Radio Ga Ga by Queen via Keep Calm and listen to Radio Ga Ga
Radio Ga Ga by Queen via Keep Calm and listen to Radio Ga Ga

This is the second satellite post from the mothership post, Radio Ga Ga: corpus-based resources, you’ve yet to have your finest hour. I have also made the complete hyperlinked post (in five sections) available as a .pdf on Slideshare.

Radio 2

Previously, I left off with reflections from the 2012 IATEFL conference and exhibition in Glasgow. Wandering through the exhibition hall crammed with vendor-driven English language resources for sale from the usual suspects (big brand publishers), the analogy of the greatest hits came to mind with respects to EFL / ESL and EAP materials development and publishing. But at this same IATEFL event there was also a lot of co-channel interference feeding in from the world of self-publishing, reflecting how open digital scholarship has become mainstream practice in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), also known as Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) in North America. The launch of the round initiative at IATEFL, bridging the gap between ELT blogging and book-making, where the emphasis is on teachers as publishers is but one example.

Crosstalk in ELT materials development and publishing

Let’s take a closer look at the crosstalk happening within the world of ELT materials development and publishing, where messages are being transmitted simultaneously from  radio 1 and radio 2 type stations. Across the wider ELT world, TEFL / TESL has embraced Web 2.0 far more readily than EAP (but there are interesting signs of open online life emerging from some EAP practitioners, which I will highlight in the last section of this blog).

Within TEFL, we can observe more in the way of collaboration between open and proprietary publishing practices. English360, also present at IATEFL 2012, combines proprietary content from Cambridge University Press with teachers’ lesson plans, along with tools for creating custom-made pay-for online English language courses. Across the ELT resources landscape open resources and practices proliferate, including: free ELT magazines and journals; blogs and commentary-led discussions; micro-blogging via twitter feeds and tweetchat sessions; instructional and training videos via YouTube and iTunesU (both proprietary channels that hold a lot of OER), and; online communities with lesson plan resource banks. These and many more open educational practices (OEP) are the norm in TEFL / TESL. And, let’s not forget Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos website of free resources for navigating web-based language tools and projects drawing on his service as the Web Watcher at English Teaching Professional for well over a decade now.

The broken record in ELT publishing

Broken record of "I believe in miracles" by Ian Crowther via Flickr
Broken record of “I believe in miracles” by Ian Crowther via Flickr

Yet, both the TEFL / TESL and EAP markets are still well and truly saturated with the glossy print-based textbook format, stretching to the CD-ROM and mostly password-protected online resource formats. The greatest hits get played over and over again and the needle continues to get stuck in many places.

Exactly why does the closed textbook format concern me so much? It’s an issue of granularity or size really which leads to further issues with flexibility, specificity and currency. As we all know, there are only so many target language samples and task types that you can pack into a print-based textbook. Beyond the trendy conversation-based topics, what are sometimes useful and transferable are the approaches that make up the pedagogy contained therein. Unlocking these approaches and linking to wider and more relevant and authentic language resources is key. We can see this approach to linked resources development taken by the web-based FLAX and WordandPhrase corpus-based projects. Publishers are aware of the limitations of the textbook format but they’re also trying to reach a large consumer base to boost their sales so it remains in their best interests to keep resources generic. Think of all the academic English writing books out there, many of which claim to be based on the current research for meeting your teaching and learning needs for academic English writing across the disciplines, but turn out to be more of the same topic-based how-to skills books working within the same essayist writing tradition.

Open textbooks

The open textbook movement brings a new type of textbook to the world of education. One that can be produced at a fraction of the cost and one that can be tailored, linked to external resources, changed and updated whenever the pedagogical needs arise.

The argument in favour of textbooks in ELT has always been one for providing structure to the teaching and learning sequence of a particular syllabus or course. Locked-down proprietary textbook, CD-ROM and online resource formats are not only expensive but they are inflexible. And, these force teachers into problematic practices. Despite trying to point out the perils of plagiarism to our students, as language teachers we are supplementing textbooks with texts, images and audio-visual material from wherever we can beg, borrow and steal them. Of course we do this for principled pedagogical reasons and if we don’t plan on sharing these teaching materials beyond classroom and password-protected VLE walls we’re probably OK, right?

