The doge meme teaches us so much about language learning and how challenging it can be to accurately combine words and patterns when using another language. The FLAX language system teaches us so much about how we can avoid using dodgy language by employing powerful open-source language analysis tools and authentic language resources.
The FLAX (Flexible Language Acquisition) project has won the LinkedUp Vici Competition for tools and demos that use open or linked data for educational purposes. This post is the one I wrote to accompany our project submission to the LinkedUp challenge.
FLAX is an open-source software system designed to automate the production and delivery of interactive digital language collections. Exercise material comes from digital libraries (language corpora, web data, open access publications, open educational resources) for a virtually endless supply of authentic language learning in context. With simple interface designs, FLAX has been designed so that non-expert users — language teachers, language learners, subject specialists, instructional design and e-learning support teams — can build their own language collections.
The FLAX software can be freely downloaded to build language collections with any text-based content and supporting audio-visual material, for both online and classroom use. FLAX uses the Greenstone suite of open-source multilingual software for building and distributing digital library collections, which can be published on the Internet or on CD-ROM. Issued under the terms of the GNU General Public License, Greenstone is produced by the New Zealand Digital Library Project at the University of Waikato, and developed and distributed in cooperation with UNESCO and the Human Info NGO.
REMIX WITH FLAX
At FLAX we understand that content and data vary in terms of licensing restrictions, depending on the publishing strategies adopted by institutions for the usage of their content and data. FLAX has, therefore, been designed to offer a flexible open-source suite of linguistic support options for enhancing such content and data across both open and closed platforms.
Featuring the Latest in Artificial Intelligence &
Natural Language Processing Software Designs
Within the FLAX bag of tricks, we have the open-source Wikipedia Miner Toolkit, which links in related words, topics and definitions from Wikipedia and Wiktionary as can be seen below in the Learning Collocations collection (click on the image to expand and visit the toolkit in action).
Featuring Open Data
Available on the FLAX website are completed collections and on-going collections development with registered users. Current research and development with the FLAX Law Collections is based entirely on open resources selected by language teachers and legal English researchers as shown in the table below. These collections demonstrate how users can build collections in FLAX according to their interests and needs.
Law Collections in FLAX
Type of Resource
Number and Source of Collection Resources
Open Access Law research articles
40 Articles (DOAJ – Directory of Open Access Journals, with Creative Commons licenses for the development of derivatives)
MOOC lecture transcripts and videos (streamed via YouTube and Vimeo)
15 Lectures (Oxford Law Faculty, Centre for Socio-Legal Studies and Department of Continuing Education)
PhD Law thesis writing
50-70 EThoS Theses (sections: abstracts, introductions, conclusions) at the British Library (Open Access but not licensed as Creative Commons – permission for reuse granted by participating Higher Education Institutions)
Linking in lexico-grammatical phrases from the British National Corpus (BNC) of 100 million words, the British Academic Written English corpus (BAWE) of 2500 pieces of assessed university student writing from across the disciplines, and the re-formatted Wikipedia corpus in English.
Linking in a reformatted Google n-gram corpus (English version) containing 380 million five-word sequences drawn from a vocabulary of 145,000 words.
FLAX Training Videos
Featuring Game-based Activities
Click on the image below to explore the different activities that can be applied to language collections in FLAX.
FLAX Apps for Android
We also have a suite of free game-based FLAX apps for Android devices. Now you can interact with the types of activities listed above while you’re learning on the move. Click on the FLAX app icon to the right to access and download the apps and enjoy!
A collaborative investigation is underway with FLAX and the Open Educational Resources Research Hub (OERRH), whereby a cluster of revised OER research hypotheses are currently being employed to evaluate the impact of developing and using open language collections in FLAX with informal MOOC learners as well as formal English language and translation students.
Current activity within open education can be characterised as having reached a beta phase of maturity. In much the same way that software progresses through a release life cycle, beta is the penultimate testing phase, after the initial alpha-testing phase, whereby the software is adopted beyond its original developer community.
Open education has now come to the attention of the mainstream press and traditional higher education, with the uptake of Open Educational Resources (OER) and with the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). The participating masses can be likened to beta testers of these newly opened ways of educating. And, as with many recent software hits from Internet giants such as Google (e.g. Gmail), it is highly likely that open education will remain in a state of ‘perpetual beta’ development and testing, as we investigate and measure the impact of openness on education.
Funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the OER Research Hub (OERRH) is currently spear-heading the testing of OER hypotheses and is aggregating research findings through their OER Impact Map. The beta testing metaphor is also relevant to my research with the FLAX language project for the open development and testing of the FLAX Open Source Software (OSS). I have been promoting the FLAX OSS language system across different educational contexts (Fitzgerald, 2013), and I am now investigating user experiences of the software across multiple research sites in order to involve users in language collections building and further development of the OSS. I will be posting findings from this research on the TOETOE project blog throughout this year.
According to publisher and open source advocate, Tim O’Reilly:
Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often‘, in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta’, in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, and the like may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time. (O’Reilly, 2005)
Open Fellowship with the OER Research Hub at the UK Open University
My first introduction to the UK Open University, henceforth referred to here as the OU, was when my Dad took me to see the film Educating Rita in 1985. It took two years to reach our picture house in provincial-town New Zealand, and I was just at that age – twelve going on thirteen – to appreciate this Pygmalion story of a woman breaking through the class barriers with an emancipatory distance education from the OU. My Dad also took me canvasing with him for the NZ Labour Party in those formative years, showing me first-hand that life for those in state-housing areas was very different from life in homes belonging to those who had been to university.
I never imagined that I’d be at the OU but I am now on my second fellowship here, this time as an Open Fellow with the OERRH based at the Institution of Educational Technology, and previously from 2011-2012 as a SCORE Fellow with the Support Centre for Open Resources in Education. When Rita’s character was a student at the OU in the early 1980s, open meant that admissions barriers had been removed from entry to formal study. This is still true today with the OU’s 200,000 registered paying students coming from a variety of traditional and non-traditional backgrounds. Nonetheless, this is still ground-breaking when we consider that most of the brick ‘n’ mortar higher education institutions of the world, including those with online learning offerings, still maintain strict admissions policies based on entrance examinations and prerequisites. Open has come to mean much more than this, however, with the rapid ascension of OERs and MOOCs. And, the OU have been no strangers to this rise in informal education as demonstrated in their longstanding work with the BBC through their Open Media Unit, and in leading a bevy of wide-reaching open education projects, including OpenLearn and now FutureLearn.
Open Education Awash with Venture Capital
Open has come of age it seems, with pathways to courses, the sharing of courseware code and access to research becoming increasingly free and open to learners; and with models for educational delivery and accreditation being experimented with on an almost daily basis by educators and institutions. Getting an education is one thing but coming up with sustainable and workable solutions for the world’s problems is increasingly understood as something outside of our reach and beyond the actual remit of education. While we discuss how to come up with the best business models for selling MOOCs and higher education to the masses, it might behoove us to ask how we can occupy eduction to evolve sustainable communities (human and non-human) on this planet rather than continue to commodify learning, teaching and research as products for an increasingly globalised world.
Weller’s position paper on the battle for open (2013) echoes concerns from open education advocates on the distortion of key principles for openness in education (see Wiley, 2013); as being sold downstream through the imposed economic value system of a booming online education market (Education Sector Factbook, 2012). The open-washing of the open education movement, in favour of capitalising on ‘open’ education at a massive scale, is being viewed in much the same way as green activists view the green-washing of the green movement, with our world’s most pressing environmental problems playing second fiddle to the big business of so-called green solutions:
When they start offering solutions is the exact moment when they stop telling the truth, inconvenient or otherwise. Google “global warming solutions.” The first paid sponsor, www.CampaignEarth.org, urges “No doom and gloom!! When was the last time depression got you really motivated? We’re here to inspire realistic action steps and stories of success.” By “realistic” they don’t mean solutions that actually match the scale of the problem. They mean the usual consumer choices—cloth shopping bags, travel mugs, and misguided dietary advice—which will do exactly nothing to disrupt the troika of industrialization, capitalism, and patriarchy that is skinning the planet alive. But since these actions also won’t disrupt anyone’s life, they’re declared both realistic and a success. (Jenson, Keith & McBay, 2011)
Technology activists abound in support of the information wants to be free slogan from the 1960s. “Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive. …That tension will not go away” (Brand, 1987). Activism that is focused on the tension surrounding the freedom of information continues to grow, but what of activism that is directed at the tension between education wanting to be open and education wanting to be exclusive? Education wanting to be for life and education wanting to be for jobs only? When will we witness the scaling of massive buildings like the Shard in London by education activists – let’s call one of them Rita – in protest of formal education’s direct relationship with the limitations of commercialization? When will we raise the red flag on the global business of buying and selling education as an endgame in itself?
