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

Association for Distance Education in Brazil

This is the eighth and final post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the Open Educational Practices (OEP) series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.

São Paulo is what is known as an alpha world city, an important node within the global economy. From all accounts it is also the hub of Open Educational Resources (OER) in Brazil. In February 2013, I gave a workshop presentation organized by the Brazilian Association of Distance Education (ABED), which was simultaneously translated from English into Portuguese.

Brazilian Association of Distance Education (ABED)

ABED is a not-for-profit learned society that promotes the dissemination of flexible, open and distance education; founded in 1995 it currently has around 3,000 members, both individual and institutional.  On their website, there is a designated ‘referatory’ where you will find a listing of some 30 repositories of OER in the Portuguese language, serving a wide range of educational levels, from K-12 to continuing education. “Yet, for a country as large as Brazil (population almost 200 million) and the language group Brazil belongs to (250 million), we are terribly far behind in the area of OER”. – Fredric Litto, Chairman of ABED.

“ABED fulfils its mission by contributing as a national forum for discussion and presentation of studies and research related to Brazil. Obtaining, organising and disseminating quantitative information and presenting qualitative data analyses, in reference to the direction of education and distance learning, comprises the technical interests of ABED in providing a compass that indicates where we are in the practice of this teaching modality, allowing a glimpse of some of its trends for the future. Furthermore, by making available the quantitative data gathered, other researchers and people interested in distance learning have the opportunity to provide their own analyses and inferences.” (ABED, 2012).

In a meeting with Renato Bulcao and Bruna Medeiros at the ABED headquarters, we went over the founding principles of their work for promoting and advancing open and distance education in Brazil, along with a discussion on the potential development of OER in English and Portuguese with the TOETOE and FLAX projects:

Alannah: And, so ABED is a government-funded initiative?

Renato: No, it’s a private academic association. One of the few in Brazil because we don’t have this kind of association all over the place.

Bruna: Right. It’s like you know, we have profit but we’re not a commercial body, so you know, there’s no money around. We get some money from our affiliated associate members but it doesn’t come to us. We try to help. Distance education in Brazil is like, how can I say it? [Talks in Portuguese to Renato] Yeah, like old fashioned. So, we’re trying to progress everything.

Alannah: So, you’re an umbrella organization trying to communicate everything  related to open and distance education? Because when I looked for you, I found you with…

Bruna: The OCW, right?

Alannah: Right, the OCW. On their website, it said you were the hub of OER in Brazil and I was so glad when you wrote back.

Renato: It’s true, we are the hub in Brazil, at least for the next five years.

Alannah: You must be very busy.

Bruna: Yeah, we usually have conferences three times a year. But this year we’re going to have two with one on the virtual learner in June. It’s really nice because we’ve had policy related ones before.

Renato: Tell us please about today.

Bruna: OK, about the workshop, I set up everything. We invited all the teachers, professionals, students who would be interested in learning about OER. I didn’t direct this ony at English teachers, so it’s just like, you know, broardly appealing for everyone. I even opened it up for Italian institutions..

Alannah: Oh, good. The software is flexible but it’s just that we’ve built collections in English. There’s no reason why we can’t build resource collections in other languages as well. If anyone wants to build open language collections in Portuguese that would be wonderful. It’s just that English collections are the ones that we have prepared with the Oxford OER but the software is multilingual so it would be great if we could get some Brazilian OER specialists building Portuguese collections and not just collections in English.

Bruna: Oh, that’s nice. We’ll have simultaneous translation today from English to Portuguese and Portuguese to English, so you know it’ll be fine.

Social Services for Industry (SESI – Serviço Social da Indústria)

Mara Ewbank, a representative from the Brazilian Social Services for Industry (SESI – Serviço Social da Indústria in Portuguese) was in attendance at my workshop and we have stayed in contact with plans for building English and possibly Portuguese collections based on their middle and high school curricula with the FLAX OSS for developing OER collections that would serve around 18,000 students in10 different municipalities across the São Paulo region. SESI is a private not-for-profit institution that operates throughout Brazil’s 26 states including the Federal District (Distrito Federal); initially set up in July 1946 by president Eurico Gaspar Dutra with the aim of “promoting social welfare, cultural development and improving the lives of workers and their families and the communities they live in.” This was in response to the introduction of new labour laws that had been established by Getúlio Vargas, who preceded Dutra and created the Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT – Consolidação das Leis do Trabalho in Portuguese). (Wikipedia, 2013).

Recursos Educacionais Abertos (REA)

The Recursos Educacionais Abertos (REA, which translates to Open Educational Resources), one of the most active OER bodies in Brazil, was also in attendance at my presentation and they have blogged about the event on their website.  To give an indication of just how important Brazil’s richest state is to OER, during my stay in Brazil it was announced that governor Geraldo Alckmin of  São Paulo had vetoed in its entirety the proposed public policy OER bill (PL 989/2011) that had been passed by all committees of the São Paulo Legislative Chamber back in December 2012. The reason given for vetoing the bill was a perceived conflict of interest between the Executive and Legislative branches of government. This has been viewed as an extreme blow to OER efforts in São Paulo for the realisation of OER for democratising education in Brazil. A decree to overturn the decision is being sought by the Brazilian OER community, headed by the REA:

We are conscious that we have lost a battle, but we are sure we have not lost the war. We will succeed in developing a more innovative and inclusionary education system, inspired by the developments of the information society. We have mobilized folks around Brazil, meetings are happening, and for now the press is on our side. In practical terms, our next steps are to partner and pressure with the Governor to enact the Bill in the form of a Decree.” (Rossini, Gonsales and Sebriam, 2013). 


Association for Distance Learning in Brazil (ABED). (2012). Analytic Report of Distance Learning in Brazil. Sao Paulo: Pearson.

Rossini, C., Gonsales, P. and Sebriam, D., 2013. São Paulo State Governor Vetoes Open Educational Resources Bill. Infojustice.org: American University Washington College of Law. Translated by Carolina Rossini. Retrieved from http://infojustice.org/archives/28646

Wikipedia. (2013). Social Services for Industry. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SENAI#Social_Services_for_Industry


OpenSpires OER project at the University of Oxford

This is the seventh post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the Open Educational Practices (OEP) series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.

Do-It-Yourself Corpora

Standard industry tools in corpus linguistics for doing translation, summarisation, extraction of information, and the formatting of data for analysis in linguistic software programs were generally what was needed before one could get started with building a corpus. It is safe to say that language teachers and many researchers who do not have a background in computer science will never have the time or the interest in these processes. This is why simple interface designs like those in the FLAX language project that have been designed for the non-expert corpus user, namely language teachers and learners, are enabling teaching practitioners to be part of the language collections building process.

Stable open source software (OSS) has been designed to enable non-corpus specialists to build their own language collections consisting of text and audio-visual content that benefit from powerful text analysis tools and resources in FLAX. These collections can be hosted directly on the FLAX website under the registered users section or the OSS can be hosted on the users’ preferred website or content management system. A Moodle version of the FLAX tools has also been developed and new tools and interactive games are currently in the beta development stage for stable release later this year in 2013.

This post from the TOETOE International project includes links to two training videos for building do-it-yourself (DIY) podcast corpora as can be seen below.  These demonstrate new OSS tools and interfaces from FLAX for developing interactive open language collections, based on creative commons resources from the Oxford OpenSpires project and a TED Talk given by Oxford academic, Ian Goldin. These training videos and others in the FLAX series from this project will be promoted via Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos (TTV) site to reach wider international audiences including those who do not have access to YouTube. Further plans for the re-use of resource outputs from this project include the translation of the FLAX training videos into Chinese, Vietnamese, and Portuguese. And, later in 2013, the FLAX project will be releasing further OSS for enabling teachers to build more interaction into the development of DIY open language collections.

FLAX Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Podcast Corpora with Oxford OER part one

Learn how to build powerful open language collections through this training video demonstration. Featuring audio and video podcast corpora using the FLAX Language tools and open educational resources (OER) from the OpenSpires project at the University of Oxford and TED Talks.

FLAX Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Podcast Corpora with Oxford OER part two

Continue to learn how to make powerful open language collections and how to build interactivity into those collections with a wide variety of automated interactive language learning tasks through this demonstration training video. Featuring audio and video podcast corpora, using the FLAX Language tools and open educational resources (OER) from the OpenSpires project at the University of Oxford and TED Talks.

