Many thanks to Mura Nava of EFLnotes for conducting and collating responses from these mini interviews in relation to the community corpus-based projects that will be part of the upcoming IATEFL event in Birmingham.
Christian Jones 1. Who are you? I am a Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics and TESOL at the University of Liverpool. 2. Who should come to your talk? EAP or EFL teachers interested in research into spoken language…
I was asked a question by an ELT materials writer at the BALEAP English for Academic Purposes conference earlier this year, along the lines of:
You’ve shown us a lot of openly licensed content that can be developed into English language learning materials, but what am I expected to do when my publisher asks me to write materials and then release some of them for free without pay? Even if I wanted to share and be more open in my practice, how can I afford to do this?
Good question. My answer here in this post is to look at both the ideas and the business models that are working within open education, and to build on discussions with the wider ELT community on ways to bring issues around access, copyright and materials writing/development to light. We are already seeing these issues played out in our informal online communities: the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and in webinars like the one coming up with the IATEFL Materials Writing SIG on copyright and images on November 7th.
Lofty Ideals and Lowly Deals
…you will find all kinds of ambitious proposals and interesting ideas, embedded in lofty ideals. Some of this is quite sensible; little of it is immediately operational. Then have a look at newspaper articles, watch the media, speak to people on the firing lines. Here you will find stories about all kinds of lowly deals, every one of them fully operational. (Mintzberg, 2015)
Publishing is changing dramatically and this is creating a veritable sea-change in education for social initiatives, such as we’ve seen with Free and Fair ELT. ELT materials writers, like many ELT teachers who develop teaching and learning materials, are enthused about sharing because sharing is at the heart of what we do as educators. And, because of the very global nature of ELT, we interface with the world and understand first-hand the imbalance in access to English language education, where English is the lingua franca in education, research and publishing.
This real-world need for English language education has, however, created a parallel reality with the wide-scale infringement of All Rights Reserved published ELT materials. Materials writers are sharing eye-opening stories of copyright infringement here on ELTjam (see here and here) and elsewhere about the coursebook materials they’ve written, which also live a second life in .pdf format via various piracy pay-for sites. Many would like to see the big ELT publishers take a more responsible role in providing access to digital ELT materials for those informal learners who can’t afford the glossy print versions nor attend expensive language classes at well-resourced language institutes the world over that publishers have pegged as their primary market.
Informal online language learning is only going to continue to increase at a staggering rate as more of the world’s population comes online. However, I don’t believe the responsibility to recognise and engage with this growing informal English language learning community should fall solely on the shoulders of the individual materials writer or the individual language teacher, do you?
There are so many opportunities here for the big ‘charities’ in ELT such as the British Council and the big brand ELT publishers to refocus their social impact, which will, in turn, increase their branding power, through corporate social responsibility. Let’s face it, the British Council couldn’t make the profit it does without English language teachers and examiners (Phillipson, 2012), and ELT publishers are dependent on ELT materials writers in the same way that many publishing houses are dependent on academics. The Open Access movement wouldn’t have been as successful as it is today without a nudge from academics who took this movement into the mainstream with events like the Elsevier Boycott.
Open Business Models
‘There are none so blind’, the biblical saying goes, ‘as those who will not see’ … A mindset which couldn’t conceive of a non-hierarchical way of creating an authoritative reference work couldn’t take Wikipedia seriously. (Naughton, 2011).
John Naughton’s keynote address, The Elusive Technological Future, at the 2011 Association for Learning Technology conference, continues to be highly relevant today. Naughton critiques the recurring and dumbfounded view that we often hear in the media that the free technologies underpinning the likes of Wikipedia, Craigslist, Blackberry Messenger and Napster were all disruptive technologies that came out of nowhere. Naughton instead points to how certain establishments, and the mindsets that inhabit them, were not paying attention to these technologies and their somewhat informal communities (the great unwashed, as it were, to carry forward the biblical theme). They were not seen as a credible threat to established business models through simple lack of attention, and by the time these technologies and communities had become the mainstream, the old establishments had missed out on business opportunities of a lifetime.
Creating operational business models is very much on the agenda at Creative Commons, as evidenced in their recent call and successful crowdsourcing with Kickstarter for co-creating ‘a book that shows the world how sharing can be good for business’.
The open education movement recognises the copyright of creators (teachers, writers, developers) while it leverages innovative technologies and practices with teaching and learning materials so that they can be Redistributed, Reused, Repurposed and Remixed at scale to Redress the imbalance our world faces with access to education. Legally, this movement has become operational with the development of the Creative Commons suite of licences available to creators so that they can share their creations and specify how they want them to be reused.
