23 November 2011

Francotoile - language learning with video

FrancoToile is a showcase in presentation simplicity. It's a resource for French language learners, created  in Canada that leverages what web video has to offer to expose learners to the various sounds, dialects and slang of native French speakers from diverse communities across the globe.

The video library is a work in progress with new videos being addedand a great resource for language learners.  The creators should be commended for their clean and simple approach to the interface which is inviting and successfully sidesteps any sense of overwhelm that sudden access to a bank of video files could easily engender.

The browse page invites interaction by presenting the user with a large world map whose pin-marked spots link to the videos.  The homepage is currently like a welcome page.  A homepage that instead displayed the browse map together with a simple search field would provide users with direct access to the content and invite interaction right off the first page.

The creators responded to user feedback for YouTube style choices by displaying related videos in a list at the right. But of course, the lack of advertising and spam, combined with the dedicated navigation, make presentation of the video content on a dedicated site far superior to a simple youTube dump.  Moreover, it leaves room for adding supportive content like transcripts.

The standard video controls are familiar, and most provide the option to turn on subtitles or download a complete transcript.  There is a bookmarking function, but it works in a way that is totally unfamiliar and in this case, the partial YouTube cueing is actually misleading because bookmarks appear where comments "should" be, thus suggesting that they may be public.  What is a bookmark in this context? Where will it be saved? Will I have to create an account to save my bookmarks?  Do they mark a subtitle text or a video frame?  This functionality is very useful but tricky to make intuitive.

Tutorials for how to use the site are located in an "About" section but that isn't where users would generally be looking to get "help". A contextual approach to help could be useful.  Moreover, reworking the help videos into a brief "what is Francotoile" intro and making this accessible from the homepage could be a more effective way to contextualize the resource for students and teachers.

Check out this great resource for French language learners:  FrancoToile