It is anticipated that these open tools and resources will provide simple and replicable pathways for other higher education institutions to develop language support collections around their own OER podcasts for wider uptake and accessibility with international audiences. The training videos demonstrate how a variety of activities have also been built into the FLAX OSS for enabling teachers to manipulate texts within the collections to create language-learning interaction with the open podcast content. The following slideshow from the 2013 eLearning Symposium with the Centre for Languages, Linguistics, and Area Studies (LLAS) at the University of Southampton shows the interactivity that can be built into the DIY corpora with FLAX. It also highlights how corpus-based resources and Data-Driven Learning did not feature at the recent BALEAP Professional Issues Meeting on Blending EAP with Technology at Southampton in the A-Z of Technology in EAP that was later compiled by the event organisers. This points to a lack of awareness around corpus-based resources in EAP where there have been no studies conducted on the user interface designs of most concordancing software for usability in mainstream language education as well as highlighting the lack of comprehensive research on technology in EAP.

TED (Ideas worth Spreading) encourages the re-use of their creative commons content for non-commercial educational purposes and many stakeholders have engaged in the re-use of TED Talks and YouTube with the TED-Ed programme. However, adding value to an open resource can also result in the decision by ELT materials developers to create a paywall around the support resource as can be seen below in the English Attack language learning software interface for TED Talks, free movie trailers etc. Perhaps this says something about the industry of ELT which views OER as yet more resources to make money from – high quality accessible resources no less that have been expressly released for sharing and the promotion of understanding…
The English Attack pay-for version of re-use with TED Talk Creative Commons content



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.

English, the Dalit Goddess by Shant Kala Niketan

“The West has today opened its door. There are treasures for us to take. We will take and we will also give, From the open shores of India’s immense humanity.”

(Extract from the poem Gitanjali or Offerings by Rabindranath Tagore, 1910)


This is the fifth 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:

While driving back from a half-day tour of Delhi my taxi driver struck up a conversation about work and family. He had improved his basic level of English through his work and liked to practise with tourists. I was meeting with Professor L.P of the Rajasthan Ministry of Education that Sunday evening and told the taxi driver that I worked in education to promote free and open resources for teaching and learning English. “Good, great, …we don’t have a computer but we use our phones”. This made me think of the English in Action project in Bangladesh with UK Aid and the UK Open University for delivering English language learning resources via mobile phones. He went on to tell me that family life was very difficult for him, only visiting his wife and teenage son once a month in their home village while he worked long days as a driver in Delhi trying to earn enough for the family and so that his son could attend private English lessons, all the time stressing that he was a sixth-level person. Would there be any help from the government with his son’s English classes, I asked. “No, Ma’am… no, Ma’am”.

E-learning emancipatory English

I had met Dr. L.P. Mahawar  at the EuroCALL Conference on OER in Bologna in 2012. Just before arriving in India he had posted an upcoming conference in the EuroCALL forum to be held at Jaipur National University, E-learning Emancipatory English: Fast Forwarding the Future, in collaboration with SAADA (Society for Analysis, Dialogue, Application and Action) of which he is also a member. Covering topics such as: English as a symbol of status and a tool for emancipation; different Englishes evolving in the contemporary world; different pedagogical approaches to English Language Teaching; the role of the mother tongue in ESL/EFL; and English for Specific and Academic Purposes – naturally, I wanted to be part of this although my dates for India and the conference didn’t quite work out. So, I emailed him and said I’d like to contribute a presentation by distance and he replied positively, suggesting that we also meet while I was in Delhi. I was keen to find out more about OER and emancipatory English in the Indian context.

In my interview with Dr. L.P. Mahawar, he pointed to other overriding social issues currently impacting the Dalit’s and other low socio-economic groups from succeeding in education and beyond, identifying: high truancy among teachers and students; high drop out rates among students; skewed educational goals in favour of cram examinations; and a lack of e-connectivity at schools and in homes. Many of the problems identified in my interview with Dr. Mahawar are reflected in the newly formed TESS-India project with the UK Open University.

He also referred back to Project High Tech: Teaching English Communicatively, which he had presented at the EuroCALL conference on OER in Language Teaching. This was an ELT teacher training project carried out over two years across 200 schools in Rajasthan as a joint collaboration between the US Embassy and the Department of Higher Education with the Government of Rajasthan. Sustainability is a key issue with any project that intends to create and manage new teaching practices at the levels of policy making, curriculum planning and teaching. The scale of this project was large and Dr. L.P. Mahawar was concerned about the lack of incentives for teachers to stay motivated  by the project goals beyond the funded period:

“The sustainability and viability of such open resources can be effected only when the teachers, planners and policy makers develop a sense of social responsibility, and only when the teachers, educators or other practitioners get kudos for their efforts in terms of rewards, awards, medals and trophies or whatever may be the form of reinforcement and encouragement. The teachers should be given credits on point system like the Academic Performance Indicator; their voluntary work should be linked to promotional and incremental opportunities; their efforts to create authentic open resources ranked equivalent to good research work and their work load of teaching hours reduced in proportion to the quantity of open resources they propose to create or have created.” (Malawar, 2012)

Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of education and the creative arts. Image via flickr

Saraswati [Sah-rah-swah-tee] is the Hindu Goddess of education and the creative arts and is often depicted holding a stringed instrument with a book at her feet. Indian mothers are known to pray to her for their children’s success in school. The Dalit or ‘untouchables’ of India have had a somewhat turbulent history with Hinduism, however, and have fought hard not to be banned from worshipping in Hindu temples due to their low caste (Misra, 2007). Another struggle for the Dalit centres on access to English language education as many Dalit view English as the tool for emancipation, leading to better paying jobs and a stake in the current Indian technology boom to escape the cycle of poverty. In the context of post-colonial India, some have even intimated that prayers to Saraswati for help with learning English might result in falling out of favour with this Goddess (Gopalkrishna, 2012).

English-medium education in India is still primarily the domain of the higher castes. One of India’s most well-known 20th century freedom movement advocates and pro English language campaigners, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, was a leading figure in drafting India’s new constitution. He was also a Dalit or ‘untouchable’.  So, the Dalit have decided to build a temple to a new Deity, the Goddess of English. As can be seen at the top of this post, she is depicted for her work in helping the Dalit with their 21st century English language communication aspirations, standing on a computer pedestal and holding a pen up high in one hand and the Indian constitution in the other. In an article with the Guardian Weekly online newspaper in 2011, India’s outcasts put faith in English, Amarchand Jauhar, an English teacher who was supervising the temple’s construction in Banka village in northern Uttar Pradesh, was interviewed as saying, “Without English, nothing is possible for us Dalits” (Rahman, 2011).

Naturally, English language education is a politically loaded subject in India as it is in most parts of the world. Indeed, both the ELT industry and the open education movement have been accused of spreading linguistic imperialism (Phillipson, 1992; Pennycook 1995 & 1998). Added to this, the prevalence and dominance of the ELT industry internationally along with the promotion of English-medium OER from well-funded initiatives make it difficult for those working in under-resourced contexts to compete for the uptake of non-English OER on an international scale.

Nationalist interests for not promulgating what many have seen as the enslaving tool of the British Raj is one argument against English-medium education. For pro Kannada-medium educationalists and activists in the state of Kanataka where the local government was proposing English education for the Dalit and other low caste peoples, the preservation and promotion of local languages in state-run education is another argument. The government proposal has since been scrapped, leading Dalit activists and scholars to question whether there is a hidden political agenda to isolate Dalit and other low caste peoples from accessing English (Gopalkrishna, 2012).

To provide further perspective on English in India in a 2005 lecture at Oxford University, India’s still current prime minister, Manmohan Singh, upon receiving an honorary degree from his alma mater, reflected upon the great legacy British education and the English language had left for India in the current age of globalisation:

“It used to be said that the sun never sets on the British Empire. I am afraid we were partly responsible for sending that adage out of fashion! But, if there is one phenomenon on which the sun cannot set, it is the world of the English-speaking people, in which the people of Indian origin are the single largest component. Of all the legacies of the Raj, none is more important than the English language and the modern school system…In indigenising English, as so many people have done in so many nations across the world, we have made the language our own. Our choice of prepositions may not always be the Queen’s English; we might occasionally split the infinitive; and we may drop an article here and add an extra one there. I am sure everyone will agree, nevertheless, that English has been enriched by Indian creativity and we have given you back R.K. Narayan and Salman Rushdie. Today, English in India is seen as just another Indian language.”  (Singh, 2005)

Indeed, the continuation of English’s position as the international lingua franca in research, higher education and business is wholly dependent on it being owned by non-native English speakers (Graddol, 2006). With the escalating pressure to be able to function in English in order to get ahead in life, can a balance be struck by making high-quality and flexible English language resources open to those individuals and communities that would otherwise be unable to afford English-medium and English language education? After all, if English is to remain the international lingua franca, then surely it stands to reason that we view English simply for what it is? One of many linguistic communication tools for accessing and building knowledge on a global scale and one that should be accessible to all in the same way that access to the Internet should be a given for all.

