“I mean somebody with the wit and the guts to go and do and create. And, that I believe is what education is all about” – Gordon Pask, 1974

This post is dedicated to the memory of Gary Boyd who taught me about and inspired me with systems thinking and cybernetics for educational practice. He and Gordon Pask, the guy in the Youtube clip above who on another clip someone commented that he’d make a great Dr. Who character, began the Educational Technology programme at Concordia University in Montreal, the oldest EdTech programme in North America where I am now a student.

IATEFL Conference 2012, Glasgow

This week I’ve been to some very encouraging talks and presentations at this year’s IATEFL conference in Glasgow. A key theme that I’ve found running through all of the sessions I’ve attended thus far is that of experimentation; in learning design, in research, in educational leadership, and but not at all least, in teaching.

Adrian Underhill kicked things off with his opening keynote, Mess and Progress, based on systems thinking for leadership, emphasizing the need for post-heroic leadership and flat hierarchies in the many educational contexts around the world. This notion of experimental leadership at the policy, institutional and individual level was effectively carried forward in the following presentation on Tuesday, ELT in Action, by the international A.S.Hornby Educational Trust Scholars, including speakers from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Sri Lanka, India, Venezuela, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Yemen. [Find out more about the Hornby scholars in an interview with three participating scholars at this IATEFL conference].

Systems thinking is very closely connected to cybernetics and Gordon Pask in the televised broadcast above was a leading cyberneticist and educational technologist experimenting with processes in education, arriving at his famous conversation theory which the second IATEFL keynote speaker, Diana Laurillard, draws upon in her renowned book, Rethinking University Teaching – A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies.

Laurillard’s new book, Teaching as a Design Science – Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology sold out at the conference. The book along with the tool she introduced in her talk, the Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE), which you can download for free from the LDSE project website, encourages sharing and collaboration between educators to lead, experiment and innovate with learning technologies and to build collective knowledge in this important area. In order to succeed, this collaborative effort will require openness. On Diana Laurillard’s slides she mentions OER – Open Educational Resources – in several places, but perhaps she needed to gloss OER and open practice more overtly to the 2000+ audience at the IATEFL conference because only one person who came to my session on open corpora and OER for ELT had ever heard of the term before. This is despite the popularity of Russell Stannard’s work with free Teacher Training Videos (TTV) which are OER for teacher and learner training with technology in ELT.

 

Flat Hierarchy

Flat hierarchy is the model followed by and experimented with by open education practitioners who choose to embody openness in their everyday practices for reducing barriers to and increasing access to education for all. Openness promotes “communal management by distributed stakeholders (users/producers/contributors) rather than a centralized authority (owners, experts, boards of directors, etc.)” (definition via Wikipedia on Openness). The term OER was coined ten years ago by UNESCO and this year OER stakeholders will convene virtually and in person in June 2012 to establish further international goals for the open education movement. Watch this space.

Returning to Adrian Underhill’s Mess and Progress, he ended his talk on a high note by performing his song, The Reflective Practice Blues, singing the need “…to reflect and not to neglect to try out something different everyday…” Basically, we can’t afford to continue to work in silos as it’s far too costly, both in the sense of wasting resources through the duplication of effort in creating similar copyrighted resources, and also in the sense of wasting potential opportunities for what could be if we would only open up to sharing what we do and the outputs of what we create so we can experiment with and improve upon these things. Underhill captured this ethos in his keynote with the following awareness-raising activity:

“Talk to the people sitting next to you to identify if you work somewhere where…

  1. it’s easy to get people to listen to an experiment with new ideas and suggestions

  2. when one person learns something new, everyone hears about it

  3. making mistakes is part of learning, you can be open about it and it’s not career limiting

  4. staff members of all ranks give each other plenty of quality feedback from above, below, and sideways

  5. everyone is involved in discussing school policies before adoption

  6. one department knows what people in another department are thinking and they help each other” (Underhill, A. Opening keynote address, IATEFL Conference 2012, Glasgow)

Is this reminiscent of your workplace and who you are in your working practice? Would you consider yourself to be an Open Educational Resource? If not yet or not completely, how can you become an experimenter in your practice to help open things up for yourself and others?