The purpose of education is going untested in real terms and the open education movement has only just begun educating in beta, as it were, by drawing on a pedagogy of abundance rather than a perceived pedagogy of scarcity (Weller, 2011). This shift in awareness and practice echoes Stewart Brand’s comments to Steve Wozniak, at the first Hackers’ Conference in 1984, on how information wants to be free due to the cost of getting digitised information out becoming lower and lower. The economics of learning materials (Thomas, 2014), following a recent discussion on the oer-discuss list about the progression from reusable learning objects to open educational resources, marks another useful distinction using Marxist terminology, between learning materials that have exchange versus use value:
In the discussions about whether content has value, there is often a question about whether content can be bought and sold, whether it is “monetisable”. In marxist economics that is the type of value called exchange value: where a commodity can be exchanged for money. There is another type of value: use value. That is the extent to which a commodity is useful. It is about its utility, not its cost or price. I think most teaching resources can have a high use value both for primary use and secondary reuse, without that ever translating into an exchange value. They might be valuable but you can’t sell them. (Thomas, 2014)
It may be that Rita will draw on learning content and interactions from a variety of accessible places, including open publications and MOOCs, where ‘open’ equals free access only (for example, All Rights Reserved Coursera courses) rather than where open equals free plus legal rights to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute. It may also be that Rita will only begin to realise the use value of these educational resources – perhaps through joining Greenpeace or the Deep Green Resistance, for example – by synthesisng her contributions with those of her peers for the development of a learning community that is informal, networked and open. And, most importantly, where her developing awareness will actively challenge the perpetuation and escalation of global problems that are on a truly massive scale.
In critiquing open education, Audrey Watters, in her keynote address at the Open Education 2013 conference, also proposes communities rather than technology markets as the saviors of education:
Where in the stories we’re telling about the future of education are we seeing salvation? Why would we locate that in technology and not in humans, for example? Why would we locate that in markets and not in communities? What happens when we embrace a narrative about the end-times — about education crisis and education apocalypse? Who’s poised to take advantage of this crisis narrative? Why would we believe a gospel according to artificial intelligence, or according to Harvard Business School [Christensen’s Disruptive Innovation theory, 2013], or according to Techcrunch…? (Watters, 2013)
Brand, S. (1987). The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT. Viking Penguin, p. 202, ISBN0-14-009701-5.
“…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
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
Michael 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
Enter 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.
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.
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.
“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 withSAADA (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 [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.
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).
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.
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.
“High ranking in Long-Term Orientation indicates that the country prescribes to the values of long-term commitments and respect for tradition.” (Hofstede, 2010)
This is the second post in a blog series based on the the TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.
Long Term Orientation
Geert Hofstede’s original IBM study on organizational cultures ranked countries according to a four-dimensional culture model. Participating countries in parts of Asia demonstrated distinct attitudes toward long-range planning, however, resulting in the identification of a fifth cultural dimension, Long Term Orientation (LTO). Interestingly, China clocks the highest count for LTO internationally. This dimension is also referred to by Hofstede as ‘Confucian Dynamism’, something which is “closely related to the teachings of Confucius and can be interpreted as …[having] a pragmatic future-oriented perspective rather than a conventional historical short-term point of view” (Hofstede, 2010).
In 2010, the Ministry of Education for the People’s Republic of China released an ‘Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development 2010-2020’. Reference is made to the rejuvenation of China through educational reforms including flexible and open lifelong learning and “the popularization and public sharing of quality education resources”, whilst observing that this outline plan “… is the first of its kind for the nation in the 21st century, and encompasses a broad range of endeavors over a long period of time. Its mission is weighty, and its requirements are demanding. It should be implemented in real earnest through close-knit arrangements and meticulous organization, so as to ensure that all the listed tasks are carried out in a down-to-earth way”. (Ministry of Education for the Peoples’ Republic of China, 2010, p.41 & p.50).
Global Local Computer Assisted Language Learning – GLoCALL
Flying into Beijing we descended through thick brown cloud. Straight into a taxi to the third ring road of the city and directly to the Global Local Computer Assisted Language Learning (GLoCALL) Conference at Beijing Foreign Studies University. A few days later it rained all day long, clearing the next two days for a canopy of blue before the atmosphere marked by one of the world’s busiest and most vibrant cities started closing in again. It felt exciting to be back in Beijing after seven years.
A kind and helpful student offered to show me the way to the Sir Shaw Run Run Building where the conference was going on. Along a tree-lined walkway and past tennis courts we talked about her part-time job teaching English at a private institute in the city and how what she enjoyed the most was helping her students understand English language content online that would connect them to the outside world. Had she heard of open educational resources for ELT? No. Would she like to come along to my talk and see the open resources from Oxford and learn how to use the open FLAX language collections? Yes.
Re-use of educational content
I was met by Dr. Shaoqun Wu, the main researcher with the FLAX project from the University of Waikato in New Zealand. She had been at the national headquarters of the Open University of China the day before, promoting the open language tools and collections in FLAX, which re-uses Oxford-managed corpora and Wikimedia content, for possible uses in their online English language programmes. Before that she had spent several weeks in her hometown province of Yunnan with Professor Ian Witten (FLAX project lead) and Dr. Margaret Franken, also from the FLAX project, developing the Happy English Learning collection in FLAX for the Shalang rural primary school. The collection re-uses content from the British Council’s China website and their YouTube channel for collections built in collaboration with the students based on digital stories they had written and voice-over recordings they had made. In a later meeting with Liang Junhong, the English project manager at the British Council in Beijing, I would ask her what she thought about the re-use of the British Council’s web resources in the FLAX project; she indicated that she thought it was an effective means of linking interactive resources in both English and Chinese for young learners in rural China.
Shaoqun and I presented back to back on the following morning of the conference and I assisted with her workshop in the afternoon. With no Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube or Linkedin this made for a different conference experience from what I had become accustomed to at OER events. Chinese versions of similar social networking media which are widely used across China, for example the YouKu video platform, were not exploited at this conference and instead we were invited to upload our conference slides onto a password protected Moodle conference site. What became evident was the high regard for the efficacy of the FLAX system and the value placed on Oxford-based resources. She had lugged thirty-odd printed copies of the Book of FLAX over from NZ. Easily downloadable as an open e-book from the FLAX website, it demonstrates how the language resource collections were made and how teachers can also put together their own language collections in FLAX. This point about collections building was key at this conference and would inform our development work once back in New Zealand in November and December 2012.
The books were snapped up much to Shaoqun’s delight and relief at not having to drag them all the way back to NZ. And, the resounding message from the Chinese teachers present at the workshops was that in addition to the resource collections already built in FLAX, they wanted language collections that reflected their syllabuses, their texts, their students’ language needs and so on. But how do you take teachers whose materials development practices rely on copyrighted teaching resources through the stages of collections building to become open corpus developers? We know we can’t anticipate every need to build specific collections for everyone but we can develop simple-to-use open tools to help teachers and learners do it for themselves. Crowd-sourcing open language collections would become my renewed focus over the course of this project.
With teachers at Luoyang Normal University in Henan China wewill be building a general College English corpus-based collection in FLAX, specifically for the Chinese HE context where students will be preparing for the CET4 (College English Test 4) and CET6 (College English Test 6); two widely deployed English language tests in China for university students.