This approach would appear to be out of balance, though, when we consider the many freelance ELT materials writers who are often caught in the middle and may be required by publishers to give away their copyright and even their work without pay as publishers experiment with new business models, including the freemium model. This is a very different business model, say, from that of the academic employed at a well-funded university where learning resources are created for on-site use, recorded and shared at scale via commercial platforms such as YouTube, iTunesU and with commercial MOOC providers such as Coursera and edX for creating access to learning for the masses, growing the online presence of expert educators, and promoting the brand of institutions.
Social Learning for Social Impact MOOC
I would like to invite anyone interested in this discussion to join the first ever Group-based MOOC, Social Learning for Social Impact with the Faculty of Management at McGill University in Canada and Edx, to collaborate and build upon the ethos of sharing ELT resources and raising awareness around copyright. I’m one of the volunteer facilitators on the MOOC. Since I have a background in ELT resources development and open education (with the open-source FLAX language project), I’d like to encourage you to share your experiences in ELT publishing and how this is impacting ELT materials development, and the way resources are being used and misused through copyright infringement.
The bullet points below are the stages of planning for social impact that we would be working through on the course. For example, the Free and Fair ELT initiative is currently growing social impact through social media and is successfully managing to scale this level of outreach. It would be great to discuss ways forward for taking this and similar initiatives in ELT resources outreach further with resourcing i.e. getting funder backing, and assessing the impact of these initiatives. The thought leader behind this MOOC, Henry Mintzberg, is well known for getting initiatives like Doctors Without Borders etc. off the ground with the following approach, which forms the structure of the MOOC:
Working as a high-functioning team (Co-Creating)
Learning your way to a prototype (Designing)
Growing your social impact (Scaling)
Finding resources to help sustain your efforts (Resourcing)
Discerning when and how to measure your impact (Assessing)
The MOOC starts Sept 16th to Dec 16th to form group-based discussions on a fortnightly basis, and you have up until October 14th to register. The expectation is that groups will connect via different types of social media platforms e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn etc. but to bring the knowledge back to the MOOC platform to work through the stages of the course and share the different social initiatives across the different groups concerned with different social issues.
While reading an article in the news today, Nine reasons only a tool would buy the Apple watch, it reminded me of something I’d come across last month. I’d almost fallen out of bed upon opening up my email that morning on seeing a forwarded post, originally from the British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL) discussion list it had made its way to the BALEAP discussion list. A marketing blurb for an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) publication compilation by Routledge at the staggering price of – wait for it – $1465 / £840. Annotated bibliographies can be useful but this four-volume compilation with an editor’s introduction to each volume seems to be worth more than its salt. But no comments of surprise from anyone on the BALEAP members-only d-list…life as normal it seems in the global north of well-resourced EAP teaching, learning and research…carry on regardless.
Good as gold, but stupid as mud He’ll carry on regardless They’ll bleed his heart ’til there’s no more blood But carry on regardless
The Beautiful South – Good as Gold (Stupid as Mud)
All of these commercial publishers have signed onto Green Open Access Self-Archiving policy – check the links above for information on how authors can self-archive peer-reviewed post publication versions of their articles with the already granted permissions of these journals. If an author has funding of a couple of thousand dollars she can opt for Gold Open Access with many of these same journals, whereby her article will be openly available via the journal in its final .pdf-formatted version. Very few tier 1 ELT journals offer what we refer to as Diamond Open Access where all articles are openly available at the time of publication without a fee. Language Learning & Technology is an excellent example of Diamond Open Access in ELT.
Let’s get back to Green Open Access as this is the main focus of this post. In these times of austerity even if you are fortunate enough to belong to a university with a healthy library budget chances are your librarian won’t see the point in providing further monetary kickback to the titles on the Routledge EAP list for journals your library already subscribes to. If your library can’t afford to subscribe to these journals, or you simply don’t have access to a library like many people the world over working in ELT, you’ll want to know that the policies around Green Open Access for authors to voluntarily self-archive their publications have been put in place for people exactly in your situation – to increase access to research in your field. A growing number of Green Open Access publications can be found on authors’ personal webpages, in institutional open scholarship repositories, in disciplinarian archives, and via research sharing sites like Academia.edu and ResearchGate.
There may in some cases be an embargo period of 1 to 2 years before authors can self-archive a postpub Open Access version of their articles but all of the journal titles on this Routledge list are well out of any embargo periods. Even the majority of books from commercial publishers in this compilation allow Open Access self-archiving of at least one chapter. And, sure, authors need to link to the publisher’s homepage and the DOI of the article or book, acknowledging the final published source.