Delhi University OER par excellence

Through the OER University Google Groups network I came into contact with Professor Vinod Kumar Kanvaria, faculty and educational technologist of the Department of Education at the University of Delhi. Fifty students from two different programs, Educational Technology and Pedagogy of English, had taken active roles in preparing the day’s events at what was formerly known as the Central Institute for Education (CIE).  India’s first Education Minister, Maulana Azad with then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, had helped to establish CIE in 1947, envisioning an institution to do more than just “turn out teachers who would be ‘model teachers’, but to evolve into a research centre for solving new educational problems for the country” (see CIE website).


Professor Vinod Kumar, Alannah Fitzgerald and Sirawon Chahongnao at Delhi University Central Institute of Education, OER International Programme January 2013

From having engaged with Professor Kanvaria’s students for a full day and having observed the high levels of awareness around OER and OEP, I quickly came to the conclusion that these future educationalists are passionate about making a difference in Indian education through technology and openness. They are cognizant of the fact that eLearning is not yet a reality in most Indian schools and are taking their own mobile electronic devices equipped with portable speakers into classrooms where they are doing their section training. They realize the potential for eLearning is immense and more importantly, it is what the students are motivated by and would like to see more of in school.

Over a delicious traditional Indian lunch prepared by Delhi University staff, Professor Kanvaria showed me a range of high-quality paper-based OER course packs that he and his colleagues had put together for training teacher educators with OER  (Kanvaria 2013a; Kanvaria 2013b). The students who dined with us said the open educational resources used in their courses were very well received by the students and said they would be keen to transfer this open educational practice to their own development of teaching and training resources in future workplaces. Needless to say, it was most impressive to see a new generation of educationalists and learning technologists being taught by OER specialists.

In feedback to the presentation and workshop, students said they realized the deeper importance of sharing to develop not only themselves as open educational practitioners but their respective fields also. One student made the observation that a lot of the ELT lesson plan sharing sites that were once free are now asking for some form of payment and that it was difficult to find truly open educational resources in ELT. She was happy to have discovered Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos (TTV) through the workshop as a useful starting point for web-based language resources.  Professor Kanvaria made a very good point about the blurred line between open and free resources in relation to uploading OER to proprietary platforms such as iTunesU and closed university websites. His point being that opportunities for user feedback are being missed when institutions such as Oxford do not create open interactive spaces and platforms, even on their university website, that encourage the re-uploading of re-mixed and re-purposed OER to show what people are doing with their OER. However, individual Oxford academics have received plenty of positive feedback on their OpenSpires podcasts from audiences, including the following:

“I have recently enrolled in the [……] University with the plan to complete a BA in Philosophy, but the first unit I have had to complete is a Study Skills unit which has been so boring and mundane I have been questioning whether to continue or not. Your enthusiasm for philosophy is infectious and put me back on course to continue my studies. Thanks again.”

“Can I just say how utterly engrossing they are – and how completely stimulating. I completed my undergraduate studies a great number of years ago, but listening to you lecture makes me yearn for study.” (Highton, Fresen and Wild, 2011 p.35)


Gopalkrishna, T. (2012). Dalit worship English Goddess. India: TkhalliGopalkrishna.

Graddol. D. (2006). English Next – why English as a global language may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’. The British Council: The English Company.

Highton, M., Fresen, J., & Wild, J. (2011). Making academic OER easy: Reflections on technology and openness at Oxford University. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, 15(2): 28–40.

Kanvaria, V. K. (2013a). Professional development of teacher educators through OER (OERModule). In H. K. Senapati (Program co-ordinator) Open education resources for teacher educators. Bhubaneswar, India: RIE, NCERT.

Kanvaria, V. K. (2013b). A concept note on OER (OER Module). In H. K. Senapati (Program co-ordinator) open education resources for teacher educators. Bhubaneswar, India: RIE, NCERT.

Mahawar, L.P. (2012). Opening Up for Posterity: English Language Resources and Practices in Rajasthan. Conference paper from the CMC & Teacher Ed SIGs Joint Annual Seminar on Learning Through Sharing: Open Educational Resources, Practices and Communications. Università di Bologna, 29-30 March 2012.

Misra, M. (2009). Vishnu’s crowded temple: India since the Great Rebellion. Yale: Yale University Press.

Pennycook, A. (1995). The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language. London: Longman.

Pennycook, A. (1998). English and the Discourses of Colonialism. New York: Routledge.

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Raheem, M. (2011). India’s outcasts put faith in English. Guardian Weekly online newspaper. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jan/11/learning-english-india-dalits-rahman

Tagore, R. (1912). Gitanjali. ‘Offerings’ translated into English. London: India Society of London.

Singh, M. (2005). Address by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in acceptance of Honorary Degree from Oxford University. Retrieved from http://pmindia.gov.in/speech-details.php?nodeid=140

Future Faculty of English and Modern Languages graduates at Hanoi Open University

This is the fourth post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.

Hanoi is fondly known at the city of the rising dragon. The best outcome you could hope for when giving any workshop is that what you are sharing is both timely and needed. Through the OCWC and the Open Universities network I made contact with the vice Dean of the Faculty of English and Modern Languages, Dr. Ho Ngo Trung, with a bit of help from Google Translate for deciphering Hanoi Open University’s web pages. Dr. Trung was able to set up two meetings and a workshop with twenty-one English faculty teachers and academics literally at the drop of a hat. My time in Vietnam was short but we managed to pack in a lot in response to new digitization guidelines issued by the Vietnamese Ministry of Education (MoE) for upgrading their current EAP resources. Fortunately, I had located a rising dragon for building open EAP resources for sharing best OEP across the Vietnamese context, using a combination of their own and Oxford’s resources.

Dr. Trung picked me up from my hotel and drove me across the city through a sea of scooters to his Faculty of English and Foreign Languages to discuss current trends in Vietnamese higher education with a particular slant on language education. It turns out we were in a higher education zone where networking between universities and with the MoE (located just around the corner from the Hanoi OU) was both easy and encouraged. Cars are obviously not the norm in Hanoi as we entered the building past the staff motorbike parking area. He informed me that the OCWC status had just been conferred by the MoE on Hanoi and Ho Chi Min Open Universities to lead in the area of OCW and OER. Open Universities in Vietnam like many around the world pride themselves on offering flexible types of education to learners of different abilities and socio-economic situations. They even offered short programmes to full-time workers referred to as in-service learners in this context.

Dr. Trung informed me that a bold National Foreign Language project would soon be launched with the MoE for developing foreign language proficiencies amongst Vietnamese youths. English would be the first target language to pilot the project. Language teachers would also have to show their linguistic competencies by taking internationally awarded language tests. The stakes for multilingualism in modern Vietnam were getting higher.

Vietnam scores 80, making it a long term orientation culture. Societies with a long-term orientation show an ability to adapt traditions to a modern context i.e. pragmatism, a strong propensity to save and invest, thriftiness, perseverance in achieving results and an overriding concern for respecting the demands of Virtue. The countries of South East Asia and the Far East are typically found at the long-term end of this dimension (Hofstede, 2010).

The final meeting of the day was a fifteen-minute drive away to the main Hanoi Open University headquarters where I met the Vice President and Dean of the Information Technology Faculty, Dr Truong Tien Tung. This meeting was carried out with the help of Dr. Trung’s excellent translation skills. Vice President Tung was eager to tell me that OER and OCW were the lifelong learning mission they had been edging toward for the past fifteen years, putting aside faculty and university savings to be able to show their commitment to the MoE once the opportunity to wear the OCW/OER mantel arose. There was no government funding in this area, only government policies and guidelines. He expressed his keenness for the Faculty of English and Modern Languages to lead the way with the development of OER for EAP/ESL and invited me to come and stay in Vietnam to work with the Hanoi OU on their digitization project. We discussed ways forward for working with each other at a distance and for translating any OER developed so that they can be used to showcase OER in Vietnam. In further TOETOE project blog posts, I will be referring to this collections building process with the teachers working at Hanoi Open University.


Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G.J. & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Revised and Expanded 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill USA.