Publishers from the Foreign Language Teaching & Research Press (FTLRP), China’s equivalent to Oxford University Press (OUP) in terms of ELT resources publishing output, were in the audience. They were keen to set up meetings to discuss the re-use of Oxford creative commons podcasts and corpus-derived language samples from the FLAX resource collections for the development of ELT publications. We arranged to get together after my meeting at the British Council.
Trainer trainer resources for the Chinese ELT context
Monday morning traffic the following week, dodging pedestrians, cyclists and drivers in all manner of vehicles, made for a long taxi ride to the British Council. After a demonstration of resources from Oxford and the FLAX project, English project manager Liang Junhong, updated me on the Council’s current policies for ELT in China. There had been a noticeable shift in government educational policy whereby higher education institutes had been encouraged to become more independent, with projected growth in student completion rates almost doubling to include twenty percent of the working-age population from 2009 to 2020 (MoE China, 2010). In response to this, the British Council has moved support funding for ELT away from the HE sector to the primary and secondary sectors with English language teacher and trainer training in these two sectors being newly designated areas for ELT support. Work would still be carried out with Beijing Normal University in its capacity for ELT teacher education and training. Based on this discussion, we agreed that training video resources for how to use and build the FLAX collections using Oxford resources would be most valuable for the ELT work that the Council is currently supporting in China. It was also suggested that translating these training video resources into Chinese would be useful. Liang Li of the FLAX project at Waikato has developed a series of FLAX training videos in Chinese which can be accessed via the FLAX Youku video channel.
Working with ELT publishers in China
My last two Chinese engagements were with ELT publishers, FTLRP in Beijing and the Dalian University of Technology Press in Dalian. The first part of my meeting with three FTRLP managers working in Higher English Education Publishing was carried out at their favorite 1950s swing rock n roll themed coffee shop near Beijing Foreign Studies University. They had all studied English language and linguistics at the university before working with the affiliated press. The connection between what they were trying to do in the ELT publishing world and their experience of the English language learning and teaching world was evident. One of their colleagues had celebrated their wedding at the coffee shop, and on our walk back to the press for the second part of our meeting old student dormitories were pointed out to me, so closely were they affiliated to their alma mater. They were impressed with what I told them about the OpenSpires project at Oxford, hoping that more Chinese universities would follow suit with the OER and OCW movements. Although they hadn’t heard of UK OER before they were familiar with other open podcast resource projects such as the Open Yale Courses and the TED Talks, pointing out that American English was the preferred type of English taught in China, as it is in Korea.
It is important to note that English language education resources from Chinese publishers are nowhere near as expensive as those from well-known ELT publishers in the west. Some of the computer scientists back in NZ showed me Chinese versions of their research that had been published as academic monographs for the Chinese market. In addition to being translated and therefore more accessible linguistically they were also available for a fraction of the cost to readers in China. In terms of business models, it’s possible to work with Chinese English language education publishers to create and distribute teaching and learning resources at a minimal cost to learners and teachers. Perhaps it is because of this overall customer satisfaction with the cost of educational resources in China that makes open educational resources and practices seem less urgent in this context.
After taking the overnight train to Dalian to meet with Ms. Ti of the Dalian University of Technology Press, similar views were shared on possible re-uses for the Oxford managed and created content I was demonstrating. Like FTLRP they could see the benefit of helping teachers who wanted to use creative commons podcasts in their teaching by offering linguistic support based on the language present in the lectures and talks. Drawing on corpus-based evidence from resources such as the FLAX collocations database and the BAWE corpus in an effort to meet the new ELT market demand for resources in teaching English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP), it was agreed at both the FTLRP and at the Dalian University of Technology Press that these were viable materials development and publishing options that would ensure the re-use of high quality, flexible and authentic English language resources.
After a guided tour of Dalian’s three beautiful coastlines and some amazing seafood, I boarded a slow boat from China to Korea, eves dropping on the linguistic code switching between fellow Chinese-Korean and Korean-Chinese passengers. Several hours would be spent standing on the deck watching trucks go back n forth between depots loading container after container of goods from one of China’s busiest ports.
Hofstede, G., Hofstede, G.J. & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. Revised and Expanded 3rd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill USA.
This post is about how I came to be seduced by open educational practices (OEP).
TOETOE International blog series
After a period of radio silence, I have prepared a new series of blog posts on OEP in ELT based on my TOETOE International project with the University of Oxford, the UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC). They will be released weekly from today leading up to my presentation at the OER13 Conference in Nottingham in April, Stories from the Open Frontier of English Language Education Resources. These posts are a version of the case study I have prepared for this project, FLAX Weaving with Oxford Open Educational Resources, which will be published by the HEA/JISC as an OER later this year. I have also made this post in the OEP series available as a .pdf on Slideshare.
I have assembled these posts into ethnographic accounts (LeCompte & Schensul 1999:17; Clifford 1990:51-52) to stop the clock as it were and to reorder the recent past that has been observed and jotted down; to systematize, contextualize and assemble the activity of the TOETOE International project across seven different countries. They will be part narrative and part design dialectic, drawing on stories and evaluations made by international stakeholders concerning the re-use of Oxford content: Oxford-managed corpora (the British National Corpus aka BNC and the British Academic Written English corpus aka BAWE) and Oxford-created OER (podcast lectures and seminars, images, essays, ebooks) in combination with other open English-medium content. Moreover, these evaluation narratives will continue to inform the design of open source digital library software for developing flexible open English language learning and teaching collections with the FLAX project (Flexible Language Acquisition) at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.
Thick descriptions (Geertz, 1973) will be presented from networked meetings, workshops, conference presentations and interviews with OER and ELT practitioners for arriving at better understandings of the social acts and symbols connected with the international open education movement. As part of the reflexive writing process, I have re-storied the stories of participating individuals and institutions, placing them in chronological sequence and providing causal links among ideas. Themes arising from the stories contain new metaphors for linking unfamiliar phenomena from each country represented with familiar concepts for understanding OER in the international context. Topics introduced by this TOETOE International blog series include: emancipatory English, Do-It-Yourself (DIY) open English language collections building, working OER into traditional ELT publications, and long-range planning for embedding OER and OEP within sustainable English language education.
What drives someone toward open educational practice?
The reasons will be numerous but the one that stands out for me is the capacity to work across the international open education network, either in online or face-2-face mode. Working across disciplinary, technological and geographical boundaries, my current practice seems very distant from the practice I was trained in all those years ago when I did the Cambridge Dip.TEFLA (now the DELTA) in Seoul, Korea. Nonetheless, everything that I do now in my new open educational practice is very much informed by my past teaching practice in traditional classroom-based EFL/ESL and EAP.
There are vast changes happening across education globally and there is a growing need for flexible and high quality open educational resources in English along with an expanded open infrastructure to support research, teaching, training, learning and curriculum development while English is the lingua franca in education, research and publishing. Indeed, the position of English as international lingua franca is wholly dependent on its use and ownership by non-native speakers of English (Graddol, 2006). However, the reality of a rapidly expanding global higher education industry (UNESCO 2008), where open and online distance education are fast becoming major players because of affordances with educational technologies, has yet to trickle down into the workflow of English language teaching practitioners working in traditional classroom-based education.
In one of the learning technology forums I belong to someone was asking after recommended PhD programmes; someone else replied that whatever area you do your PhD in you’d better be prepared to live and breathe your chosen PhD topic area for many years to come if not your whole career. With my PhD I have begun identifying flexible pathways for open educational resources and practices to be shared across traditional classroom-based and open online English language education, but I expect that I will be continuing with this inquiry for quite some time to come.
Somewhere OvER the Rainbow – the myth about OER quality in language resources
Not surprisingly, I was assigned to the Libraries and Languages presentation slot at OpenEd 2012 where the conference theme was Beyond Content. The presenters from the other project in this session, Developing Foreign Language Courses for the Open Library Project, seemed to be fairly new to OER and raised issues around OER quality, stating that they needed to work with professional resource developers and publishers to produce what appeared to me to be fairly ordinary audio recordings for target language items to be used in their project resources.
