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.
This is the seventh post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the Open Educational Practices (OEP) series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.
Standard industry tools in corpus linguistics for doing translation, summarisation, extraction of information, and the formatting of data for analysis in linguistic software programs were generally what was needed before one could get started with building a corpus. It is safe to say that language teachers and many researchers who do not have a background in computer science will never have the time or the interest in these processes. This is why simple interface designs like those in the FLAX language project that have been designed for the non-expert corpus user, namely language teachers and learners, are enabling teaching practitioners to be part of the language collections building process.
Stable open source software (OSS) has been designed to enable non-corpus specialists to build their own language collections consisting of text and audio-visual content that benefit from powerful text analysis tools and resources in FLAX. These collections can be hosted directly on the FLAX website under the registered users section or the OSS can be hosted on the users’ preferred website or content management system. A Moodle version of the FLAX tools has also been developed and new tools and interactive games are currently in the beta development stage for stable release later this year in 2013.
This post from the TOETOE International project includes links to two training videos for building do-it-yourself (DIY) podcast corpora as can be seen below. These demonstrate new OSS tools and interfaces from FLAX for developing interactive open language collections, based on creative commons resources from the Oxford OpenSpires project and a TED Talk given by Oxford academic, Ian Goldin. These training videos and others in the FLAX series from this project will be promoted via Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos (TTV) site to reach wider international audiences including those who do not have access to YouTube. Further plans for the re-use of resource outputs from this project include the translation of the FLAX training videos into Chinese, Vietnamese, and Portuguese. And, later in 2013, the FLAX project will be releasing further OSS for enabling teachers to build more interaction into the development of DIY open language collections.
FLAX Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Podcast Corpora with Oxford OER part one
Learn how to build powerful open language collections through this training video demonstration. Featuring audio and video podcast corpora using the FLAX Language tools and open educational resources (OER) from the OpenSpires project at the University of Oxford and TED Talks.
FLAX Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Podcast Corpora with Oxford OER part two
Continue to learn how to make powerful open language collections and how to build interactivity into those collections with a wide variety of automated interactive language learning tasks through this demonstration training video. Featuring audio and video podcast corpora, using the FLAX Language tools and open educational resources (OER) from the OpenSpires project at the University of Oxford and TED Talks.
It is anticipated that these open tools and resources will provide simple and replicable pathways for other higher education institutions to develop language support collections around their own OER podcasts for wider uptake and accessibility with international audiences. The training videos demonstrate how a variety of activities have also been built into the FLAX OSS for enabling teachers to manipulate texts within the collections to create language-learning interaction with the open podcast content. The following slideshow from the 2013 eLearning Symposium with the Centre for Languages, Linguistics, and Area Studies (LLAS) at the University of Southampton shows the interactivity that can be built into the DIY corpora with FLAX. It also highlights how corpus-based resources and Data-Driven Learning did not feature at the recent BALEAP Professional Issues Meeting on Blending EAP with Technology at Southampton in the A-Z of Technology in EAP that was later compiled by the event organisers. This points to a lack of awareness around corpus-based resources in EAP where there have been no studies conducted on the user interface designs of most concordancing software for usability in mainstream language education as well as highlighting the lack of comprehensive research on technology in EAP.
TED (Ideas worth Spreading) encourages the re-use of their creative commons content for non-commercial educational purposes and many stakeholders have engaged in the re-use of TED Talks and YouTube with the TED-Ed programme. However, adding value to an open resource can also result in the decision by ELT materials developers to create a paywall around the support resource as can be seen below in the English Attack language learning software interface for TED Talks, free movie trailers etc. Perhaps this says something about the industry of ELT which views OER as yet more resources to make money from – high quality accessible resources no less that have been expressly released for sharing and the promotion of understanding…
This is the sixth post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.
FLAX British Academic Written English (BAWE) collections
The BAWE collections in FLAX, as demonstrated in the training video below, enable you to interact with the BAWE corpus of university student writing from across the disciplines to learn about the thirteen different genres assigned by the makers of the corpus (Nesi, Gardner, Thompson & Wickens, 2007). For free access to the complete manual on the making of the BAWE by Heuboeck, Holmes and Nesi, 2010) you can access it from the following link (The BAWE Corpus Manual, An Investigation of Genres of Assessed Writing in British Higher Education). Features from the FLAX open source software (OSS) project for understanding the BAWE, include: word lists and keyness indicators; collocations; lexical bundles; a glossary function with Wikipedia; along with a variety of automated functions for searching, saving and linking within the BAWE corpus.
From its earliest inception the FLAX project has been envisioned and advanced with the language teacher and learner in mind. Since 2008, I have been engaged with the FLAX project to provide user feedback on the development of the language reference collections and to devise ways to promote the project resources within mainstream English language teaching and learning communities. A simplified and intuitive interface has been developed for presenting language collections and interactive learning activities based on the powerful and complex handling of search queries from a range of linked corpora and open linguistic content.
Another open web-based interface for accessing the BAWE is located within the commercial Sketch Engine project. This project provides the more traditional KWIC (KeyWord In Context) concordancer interface for linguistic data presentation with strings of search terms embedded in truncated language context snippets. The Using Sketch Engine with BAWE manual (Nesi & Thompson, 2011) provides an in-depth user guide for the more expert corpus user.
The Word Tree corpus interface is a JISC Rapid Innovation project based at Coventry University providing yet another open web-based interface alternative to KWIC searches for analysing the BAWE. One of the project’s goals is for the open sourcecode that has been developed for this rapid innovation project to be re-used in further open corpus-based projects for analysing additional corpora which is available from github. This project can be followed via the Word Tree project blog and JISC final report, outlining issues encountered with managing and processing the presentation of large amounts of linguistic data through a word tree interface that provides click through pathways and the ability to prune and graft word tree searches.
Reference corpora versus specialist corpora
Comparisons made between language as it is used in reference corpora, such as the British National Corpus (BNC) which provides a snapshot of how English occurs across a variety of contexts, and how it is used in specialist academic sub-corpora, or in actual student-generated academic text corpora as in the case of the BAWE, help us to identify which words and phrases occur more commonly in specific as well as in general academic contexts of use. Not confined by the boundaries of a printed volume, the openly available web-based BAWE collections in FLAX (demonstrated in the video above) are arguably more powerful than the average dictionary or coursebook for practice with academic English.
Earlier in 2012 FLAX had developed the wikify function for matching key words and phrases in the BAWE collections to Wikipedia entries as a glossary support feature. This provides help with subject specific language in the BAWE which may be daunting to learners and teachers alike who are not yet familiar with the specific language of a given topic area but where there is an expectation that learners will need to develop proficiencies with specific academic English if they are to engage in English-medium higher education programmes. For example, the technical language from a biology methodology recount text in the BAWE can be glossed for enhanced understanding in FLAX with links to Wikipedia definitions and related topics.
Corpus-based approaches for understanding genre in EAP
“Unsurprisingly, the utility of the corpus is increased when it has been annotated, making it no longer a body of text where linguistic information is implicitly present, but one which may be considered a repository of linguistic information.” (ICT4ELT McEnery & Wilson, 2012)
Corpus studies help with investigations into understanding more than just discrete language items. The study of genres as different communities of practice develop them is also central to corpus work for better understanding the different written assessment types that students will actually encounter across the academy. Generic EAP writing assessments, especially those found in College Composition and Writing Across the Curriculum programmes (Freedman; Petraglia, 1995; Russell, 2002), have been criticized for becoming genres unto themselves; with serious doubts cast on their ability to resemble or assist with transfer in the multitude of specific genres that students will be expected to engage with in their different academic programmes. Generic EAP teaching resources and writing assignments that teach general things about academic language and writing have resulted in EAP writing that Wardle describes as conforming to ‘mutt genres’ (2009).