The important point here is for authors to be savvy about copyright, and to negotiate in advance, if necessary, with publishers to ensure the right to publish articles on their personal websites, employee-affiliated sites or to distribute them individually via emails to interested readers.
How comfortable are the shoulders of ELT giants?
So, the onus here is on the author knowing her rights and her responsibilities. A win-win situation it would seem, where journal impact is positively correlated to an increase in number of citations – a genuine possibility with Open Access. Truth be told though, some ELT researchers do self-archive their papers and chapters following the affordances of Green Open Access policy but others just never seem to get round to it. Your guess is as good as mine as to why this is…
Because new ideas must be situated in relation to assimilated disciplinary knowledge, the most influential new ideas are often those that most closely follow the old ones – Ken Hyland.
One Sri Lankan scholar tells the story of having to choose between writing his article submission by hand or on an ancient typewriter with a threadbare ribbon. He had paper only because he had bribed someone for it. EuroAmerican editors are rarely aware of the deep challenges facing scholars from countries outside of Europe and North America – Wendy Laura Belcher citing Suresh Canagarajah.
By opening access to our publications we also create the conditions of widening participation for our colleagues who are teaching and trying to do research in under-resourced contexts, primarily in the global south. The ELT world depends on this voluntary act of self-archiving from ELT researchers who publish in commercial journals to grow our field in ways that properly represent all the people involved with ELT. And, even though there are a growing number of free Open Access journal options for ELT researchers to publish with, which is great to see, we could still see a lot more in the way of self-archiving from the subscription-based ELT heavyweight titles that still tend to dominate and attract the big names in our field.
Thanks to David Wiley and his recent keynote address, Thoughts on Open at the SUNY COTE summit, for giving me this idea about the levels of discomfort experienced in trying to stand on the shoulders of giants in one’s field, whether we are talking about outputs from research or resources for learning and teaching.
I want my love, my joy, my laugh, my smile, my needs
Not in the star signs
Or the palm that she reads
I want my sun-drenched, wind-swept Ingrid Bergman kiss [replace kiss with Open Access – it kinda rhymes!]
Not in the next life
I want it in this
I want it in this
The Beautiful South – Good as Gold (Stupid as Mud)
Belcher, Wendy Laura. 2009. Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications Inc.
Canagarajah, A. Suresh. 2002. A Geopolitics of Academic Writing. Pittsburg, PA: University of Pittsburg Press.
Hyland, Ken. 2004. Disciplinary Discourses: Social Interactions in Academic Writing. Michigan Classics Edition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
The doge meme teaches us so much about language learning and how challenging it can be to accurately combine words and patterns when using another language. The FLAX language system teaches us so much about how we can avoid using dodgy language by employing powerful open-source language analysis tools and authentic language resources.
The FLAX (Flexible Language Acquisition) project has won the LinkedUp Vici Competition for tools and demos that use open or linked data for educational purposes. This post is the one I wrote to accompany our project submission to the LinkedUp challenge.
FLAX is an open-source software system designed to automate the production and delivery of interactive digital language collections. Exercise material comes from digital libraries (language corpora, web data, open access publications, open educational resources) for a virtually endless supply of authentic language learning in context. With simple interface designs, FLAX has been designed so that non-expert users — language teachers, language learners, subject specialists, instructional design and e-learning support teams — can build their own language collections.
The FLAX software can be freely downloaded to build language collections with any text-based content and supporting audio-visual material, for both online and classroom use. FLAX uses the Greenstone suite of open-source multilingual software for building and distributing digital library collections, which can be published on the Internet or on CD-ROM. Issued under the terms of the GNU General Public License, Greenstone is produced by the New Zealand Digital Library Project at the University of Waikato, and developed and distributed in cooperation with UNESCO and the Human Info NGO.
REMIX WITH FLAX
At FLAX we understand that content and data vary in terms of licensing restrictions, depending on the publishing strategies adopted by institutions for the usage of their content and data. FLAX has, therefore, been designed to offer a flexible open-source suite of linguistic support options for enhancing such content and data across both open and closed platforms.
Featuring the Latest in Artificial Intelligence &
Natural Language Processing Software Designs
Within the FLAX bag of tricks, we have the open-source Wikipedia Miner Toolkit, which links in related words, topics and definitions from Wikipedia and Wiktionary as can be seen below in the Learning Collocations collection (click on the image to expand and visit the toolkit in action).
Featuring Open Data
Available on the FLAX website are completed collections and on-going collections development with registered users. Current research and development with the FLAX Law Collections is based entirely on open resources selected by language teachers and legal English researchers as shown in the table below. These collections demonstrate how users can build collections in FLAX according to their interests and needs.