Seoul 2004 – marker on newsprint by Girlieprig. Click on image to visit Girlieprig Productions (CC some rights reserved).

This is the third post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare

The hopes and aspirations of English language education in South Korea reach sky high. This is manifest in the multitude of skyscrapers occupied by private English language institutes or ‘hagwons’, coupled with the soaring ambition of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s latest roadmap for English language education assessment.  Part of the national curriculum goals for English include the launch of the National English Ability Test (NEAT) where speaking proficiency will be one of the areas for evaluation. This will raise the stakes for test takers and their families who will have to find the resources to finance hagwon tuition to make up for a deficit in state school provisions for English language speaking support.


When I arrived into Incheon in 1995 to take up my first English language teaching post, I soon realized that ELT was a successful money making industry, perhaps more than it was an educational field. My ELT experience in Korea would become my finishing school, setting me up with the questions that would furnish my future career as an open English language practitioner and researcher. This is the place where I learned to use the Internet, where digitized billboards and neon lights running up multi-stories were the simulacra that covered the urban Korean landscape. When I left Seoul in 2005 I had not yet heard of the open source software movement, which I would encounter early on in my PhD research in 2007, and I wouldn’t come across the term OER until 2009. As I was exiting Korea in 2005, high-speed Internet was available on public buses and the Open CourseWare Consortium (OCWC) would be arriving at Korea University in 2007.

Open KU – Open Educational Resources at Korea University

EAP at Korea University

Twenty-three Korean universities are currently members of the Korean OCWC. 2012 brought me back to Seoul to deliver an Open Educational Resources for English Language Teaching Workshop at Korea University with Professor Hikyoung Lee whom I had met at the joint OCWC and OER Cambridge 2012 Conference and with former teaching colleague, Christine Aitken. Similar issues were raised by the participants in this workshop about the need to be able to build specific EAP collections that had the same functionality of those in the BAWE collections in FLAX which I had demonstrated. Academic Word Lists were discussed as potentially useful resources to add to the FLAX system for analysing texts for EAP. I noted this feedback down for development plans for when I would be working with the FLAX team in New Zealand directly after my time in Korea.

iTunesU at Korea University

iTunesU Korea University channel

Korea University was getting ready to launch Creative Commons content onto iTunesU so Hikyoung was keen to introduce this news to the English language teachers and students present at the workshop and I introduced training resources from Oxford’s OpenSpires project that had been used with academics at Oxford to explain key concepts about OER and Creative Commons licensing before putting their teaching resources onto Oxford’s iTunesU channel. Within a few days of Korea University’s entry onto iTunesU on March 1st 2013 their content, some of which is licensed as Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND, had already received more than 40,000 hits.

Discussions around the re-use of educational resources seemed only fitting in light of this move onto iTunesU, so I introduced the teachers to Chris’ Reusable Card Game from the ORIOLE project, which is now fielding for survey responses from users based outside of the UK (please follow the ORIOLE project link above to complete the survey).

Investigating sharing and use of open resources

[Re-use card being read aloud by Teacher A]: “Is it necessary to have links to relevant research or even proper referencing? Do resources used need to evidence scholarship?”

Teacher B: Well, you know, we have a problem with plagiarism and part of the problem is that students have a hard time understanding what they can and can’t take out of texts.

Hikyoung: Right

Teacher B: And, what they need to paraphrase and what they don’t need to paraphrase, that’s a very big can of worms.

Alannah: I have heard from OER colleagues at Oxford that when they began recording the podcasts for OpenSpires, especially the ones recording video, that the cameraman had to turn the camera away from the screen because the lecturers hadn’t cited stuff or they hadn’t got clearance for lots of images; they hadn’t got permission to use them. So, I think as teachers we’re actually quite guilty of this, you know, just mocking up a slideshow here or a hand-out there and we’re not actually trained, we’re not trained in it, are we? We don’t know about copyright…I definitely didn’t get trained in it. I’ve learned about it through OER really.

Teacher A: But as you said earlier once it’s within the closed classroom or the online learning environment, no one’s going to take it away to anywhere else.

Alannah: Right, but that’s what the issue was because once you go to put it on iTunesU then it does become an issue so that’s something you will need to think about as well as you go onto iTunesU.

Teacher A: I’m quite reticent about this whole iTunesU thing…

Hikyoung: Why?!

Teacher A:…because I might end up behind bars [group laughter]

Hikyoung: We have people at our office who will check with you to go over what is Creative Commons and what is OK to use and reuse and what is not, so no problem.

Teacher B: They’ll bring you food every day behind the bars [laughter continues]

Hikyoung: Yeah, yeah, that’s what we’ll do, ha! [laughter continues]

Teacher B: You won’t lose your freedom, you’ll just lose your reputation. [laughter continues]

Alannah: Yeah, you can do podcasts from behind bars – that could be a real viral hit on the Web, eh? [laughter continues]


‘Funding’ and motivation with OER

Hikyoung: …pick a colour or anything.

[Re-use card being read aloud by Teacher B]: OK, “if funding is available to get involved in using, making or sharing resources then perhaps that is reason enough to get involved?”

Hikyoung: Yeah, money moves people. [group laughter]

Teacher B: Yes and no though, right? Overall, yes, but I do think that, you know, you do need to have passion or desire…

Teacher A: But this is all very non-profit oriented and the concept of sharing resources is that you get a lot of satisfaction from doing it and you also know that there’s a lot of people like you out there doing it, producing something that you could also use. It seems like a sort of give and take scenario really.

Private English language expenditure

At lunch with Hikyoung and Christine we discussed where OER was most needed in the Korean ELT context and how the Korean OCWC was focused primarily on higher education. The biggest challenge lay ahead for under-privileged families who would need to support their children’s English proficiency with the new higher level English speaking requirements as set out by the Ministry of Education, Technology and Science with the new National English Ability Test. This is likely to create a burden for those families who cannot afford to pay brokers, namely private language institutes or hagwons, with preparing their children for this new test where the testing of spoken English is one of the key focus areas.

Recent OECD reports for the percentage of GDP spent on education in the Republic of Korea have been consistently higher than other OECD member countries, the bulk of which (an average of 40% annually) is made up of money paid by parents on private tuition to hagwons and tutors for their children. English is the number one academic subject in the private tuition sector, raking in 41% of the total amount spent in this area.

Korea currently has nearly 100,000 hagwons, which must receive a permit from the local education government to operate. The concentration of around 6000 hagwons in the Gangnam district of Seoul is thought to be an important factor in the high housing prices in that area, which has become a major social issue. The hagwons have more teachers than the public school system and attract the best ones with higher salaries. Admission to prestigious hagwons is challenging and depends on entrance exams. (OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2012, p.131)

Private income expenditure on education has been an on-going concern of the South Korean government and perhaps a lesson for other countries on the effects of unparalleled privatization in the education sector. It is clear that investment in sustainable public English language education is needed to reduce private income expenditure on education in an effort to close the gap on growing levels of income inequality and poverty. Beyond the provisions of the English Broadcasting Station (EBS) channel which offers free but not open English language learning resources for young learners, there is a greater need for flexible English language teaching and learning resources that meet the needs of a diverse society.

The South Korean government recognizes the lack of faith in the public education system and is trying to introduce interventions that will remedy the situation via the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST). However, if the public education sector were to adopt open educational policies for the development of resources and practices then this would create an open promotional channel back to publically funded English language initiatives. Local expert English teachers could also benefit from sharing their expertise through the development and dissemination of well-received OER to raise their individual as well as their institutional profiles. The MEST releases annual plans for educational policy change across curriculum, resources and attitudes to education. In response to problems surrounding private tuition, such plans include: government-funded after school programmes; a reduction in study time loads to provide tailored learning; new university admissions processes for ensuring equal access opportunities and; reporting mechanisms for those hagwons that are over-charging with tuition fees (MEST, 2009, 2010 & 2011). To enact these plans, a concerted investment in open educational resources and practices could provide the necessary promotional and pedagogical tools to draw attention to successful applications of these well-founded plans from the MEST.