In response to the issue of genre in university writing, the BAWE corpus collections in FLAX provide EAP teachers and students with a first-hand look into this student-generated corpus of assessed undergraduate and taught postgraduate writing collected at three UK universities: Warwick, Oxford Brookes and Reading. Thirteen different genres were assigned by the developers of the BAWE (Nesi et al., 2004-2007), as can be seen below (hyperlinks to the Life Sciences sub-corpus of the BAWE collections in FLAX):
The Oxford Text Archivewhere the BAWE is managed by the University of Oxford IT Services granted access to the FLAX project to develop OSS for language learning and teaching on top of this valuable research corpus, in the same way that FLAX have developed OSS to enable access to the BNC which is also managed and distributed by OU IT Services. Four sub-corpora have been developed in FLAX as they correspond to written academic assessments across the major academic disciplines as identified by the makers of the BAWE, including: the Physical Sciences, the Life Sciences, the Social Sciences and the Arts and Humanities BAWE collections in FLAX. It was determined that student texts from the BAWE would serve as an achievable model for academic writing for EAP students, and that this corpus of student texts would serve as a starting point if linked to wider resources, namely the BNC, Wikipedia, the Learning Collocations collection in FLAX and the live Web, thereby providing a ‘bridge’ to more expert writing.
The developers of the BAWE corpus have a follow-on ERSC-funded project, Writing for a Purpose, which are learning resources based on the BAWE for enhancing understanding of genre for writing across the disciplines. These resources are going to be promoted at the upcoming 2013 IATEFL and BALEAP conferences and will definitely be something to look out for.
Freedman, A. “The What, Where, When, Why, and How of Classroom Genres.” Petraglia Reconceiving. 121–44.
McEnery T. & Wilson A. (2012) Corpus linguistics. Module 3.4 in Davies G. (ed.) Information and Communications Technology for Language Teachers (ICT4LT), Slough, Thames Valley University [Online]. Retrieved from http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_mod3-4.htm
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)
This is the fourth post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.
Hanoi is fondly known at the city of the rising dragon. The best outcome you could hope for when giving any workshop is that what you are sharing is both timely and needed. Through the OCWC and the Open Universities network I made contact with the vice Dean of the Faculty of English and Modern Languages, Dr. Ho Ngo Trung, with a bit of help from Google Translate for deciphering Hanoi Open University’s web pages. Dr. Trung was able to set up two meetings and a workshop with twenty-one English faculty teachers and academics literally at the drop of a hat. My time in Vietnam was short but we managed to pack in a lot in response to new digitization guidelines issued by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education (MoE) for upgrading their current EAP resources. Fortunately, I had located a rising dragon for building open EAP resources for sharing best OEP across the Vietnamese context, using a combination of their own and Oxford’s resources.
Dr. Trung picked me up from my hotel and drove me across the city through a sea of scooters to his Faculty of English and Foreign Languages to discuss current trends in Vietnamese higher education with a particular slant on language education. It turns out we were in a higher education zone where networking between universities and with the MoE (located just around the corner from the Hanoi OU) was both easy and encouraged. Cars are obviously not the norm in Hanoi as we entered the building past the staff motorbike parking area. He informed me that the OCWC status had just been conferred by the MoE on Hanoi and Ho Chi Min Open Universities to lead in the area of OCW and OER. Open Universities in Vietnam like many around the world pride themselves on offering flexible types of education to learners of different abilities and socio-economic situations. They even offered short programmes to full-time workers referred to as in-service learners in this context.
Dr. Trung informed me that a bold National Foreign Language project would soon be launched with the MoE for developing foreign language proficiencies amongst Vietnamese youths. English would be the first target language to pilot the project. Language teachers would also have to show their linguistic competencies by taking internationally awarded language tests. The stakes for multilingualism in modern Vietnam were getting higher.
Vietnam scores 80, making it a long term orientation culture. Societies with a long-term orientation show an ability to adapt traditions to a modern context i.e. pragmatism, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, perseverance in achieving results and an overriding concern for respecting the demands of Virtue. The countries of South East Asia and the Far East are typically found at the long-term end of this dimension (Hofstede, 2010).
The final meeting of the day was a fifteen-minute drive away to the main Hanoi Open University headquarters where I met the Vice President and Dean of the Information Technology Faculty, Dr Truong Tien Tung. This meeting was carried out with the help of Dr. Trung’s excellent translation skills. Vice President Tung was eager to tell me that OER and OCW were the lifelong learning mission they had been edging toward for the past fifteen years, putting aside faculty and university savings to be able to show their commitment to the MoE once the opportunity to wear the OCW/OER mantel arose. There was no government funding in this area, only government policies and guidelines. He expressed his keenness for the Faculty of English and Modern Languages to lead the way with the development of OER for EAP/ESL and invited me to come and stay in Vietnam to work with the Hanoi OU on their digitization project. We discussed ways forward for working with each other at a distance and for translating any OER developed so that they can be used to showcase OER in Vietnam. In further TOETOE project blog posts, I will be referring to this collections building process with the teachers working at Hanoi Open University.
Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G.J. & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Revised and Expanded 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill USA.
This is the third post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.
The hopes and aspirations of English language education in South Korea reach sky high. This is manifest in the multitude of skyscrapers occupied by private English language institutes or ‘hagwons’, coupled with the soaring ambition of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s latest roadmap for English language education assessment. Part of the national curriculum goals for English include the launch of the National English Ability Test (NEAT) where speaking proficiency will be one of the areas for evaluation. This will raise the stakes for test takers and their families who will have to find the resources to finance hagwon tuition to make up for a deficit in state school provisions for English language speaking support.
When I arrived into Incheon in 1995 to take up my first English language teaching post, I soon realized that ELT was a successful money making industry, perhaps more than it was an educational field. My ELT experience in Korea would become my finishing school, setting me up with the questions that would furnish my future career as an open English language practitioner and researcher. This is the place where I learned to use the Internet, where digitized billboards and neon lights running up multi-stories were the simulacra that covered the urban Korean landscape. When I left Seoul in 2005 I had not yet heard of the open source software movement, which I would encounter early on in my PhD research in 2007, and I wouldn’t come across the term OER until 2009. As I was exiting Korea in 2005, high-speed Internet was available on public buses and the Open CourseWare Consortium (OCWC) would be arriving at Korea University in 2007.
EAP at Korea University
Twenty-three Korean universities are currently members of the Korean OCWC. 2012 brought me back to Seoul to deliver an Open Educational Resources for English Language Teaching Workshop at Korea University with Professor Hikyoung Lee whom I had met at the joint OCWC and OER Cambridge 2012 Conference and with former teaching colleague, Christine Aitken. Similar issues were raised by the participants in this workshop about the need to be able to build specific EAP collections that had the same functionality of those in the BAWE collections in FLAX which I had demonstrated. Academic Word Lists were discussed as potentially useful resources to add to the FLAX system for analysing texts for EAP. I noted this feedback down for development plans for when I would be working with the FLAX team in New Zealand directly after my time in Korea.
iTunesU at Korea University
Korea University was getting ready to launch Creative Commons content onto iTunesU so Hikyoung was keen to introduce this news to the English language teachers and students present at the workshop and I introduced training resources from Oxford’s OpenSpires project that had been used with academics at Oxford to explain key concepts about OER and Creative Commons licensing before putting their teaching resources onto Oxford’s iTunesU channel. Within a few days of Korea University’s entry onto iTunesU on March 1st 2013 their content, some of which is licensed as Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND, had already received more than 40,000 hits.