Put simply, publishing language resources with a reputable publishing house does not always guarantee quality in the same way that publishing with an open license does not always guarantee quality. The difference being that if you buy a course book and it turns out to be a lemon then you’re stuck with it – you either leave it on the shelf or you spend hours developing supplementary resources to ‘fix’ it. However, if you subscribe to an open educational practice model for materials development you can:
Re-use an OER and if it doesn’t work for you then you’re free to:
Re-vise / re-purpose;
Re-mix with other open (and proprietary content which you have cleared for use) and;
Re-distribute through a variety of open and proprietary channels.
These are the four Rs of OER (Wiley, 2009). A far cry from the materials development method I learned on the Cambridge CELTA and DipTEFLA modules which was to Select, Adapt, Reject and Supplement (SARS) course book materials from leading ELT publishers (Graves, 2003).
In addition to raising the point about quality with the other presenters in my Open Educationa 2012 session in the Q&A, during the lunch break I discussed the on-going myth about OER quality with one of my SCORE colleagues from the UK, Chris Pegler. I have been a big fan of her Resource Reuse Card Game (embedded below in Slideshare) from the ORIOLE project (Open Resources: Influence on Learners and Educators) to look at issues surrounding educational resource re-use, including the issue of quality. It turns out that I would be re-using her card game in workshops in Korea, New Zealand and Vietnam as part of this project, and I will be including more findings from these interactions with the re-use card game in upcoming posts.
Reinforcement of the myth surrounding OER quality was not what I was expecting to encounter at an open education conference but I do come across this a lot in the work I do with teacher training at ELT events. I have noticed a discernible pattern whereby a handful of language teachers will say that their role at their institution is to develop resources (often single-handedly) for their programme(s), and where many more teachers will openly declare that they do not consider themselves to be supported or encouraged to develop materials to share across their community of practice. Common claims for not developing and sharing resources beyond classroom handouts include a deficit in technology training and a reliance on in-house materials or proprietary course books that have been selected and or developed by programme managers. These are all valid reasons considering these are all common practices.
In many ways we are trained to consume and not to create resources, and at most we permit ourselves to adapt and supplement often irrespective of intellectual property rights, making it difficult to share beyond institutional and virtual learning environment walls. But can language practitioners and the training and professional bodies that promote current ELT practice continue to shy away from an era of ubiquitous digital content and self-publishing platforms? Going through the motions with course books is a killer so how are we going to support our creative license if all that’s required of us is to consume and regurgitate ready-made ELT skills meals in the form of generic course books? Hopefully the question of bringing language teachers to the realization of their central role as materials developers will be one of the topics on the table at the Materials Development Association (MATSDA) University of Liverpool Conference which I will be attending in April directly after the IATEFL Conference Liverpool 2013.
Less yak and more hack! : rapid prototyping of resources
…it became clear to me that every technology is based upon what I call the orchestration of phenomena, natural effects working together. If you look at any new technology as a whole symphony orchestra of working phenomena, it becomes a huge wonder. I have a sense of wonder far, far greater than I had before. As human beings, we’re using these things unthinkingly every day—it’s like having magic carpets at our disposal, and we have no idea how they fly. Let me add one last thing. I’m an enthusiast about technology, but I am also suspicious of it and what it’s doing to us. It intrudes in our lives, it causes us problems such as climate change, and it’s taken away a lot of our deep connection with nature. But at the same time it’s an incredible wonder. (Interview with W. Brian Arthur, author of The Nature of Technology)
Unless you know what’s at your disposal technologically-speaking and unless you know how to bring resources together, mindful of their affordances and their limitations, then to the untrained eye technological innovation can seem like pure genius. But it’s probably more the case of working through problem solving scenarios step by step, pulling together an ever increasing swag bag of tech goodies to create solutions for the moment until the next thing comes along….and so the cycle continues. This can feel very overwhelming to the individual teacher who would like to be better at using technology and this is why Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos (TTV) is such a big hit among language teachers with bringing what’s out there from the wide world of web-based language resources to teachers.
We now have the technology to flip the course book, the classroom and even higher education with the massive explosion in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) entering the traditional university world with for-profit providers such as Udacity, Coursera and FutureLearn. However, the point I would like to add to this is that resource developers such as those whose web-based language technologies are featured on TTV need feedback on what does and does not work in practice. This is where language teachers can come squarely into the technology equation and learn far more from evaluating and contributing to the development of resources than they would ever pick up at any teacher training continuing professional development session on technology. It dawned on me during my Masters in Edtech and ELT at Manchester University that I wasn’t going to learn much from talking about technology; instead I ended up going directly to the source itself by working with open source software (OSS) developers at the FLAX project.
Hackfests with OSS developers and OER book sprints (see an example of a maths book sprint here) with educators are two rapid prototyping methods for creating code and educational resources. There is no time for hesitancy or hierarchy, you simply work and learn with others to devise shared goals and to bring all that you can to the creation process; to come up with rapid prototypes to share back to the wider community to re-use, re-purpose, re-mix and re-distribute as OER. By attending two Mozilla Drumbeat festivals in Barcelona and London I got to observe and participate in early discussions for the rapid prototyping of Open Badges for educational assessment and Mozilla Popcorn for creating interactive online videos.
While back in New Zealand late last year with the FLAX project team at the Greenstone digital library lab at Waikato, every week I would participate in developer meetings with the computer scientists behind the project and one other English language teacher from the Chinese Open University who is also basing her PhD research on the FLAX project. Well-versed in natural language processing and research on current web-based search behaviour, the computer scientists behind the interface designs of the FLAX collections and activities were adept at exploiting available linguistic resources for the development of simple-to-use language learning collections and OSS text analysis tools. I soon picked up what the limitations of the different technologies and resources were. The focus of these meetings was to develop rapid prototype resources for envisioning and discussing how they could work across different language learning scenarios. I was able to observe and contribute to many iterations of the resources currently under development and I will be bringing these resources to the fore of future blog posts in this series.
I also had a chance to present my work at the Tertiary Writers Network Colloquium which was hosted by the Department of Education at Waikato. This was a great opportunity to share open practices in EAP with a non UK-based audience working mainly in Australasia and in the US. I highlighted some of the OEP going on with the EAP community online using social networking technologies such as Twitter, blogs, Slideshare, YouTube and so on for reflection on the different types of networks we are and are not plugging into. EFL/ESL has been employing these technologies for longer for sharing ideas and resources in general ELT but there is more that could be done with connecting teachers to resources development projects, either through the OSS community or through working with traditional ELT publishers for creating more effective resource evaluation channels that would help teachers learn more about technology.
This would involve the development of resources to engage potential end-users, namely language teachers and students, in the research and development cycle of technology for ELT. In the field of educational technology we refer to this approach as design-based research which Terry Anderson, professor and Canada research chair in distance education, has referred to as action research on steroids (2007). Anderson’s analogy is a useful one as most language teachers are familiar with action research, which shares many of the same principles as design-based research.
Pragmatism is central to both approaches, often employing mixed methods of inquiry to arrive at tangible solutions to educational problems. Normally within action research cycles it is individual teaching practitioners who carry out classroom teaching interventions to observe, record and reflect on the impact of these interventions over time with the aim of informing and improving teaching practice (Reason & Bradbury, 2007). However, within design-based research cycles, emphasis is more commonly placed on educational practitioners working in collaboration with research and design teams (Anderson & Shuttuck, 2012).
Returning to EAP the question remains as to how much we can learn about EAP by talking about it. Quite a bit and I’m all for sharing views about what EAP is as it tries to define itself. What I would like to see beyond yak and competency frameworks like the one from BALEAP that came out in 2008, however, is more in the way of teaching and learning resources from EAP practitioners and evaluations on what works. At this point in time, we’re not yet collaborating with resources development practices across our EAP contexts in any sustainable way. It would be great if we could clone more Andy Gillettes of the Using English for Academic Purposes (UEfAP) website, successfully bringing together genre and corpus-based approaches to EAP resources development. However, it would be even better if instead of creating EAP resources that are open gratis (free to access like UEfAP) we were developing EAP resources that are open libre (free to re-use, re-vise, re-mix and re-distribute), for scaling collaborative open educational resources and practices in EAP as well as in the wider ELT community.
