page doesn’t show new words at the moment. It is already on the soon to be fixed list, isn’t it?


I don’t really see putting the course outline in the Library. The Library is supposed to contain lessons and each lesson is required to have audio and text. A course outline is a good idea but perhaps we should create a separate page where this is displayed linked to from the course description. That way we could allow non participants to see what is in the course.

On the other hand, part of what the learner is paying for in a directed course is the effort and knowledge that the tutor has put in to selecting appropriate lessons for that level of course. Once we give that away for free that removes some of the incentive to sign up for a course.

Regarding the lesson numbers, these are never shown to the learners. They are only used by the tutors and staff to identify the correct lessons when creating courses. Showing the numbers in the course outline will only confuse people.

Finally, we are trying to figure out a way to have rolling group courses so that the course will stay visible in the list but the session start date moves to the following week after this weeks session has passed. We are thinking of not linking the conversation to the lesson but rather to the course topic itself. That way students who are on different lessons will be able to participate in the same conversations on the same general theme. That way we will be more likely to have full conversations, especially initially. This will also make the maintenance of group courses much more convenient for all.

Annett, Anapaula,

I have tried Spanish as a complete beginner and I don’t see why it should be that difficult. I think perhaps it’s a matter of reducing expectations and of having a different approach as a beginner. You can’t expect to make your way through as much content when you are a beginner. I think one part a week of Who is She in a beginner course is fine. There is no need to combine parts together. A beginner needs short lessons that he/she repeats many, many times. Their tutor should also direct them to other collections in the library which they can work on if they like.

Steve spent I don’t know how long just listening to Who is She in Russian. (I’ll let him expand on that) It is the tutor’s job in a beginner course to help the learner understand what to do and to believe!

Annett, yes the courses have to be 12 lessons. Single conversations are already available in the Speak section. A big reason for having courses is to solicit a commitment from the learner.

OK, so the library isn’t the best place for a course outline, and maybe you don’t want all students to see them…but I do think we could do with them in a shared place so that the other tutors can see them. You might want, for instance, to have two or three tutors teaching the same course at different times.

I got through Who is She? in a fortnight…but I wasn’t a total beginner. Would you start with that or something even simpler?

Well, Mark, maybe I’m not that smart, because my first month of French was really uncomfortable!
I disagree about one item a week being enough, mainly because in the beginning the student tend to be motivated to spend more time with the language. I can’t imagine anyone willing to spend an entire week repeating an audio with less than one minute!!! I don’t think I have this motivation power to convince them to do such a boring thing…
In my opinion, three to five items of similar difficulty would be ideal. Maybe someone out there is willing to take some books for beginners and use their texts as models for creating groups of small texts centered at specific topics… just another idea…


Ha ha! I agree that it might be tough to convince people to listen to part 1 of Who is she over and over for a week. But, to have that part as their main focus which they can supplement with one or two other lessons from the Library should be enough. How much can you cover as a complete beginner?


We could put course plans up in Google Documents where others could see them. In fact, I will share my current Who is She file now. You can edit and/or copy the file and create your own version of it. I will share it with everyone.

I think Who is She is a good place to start. Greetings and Goodbyes, Eating Out are also good. There is also various other content in the different languages that is good beginner material.

Aha! My course plan is already in Google documents…I just don’t know how to share it.

Just click the Share tab once the doc is opened and enter the tutors@ email address. Then, we’ll all see it.

Mark and Mike and I are meeting in an hour or so and we will discuss all of this great input and then I will comment further.

Thanks for the great input from all of you.

I will send out an email to all of our tutors but first would like to get some more feedback here.

  1. Try to use collections:
    I think it is best to choose all the content items for a course from within one collection whenever possible. This makes it easier to describe what the course is and allows the learner to explore the course.

Tutors can also add more content in certain collections to bring them up to “course level”. Tutors can also describe the nature of their course and the services they provide in their introduction.

  1. Longer courses as mentioned by Helen:

It is a little early to tie these 3 month courses together to form longer courses of study leading to a diploma etc. However, in the future we will do this, and we will introduce exams to get wit the certificates. However, we are at the early stages of the courses development so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s stay with 3 months.

  1. One month courses:

We could theoretically offer one month courses, but really any tutor can set up a series of 4 weekly discussions around items in a collection and run it for however many weeks they want, 4 or 8 or 12. I think there is benefit in staying with the 12 week format for now. It is one less variable to deal with. 3 months is a good period of commitment.

  1. Beginner courses:

Who is She or Eating Out offer one solution and can be offered as a course. A person taking this course may or may not be starting from scratch, and may or may not be also using another starter book. We just offer a resource for learners who are still at the very early stage of learning a language.

Some of our contributors have created or imported and shared other beginner material that can be used to create a course. It is up to the tutor to choose whatever she feels most comfortable using.

I agree that one 30 second content item is too short. Rather than merging items and thereby creating more items in the library, I think it is enough for the tutor to choose every second item in Who is She, for example, and make it clear that it is expected that the learner will do this collection two at a time. Learners can also add other content to study on their own.

  1. Lack of flexibility in booking courses:

We are looking at ways of creating the ability to join a course later if the courses are simply revolving courses, lesson 1-12, and then 1 starts up again. To make this work we would simply disconnect the discussion from any specific item in the course. Again this works best if we stay with one collection.

  1. Items in more than one collection:

That is not possible now. It will be possible when we reorganize the Library, sometime in the future.

  1. Evaluating the difficulty level of items:

I hope the New Word count is back soon, but in the meantime we should be able to discuss with each other what we think of the difficulty level of different items. Sharing our working documents on google documents is a great way to go.

After we have a little more back and forth here, I will send out an email to all tutors on this. This tutors forum is sort of our steering committee. We are at the beginning of the courses stage. We have a lot to learn, but I feel we are headed in the right direction.

I agree with almost everything, but item 5. I think that the connection between the discussion and specific items is very beneficial. It gives us a focus to our study. I think that people should be allowed to engage latter in a course, but she should start by the current item, and when everyone has finished, this person could go back and study the items she has lost in the beginning and schedule one-on-ones to cover them. Or, to give more flexibility, the person should be granted the points corresponding to the missing events, so it would be possible to her to schedule extra events anytime.


I appreciate your comment on item 5. Maybe we just have to wait until we have enough people signing up for courses. Disconnecting the discussion does make it easier for people to join in with others regardless of when they start. On the other hand the disadvantage is that you lose some sense of concentration. We are not going to anything soon.

Bear in mind that in a one on one that sense of concentration is maintained. We may have to sacrifice this for the group courses, but let’s wait and see.

One thing that I am now going to do is to email my tutor a tagged list of my problem words to my tutor for discussion, and drill. I have sent Tana a list of words and phrase of motion, which causes trouble in Russian.

I could foresee a situation where a tutor may ask students to forward their list of saved words and phrases from a specific content item. The tutor could then focus on these words and phrases in the discussion, whether in drill form or in general discussion. This way if all the lists came from the same item, there would be a lot of reinforcement. Learners could even record these sessions for further reinforcement.

We hope that within a week or so we will set up a user friendly way for tutors to create courses and we will learn as we go.

In my opinion intermediate and advanced courses certainly ought to work with a rolling course structure, because you are building on a vocabulary and grammar foundation. I think it might be harder for a beginner 1 course, certainly group discussions are likely to be off-putting to a newcomer if everyone else knows 10 times their vocabulary because they’ve already done 10 sessions!

That is true for beginners but we don’t really think beginners should have group discussions anyway. 1 on 1’s, preferably with a tutor who speaks their own language will probably be all most beginners can handle.