Discussions around the re-use of educational resources seemed only fitting in light of this move onto iTunesU, so I introduced the teachers to Chris’ Reusable Card Game from the ORIOLE project, which is now fielding for survey responses from users based outside of the UK (please follow the ORIOLE project link above to complete the survey).
Investigating sharing and use of open resources
[Re-use card being read aloud by Teacher A]: “Is it necessary to have links to relevant research or even proper referencing? Do resources used need to evidence scholarship?”
Teacher B: Well, you know, we have a problem with plagiarism and part of the problem is that students have a hard time understanding what they can and can’t take out of texts.
Teacher B: And, what they need to paraphrase and what they don’t need to paraphrase, that’s a very big can of worms.
Alannah: I have heard from OER colleagues at Oxford that when they began recording the podcasts for OpenSpires, especially the ones recording video, that the cameraman had to turn the camera away from the screen because the lecturers hadn’t cited stuff or they hadn’t got clearance for lots of images; they hadn’t got permission to use them. So, I think as teachers we’re actually quite guilty of this, you know, just mocking up a slideshow here or a hand-out there and we’re not actually trained, we’re not trained in it, are we? We don’t know about copyright…I definitely didn’t get trained in it. I’ve learned about it through OER really.
Teacher A: But as you said earlier once it’s within the closed classroom or the online learning environment, no one’s going to take it away to anywhere else.
Alannah: Right, but that’s what the issue was because once you go to put it on iTunesU then it does become an issue so that’s something you will need to think about as well as you go onto iTunesU.
Teacher A: I’m quite reticent about this whole iTunesU thing…
Teacher A:…because I might end up behind bars [group laughter]
Hikyoung: We have people at our office who will check with you to go over what is Creative Commons and what is OK to use and reuse and what is not, so no problem.
Teacher B: They’ll bring you food every day behind the bars [laughter continues]
Hikyoung: Yeah, yeah, that’s what we’ll do, ha! [laughter continues]
Teacher B: You won’t lose your freedom, you’ll just lose your reputation. [laughter continues]
Alannah: Yeah, you can do podcasts from behind bars – that could be a real viral hit on the Web, eh? [laughter continues]
Teacher B: Yes and no though, right? Overall, yes, but I do think that, you know, you do need to have passion or desire…
Teacher A: But this is all very non-profit oriented and the concept of sharing resources is that you get a lot of satisfaction from doing it and you also know that there’s a lot of people like you out there doing it, producing something that you could also use. It seems like a sort of give and take scenario really.
Private English language expenditure
At lunch with Hikyoung and Christine we discussed where OER was most needed in the Korean ELT context and how the Korean OCWC was focused primarily on higher education. The biggest challenge lay ahead for under-privileged families who would need to support their children’s English proficiency with the new higher level English speaking requirements as set out by the Ministry of Education, Technology and Science with the new National English Ability Test. This is likely to create a burden for those families who cannot afford to pay brokers, namely private language institutes or hagwons, with preparing their children for this new test where the testing of spoken English is one of the key focus areas.
Recent OECD reports for the percentage of GDP spent on education in the Republic of Korea have been consistently higher than other OECD member countries, the bulk of which (an average of 40% annually) is made up of money paid by parents on private tuition to hagwons and tutors for their children. English is the number one academic subject in the private tuition sector, raking in 41% of the total amount spent in this area.
Korea currently has nearly 100,000 hagwons, which must receive a permit from the local education government to operate. The concentration of around 6000 hagwons in the Gangnam district of Seoul is thought to be an important factor in the high housing prices in that area, which has become a major social issue. The hagwons have more teachers than the public school system and attract the best ones with higher salaries. Admission to prestigious hagwons is challenging and depends on entrance exams. (OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2012, p.131)
Private income expenditure on education has been an on-going concern of the South Korean government and perhaps a lesson for other countries on the effects of unparalleled privatization in the education sector. It is clear that investment in sustainable public English language education is needed to reduce private income expenditure on education in an effort to close the gap on growing levels of income inequality and poverty. Beyond the provisions of the English Broadcasting Station (EBS) channel which offers free but not open English language learning resources for young learners, there is a greater need for flexible English language teaching and learning resources that meet the needs of a diverse society.
The South Korean government recognizes the lack of faith in the public education system and is trying to introduce interventions that will remedy the situation via the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST). However, if the public education sector were to adopt open educational policies for the development of resources and practices then this would create an open promotional channel back to publically funded English language initiatives. Local expert English teachers could also benefit from sharing their expertise through the development and dissemination of well-received OER to raise their individual as well as their institutional profiles. The MEST releases annual plans for educational policy change across curriculum, resources and attitudes to education. In response to problems surrounding private tuition, such plans include: government-funded after school programmes; a reduction in study time loads to provide tailored learning; new university admissions processes for ensuring equal access opportunities and; reporting mechanisms for those hagwons that are over-charging with tuition fees (MEST, 2009, 2010 & 2011). To enact these plans, a concerted investment in open educational resources and practices could provide the necessary promotional and pedagogical tools to draw attention to successful applications of these well-founded plans from the MEST.
“High ranking in Long-Term Orientation indicates that the country prescribes to the values of long-term commitments and respect for tradition.” (Hofstede, 2010)
This is the second post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.
Long Term Orientation
Geert Hofstede’s original IBM study on organizational cultures ranked countries according to a four-dimensional culture model. Participating countries in parts of Asia demonstrated distinct attitudes toward long-range planning, however, resulting in the identification of a fifth cultural dimension, Long Term Orientation (LTO). Interestingly, China clocks the highest count for LTO internationally. This dimension is also referred to by Hofstede as ‘Confucian Dynamism’, something which is “closely related to the teachings of Confucius and can be interpreted as …[having] a pragmatic future-oriented perspective rather than a conventional historical short-term point of view” (Hofstede, 2010).
In 2010, the Ministry of Education for the People’s Republic of China released an ‘Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development 2010-2020’. Reference is made to the rejuvenation of China through educational reforms including flexible and open lifelong learning and “the popularization and public sharing of quality education resources”, whilst observing that this outline plan “… is the first of its kind for the nation in the 21st century, and encompasses a broad range of endeavors over a long period of time. Its mission is weighty, and its requirements are demanding. It should be implemented in real earnest through close-knit arrangements and meticulous organization, so as to ensure that all the listed tasks are carried out in a down-to-earth way”. (Ministry of Education for the Peoples’ Republic of China, 2010, p.41 & p.50).
Global Local Computer Assisted Language Learning – GLoCALL
Flying into Beijing we descended through thick brown cloud. Straight into a taxi to the third ring road of the city and directly to the Global Local Computer Assisted Language Learning (GLoCALL) Conference at Beijing Foreign Studies University. A few days later it rained all day long, clearing the next two days for a canopy of blue before the atmosphere marked by one of the world’s busiest and most vibrant cities started closing in again. It felt exciting to be back in Beijing after seven years.