Law Collections in FLAX
Type of Resource
Number and Source of Collection Resources
Open Access Law research articles
40 Articles (DOAJ – Directory of Open Access Journals, with Creative Commons licenses for the development of derivatives)
MOOC lecture transcripts and videos (streamed via YouTube and Vimeo)
15 Lectures (Oxford Law Faculty, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies and Department of Continuing Education)
PhD Law thesis writing
50-70 EThoS Theses (sections: abstracts, introductions, conclusions) at the British Library (Open Access but not licensed as Creative Commons – permission for reuse granted by participating Higher Education Institutions)
Linking in lexico-grammatical phrases from the British National Corpus (BNC) of 100 million words, the British Academic Written English corpus (BAWE) of 2500 pieces of assessed university student writing from across the disciplines, and the re-formatted Wikipedia corpus in English.
Linking in a reformatted Google n-gram corpus (English version) containing 380 million five-word sequences drawn from a vocabulary of 145,000 words.
FLAX Training Videos
Featuring Game-based Activities
Click on the image below to explore the different activities that can be applied to language collections in FLAX.
FLAX Apps for Android
We also have a suite of free game-based FLAX apps for Android devices. Now you can interact with the types of activities listed above while you’re learning on the move. Click on the FLAX app icon to the right to access and download the apps and enjoy!
A collaborative investigation is underway with FLAX and the Open Educational Resources Research Hub (OERRH), whereby a cluster of revised OER research hypotheses are currently being employed to evaluate the impact of developing and using open language collections in FLAX with informal MOOC learners as well as formal English language and translation students.
Current activity within open education can be characterised as having reached a beta phase of maturity. In much the same way that software progresses through a release life cycle, beta is the penultimate testing phase, after the initial alpha-testing phase, whereby the software is adopted beyond its original developer community.
Open education has now come to the attention of the mainstream press and traditional higher education, with the uptake of Open Educational Resources (OER) and with the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). The participating masses can be likened to beta testers of these newly opened ways of educating. And, as with many recent software hits from Internet giants such as Google (e.g. Gmail), it is highly likely that open education will remain in a state of ‘perpetual beta’ development and testing, as we investigate and measure the impact of openness on education.
Funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the OER Research Hub (OERRH) is currently spear-heading the testing of OER hypotheses and is aggregating research findings through their OER Impact Map. The beta testing metaphor is also relevant to my research with the FLAX language project for the open development and testing of the FLAX Open Source Software (OSS). I have been promoting the FLAX OSS language system across different educational contexts (Fitzgerald, 2013), and I am now investigating user experiences of the software across multiple research sites in order to involve users in language collections building and further development of the OSS. I will be posting findings from this research on the TOETOE project blog throughout this year.
According to publisher and open source advocate, Tim O’Reilly:
Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often‘, in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta’, in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, and the like may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time. (O’Reilly, 2005)
Open Fellowship with the OER Research Hub at the UK Open University
My first introduction to the UK Open University, henceforth referred to here as the OU, was when my Dad took me to see the film Educating Rita in 1985. It took two years to reach our picture house in provincial-town New Zealand, and I was just at that age – twelve going on thirteen – to appreciate this Pygmalion story of a woman breaking through the class barriers with an emancipatory distance education from the OU. My Dad also took me canvasing with him for the NZ Labour Party in those formative years, showing me first-hand that life for those in state-housing areas was very different from life in homes belonging to those who had been to university.
I never imagined that I’d be at the OU but I am now on my second fellowship here, this time as an Open Fellow with the OERRH based at the Institution of Educational Technology, and previously from 2011-2012 as a SCORE Fellow with the Support Centre for Open Resources in Education. When Rita’s character was a student at the OU in the early 1980s, open meant that admissions barriers had been removed from entry to formal study. This is still true today with the OU’s 200,000 registered paying students coming from a variety of traditional and non-traditional backgrounds. Nonetheless, this is still ground-breaking when we consider that most of the brick ‘n’ mortar higher education institutions of the world, including those with online learning offerings, still maintain strict admissions policies based on entrance examinations and prerequisites. Open has come to mean much more than this, however, with the rapid ascension of OERs and MOOCs. And, the OU have been no strangers to this rise in informal education as demonstrated in their longstanding work with the BBC through their Open Media Unit, and in leading a bevy of wide-reaching open education projects, including OpenLearn and now FutureLearn.