Anderson, T. & Shattuck, J. (2012) Design-Based Research: A Decade of Progress in Education Research. Educational Researcher, Vol 41(1): 16-25
Clifford, J. (1990). Notes on (field)notes. In R. Sanjek (ed.), Fieldnotes: The makings of anthropology (pp. 47–70). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Fitzgerald, A. (In press). FLAX Weaving with Oxford Open Educational Resources. Open Educational Resources International Case Study. Commissioned by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), United Kingdom.
Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: selected essays. New York: Basic Books.
Graddol. D. (2006). English Next – why English as a global language may mean the end of ‘English as a Foreign Language’. The British Council: The English Company.
Graves, K, 2003. “Coursebooks.” In D. Nunan (Ed.) Practical English Language Teaching. New York: McGraw-Hill.
LeCompte, M. & Schensul, J. (1999). Analyzing and interpreting ethnographic data. California: AltaMira Press.
Reason, P. & Bradbury, H. (2007) Handbook of Action Research, 2nd Edition. London: Sage.
A lot of talk around defining current and trending practices in EAP can be tuned into via open as well as proprietary channels. In this section, I will refer to new-found open practices in EAP which are embracing Web 2.0 technologies amidst a backdrop of closed practices in EAP academic publishing and within subscription-only EAP memberships. I will open up discussion around these different practices within EAP to sketch out common ground for where EAP could be heading with respects to global outreach.
Toward open practices in EAP
Recent months have evidenced a steady opening up of practices for sharing expertise and resources in EAP. The new EAP teaching blog based at Nottingham University as a discussion-based side-shoot to their new Masters programme in EAP teaching makes use of the most widely used open-source blogging software, WordPress. Thanks to our friends in Canada, EAP tweetchat sessions are run on twitter with the hashtag #EAPchat every first and third Monday of the month, bringing together EAP practitioners who wish to participate in global EAP discussions as well as suggest topics for upcoming tweetchat sessions. An archived transcript page is available at the end of each EAPchat twitter session.
Free webinars from Oxford University Press (OUP), the largest academic publishing house in the world, are also broadcasting talk on EAP to the world. Julie Moore who has collaborated on the new Oxford EAP book series has also contributed free webinars with OUP attended by EAP practitioners from around the world. A review of one of Julie’s webinars on academic grammar can be found on the OUP-sponsored ELT global blog. Wouldn’t it be great if more EAP practitioners opened up their practice in this way to suggest areas of expertise in EAP that they would like to contribute and broadcast via webinars with OUP’s considerable market outreach?
The EAP community in the UK mainly gathers around BALEAP with their Professional Issues Meetings, accreditation scheme, biennial conference and lively email discussion list. There is a noticeable push-pull between open and closed EAP practices within BALEAP which I would like to bring into the open for discussion. Openness was built into the Durham PIM on the EAP Practitioner in June of this year to make this the first BALEAP event to have a twitter hashtag thanks to forward thinking from Steve Kirk. Since this PIM he has also been curating a useful EAP practitioner resources site with Scoop.it!
There does seem to be a willingness on the part of BALEAP members to explore with new technologies so that their discussions around issues on EAP are openly available. However, the BALEAP email discussion list which I mentioned above is the only one of half a dozen similarly JISC-hosted email discussion lists that I belong to which is closed off by the BALEAP membership subscription pay-wall. The others which I subscribe to for free are all open, and discussion transcripts from their contributing members can be searched via the web through the JISC email archives. This has been a BALEAP executive committee decision to keep the email discussion list closed and I question whether this decision best reflects the current drive toward openness among BALEAP members who are interested in sharing their insights and expertise with those around the world for whom BALEAP membership is not an affordable option.
BALEAP recently added the strap-line the global forum for EAP practitioners to its website. Formerly the British Association of Lecturers in EAP (hence the continuity from the acronym to the name BALEAP), some of their event and research outputs can be found on their website but others can only be accessed via the subscription-only Journal of English for Academic Purposes (JEAP). And, you can probably guess where I’m going here with concerns around openness or lack thereof with respects to being the global EAP practitioner forum…
Nonetheless, an invaluable EAP resource that BALEAP have put out onto the wild web is the EAP teacher competency framework. An EAP practitioner portfolio mentoring programme is currently in the pilot stages and there is talk of matching EAP teaching competencies in BALEAP with the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) at the HEA, but once again for those non-UK and freelance EAP practitioners who do not work for UK higher education institutions that subscribe to the HEA such an alignment of frameworks may not be suitable or relevant. That said, the essence of the UKPSF is useful and perhaps with the current OER International programme at the HEA we can see ownership of the UKPSF go international? HEA accreditation as a UK body will remain a reality, however, so it will be interesting to see what the HEAL working party at BALEAP who are collaborating with the HEA will come up with in response to shaping the identity of BALEAP who aspire to be known as the global forum for EAP practitioners.
Having recently formed a Web Resources Sub Committee (WRSC) with other technologically and OER oriented EAPers at BALEAP we may yet see things open up. Below is the presentation Ylva Berglund Prytz and myself (both on the WRSC at BALEAP) gave on Openness in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) at the PIM in Sheffield in November, 2011.
Elsevier are the publishers of JEAP and from experience open access in academic publishing has come about through the pressure tactics of certain academic communities of practice lobbying for green and gold standard open access publications in their representative fields. Open Access week – set the default to open is coming up again on October 22nd.
Moving to open access research publications all depends on the culture of the academic research community. It will take those EAP practitioners and researchers working in privileged and well-resourced institutions that can easily afford institutional subscriptions to memberships like BALEAP to seriously consider open access and the potential for global reach of research into EAP. It will also take those EAP practitioners who are working off their institutional radars, so to speak, and who are experimenting with Web 2.0 technologies to get their message and expertise out there for global interaction around issues in EAP practice and research. Something I picked up from Steve Kirk’s Scoop.it! account is a recent book setting an open trend in EAP publishing, Writing Programs Worldwide: Profiles of Academic Writing in Many Places which is published in a free digital online format as well as a pay-for print version. This echoes what publishers are doing with big names in more open fields such as the Bloomsbury Academic publication of The Digital Scholar by Martin Weller. Exciting times and opportunities lie ahead for EAP publishing.
English for Specific Academic Purposes with data driven learning resources
It seems to be no great coincidence that Tim Johns who coined the term Data Driven Learning (DDL) in 1994 had also come up with the term English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in 1974 (Hyland, 2006). According to Chris Tribble’s preliminary results from his latest survey in-take on DDL (announced at the TaLC closing keynote address), EAP practitioners still make up a high percentage of those who took the survey, indicating greater uptake of corpus-based resources and practices in EAP than those in EFL / ESL, for example.
Open corpus-based tools and resources have the potential to equip and enable EAP practitioners to develop relevant ESAP materials. Awareness of and training in these open corpus-based resources will need to be shared across the EAP community, however, to ensure that we are crowd-sourcing our expertise and our resources in this area. If you click on the image below this will take you to a talk I gave at the Open University in the UK on addressing academic literacies with corpus-based OER. This was inspired by the Tribble DDL survey and the lead up to the TaLC10 conference. It was an added bonus to have one of the BAWE corpus developer team members in the audience that day and to receive positive feedback on how FLAX have opened up the BAWE in collaboration with TOETOE and the Learning Technologies Group Oxford.
Over the course of this academic year FLAX and TOETOE will continue to build onto work around opening up research corpora like the BAWE and the BNC managed by the Oxford Text Archive for developing resources for ESAP. We will also be engaging with various stakeholder groups through f2f workshops, online surveys and interviews for open corpus-based resources evaluation which I will be sharing insights from on this blog.
One final word on OER and where corpus-based resources might play a significant role in making higher education more accessible to the estimated 100 million learners worldwide who currently qualify to study at university level but do not have the means to do so (UNESCO, 2008). Because English is the educational lingua franca, open educationalists are going to source support resources for academic English from the approaches and materials that are currently popular and openly available to re-use under creative commons licences. This throws up interesting issues around specificity in EAP for supporting learners with discipline-specific English.