A kind and helpful student offered to show me the way to the Sir Shaw Run Run Building where the conference was going on. Along a tree-lined walkway and past tennis courts we talked about her part-time job teaching English at a private institute in the city and how what she enjoyed the most was helping her students understand English language content online that would connect them to the outside world. Had she heard of open educational resources for ELT? No. Would she like to come along to my talk and see the open resources from Oxford and learn how to use the open FLAX language collections? Yes.
Re-use of educational content
I was met by Dr. Shaoqun Wu, the main researcher with the FLAX project from the University of Waikato in New Zealand. She had been at the national headquarters of the Open University of China the day before, promoting the open language tools and collections in FLAX, which re-uses Oxford-managed corpora and Wikimedia content, for possible uses in their online English language programmes. Before that she had spent several weeks in her hometown province of Yunnan with Professor Ian Witten (FLAX project lead) and Dr. Margaret Franken, also from the FLAX project, developing the Happy English Learning collection in FLAX for the Shalang rural primary school. The collection re-uses content from the British Council’s China website and their YouTube channel for collections built in collaboration with the students based on digital stories they had written and voice-over recordings they had made. In a later meeting with Liang Junhong, the English project manager at the British Council in Beijing, I would ask her what she thought about the re-use of the British Council’s web resources in the FLAX project; she indicated that she thought it was an effective means of linking interactive resources in both English and Chinese for young learners in rural China.
Shaoqun and I presented back to back on the following morning of the conference and I assisted with her workshop in the afternoon. With no Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube or Linkedin this made for a different conference experience from what I had become accustomed to at OER events. Chinese versions of similar social networking media which are widely used across China, for example the YouKu video platform, were not exploited at this conference and instead we were invited to upload our conference slides onto a password protected Moodle conference site. What became evident was the high regard for the efficacy of the FLAX system and the value placed on Oxford-based resources. She had lugged thirty-odd printed copies of the Book of FLAX over from NZ. Easily downloadable as an open e-book from the FLAX website, it demonstrates how the language resource collections were made and how teachers can also put together their own language collections in FLAX. This point about collections building was key at this conference and would inform our development work once back in New Zealand in November and December 2012.
The books were snapped up much to Shaoqun’s delight and relief at not having to drag them all the way back to NZ. And, the resounding message from the Chinese teachers present at the workshops was that in addition to the resource collections already built in FLAX, they wanted language collections that reflected their syllabuses, their texts, their students’ language needs and so on. But how do you take teachers whose materials development practices rely on copyrighted teaching resources through the stages of collections building to become open corpus developers? We know we can’t anticipate every need to build specific collections for everyone but we can develop simple-to-use open tools to help teachers and learners do it for themselves. Crowd-sourcing open language collections would become my renewed focus over the course of this project.
With teachers at Luoyang Normal University in Henan China wewill be building a general College English corpus-based collection in FLAX, specifically for the Chinese HE context where students will be preparing for the CET4 (College English Test 4) and CET6 (College English Test 6); two widely deployed English language tests in China for university students.
Publishers from the Foreign Language Teaching & Research Press (FTLRP), China’s equivalent to Oxford University Press (OUP) in terms of ELT resources publishing output, were in the audience. They were keen to set up meetings to discuss the re-use of Oxford creative commons podcasts and corpus-derived language samples from the FLAX resource collections for the development of ELT publications. We arranged to get together after my meeting at the British Council.
Trainer trainer resources for the Chinese ELT context
Monday morning traffic the following week, dodging pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in all manner of vehicles, made for a long taxi ride to the British Council. After a demonstration of resources from Oxford and the FLAX project, English project manager Liang Junhong, updated me on the Council’s current policies for ELT in China. There had been a noticeable shift in government educational policy whereby higher education institutes had been encouraged to become more independent, with projected growth in student completion rates almost doubling to include twenty percent of the working-age population from 2009 to 2020 (MoE China, 2010). In response to this, the British Council has moved support funding for ELT away from the HE sector to the primary and secondary sectors with English language teacher and trainer training in these two sectors being newly designated areas for ELT support. Work would still be carried out with Beijing Normal University in its capacity for ELT teacher education and training. Based on this discussion, we agreed that training video resources for how to use and build the FLAX collections using Oxford resources would be most valuable for the ELT work that the Council is currently supporting in China. It was also suggested that translating these training video resources into Chinese would be useful. Liang Li of the FLAX project at Waikato has developed a series of FLAX training videos in Chinese which can be accessed via the FLAX Youku video channel.
Working with ELT publishers in China
My last two Chinese engagements were with ELT publishers, FTLRP in Beijing and the Dalian University of Technology Press in Dalian. The first part of my meeting with three FTRLP managers working in Higher English Education Publishing was carried out at their favorite 1950s swing rock n roll themed coffee shop near Beijing Foreign Studies University. They had all studied English language and linguistics at the university before working with the affiliated press. The connection between what they were trying to do in the ELT publishing world and their experience of the English language learning and teaching world was evident. One of their colleagues had celebrated their wedding at the coffee shop, and on our walk back to the press for the second part of our meeting old student dormitories were pointed out to me, so closely were they affiliated to their alma mater. They were impressed with what I told them about the OpenSpires project at Oxford, hoping that more Chinese universities would follow suit with the OER and OCW movements. Although they hadn’t heard of UK OER before they were familiar with other open podcast resource projects such as the Open Yale Courses and the TED Talks, pointing out that American English was the preferred type of English taught in China, as it is in Korea.
It is important to note that English language education resources from Chinese publishers are nowhere near as expensive as those from well-known ELT publishers in the west. Some of the computer scientists back in NZ showed me Chinese versions of their research that had been published as academic monographs for the Chinese market. In addition to being translated and therefore more accessible linguistically they were also available for a fraction of the cost to readers in China. In terms of business models, it’s possible to work with Chinese English language education publishers to create and distribute teaching and learning resources at a minimal cost to learners and teachers. Perhaps it is because of this overall customer satisfaction with the cost of educational resources in China that makes open educational resources and practices seem less urgent in this context.
After taking the overnight train to Dalian to meet with Ms. Ti of the Dalian University of Technology Press, similar views were shared on possible re-uses for the Oxford managed and created content I was demonstrating. Like FTLRP they could see the benefit of helping teachers who wanted to use creative commons podcasts in their teaching by offering linguistic support based on the language present in the lectures and talks. Drawing on corpus-based evidence from resources such as the FLAX collocations database and the BAWE corpus in an effort to meet the new ELT market demand for resources in teaching English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP), it was agreed at both the FTLRP and at the Dalian University of Technology Press that these were viable materials development and publishing options that would ensure the re-use of high quality, flexible and authentic English language resources.
After a guided tour of Dalian’s three beautiful coastlines and some amazing seafood, I boarded a slow boat from China to Korea, eves dropping on the linguistic code switching between fellow Chinese-Korean and Korean-Chinese passengers. Several hours would be spent standing on the deck watching trucks go back n forth between depots loading container after container of goods from one of China’s busiest ports.
Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G.J. & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Revised and Expanded 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill USA.
This post is about how I came to be seduced by open educational practices (OEP).
TOETOE International blog series
After a period of radio silence, I have prepared a new series of blog posts on OEP in ELT based on my TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). They will be released weekly from today leading up to my presentation at the OER13 Conference in Nottingham in April, Stories from the Open Frontier of English Language Education Resources. These posts are a version of the case study I have prepared for this project, FLAX Weaving with Oxford Open Educational Resources, which will be published by the HEA/JISC as an OER later this year. I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.