Creative Commons Korea

Creative Commons Korea – sharing and eating open cake video via Vimeo


Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. (2009). Major policies and plans for 2009. Seoul. MEST Korea. Retrieved from http://english.mest.go.kr/web/40724/en/board/enlist.do?bbsId=276

Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. (2010). Major policies and plans for 2010. Seoul. MEST Korea. Retrieved from http://english.mest.go.kr/web/40724/en/board/enlist.do?bbsId=276

Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. (2011). Major policies and plans for 2011. Seoul. MEST Korea. Retrieved from http://english.mest.go.kr/web/40724/en/board/enlist.do?bbsId=276

OECD Economic and Development Review Committee (2012). OECD Economic Surveys: Korea 2012. OECD Publishing


confucian dynamism1

“High ranking in Long-Term Orientation indicates that the country prescribes to the values of long-term commitments and respect for tradition.” (Hofstede, 2010)

This is the second post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare

Long Term Orientation

Geert Hofstede’s original IBM study on organizational cultures ranked countries according to a four-dimensional culture model. Participating countries in parts of Asia demonstrated distinct attitudes toward long-range planning, however, resulting in the identification of a fifth cultural dimension, Long Term Orientation (LTO). Interestingly, China clocks the highest count for LTO internationally. This dimension is also referred to by Hofstede as ‘Confucian Dynamism’, something which is “closely related to the teachings of Confucius and can be interpreted as …[having] a pragmatic future-oriented perspective rather than a conventional historical short-term point of view” (Hofstede, 2010).

In 2010, the Ministry of Education for the People’s Republic of China released an ‘Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development 2010-2020’. Reference is made to the rejuvenation of China through educational reforms including flexible and open lifelong learning and “the popularization and public sharing of quality education resources”, whilst observing that this outline plan “… is the first of its kind for the nation in the 21st century, and encompasses a broad range of endeavors over a long period of time. Its mission is weighty, and its requirements are demanding. It should be implemented in real earnest through close-knit arrangements and meticulous organization, so as to ensure that all the listed tasks are carried out in a down-to-earth way”. (Ministry of Education for the Peoples’ Republic of China, 2010, p.41 & p.50).


Global Local Computer Assisted Language Learning – GLoCALL

Flying into Beijing we descended through thick brown cloud. Straight into a taxi to the third ring road of the city and directly to the Global Local Computer Assisted Language Learning (GLoCALL) Conference at Beijing Foreign Studies University. A few days later it rained all day long, clearing the next two days for a canopy of blue before the atmosphere marked by one of the world’s busiest and most vibrant cities started closing in again. It felt exciting to be back in Beijing after seven years.

A kind and helpful student offered to show me the way to the Sir Shaw Run Run Building where the conference was going on. Along a tree-lined walkway and past tennis courts we talked about her part-time job teaching English at a private institute in the city and how what she enjoyed the most was helping her students understand English language content online that would connect them to the outside world. Had she heard of open educational resources for ELT? No. Would she like to come along to my talk and see the open resources from Oxford and learn how to use the open FLAX language collections? Yes.


Re-use of educational content

I was met by Dr. Shaoqun Wu, the main researcher with the FLAX project from the University of Waikato in New Zealand. She had been at the national headquarters of the Open University of China the day before, promoting the open language tools and collections in FLAX, which re-uses Oxford-managed corpora and Wikimedia content, for possible uses in their online English language programmes. Before that she had spent several weeks in her hometown province of Yunnan with Professor Ian Witten (FLAX project lead) and Dr. Margaret Franken, also from the FLAX project, developing the Happy English Learning collection in FLAX for the Shalang rural primary school. The collection re-uses content from the British Council’s China website and their YouTube channel for collections built in collaboration with the students based on digital stories they had written and voice-over recordings they had made. In a later meeting with Liang Junhong, the English project manager at the British Council in Beijing, I would ask her what she thought about the re-use of the British Council’s web resources in the FLAX project; she indicated that she thought it was an effective means of linking interactive resources in both English and Chinese for young learners in rural China.

Happy English Learning collection in FLAX

Shaoqun and I presented back to back on the following morning of the conference and I assisted with her workshop in the afternoon. With no Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube or Linkedin this made for a different conference experience from what I had become accustomed to at OER events. Chinese versions of similar social networking media which are widely used across China, for example the YouKu video platform, were not exploited at this conference and instead we were invited to upload our conference slides onto a password protected Moodle conference site. What became evident was the high regard for the efficacy of the FLAX system and the value placed on Oxford-based resources. She had lugged thirty-odd printed copies of the Book of FLAX over from NZ. Easily downloadable as an open e-book from the FLAX website, it demonstrates how the language resource collections were made and how teachers can also put together their own language collections in FLAX. This point about collections building was key at this conference and would inform our development work once back in New Zealand in November and December 2012.

The books were snapped up much to Shaoqun’s delight and relief at not having to drag them all the way back to NZ. And, the resounding message from the Chinese teachers present at the workshops was that in addition to the resource collections already built in FLAX, they wanted language collections that reflected their syllabuses, their texts, their students’ language needs and so on. But how do you take teachers whose materials development practices rely on copyrighted teaching resources through the stages of collections building to become open corpus developers? We know we can’t anticipate every need to build specific collections for everyone but we can develop simple-to-use open tools to help teachers and learners do it for themselves. Crowd-sourcing open language collections would become my renewed focus over the course of this project.

With teachers at Luoyang Normal University in Henan China we will be building a general College English corpus-based collection in FLAX, specifically for the Chinese HE context where students will be preparing for the CET4 (College English Test 4) and CET6 (College English Test 6); two widely deployed English language tests in China for university students.

Publishers from the Foreign Language Teaching & Research Press (FTLRP), China’s equivalent to Oxford University Press (OUP) in terms of ELT resources publishing output, were in the audience. They were keen to set up meetings to discuss the re-use of Oxford creative commons podcasts and corpus-derived language samples from the FLAX resource collections for the development of ELT publications. We arranged to get together after my meeting at the British Council.

Trainer trainer resources for the Chinese ELT context

Monday morning traffic the following week, dodging pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in all manner of vehicles, made for a long taxi ride to the British Council. After a demonstration of resources from Oxford and the FLAX project, English project manager Liang Junhong, updated me on the Council’s current policies for ELT in China. There had been a noticeable shift in government educational policy whereby higher education institutes had been encouraged to become more independent, with projected growth in student completion rates almost doubling to include twenty percent of the working-age population from 2009 to 2020 (MoE China, 2010). In response to this, the British Council has moved support funding for ELT away from the HE sector to the primary and secondary sectors with English language teacher and trainer training in these two sectors being newly designated areas for ELT support. Work would still be carried out with Beijing Normal University in its capacity for ELT teacher education and training. Based on this discussion, we agreed that training video resources for how to use and build the FLAX collections using Oxford resources would be most valuable for the ELT work that the Council is currently supporting in China. It was also suggested that translating these training video resources into Chinese would be useful. Liang Li of the FLAX project at Waikato has developed a series of FLAX training videos in Chinese which can be accessed via the FLAX Youku video channel. 

Saturday morning ELT resource shopping at the Foreign Language Teaching & Research Press (FTLRP) university bookstore, Beijing Foreign Studies University


Working with ELT publishers in China

My last two Chinese engagements were with ELT publishers, FTLRP in Beijing and the Dalian University of Technology Press in Dalian. The first part of my meeting with three FTRLP managers working in Higher English Education Publishing was carried out at their favorite 1950s swing rock n roll themed coffee shop near Beijing Foreign Studies University.  They had all studied English language and linguistics at the university before working with the affiliated press. The connection between what they were trying to do in the ELT publishing world and their experience of the English language learning and teaching world was evident. One of their colleagues had celebrated their wedding at the coffee shop, and on our walk back to the press for the second part of our meeting old student dormitories were pointed out to me, so closely were they affiliated to their alma mater. They were impressed with what I told them about the OpenSpires project at Oxford, hoping that more Chinese universities would follow suit with the OER and OCW movements. Although they hadn’t heard of UK OER before they were familiar with other open podcast resource projects such as the Open Yale Courses and the TED Talks, pointing out that American English was the preferred type of English taught in China, as it is in Korea.

It is important to note that English language education resources from Chinese publishers are nowhere near as expensive as those from well-known ELT publishers in the west.  Some of the computer scientists back in NZ showed me Chinese versions of their research that had been published as academic monographs for the Chinese market. In addition to being translated and therefore more accessible linguistically they were also available for a fraction of the cost to readers in China. In terms of business models, it’s possible to work with Chinese English language education publishers to create and distribute teaching and learning resources at a minimal cost to learners and teachers.  Perhaps it is because of this overall customer satisfaction with the cost of educational resources in China that makes open educational resources and practices seem less urgent in this context.

