Cut out the middle man via frontbad sketchbook

“…the attempt to cut out the middleman as far as possible and to give the learner direct access to the data” (Johns, 1991, p.30)

Importance is placed on empirical data when taking a corpus-informed and data-driven approach to language learning and teaching. Moving away from subjective conclusions about language based on an individual’s internalized cognitive perception of language and the influence of generic language education resources, empirical data enable language teachers and learners to reach objective conclusions about specific language usage based on corpus analyses. Tim Johns coined the term Data-Driven Learning (DDL) in 1991 with reference to the use of corpus data and the application of corpus-based practices in language learning and teaching (Johns, 1991). The practice of DDL in language education was appropriated from computer science where language is treated as empirical data and where “every student is Sherlock Holmes”, investigating the uses of language to assist with their acquisition of the target language (Johns, 2002:108).

A review of the literature indicates that the practice of using corpora in language teaching and learning pre-dates the term DDL with work carried out by Peter Roe at Aston University in 1969 (McEnery & Wilson, 1997, p.12). Johns is also credited for having come up with the term English for Academic Purposes (Hyland, 2006). Johns’ oft quoted words about cutting out the middleman tell us more about his DDL vision for language learning; where teacher intuitions about language were put aside in favor of powerful text analysis tools that would provide learners with direct access to some of the most extensive language corpora available, the same corpora that lexicographers draw on for making dictionaries, to discover for themselves how the target language is used across a variety of authentic communication contexts. As with many brilliant visions for impactful educational change, however, his also appears to have come before its time.

This post will argue that the original middleman in Johns’ DDL metaphor took on new forms beyond that of teachers getting in the way of learners having direct access to language as data. An argument will be put forward to claim that the applied corpus linguistics research and development community introduced new and additional barriers to the widespread adoption of DDL in mainstream language education. Albeit well intentioned and no doubt defined by restrictions in research and development practices along the way, new middlemen were paradoxically perpetuated by the proponents of DDL making theirs an exclusive rather than a popular sport with language learners and

The middle man comic – first issue cover via Wikipedia

teachers (Tribble, 2012). And, with each new wave of research and development in applied corpus linguistics new and puzzling restrictions confronted the language teaching and learning community.

The middleman in DDL has presented himself as a sophisticated corpus authority in the form of research and development outputs, including text analysis software designed by, and for, the expert corpus user with complex options for search refinement that befuddled the non-expert corpus user, namely language teachers and learners. Replication of these same research methods to obtain the same or similar results for uses in language teaching and learning has often been restricted to securing access to the exact same software and know-how for manipulating and querying linguistic data successfully.

Which language are you speaking?

He has been known to speak in programming languages with his interfaces often requiring specialist trainers to communicate his most simple functions. Even his most widely known KWIC (Key Word In Context) interface for linguistic data presentation with strings of search terms embedded in truncated language context snippets remain foreign-looking to the mostly uninitiated in language teaching and learning. In many cases, he has not come cheap either and requirements for costly subscriptions to and upgrades of his proprietary soft wares have been the norm, especially in the earlier days.

In particular, with reference to English Language Teaching (ELT), he has criticized many widely used ELT course book publications and their language offerings for ignoring his research findings based on evidence for how the English language is actually used across different contexts of use. In response, a few ELT course book publishers have clamored around him to help him get his words out for a price but in so doing have rendered his corpus analyses invisible, in turn creating even more of a dependency on course books rather than stimulating autonomy among language teachers and learners in the use of corpora and text analysis tools for DDL. And, because publishers were primarily confining him to the course book and sometimes CD-ROM format there were only so many language examples from the target corpora that could possibly fit between the covers of a book and only the most frequent language items made it onto the compact disc.

The Oxford Collocation Dictionary for Students of English, (2nd Edition from 2009 by Oxford University Press) based on the British National Corpus (BNC) is one example where high frequency collocations for very basic words like any and new predominate and where licensing restrictions permit only one computer installation per CD ROM. Further restrictions compound the openness issue with the use of closed corpora in leading corpus-derived ELT books such as the Cambridge University Press (CUP) publication, From Corpus to Classroom (O’Keeffe, McCarthy & Carter, 2007), which might have been more aptly entitled, From Corpus to Book, as it draws heavily on the closed Cambridge and Nottingham Discourse Corpus of English (CANCODE) from Cambridge University Press and Nottingham University and recommends the use of proprietary concordancing programs, Wordsmith Tools and MonoConc Pro, thereby rendering any replication of analyses for the said corpus inaccessible to its readers.

