OpenSpires OER project at the University of Oxford

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

Do-It-Yourself Corpora

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



English, the Dalit Goddess by Shant Kala Niketan

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

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


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

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

E-learning emancipatory English

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delhi University OER par excellence

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raheem, M. (2011). India’s outcasts put faith in English. Guardian Weekly online newspaper. Retrieved from

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

Singh, M. (2005). Address by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in acceptance of Honorary Degree from Oxford University. Retrieved from

Radio Ga Ga by Queen via Deviant Art
Radio Ga Ga by Queen via Deviant Art

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

Radio 3

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.

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

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

Radio 2

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

Crosstalk in ELT materials development and publishing

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

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

The broken record in ELT publishing

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

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

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

Open textbooks

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

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

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

A deficit in corpus-based resources training

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

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

Gangnam style corpus-based resources development

Gangnam Style by PSY 싸이 강남스타일 via Flickr

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

A matter of scale in open and distance education

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

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

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

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

Thinking beyond classroom-based practice

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Radio 1

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

Flipped conferencing

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

Focusing on linked resources: which academic vocabulary list?

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

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

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

Open eBooks for language learning and teaching

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

MOOC on Open Translation tools and practices

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

Bringing open corpus-based projects to the Open Education community

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

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

A world declaration for OER

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

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

Wikimedia – why not?

Wikimedia Foundation
Wikimedia Foundation

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

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

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

The open approach to corpus resources development

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


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


Radio Ga Ga album cover by Queen via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

Which station(s) are you listening to?

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

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

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

Radio 3 – research from teaching and language corpora

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

“I mean somebody with the wit and the guts to go and do and create. And, that I believe is what education is all about” – Gordon Pask, 1974

This post is dedicated to the memory of Gary Boyd who taught me about and inspired me with systems thinking and cybernetics for educational practice. He and Gordon Pask, the guy in the Youtube clip above who on another clip someone commented that he’d make a great Dr. Who character, began the Educational Technology programme at Concordia University in Montreal, the oldest EdTech programme in North America where I am now a student.

IATEFL Conference 2012, Glasgow

This week I’ve been to some very encouraging talks and presentations at this year’s IATEFL conference in Glasgow. A key theme that I’ve found running through all of the sessions I’ve attended thus far is that of experimentation; in learning design, in research, in educational leadership, and but not at all least, in teaching.

Adrian Underhill kicked things off with his opening keynote, Mess and Progress, based on systems thinking for leadership, emphasizing the need for post-heroic leadership and flat hierarchies in the many educational contexts around the world. This notion of experimental leadership at the policy, institutional and individual level was effectively carried forward in the following presentation on Tuesday, ELT in Action, by the international A.S.Hornby Educational Trust Scholars, including speakers from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Sri Lanka, India, Venezuela, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Yemen. [Find out more about the Hornby scholars in an interview with three participating scholars at this IATEFL conference].

Systems thinking is very closely connected to cybernetics and Gordon Pask in the televised broadcast above was a leading cyberneticist and educational technologist experimenting with processes in education, arriving at his famous conversation theory which the second IATEFL keynote speaker, Diana Laurillard, draws upon in her renowned book, Rethinking University Teaching – A Conversational Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies.

Laurillard’s new book, Teaching as a Design Science – Building Pedagogical Patterns for Learning and Technology sold out at the conference. The book along with the tool she introduced in her talk, the Learning Design Support Environment (LDSE), which you can download for free from the LDSE project website, encourages sharing and collaboration between educators to lead, experiment and innovate with learning technologies and to build collective knowledge in this important area. In order to succeed, this collaborative effort will require openness. On Diana Laurillard’s slides she mentions OER – Open Educational Resources – in several places, but perhaps she needed to gloss OER and open practice more overtly to the 2000+ audience at the IATEFL conference because only one person who came to my session on open corpora and OER for ELT had ever heard of the term before. This is despite the popularity of Russell Stannard’s work with free Teacher Training Videos (TTV) which are OER for teacher and learner training with technology in ELT.