After taking the overnight train to Dalian to meet with Ms. Ti of the Dalian University of Technology Press, similar views were shared on possible re-uses for the Oxford managed and created content I was demonstrating. Like FTLRP they could see the benefit of helping teachers who wanted to use creative commons podcasts in their teaching by offering linguistic support based on the language present in the lectures and talks. Drawing on corpus-based evidence from resources such as the FLAX collocations database and the BAWE corpus in an effort to meet the new ELT market demand for resources in teaching English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP), it was agreed at both the FTLRP and at the Dalian University of Technology Press that these were viable materials development and publishing options that would ensure the re-use of high quality, flexible and authentic English language resources.

After a guided tour of Dalian’s three beautiful coastlines and some amazing seafood, I boarded a slow boat from China to Korea, eves dropping on the linguistic code switching between fellow Chinese-Korean and Korean-Chinese passengers. Several hours would be spent standing on the deck watching trucks go back n forth between depots loading container after container of goods from one of China’s busiest ports.



Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G.J. & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Revised and Expanded 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill USA.

Ministry of Education of the Peoples’ Republic of China. (2010). Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development 2010-2020. Beijing: In accordance with the 17th Communist Party of China National Congress. Retrieved from http://www.moe.edu.cn/publicfiles/business/htmlfiles/moe/s3501/index.html

love-is-a-stranger-04 (2)
Love Is A Stranger by the Eurythmics. Image via the Eurythmics Sheet Music Gallery

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This post is about how I came to be seduced by open educational practices (OEP).

TOETOE International blog series

After a period of radio silence, I have prepared a new series of blog posts on OEP in ELT based on my TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). They will be released weekly from today leading up to my presentation at the OER13 Conference in Nottingham in April, Stories from the Open Frontier of English Language Education Resources. These posts are a version of the case study I have prepared for this project, FLAX Weaving with Oxford Open Educational Resources, which will be published by the HEA/JISC as an OER later this year. I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.

I have assembled these posts into ethnographic accounts (LeCompte & Schensul 1999:17; Clifford 1990:51-52) to stop the clock as it were and to reorder the recent past that has been observed and jotted down; to systematize, contextualize and assemble the activity of the TOETOE International project across seven different countries. They will be part narrative and part design dialectic, drawing on stories and evaluations made by international stakeholders concerning the re-use of Oxford content: Oxford-managed corpora (the British National Corpus aka BNC and the British Academic Written English corpus aka BAWE) and Oxford-created OER (podcast lectures and seminars, images, essays, ebooks) in combination with other open English-medium content. Moreover, these evaluation narratives will continue to inform the design of open source digital library software for developing flexible open English language learning and teaching collections with the FLAX project (Flexible Language Acquisition) at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

Thick descriptions (Geertz, 1973) will be presented from networked meetings, workshops, conference presentations and interviews with OER and ELT practitioners for arriving at better understandings of the social acts and symbols connected with the international open education movement. As part of the reflexive writing process, I have re-storied the stories of participating individuals and institutions, placing them in chronological sequence and providing causal links among ideas. Themes arising from the stories contain new metaphors for linking unfamiliar phenomena from each country represented with familiar concepts for understanding OER in the international context. Topics introduced by this TOETOE International blog series include: emancipatory English, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) open English language collections building, working OER into traditional ELT publications, and long-range planning for embedding OER and OEP within sustainable English language education.

What drives someone toward open educational practice?

The reasons will be numerous but the one that stands out for me is the capacity to work across the international open education network, either in online or face-2-face mode.  Working across disciplinary, technological and geographical boundaries, my current practice seems very distant from the practice I was trained in all those years ago when I did the Cambridge Dip.TEFLA (now the DELTA) in Seoul, Korea. Nonetheless, everything that I do now in my new open educational practice is very much informed by my past teaching practice in traditional classroom-based EFL/ESL and EAP.

There are vast changes happening across education globally and there is a growing need for flexible and high quality open educational resources in English along with an expanded open infrastructure to support research, teaching, training, learning and curriculum development while English is the lingua franca in education, research and publishing. Indeed, the position of English as international lingua franca is wholly dependent on its use and ownership by non-native speakers of English (Graddol, 2006). However, the reality of a rapidly expanding global higher education industry (UNESCO 2008), where open and online distance education are fast becoming major players because of affordances with educational technologies, has yet to trickle down into the workflow of English language teaching practitioners working in traditional classroom-based education.

In one of the learning technology forums I belong to someone was asking after recommended PhD programmes; someone else replied that whatever area you do your PhD in you’d better be prepared to live and breathe your chosen PhD topic area for many years to come if not your whole career. With my PhD I have begun identifying flexible pathways for open educational resources and practices to be shared across traditional classroom-based and open online English language education, but I expect that I will be continuing with this inquiry for quite some time to come.

Somewhere OvER the Rainbow – the myth about OER quality in language resources

I was only at the Open Education 2012 Conference in Vancouver for the first day, presenting The Great Beyond in English language resources, as I was flying out to Beijing the day after to catch the Global Local Computer Assisted Language Learning (GLoCALL) Conference. Before attending these conferences I had been working on a detailed TOETOE project blog post, Radio Ga Ga: Corpus-based resources, you’ve yet to have your finest hour, which outlined the beginning of this OER International project with Oxford for the development and promotion of open corpus-based resources and practices in ELT.

Not surprisingly, I was assigned to the Libraries and Languages presentation slot at OpenEd 2012 where the conference theme was Beyond Content. The presenters from the other project in this session, Developing Foreign Language Courses for the Open Library Project, seemed to be fairly new to OER and raised issues around OER quality, stating that they needed to work with professional resource developers and publishers to produce what appeared to me to be fairly ordinary audio recordings for target language items to be used in their project resources.

Put simply, publishing language resources with a reputable publishing house does not always guarantee quality in the same way that publishing with an open license does not always guarantee quality. The difference being that if you buy a course book and it turns out to be a lemon then you’re stuck with it – you either leave it on the shelf or you spend hours developing supplementary resources to ‘fix’ it. However, if you subscribe to an open educational practice model for materials development you can:

Re-use an OER and if it doesn’t work for you then you’re free to:

Re-vise / re-purpose;

Re-mix with other open (and proprietary content which you have cleared for use) and;

Re-distribute through a variety of open and proprietary channels.

These are the four Rs of OER (Wiley, 2009). A far cry from the materials development method I learned on the Cambridge CELTA and DipTEFLA modules which was to Select, Adapt, Reject and Supplement (SARS) course book materials from leading ELT publishers (Graves, 2003).

In addition to raising the point about quality with the other presenters in my Open Educationa 2012 session in the Q&A, during the lunch break I discussed the on-going myth about OER quality with one of my SCORE colleagues from the UK, Chris Pegler. I have been a big fan of her Resource Reuse Card Game (embedded below in Slideshare) from the ORIOLE project (Open Resources: Influence on Learners and Educators) to look at issues surrounding educational resource re-use, including the issue of quality. It turns out that I would be re-using her card game in workshops in Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam as part of this project, and I will be including more findings from these interactions with the re-use card game in upcoming posts.

ORIOLE is currently fielding survey responses to Investigating Sharing and Use of Open Resources and is particularly keen to hear from non-UK respondents.

Resource reuse card game from orioleproject

Reinforcement of the myth surrounding OER quality was not what I was expecting to encounter at an open education conference but I do come across this a lot in the work I do with teacher training at ELT events.  I have noticed a discernible pattern whereby a handful of language teachers will say that their role at their institution is to develop resources (often single-handedly) for their programme(s), and where many more teachers will openly declare that they do not consider themselves to be supported or encouraged to develop materials to share across their community of practice. Common claims for not developing and sharing resources beyond classroom handouts include a deficit in technology training and a reliance on in-house materials or proprietary course books that have been selected and or developed by programme managers. These are all valid reasons considering these are all common practices.

In many ways we are trained to consume and not to create resources, and at most we permit ourselves to adapt and supplement often irrespective of intellectual property rights, making it difficult to share beyond institutional and virtual learning environment walls. But can language practitioners and the training and professional bodies that promote current ELT practice continue to shy away from an era of ubiquitous digital content and self-publishing platforms? Going through the motions with course books is a killer so how are we going to support our creative license if all that’s required of us is to consume and regurgitate ready-made ELT skills meals in the form of generic course books? Hopefully the question of bringing language teachers to the realization of their central role as materials developers will be one of the topics on the table at the Materials Development Association (MATSDA) University of Liverpool Conference which I will be attending in April directly after the IATEFL Conference Liverpool 2013.

