Translating “Networked student” – dotSUB, OER Localization and Language Learning Opportunities

As part of my talks last week on “Becoming a Network Learner” I used the incredibly timely video from Wendy Drexler, “The Networked Student,” as a bridge to tease out some of the characteristics of network learning. Wendy’s video borrows the “Common Craft” style and is both a thorough AND fun explanation of what the learning experience might look like for a network learner.

But my talks were to mostly Spanish speakers, and even though there was simultaneous translation going on (you DON’T want to hear my Spanish!), I worried about using 5 minutes of an English-language video. I only had just over a week to get a translation done; my first instinct was to reach out to people in my network, in this case Brian, who I knew to be in Spain and surrounded by Spanish speakers also interested in Network learning. But the time proved simply too tight.

I mentioned the desire to translate the video to my host, Diego Leal. And unbeknowst to me, Diego promptly jumped into action. He uploaded a copy of the video (garned from Youtube) to dotSub and next day told me he had started transcribing it. Diego was surprised I hadn’t heard of dotSub, but it was news to me, hegemonic English-speaker that I am. He explained it was a very popular service where the translation of videos could be crowdsourced.

So the purpose of this post is two-fold. One is simply to point at the work Diego has already done to transcribe Wendy’s ‘Network Student’ video and put a call out to any other language speakers who might be interested in translating it into their own language. If it strikes a chord with you, then why not consider it, Diego has already done a good chunk of work, and dotSub makes it easy for you to then translate it into your own language.

But the second part of the post was simply to document some ‘Blue Sky’ thinking about how dotSub, OERs and language education could work together that Diego and I did while in coversation during the educamps. This is extremely immature thinking (and MUCH of the credit should go to Diego, and apologies if this is something that’s already being done – I am in no way a language teaching expert, FAR, FAR from it) but here it goes:

  • increasingly there are many, many OER resources in the form of videos
  • one of the things hampering the use of these videos more widely is language, that many of them are in English, but some of the learners who might benefit most from them are not English speakers
  • dotSub (or indeed translation in general) seems to have two different components; transcribing the original video, then translating it into the second language
  • these two activities would seem to offer an authentic learning experience for language learners at different phases in their development; and indeed the collaborative nature of a system like dotSub would seem to offer an opportunity for language learners at different phases in their development to assist each other, help each other learn more
  • so…learning task 1, listen and transcribe an OER video as best you can; learning task 2 (done by someone with more experience in the language or someone else in the community) help improve the accuracy of the original transcription, both improving the translation effort but also offering feedback to the original transcription effort. Both of these would seem to go towards ‘comprehension’ and ‘writing’ skills of a foreign language
  • learning task 3, take the transcription and translate into a new language, have same community process provide feedback on initial efforts. A way for English (or whatever the language of the initial video) speakers to improve their written abilities and comprehension abilities of other languages.

Like I said, I am NOT a language teaching expert, and I expect there are ALL sorts of problems with this idea. But this model, of connecting people with different needs around an actual task and producing a result of benefit not just to them but then potentially to millions of other learners seems to me to hint at the best kind of virtuous cycle. So I guess I’m just wondering out loud; is there any merit to this idea? Are people in the OER community, especially those interested in the ‘localization’ issue, looking at approaches like this, especially ones that partner with existing (and amazingly good) services like dotSub? Or is this just another example of someone who doesn’t understand the problem space well enough spouting off (that certainly won’t be the first time)?

Anyways, it really tickled my fancy when this idea came out, and like I tried to tell the participants at the educamps, following the Open Source mantra of “ship early and ship often” I am trying to practice “share early, share often” in the hopes that this barely formed idea might be of use. – SWL

Translating “Networked student” – dotSUB, OER Localization and Language Learning Opportunities

7 thoughts on “Translating “Networked student” – dotSUB, OER Localization and Language Learning Opportunities

  1. And here I thought you were a faithful reader 😉

    I think dotSub is a powerful platform and like you remain perplexed, despite trying to SHARE it how little I hear of it used among educators. The Common Craft folks get a lot of traction there (their movies have translations sometimes into 20 languages) and they incorporate links into their site (

    One thing that would help, that I have not done enough of, is when we create videos to provide the first language track already.

    Share on.


  2. Scott,

    I’m not a language teaching expert either, but I’d say all three learning tasks work well to support learning of either natives and foreigners.

    I’d like to point out something else from the things we discussed, that I discovered through my own experience with DotSub: It was the first social software tool where I felt I was cooperating with complete strangers through time and space.

    I mean, there’s a chance I’ll never get to know the people who helped to transcribe or translate a video I uploaded (in fact, DotSub doesn’t even mention their names). But because of their participation, the whole community have access now to a video in several languages. It’s one of my favorite examples of crowdsourcing.

    Like many other things, this is something that I understood only after living it. Now I think a CommonCraft video about DotSub could show what crowdsourcing really means.

    That said, count with me to help translating more pieces. I’m convinced it’s urgent to create bridges that help us bring these conversations to more people.


  3. Diego! “a Common Craft video about dotSub” – genius! Or even one to illustrate how this idea could work. I like it! And to think, I just skipped the session Alan organized earlier this week where Lee Lefever shared their method with others. Doh!


  4. @cogdog you KNOW I am a faithful reader. But boy do I feel dumb. And indeed, when Diego was showing me this, I had this feeling in the back of my mind I had seen it. But like I said, just another hegemon – I expect I initially glazed over because the ‘translation’ issue didn’t jump out at me until I needed to deal with it myself.


  5. Let me introduce myself. I am Michael Smolens, Founder & CEO of dotSUB.

    We would love to work closely with educators to figure out how best to integrate all our functionalities into an OER program to allow educators and students from all cultures speaking all languages to be able to easily share resources.

    Last week an English teacher in Barcelona, whose classroom is working on an open Wiki platform, started using dotSUB to teach English as a second language to high school students allowing them to use their own videos or Youtube videos with dotSUB.

    We are a small company, with lots of demands from a variety of industries, but to us, the field of open education has a special interest. We would like to find people in this field with ideas as to how to make this a global reality. Feel free to contact me using info below.

    Thanks again so much for your kind words.

    Michael L. Smolens
    Founder & CEO
    dotSUB llc – Any Video Any Language
    360 East 72nd St. #C3104
    New York, NY 10021 USA – email
    1-917-742-0158 – tel
    1-646-403-9944 – fax
    mlsmolens – Skype – website


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