Open Education Awash with Venture Capital
Open has come of age it seems, with pathways to courses, the sharing of courseware code and access to research becoming increasingly free and open to learners; and with models for educational delivery and accreditation being experimented with on an almost daily basis by educators and institutions. Getting an education is one thing but coming up with sustainable and workable solutions for the world’s problems is increasingly understood as something outside of our reach and beyond the actual remit of education. While we discuss how to come up with the best business models for selling MOOCs and higher education to the masses, it might behoove us to ask how we can occupy eduction to evolve sustainable communities (human and non-human) on this planet rather than continue to commodify learning, teaching and research as products for an increasingly globalised world.
Weller’s position paper on the battle for open (2013) echoes concerns from open education advocates on the distortion of key principles for openness in education (see Wiley, 2013); as being sold downstream through the imposed economic value system of a booming online education market (Education Sector Factbook, 2012). The open-washing of the open education movement, in favour of capitalising on ‘open’ education at a massive scale, is being viewed in much the same way as green activists view the green-washing of the green movement, with our world’s most pressing environmental problems playing second fiddle to the big business of so-called green solutions:
When they start offering solutions is the exact moment when they stop telling the truth, inconvenient or otherwise. Google “global warming solutions.” The first paid sponsor, www.CampaignEarth.org, urges “No doom and gloom!! When was the last time depression got you really motivated? We’re here to inspire realistic action steps and stories of success.” By “realistic” they don’t mean solutions that actually match the scale of the problem. They mean the usual consumer choices—cloth shopping bags, travel mugs, and misguided dietary advice—which will do exactly nothing to disrupt the troika of industrialization, capitalism, and patriarchy that is skinning the planet alive. But since these actions also won’t disrupt anyone’s life, they’re declared both realistic and a success. (Jenson, Keith & McBay, 2011)
Technology activists abound in support of the information wants to be free slogan from the 1960s. “Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. …That tension will not go away” (Brand, 1987). Activism that is focused on the tension surrounding the freedom of information continues to grow, but what of activism that is directed at the tension between education wanting to be open and education wanting to be exclusive? Education wanting to be for life and education wanting to be for jobs only? When will we witness the scaling of massive buildings like the Shard in London by education activists – let’s call one of them Rita – in protest of formal education’s direct relationship with the limitations of commercialization? When will we raise the red flag on the global business of buying and selling education as an endgame in itself?
The purpose of education is going untested in real terms and the open education movement has only just begun educating in beta, as it were, by drawing on a pedagogy of abundance rather than a perceived pedagogy of scarcity (Weller, 2011). This shift in awareness and practice echoes Stewart Brand’s comments to Steve Wozniak, at the first Hackers’ Conference in 1984, on how information wants to be free due to the cost of getting digitised information out becoming lower and lower. The economics of learning materials (Thomas, 2014), following a recent discussion on the oer-discuss list about the progression from reusable learning objects to open educational resources, marks another useful distinction using Marxist terminology, between learning materials that have exchange versus use value:
In the discussions about whether content has value, there is often a question about whether content can be bought and sold, whether it is “monetisable”. In marxist economics that is the type of value called exchange value: where a commodity can be exchanged for money. There is another type of value: use value. That is the extent to which a commodity is useful. It is about its utility, not its cost or price. I think most teaching resources can have a high use value both for primary use and secondary reuse, without that ever translating into an exchange value. They might be valuable but you can’t sell them. (Thomas, 2014)
It may be that Rita will draw on learning content and interactions from a variety of accessible places, including open publications and MOOCs, where ‘open’ equals free access only (for example, All Rights Reserved Coursera courses) rather than where open equals free plus legal rights to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. It may also be that Rita will only begin to realise the use value of these educational resources – perhaps through joining Greenpeace or the Deep Green Resistance, for example – by synthesisng her contributions with those of her peers for the development of a learning community that is informal, networked and open. And, most importantly, where her developing awareness will actively challenge the perpetuation and escalation of global problems that are on a truly massive scale.
In critiquing open education, Audrey Watters, in her keynote address at the Open Education 2013 conference, also proposes communities rather than technology markets as the saviors of education:
Where in the stories we’re telling about the future of education are we seeing salvation? Why would we locate that in technology and not in humans, for example? Why would we locate that in markets and not in communities? What happens when we embrace a narrative about the end-times — about education crisis and education apocalypse? Who’s poised to take advantage of this crisis narrative? Why would we believe a gospel according to artificial intelligence, or according to Harvard Business School [Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation theory, 2013], or according to Techcrunch…? (Watters, 2013)
Brand, S. (1987). The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT. Viking Penguin, p. 202, ISBN0-14-009701-5.