Less yak and more hack! : rapid prototyping of resources

…it became clear to me that every technology is based upon what I call the orchestration of phenomena, natural effects working together. If you look at any new technology as a whole symphony orchestra of working phenomena, it becomes a huge wonder. I have a sense of wonder far, far greater than I had before. As human beings, we’re using these things unthinkingly every day—it’s like having magic carpets at our disposal, and we have no idea how they fly. Let me add one last thing. I’m an enthusiast about technology, but I am also suspicious of it and what it’s doing to us. It intrudes in our lives, it causes us problems such as climate change, and it’s taken away a lot of our deep connection with nature. But at the same time it’s an incredible wonder. (Interview with W. Brian Arthur, author of The Nature of Technology)

Unless you know what’s at your disposal technologically-speaking and unless you know how to bring resources together, mindful of their affordances and their limitations, then to the untrained eye technological innovation can seem like pure genius. But it’s probably more the case of working through problem solving scenarios step by step, pulling together an ever increasing swag bag of tech goodies to create solutions for the moment until the next thing comes along….and so the cycle continues. This can feel very overwhelming to the individual teacher who would like to be better at using technology and this is why Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos (TTV) is such a big hit among language teachers with bringing what’s out there from the wide world of web-based language resources to teachers.

We now have the technology to flip the course book, the classroom and even higher education with the massive explosion in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) entering the traditional university world with for-profit providers such as Udacity, Coursera and FutureLearn. However, the point I would like to add to this is that resource developers such as those whose web-based language technologies are featured on TTV need feedback on what does and does not work in practice. This is where language teachers can come squarely into the technology equation and learn far more from evaluating and contributing to the development of resources than they would ever pick up at any teacher training continuing professional development session on technology. It dawned on me during my Masters in Edtech and ELT at Manchester University that I wasn’t going to learn much from talking about technology; instead I ended up going directly to the source itself by working with open source software (OSS) developers at the FLAX project.

Hackfests with OSS developers and OER book sprints (see an example of a maths book sprint here) with educators are two rapid prototyping methods for creating code and educational resources. There is no time for hesitancy or hierarchy, you simply work and learn with others to devise shared goals and to bring all that you can to the creation process; to come up with rapid prototypes to share back to the wider community to re-use, re-purpose, re-mix and re-distribute as OER. By attending two Mozilla Drumbeat festivals in Barcelona and London I got to observe and participate in early discussions for the rapid prototyping of Open Badges for educational assessment and Mozilla Popcorn for creating interactive online videos.

Mozilla Drumbeat Festivals since 2010 – Learning, Freedom and the Web via Flickr
The Mozilla Drumbeat Hackfest in Barcelona 2010 via Flickr

While back in New Zealand late last year with the FLAX project team at the Greenstone digital library lab at Waikato, every week I would participate in developer meetings with the computer scientists behind the project and one other English language teacher from the Chinese Open University who is also basing her PhD research on the FLAX project. Well-versed in natural language processing and research on current web-based search behaviour, the computer scientists behind the interface designs of the FLAX collections and activities were adept at exploiting available linguistic resources for the development of simple-to-use language learning collections and OSS text analysis tools. I soon picked up what the limitations of the different technologies and resources were. The focus of these meetings was to develop rapid prototype resources for envisioning and discussing how they could work across different language learning scenarios. I was able to observe and contribute to many iterations of the resources currently under development and I will be bringing these resources to the fore of future blog posts in this series.

Networking Open Tertiary Writing Resources from Alannah Fitzgerald

I also had a chance to present my work at the Tertiary Writers Network Colloquium which was hosted by the Department of Education at Waikato. This was a great opportunity to share open practices in EAP with a non UK-based audience working mainly in Australasia and in the US. I highlighted some of the OEP going on with the EAP community online using social networking technologies such as Twitter, blogs, Slideshare, YouTube and so on for reflection on the different types of networks we are and are not plugging into. EFL/ESL has been employing these technologies for longer for sharing ideas and resources in general ELT but there is more that could be done with connecting teachers to resources development projects, either through the OSS community or through working with traditional ELT publishers for creating more effective resource evaluation channels that would help teachers learn more about technology.

This would involve the development of resources to engage potential end-users, namely language teachers and students, in the research and development cycle of technology for ELT. In the field of educational technology we refer to this approach as design-based research which Terry Anderson, professor and Canada research chair in distance education, has referred to as action research on steroids (2007). Anderson’s analogy is a useful one as most language teachers are familiar with action research, which shares many of the same principles as design-based research.

Pragmatism is central to both approaches, often employing mixed methods of inquiry to arrive at tangible solutions to educational problems. Normally within action research cycles it is individual teaching practitioners who carry out classroom teaching interventions to observe, record and reflect on the impact of these interventions over time with the aim of informing and improving teaching practice (Reason & Bradbury, 2007). However, within design-based research cycles, emphasis is more commonly placed on educational practitioners working in collaboration with research and design teams (Anderson & Shuttuck, 2012).

Returning to EAP the question remains as to how much we can learn about EAP by talking about it. Quite a bit and I’m all for sharing views about what EAP is as it tries to define itself. What I would like to see beyond yak and competency frameworks like the one from BALEAP that came out in 2008, however, is more in the way of teaching and learning resources from EAP practitioners and evaluations on what works. At this point in time, we’re not yet collaborating with resources development practices across our EAP contexts in any sustainable way. It would be great if we could clone more Andy Gillettes of the Using English for Academic Purposes (UEfAP) website, successfully bringing together genre and corpus-based approaches to EAP resources development. However, it would be even better if instead of creating EAP resources that are open gratis (free to access like UEfAP) we were developing EAP resources that are open libre (free to re-use, re-vise, re-mix and re-distribute), for scaling collaborative open educational resources and practices in EAP as well as in the wider ELT community.


Anderson, T. & Shattuck, J. (2012) Design-Based Research: A Decade of Progress in Education Research. Educational Researcher, Vol 41(1): 16-25

Clifford, J. (1990). Notes on (field)notes. In R. Sanjek (ed.), Fieldnotes: The makings of anthropology (pp. 47–70). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Fitzgerald, A. (In press). FLAX Weaving with Oxford Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources International Case Study. Commissioned by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), United Kingdom.

Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. New York: Basic Books.

Graddol. D. (2006). English Next – why English as a global language may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’. The British Council: The English Company.

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

LeCompte, M. & Schensul, J. (1999). Analyzing and interpreting ethnographic data. California: AltaMira Press.

Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (2007) Handbook of Action Research, 2nd Edition. London: Sage.

Ross, G. (no date). An Interview with W. Brian Arthur. In American Scientist, On the Bookshelf. Retrieved from http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/an-interview-with-w-brian-arthur

Wiley, D. & Gurrell, S. (2009). A decade of development…Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning. Vol 24 (1), pp.11-21.

UNESCO (2008). Education For All. Global Monitoring Report 2008. United Nations Education Scientific Cultural Organisation. Retrieved from www.efareport.unesco.org



Radio Ga Ga by Queen
Radio Ga Ga by Queen

This is the fourth 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 4

A lot of talk around defining current and trending practices in EAP can be tuned into via open as well as proprietary channels. In this section, I will refer to new-found open practices in EAP which are embracing Web 2.0 technologies amidst a backdrop of closed practices in EAP academic publishing and within subscription-only EAP memberships. I will open up discussion around these different practices within EAP to sketch out common ground for where EAP could be heading with respects to global outreach.

Toward open practices in EAP

Recent months have evidenced a steady opening up of practices for sharing expertise and resources in EAP. The new EAP teaching blog based at Nottingham University as a discussion-based side-shoot to their new Masters programme in EAP teaching makes use of the most widely used open-source blogging software, WordPress. Thanks to our friends in Canada, EAP tweetchat sessions are run on twitter with the hashtag #EAPchat every first and third Monday of the month, bringing together EAP practitioners who wish to participate in global EAP discussions as well as suggest topics for upcoming tweetchat sessions. An archived transcript page is available at the end of each EAPchat twitter session.

Free webinars from Oxford University Press (OUP), the largest academic publishing house in the world, are also broadcasting talk on EAP to the world. Julie Moore who has collaborated on the new Oxford EAP book series has also contributed free webinars with OUP attended by EAP practitioners from around the world. A review of one of Julie’s webinars on academic grammar can be found on the OUP-sponsored ELT global blog. Wouldn’t it be great if more EAP practitioners opened up their practice in this way to suggest areas of expertise in EAP that they would like to contribute and broadcast via webinars with OUP’s considerable market outreach?

