Interview: Karen Kelton & Nancy Guilloteau, COERLL, University of Texas

In this interview, Karen Kelton and Nancy Guilloteau discuss the many Open Educational Resources that COERLL (Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning) has been developing over the years, in particular Français Intéractif. 

KarenKaren Kelton is the COERLL Program Manager. She also works in the department of French and Italian where she supervises one course and coordinates the summer study abroad program in Lyon.



NancyNancy Guilloteau is the language program director of lower division French in the department of French and Italian at the University of Texas. She is one of the 3 developers of Francais Interactif along with Karen Kelton and Carl Blyth.


Listen to the interview

Edwige Simon: So we are here with Karen Kelton and Nancy Guilloteau who are right now in Austin, TX. Karen do you want to introduce yourself?

Karen Kelton: Yes, hello, I’m Karen Kelton. I work for COERLL, which is the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning. I am the program manager there. And I also work in the department of French and Italian in first year. I supervise one course and do the summer study abroad program in Lyon.

Edwige Simon: Alright, and Nancy do you want to introduce yourself too?

Nancy Guilloteau: Sure, I’m Nancy Guilloteau. I work exclusively in the department of French and Italian. I am the language program director of lower division French and a Supervisor of third semester French. And I am one of the 3 developers of Francais Interactif along with Karen Kelton and Carl Blyth.

Edwige Simon: Great. Can you, maybe Karen or Nancy, can you tell us just a few words about COERLL as a language center, how long it’s been around?

Karen Kelton:  Yes, COERLL has been around for 3 years now, we’re in our third cycle. COERLL is the newest national language resource center. It’s federally funded by the Department of Education.

Courtney Fell: When did you all begin developing OERs (Open Educational Resources), if you could just briefly talk about that.

Karen Kelton: I guess our first project would have been Texas French grammar. At that point, that would have been in the late 90’s, we had been developing some online material, well not online material, we actually started with HyperCard’s stacks if you can believe it, to teach French pronunciation. And it was a big move here at the University of Texas to develop infrastructure for computing and also software. So, we’ve benefited from a very progressive Dean who gave us some funding to develop course materials. So our first project was Texas French grammar here in the French department, but there were other projects in different languages. The Texas French Grammar is an online pedagogical grammar.  So it took a cast of thousands to create it and people in the French department writing, editing materials and recording dialogues and working with technical people to clean up our HTML and get it on the web. It was a lot of fun, we’ve always just kind of gotten graduate students to come and help us.

Courtney Fell: I see.

Edwige Simon:   Do you have a sense of how many people use the Texas French Grammar these days. Do you get feedback?

Karen Kelton:  We usually look that up, I don’t know. Seems like it was 2 million hits a month?

Edwige Simon: Oh my!

Karen Kelton: I can’t remember. I’ll have to send you that information. We, we have the data, I did not look that up.

Edwige Simon: That’s fine, that’s fine, no worries. What would you say were the primary challenges in the Texas French Grammar project? And I’m sure there were many. But what would you say were the main ones?

Karen Kelton: I think, with that being our first big team project, that was the collaboration, and getting a system that worked between the technical side and the content development side. We actually had too many people I think working on it. It seemed good because, each one of the grammar pages has been edited so many times and we still keep finding little mistakes and typos, and things that every time we get some new “lecteurs” from France, they’ll argue with us on some certain point, especially the subjunctive, about changing patterns of subjunctive. So that, getting people to agree on grammar points was I think our biggest challenge. And getting, and also trying to make the dialogues sound somewhat realistic and somewhat humorous. It was a lot of fun but it was a lot of editing, and when we were filming, not filming that was pre-filming, when we were recording somebody would say “Oh, they wouldn’t say that”. And so we had graduate students whose job was just to listen and make sure that the script that we posted eventually matched what was right. All of that coordination took a lot of time. And it was a lot of fun. You know, in 1998 the technical tools that we had were very different.

Courtney Fell: So we, we realize this was about—oh sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt.

Karen Kelton: No go ahead.

Courtney Fell: We realize this was about 15 years ago now but do you remember anyone else working on similar projects back then?

Karen Kelton:  At the time I know that Chris Jones was working at Brigham Young but I don’t know that they were working on similar projects, no.

Courtney Fell: Ok.

Edwige Simon:  Let’s see, so the Texas French Grammar project, it’s done, it’s active and it’s really popular. What other project is COERLL working on right now?

Karen Kelton: Well, we probably should clarify that Texas French Grammar is just the grammar and it’s part of a bigger whole, which is our curriculum. We built in 2011 an umbrella site and actually put Texas French Grammar into Français Intéractif but Français Intéractif is what we’ve been working on since 2000. So it is a full curriculum and has gone through several transformations. It includes the grammar but it also includes vocabulary lists and vocabulary presentation videos and interviews and web activities, also print-on-demand textbooks. But through the years we’ve tried to make it more and more modular so it can be used by anyone and part of the reason it’s still one of COERLL’s or maintained by COERLL is that we keep testing it for new OER-type initiatives. Print-on-demand is one that we’ve been working on, and we also have a German print-on-demand. We have a Yoruba print on demand also. And doing that is very good because it allows us to get material to people at a very cheap price. Especially when the chapters are on the web for free, people can print them out or order them.

Courtney Fell: So is that what the students at the University of Texas are using now, the French students?

Karen Kelton: Yes, yes.

