A Framework for Academic Volunteers International: Dec 5-16, 2011

What are the provisions for OERu learners/students for whom English is not their first language?

What are the provisions for OERu learners/students for whom English is not their first language?

by Alannah Fitzgerald -
Number of replies: 3

Dear All,

I have listed this concern regarding potential OERu learners/students for whom English is not their first language in the user stories section of Wikieducator (item 20), and forgive me if the issue of language and translation of OER did come up in the OERu planning meetings and I've not yet been able to see how far we have got with this issue (I would be grateful if anyone could direct me to where this may have been discussed).

Becuase my speciality is OER in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) I would like to be an AVI content specialist volunteer in this area, and I wish to seed a user story under this section heading in Wikieducator. However, before I do this user story description I'd like some feedback from the SCoPE community on what language you foresee the OERu content being in, and if it is going to be predominantly English OER content what do we need to plan around the translation of and/or support of this OER in English by way of EAP? I understand that the anchor partners where accreditation will be taking place are all institutions where English is the language of instruction so this is why I am thinking in this vein.

Also, are we considering having non-English speaking students among the first 100 for the prototype 2012 year? I think we should as I believe this will be representative of the types of OERu learners/students that would be interested in this type of open HE learning model. What is the OERu student recruitment process for the 2012 prototype, I wonder? We - myself and other potential language AVIs - would like to volunteer with the development of OER for EAP and tutoring with academic competencies, including support with concepts around the academic culture of the accrediting bodies (e.g. the assesment types from different subject domains in the West) as this is something international students struggle with in f2f EAP programmes in the UK where I currently work. It would be good to be involved in the 2012 prototype to scope where OER for EAP would be a good fit to support learners/students whose first language is not English.

Lots of questions - I look forward to your responses!

All the best,

Alannah

 

Alannah Fitzgerald
Research and Teaching Fellow
The English Language Centre, Durham University
The Support Centre for Open Resources in Education, The Open University
Elvet Riverside
New Elvet
Durham
DH1 3DF
+44 (0)191-334-7281
a.t.d.fitzgerald@durham.ac.uk

In reply to Alannah Fitzgerald

Re: What are the provisions for OERu learners/students for whom English is not their first language?

by Wayne Mackintosh -

Hi Alannah, Thanks for posting this thread for OERu learners for whom English is not their first language.

Yes, the anchor partners did discuss the issue of langauge and medium of instruction at the OERu 2011.11 planning meeting. The recommedation is that the during the establishment phase the OERTen will focus on English as the medium of instruction as the partners did not want to introduce another layer of complexity during the early planning phases.

This is not to exclude the possibility of additional languages in the future. We will need to consider the best way forward, for example:

  • Other foundations or non-profits may take on the responsibility to develop an OERu equivalents for other languages, or 
  • An umbrella approach where the OER Foundation facilitates multilingual solutions for the OERu. 

We did not discuss the selection criteria for prototype students (eg whether the 2012 prototype will include students for whom English is not a first language.) As the OERu Anchor Partners will be awarding credits and given that they maintain decision making autonomy as determined by local policies, some institutions may require a predetermined profficiency level in English as a requirement to register for assessment services. We will need to investigate this more thouroughly.

I think an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) paper would be a very valuable addtion to the suite of OERu courses.

From your experience -- are there institutions that would award credit for an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) course at first-year level as part of the credits towards a degree, or are EAP courses used as "bridging" or foundation courses for entry into degree study.

 

 

  

 

 

In reply to Wayne Mackintosh

Re: What are the provisions for OERu learners/students for whom English is not their first language?

by Alannah Fitzgerald -

OK, great, thanks for filling me in, Wayne.

I think the Stanford AI course with the OER component and Google fellows is a good example of valuable learning and teaching content being shared worldwide and translated by volunteers into other languages like Thai, German etc https://www.ai-class.com/overview 

Yes, it would be good to offer EAP support in the form of a paper assessment as there is a big writing focus in academic work but support will also be needed with the other skills e.g. listening to lectures, participating in academic seminars/presentations and effective reading strategies to build up academic vocabulary and awareness of genre and writing techniques in the particular content area the student is studying.

The other area of proficiency is related to understanding the expectations of the awarding academy, so to follow on from Valerie Peachy's comment in 'clarify the roles of AVIs', clear criteria about communicating effectively in academic English will also be needed. I think this can be inclusive of both native English speakers and non-native English speakers as English speakers don't necessarily learn this stuff either.

