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.

flaxHeader_leftlinkedup trophyThe 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.


images_entries_entry_image_file_-_entry_id-4433_-_20111221124909164.w_420.h_280.m_crop.a_center.v_topAt 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).

Wikipedia Mining Tool in FLAX Learning Collocations Collection – click on the image to expand and visit the collection

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)
4 MOOC Collections: English Common Law (University of London with Coursera), Age of Globalization (Texas at Austin with edX), Copyright Law (Harvard with edX), Environmental Politics and Law (OpenYale)
Podcast audio files and transcripts (OpenSpires)
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)
British Law Reports Corpus (BLaRC)
8.8 million-word corpus derived from free legal sources at the British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII) aggregation website
FLAX Wikipedia English
Linking in a reformatted version of Wikipedia (English version), providing key terms and concepts as a powerful gloss resource for the Law Collections.
FLAX Learning Collocations
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.
FLAX Web Phrases
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 AndroidAbout FLAX

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!

 collocsmatchingapp  collocmatchingapp

FLAX Research & Development

oerresearchhubTo date, we have distributed the English Common Law and the Age of Globalization MOOC collections in FLAX to thousands of registered learners in over a 100 countries – wow!

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.

Association for Distance Education in Brazil

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

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

Brazilian Association of Distance Education (ABED)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruna: The OCW, right?

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

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

Alannah: You must be very busy.

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

Renato: Tell us please about today.

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

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

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

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

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

Recursos Educacionais Abertos (REA)

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

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


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

Rossini, C., Gonsales, P. and Sebriam, D., 2013. São Paulo State Governor Vetoes Open Educational Resources Bill. American University Washington College of Law. Translated by Carolina Rossini. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2013). Social Services for Industry. Retrieved from