Flat Hierarchy

Flat hierarchy is the model followed by and experimented with by open education practitioners who choose to embody openness in their everyday practices for reducing barriers to and increasing access to education for all. Openness promotes “communal management by distributed stakeholders (users/producers/contributors) rather than a centralized authority (owners, experts, boards of directors, etc.)” (definition via Wikipedia on Openness). The term OER was coined ten years ago by UNESCO and this year OER stakeholders will convene virtually and in person in June 2012 to establish further international goals for the open education movement. Watch this space.

Returning to Adrian Underhill’s Mess and Progress, he ended his talk on a high note by performing his song, The Reflective Practice Blues, singing the need “…to reflect and not to neglect to try out something different everyday…” Basically, we can’t afford to continue to work in silos as it’s far too costly, both in the sense of wasting resources through the duplication of effort in creating similar copyrighted resources, and also in the sense of wasting potential opportunities for what could be if we would only open up to sharing what we do and the outputs of what we create so we can experiment with and improve upon these things. Underhill captured this ethos in his keynote with the following awareness-raising activity:

“Talk to the people sitting next to you to identify if you work somewhere where…

  1. it’s easy to get people to listen to an experiment with new ideas and suggestions

  2. when one person learns something new, everyone hears about it

  3. making mistakes is part of learning, you can be open about it and it’s not career limiting

  4. staff members of all ranks give each other plenty of quality feedback from above, below, and sideways

  5. everyone is involved in discussing school policies before adoption

  6. one department knows what people in another department are thinking and they help each other” (Underhill, A. Opening keynote address, IATEFL Conference 2012, Glasgow)

Is this reminiscent of your workplace and who you are in your working practice? Would you consider yourself to be an Open Educational Resource? If not yet or not completely, how can you become an experimenter in your practice to help open things up for yourself and others?

Princess Mary, Girl Guides, 1922 via Wikimedia Commons

Hey, I’m not even British but as part of Open Education Week – March 5-11 – I’ve just signed a pledge with the new UK-based Open Education SIG, an international special interest group with a UK flavour (not flavor:).

I attended a meeting held at the Open University in the UK at the end of February to discuss the future of open education in the UK. I am a teaching fellow with the Support Centre for Open Resources in Education (SCORE), one of about 400 people working in UK higher education who have been involved in government-funded open educational resources (OER) projects over the last three years. When we all made our applications for funding to the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in the UK we also made the usual commitment in our proposals to sustaining our OER projects after their funded lifetimes. So, what better way to reinforce this commitment than by signing a renewed pledge to Open Education? While the Cape Town Open Education Declaration has been picked up by many organisations around the world we thought it would be a good idea to re-mix this declaration to make it more personalised for the educational practitioner.

What does this all mean for English language teaching practitioners?

Frontrunners for technology-enhanced ELT, Russell Stannard and David Deubelbeiss, have also been pushing for more open educational resources and practices within ELT.

Recently, I posted a comment on Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT blog regarding the issues of attribution, re-use and the making of derivative resources for teaching English based on original resources created by another author:

One of the things that interests me most about this post and the comments related to it is the issue of attribution to the original work on automaticity by Gatbonton and Segalowitz. Attribution is essential whether you’re sharing resources in closed teaching and learning environments (e.g. classrooms, password-protected virtual learning environments, workshop and continuing professional development spaces) or through publishing channels using copyright or copyleft licences (e.g. books, research articles, blogs, online forum discussions). There is obviously a great amount of sharing and attribution going on in this discussion and the blogging platform is an enabler for this activity.

What also interests me is the behaviour around resource enhancement. As Scott outlines in the example here, an original resource from a research article by Gatbonton and Segalowitz was re-formatted into a workshop by Stephen Gaies (presumably with attribution to Gatbonton and Segalowitz). This in turn inspired Scott to engage in further resource gathering to inform his teaching practice while applying the five criteria for automaticity, and this further informed the section on fluency in his book, How to Teach Grammar (presumably with attribution to Gaies but now he realises he should’ve included attribution to Gatbonton and Segalowitz). In its latest iteration we find the same criteria for automaticity here in his blog post containing more ideas on how to apply this approach in language learning and teaching from both Scott and his blogpost readers. This is a great example of resource enhancement via re-use and re-mixing, something which the creative commons suite of licences allow materials developers and users to do while maintaining full legal attribution rights for the original developer as well as extended rights to the re-mixer of that resource to create new derivative resources.