A parallel universe in EAP materials development
It would be an understatement to say that the academic publishing world is undergoing a radical transformation with the arrival of digital and open publishing formats which are democratising publishing as we know it. Niko Pfund, President of Oxford University Press (USA), discusses the ways in which technology affects reading, scholarship, publishing and even thinking in a presentation he gave at Oxford recently which you can access by clicking on the cartoon image above.
I learned a lot from this podcast, including OUP’s commitment since 2003 to publishing all research monographs in both digital and print formats. I also learned of their admiration for what Wikipedians have done for opening up knowledge and publishing through human crowd-sourcing that utilises open technologies and platforms. A parallel drawn here to something that was brought up repeatedly at the EduWiki conference is how academic publishing houses like OUP are well placed to open up the disciplines in the same way as Wikipedia by bringing the voices of the academy into the public sphere through more accessible means of communication than research, and by effectively linking this research to current world events to gain wider relevance and readership.
Pfund refers to messy experimental times in academic publishing with lots of new business models currently being explored for spear-heading changes in publishing. OUP heavily subsidise and give away a lot of published resources including ELT textbooks to the developing world, but not yet under open licences (someone please correct me if I’m wrong here) for those practitioners working in under-resourced communities so that they can re-mix and re-distribute these same resources.
OUCS and OUP are literally down the road from one another, a parallel universe as it were. The former is research, learning and teaching focused with a strong commitment to public scholarship, and the later is focused on exploring new practices and business models for delivering the best in academic publishing. Arguably, there is a lot of overlap that can be tapped into here for the collaborative development of open corpus-based resources and practices for the global ELT market.
In-house EAP materials development
EAP teachers have been developing in-house EAP materials in response to the generic EAP teaching resources available on the mainstream market as a means to meeting the real needs of their students going onto all number of degree programmes. However, as I mentioned in section 2 of this blog post, many of these in-house EAP materials make use of third party copyrighted texts and therefore cannot be shared beyond the secret garden of the classroom or the institutional password-protected VLE. An enormous opportunity presents itself here to EAP practitioners and corpus linguists alike to push out resources in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP) using open Data-Driven Learning (DDL) methods, texts, tools and platforms for sharing OER for ESAP. A significant cultural shift in practice will be required, however, to realise this vision for developing flexible and open ESAP resources that can be adapted for use in multiple educational contexts both off- and on-line. Once again, in subsequent blog posts, I will be presenting open educational practices and open research methods to open up discussion for ways forward with this particular global EAP vision.
Alexander, O., Bell, D., Cardew, S., King, J., Pallant, A., Scott, M., Thomas, D., & Ward Goodbody, M. (2008) Competency framework for teachers of English for Academic Purposes, BALEAP.
Hyland, K. (2006). English for Academic Purposes: An Advanced Handbook. London: Routledge.
Johns, T. (1994). From Printout to Handout: Grammar and Vocabulary Teaching in the Context of Data-driven Learning. In Odlin, T. (ed.), Perspectives on Pedagogical Grammar: 27-45. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
I confess that I spend most of my time listening to BBC Radio 3. The parallel that I will draw here is that I was never formally educated in classical music in the same way as I have never worked toward formal qualifications in corpus linguistics during any of my studies. Because I am working broadly across the areas of language resources development and enhancing teaching and learning practices through technology it was only a matter of time, however, before I started exploring and toying with corpus-based resources. I met Dr. Shaoqun Wu of the FLAX project while at a conference in Villach, Austria in 2006 and by 2007 I had begun to delve into the world of open-source digital library collections development with the University of Waikato’s Greenstone software, developed and distributed in cooperation with UNESCO, for realising the much broader vision of reaching under-resourced communities around the world with these open technologies and collections.
Bridging Teaching and Language Corpora (TaLC)
Let’s fast forward to the 2012 Teaching and Language Corpora Conference in Warsaw, Poland. Although I have participated in corpus linguistics conferences before, this was my first time to attend the biennial TaLC conference. TaLCers are very much researchers working in the area of corpus linguistics and DDL and this conference was themed around bridging the gap between DDL research and uses for corpus-based resources and practices in language teaching and learning.
One of the keynote addresses from James Thomas, Let’s Marry, called for greater connectedness in pursuing relationships between those working in DDL research and those working in pedagogy and language acquisition. At one point he asked the audience to make a show of hands for those who knew of big names in the ELT world, including Scrivener, Harmer and Thornbury. Only a few raised their hands. He also made the point that these same ELT names don’t make their way into citations for research on DDL. Interestingly, I was tweeting points made in the sessions I attended to relevant EAP and ELT / EFL / ESL communities online without a TaLC conference hashtag. It would’ve been great to have the other TaLCers tweeting along with me, raising questions and noting key take-away points from the conference to engage interested parties who could not make the conference in person and to catalogue a twitterfeed for TaLC that could be searched by anyone via the Internet at a later point in time. It would’ve also been great to record keynote and presentation speakers as webcasts for later viewing. When approached about these issues later, however, the conference organisers did express interest in ways of amplifying their events by building such mechanisms for openness into their next conference.
Prising open corpus linguistics research in Data Driven Learning (DDL)
Problems with accessing and successfully implementing corpus-based resources into language teaching and learning scenarios have been numerous. As I discussed in section 2 of this blog, many of the concordancing tools referred to in the research have been subscription-based proprietary resources (for example, the Wordsmith Tools), most of which have been designed for at least the intermediate-level concordance user in mind. These tools can easily overwhelm language teaching practitioners and their students with the complex processing of raw corpus data that are presented via complex interfaces with too many options for refinement. Mike Scott, the main developer of the Wordsmith Tools has also released a free version of his concordancing suite with less functionality and this would suffice for many language teaching and learning purposes. He attended my presentation on opening up research corpora with open-source text analysis tools and OER and was very open-minded as were the other TaLCers whom I met at the conference regarding new and open approaches for engaging teachers and learners with corpus-based resources.
There are many freely available annotated bibliographies compiled by corpus linguists which you can access on the web for guidance on published research into corpus linguistics. Many researchers working in this area are also putting pre-print versions of their research publications on the web for greater access and dissemination of their work, see Alex Boulton’s online presence for an example of this. Also hinted at earlier in part 2 of this blog are the closed formats many of this published research takes, however, in the form of articles, chapters and the few teaching resources available that are often restricted to and embedded within subscription-only journals or pricey academic monographs. For example, Berglund-Prytz’s ‘Text Analysis by Computer: Using Free Online Resources to Explore Academic Writing’ in 2009 is a great written resource for where to get started with OER for EAP but ironically the journal it is published in, Writing and Pedagogy, is not free. Lancaster University is home to the openly available BNCweb concordancing software which you only need register for to be able to install a free standard copy on your personal computer. A valuable companion resource on BNCweb was published by Peter Lang in 2008 but once again this is not openly accessible to interested readers who cannot afford to buy the book. The great news is that the main TaLC10 organiser, Agnieszka Lenko, has spearheaded openness with this most recent event by trying to secure an Open Access publication for the TaLC10 proceedings papers with Versita publishers in London.
DIY corpora with AntConc in English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP)
At TaLC10 I discovered a lot of overlap with Maggie Charles’ work on building DIY corpora with EAP postgraduate students using the AntConc freeware by Laurence Anthony. We had also included workshops on AntConc for students in our OER for EAP cascade at Durham so it was great to see another EAP practitioner working in this way who had gathered data from her on-going work in this area for presentation and discussion at the conference. Many of her students at the University of Oxford Language Centre are working toward dissertation or thesis writing which raises interesting questions around enabling EAP students to become proficient in developing self-study resources for English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP). Her recent paper in the English for Specific Purposes Journal (2012) points to AntConc’s flexibility for student use due to it being freeware that can be installed on any personal computer or flash-drive key for portable use. Laurence Anthony’s website also offers a lot of great video training resources for how to use AntConc. The potential that AntConc offers for building select corpora to those students currently pursuing inter-disciplinary studies in higher education is also noted by Charles. Having said this, drawbacks with certain more obscure subject disciplines, for example Egyptology (Ibid.), that had not yet embraced digital research cultures and were still publishing research in predominantly print-based volumes or image-based .pdf files made the development of DIY corpora still beyond the reach of those few students.