Previously, I left off with reflections from the 2012 IATEFL conference and exhibition in Glasgow. Wandering through the exhibition hall crammed with vendor-driven English language resources for sale from the usual suspects (big brand publishers), the analogy of the greatest hits came to mind with respects to EFL / ESL and EAP materials development and publishing. But at this same IATEFL event there was also a lot of co-channel interference feeding in from the world of self-publishing, reflecting how open digital scholarship has become mainstream practice in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), also known as Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) in North America. The launch of the round initiative at IATEFL, bridging the gap between ELT blogging and book-making, where the emphasis is on teachers as publishers is but one example.
Crosstalk in ELT materials development and publishing
Let’s take a closer look at the crosstalk happening within the world of ELT materials development and publishing, where messages are being transmitted simultaneously from radio 1 and radio 2 type stations. Across the wider ELT world, TEFL / TESL has embraced Web 2.0 far more readily than EAP (but there are interesting signs of open online life emerging from some EAP practitioners, which I will highlight in the last section of this blog).
Within TEFL, we can observe more in the way of collaboration between open and proprietary publishing practices. English360, also present at IATEFL 2012, combines proprietary content from Cambridge University Press with teachers’ lesson plans, along with tools for creating custom-made pay-for online English language courses. Across the ELT resources landscape open resources and practices proliferate, including: free ELT magazines and journals; blogs and commentary-led discussions; micro-blogging via twitter feeds and tweetchat sessions; instructional and training videos via YouTube and iTunesU (both proprietary channels that hold a lot of OER), and; online communities with lesson plan resource banks. These and many more open educational practices (OEP) are the norm in TEFL / TESL. And, let’s not forget Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos website of free resources for navigating web-based language tools and projects drawing on his service as the Web Watcher at English Teaching Professional for well over a decade now.
The broken record in ELT publishing
Yet, both the TEFL / TESL and EAP markets are still well and truly saturated with the glossy print-based textbook format, stretching to the CD-ROM and mostly password-protected online resource formats. The greatest hits get played over and over again and the needle continues to get stuck in many places.
Exactly why does the closed textbook format concern me so much? It’s an issue of granularity or size really which leads to further issues with flexibility, specificity and currency. As we all know, there are only so many target language samples and task types that you can pack into a print-based textbook. Beyond the trendy conversation-based topics, what are sometimes useful and transferable are the approaches that make up the pedagogy contained therein. Unlocking these approaches and linking to wider and more relevant and authentic language resources is key. We can see this approach to linked resources development taken by the web-based FLAX and WordandPhrase corpus-based projects. Publishers are aware of the limitations of the textbook format but they’re also trying to reach a large consumer base to boost their sales so it remains in their best interests to keep resources generic. Think of all the academic English writing books out there, many of which claim to be based on the current research for meeting your teaching and learning needs for academic English writing across the disciplines, but turn out to be more of the same topic-based how-to skills books working within the same essayist writing tradition.
The open textbook movement brings a new type of textbook to the world of education. One that can be produced at a fraction of the cost and one that can be tailored, linked to external resources, changed and updated whenever the pedagogical needs arise.
The argument in favour of textbooks in ELT has always been one for providing structure to the teaching and learning sequence of a particular syllabus or course. Locked-down proprietary textbook, CD-ROM and online resource formats are not only expensive but they are inflexible. And, these force teachers into problematic practices. Despite trying to point out the perils of plagiarism to our students, as language teachers we are supplementing textbooks with texts, images and audio-visual material from wherever we can beg, borrow and steal them. Of course we do this for principled pedagogical reasons and if we don’t plan on sharing these teaching materials beyond classroom and password-protected VLE walls we’re probably OK, right?
I’ve seen many a lesson handout or in-house course pack for language teaching that includes many third party texts and images which are duly referenced. Whether the teacher/materials developer puts the small ‘c’ in the circle or not, marking this handout or course pack as copyrighted, the default license is one of copyright to the institution where that practitioner works. And, this is where the problem lies. The handout or course pack is potentially in breach of the copyright of any third party materials used therein, unless the teacher/materials developer has gained clearance from the copyright holders or unless those third party materials are openly licensed as OER for re-mixing. Good practice with materials development and licensing will ensure that valuable resources created by teachers can be legitimately shared across learning and teaching communities. You can do this through open publishing technologies and/or in collaboration with publishers.
