The glorious North!

Ali Dickens and I had a great trip to Newcastle last week, to give some training and information to language tutors at Newcastle University for the FAVOR project.

The weather in Southampton was cold and drizzly, but the sun shone on us in Newcastle as we met with about 14 tutors of different languages. We started out talking about the project and why (we think) it is ‘good to share.’ The tutors had lots of concerns to raise about quality control, copyright and IPR, abuse of the comment/review system, and losing ownership of their works – and we did our best to answer them and communicate the excitement of the project.

Our experience using the repositories LanguageBox and HumBox, has been that quality is initially a big concern for teachers: quality of the materials on the site (are they interesting enough for me?) and quality of their own deposits (will people think they are good enough?). LanguageBox and HumBox are sites which have a particular take on this because they are avowedly practitioner sites to improve practice and encourage collaboration, not (necessarily) institutional/departmental showcases. We have found through user-testing that it is impossible to predict the value that OER users will find in a resource – it may be the content, it may be the pedagogical approach that the author has used, it may be an image on page 4 or a link on slide 6, or it may simply spark an idea which leads a user to create an entirely new work. All this really means that we can reassure our users: if your resources are good enough for your students (even in a partially finished form), then they are good enough for the community – and you’ll be surprised and pleased at where others’ perceive the ‘value’ of your teaching work. On a more practical note, both LanguageBox and HumBox are self-regulating communities and so there are no official moderators involved (although for FAVOR, we will check all of our resources for rights issues/clarity of metadata etc). A take-down policy, comments feature and clear preview screen all contribute to effective use and regulation of what you see on those sites.

Concerns about copyright and IPR are ever present with OER and we advise tutors how to reduce risks. Our advice is based on the excellent information in the OER infokit and on some work we did for a copyright helper on the Humbox site. As far as ownership of the materials goes, we emphasise that ‘archiving in plain view’ via open access actually preserves your link to the material and marks your ownership. And you don’t have to share EVERYTHING…a selection of work can speak, well, volumes! Lastly…abuse of comments? Our users are more interested in leaving and receiving constructive comments (where they are interested in leaving comments at all!) which is about right for a practitioner site of professionals sharing good practice and ideas…

We ended the day at Greggs, at the airport – a Greggs, at the airport!- buying Stotties to take home. Hmmm…

Kate B

FAVOR in open education week

Open Education Week here we are and where will FAVOR be? LLAS will be visiting our friends in the North to take word of open practice to language tutors in Newcastle.

On Wednesday 7th March, 11-4pm, Alison Dickens and I will be at Newcastle University running a fun-packed workshop for part-time language tutors. Fun, you ask? Yes…we’ll be covering:

– benefits and challenges of open sharing

– using our simple, user-friendly online space LanguageBox to help you negotiate your way to sharing

– how to use the LOC tool to create online interactive activities

What more fun could you ask for?

Looking forward to being in Newcastle again – will break out the Magpie shirt in honour and be looking for a stottie for lunch…

Kate B

Update on FAVOR activities

The FAVOR project team had a skype meeting yesterday to update each other on what we have been doing – and it all sounds very inspiring and exciting!

Most of the part-time/hourly-paid tutors are on board now and a wonderful range of languages are represented: Finnish, Hungarian, Latvian, Serbian, Slovak, Estonian, Ukrainian, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Arabic, English as a Foreign Language, Persian, Spanish, Japanese, Swahili, Amharic, Somali and Tigrinya. Tutors have begun sharing their resources through the LanguageBox, and we currently have at least 46 uploads! All are keen to undertake our planned training and begin the next phase of the project which will see the creation of new OERs for prospective university applicants.

The group noted that it has been difficult to get tutors together as they work such varied hours and so many are engaging with the project ‘at distance’ and independently. However, when they have been able to meet, the experience of sharing practice, working collaboratively on a joint project and simply getting to know colleagues that they rarely see has been immensely rewarding.