Princess Mary, Girl Guides, 1922 via Wikimedia Commons

Hey, I’m not even British but as part of Open Education Week – March 5-11 – I’ve just signed a pledge with the new UK-based Open Education SIG, an international special interest group with a UK flavour (not flavor:).

I attended a meeting held at the Open University in the UK at the end of February to discuss the future of open education in the UK. I am a teaching fellow with the Support Centre for Open Resources in Education (SCORE), one of about 400 people working in UK higher education who have been involved in government-funded open educational resources (OER) projects over the last three years. When we all made our applications for funding to the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in the UK we also made the usual commitment in our proposals to sustaining our OER projects after their funded lifetimes. So, what better way to reinforce this commitment than by signing a renewed pledge to Open Education? While the Cape Town Open Education Declaration has been picked up by many organisations around the world we thought it would be a good idea to re-mix this declaration to make it more personalised for the educational practitioner.

What does this all mean for English language teaching practitioners?

Frontrunners for technology-enhanced ELT, Russell Stannard and David Deubelbeiss, have also been pushing for more open educational resources and practices within ELT.

Recently, I posted a comment on Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT blog regarding the issues of attribution, re-use and the making of derivative resources for teaching English based on original resources created by another author:

One of the things that interests me most about this post and the comments related to it is the issue of attribution to the original work on automaticity by Gatbonton and Segalowitz. Attribution is essential whether you’re sharing resources in closed teaching and learning environments (e.g. classrooms, password-protected virtual learning environments, workshop and continuing professional development spaces) or through publishing channels using copyright or copyleft licences (e.g. books, research articles, blogs, online forum discussions). There is obviously a great amount of sharing and attribution going on in this discussion and the blogging platform is an enabler for this activity.

What also interests me is the behaviour around resource enhancement. As Scott outlines in the example here, an original resource from a research article by Gatbonton and Segalowitz was re-formatted into a workshop by Stephen Gaies (presumably with attribution to Gatbonton and Segalowitz). This in turn inspired Scott to engage in further resource gathering to inform his teaching practice while applying the five criteria for automaticity, and this further informed the section on fluency in his book, How to Teach Grammar (presumably with attribution to Gaies but now he realises he should’ve included attribution to Gatbonton and Segalowitz). In its latest iteration we find the same criteria for automaticity here in his blog post containing more ideas on how to apply this approach in language learning and teaching from both Scott and his blogpost readers. This is a great example of resource enhancement via re-use and re-mixing, something which the creative commons suite of licences http://creativecommons.org/ allow materials developers and users to do while maintaining full legal attribution rights for the original developer as well as extended rights to the re-mixer of that resource to create new derivative resources.

Legally enabling others to openly re-mix your resources and publish new ones based on them was not possible back in 1988. Arguably, Gatbonton and Segalowitz’s paper with the original criteria on automaticity has stood the test of time because of its enhancement through sharing by Gaies and by the same criteria having been embedded in a further published iteration by Scott in How to Teach Grammar. Times have changed and there is a lot we can now do with digital capabilities for best practice in the use and re-use of resources with attribution still being at the core of the exchange between resource creation and consumption. Except that now with self-publishing and resource sharing platforms, including blogs, it’s a lot easier for all of us to be involved in the resource creation process and to receive attribution for our work in sharing. This coming week, March 5-10, is Open Education Week http://www.openeducationweek.org/ with many great resources on how to openly share your teaching and learning resources along with how to locate, re-use, re-mix and re-distribute with attribution those open educational resources created by others. Why not check it out and see how this activity can apply to ELT?

If you’re new to all of this and have any pesky questions about the business models behind open education, please check out Paul Stacey’s blog, Musings on the Edtech Frontier, with his most recent post on the Economics of Open. Information on what the different Creative Commons and Public Domain licences can be found at CreativeCommons.org.

publicdomain
Public Domain licence via Flickr
creativecommons
Creative Commons licence via Flickr
Attribution, Creative Commons licence
Attribution Creative Commons licence via Flickr
noncommercial
Non Commercial Creative Commons Licence via Flickr
sharealike
Share Alike Creative Commons Licence via Flickr
noderivatives
No Derivatives Creative Commons licence via Flickr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, why the interest in British resources for open English?

