#CorpusMOOC – take two


S B F Ryan: #edcmooc Cuppa Mooc (CC BY 2.0)

I’m doing the Corpus Linguistics: Method, Analysis, Interpretation course on Futurelearn – it started on September 26 and runs until mid-November, so there’s still time to join. It’s my second time on the course; I first did it in 2014 and have been planning to retake it ever since. There are a couple of reasons: I started late the first time around and felt I was playing catch-up the whole time, and also, for someone who’s new to CL, there’s a lot to process if you’re going to do it properly. Readings, videos, software installation… they say 3 hours a week (if you don’t count the supplementary materials) and that sounds about right, but 3 hours a week is what I expect my undergrads to spend online for a 4 ECTS course (albeit over a 16-week period), so it’s not a completely insignificant time commitment either.

The good thing about doing the course again is that the content is making more sense and going through it is faster, which means I’ve been able to watch some of the supplementary stuff as well. Compared to the 2014 run, it does seem like there are fewer people enrolled, or at least fewer of those commenting in the forums. I seem to recall up to 200-300 comments on individual activities, whereas this time I think getting to 100 is good going. Which I guess makes sense – if this is the fourth time the course has run in as many years, I would imagine it’s likely the number of CL enthusiasts who haven’t done it yet is going to taper off. Also, there seem to be rather a lot of comments of the thanks-for-the-useful-content variety, while in 2014 I think perhaps more people offered their interpretations of the various results they came up with in AntConc. These took longer to read and while I know I can’t (and am not supposed to) go through all the comments in all the forums in a MOOC – at least not if I want to eat and sleep – I seem to almost be able to do that this time. Obviously, these are just my impressions.

I can’t help looking at the course through my course designer/online instructor lens. It’s well-structured, the tutors (mentors) respond promptly (strong online presence🙂 ) and there are numerous opportunities to engage with the content, mentors and other course participants. Which I don’t do much, apart from with the content. But I’ve taken things a step further this time – I’ve added a profile pic, liked a couple of comments I thought were particularly helpful (and might be helpful to others, in case anyone is sorting comments by “most liked”) and even asked a question. All the time I thought about how I nag my students to add profile pics and ask questions in course forums as opposed to emailing me. A brief digression: I just remembered there was an interesting post on the topic of not always being eager to interact with other students over on Alastair Creelman’s blog. It took a little while to dig it up, and here it is.

I guess if I were nitpicking, the only thing that I’m a little surprised at is that the videos don’t have that slick production feel of some Coursera videos, but maybe it’s a question of cost? I’m not saying this is a problem, though.

Lest it should appear that I am dwelling too much on course design and moderation, I should note that I have also spent quite a bit of time on the AntConc screencasts (and a little less on the GraphColl ones, but there are fewer of those). I did watch the AntConc ones in 2014, but as it’s been a while since then, this time I watched them once to see what each step was about – and was happy to realize I hadn’t forgotten everything – then I watched each one again, pausing every few minutes to go through each step with my own corpus. Another brief digression – I remember hearing at the EDEN conference in 2014 that many MOOC participants don’t actually watch videos but prefer to read the transcripts. I just want to go on record here that I really appreciate the videos and like hearing a friendly voice.🙂

I did say “my own corpus” in that last paragraph. Yes, I know that sounds kind of pretentious, but it’s a teeny-tiny (for a corpus) collection of words which I converted into a text file and tagged the last time I did the course. So I like to call it a corpus. It’s actually a collection of posts from an online forum – more on that in this post which I wrote at the beginning of 2014, when it hadn’t occurred to me yet that I could do anything corpus-related with it. It has 1238 word types and 7660 tokens. I didn’t find anything terribly interesting, possibly owing to the size limitations but also to the fact that I haven’t formulated any kind of hypothesis.

I’m going to stop here and hopefully get around to doing another post later on in the course. I’m also hoping I’ll be able to focus more on CL rather than on possibly quite unhelpful observations about random stuff not directly to do with CL. I am enjoying the course, and think it will eventually prove tremendously useful. If you’re doing the course as well, I’d be interested to hear what your experience is like and if you have access to the stats I’d be curious to know if I was anywhere near right about the enrollment figures.

You’ve got about five minutes left…


Sean MacEntee: google exam (CC BY 2.0)

I’ve just had an exam and have some time to kill, so I thought I’d start a new post. Normally I type them up in Word and only add them here when they’re pretty much done, so I never have anything in my drafts folder. But today I’m using the university computer.