Beyond books and podcasts through linking and crowd-sourcing
While presenting on the power of linked resources within the FLAX collections and pushing these outward to wider stakeholder communities through TOETOE, I came across another rapid innovation JISC-funded OER project at the Beyond Books conference at Oxford. The Spindle project, also based at the Learning Technologies Group Oxford, has been exploring linguistic uses for Oxford’s OpenSpires podcasts with work based on open-source automatic transcription tools. Automatic transcription is often accompanied with a high rate of inaccuracy. Spindle has been looking at ways for developing crowd-sourcing web interfaces that would enable English language learners to listen to the podcasts and correct the automatic transcription errors as part of a language learning crowd-sourcing task.
Automatic keyword generation was also carried out in the SPINDLE project on OpenSpires project podcasts, yielding far more accurate results. These keyword lists which can be assigned as metadata tags in digital repositories and channels like iTunesU offer further resource enhancement for making the podcasts more discoverable. Automatically generated keyword lists such as these can also be used for pedagogical purposes with the pre-teaching of vocabulary, for example. The TED500 corpus by Guy Aston which I also came across at TaLC10 is based on the TED talks (ideas worth spreading) which have also been released under creative commons licences and transcribed through crowd-sourcing.
The potential for open linguistic content to be reused, re-purposed and redistributed by third parties globally, provided that they are used in non-commercial ways and are attributed to their creators, offers new and exciting opportunities for corpus developers as well as educational practitioners interested in OER for language learning and teaching.
Anthony, L. (n.d.). Laurence Anthony’s Website: AntConc.
Berglund-Prytz, Y (2009). Text Analysis by Computer: Using Free Online Resources to Explore Academic Writing.Writing and Pedagogy 1(2): 279–302.
British National Corpus, version 3 (BNC XML Edition). 2007. Distributed by Oxford University Computing Services on behalf of the BNC Consortium.
Charles, M. (2012). ‘Proper vocabulary and juicy collocations’: EAP students evaluate do-it-yourself corpus-building. English for Specific Purposes, 31: 93-102.
Lexical Analysis Software & Oxford University Press (1996-2012). Wordsmith Tools.
Hoffmann, S., Evert, S., Smith, N., Lee, D. & Berglund Prytz, Y. (2008). Corpus Linguistics with BNCweb – a Practical Guide. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
Previously, I left off with reflections from the 2012 IATEFL conference and exhibition in Glasgow. Wandering through the exhibition hall crammed with vendor-driven English language resources for sale from the usual suspects (big brand publishers), the analogy of the greatest hits came to mind with respects to EFL / ESL and EAP materials development and publishing. But at this same IATEFL event there was also a lot of co-channel interference feeding in from the world of self-publishing, reflecting how open digital scholarship has become mainstream practice in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), also known as Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) in North America. The launch of the round initiative at IATEFL, bridging the gap between ELT blogging and book-making, where the emphasis is on teachers as publishers is but one example.
Crosstalk in ELT materials development and publishing
Let’s take a closer look at the crosstalk happening within the world of ELT materials development and publishing, where messages are being transmitted simultaneously from radio 1 and radio 2 type stations. Across the wider ELT world, TEFL / TESL has embraced Web 2.0 far more readily than EAP (but there are interesting signs of open online life emerging from some EAP practitioners, which I will highlight in the last section of this blog).
Within TEFL, we can observe more in the way of collaboration between open and proprietary publishing practices. English360, also present at IATEFL 2012, combines proprietary content from Cambridge University Press with teachers’ lesson plans, along with tools for creating custom-made pay-for online English language courses. Across the ELT resources landscape open resources and practices proliferate, including: free ELT magazines and journals; blogs and commentary-led discussions; micro-blogging via twitter feeds and tweetchat sessions; instructional and training videos via YouTube and iTunesU (both proprietary channels that hold a lot of OER), and; online communities with lesson plan resource banks. These and many more open educational practices (OEP) are the norm in TEFL / TESL. And, let’s not forget Russell Stannard’s Teacher Training Videos website of free resources for navigating web-based language tools and projects drawing on his service as the Web Watcher at English Teaching Professional for well over a decade now.
The broken record in ELT publishing
Yet, both the TEFL / TESL and EAP markets are still well and truly saturated with the glossy print-based textbook format, stretching to the CD-ROM and mostly password-protected online resource formats. The greatest hits get played over and over again and the needle continues to get stuck in many places.
Exactly why does the closed textbook format concern me so much? It’s an issue of granularity or size really which leads to further issues with flexibility, specificity and currency. As we all know, there are only so many target language samples and task types that you can pack into a print-based textbook. Beyond the trendy conversation-based topics, what are sometimes useful and transferable are the approaches that make up the pedagogy contained therein. Unlocking these approaches and linking to wider and more relevant and authentic language resources is key. We can see this approach to linked resources development taken by the web-based FLAX and WordandPhrase corpus-based projects. Publishers are aware of the limitations of the textbook format but they’re also trying to reach a large consumer base to boost their sales so it remains in their best interests to keep resources generic. Think of all the academic English writing books out there, many of which claim to be based on the current research for meeting your teaching and learning needs for academic English writing across the disciplines, but turn out to be more of the same topic-based how-to skills books working within the same essayist writing tradition.
The open textbook movement brings a new type of textbook to the world of education. One that can be produced at a fraction of the cost and one that can be tailored, linked to external resources, changed and updated whenever the pedagogical needs arise.
The argument in favour of textbooks in ELT has always been one for providing structure to the teaching and learning sequence of a particular syllabus or course. Locked-down proprietary textbook, CD-ROM and online resource formats are not only expensive but they are inflexible. And, these force teachers into problematic practices. Despite trying to point out the perils of plagiarism to our students, as language teachers we are supplementing textbooks with texts, images and audio-visual material from wherever we can beg, borrow and steal them. Of course we do this for principled pedagogical reasons and if we don’t plan on sharing these teaching materials beyond classroom and password-protected VLE walls we’re probably OK, right?
I’ve seen many a lesson handout or in-house course pack for language teaching that includes many third party texts and images which are duly referenced. Whether the teacher/materials developer puts the small ‘c’ in the circle or not, marking this handout or course pack as copyrighted, the default license is one of copyright to the institution where that practitioner works. And, this is where the problem lies. The handout or course pack is potentially in breach of the copyright of any third party materials used therein, unless the teacher/materials developer has gained clearance from the copyright holders or unless those third party materials are openly licensed as OER for re-mixing. Good practice with materials development and licensing will ensure that valuable resources created by teachers can be legitimately shared across learning and teaching communities. You can do this through open publishing technologies and/or in collaboration with publishers.
A deficit in corpus-based resources training
Good corpus-derived textbooks from leading publishing houses do exist. Finally, the teaching of spoken grammar gets the nod with The Handbook of Spoken Grammar textbook by Delta Publishing. But, and this is a big but, do these textbooks go far enough to address the current deficit in teacher and learner training with corpus-based tools and resources? I expect the publishers would direct this question to the academic monographs, of which there are a fair few, on Data Driven Learning (DDL) and corpus linguistics. I have some on my bookshelf and there are many more in the library where I am a student/fellow, all cross-referenced to academic journal articles from research into corpus linguistics and DDL which I will be talking about more in the third section of this blog. But exactly how accessible are these resources – in terms of their cost, the academic language they are packaged in, the closed proprietary formats they are published in, and in relation to much of the subscription-only corpora and concordancing software their research is based on? It’s no wonder that training in corpus tools and resources is not part of mainstream English language teacher training. Of course, there are open exceptions that provide new models in corpus-based resources development and publishing practices and this is very much what the TOETOE project is trying to share with language education communities.
Corpus linguists are well aware that corpus-based resources and tools in language teaching and materials development haven’t taken off as a popular sport in mainstream language teaching and teacher training. This does run counter to the findings from the research, however, where the argument is that DDL has reached a level of maturity (Nesi & Gardner, 2011; Reppen, 2010; O’Keefe et.al., 2007; Biber, 2006). Similarly, many of the findings from leading researchers (too many to cite!) in language and teaching corpora have been baffled by the chasm between the research into DDL and the majority of mainstream ELT materials that appear on the market that continue to ignore the evidence about actual language usage from corpus-based research studies. Once again, this comes back to the issue of specific versus generic language materials and the issues raised around limitations with developing restricted resource formats.