I’ve seen many a lesson handout or in-house course pack for language teaching that includes many third party texts and images which are duly referenced. Whether the teacher/materials developer puts the small ‘c’ in the circle or not, marking this handout or course pack as copyrighted, the default license is one of copyright to the institution where that practitioner works. And, this is where the problem lies. The handout or course pack is potentially in breach of the copyright of any third party materials used therein, unless the teacher/materials developer has gained clearance from the copyright holders or unless those third party materials are openly licensed as OER for re-mixing. Good practice with materials development and licensing will ensure that valuable resources created by teachers can be legitimately shared across learning and teaching communities. You can do this through open publishing technologies and/or in collaboration with publishers.

A deficit in corpus-based resources training

Good corpus-derived textbooks from leading publishing houses do exist. Finally, the teaching of spoken grammar gets the nod with The Handbook of Spoken Grammar textbook by Delta Publishing. But, and this is a big but, do these textbooks go far enough to address the current deficit in teacher and learner training with corpus-based tools and resources? I expect the publishers would direct this question to the academic monographs, of which there are a fair few, on Data Driven Learning (DDL) and corpus linguistics. I have some on my bookshelf and there are many more in the library where I am a student/fellow, all cross-referenced to academic journal articles from research into corpus linguistics and DDL which I will be talking about more in the third section of this blog. But exactly how accessible are these resources – in terms of their cost, the academic language they are packaged in, the closed proprietary formats they are published in, and in relation to much of the subscription-only corpora and concordancing software their research is based on? It’s no wonder that training in corpus tools and resources is not part of mainstream English language teacher training. Of course, there are open exceptions that provide new models in corpus-based resources development and publishing practices and this is very much what the TOETOE project is trying to share with language education communities.

Corpus linguists are well aware that corpus-based resources and tools in language teaching and materials development haven’t taken off as a popular sport in mainstream language teaching and teacher training. This does run counter to the findings from the research, however, where the argument is that DDL has reached a level of maturity (Nesi & Gardner, 2011; Reppen, 2010; O’Keefe, 2007; Biber, 2006). Similarly, many of the findings from leading researchers (too many to cite!) in language and teaching corpora have been baffled by the chasm between the research into DDL and the majority of mainstream ELT materials that appear on the market that continue to ignore the evidence about actual language usage from corpus-based research studies. Once again, this comes back to the issue of specific versus generic language materials and the issues raised around limitations with developing restricted resource formats.

Gangnam style corpus-based resources development

Gangnam Style by PSY 싸이 강남스타일 via Flickr

So what’s it going to take for corpus-based resources to take off Gangnam style in mainstream language teaching and teacher training? And, how are we going to make these resources cooler and more accessible so as to stop language teaching practitioners from giving them a bad rap? More and more corpus-based tools and resources are being built with or re-purposed with open source technologies and platforms. We are now presented with more and more web-based channels for the dissemination of educational resources, offering the potential for massification and exciting new possibilities for achieving what has always eluded the language education and language corpora research community, namely the wide-scale adoption of corpus-based resources in language education.

I’ve actually been asked to take the word ‘corpus’ out of a workshop title by a conference organiser so as to attract more participants. If you’re interested in expressing your own experiences with using corpora in language teaching and would like to make suggestions for where you think data-driven learning should be heading you can complete Chris Tribble’s on-going online survey on DDL here.

Radio, what’s new? Someone still loves you (corpus-based resources)


Publishers constantly need ideas for and examples of good educational resources. No great surprises there. I would like to propose that OER and OEP are a great way to get noticed by publishers to start working with them. Sitting on the steering committee meeting with the JISC-funded PublishOER project members at Newcastle University in the UK in early September, we also had representatives from Elsevier, RightsCom, the Royal Veterinary College (check out their exciting WikiVet OER project) and JISC Collections at the table. Elsevier who have borne the brunt of a lot of the lash back in academic publishing from the Open Access movement are trying to open up to the fast changing landscape of open practices in publishing. PublishOER are creating new mechanisms, a permissions request system, for allowing teachers and academics to use copyrighted resources in OER. These OER will include links and recommendations leading back to the publishers’ copyrighted resources as a mechanism for promoting them. Publishers are also interested in using OER developed by teachers and academics that are well designed and well received by students. Re-mixable OER offer great business opportunities for publishers as well as great dissemination opportunities for DDL researchers and practitioners, enabling effective corpus-based ELT resources to reach broader audiences.