I have assembled these posts into ethnographic accounts (LeCompte & Schensul 1999:17; Clifford 1990:51-52) to stop the clock as it were and to reorder the recent past that has been observed and jotted down; to systematize, contextualize and assemble the activity of the TOETOE International project across seven different countries. They will be part narrative and part design dialectic, drawing on stories and evaluations made by international stakeholders concerning the re-use of Oxford content: Oxford-managed corpora (the British National Corpus aka BNC and the British Academic Written English corpus aka BAWE) and Oxford-created OER (podcast lectures and seminars, images, essays, ebooks) in combination with other open English-medium content. Moreover, these evaluation narratives will continue to inform the design of open source digital library software for developing flexible open English language learning and teaching collections with the FLAX project (Flexible Language Acquisition) at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.
Thick descriptions (Geertz, 1973) will be presented from networked meetings, workshops, conference presentations and interviews with OER and ELT practitioners for arriving at better understandings of the social acts and symbols connected with the international open education movement. As part of the reflexive writing process, I have re-storied the stories of participating individuals and institutions, placing them in chronological sequence and providing causal links among ideas. Themes arising from the stories contain new metaphors for linking unfamiliar phenomena from each country represented with familiar concepts for understanding OER in the international context. Topics introduced by this TOETOE International blog series include: emancipatory English, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) open English language collections building, working OER into traditional ELT publications, and long-range planning for embedding OER and OEP within sustainable English language education.
What drives someone toward open educational practice?
The reasons will be numerous but the one that stands out for me is the capacity to work across the international open education network, either in online or face-2-face mode. Working across disciplinary, technological and geographical boundaries, my current practice seems very distant from the practice I was trained in all those years ago when I did the Cambridge Dip.TEFLA (now the DELTA) in Seoul, Korea. Nonetheless, everything that I do now in my new open educational practice is very much informed by my past teaching practice in traditional classroom-based EFL/ESL and EAP.
There are vast changes happening across education globally and there is a growing need for flexible and high quality open educational resources in English along with an expanded open infrastructure to support research, teaching, training, learning and curriculum development while English is the lingua franca in education, research and publishing. Indeed, the position of English as international lingua franca is wholly dependent on its use and ownership by non-native speakers of English (Graddol, 2006). However, the reality of a rapidly expanding global higher education industry (UNESCO 2008), where open and online distance education are fast becoming major players because of affordances with educational technologies, has yet to trickle down into the workflow of English language teaching practitioners working in traditional classroom-based education.
In one of the learning technology forums I belong to someone was asking after recommended PhD programmes; someone else replied that whatever area you do your PhD in you’d better be prepared to live and breathe your chosen PhD topic area for many years to come if not your whole career. With my PhD I have begun identifying flexible pathways for open educational resources and practices to be shared across traditional classroom-based and open online English language education, but I expect that I will be continuing with this inquiry for quite some time to come.
Somewhere OvER the Rainbow – the myth about OER quality in language resources
Not surprisingly, I was assigned to the Libraries and Languages presentation slot at OpenEd 2012 where the conference theme was Beyond Content. The presenters from the other project in this session, Developing Foreign Language Courses for the Open Library Project, seemed to be fairly new to OER and raised issues around OER quality, stating that they needed to work with professional resource developers and publishers to produce what appeared to me to be fairly ordinary audio recordings for target language items to be used in their project resources.
Put simply, publishing language resources with a reputable publishing house does not always guarantee quality in the same way that publishing with an open license does not always guarantee quality. The difference being that if you buy a course book and it turns out to be a lemon then you’re stuck with it – you either leave it on the shelf or you spend hours developing supplementary resources to ‘fix’ it. However, if you subscribe to an open educational practice model for materials development you can:
Re-use an OER and if it doesn’t work for you then you’re free to:
Re-vise / re-purpose;
Re-mix with other open (and proprietary content which you have cleared for use) and;
Re-distribute through a variety of open and proprietary channels.
These are the four Rs of OER (Wiley, 2009). A far cry from the materials development method I learned on the Cambridge CELTA and DipTEFLA modules which was to Select, Adapt, Reject and Supplement (SARS) course book materials from leading ELT publishers (Graves, 2003).
In addition to raising the point about quality with the other presenters in my Open Educationa 2012 session in the Q&A, during the lunch break I discussed the on-going myth about OER quality with one of my SCORE colleagues from the UK, Chris Pegler. I have been a big fan of her Resource Reuse Card Game (embedded below in Slideshare) from the ORIOLE project (Open Resources: Influence on Learners and Educators) to look at issues surrounding educational resource re-use, including the issue of quality. It turns out that I would be re-using her card game in workshops in Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam as part of this project, and I will be including more findings from these interactions with the re-use card game in upcoming posts.
Reinforcement of the myth surrounding OER quality was not what I was expecting to encounter at an open education conference but I do come across this a lot in the work I do with teacher training at ELT events. I have noticed a discernible pattern whereby a handful of language teachers will say that their role at their institution is to develop resources (often single-handedly) for their programme(s), and where many more teachers will openly declare that they do not consider themselves to be supported or encouraged to develop materials to share across their community of practice. Common claims for not developing and sharing resources beyond classroom handouts include a deficit in technology training and a reliance on in-house materials or proprietary course books that have been selected and or developed by programme managers. These are all valid reasons considering these are all common practices.
In many ways we are trained to consume and not to create resources, and at most we permit ourselves to adapt and supplement often irrespective of intellectual property rights, making it difficult to share beyond institutional and virtual learning environment walls. But can language practitioners and the training and professional bodies that promote current ELT practice continue to shy away from an era of ubiquitous digital content and self-publishing platforms? Going through the motions with course books is a killer so how are we going to support our creative license if all that’s required of us is to consume and regurgitate ready-made ELT skills meals in the form of generic course books? Hopefully the question of bringing language teachers to the realization of their central role as materials developers will be one of the topics on the table at the Materials Development Association (MATSDA) University of Liverpool Conference which I will be attending in April directly after the IATEFL Conference Liverpool 2013.
Less yak and more hack! : rapid prototyping of resources
…it became clear to me that every technology is based upon what I call the orchestration of phenomena, natural effects working together. If you look at any new technology as a whole symphony orchestra of working phenomena, it becomes a huge wonder. I have a sense of wonder far, far greater than I had before. As human beings, we’re using these things unthinkingly every day—it’s like having magic carpets at our disposal, and we have no idea how they fly. Let me add one last thing. I’m an enthusiast about technology, but I am also suspicious of it and what it’s doing to us. It intrudes in our lives, it causes us problems such as climate change, and it’s taken away a lot of our deep connection with nature. But at the same time it’s an incredible wonder. (Interview with W. Brian Arthur, author of The Nature of Technology)
Unless you know what’s at your disposal technologically-speaking and unless you know how to bring resources together, mindful of their affordances and their limitations, then to the untrained eye technological innovation can seem like pure genius. But it’s probably more the case of working through problem solving scenarios step by step, pulling together an ever increasing swag bag of tech goodies to create solutions for the moment until the next thing comes along….and so the cycle continues. This can feel very overwhelming to the individual teacher who would like to be better at using technology and this is why Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos (TTV) is such a big hit among language teachers with bringing what’s out there from the wide world of web-based language resources to teachers.
We now have the technology to flip the course book, the classroom and even higher education with the massive explosion in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) entering the traditional university world with for-profit providers such as Udacity, Coursera and FutureLearn. However, the point I would like to add to this is that resource developers such as those whose web-based language technologies are featured on TTV need feedback on what does and does not work in practice. This is where language teachers can come squarely into the technology equation and learn far more from evaluating and contributing to the development of resources than they would ever pick up at any teacher training continuing professional development session on technology. It dawned on me during my Masters in Edtech and ELT at Manchester University that I wasn’t going to learn much from talking about technology; instead I ended up going directly to the source itself by working with open source software (OSS) developers at the FLAX project.
