Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Corpus Adventure

 I couldn't be more pleased with my MOOC experience!  (It's a free online course about corpus linguistics.) Because I will be traveling in a few days, I'm pushing into the lessons for the third week, which formally begins tomorrow. Naturally, this doesn't leave much time for blogging ... but I'd like to summarize the experience now that I've had a good taste of it.

(OK, this is 'screen overkill', given that I'm taking the picture with yet another screen!)

The course is tidily organized around a horizontal timeline of eight modules, one per week.  Each module is arranged into a vertical todo list.  These are all of the activities available for the module.  Each activity consists of some input and discussion around that input.  Often, the input is a video which can be downloaded for offline viewing.  The transcript and slides are also available, which is handy for review and note-taking.

The discussion section is, effectively, the classroom.  Participants pose questions, comment, reply, etc.  The leader of the course (Professor McEnery) responds personally to many posts, and there are other knowledgable mentors and facilitators who encourage and offer support along the way.  All facilitators are careful to interact respectfully with people at whatever level they bring to the course (from curious beginner with no background to PhD candidate with a linguistics project in progress).  As has been true for other online courses I've taken, the discussion interface could be more flexible.  A lot of valuable information is revealed in the discussions, including useful links and suggestions for more reading.  I would like a better way to flag useful posts, for one thing.  (I can "like" them, but can't filter by that).  But all in all, the forum is still a useful and important part of the course.

This first half of a module consists of a warmup activity followed by a lecture which is divided into five brief segments (10 minutes or so).  This is nice because it allows discussion at each breakpoint.  You can also progress through the module in short, discrete chunks.  That's helpful if you're a busy person!  There is also a general discussion activity that, so far, asks us to reflect on our warmup activity in light of the new ideas that have been presented.  And, there's a quiz which serves as a good review of the main points.  (You can take the quiz as many times as you want.). There is also a reading which expands on the lecture.  And finally, there are optional videos and readings for any participants who want to go into even more depth.

The second half of each module has, so far, been a step-by-step tutorial in using AntConc -- a program for corpus analysis.  The tutorial is given by Laurence Anthony, the developer of the program, and he kindly responds to questions and assists with issues in the comments section (as do the other facilitators).  We are guided in playing around with the software, usually to explore some of the linguistics questions that came up in the lecture and associated activities.  I believe we will also be introduced to other tools in later lectures.

In this iteration of the course, they have also introduced a social networking hub where you can monitor posts and tweets from fellow participants". I've signed on but haven't used it much (yet).

I have been able to do much of the course on my tablet, which has made it a lot easier to keep up. But I still sit at the desk for the hands-on activities.

I won't be reporting much on the content of the course (sign up and take it next time -- it's free!) but it will inform many future posts, for sure.  In fact, I might have to go through my giant pile of drafts and rewrite or delete a few!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Join me?

I've just signed up for a MOOC!  That's Massive Open Online Course, in case you didn't know.  It's free!  I've been waiting for it to come around since reading about Carol Goodey's experience earlier this year.

The course is Corpus Linguistics: Method, Analysis, Interpretation and the blurb says that it's a "practical introduction to the methodology of corpus linguistics for researchers in social sciences and humanities".  OK, I'm not a researcher in social sciences and humanities!  But I do use a corpus almost daily (specifically, the Corpus of Contemporary American English aka COCA).  I also use and recommend corpus-based dictionaries to my intermediate and higher learners.  However, I would like to expand my abilities in this area.  I'm hoping this course will give me the motivation to focus on the topic more seriously for a while.  In addition to whatever comes with the course itself, I've had an ebook in my queue for some time now and have not had the chance to give it the attention it deserves: From Corpus to Classroom: Language Use and Language Teaching by O'Keefe, McCarthy and Carter (the link is to a PDF with the table of contents and the preface of the book.)

If the idea of using a corpus in English class is new to you, you might want to check some other resources first.  Here are a couple of good ones!

First, Scott Thornbury gives a wonderful short overview of how to use COCA at his extremely informative (if now no longer active) blog.  By the way, the comments on this blog are almost always as rich as the posts, be sure to read them!

Second, Amy Tate and Emilia Seravo share very useful step-by-step instructions for using several popular corpus-based tools in a webinar called Corpus Confidence: quick and easy steps to turn corpus-based language data into language learning.  (Note that the nitty gritty "how to" stuff begins at about the 15 minute mark.)

If you're already psyched about corpora and, like me, want to know more ... maybe you'll join the MOOC too?  See you there!