Legally enabling others to openly re-mix your resources and publish new ones based on them was not possible back in 1988. Arguably, Gatbonton and Segalowitz’s paper with the original criteria on automaticity has stood the test of time because of its enhancement through sharing by Gaies and by the same criteria having been embedded in a further published iteration by Scott in How to Teach Grammar. Times have changed and there is a lot we can now do with digital capabilities for best practice in the use and re-use of resources with attribution still being at the core of the exchange between resource creation and consumption. Except that now with self-publishing and resource sharing platforms, including blogs, it’s a lot easier for all of us to be involved in the resource creation process and to receive attribution for our work in sharing. This coming week, March 5-10, is Open Education Week with many great resources on how to openly share your teaching and learning resources along with how to locate, re-use, re-mix and re-distribute with attribution those open educational resources created by others. Why not check it out and see how this activity can apply to ELT?

If you’re new to all of this and have any pesky questions about the business models behind open education, please check out Paul Stacey’s blog, Musings on the Edtech Frontier, with his most recent post on the Economics of Open. Information on what the different Creative Commons and Public Domain licences can be found at

Public Domain licence via Flickr
Creative Commons licence via Flickr
Attribution, Creative Commons licence
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So, why the interest in British resources for open English?

I’ve been coming in and out of the UK for the past 10 years with my work related to technology-enhanced ELT and EAP. Resources include not only those artifacts that we teach and learn with but also the vibrant communities that come together to share their understandings with peers through open channels of practice. BALEAP, formerly a British organisation (the British Association for Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes) but now with an outreach mandate to become the global forum for EAP practitioners, is such an informal community of practice. Members within BALEAP are actively making up for a deficit in formal EAP training by providing useful resources to both EAP teachers and learners via their website and through lively discussions relevant to current issues in EAP via their mailing list.

Because of my interest in corpus linguistics and data-driven language learning, I’ve also been working with exciting practitioners from the world of computer science, namely those working at the open source digital library software lab, Greenstone, at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, to help with the testing and promotion of their open English language project, FLAX (the Flexible Language Acquisition project). The FLAX team are building open corpora and open tools for text analysis using a combination of both open and proprietary content. A copyrighted reference corpus such as the British National Corpus (BNC) is enhanced within the FLAX project by being linked to different open reference corpora such as a Wikipedia and a Web-derived corpus (released by Google) as well as specialist corpora, including the copyrighted British Academic Written English (BAWE) corpus, developed by Nesi, Gardner, Thompson and Wickens between 2004-2007 and housed within the Oxford Text Archive (OTA).

Oxford University Computing Services (OUCS) manage the OTA along with jointly managing the BNC which is physically housed at the British Library. The OpenSpires project is also based at the OUCS and this is where Oxford podcasts have been made openly available through creative commons licences for use and re-use in learning and teaching beyond the brick-n-mortar that is Oxford’s UK campus. Try out the Credit Crunch and Global Recession OER that are based on an Oxford seminar series and have been enhanced with corpus-based text analysis resources. Or, make your own resources based on these same seminars to share with your own learning and teaching communities. In addition to being housed on the OUCS website these resources, along with many other creative commons-licensed resources from educational institutions around the world, can also be found on the Apple channel, iTunesU.

So, it seems there’s quite a bit going on with open English in the UK that’s worth engaging with, and maybe even making a commitment to sharing with open educational resources and practices.

A finale take-away

Check out FLAX’s new Learning Collocations collection where you can compare collocations for keyword searches and harvest useful phrases to embed into your writing, using the BAWE and the BNC along with corpora derived from Wikipedia and the Web. There are three training videos on how to use the Learning Collocations collection in FLAX available in the Training Videos section of this blog.