Suggestions / offer for help with opening up English-medium OERu prototype courses

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Edited by another user.
Last edit: 20:52, 21 March 2012

Hi All,

I've taken a look at the blueprints and further course outlines you've been putting together for the 8 OERu 2012 prototype courses and I would like to get involved by developing OER for helping students manage discipline-specific materials in English (text as well as audio-visual transcripts from e.g. lectures) that will be used in these different prototype courses.

It would seem that the College Composition prototype course has this area of English language and academic communicative competence covered if we look at the points under the 'intended target audience' section of the blueprint as follows:

  • This is an entry level course to get students familiar with the expectations and communicationstandards needed to succeed academically at college.
  • We accomodate a large percentage of non-native speakers in our programs at SNHU and this experience, built into this course, makes it viable for a multi-national audience within OERu

My feedback is that this is too generic an approach to take with the actual composition assessment types students will encounter in higher education. But having said this, I believe that what is blueprinted here is not atypical of the types of EAP programmes on offer around the world. I just think we can improve on things with EAP using the OERu model that would otherwise take a lot longer to push through more traditional educational channels such as many of the big publishing brands out there who are making a killing out of producing ELT and EAP resources, many of which I believe to be ineffectual.

My background is in English for academic purposes (EAP) and the development of corpus-based OER for assisting students with readings, assessment types and understanding the academic cultures found across the wide spectrum of academic subject domains in higher education. My experience tells me that if you prepare students for the academy with generic EAP resources e.g. Harvard or MLA documentation procedures and referencing output styles, or certain written discourse models taken predominantly from the social sciences (see the OWL resources at Purdue, for example, or most OER for EAP), then many of those students will have to unlearn what their EAP teachers and these typical EAP resources have taught them when they progress onto very different academic programmes of their choice, e.g. computer science, law, physics, to name just a few. Many students will also find generic EAP courses demotivating, seeing them as something they need to progress through in order to study what they're really interested in. My research into EAP resources in both OER and proprietary formats is that these resources are often too generic and too dumbed down. Yes, there are resources out there that claim to be EAP for Business etc but they do not resemble the actual work required of those students studying Business at university level, undergraduate or post-graduate. Put simply, students actually need help with the published texts that they will be required to digest as well as help with understanding and completing written assessment types as set out by specific academic discourse communities they are trying to engage with in their respective departments.

So, I'm about to give up my day job at Durham University because I feel so strongly that there is a deficit that needs to be addressed in formal EAP teacher training and also with published EAP resources. This is especially true with respects to the discovery of available resources for teaching and learning EAP for effectively engaging with discipline-specific language requirements. Needless to say, we live in exciting times, and because of my interest in corpus linguistics and data-driven language learning, I’ve also been working with open 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. I've been helping them with the testing and promotion of their open English language project, FLAX (the Flexible Language Acquisition project) and now I'd like to transfer some of this research into OER for ELT and EAP into the OERu prototype course development cycle.

The FLAX team are building open corpora and open tools for text analysis using a combination of both open and proprietary content. For example, 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. To give you a better idea you can try out some subject-specific word searches to see their collocations and phrases as well as related topic areas in FLAX with the Learning Collocations collection. I'm also building a further EAP corpus using Open Access publications that I would then like to build OER on top of for teaching and learning EAP. It would be great to include some of the Open Access reading texts you'll be selecting for your OERu prototype courses to include in this corpus so that these resources can be further manipulated and embedded into your courses for support with language learning. In other words, we have the content and the tools for helping students with specific academic language requirements that can be built into the OERu prototype courses to help make these courses more accessible to interested students whose first language is not English by way of providing English language support resources for the specific subject areas proposed (for most if not all 8 courses - we'll discuss more about what's feasible within the time frame). Even native speakers of English could benefit from knowing about features of different discourse types along with key phrases and their usage in required readings along with ideas and strategies for how to transfer this knowledge into their own writing development. FLAX have also developed a Moodle plug-in for managing language collections and developing automated language learning activities based on texts teachers have selected for their students to study. With the assistance of the FLAX team we can build this plug-in into the Wikieducator site.

Anyway, for starters, perhaps some of the language and academic communicative competency goals for OERu prototype courses should include:

- enabling students to understand discipline-specific academic English language requirements

- assisting students with the development of search strategies for text-mining required/suggested course readings and storing useful phrases from these published readings so that they can be transferred into writing assessments

- motivating students by allowing and encouraging them to write on a subject area of their choice in an appropriate discourse style to fulfill writing requirements that will assist them in their chosen subject areas

Anyway, enough said!

I look forward to your responses to this discussion thread and to moving forward with offering assistance with making these English-medium OERu courses more accessible to interested students from non-traditional backgrounds. 

All the best,


Alannah (talk)14:15, 16 March 2012

Hi Alannah,

This is very valuable feedback. Clearly you are an experienced practitioner in the field -- thank you very much for your contributions :-).

Without getting into the debates of skill transfer associated with integrating these kind of skills within courses or teaching them as standalone capacity development -- I think we have a unique advantage with the OER and OERu model in that we can combine and implement both approaches.

If we're smart in the way we design the OERs -- they can be reused in multiple contexts.

Putting pragmatism over zeal we've got to start start somewhere with the resources we have with the knowledge that being open they can be reused and tweaked for a wide range of purposes.

Look forward to your contributions in both College composition and the other support resources which may be required to achieve success for all our prospective learners

Mackiwg (talk)21:10, 21 March 2012

Hi Mackiwg (sorry if I've got your name wrong),

Great, let's pool resources and combine approaches! Sorry for the delay in responding - conference season is upon me.

I have read the pages on guidelines for the OERu prototype courses development. However, not being from one of the member OERu organisations I'm not entirely up to speed with your plans for working on the development of the prototype courses and how I can get directly involved in the design of this college composition course with ideas to feed into what might be useful to the other courses where the provision of language support OER would be valued.

Let's discuss a way forward for this work because I'm very interested in giving solid time to this and I'd like to add my researcher as well as my teacher and course designer lenses to this project if that's OK with you/the OERu? I'd also like to get a better sense of your ethos for what you believe is useful in this type of course i.e. your developing vision for learner outcomes etc. Basically, it would be good to get to know each other a bit more and understand what we can synthesise by way of OER 'choices' and open practices through this combined approach. I completely agree with you about widening the stakeholder vision to release resources that would be of value to many contexts of learning for a range of purposes.

Let me know how you'd like to talk and work through things in wikieducator and or any other open channel.

All the best,


Alannah (talk)10:51, 27 March 2012