Flexible Open Language Education for a Multilingual World

author: Alannah Fitzgerald, Durham University
published: June 23, 2014,   recorded: April 2014,   views: 4447


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More so than ever we have increasing access to a range of authentic open content online (lectures and podcasts, e-books, e-textbooks, Open Access research publications, blogs, wikis etcetera) and free and open online tools for their linguistic analyses. Designing easy-to-use interfaces for the use of these linguistic tools is a key requirement for their uptake by non-expert users, namely: learners, teachers, subject academics, instructional designers and language resource developers. This research track paper at the OCWC Global Conference will present open language tools and collections that have been developed for supporting domain-specific academic language acquisition with the FLAX multilingual Open Source Software (OSS). OpenCourseWare (OCW), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OERs) are becoming popular educational vehicles through which well-resourced universities and organisations can reach out to non-traditional audiences, including those from other cultures and language groups. OCW and MOOC participants register for specific educational courses; they do not sign up as language learners. However, many online learners will encounter a language barrier during their study with many of the open educational offerings being delivered in the world’s presiding official languages or lingua francas of which English is the most dominant globally. Beyond the simple translation of lecture transcripts and course readings, both native-speakers and non-native speakers alike will be strongly motivated to improve their knowledge and usage of key academic terms and concepts as they are used in the language of instruction for a specific subject domain.

We contend that the language challenge that often accompanies learning an academic subject in another language also presents a compelling opportunity for domain-specific language learning that remixes available educational and research content. This content supplies a large corpus of interesting linguistic material relevant to a particular subject domain area, including text, supplementary images (slides), audio and video. We argue that this corpus can be automatically analysed, enriched, and transformed into a resource that learners can browse and query in order to extend their ability to understand the language used, and help them express themselves more fluently and eloquently in that domain. (It is also helpful for native speakers of the language of instruction.) To illustrate this idea, an existing online corpus-based language-learning tool (FLAX) is applied to two English-medium Coursera MOOCs, titled Virology 1: How Viruses Work and Virology 2: How Viruses Cause Disease, offered by Columbia University. A further investigation into an open methodology for developing linguistic support across both formal and informal education is also being trialed at Queen Mary University of London in collaboration with the OER Research Hub at the UK Open University. In this paper, we will also discuss how applying open corpus-based designs and technologies can enhance open educational practices among those working in both formal and informal education, for the preparation and delivery of English for Specific Academic Purposes (ESAP).

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