My experience tells me that writing for an academic context albeit a foreign academic context is a complex task due to the different academic conventions of specific subject domains. Yes, there is a lot of guidance content on the web for e.g. APA but this will only mislead those students for whom it is not relevant e.g. those studying for the hard sciences. This is a common problem with EAP f2f teaching whereby a lot of the teachers who come from a social sciences or humanities background trasfer their subject knowledge to students due to ignorance of and not working closely enough with subject matter experts in the fields that their students will actually be studying in. For the OERu I would recommend that subject specialist AVIs work with language support volunteers and OERu learners using open tools for analysing/mining text for e.g. specific academic vocabulary, writing and referencing output styles and looking at specific discourse types in different subject lectures etc. Because of my background in corpus linguistics and OER I can build OER for EAP using open corpora from Google and Wikipedia collections which OSS developers have been busily building to get around the problem of proprietary tools and copyrighted language corpora. It would be great if we could build EAP pedagogy around open access publications and creative commons lectures in the different subject areas. Being able to hack into an OA text still needs rights clearance as there is a difference between gratis (able to access and read) and libre (able to rework into an OER) OA so more work is needed in this area. This is a unique opportunity for OERu to do EAP better than the conventional f2f models with the use of OSS technologies for language learning and this is what motivates me and my colleagues in particular.

Most non-English speaking international students are led to believe that a certain score in IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is sufficient to succeed on a degree programme at an English-medium university, however the assessment types are vastly different from the stock 250 word essays you are required to write in one of these exams. People pay a lot of money to take these exams also so once again I'm not convinced that this benchmark in English proficiency would be the best way forward for an OERu learner/student. This is something worth thinking about for the 2012 prototype and the types of students that will be recruited if we want to ensure that these first 100 students are representative of the types of learners who will want to benefit from OERu in future. In most cases, EAP courses are bridging courses leading to a degree or supporting those non-English speaking students who are already on a degree and in the later case they are voluntary. At the Open University in the UK, all EAP components are optional and there is diagnostic work involved in determining what the learners' needs are for doing well on their destination programmes.

Anyway, I hope this gives you a clearer idea of what I'm proposing for OER for EAP with the OERu.

All the best,

Alannah

In reply to Alannah Fitzgerald

Re: What are the provisions for OERu learners/students for whom English is not their first language?

by Wayne Mackintosh -

Alannah Fitzgerald wrote,

I think the Stanford AI course with the OER component and Google fellows is a good example of valuable learning and teaching content being shared worldwide and translated by volunteers into other languages like Thai, German etc https://www.ai-class.com/overview

 I agree, the Standord AI course is an interesting model, however it is problematic for a number of reasons:

  1. The course relies on an all rights reserved textbook which students must purchase
  2. The majority of resources (videos, transcript notes etc.) are also all rights reserved which does not allow others to adapt and modify the materials.
  3. It is not clear what licensing arrangements are used for the translations. As the source materials are all rights reserved, I guessing that it is a custom license which assigns copyright of the translated works to the original copyright holders (and not the translators.) 
This model does not bode well for building sustainable volunteer communities and in the case of the OERu network, if we were to develop wrap-around courses based on these materials, we would expose ourselves to unnecessary risks of enclosure later down the track. The OERu model has the potential to expand to millions of learners -- when we get to these levels, the temptation to shut down or enclose core materials of the OERu network increases. 
 
An open question -- I wonder to what extent translation work on the Stanford AI course is driven by the motivation to be associated with an Ivy league institution versus a committment to the essential freedoms. In the early days of MIT OCW, we saw considerable growth in the OCWC which to some extent was motivated by the benefits of association.  The many of OCWC instutions have not really progressed with the mainstream integration of OER at their institutions other than a few course donations under non-free content licenses.
That said, the Standord AI course provides a few great examples of pedagogical apporaches which can scale to thousands of learners.  We will certainly be integrating these into the OERu model. 
As you've indicated -- the question of navigating closed resources in an open environment is complex.
The OER Foundation subscribes to a number of guidelines around licensing (see for example choosing The right license). This is based on solid experience in managing the risks of openness for sustainability.
This is not to say that the OERu cannot use open access materials which are all rights reserved - -but we need to assess the risks of doing this. With a core course like EAP which will have a significant impact on the business models of those running standard testing models in a closed environment -- it is not unreasonable to expect considerable kick-back form those with a vested interest in testing. My personal feeling is to prefer free cultural works approved licensing -- in the short term, this means it may take a little longer to get an operational EAP course, but in the long term we will then be guaranteed of a sustainable future for EAP.
I take your point about the potential of levaraging volunteer support for translation -- the localisation of open source software in different languages is a good example.
However, the formal education sector is very conservative and the uptake in translation and localisation activities is a considerably slower in the formal education sector. For example we run localisations of WikiEducator in French, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Tamil and Hindi. Very few of these communities have reached the critical mass required for sustainable growth and community support. The inertia required to build sustainable communities is huge. I'm not saying that this can't be done, but in planning the AVI we are working from a realistic base in terms of what is doable.
We have 13 founding anchor partners who have each contributed the equivalent of a 0.2 Full-time equivalent plus donation of assembling two courses. This is an excellent start, but as you will appreciate capacity is limited and solving the challenge of achieving the critical mass for different language communities is unlikey to be resolved by the start of the 2012 OERu prototypes. On a positive note - -I hope to be proved wrong on this one. Perhaps we will find thousands of volunteers to help out!
Regarding your suggestion on developing an EAP course -- the OER Foundation is very supportive. I suggest we get started!