I’ve been coming in and out of the UK for the past 10 years with my work related to technology-enhanced ELT and EAP. Resources include not only those artifacts that we teach and learn with but also the vibrant communities that come together to share their understandings with peers through open channels of practice. BALEAP, formerly a British organisation (the British Association for Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes) but now with an outreach mandate to become the global forum for EAP practitioners, is such an informal community of practice. Members within BALEAP are actively making up for a deficit in formal EAP training by providing useful resources to both EAP teachers and learners via their website and through lively discussions relevant to current issues in EAP via their mailing list.

Because of my interest in corpus linguistics and data-driven language learning, I’ve also been working with exciting practitioners from the world of computer science, namely those working at the open source digital library software lab, Greenstone, at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, to help with the testing and promotion of their open English language project, FLAX (the Flexible Language Acquisition project). The FLAX team are building open corpora and open tools for text analysis using a combination of both open and proprietary content. A copyrighted reference corpus such as the British National Corpus (BNC) is enhanced within the FLAX project by being linked to different open reference corpora such as a Wikipedia and a Web-derived corpus (released by Google) as well as specialist corpora, including the copyrighted British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus, developed by Nesi, Gardner, Thompson and Wickens between 2004-2007 and housed within the Oxford Text Archive (OTA).

Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS) manage the OTA along with jointly managing the BNC which is physically housed at the British Library. The OpenSpires project is also based at the OUCS and this is where Oxford podcasts have been made openly available through creative commons licences for use and re-use in learning and teaching beyond the brick-n-mortar that is Oxford’s UK campus. Try out the Credit Crunch and Global Recession OER that are based on an Oxford seminar series and have been enhanced with corpus-based text analysis resources. Or, make your own resources based on these same seminars to share with your own learning and teaching communities. In addition to being housed on the OUCS website these resources, along with many other creative commons-licensed resources from educational institutions around the world, can also be found on the Apple channel, iTunesU.

So, it seems there’s quite a bit going on with open English in the UK that’s worth engaging with, and maybe even making a commitment to sharing with open educational resources and practices.

A finale take-away

Check out FLAX’s new Learning Collocations collection where you can compare collocations for keyword searches and harvest useful phrases to embed into your writing, using the BAWE and the BNC along with corpora derived from Wikipedia and the Web. There are three training videos on how to use the Learning Collocations collection in FLAX available in the Training Videos section of this blog.

For every E it follows that there is an I, at least that’s how it would appear with Apple’s latest and much debated ‘free’ app hitting the mainstream and educational markets, iBooks Author. The only instance I can think of in the reverse is I, Claudius, first penned by Robert Graves, which now with an e-reader can be read as an e-I, Claudius.

When considering throwbacks to the analogue age, what exactly is it about e-books that make us (not forgetting publishers and hardware vendors) feel so at home with this type of packaging for content? Are e-books, and their close cousins the e-coursebooks, the great hand-holders as we make the transition from the semi-digital world of print media production toward a webbed bundle of digital content including dynamic RSS feeds, all of which can in effect be converted and customized into an e-book format? There is a very lively and timely open education seminar and collaborative e-book writing event going on right now within SCoPE (hosted by BCcampus in Canada), discussing the very nature of e-books. Writing an e-book about e-books for fun and no profit: February 1-14, 2012 is definitely worth checking out.

Similarly, within the ELT community, Scott Thornbury’s latest A-Z of ELT entry on e-coursebooks has created a lot of post-blogpost activity about the ‘need’ for coursebooks, digital or otherwise, in language teaching and learning. He offers an alternative 8-point ELT scenario for tapping into and toying with a mash-up of available technologies, both open and proprietary. Youtube is an endless resource provided you don’t live in a country or work in an institution where it is blocked, and this is where Apple’s iTunesU as an educational content channel wins the day again. To provide just one example of this success, The Open University in the UK has experienced 34 million downloads of their educational content on iTunesU since June 2008, much of which is open content released under creative commons licences.

I take Scott’s point that Tom Cobb’s Lextutor is an invaluable resource if you know how to use it and are willing to invest the time, as he suggests, to make the most of it in your learning and teaching. However, more in the way of training and the development of pedagogic wrappers for helping teachers and learners exploit corpus tools and resources effectively would not go amiss. I’ll be talking more along these lines in future posts.