Mainstream language teacher training bodies continue to sidestep the DDL middleman in the development of their core training curricula (for example, the Cambridge ESOL exams) due to the problems he proposes with accessibility in terms of cost and complexity. Instead, English language teacher training remains steadily focused on how to select and exploit corpus-derived dictionaries with reference to training learners in how to identify, for example: definitions, derivatives, parts of speech, frequency, collocations and sample sentences. In the same way that corpus-derived course books do not render corpus analyses transparent to their users, training in dictionary use does not bring teachers and their learners any closer to the corpora they are derived from.

Cambridge English Corpus

registered-blogger-150x150-bannerMichael McCarthy presented, ‘Corpora and the advanced level: problems and prospects’ at IATEFL Liverpool 2013. One of the key take-away messages from his talk was the fact that learners of more advanced English receive little in the way of return on investment once the highest frequency items of English vocabulary had been acquired (he referred to the top 2000 words from the first wordlist of the British National Corpus that make up about 80% of standard English use). To learn the subsequent wordlists of 2000 words each the percentage of frequency in usage drops considerably, so in terms of cost for the time and money you might end up spending if you sign up to yet more English language classes may not be affordable or feasible. This has particular implications in learning English for Specific Purposes (ESP), including English for Academic Purposes (EAP) which many would argue is always concerned with developing specific academic English language knowledge and usage within specific academic discourse communities.

Catching Michael McCarthy on the way out of the presentation theatre he kindly agreed to walk and talk while rushing to catch his train out of Liverpool. Would the Cambridge English Corpus be made available anytime soon for non-commercial educational research and materials development purposes, I asked? I hastened to add the possibilities and the real world need for promoting corpus-based resources and practices in open and distance online education as well as in traditional classroom-based language education. He agreed that the technology had become a lot better for finally realising DDL within mainstream language teaching and learning and within materials development. Taking concordance line printouts into ELT classrooms had never really taken off in his estimation and I would have to agree with him on that point. He indicated that it would be unlikely for the corpus to become openly available anytime in the foreseeable future, however, due to the large amount of private investment in the development of the corpus with restricted access for those participating stakeholders on the project only.

But what would the real risk be in opening up this corpus to further educational research and development for non-commercial purposes with derivative resources made freely available online? Wouldn’t this be giving the corpus resource added sustainability with new lives and further opportunities for exploitation that could advance our shared understanding of how English works? –  across different contexts, using current and high quality examples of language in context? More importantly, wouldn’t this give more software developers the chance to build more interfaces using the latest technology, and for more ELT materials developers, including language teachers, the chance to show different derivative resource possibilities for effectively using the corpus in language teaching and learning?

A non-commercial educational purpose only stipulation could be used in all of the above resource development scenarios. Indeed, these could all be linked back to the Cambridge English Corpus project website as evidence of the wider social and educational impact as a result of their initial investment. This is what will be happening with most of the publicly funded research projects in the UK following recommendations from the Finch report which come into effect in April 2014. It follows that Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational teaching Practices (OEP) will allow for expertise to be readily available when Open Access research publishing is compulsory for all RCUK and EPSRC funding grants for the development of research-driven open teaching and learning derivatives. Privately funded research projects like this one from CUP could also be leading in this area of open access.

Corpora such as the British National Corpus (BNC), the British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus, Wikipedia and Google linguistic data as a corpus are some of the many valuable resources that have all been developed into language learning and teaching resources that are openly available on the web. In the following sections, I will refer to leading applied corpus linguistics research and development outputs from leading researchers who have been making their wares freely available if not openly re-purposeable to other developers, as in the example of the FLAX language project’s Open Source Software (OSS). And, hopefully these corpus-based resources are getting easier to access for the non-expert corpus user.