Gangnam style corpus-based resources development
So what’s it going to take for corpus-based resources to take off Gangnam style in mainstream language teaching and teacher training? And, how are we going to make these resources cooler and more accessible so as to stop language teaching practitioners from giving them a bad rap? More and more corpus-based tools and resources are being built with or re-purposed with open source technologies and platforms. We are now presented with more and more web-based channels for the dissemination of educational resources, offering the potential for massification and exciting new possibilities for achieving what has always eluded the language education and language corpora research community, namely the wide-scale adoption of corpus-based resources in language education.
I’ve actually been asked to take the word ‘corpus’ out of a workshop title by a conference organiser so as to attract more participants. If you’re interested in expressing your own experiences with using corpora in language teaching and would like to make suggestions for where you think data-driven learning should be heading you can complete Chris Tribble’s on-going online survey on DDL here.
Radio, what’s new? Someone still loves you (corpus-based resources)…
Publishers constantly need ideas for and examples of good educational resources. No great surprises there. I would like to propose that OER and OEP are a great way to get noticed by publishers to start working with them. Sitting on the steering committee meeting with the JISC-funded PublishOER project members at Newcastle University in the UK in early September, we also had representatives from Elsevier, RightsCom, the Royal Veterinary College (check out their exciting WikiVet OER project) and JISC Collections at the table. Elsevier who have borne the brunt of a lot of the lash back in academic publishing from the Open Access movement are trying to open up to the fast changing landscape of open practices in publishing. PublishOER are creating new mechanisms, a permissions request system, for allowing teachers and academics to use copyrighted resources in OER. These OER will include links and recommendations leading back to the publishers’ copyrighted resources as a mechanism for promoting them. Publishers are also interested in using OER developed by teachers and academics that are well designed and well received by students. Re-mixable OER offer great business opportunities for publishers as well as great dissemination opportunities for DDL researchers and practitioners, enabling effective corpus-based ELT resources to reach broader audiences.
Sustainability is an important issue with any project, resource, event or community. How many times have we seen school textbook sets stay unused on shelves, or heard of government-funded project resources that go unused perhaps due to a lack of discoverability? To build new and useful resources online does not necessarily mean that teachers and learners will come in droves to find and use these resources even if they are for free. David Duebelbeiss of EFL Classroom 2.0 is currently exploring new business models for sharing and selling ELT resources. One example is the sale of lesson plans in a can which were once free and now sell for $19.95, a “once and forever payment”. Some teachers can even make it rich as is reported in this businessweek article about a kindergarten teacher who sold her popular lesson plans through the TeachersPayTeachers initiative.
Transaction costs in materials development don’t only include the cost of the tools and resources that enable materials development, they also include the cost in terms of time spent on developing resources and marketing them. Open education also points to the unnecessary cost in duplicating the same educational resources over and over again because they haven’t been designed and licensed openly for sharing and re-mixing. Putting your resources in the right places, in more than one, and working with those that understand new markets, new technologies and new business models, including open education practitioners and publishers, are all ways forward to ensure a return on investment with materials development.
Hopefully, by providing new frequencies for practitioners to tune into for how to create resources from both open and proprietary resources a new mixed economy (as the PublishOER crowd like to refer to it) will be realised.
A matter of scale in open and distance education
Let’s not forget those working in ELT around the world, many of whom are volunteers, who along with their students simply cannot afford the cost of proprietary and subscription-only educational resources, let alone the investment and infrastructure for physical classrooms and schools. Issues around technology and ELT resources and practices in developing countries did surface at IATEFL 2012 but awareness around the more pressing issues may not be finding ways to effectively filter their way through to well-resourced ELT practitioners and the institutions that employ them. ELT is still fixated on classroom-based teaching resources and practices.
The Hornby Educational Trust in collaboration with the British Council which is a registered charity have been offering scholarships to English language teachers working in under-resourced communities since 1970. I attended a session given by the Hornby scholars at IATEFL 2012 and although I was impressed by the enthusiasm and range of expertise of those who had been selected for scholarships, reporting on ELT interventions they had devised in their local contexts, I couldn’t help but wonder about the scale of the challenges we currently face in education globally. How are we going to provide education opportunities for the additional 100 million learners currently seeking access to the formal post-secondary sector (UNESCO, 2008)? In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of all children will not have the privilege of a senior high school education (Ibid). What open and distance education teaches us is that there are just not enough teachers/educators out there. Nor will the conventional industrial model of educational delivery be able to meet this demand.
As DDL researchers and resource developers who are looking for ways to make our research and practice more widely adopted in language teaching and learning globally, wouldn’t we also want to be thinking about where the real educational needs are and how we might be reaching under-resourced communities with open corpus-based educational resources for uses in EFL / ESL and EAP among other target languages? First of all, we would need to devote more attention to unpacking corpus-based resources so that they are more accessible to the non-expert user, and we would need to find more ways of making these resources more discoverable.
In interviews released as OER on YouTube by DigitaLang with leading TEFLers at IATEFL 2012, I was able to catch up on opinions around the use of technology in ELT. Nik Peachey corrected the often widely held misconception about the digital divide for uses of technology in developing countries, pointing to the adoption of mobile and distance education rather than the importation of costly print-based published materials with first-world content and concerns that are often inappropriate for developing world contexts. You can view his interview here:
Thinking beyond classroom-based practice
Scott Thornbury, writer of the A-Z of ELT blog – another influential and popular discussion site for the classic hits in ELT for those who are both new and old to the field – also praised the Hornby scholars and gave his views on technology in ELT in a further IATEFL 2012 DigitaLang interview. He talks about the ‘human factor’ as something that occurs in classroom-based language teaching. In order to nurture this human factor, he recommends that technology be kept for uses outside the classroom or at best for uses in online teacher education. Open and distance education practitioners and researchers would also agree that well-resourced face-2-face instruction yields high educational returns as in the case of the Hornby scholarships, but they would also argue that this is not a scalable business model for meeting the needs of the many who still lack access to formal post-secondary education. What is more, the human factor as evidenced in online collaborative learning is well documented in the research from open and distance education as it is from traditional technology-enhanced classroom-based teaching.
“Access to reliable and affordable internet connectivity poses unique challenges in the developing world. That said, I believe it possible to design open courses which use a mix of conventional print-based materials for “high-bandwidth” data and mobile telephony for “low-bandwidth” peer-to-peer interactions. So for example, the OERu delivery model will be able to produce print-based study materials and it would be possible to automatically generate CD-ROM images of the rich media (videos / audio) contained in the course for offline viewing. We already have the capability to generate collections of OERu course materials authored in WikiEducator to produce print-based equivalents which could be reproduced and distributed locally. The printed document provides footnotes for all the web-links in the materials which OERu learners could investigate when visiting an Internet access point. OERu courses integrate microblogging for peer-to-peer interactions and we produce a timeline of all contributions via discussion forums, blogs etc. The bandwidth requirements for these kind of interactions are relatively low which address to some extent the cost of connectivity.”
Biber, D., (2006). University language: a corpus-based study of spoken and written registers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Nesi, H, Gardner, S., Thompson, P. & Wickens, P. (2007). The British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus, developed at the Universities of Warwick, Reading and Oxford Brookes under the directorship of Hilary Nesi and Sheena Gardner (formerly of the Centre for Applied Linguistics [previously called CELTE], Warwick), Paul Thompson (Department of Applied Linguistics, Reading) and Paul Wickens (Westminster Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes), with funding from the ESRC (RES-000-23-0800)
Nesi, H. and Gardner, S. (2012). Genres across the Disciplines: Student writing in higher education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
O’Keeffe, A., McCarthy, M., & Carter R. (2007). From Corpus to Classroom: language use and language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Reppen, R. (2010). Using Corpora in the Language Classroom . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.