Needless to say, this discussion on e-resources in the A-Z of ELT blog along with David Deubelbeiss’ call via EFL 2.0 Teacher Talk to disrupt ELT with more openness is what has inspired me to kick-start this blog – thanks, guys.

Pedagogic wrappers

Chinese spring roll wrappers, Burma Image via flickr creative commons

We have become too dependent on coursebooks and off-the-shelf dedicated resources for ELT. I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 years trying to deprogramme myself away from the ELT textbook consumer culture that I was formally trained into by Cambridge ESOL pre- and in-service teacher training courses. Yes, we could SARS – Select, Adapt, Reject, Supplement – (Graves, 2003) sections of a coursebook, as we were trained to do, but the coursebook still remains the crux of the lesson.

Anna Comas-Quinn of the LORO project (Languages Open Resources Online) talks of typical language teachers as being those who will beg, borrow and steal anything to teach a language point effectively. We’ve always done this to make our classes more interesting – taking a clip from a video here, chopping up a research article there – as we try to engage our students in authentic communication in the target language. So, in many ways we’ve always been at odds with the coursebook. But how often does our pedagogy, embedded in useful resources which we have painstakingly designed, remain locked in the secret garden that is our classroom? Or within the password-protected virtual learning environment of our institutions?

Our language teaching community would benefit greatly from the sharing of these resources and pedagogic wrappers in the form of lesson plans and tips for teaching. But what are the barriers to sharing when we’ve never been trained in intellectual property rights and the use of third party materials? If we had been trained in harvesting and harnessing open technologies and resources, then perhaps we would build resources from a different starting point, making it easier for us to share. We might even end up promoting ourselves and our institutions by releasing our open educational resources (OER) into the wild, a different business model worth exploring.

Image via flickr creative commons

By tapping into informal open education practitioner communities like those who hosted the recent Open Content Licensing for Educators 2012 (OCL4Ed, sponsored by Ako Aotearoa – New Zealand’s National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence), attended online by 1067 people from 87 countries with 15,961 unique visits to the WikiEducator site, we can start to grow our skills and understanding in this important area of materials development and dissemination for free. The OCL4Ed materials were developed openly and collaboratively by dedicated volunteers from the OER Foundation, WikiEducator,  the OpenCourseware Consortium (OCWC) and Creative Commons with funding support from UNESCO. If you’d like to learn more about creative commons, check out this video here.

Nobody does it better…?

‘Bond’ image via flickr creative commons

Apple and Amazon are disrupting publishing and their pockets run very deep. Educational resources developers, many of whom are teachers, have always engaged in contracts with traditional publishers to pay for the costs of publishing in one form or another. With the launch of iBooks Author, Apple have their eyes on the K-12 market and this comes with its problems as is discussed here in the Scholarly Kitchen, a vibrant blog on educational publishing. David Crotty argues against Apple’s rush for rich media, stating that he’s perfectly happy to read an e-book without the bells and whistles of animations and embedded scenes from movies etc to pump up the text and the e-reader experience, as has been the case with the release of the popular and digitally-enhanced Alice for the iPad e-book published by Atomic Antelope.  He may not be so interested in the hype around adding movie clips and animations to text but language teachers are interested in drawing their students’ attention to differences in features of spoken and written discourse, and e-books offer us the potential to combine resources in this way.

Apple has pushed beyond the open ePUB format standards for e-books which don’t necessarily support such a high level of rich media, and have come up with their own ibooks file format instead. In many ways this push for richer media standards is admirable. But their EULA (End User Licence Agreement) doesn’t leave educational resources developers, many of whom are teachers, for both open and proprietary resources, much room to move by locking us down with a file format for use only on iPads and for iBook sales only through the iBooks Store.

By tuning into the OER community and by playing with and learning about different technologies and licensing standards, we may not always come up with e-resources that are as flashy as the high-end iBooks prepared by animation artists (although there are some animation artists floating about the OER world who would love to help!). We can, however, between us come up with pedagogically relevant e-resources that can be shared and re-used.

References:

‘Pedagogic wrappers’ – term coined by Tom Browne, SCORE fellow with the Open University.

Graves, K, 2003. “Coursebooks.” In D. Nunan (Ed.) PracticalEnglish Language Teaching. New York: McGraw-Hill.