When I say I’ve just had an exam, I mean my students have, and I was babysitting supervising  sitting and watching them. Today is the first time I’ve done something a little crazy – I listened to my audiobook for about half the time. Does that seem crazy to you? I’ve heard stories of teachers supposedly supervising exams, but actually reading newspapers or marking test papers/assignments instead of watching the students. I can totally understand that. Watching students scratching away with their pens in (almost) total silence for an hour or more is incredibly boring. However, unless you keep an eye on what they’re doing, I’m pretty sure they’ll find a way to cheat. I don’t know if that sounds terribly mistrustful, does it?

It occurred to me that I’ve never had any input/training on how to administer/supervise tests/exams. Maybe that’s fine and it isn’t necessary, because, I mean, how difficult is it? We’ve taken a bunch of exams when we were students; it’s all pretty straightforward.

I thought I’d briefly describe what I do. Now that I teach in a university setting, I’m less flexible than I used to be in a language school. I try to put together the questions a couple of days before the exam date, so I can read through them with fresh eyes on the day before/of the exam. It’s really embarrassing to catch typos and questions that have more than one correct answer – unless I’ve deliberately planned it that way – when a student asks you to explain something in the middle of the exam. Plus, you’re likely to get flustered (okay, I’m likely to get flustered) and will miss the two students in the back row having a chat.

On the day itself I make enough photocopies for the students who have signed up – I check this online – and always a copy or two extra for the students who didn’t for whatever reason. I don’t have to let them take the exam if their name isn’t on the list, but I usually don’t mind.

When we’re all in the exam hall, I make sure they’re not sitting too close together, and their bags, etc. aren’t too close to them. I don’t ask them to leave their bags and books on the desks in the front row because I rarely have more than 15 or so candidates, and I can easily see if someone is sneaking glances at their open bag. Or something. If I know there are going to be more students than can comfortably sit so that there’s an empty chair on either side of them, I’ll have version A and B of the paper.

I hand out the papers and tell the students how much time they have. At the language school I used to go through the instructions for each task with the whole group, and warn them about common mistakes or what to watch out for, but I’ve come to realize that when the student gets their hands on the exam paper, they just want to get started. Putting them through reading the instructions together would be torture for most.

So, they’re all scribbling away and I start off by sitting behind the teacher’s desk (the instructor’s desk?) – definitely the only time I’ll be sitting down in the classroom unless I’m teaching 121 or a really small group. Then as time goes on, it’s like in a movie when they want to show time is going by – the scene is the same, but I’m behind the desk, then I’m sitting on the desk, then I’m standing at the back of the room, then by the door, and finally by the window. Then behind the desk again. It’s more to get exercise, really, than to check if anyone’s looking at anything other than their paper.

Time drags by. Occasionally, someone asks a question, and I go up to them and answer quietly so as not to disturb the others. Around halfway through, I say half their time is up, and it seems like everyone wakes up for a second. I warn them when they have around 5 minutes left as well. I usually wait for everyone to hand in their papers themselves – I can’t bring myself to say, “Pens down, everyone!” If that means waiting 5 minutes longer, that’s fine. I might say something like, “Okay, Martina, your hour’s up now, so you should be thinking about finishing off that last sentence in the next couple of minutes.” As the students leave, I tell them when they’ll be getting their results.

When I taught at the language school, I was more helpful (flexible) in the sense that I would watch out if anyone had problems completing a particular task and try to nudge them in the right direction. I wouldn’t do that with undergrads. Also, if, say, most people wanted to listen to the recording (in the listening part of the exam) more than twice, we’d do that. There really is no point – I felt – making adult learners who’re paying for their courses feel as if the whole structure is really rigid.

24 hours later – I didn’t have time to finish yesterday, but on the plus side, I can confirm that the drafts folder didn’t do anything rash, like go ahead and publish on its own accord, so I may yet use it again.

So, greater flexibility in a language school – there’s one more thing I wanted to add. I would sometimes have students who had difficulty keeping their eyes on their own paper. These would as often as not be students who were less accurate in terms of grammar than the rest of the group and probably had a more restricted vocabulary when it came to production, but they didn’t really have a hard time keeping up with the others or following what we were doing. I would then have to decide – especially if we were using a B2 coursebook, for instance – if it was worth it making those people feel bad for getting very few points on the future continuous vs future perfect task (or something equally unlikely to prove indispensable in everyday conversation) and possibly failing the exam. Which they would then have to take again with all the attendant stress; there would be little improvement in accuracy, and they would still continue with the group next semester. I would often pretend I didn’t see them peeking at their neighbor’s paper.