Sustainability is an important issue with any project, resource, event or community. How many times have we seen school textbook sets stay unused on shelves, or heard of government-funded project resources that go unused perhaps due to a lack of discoverability? To build new and useful resources online does not necessarily mean that teachers and learners will come in droves to find and use these resources even if they are for free. David Duebelbeiss of EFL Classroom 2.0 is currently exploring new business models for sharing and selling ELT resources. One example is the sale of lesson plans in a can which were once free and now sell for $19.95, a “once and forever payment”. Some teachers can even make it rich as is reported in this businessweek article about a kindergarten teacher who sold her popular lesson plans through the TeachersPayTeachers initiative.

Transaction costs in materials development don’t only include the cost of the tools and resources that enable materials development, they also include the cost in terms of time spent on developing resources and marketing them. Open education also points to the unnecessary cost in duplicating the same educational resources over and over again because they haven’t been designed and licensed openly for sharing and re-mixing. Putting your resources in the right places, in more than one, and working with those that understand new markets, new technologies and new business models, including open education practitioners and publishers, are all ways forward to ensure a return on investment with materials development.

Hopefully, by providing new frequencies for practitioners to tune into for how to create resources from both open and proprietary resources a new mixed economy (as the PublishOER crowd like to refer to it) will be realised.

A matter of scale in open and distance education

Let’s not forget those working in ELT around the world, many of whom are volunteers, who along with their students simply cannot afford the cost of proprietary and subscription-only educational resources, let alone the investment and infrastructure for physical classrooms and schools. Issues around technology and ELT resources and practices in developing countries did surface at IATEFL 2012 but awareness around the more pressing issues may not be finding ways to effectively filter their way through to well-resourced ELT practitioners and the institutions that employ them. ELT is still fixated on classroom-based teaching resources and practices.

The Hornby Educational Trust in collaboration with the British Council which is a registered charity have been offering scholarships to English language teachers working in under-resourced communities since 1970. I attended a session given by the Hornby scholars at IATEFL 2012 and although I was impressed by the enthusiasm and range of expertise of those who had been selected for scholarships, reporting on ELT interventions they had devised in their local contexts, I couldn’t help but wonder about the scale of the challenges we currently face in education globally. How are we going to provide education opportunities for the additional 100 million learners currently seeking access to the formal post-secondary sector (UNESCO, 2008)? In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of all children will not have the privilege of a senior high school education (Ibid). What open and distance education teaches us is that there are just not enough teachers/educators out there. Nor will the conventional industrial model of educational delivery be able to meet this demand.

As DDL researchers and resource developers who are looking for ways to make our research and practice more widely adopted in language teaching and learning globally, wouldn’t we also want to be thinking about where the real educational needs are and how we might be reaching under-resourced communities with open corpus-based educational resources for uses in EFL / ESL and EAP among other target languages? First of all, we would need to devote more attention to unpacking corpus-based resources so that they are more accessible to the non-expert user, and we would need to find more ways of making these resources more discoverable.

In interviews released as OER on YouTube by DigitaLang with leading TEFLers at IATEFL 2012, I was able to catch up on opinions around the use of technology in ELT. Nik Peachey corrected the often widely held misconception about the digital divide for uses of technology in developing countries, pointing to the adoption of mobile and distance education rather than the importation of costly print-based published materials with first-world content and concerns that are often inappropriate for developing world contexts. You can view his interview here:

Thinking beyond classroom-based practice

Scott Thornbury, writer of the A-Z of ELT blog – another influential and popular discussion site for the classic hits in ELT for those who are both new and old to the field – also praised the Hornby scholars and gave his views on technology in ELT in a further IATEFL 2012 DigitaLang interview. He talks about the ‘human factor’ as something that occurs in classroom-based language teaching. In order to nurture this human factor, he recommends that technology be kept for uses outside the classroom or at best for uses in online teacher education. Open and distance education practitioners and researchers would also agree that well-resourced face-2-face instruction yields high educational returns as in the case of the Hornby scholarships, but they would also argue that this is not a scalable business model for meeting the needs of the many who still lack access to formal post-secondary education. What is more, the human factor as evidenced in online collaborative learning is well documented in the research from open and distance education as it is from traditional technology-enhanced classroom-based teaching.