Many tutors have indicated that one of the key drivers in taking part in the project is to develop a community of practice for their particular language and to raise the profile of their work. LLAS is going to look into how we can develop the group and forum functions on the LanguageBox to assist this process (e.g. by allowing a private members discussion area for the review and commenting of test resources) and make independent working easier for the tutors.

The next month will see more resources uploaded onto LanguageBox and training sessions at Newcastle and UCL on good practice in publishing OERs, and the use of online authoring tools like LOC and Hot Potatoes. The FAVOR project will also be represented by Marta Jenkala (UCL) and Jo Eastlake (SOAS) at the conference: ‘Sustaining a Global Society: Languages of the wider world‘, on 29-30 March, 2012, at SOAS.

Kate B

Check out some of our resources

Tutors at each of our 5 partner universities are busily sorting through their materials to publish and share on the LanguageBox website and many have started uploading useful teaching materials.

Check out Richard Galletly, from Aston University, who is busily uploading screencapture videos demonstrating good practice in giving feedback to students: or Marta Jenkala’s introduction to Ukrainian

We have also recently installed a group function on the LanguageBox, which is at a fledgeling state! Aston are leading the way by uploading their resources as a group, and look out for more groups springing up over time as we experiment with this new function.

Kate B

FAVOR at upcoming LLAS elearning symposium

Happy new year!

The FAVOR project is going to start the year with some dissemination at the 7th LLAS elearning symposium on 27th January, 2012. Some of the language tutors involved in the project will be on hand during the technology showcase session to demo the LanguageBox and show some of the resources on the site. Come and visit us to hear about the project!

This will be a great chance for other language tutors to get involved in the project and see how they might benefit from sharing their own resources with the wide and open world!

Kate B


Technical talk

Just had a really good skype call with CETIS (John and Phil) about plans for the technical side of the project. They were interested to hear of two new features about to be installed on LanguageBox and HumBox:

  • a group function
  • a discussion forum

This will allow users to organise themselves into groups and to upload resources associated with these groups. This means we can have a FAVOR group and that tutors of certain languages can start their own interest groups on the site. The discussion forum will enable chat to go on around the resources on the site.

We asked John and Phil to give advice on how we can track our resources and associate metadata more closely with each individual resource. At the moment, the best way seems to be to encourage tutors/depositors to consider the issue when they create the resource or prepare it for upload – and include author/licence info. We will encourage our tutors to do this and build awareness of this into our checking processes once material is uploaded.

We intend to consider carefully how we can track usage of our resources. I have followed up a lot of HumBox users to collect case studies of usage of HB resources, and although this produces excellent data and some illuminating stories, it is time-consuming. We will seek and implement a range of tracking methods for this project and consider what technical solutions we might implement through our repositories. One thing we will follow up after this meeting is creating an embed code for the LanguageBox/HumBox preview screen.

Kate B


Update on recruiting part-time tutors

Hello world,

The project team have had a skype meeting to update each other on where we are with recruiting part-time tutors to work on the project. It was very pleasing for us all to report that there has been a lot of enthusiasm amongst language tutors across the 5 institutions for the project and for publishing and sharing their own resources, and so the team is rapidly expanding!

There was some interesting feedback on attitudes to sharing teaching resources: one team member reported that many tutors she had spoken to were reluctant to share their resources, precisely because they were part-time tutors. They felt that they had worked hard to create the materials, in languages which are perhaps not widely taught and for which there is a scarcity of materials, and so were not keen to ‘give them away.’  They also did not feel the same security as full-time tutors and saw their resources as their currency and an example of their expertise, so again, were reluctant to share.

This is an entirely understandable position, and our answer as a project team has been that OER can work positively in exactly these circumstances. Sharing through the FAVOR project does not mean having to give away everything you do – but it does encourage tutors to share a part of their work, which can showcase their knowledge and expertise. The LanguageBox also enables communities to build up around particular topics or themes, and so sharing resources is a way of making connections with other tutors in diverse geographical locations and sharing ideas. This has to be a good thing for languages which experience a scarcity of teaching resources because it increases the pool of materials available for adaptation and re-use.