The EAP community in the UK mainly gathers around BALEAP with their Professional Issues Meetings, accreditation scheme, biennial conference and lively email discussion list. There is a noticeable push-pull between open and closed EAP practices within BALEAP which I would like to bring into the open for discussion. Openness was built into the Durham PIM on the EAP Practitioner in June of this year to make this the first BALEAP event to have a twitter hashtag thanks to forward thinking from Steve Kirk. Since this PIM he has also been curating a useful EAP practitioner resources site with Scoop.it!

There does seem to be a willingness on the part of BALEAP members to explore with new technologies so that their discussions around issues on EAP are openly available. However, the BALEAP email discussion list which I mentioned above is the only one of half a dozen similarly JISC-hosted email discussion lists that I belong to which is closed off by the BALEAP membership subscription pay-wall. The others which I subscribe to for free are all open, and discussion transcripts from their contributing members can be searched via the web through the JISC email archives. This has been a BALEAP executive committee decision to keep the email discussion list closed and I question whether this decision best reflects the current drive toward openness among BALEAP members who are interested in sharing their insights and expertise with those around the world for whom BALEAP membership is not an affordable option.

BALEAP recently added the strap-line the global forum for EAP practitioners to its website. Formerly the British Association of Lecturers in EAP (hence the continuity from the acronym to the name BALEAP), some of their event and research outputs can be found on their website but others can only be accessed via the subscription-only Journal of English for Academic Purposes (JEAP). And, you can probably guess where I’m going here with concerns around openness or lack thereof with respects to being the global EAP practitioner forum…

Nonetheless, an invaluable EAP resource that BALEAP have put out onto the wild web is the EAP teacher competency framework. An EAP practitioner portfolio mentoring programme is currently in the pilot stages and there is talk of matching EAP teaching competencies in BALEAP with the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) at the HEA, but once again for those non-UK and freelance EAP practitioners who do not work for UK higher education institutions that subscribe to the HEA such an alignment of frameworks may not be suitable or relevant. That said, the essence of the UKPSF is useful and perhaps with the current OER International programme at the HEA we can see ownership of the UKPSF go international? HEA accreditation as a UK body will remain a reality, however, so it will be interesting to see what the HEAL working party at BALEAP who are collaborating with the HEA will come up with in response to shaping the identity of BALEAP who aspire to be known as the global forum for EAP practitioners.

Having recently formed a Web Resources Sub Committee (WRSC) with other technologically and OER oriented EAPers at BALEAP we may yet see things open up.  Below is the presentation Ylva Berglund Prytz and myself (both on the WRSC at BALEAP) gave on Openness in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) at the PIM in Sheffield in November, 2011.

Elsevier are the publishers of JEAP and from experience open access in academic publishing has come about through the pressure tactics of certain academic communities of practice lobbying for green and gold standard open access publications in their representative fields. Open Access week – set the default to open is coming up again on October 22nd.

Moving to open access research publications all depends on the culture of the academic research community. It will take those EAP practitioners and researchers working in privileged and well-resourced institutions that can easily afford institutional subscriptions to memberships like BALEAP to seriously consider open access and the potential for global reach of research into EAP. It will also take those EAP practitioners who are working off their institutional radars, so to speak, and who are experimenting with Web 2.0 technologies to get their message and expertise out there for global interaction around issues in EAP practice and research. Something I picked up from Steve Kirk’s Scoop.it! account is a recent book setting an open trend in EAP publishing, Writing Programs Worldwide: Profiles of Academic Writing in Many Places which is published in a free digital online format as well as a pay-for print version. This echoes what publishers are doing with big names in more open fields such as the Bloomsbury Academic publication of The Digital Scholar by Martin Weller. Exciting times and opportunities lie ahead for EAP publishing.

English for Specific Academic Purposes with data driven learning resources

It seems to be no great coincidence that Tim Johns who coined the term Data Driven Learning (DDL) in 1994 had also come up with the term English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in 1974 (Hyland, 2006). According to Chris Tribble’s preliminary results from his latest survey in-take on DDL (announced at the TaLC closing keynote address), EAP practitioners still make up a high percentage of those who took the survey, indicating greater uptake of corpus-based resources and practices in EAP than those in EFL / ESL, for example.

Open corpus-based tools and resources have the potential to equip and enable EAP practitioners to develop relevant ESAP materials. Awareness of and training in these open corpus-based resources will need to be shared across the EAP community, however, to ensure that we are crowd-sourcing our expertise and our resources in this area.  If you click on the image below this will take you to a talk I gave at the Open University in the UK on addressing academic literacies with corpus-based OER. This was inspired by the Tribble DDL survey and the lead up to the TaLC10 conference. It was an added bonus to have one of the BAWE corpus developer team members in the audience that day and to receive positive feedback on how FLAX have opened up the BAWE in collaboration with TOETOE and the Learning Technologies Group Oxford.

OU video presentation on Addressing Academic Literacies with open corpus-based resources

Over the course of this academic year FLAX and TOETOE will continue to build onto work around opening up research corpora like the BAWE and the BNC managed by the Oxford Text Archive for developing resources for ESAP.  We will also be engaging with various stakeholder groups through f2f workshops, online surveys and interviews for open corpus-based resources evaluation which I will be sharing insights from on this blog.

One final word on OER and where corpus-based resources might play a significant role in making higher education more accessible to the estimated 100 million learners worldwide who currently qualify to study at university level but do not have the means to do so (UNESCO, 2008). Because English is the educational lingua franca, open educationalists are going to source support resources for academic English from the approaches and materials that are currently popular and openly available to re-use under creative commons licences. This throws up interesting issues around specificity in EAP for supporting learners with discipline-specific English.

A parallel universe in EAP materials development

Cartoon image referred to by Niko Pfund, USA president of OUP in podcast on Ebooks, Reading and Scholarship in a Digital Age

It would be an understatement to say that the academic publishing world is undergoing a radical transformation with the arrival of digital and open publishing formats which are democratising publishing as we know it. Niko Pfund, President of Oxford University Press (USA), discusses the ways in which technology affects reading, scholarship, publishing and even thinking in a presentation he gave at Oxford recently which you can access by clicking on the cartoon image above.

I learned a lot from this podcast, including OUP’s commitment since 2003 to publishing all research monographs in both digital and print formats. I also learned of their admiration for what Wikipedians have done for opening up knowledge and publishing through human crowd-sourcing that utilises open technologies and platforms. A parallel drawn here to something that was brought up repeatedly at the EduWiki conference is how academic publishing houses like OUP are well placed to open up the disciplines in the same way as Wikipedia by bringing the voices of the academy into the public sphere through more accessible means of communication than research, and by effectively linking this research to current world events to gain wider relevance and readership.

Pfund refers to messy experimental times in academic publishing with lots of new business models currently being explored for spear-heading changes in publishing. OUP heavily subsidise and give away a lot of published resources including ELT textbooks to the developing world, but not yet under open licences (someone please correct me if I’m wrong here) for those practitioners working in under-resourced communities so that they can re-mix and re-distribute these same resources.

OUCS and OUP are literally down the road from one another, a parallel universe as it were. The former is research, learning and teaching focused with a strong commitment to public scholarship, and the later is focused on exploring new practices and business models for delivering the best in academic publishing. Arguably, there is a lot of overlap that can be tapped into here for the collaborative development of open corpus-based resources and practices for the global ELT market.

In-house EAP materials development

EAP teachers have been developing in-house EAP materials in response to the generic EAP teaching resources available on the mainstream market as a means to meeting the real needs of their students going onto all number of degree programmes. However, as I mentioned in section 2 of this blog post, many of these in-house EAP materials make use of third party copyrighted texts and therefore cannot be shared beyond the secret garden of the classroom or the institutional password-protected VLE. An enormous opportunity presents itself here to EAP practitioners and corpus linguists alike to push out resources in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) using open Data-Driven Learning (DDL) methods, texts, tools and platforms for sharing OER for ESAP. A significant cultural shift in practice will be required, however, to realise this vision for developing flexible and open ESAP resources that can be adapted for use in multiple educational contexts both off- and on-line. Once again, in subsequent blog posts, I will be presenting open educational practices and open research methods to open up discussion for ways forward with this particular global EAP vision.


Alexander, O., Bell, D., Cardew, S., King, J., Pallant, A., Scott, M., Thomas, D., & Ward Goodbody, M. (2008) Competency framework for teachers of English for Academic Purposes, BALEAP.

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

Johns, T. (1994). From Printout to Handout: Grammar and Vocabulary Teaching in the Context of Data-driven Learning. In Odlin, T. (ed.), Perspectives on Pedagogical Grammar: 27-45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.