For a view into how open and distance education practitioners and researchers are trying to scale these learning and accreditation opportunities for the developing world, the following open discussion thread from Wayne Mackintosh on MOOCs for developing countries – discussion from the OERuniversity Google Groups provides an entry point:

“Access to reliable and affordable internet connectivity poses unique challenges in the developing world. That said, I believe it possible to design open courses which use a mix of conventional print-based materials for “high-bandwidth” data and mobile telephony for “low-bandwidth” peer-to-peer interactions. So for example, the OERu delivery model will be able to produce print-based study materials and it would be possible to automatically generate CD-ROM images of the rich media (videos / audio) contained in the course for offline viewing. We already have the capability to generate collections of OERu course materials authored in WikiEducator to produce print-based equivalents which could be reproduced and distributed locally. The printed document provides footnotes for all the web-links in the materials which OERu learners could investigate when visiting an Internet access point. OERu courses integrate microblogging for peer-to-peer interactions and we produce a timeline of all contributions via discussion forums, blogs etc. The bandwidth requirements for these kind of interactions are relatively low which address to some extent the cost of connectivity.”


Altbach, P. G., Reisberg, L., & Rumbley, L. E. (2009). Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution. A Report Prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education. Retrieved from

Biber, D., (2006). University language: a corpus-based study of spoken and written registers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Nesi, H, Gardner, S., Thompson, P. & Wickens, P. (2007). The British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus, developed at the Universities of Warwick, Reading and Oxford Brookes under the directorship of Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner (formerly of the Centre for Applied Linguistics [previously called CELTE], Warwick), Paul Thompson (Department of Applied Linguistics, Reading) and Paul Wickens (Westminster Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes), with funding from the ESRC (RES-000-23-0800)

Nesi, H. and Gardner, S. (2012). Genres across the Disciplines: Student writing in higher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

O’Keeffe, A., McCarthy, M., & Carter R. (2007). From Corpus to Classroom: language use and language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Reppen, R. (2010). Using Corpora in the Language Classroom . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Radio Ga Ga by Queen via YouTube
Radio Ga Ga by Queen via YouTube

This is the first satellite post from the mothership post, Radio Ga Ga: corpus-based resources, you’ve yet to have your finest hour. I have also made the complete hyperlinked post (in five sections) available as a .pdf on Slideshare.

Radio 1

Original, in-house and live, this station brings us what’s new in the world of OER for corpus-based language resources.

Flipped conferencing

Kicking things off in late March with Clare Carr from Durham, we co-presented an OER for EAP corpus-based teacher and learner training cascade project at the Eurocall CMC & Teacher Education Annual Workshop in Bologna, Italy. This was very much a flipped conference whereby draft presentation papers were sent to be read in advance by participants and where the focus was on discussion rather than presentation at the physical event. Russell Stannard of Teacher Training Videos (TTV) was the keynote speaker at this conference and I have been developing some training resources for the FLAX open-source corpus collections which will be ready to go live on TTV soon. New collections in FLAX have opened up the BAWE corpus and have linked this to the BNC, a Google-derived n-gram corpus as well as Wikimedia resources, namely Wikipedia and Wiktionary. These collections in FLAX show what’s cutting edge in the developer world of open corpus-based resources for language learning and teaching.

Focusing on linked resources: which academic vocabulary list?

In a later post, I will be looking at Mark Davies’ new work with Academic Vocabulary Lists based on a 110 million-word academic sub corpus in the Corpus of Contemporary American (COCA) English – moving away from the Academic Word List (AWL) by Coxhead (2000) based on a 3.5 million-word corpus – and his innovative web tools and collections based on the COCA. Once again, Davies’ Word and Phrase project website at Brigham Young University contains a bundle of powerfully linked resources, including a collocational thesaurus which links to other leading research resources such as the on-going lexical database project at Princeton, WordNet.

The open approach to developing non-commercial learning and teaching corpus-based resources in FLAX also shows the commitment to OER at OUCS (including the Oxford Text Archive), where the BAWE and the BNC research corpora are both managed. Click on the image below to visit the BAWE collections in FLAX.