“For the time being” CUP are providing free access to the English Vocabulary Profile website of resources based on the Cambridge English Corpus (formerly known as the Cambridge International Corpus), “the British National Corpus and the Cambridge Learner Corpus, together with other sources, including the Cambridge ESOL vocabulary lists and classroom materials.” Below is a training video resource from CUP available on YouTube, which highlights some of the uses for these freely available resources in language learning, teaching and materials development. This is a very useful step for CUP to be taking with making corpus-based resources and practices more accessible to the mainstream ELT community.

Open practices in applied corpus linguistics

goaheadcutoutmiddlemanEnter those applied corpus linguistics researchers and developers who have made some if not all of their text analysis tools and Part-Of-Speech-tagged corpora freely accessible via the Web to anyone who is interested in exploring how to use them in their research, teaching or independent language learning. Well-known web-based projects include Tom Cobb’s resource-rich Lextutor site, Mark Davies’ BYU-BNC (Brigham Young University – British National Corpus) concordancer interface and the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) with WordandPhrase (with WordandPhrase training videos resources on YouTube) for general English and English for Academic Purposes (EAP), Laurence Anthony’s AntConc concordancing freeware for Do-It-Yourself (DIY) corpus building (with AntConc training video resources on YouTube), and the Sketch Engine by Lexical Computing which offers some open resources for DDL. Open invitations from the Lextutor and AntConc project developers seeking input on the design, development and evaluation of existing and proposed project tools and resources are made by way of social networking sites, the Lextutor Facebook group and the AntConc Google groups discussion list. Responses usually come from a steady number of DDL ‘geeks’, however, namely those who have reached a level of competence and confidence with discussing the tools and resources therein. And, most of those actively participating in these social networking sites are also engaging in corpus-based research.

Data-Driven Learning for the masses?

My own presentation at IATEFL Liverpool was based on my most recent project with the University of Oxford IT Services for providing and promoting OSS interfaces from the FLAX language project for increasing access to the BNC and BAWE corpora, both managed by Oxford. In addition to this, the same OSS developed by FLAX has been simplified with the development of easy-to-use interfaces for enabling language teachers to build their own open language collections for the web. Such collections using OER from Oxford lecture podcasts, which have been licensed as creative commons content, have also been demonstrated by the TOETOE International project (Fitzgerald, 2013).

The following two videos from the FLAX language collections show their OSS for using corpus-based resources in ELT that are accessible both in terms of simplicity and in terms of openness. The first training video demonstrates the Web as corpus and how this resource has been effectively mined and linked to the BNC for enhancement of both corpora for uses in DDL. The second training video demonstrates how to build your own Do-It-Yourself corpora using the FLAX OSS and Oxford OER. With open corpus-based resources the reality of DIY corpora is becoming increasingly possible in DDL research and teaching and learning practice (Charles, 2012; Fitzgerald, in press).

So, go ahead, and cut out the middleman in data-driven learning.

FLAX Web Collections (derived from Google linguistic data):

The Web Phrases and Web Collocations collections in FLAX are based on another extensive corpus of English derived from Google linguistic data. In particular, the Web Phrases collection allows you to identify problematic phrasing in writing by fine-tuning words that precede and follow phrases that you would like to use in your writing by drawing on this large database of English from Google. This allows you to substitute any awkward phrasing with naturally occurring phrases from the collection to improve the structure and the fluency of writing.


FLAX Do-It-Yourself Podcast Corpora – 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.



Anthony, L. (n.d.). Laurence Anthony’s Website: AntConc. Retrieved from http://www.antlab.sci.waseda.ac.jp/software.html

Cobb, T. (n.d). Compleat Lexical Tutor. Retrieved from http://www.lextutor.ca/

Charles, M. (2012). ‘Proper vocabulary and juicy collocations’: EAP students evaluate do-it-yourself corpus-building. English for Specific Purposes, 31: 93-102.

Davies, M. (1991-present). The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Retrieved from http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/

Davies, M. & Gardener, D. (n.d.) WordandPhrase. Retrieved from http://www.wordandphrase.info

Fitzgerald, A. (2013). TOETOE International: FLAX Weaving with Oxford Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources International Case Study. Commissioned by the Higher Education Academy (HEA), United Kingdom. Retrieved from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/projects/detail/oer/OER_int_006_Ox%282%29

Fitzgerald, A. (In Press). Openness in English for Academic Purposes. Open Educational Resources Case Study based at Durham University: Pedagogical development from OER practice. Commissioned by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), United Kingdom.