Hackfests with OSS developers and OER book sprints (see an example of a maths book sprint here) with educators are two rapid prototyping methods for creating code and educational resources. There is no time for hesitancy or hierarchy, you simply work and learn with others to devise shared goals and to bring all that you can to the creation process; to come up with rapid prototypes to share back to the wider community to re-use, re-purpose, re-mix and re-distribute as OER. By attending two Mozilla Drumbeat festivals in Barcelona and London I got to observe and participate in early discussions for the rapid prototyping of Open Badges for educational assessment and Mozilla Popcorn for creating interactive online videos.
While back in New Zealand late last year with the FLAX project team at the Greenstone digital library lab at Waikato, every week I would participate in developer meetings with the computer scientists behind the project and one other English language teacher from the Chinese Open University who is also basing her PhD research on the FLAX project. Well-versed in natural language processing and research on current web-based search behaviour, the computer scientists behind the interface designs of the FLAX collections and activities were adept at exploiting available linguistic resources for the development of simple-to-use language learning collections and OSS text analysis tools. I soon picked up what the limitations of the different technologies and resources were. The focus of these meetings was to develop rapid prototype resources for envisioning and discussing how they could work across different language learning scenarios. I was able to observe and contribute to many iterations of the resources currently under development and I will be bringing these resources to the fore of future blog posts in this series.
I also had a chance to present my work at the Tertiary Writers Network Colloquium which was hosted by the Department of Education at Waikato. This was a great opportunity to share open practices in EAP with a non UK-based audience working mainly in Australasia and in the US. I highlighted some of the OEP going on with the EAP community online using social networking technologies such as Twitter, blogs, Slideshare, YouTube and so on for reflection on the different types of networks we are and are not plugging into. EFL/ESL has been employing these technologies for longer for sharing ideas and resources in general ELT but there is more that could be done with connecting teachers to resources development projects, either through the OSS community or through working with traditional ELT publishers for creating more effective resource evaluation channels that would help teachers learn more about technology.
This would involve the development of resources to engage potential end-users, namely language teachers and students, in the research and development cycle of technology for ELT. In the field of educational technology we refer to this approach as design-based research which Terry Anderson, professor and Canada research chair in distance education, has referred to as action research on steroids (2007). Anderson’s analogy is a useful one as most language teachers are familiar with action research, which shares many of the same principles as design-based research.
Pragmatism is central to both approaches, often employing mixed methods of inquiry to arrive at tangible solutions to educational problems. Normally within action research cycles it is individual teaching practitioners who carry out classroom teaching interventions to observe, record and reflect on the impact of these interventions over time with the aim of informing and improving teaching practice (Reason & Bradbury, 2007). However, within design-based research cycles, emphasis is more commonly placed on educational practitioners working in collaboration with research and design teams (Anderson & Shuttuck, 2012).
Returning to EAP the question remains as to how much we can learn about EAP by talking about it. Quite a bit and I’m all for sharing views about what EAP is as it tries to define itself. What I would like to see beyond yak and competency frameworks like the one from BALEAP that came out in 2008, however, is more in the way of teaching and learning resources from EAP practitioners and evaluations on what works. At this point in time, we’re not yet collaborating with resources development practices across our EAP contexts in any sustainable way. It would be great if we could clone more Andy Gillettes of the Using English for Academic Purposes (UEfAP) website, successfully bringing together genre and corpus-based approaches to EAP resources development. However, it would be even better if instead of creating EAP resources that are open gratis (free to access like UEfAP) we were developing EAP resources that are open libre (free to re-use, re-vise, re-mix and re-distribute), for scaling collaborative open educational resources and practices in EAP as well as in the wider ELT community.
Anderson, T. & Shattuck, J. (2012) Design-Based Research: A Decade of Progress in Education Research. Educational Researcher, Vol 41(1): 16-25
Clifford, J. (1990). Notes on (field)notes. In R. Sanjek (ed.), Fieldnotes: The makings of anthropology (pp. 47–70). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Fitzgerald, A. (In press). FLAX Weaving with Oxford Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources International Case Study. Commissioned by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), United Kingdom.
Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. New York: Basic Books.
Graddol. D. (2006). English Next – why English as a global language may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’. The British Council: The English Company.
Graves, K, 2003. “Coursebooks.” In D. Nunan (Ed.) Practical English Language Teaching. New York: McGraw-Hill.
LeCompte, M. & Schensul, J. (1999). Analyzing and interpreting ethnographic data. California: AltaMira Press.
Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (2007) Handbook of Action Research, 2nd Edition. London: Sage.
A lot of talk around defining current and trending practices in EAP can be tuned into via open as well as proprietary channels. In this section, I will refer to new-found open practices in EAP which are embracing Web 2.0 technologies amidst a backdrop of closed practices in EAP academic publishing and within subscription-only EAP memberships. I will open up discussion around these different practices within EAP to sketch out common ground for where EAP could be heading with respects to global outreach.
Toward open practices in EAP
Recent months have evidenced a steady opening up of practices for sharing expertise and resources in EAP. The new EAP teaching blog based at Nottingham University as a discussion-based side-shoot to their new Masters programme in EAP teaching makes use of the most widely used open-source blogging software, WordPress. Thanks to our friends in Canada, EAP tweetchat sessions are run on twitter with the hashtag #EAPchat every first and third Monday of the month, bringing together EAP practitioners who wish to participate in global EAP discussions as well as suggest topics for upcoming tweetchat sessions. An archived transcript page is available at the end of each EAPchat twitter session.
Free webinars from Oxford University Press (OUP), the largest academic publishing house in the world, are also broadcasting talk on EAP to the world. Julie Moore who has collaborated on the new Oxford EAP book series has also contributed free webinars with OUP attended by EAP practitioners from around the world. A review of one of Julie’s webinars on academic grammar can be found on the OUP-sponsored ELT global blog. Wouldn’t it be great if more EAP practitioners opened up their practice in this way to suggest areas of expertise in EAP that they would like to contribute and broadcast via webinars with OUP’s considerable market outreach?
The EAP community in the UK mainly gathers around BALEAP with their Professional Issues Meetings, accreditation scheme, biennial conference and lively email discussion list. There is a noticeable push-pull between open and closed EAP practices within BALEAP which I would like to bring into the open for discussion. Openness was built into the Durham PIM on the EAP Practitioner in June of this year to make this the first BALEAP event to have a twitter hashtag thanks to forward thinking from Steve Kirk. Since this PIM he has also been curating a useful EAP practitioner resources site with Scoop.it!
There does seem to be a willingness on the part of BALEAP members to explore with new technologies so that their discussions around issues on EAP are openly available. However, the BALEAP email discussion list which I mentioned above is the only one of half a dozen similarly JISC-hosted email discussion lists that I belong to which is closed off by the BALEAP membership subscription pay-wall. The others which I subscribe to for free are all open, and discussion transcripts from their contributing members can be searched via the web through the JISC email archives. This has been a BALEAP executive committee decision to keep the email discussion list closed and I question whether this decision best reflects the current drive toward openness among BALEAP members who are interested in sharing their insights and expertise with those around the world for whom BALEAP membership is not an affordable option.