A deficit in corpus-based resources training
Good corpus-derived textbooks from leading publishing houses do exist. Finally, the teaching of spoken grammar gets the nod with The Handbook of Spoken Grammar textbook by Delta Publishing. But, and this is a big but, do these textbooks go far enough to address the current deficit in teacher and learner training with corpus-based tools and resources? I expect the publishers would direct this question to the academic monographs, of which there are a fair few, on Data Driven Learning (DDL) and corpus linguistics. I have some on my bookshelf and there are many more in the library where I am a student/fellow, all cross-referenced to academic journal articles from research into corpus linguistics and DDL which I will be talking about more in the third section of this blog. But exactly how accessible are these resources – in terms of their cost, the academic language they are packaged in, the closed proprietary formats they are published in, and in relation to much of the subscription-only corpora and concordancing software their research is based on? It’s no wonder that training in corpus tools and resources is not part of mainstream English language teacher training. Of course, there are open exceptions that provide new models in corpus-based resources development and publishing practices and this is very much what the TOETOE project is trying to share with language education communities.
Corpus linguists are well aware that corpus-based resources and tools in language teaching and materials development haven’t taken off as a popular sport in mainstream language teaching and teacher training. This does run counter to the findings from the research, however, where the argument is that DDL has reached a level of maturity (Nesi & Gardner, 2011; Reppen, 2010; O’Keefe et.al., 2007; Biber, 2006). Similarly, many of the findings from leading researchers (too many to cite!) in language and teaching corpora have been baffled by the chasm between the research into DDL and the majority of mainstream ELT materials that appear on the market that continue to ignore the evidence about actual language usage from corpus-based research studies. Once again, this comes back to the issue of specific versus generic language materials and the issues raised around limitations with developing restricted resource formats.
Gangnam style corpus-based resources development
So what’s it going to take for corpus-based resources to take off Gangnam style in mainstream language teaching and teacher training? And, how are we going to make these resources cooler and more accessible so as to stop language teaching practitioners from giving them a bad rap? More and more corpus-based tools and resources are being built with or re-purposed with open source technologies and platforms. We are now presented with more and more web-based channels for the dissemination of educational resources, offering the potential for massification and exciting new possibilities for achieving what has always eluded the language education and language corpora research community, namely the wide-scale adoption of corpus-based resources in language education.
I’ve actually been asked to take the word ‘corpus’ out of a workshop title by a conference organiser so as to attract more participants. If you’re interested in expressing your own experiences with using corpora in language teaching and would like to make suggestions for where you think data-driven learning should be heading you can complete Chris Tribble’s on-going online survey on DDL here.
Radio, what’s new? Someone still loves you (corpus-based resources)…
Publishers constantly need ideas for and examples of good educational resources. No great surprises there. I would like to propose that OER and OEP are a great way to get noticed by publishers to start working with them. Sitting on the steering committee meeting with the JISC-funded PublishOER project members at Newcastle University in the UK in early September, we also had representatives from Elsevier, RightsCom, the Royal Veterinary College (check out their exciting WikiVet OER project) and JISC Collections at the table. Elsevier who have borne the brunt of a lot of the lash back in academic publishing from the Open Access movement are trying to open up to the fast changing landscape of open practices in publishing. PublishOER are creating new mechanisms, a permissions request system, for allowing teachers and academics to use copyrighted resources in OER. These OER will include links and recommendations leading back to the publishers’ copyrighted resources as a mechanism for promoting them. Publishers are also interested in using OER developed by teachers and academics that are well designed and well received by students. Re-mixable OER offer great business opportunities for publishers as well as great dissemination opportunities for DDL researchers and practitioners, enabling effective corpus-based ELT resources to reach broader audiences.
Sustainability is an important issue with any project, resource, event or community. How many times have we seen school textbook sets stay unused on shelves, or heard of government-funded project resources that go unused perhaps due to a lack of discoverability? To build new and useful resources online does not necessarily mean that teachers and learners will come in droves to find and use these resources even if they are for free. David Duebelbeiss of EFL Classroom 2.0 is currently exploring new business models for sharing and selling ELT resources. One example is the sale of lesson plans in a can which were once free and now sell for $19.95, a “once and forever payment”. Some teachers can even make it rich as is reported in this businessweek article about a kindergarten teacher who sold her popular lesson plans through the TeachersPayTeachers initiative.
Transaction costs in materials development don’t only include the cost of the tools and resources that enable materials development, they also include the cost in terms of time spent on developing resources and marketing them. Open education also points to the unnecessary cost in duplicating the same educational resources over and over again because they haven’t been designed and licensed openly for sharing and re-mixing. Putting your resources in the right places, in more than one, and working with those that understand new markets, new technologies and new business models, including open education practitioners and publishers, are all ways forward to ensure a return on investment with materials development.
Hopefully, by providing new frequencies for practitioners to tune into for how to create resources from both open and proprietary resources a new mixed economy (as the PublishOER crowd like to refer to it) will be realised.