What about you? How seriously are exams taken where you teach? Do you ever multitask as you supervise? What do you do if see/catch students cheating?

Some thoughts on how I use Twitter

There was an #ELTchat last week about how to use Twitter in class. I was hoping for a different topic, so I didn’t stick around, but a tweet (I forget who by) about how teachers seem to be on Facebook more than on Twitter caught my eye. I think that was the gist of it, anyway.

So I thought I’d do a quick post on what I use both of them for, but primarily Twitter. When I say ‘quick post’, we’ll see how that goes. I might get it out before Christmas.😛 I’ve actually been meaning to do a post like this ever since David Harbinson’s here, and, well, it’s been two years since then.


fjomeroa: Twitter (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I spend quite a bit of time on Twitter. You might not say so just by looking at my tweet count, at least compared to people who have 50K+ tweets, but I do a lot more reading of what others have shared than sharing my own thoughts. Then, of course, a considerable chunk of time is spent on debating whether I should respond to a tweet, composing a message and finally deleting it. Or possibly sending it, which is less frequent.

My bio says, “ELT, elearning, highered, teacher training, translation. Partial to the island of Vis since the pre-tourist era”.  I settled on that when I started using Twitter regularly, which was about two years after I signed up. Management used to be in there as well, as a nod to the language school I technically still own. I’m most likely to follow (back) people with similar interests, and if they’re not spelled out in the bio, I’m probably not going to take the trouble to dig deeper, e.g., try to figure out their tweet to retweet ratio, or see how many people we follow in common.

In addition to accounts that can loosely be grouped as work-related, I follow some that are Croatian. Croatian teachers (primary, secondary, private language schools) are generally not on Twitter, or if they are, they have token accounts. They’ll have 30 tweets and they last tweeted six months ago. I suspect they’re mostly on Facebook. So the people I follow are either in higher ed, journalists, or in(to) politics or history. There’s also the occasional ex-student. I enjoy reading what they have to say, even though I probably won’t rt/comment on anything overtly political. My politics are my business. And also I’m too chicken to give trolls an incentive to come after me.

I also follow some Belgian accounts, mostly newspapers/magazines. These are in French, and serve the dual purpose of letting me keep up with the language as well as the news in Brussels and the rest of the country. Although, to be honest, if the accounts are in French, the news is not likely to be about Flanders. I don’t usually rt or comment on these. I suppose it would be excellent language practice, but I would need to be a lot braver to do it.

One of the things I really like about Twitter is the random character of what shows up in my timeline when I log on. Obviously, things were even more random when they didn’t have the “While you were away” feature, but even so, if you follow around 1,000 people, there’s always something unexpected. Even if a lot of them don’t tweet regularly. I don’t have a rule for what I rt/comment on; it has to be something I find interesting and/or relevant, plus I generally need to think of at least one person who follows me who will also find it interesting and/or relevant. I sometimes draw their attention to it by cc’ing them in on the tweet.

Because of this (liking the random factor), I don’t have any lists. I’m sure lists are really effective if you want to make sure you don’t miss updates from accounts you find more important/interesting than others, or to categorize those you follow, but I think that I would then tend to check some lists more than others and everything would be more organized. Although, who knows – I might like it that way too.

Occasionally I check hashtags, and I have these columns set up in my Tweetdeck: #ELTchat, #ELTpics, #corpusMOOC (which I half-did once and keep meaning to retake) and #EDENchat. Having done #ELTchat, which is sort of chaotic in a good way, I tried #EDENchat, but they’re way too organized with Q1 and A1, etc. There are a couple of other hashtags I could set up columns for, and probably will at some point if they keep coming up in my timeline often enough.

Some things I don’t like about Twitter are… well, there aren’t many, really. I don’t like it when people only plug their stuff, and especially when they don’t even do it manually. Like, I don’t have time to waste on Twitter, but you will have time to read about whatever it is I do. I’m not discounting the possibility I feel that way because I was never smart enough to schedule constant social media updates when I was trying to promote my school. I also don’t like annoying engagement updates. “32 awesome people followed me last week. Do you want to feel awesome? Get Social Media Engagement App.” I use Social Media Engagement App too. I don’t shout about it. Here I am discounting the possibility I feel that way because I wasn’t followed by 32 awesome people last week.

I was also going to say how I use Facebook and why I prefer Twitter, but as there is actually a chance of posting this today if I stop now, I guess I might save that for another post. I would be interested to hear what you use Twitter for, what you like or don’t like about it. If you have an account but don’t really use it, why is that?