FLAX. (n.d.). The “Flexible Language Acquisition Project”. Retrieved from http://flax.nzdl.org/

Johns, T. (1991). From printout to handout: grammar and vocabulary teaching in the context of data-driven learning. In: T. Johns & P. King (Eds.), Classroom Concordancing. English Language Research Journal, 4: 27-45.

Johns, T. (2002). ‘Data-driven learning: the perpetual challenge.’ In: B. Kettemann & G. Marko (Eds.), Teaching and Learning by Doing Corpus Analysis. Amsterdam: Rodopi. 107-117.

Hyland, K. (2006). English for Academic Purposes: An Advanced Handbook. London: Routledge.

McEnery, T. & A. Wilson. (1997). Teaching and language corpora. ReCALL, 9 (1): 5-14.

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

Oxford Collocation Dictionary for Students of English (2nd Edition) (2009), Oxford University Press.

Tribble, C. (2012). Teaching and Language Corpora Survey. Retrieved from http://www.surveyconsole.com/console/TakeSurvey?id=742964

BAWE case study from the Life Sciences collection in FLAX showing links to Wikipedia resources

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.

Sketch Engine open concordancer interface for the BAWE showing results for a KWIC query for the item ‘research’.

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.

The Word Tree corpus interface for the BAWE showing a search query word tree for the items ‘research’ and ‘research methods’

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.

Before commencing on my journeys with the TOETOE international, I had written an extensive project blog post on open trends within corpora and ELT materials development in Radio Ga Ga: corpus-based resources, you’ve yet to have your finest hour. At the Open Education conference in Vancouver in October 2012, with my presentation on the Great Beyond with Open ELT Resources (see below) I had outlined the development work that TOETOE and the FLAX team were going to embark on with respects to the BAWE corpus and the evaluations on the earlier BAWE collections in FLAX that we would be seeking from international participants in collaboration with the project. Feedback from international stakeholders in China (Confucian dynamism in Chinese ELT context) and Korea (the English language skyline in South Korea) on the BAWE collections in FLAX led to further design and development iterations while back in New Zealand with the FLAX team (Love is a stranger in an open car to tempt you in and drive you far away…toward open educational practice) which have been captured in the project blog posts here in brackets.

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 Archive where 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.

Heuboeck, A. Holmes, J. & Nesi, H. (2010). The BAWE corpus manual for the project entitled, ‘An Investigation of Genres of Assessed Writing in British Higher Education’, version 3. Retrieved from http://www.coventry.ac.uk/Global/05%20Research%20section%20assets/Research/British%20Academic%20Written%20English%20Corpus%20%28BAWE%29/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20BAWEmanual%20v3%20-%20BAWEmanual%20v3.pdf

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)

Nesi, H. & Thompson, P. (2011). Using Sketch Engine with BAWE. Retrieved from http://wwwm.coventry.ac.uk/researchnet/BAWE/Documents/Using%20Sketch%20Engine%20with%20BAWE%202011.pdf

Nesi, H. & Gardner S. (2012). Genres across the disciplines: student writing in Higher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Petraglia, J. (1995). Ed. Reconceiving Writing, Rethinking Writing Instruction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Russell, D. (2002). Writing in the Academic Disciplines: A Curricular History. 2nd ed. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP.

Wardle, E. (2009) “‘Mutt Genres’ and the Goal of FYC: Can We Help Students Write the Genres of the University?” College Composition and Communication 60: 765-789.

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 et.al., 2007; Biber, 2006). Similarly, many of the findings from leading researchers (too many to cite!) in language and teaching corpora have been baffled by the chasm between the research into DDL and the majority of mainstream ELT materials that appear on the market that continue to ignore the evidence about actual language usage from corpus-based research studies. Once again, this comes back to the issue of specific versus generic language materials and the issues raised around limitations with developing restricted resource formats.

Gangnam style corpus-based resources development

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 http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001832/183219e.pdf

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: http://www.ot12.org/. “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

“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?