BALEAP recently added the strap-line the global forum for EAP practitioners to its website. Formerly the British Association of Lecturers in EAP (hence the continuity from the acronym to the name BALEAP), some of their event and research outputs can be found on their website but others can only be accessed via the subscription-only Journal of English for Academic Purposes (JEAP). And, you can probably guess where I’m going here with concerns around openness or lack thereof with respects to being the global EAP practitioner forum…
Nonetheless, an invaluable EAP resource that BALEAP have put out onto the wild web is the EAP teacher competency framework. An EAP practitioner portfolio mentoring programme is currently in the pilot stages and there is talk of matching EAP teaching competencies in BALEAP with the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) at the HEA, but once again for those non-UK and freelance EAP practitioners who do not work for UK higher education institutions that subscribe to the HEA such an alignment of frameworks may not be suitable or relevant. That said, the essence of the UKPSF is useful and perhaps with the current OER International programme at the HEA we can see ownership of the UKPSF go international? HEA accreditation as a UK body will remain a reality, however, so it will be interesting to see what the HEAL working party at BALEAP who are collaborating with the HEA will come up with in response to shaping the identity of BALEAP who aspire to be known as the global forum for EAP practitioners.
Having recently formed a Web Resources Sub Committee (WRSC) with other technologically and OER oriented EAPers at BALEAP we may yet see things open up. Below is the presentation Ylva Berglund Prytz and myself (both on the WRSC at BALEAP) gave on Openness in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) at the PIM in Sheffield in November, 2011.
Elsevier are the publishers of JEAP and from experience open access in academic publishing has come about through the pressure tactics of certain academic communities of practice lobbying for green and gold standard open access publications in their representative fields. Open Access week – set the default to open is coming up again on October 22nd.
Moving to open access research publications all depends on the culture of the academic research community. It will take those EAP practitioners and researchers working in privileged and well-resourced institutions that can easily afford institutional subscriptions to memberships like BALEAP to seriously consider open access and the potential for global reach of research into EAP. It will also take those EAP practitioners who are working off their institutional radars, so to speak, and who are experimenting with Web 2.0 technologies to get their message and expertise out there for global interaction around issues in EAP practice and research. Something I picked up from Steve Kirk’s Scoop.it! account is a recent book setting an open trend in EAP publishing, Writing Programs Worldwide: Profiles of Academic Writing in Many Places which is published in a free digital online format as well as a pay-for print version. This echoes what publishers are doing with big names in more open fields such as the Bloomsbury Academic publication of The Digital Scholar by Martin Weller. Exciting times and opportunities lie ahead for EAP publishing.
English for Specific Academic Purposes with data driven learning resources
It seems to be no great coincidence that Tim Johns who coined the term Data Driven Learning (DDL) in 1994 had also come up with the term English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in 1974 (Hyland, 2006). According to Chris Tribble’s preliminary results from his latest survey in-take on DDL (announced at the TaLC closing keynote address), EAP practitioners still make up a high percentage of those who took the survey, indicating greater uptake of corpus-based resources and practices in EAP than those in EFL / ESL, for example.
Open corpus-based tools and resources have the potential to equip and enable EAP practitioners to develop relevant ESAP materials. Awareness of and training in these open corpus-based resources will need to be shared across the EAP community, however, to ensure that we are crowd-sourcing our expertise and our resources in this area. If you click on the image below this will take you to a talk I gave at the Open University in the UK on addressing academic literacies with corpus-based OER. This was inspired by the Tribble DDL survey and the lead up to the TaLC10 conference. It was an added bonus to have one of the BAWE corpus developer team members in the audience that day and to receive positive feedback on how FLAX have opened up the BAWE in collaboration with TOETOE and the Learning Technologies Group Oxford.
Over the course of this academic year FLAX and TOETOE will continue to build onto work around opening up research corpora like the BAWE and the BNC managed by the Oxford Text Archive for developing resources for ESAP. We will also be engaging with various stakeholder groups through f2f workshops, online surveys and interviews for open corpus-based resources evaluation which I will be sharing insights from on this blog.
One final word on OER and where corpus-based resources might play a significant role in making higher education more accessible to the estimated 100 million learners worldwide who currently qualify to study at university level but do not have the means to do so (UNESCO, 2008). Because English is the educational lingua franca, open educationalists are going to source support resources for academic English from the approaches and materials that are currently popular and openly available to re-use under creative commons licences. This throws up interesting issues around specificity in EAP for supporting learners with discipline-specific English.
A parallel universe in EAP materials development
It would be an understatement to say that the academic publishing world is undergoing a radical transformation with the arrival of digital and open publishing formats which are democratising publishing as we know it. Niko Pfund, President of Oxford University Press (USA), discusses the ways in which technology affects reading, scholarship, publishing and even thinking in a presentation he gave at Oxford recently which you can access by clicking on the cartoon image above.
I learned a lot from this podcast, including OUP’s commitment since 2003 to publishing all research monographs in both digital and print formats. I also learned of their admiration for what Wikipedians have done for opening up knowledge and publishing through human crowd-sourcing that utilises open technologies and platforms. A parallel drawn here to something that was brought up repeatedly at the EduWiki conference is how academic publishing houses like OUP are well placed to open up the disciplines in the same way as Wikipedia by bringing the voices of the academy into the public sphere through more accessible means of communication than research, and by effectively linking this research to current world events to gain wider relevance and readership.
Pfund refers to messy experimental times in academic publishing with lots of new business models currently being explored for spear-heading changes in publishing. OUP heavily subsidise and give away a lot of published resources including ELT textbooks to the developing world, but not yet under open licences (someone please correct me if I’m wrong here) for those practitioners working in under-resourced communities so that they can re-mix and re-distribute these same resources.
OUCS and OUP are literally down the road from one another, a parallel universe as it were. The former is research, learning and teaching focused with a strong commitment to public scholarship, and the later is focused on exploring new practices and business models for delivering the best in academic publishing. Arguably, there is a lot of overlap that can be tapped into here for the collaborative development of open corpus-based resources and practices for the global ELT market.
In-house EAP materials development
EAP teachers have been developing in-house EAP materials in response to the generic EAP teaching resources available on the mainstream market as a means to meeting the real needs of their students going onto all number of degree programmes. However, as I mentioned in section 2 of this blog post, many of these in-house EAP materials make use of third party copyrighted texts and therefore cannot be shared beyond the secret garden of the classroom or the institutional password-protected VLE. An enormous opportunity presents itself here to EAP practitioners and corpus linguists alike to push out resources in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) using open Data-Driven Learning (DDL) methods, texts, tools and platforms for sharing OER for ESAP. A significant cultural shift in practice will be required, however, to realise this vision for developing flexible and open ESAP resources that can be adapted for use in multiple educational contexts both off- and on-line. Once again, in subsequent blog posts, I will be presenting open educational practices and open research methods to open up discussion for ways forward with this particular global EAP vision.
Alexander, O., Bell, D., Cardew, S., King, J., Pallant, A., Scott, M., Thomas, D., & Ward Goodbody, M. (2008) Competency framework for teachers of English for Academic Purposes, BALEAP.
Hyland, K. (2006). English for Academic Purposes: An Advanced Handbook. London: Routledge.
