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#corpusMOOC underway

I’m currently following a massively open online course (the MOOC you see above) being run by the University of Lancaster and other partners and through the FutureLearn MOOC platform.

The course I’m following is called Corpus linguistics: method, analysis, interpretation and can be accessed at the following URL: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/corpus-linguistics/. It’s only in it’s first week, so if you’re interested in corpora, analysing them and finding out stuff about language, you can still probably join and catch up. The suggested time allocation for each week by the faculty organising the course, including Tony McEnery of the University of Lancaster, is 3 hours.

As well as being interested in looking at corpora from a language teaching perspective, I’m also using the course as an opportunity to experience one of these MOOCs that I’ve heard a lot being said about recently. I’ll hold my hands up as being quite skeptical about the method of delivering a learning course on a MOOC platform, in particular given recent reports about how they actually have really low completion rates (a recent article citing the founder of one of the MOOC platforms, Udacity, springs to mind). However, I hope to complete this course myself, and will use the experience to see whether MOOCs are for me anything to get too worked up about.

I have to say I am quite impressed so far. The format of mini lectures, and the opportunity to post comments after viewing, is a nice way of structuring the content of the course so that it can be fit around all the other things participants are no doubt obliged to do (housework and day jobs, for example). I’m also impressed by the scope of the first week, running from introductory lectures by McEnery on the background to corpora and concordancing, tutorial videos delivered by Laurence Anthony about using his AntConc concordancing software to analyse corpora, to conversations with Geoffrey Leech (side note – I haven’t actually got quite that far through the first week’s content just yet).

As I mentioned, my own interest in corpora and how to analyse them stems from my work as a language teacher. Something that I’ve been doing recently to try and help my students navigate their way around learning English is to get them to think about word and phrase frequency, and in particular to help them consider what is not just possible to say in English, but what is more likely. To this end, I’ve been using www.netspeak.org in an impromptu fashion in the classroom, getting learners to consider which may be a more common word or phrase (for example, ‘say something’ or ‘tell something’ – and we get more into the patterns and come across things like ‘tell somebody something’). It’s quite a nifty tool, although not infallible. It appears to be based on using the web as a source of data, and while this means it is more up-to-date, it will be influenced by the types of language you find on the internet. You can read more about the NetSpeak project, run out of the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, here: http://www.uni-weimar.de/en/media/chairs/webis/research/projects/netspeak/

While some of the things I’ve gleaned from the first week are not totally new to me, there are one or two things that I had not considered before, and it is good to finally get to grips with using AntConc, having seen a fellow language teaching colleague, Muralee Navaratnam (@muranava on Twitter) talk about the software at TESOL France back in November.

Looking forward to getting through week one and continuing with this #corpusMOOC (note – this is the hashtag being used on Twitter by participants on the course, and clicking on this link will take you to a Twitter search for the hashtag)