A matter of scale in open and distance education
Let’s not forget those working in ELT around the world, many of whom are volunteers, who along with their students simply cannot afford the cost of proprietary and subscription-only educational resources, let alone the investment and infrastructure for physical classrooms and schools. Issues around technology and ELT resources and practices in developing countries did surface at IATEFL 2012 but awareness around the more pressing issues may not be finding ways to effectively filter their way through to well-resourced ELT practitioners and the institutions that employ them. ELT is still fixated on classroom-based teaching resources and practices.
The Hornby Educational Trust in collaboration with the British Council which is a registered charity have been offering scholarships to English language teachers working in under-resourced communities since 1970. I attended a session given by the Hornby scholars at IATEFL 2012 and although I was impressed by the enthusiasm and range of expertise of those who had been selected for scholarships, reporting on ELT interventions they had devised in their local contexts, I couldn’t help but wonder about the scale of the challenges we currently face in education globally. How are we going to provide education opportunities for the additional 100 million learners currently seeking access to the formal post-secondary sector (UNESCO, 2008)? In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of all children will not have the privilege of a senior high school education (Ibid). What open and distance education teaches us is that there are just not enough teachers/educators out there. Nor will the conventional industrial model of educational delivery be able to meet this demand.
As DDL researchers and resource developers who are looking for ways to make our research and practice more widely adopted in language teaching and learning globally, wouldn’t we also want to be thinking about where the real educational needs are and how we might be reaching under-resourced communities with open corpus-based educational resources for uses in EFL / ESL and EAP among other target languages? First of all, we would need to devote more attention to unpacking corpus-based resources so that they are more accessible to the non-expert user, and we would need to find more ways of making these resources more discoverable.
In interviews released as OER on YouTube by DigitaLang with leading TEFLers at IATEFL 2012, I was able to catch up on opinions around the use of technology in ELT. Nik Peachey corrected the often widely held misconception about the digital divide for uses of technology in developing countries, pointing to the adoption of mobile and distance education rather than the importation of costly print-based published materials with first-world content and concerns that are often inappropriate for developing world contexts. You can view his interview here:
Thinking beyond classroom-based practice
Scott Thornbury, writer of the A-Z of ELT blog – another influential and popular discussion site for the classic hits in ELT for those who are both new and old to the field – also praised the Hornby scholars and gave his views on technology in ELT in a further IATEFL 2012 DigitaLang interview. He talks about the ‘human factor’ as something that occurs in classroom-based language teaching. In order to nurture this human factor, he recommends that technology be kept for uses outside the classroom or at best for uses in online teacher education. Open and distance education practitioners and researchers would also agree that well-resourced face-2-face instruction yields high educational returns as in the case of the Hornby scholarships, but they would also argue that this is not a scalable business model for meeting the needs of the many who still lack access to formal post-secondary education. What is more, the human factor as evidenced in online collaborative learning is well documented in the research from open and distance education as it is from traditional technology-enhanced classroom-based teaching.
“Access to reliable and affordable internet connectivity poses unique challenges in the developing world. That said, I believe it possible to design open courses which use a mix of conventional print-based materials for “high-bandwidth” data and mobile telephony for “low-bandwidth” peer-to-peer interactions. So for example, the OERu delivery model will be able to produce print-based study materials and it would be possible to automatically generate CD-ROM images of the rich media (videos / audio) contained in the course for offline viewing. We already have the capability to generate collections of OERu course materials authored in WikiEducator to produce print-based equivalents which could be reproduced and distributed locally. The printed document provides footnotes for all the web-links in the materials which OERu learners could investigate when visiting an Internet access point. OERu courses integrate microblogging for peer-to-peer interactions and we produce a timeline of all contributions via discussion forums, blogs etc. The bandwidth requirements for these kind of interactions are relatively low which address to some extent the cost of connectivity.”
Biber, D., (2006). University language: a corpus-based study of spoken and written registers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Nesi, H, Gardner, S., Thompson, P. & Wickens, P. (2007). The British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus, developed at the Universities of Warwick, Reading and Oxford Brookes under the directorship of Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner (formerly of the Centre for Applied Linguistics [previously called CELTE], Warwick), Paul Thompson (Department of Applied Linguistics, Reading) and Paul Wickens (Westminster Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes), with funding from the ESRC (RES-000-23-0800)
Nesi, H. and Gardner, S. (2012). Genres across the Disciplines: Student writing in higher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
O’Keeffe, A., McCarthy, M., & Carter R. (2007). From Corpus to Classroom: language use and language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Reppen, R. (2010). Using Corpora in the Language Classroom . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.