Johns, T. (1994). From Printout to Handout: Grammar and Vocabulary Teaching in the Context of Data-driven Learning. In Odlin, T. (ed.), Perspectives on Pedagogical Grammar: 27-45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
I confess that I spend most of my time listening to BBC Radio 3. The parallel that I will draw here is that I was never formally educated in classical music in the same way as I have never worked toward formal qualifications in corpus linguistics during any of my studies. Because I am working broadly across the areas of language resources development and enhancing teaching and learning practices through technology it was only a matter of time, however, before I started exploring and toying with corpus-based resources. I met Dr. Shaoqun Wu of the FLAX project while at a conference in Villach, Austria in 2006 and by 2007 I had begun to delve into the world of open-source digital library collections development with the University of Waikato’s Greenstone software, developed and distributed in cooperation with UNESCO, for realising the much broader vision of reaching under-resourced communities around the world with these open technologies and collections.
Bridging Teaching and Language Corpora (TaLC)
Let’s fast forward to the 2012 Teaching and Language Corpora Conference in Warsaw, Poland. Although I have participated in corpus linguistics conferences before, this was my first time to attend the biennial TaLC conference. TaLCers are very much researchers working in the area of corpus linguistics and DDL and this conference was themed around bridging the gap between DDL research and uses for corpus-based resources and practices in language teaching and learning.
One of the keynote addresses from James Thomas, Let’s Marry, called for greater connectedness in pursuing relationships between those working in DDL research and those working in pedagogy and language acquisition. At one point he asked the audience to make a show of hands for those who knew of big names in the ELT world, including Scrivener, Harmer and Thornbury. Only a few raised their hands. He also made the point that these same ELT names don’t make their way into citations for research on DDL. Interestingly, I was tweeting points made in the sessions I attended to relevant EAP and ELT / EFL / ESL communities online without a TaLC conference hashtag. It would’ve been great to have the other TaLCers tweeting along with me, raising questions and noting key take-away points from the conference to engage interested parties who could not make the conference in person and to catalogue a twitterfeed for TaLC that could be searched by anyone via the Internet at a later point in time. It would’ve also been great to record keynote and presentation speakers as webcasts for later viewing. When approached about these issues later, however, the conference organisers did express interest in ways of amplifying their events by building such mechanisms for openness into their next conference.
Prising open corpus linguistics research in Data Driven Learning (DDL)
Problems with accessing and successfully implementing corpus-based resources into language teaching and learning scenarios have been numerous. As I discussed in section 2 of this blog, many of the concordancing tools referred to in the research have been subscription-based proprietary resources (for example, the Wordsmith Tools), most of which have been designed for at least the intermediate-level concordance user in mind. These tools can easily overwhelm language teaching practitioners and their students with the complex processing of raw corpus data that are presented via complex interfaces with too many options for refinement. Mike Scott, the main developer of the Wordsmith Tools has also released a free version of his concordancing suite with less functionality and this would suffice for many language teaching and learning purposes. He attended my presentation on opening up research corpora with open-source text analysis tools and OER and was very open-minded as were the other TaLCers whom I met at the conference regarding new and open approaches for engaging teachers and learners with corpus-based resources.
There are many freely available annotated bibliographies compiled by corpus linguists which you can access on the web for guidance on published research into corpus linguistics. Many researchers working in this area are also putting pre-print versions of their research publications on the web for greater access and dissemination of their work, see Alex Boulton’s online presence for an example of this. Also hinted at earlier in part 2 of this blog are the closed formats many of this published research takes, however, in the form of articles, chapters and the few teaching resources available that are often restricted to and embedded within subscription-only journals or pricey academic monographs. For example, Berglund-Prytz’s ‘Text Analysis by Computer: Using Free Online Resources to Explore Academic Writing’ in 2009 is a great written resource for where to get started with OER for EAP but ironically the journal it is published in, Writing and Pedagogy, is not free. Lancaster University is home to the openly available BNCweb concordancing software which you only need register for to be able to install a free standard copy on your personal computer. A valuable companion resource on BNCweb was published by Peter Lang in 2008 but once again this is not openly accessible to interested readers who cannot afford to buy the book. The great news is that the main TaLC10 organiser, Agnieszka Lenko, has spearheaded openness with this most recent event by trying to secure an Open Access publication for the TaLC10 proceedings papers with Versita publishers in London.
DIY corpora with AntConc in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP)
At TaLC10 I discovered a lot of overlap with Maggie Charles’ work on building DIY corpora with EAP postgraduate students using the AntConc freeware by Laurence Anthony. We had also included workshops on AntConc for students in our OER for EAP cascade at Durham so it was great to see another EAP practitioner working in this way who had gathered data from her on-going work in this area for presentation and discussion at the conference. Many of her students at the University of Oxford Language Centre are working toward dissertation or thesis writing which raises interesting questions around enabling EAP students to become proficient in developing self-study resources for English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP). Her recent paper in the English for Specific Purposes Journal (2012) points to AntConc’s flexibility for student use due to it being freeware that can be installed on any personal computer or flash-drive key for portable use. Laurence Anthony’s website also offers a lot of great video training resources for how to use AntConc. The potential that AntConc offers for building select corpora to those students currently pursuing inter-disciplinary studies in higher education is also noted by Charles. Having said this, drawbacks with certain more obscure subject disciplines, for example Egyptology (Ibid.), that had not yet embraced digital research cultures and were still publishing research in predominantly print-based volumes or image-based .pdf files made the development of DIY corpora still beyond the reach of those few students.
Beyond books and podcasts through linking and crowd-sourcing
While presenting on the power of linked resources within the FLAX collections and pushing these outward to wider stakeholder communities through TOETOE, I came across another rapid innovation JISC-funded OER project at the Beyond Books conference at Oxford. The Spindle project, also based at the Learning Technologies Group Oxford, has been exploring linguistic uses for Oxford’s OpenSpires podcasts with work based on open-source automatic transcription tools. Automatic transcription is often accompanied with a high rate of inaccuracy. Spindle has been looking at ways for developing crowd-sourcing web interfaces that would enable English language learners to listen to the podcasts and correct the automatic transcription errors as part of a language learning crowd-sourcing task.
Automatic keyword generation was also carried out in the SPINDLE project on OpenSpires project podcasts, yielding far more accurate results. These keyword lists which can be assigned as metadata tags in digital repositories and channels like iTunesU offer further resource enhancement for making the podcasts more discoverable. Automatically generated keyword lists such as these can also be used for pedagogical purposes with the pre-teaching of vocabulary, for example. The TED500 corpus by Guy Aston which I also came across at TaLC10 is based on the TED talks (ideas worth spreading) which have also been released under creative commons licences and transcribed through crowd-sourcing.
The potential for open linguistic content to be reused, re-purposed and redistributed by third parties globally, provided that they are used in non-commercial ways and are attributed to their creators, offers new and exciting opportunities for corpus developers as well as educational practitioners interested in OER for language learning and teaching.
Anthony, L. (n.d.). Laurence Anthony’s Website: AntConc.
Berglund-Prytz, Y (2009). Text Analysis by Computer: Using Free Online Resources to Explore Academic Writing.Writing and Pedagogy 1(2): 279–302.
British National Corpus, version 3 (BNC XML Edition). 2007. Distributed by Oxford University Computing Services on behalf of the BNC Consortium.
Charles, M. (2012). ‘Proper vocabulary and juicy collocations’: EAP students evaluate do-it-yourself corpus-building. English for Specific Purposes, 31: 93-102.
Lexical Analysis Software & Oxford University Press (1996-2012). Wordsmith Tools.
Hoffmann, S., Evert, S., Smith, N., Lee, D. & Berglund Prytz, Y. (2008). Corpus Linguistics with BNCweb – a Practical Guide. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
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