It was also interesting to hear from another partner, that she had found the opposite opinion amongst part-time tutors that she approached. Her experience was that more experienced language specialists often choose to work on a part-time basis, and have done so for many years. They feel more established and have a large amount of teaching material available, so are relaxed about sharing it openly.

It is fascinating to observe the different motivations and experiences that tutors are feeding back to us and we will note it all as we go along, as it challenges us to always review how we articulate engagement with OERs, and the benefits and issues.

Kate B

OER 3 – programme meeting, Birmingham

Sarah and I attended the official OER 3 programme meeting, at Maple House in Birmingham yesterday. We had been set a challenge by David Kernohan, the programme manager, of presenting our project in two minutes, without using Powerpoint – and we had to make it “interesting and memorable.” Thanks, David…

After various discussions with the LLAS team, we abandoned mime, drama and poetry and settled on Twitter: a live Twitter presentation which would form a 3-way conversation about the project between  myself, Sarah and Laurence (remotely at LLAS Southampton). This put Sarah and me right out of our comfort zone and into the fire, but after a practice session involving us being on skype, Twitter, Googlechat and SMS simultaneously, we felt ‘confident’ we could do it. Oh, and we also decided to play ‘La Mer’ by Charles Trenet in the background (thanks to Youtube). And Laurence decided to Tweet in French.

Simple. Oh, and since we didn’t know when we were presenting, we had to send time markers via Twitter and SMS out to our remote compatriots to join us at the right moment. Were we nervous? Just a bit.

I wish I could tell you that the whole thing went brilliantly and was applauded to the skies…but I can’t. We had to abandon due to a slow network connection on the presentation screen – so the audience couldn’t see our Tweets, and the default option had to be deployed (I stood up and spoke, boringly, for 2 mins instead).

At least we tried – and we know what to do to make it work next time – so watch this space for our next attempt!

Anyway, the meeting was great – we heard about lots of excellent projects and found a buddy (the Sesame project, at Oxford) to work with on our evaluation. I’m already looking forward to finding more out about their project over the next year.

Kate B

The first team meeting

We held our first meeting yesterday, kindly hosted by Marta Jenkala at UCL SSEES (the School of Slavonic and East European Studies). The whole team was present and it was our first chance to meet and plan.

It was an excellent meeting at which we had good food, good fun and shared lots of ideas! We talked through the details of the project, brainstormed ways in which we could recruit and enthuse part-time tutors about OERs, and shared lots of ideas about the kinds of new, transition resources we could get tutors to work on.

Kate B

Hello world! The FAVOR project is here!

Welcome to the blog for the FAVOR (Finding a Voice through Open Resources) project!

Who are we? Well, we are team that has been funded by JISC to do some fun things this year (2011 – 2012) with open educational resources. The project team is:

Alison Dickens (director); Kate Borthwick (manager); Erika Corradini (project officer) – all at LLAS Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies, University of Southampton.

And co-investigators: Sarah Hayes (Aston University); Elizabeth Andersen (Newcastle University); Joanne Eastlake (School of Oriental and African Studies); Marta Jenkala (University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies), and Julie Watson (Humanities, University of Southampton).

Under the OER Phase 3 programme, we have been funded to:

“…showcase the excellent and often unrecognised work of part-time, hourly-paid language teachers in HE, and engage them in activities which will enhance the student experience. Tutors will publish teaching resources as open content, and create a suite of new Open Educational Resources designed to assist prospective students in understanding the nature of language study at HE level. Outputs will be disseminated to schools and evaluated by prospective and existing students and will contribute to the national agenda for the promotion and support of language learning.”

So over this academic year, we aim to publish lots of excellent language teaching resources and also create new resources which will help school pupils to realise just how useful and important it is to study languages – and how different such study might be at university from what they may be used to at school!

Watch this space to hear more…

Kate B

(PM of the FAVOR coalition – !)

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