Courtney Fell: Great. That’s great.

Karen Kelton: And many high schools use it, many universities use it, and there are at least 20  smaller universities using it as their sole textbook too.

Courtney Fell: That’s great. Do they give you feedback, or how does that process work? Ask permissions or anything?

Karen Kelton: We try, we do hear from them, but it’s got the most free creative commons license on it, simply, people are free to use it as they wish.

Courtney Fell: Great.

Karen Kelton: And Nancy’s been part of the development team on Français Intéractif since the very beginning.

Edwige Simon: Ok. So other than the Français Intéractif and French project, what other projects are you working on in maybe other languages?

Karen Kelton: Ah well, actually the Spanish in Texas is a big project that COERLL is working on right now. It is a corpus of Spanish speakers in Texas and let’s see, I’ll pull up the website.

Edwige Simon: Sure.

Karen Kelton: Barbara E. Bullock and Almeida Jacqueline Toribio are the Directors on that, and they’re building and also Rachael Gilg, she’s our interactive developer. She is building an interface so the teachers will be able to access different examples and use these in the classroom. They’re trying to build a grammar that will go along with it. But it also has a research agenda; it’s showing real Spanish, you know, about the different areas of Texas.

Courtney Fell: And I certainly appreciate that, you know, all the videos for instance are embeddable. That’s just such a great aspect of your program.

Karen Kelton: Right. So actually the French projects are not core projects. We need to make that clear. Those were developed by Liberal Arts and ITS at the University of Texas. Seven years ago, we had an entity called the Texas Language Technology Center, which was just a local center. From that we were able to get Carl, Carl Blyth was the Director, and he is the director of TLTC and now COERLL, and through that little center we were able to build contacts with other parts of the campus to actually apply to be federally funded.

Courtney Fell: Okay!

Karen Kelton: Some other projects you might be interested in, let’s see, we’ve got a language social reading project, that’s Carl Blyth’s project, e-comma. They’ve developed that, which actually came from our English department, there are also some proficiency tools, let’s see…

Courtney Fell: Assessing proficiency or…

Karen Kelton: There’s a project on bilingual assessment with David Birdsong, there’s also a project in proficiency assessment training in Spanish. Dale Koike has videos which help teachers assess proficiency of learners of Spanish.

Courtney Fell: Great resource.

Karen Kelton: And one of our most popular projects is actually our methods course, which is foreign teaching, foreign language teaching methods. And with that one, we’re developing, trying to develop a badges project so that teachers would be able to complete these modules online and get CE credit and also get a badge for each module. So, that is our other big initiative for COERLL right now.

Edwige Simon: This is great. This is actually something that we’ve been looking into at the Anderson Language at Technology Center at CU Boulder for some professional development efforts. Giving badges, basically to reward non-credit work.

Karen Kelton: Yeah, exactly! We can give, COERLL can give CE credits but we get a lot of requests from people who want badges, teachers who would like to be able to do these things online. COERLL is working with LARC at San Diego State, another LRC, and we’re trying to develop some LRC badges, or a system where we could collaborate and we’d be offering different badges, which would be roughly equivalent. It would be great if we could maybe collaborate on some of these.

Edwige Simon: Absolutely. We’ll definitely follow up on that.

Courtney Fell: And what percentage of the COERLL projects are available online are open to the public?

Karen Kelton: Everything.

Courtney Fell: That’s what I thought, I just wanted to make sure.

Karen Kelton: Well, actually, it starts, you look at some of the legacy sites, we have materials in 18, I think it was 18, 19 different languages. And some of those were developed before CC, before Creative Commons was really very known. So we have to be, if they were created, we have to be sure that the creator gave their permission to make them, to give them the right to a creative commons license. For example, some of those were the, if we don’t have permission for those videos from the people to make those videos embeddable, I mean if there’s any sort of personal information in those we don’t want to make those usable, give people the right to take them and do anything they want with them. So it’s a little tricky. That’ one of the initiatives that a couple of people have been working on, trying to make sure that everything is as open as possible.

Edwige Simon: So you said that you were funded through a federal grant, correct?

Karen Kelton: Yes.

Edwige Simon: And how long is that grant for?

Karen Kelton: It’s, it’s, we’re in our third year so it’s only a year and half, and then we have to apply again for the next round of funding. These LRC’s are funded for four years at a time. So 2014.

Edwige Simon: Ok, alright. Well good luck. We really love what you do, what you make available. It’s really, really wonderful. Are guys going to IALLT or CALICO this year? Yes, Carl will be at CALICO and I’ll be in France, so I won’t be there. And I believe that Carl is going to go to IALLT also this year. Carl Blyth. So we’ll have a, we’ll have a booth at CALICO and there are a couple of presentations they’ll be doing on COERLL and also on the Spanish in Texas projects.

Edwige Simon: Great, we’ll be there too.

Karen Kelton: Great. And we do have an exciting work talking with people about Turkish projects and maybe Russian. Russian OER. So I mean the big thing is getting people who will deliver all of the content, the technology is not really the problem. Nancy and I are working on an intermediate class and it is, you know, just an amazing turn-around time in technology development now with automatic captioning and YouTube and you know WordPress sites. We can do a lot of the things ourselves that we were not able to do 15  years ago.

Edwige Simon: This is great, this is great. Well Karen and Nancy thank you so much.

Karen Kelton: You’re welcome!

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