BAWE case study text from the Life Sciences collection in FLAX with Wikipedia resources

Open eBooks for language learning and teaching

Learning Through Sharing: Open Resources, Open Practices, Open Communication, was the theme of the EuroCALL conference and to follow things up the organisers have released a call for OER in languages for the creation of an open eBook on the same theme. The book will be “a collection of case studies providing practical suggestions for the incorporation of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Practices (OEP), and Open Communication principles to the language classroom and to the initial and continuing development of language teachers.” This open-access e-Book, aimed at practitioners in secondary and tertiary education, will be freely available for download. If you’re interested in submitting a proposal to contribute to this electronic volume, please send in a case study proposal (maximum 500 words) by 15 October 2012 to the co-editors of the publication, Ana Beaven (University of Bologna, Italy), Anna Comas-Quinn (Open University, UK) and Barbara Sawhill (Oberlin College, USA).

MOOC on Open Translation tools and practices

Another learning event which I’ve just picked up from EuroCALL is a pilot Massive Open Online Course in open translation practices being run from the British Open University from 15th October to 7 December 2012 (8 weeks), with the accompanying course website opening on Oct 10th 2012. Visit the “Get involved” tab on the following site: “Open translation practices rely on crowd sourcing, and are used for translating open resources such as TED talks and Wikipedia articles, and also in global blogging and citizen media projects such as Global Voices. There are many tools to support Open Translation practices, from Google translation tools to online dictionaries like Wordreference, or translation workflow tools like Transifex.” Some of these tools and practices will be explored in the OT12 MOOC.

Bringing open corpus-based projects to the Open Education community

On the back of the Cambridge 2012 conference: Innovation and Impact – Openly Collaborating to Enhance Education held in April, I’ve been working on another eBook chapter on open corpus-based resources which will be launched very soon at the Open Education conference in Vancouver. The Cambridge 2012 event was jointly hosted in Cambridge, England by the Open Course Ware Consortium (OCWC) and SCORE. Presenting with Terri Edwards from Durham, we covered EAP student and teacher perceptions of training with open corpus-based resources from three projects: FLAX, the Lextutor and AntConc. These three projects vary in terms of openness and the type of resources they are offering. In future posts I will be looking at their work and the communities that form around their resources in more depth. The following video from the conference has captured our presentation and the ensuing discussion at this event to a non-specialist audience who are curious to know how open corpus-based resources can help with the open education vision. Embedding these tools and resources into online and distance education to support the growing number of learners worldwide who wish to access higher education, where the OER and most published research are in English, opens a whole new world of possibilities for open corpus-based resources and EAP practitioners working in this area.

A further video from a panel discussion which I contributed to – an OER kaleidoscope for languages – looks at three further open language resources projects that are currently underway and building momentum here in the UK: OpenLives, LORO, the CommunityCafe. Reference to other established OER projects for languages and the humanities including LanguageBox and the HumBox are also made in this talk.

A world declaration for OER

The World OER congress in June at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris marked ten years since the coining of the term OER in 2002 along with the formal adoption of an OER declaration (click on the image to see the declaration). I’ve included the following quotation from the OER declaration to provide a backdrop to this growing open education movement as it applies to language teaching and learning, highlighting that attribution for original work is commonplace with creative commons licensing.

Emphasizing that the term Open Educational Resources (OER) was coined at UNESCO’s 2002 Forum on OpenCourseWare and designates “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work”.

Wikimedia – why not?

Wikimedia Foundation
Wikimedia Foundation

Earlier in September, I volunteered to present at the EduWiki conference in Leicester which was hosted by the Wikimedia UK chapter. Most people are familiar with Wikipedia which is the sixth most visited website in the world. It is but one of many sister projects managed by the Wikimedia Foundation, however, along with others such as Wikiversity, Wiktionary etc.

I will also be blogging soon about widely held misconceptions for uses of Wikipedia in EAP and EFL / ESL while exploring its potentials in writing instruction with reference to some very exciting education projects using Wikipedia around the world. The types of texts that make up Wikipedia alongside many academics’ realisations that they need to be reaching wider audiences with their work through more accessible modes of writing transmission are all issues I will be commenting on in this blog in the very near future.

Presenting the work the FLAX team have done with text mining, incorporating David Milne’s Wikipedia mining tool, the potential of Wikipedia as an open corpus resource in language learning and teaching is evident. I was demonstrating how this Wikipedia corpus has been linked to other research corpora in FLAX, namely the BNC and the BAWE, for the development of corpus-based OER for EFL / ESL and EAP. And, let’s not forget that it’s all for free!

The open approach to corpus resources development

There is no reason why the open approach taken by FLAX cannot be extended to build open corpus-based collections for learning and teaching other modern languages, linking different language versions of Wikipedia to relevant research corpora and resources in the target language. In particular, functionality in the FLAX collections that enable you to compare how language is used differently across a range of corpora, which are further supported by additional resources such as Wiktionary and Roget’s Thesaurus, make for a very powerful language resource. Crowd-sourcing corpus resources through open research and education practices and through the development of open infrastructure for managing and making these resources available is not as far off in the future as we might think. The Common Language Resources and Technology Infrastructure (CLARIN) mission in Europe is a leading success story in the direction currently being taken with corpus-based resources (read more about the recent workshop for CLARIN-D held in Leipzig, Germany).


Coxhead, A. (2000). The Academic Word List.


Radio Ga Ga album cover by Queen via Wikipedia

These past few months I’ve been tuning into a lot of different practitioner events and discussions across a range of educational communities which I feel are of relevance to English language education where uses for corpus-based resources are concerned. There’s something very distinct about the way these different communities are coming together and in the way they are sharing their ideas and outputs. In this post, I will liken their behaviour to different types of radio station broadcast, highlighting differences in communication style and the types of audience (and audience participation) they tend to attract.

I’ve also been re-setting my residential as well as my work stations. No longer at Durham University’s English Language Centre, I’m now London-based and have just set off on a whirlwind adventure for further open educational resources (OER) development and dissemination work with collaborators and stakeholders in a variety of locations around the world. TOETOE is going international and is now being hosted by Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS) in conjunction with the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) as part of the UK government-funded OER International programme.

I will also be spreading the word about the newly formed Open Education Special Interest Group (OESIG), the Flexible Language Acquisition (FLAX) open corpus-based language resources project at the University of Waikato, and select research corpora, including the British National Corpus (BNC) and the British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus, both managed by OUCS, which have been prised open by FLAX and TOETOE for uses in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) – also referred to as English as a Second Language (ESL) in North America – and English for Academic Purposes (EAP). Stay tuned to this blog in the coming months for more insights into open corpus-based English language resources and their uses in different teaching and learning contexts.

This post is what those in the blogging business refer to as a ‘cornerstone’ post as it includes many insights into the past few months of my teaching fellowship in OER with the Support Centre in Open Educational Resources (SCORE) at the Open University in the UK. Many posts within one as it were. This post also provides a road map for taking my project work forward while identifying shorter blogging themes for posts that will follow this one. This particular post will also act as the mother-ship TOETOE post from which subsequent satellite posts will be linked.  Please use the red menu hyperlinks in the section below to dip in and out of the four main sections of this blog post series. I have elected to choose this more reflective style of writing through blogging so that my growing understandings in this area are more accessible to unanticipated readers who may stumble upon this blog and hopefully make comments to help me refine my work. Two more formal case studies on my TOETOE project to date will be coming out soon via the HEA and the JISC.

I have also made this hyperlinked post (in five sections) available as a .pdf on Slideshare.

Which station(s) are you listening to?

BBC Radio has been going since 1927. With audiences in the UK, four stations in particular are firm favourites: youth oriented BBC Radio 1 featuring new and contemporary music; BBC Radio 2 with middle of the road music for the more mature audience; high culture and arts oriented BBC Radio 3, and; news and current affairs oriented BBC Radio 4. Of course there are many more stations but these four are very typical of those found around the world. What is more, I’ve selected these four very distinct stations as the basis to build a metaphor around the way four very distinct educational practitioner communities are intersecting with corpus-based language teaching resources. This metaphor will draw on thought waves from the following:

Radio 1 – what’s new and hip in open corpus-based resources and practices

Radio 2 – the greatest hits in ELT materials development and publishing

Radio 3 – research from teaching and language corpora

Radio 4 – The current talk in EAP: open platforms for defining practice

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.


‘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.