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Word limits

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Few issues seem to cause more angst among some students than the issue of word counts.

Some modules have assignments that state "a maximum of X words" or "write no more than X words" but students still tend to ask if they can have 10% extra.  Some seem surprised when I say that the words "maximum" and "no more than..." mean what they say.

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Noun groups

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Following on from the last posting on a video on processes, I found there is also one on noun groups at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yf2waNDHnEo


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Simple and clear explanation of process types

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 10 Oct 2016, 23:35

The following clip provides a good explanation of process types although, of course, there is not really enough context for the types and explanation of ambiguous types.  However, students on courses like E304 and E852 might find it useful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sOJy4nOwKo&feature=youtu.be

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Courses in English at Belgian universities

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Here is a report about courses  taught in English in Belgium.

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/10/06/two-universities-belgium-join-forces-english-language-bachelors-program


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English in Dutch universities

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I came across this article in the THES on the use of English in Dutch universities.

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/dutch-universities-defend-growth-english-courses

I was very struck by figure of 60 per cent of courses being taught in English.

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A useful link on paragraphing

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 10 Nov 2016, 15:43

Paragraphing is very important in academic writing.  This is partly because it can affect how easily a reader can interpret a text.  Pragraphing also potentially allows a writer to express their own voice. 

The following link gives some useful advice for writers, especially at postgraduate level:

https://medium.com/advice-and-help-in-authoring-a-phd-or-non-fiction/how-to-write-paragraphs-80781e2f3054#.bci3sovue

Point 3 seems particularly important for many students at Masters levels.  The best writing deals with issues by concepts rather than arranged by authors.  Arranging an assignment (and particularly a project/dissertation) by key ideas rather than going through summaries of authors is what can distinguish the strongest work from the competent.

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Yet more on English as a medium of instruction course

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The final part of the course involved some micro teaching and a discussion/reflection on the experience.

The students did well and I learned a great deal about their subjects from this, which suggests their communication and teaching skills were effective.  However, one of the students told me how worried she was that some of her students would judge her English skills unfavourably compared to the English teachers in her university.  It seems that perhaps she is too perfectionist and her teaching of the content in an effective way should be the priority (but perhaps it is easier for me to say this than it is for her to feel this).

Thinking about these teachers, they are under a great deal of pressure.  Like most other lecturers, they are expected to be research active and publish, teach their content effectively and do this in a second language.  They will need great qualities and strengths but I think and hope they have those qualities.

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More on English as a medium of instruction

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 29 Aug 2016, 12:43

In the previous posting, I referred to teaching a group of teachers who are preparing to teach through English.  In today's class, there was an interesting incident that made me think about prioritisiation in terms of pronunciation and lexis.  One student used the word still but it sounded to me very similar to steel.  After some clarification, we established the meaning intended but we discussed whether it might often be best for him to avoid the word still and use synonyms like static or stationary.

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Summer work

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 29 Aug 2016, 12:43

For the past couple of summers, I have been working at the University of Reading on courses for English for Academic Purposes lecturers from universities in China and I have taught one group of these teachers this year. 

However, there is a new course that is about to start its second week.  This is for teachers of other subjects at Chinese universities who are interested in teaching through English (English as a Medium of Instruction).  This is an interesting new angle on my work as the focus is on the methodology of teaching through language, which resonates with the ideas of writers like Halliday (2004[1980]).  So, there is a need to focus on meaning and intelligibility to an even greater extent than usual and there is perhaps less of a focus on accuracy,


Halliday, M.A.K. (2004 [1980]) ‘Three aspects of children’s language development: learning language, learning through language, learning about language’, in Halliday, M.A.K. (ed.) The Language of Early Childhood: Vol. 4 The Collected Works of M.A.K. Halliday, London, Continuum.

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Collaborating on materials at a distance

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I have recently been writing materials for L185 Online Tutorials with some colleagues.  It has been an interesting and generally positive experience although there are challenges as well.

We have been able to develop materials in an exploratory way with different writers challenging the logic and also suggesting alternative ways of doing things.  There has also been some checking of relatively minor mistakes.

The biggest challenge has often been in terms of coordination and knowing which is the latest version of each piece of material.

 

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Research funding and the EU

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 28 Jun 2016, 17:57

I have found this interesting site https://wizdom.ai/dashboards/leave-or-remain-impact-on-uk-research  about EU funding for research and how this impacts universities and regions.

It shows that Britain received the second most significant funding as a country (only Germany received more).  EU grants were most significant for the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.  According to these figures, the Open University received well less than a tenth of the amount these universities received but the amount is still large (26.8 million) and presumably supported a great deal of research work.  This, of course, feeds back into the production of teaching materials and informs teaching more generally so this will have been significant for the quality of courses (as with the other universities).

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Korean in Central Asia

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 12 Jul 2016, 10:22

I have come across the following article about Koreans and the Korean language in Kazkhstan - Koreans in  Uzbekistan are also mentioned in passing.

http://roadsandkingdoms.com/2016/32826/

I was aware of quite a large community of people of Korean origin in Tashkent as I had been there in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  For example, Korean style pickled cabbage was a significant feature in the markets.

The article is interesting but seems naive in some ways.  Some of the comments made me feel uneasy because of the way the language seems to be seen as inferior.

There are interesting comments about language change.  It discusses the way the Korean language has changed in these new contexts.  According to the article, the variety of Korean derives from one that used to be spoken in the north of Korea.  This reminded me of the way that American English has some things in common with older dialects of English.  For example, "fall" was commonly used to mean "autumn" in Britain but has almost died out.

The changes seem to be seen negatively - the writer refers to languages "deteriorating" and to this variety as being "broken" and that there was "grammatical decay".  However, she also refers to "grammatical aspects of the language changing", which could also be seen as an indication of vitality.

This is an interesting case of how languages evolve in different contexts and can be compared to the way that the English language has evolved in varying contexts..

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A cartoon about stereotypes and the OU

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I saw this cartoon  in the twitter feed of Fernando Rosell (@RossellAguilar).  I think it is interesting in showing how stereotypes can exist for all sorts of groups.  This is fairly harmless but, of course, stereotypes can often be damaging.


A man with beard and long hair being asked if he still worked for the OU

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Peter Pomerantsev on international schools, language and identity

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I subscribe to the London Review of Books and often find the articles very interesting although they may be about topics outside my professional interests. 

However, this blog posting is strongly related to my interests in languages, cultures and identity.  I hope that many people will read it and see that different languages and cultures provide opportunities for enrichment rather than pose a threat.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n12/peter-pomerantsev/diary?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=3812&utm_content=ukrw_subsact&hq_e=el&hq_m=4303579&hq_l=15&hq_v=d1401cc27b



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Student comment that I think is very positive

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 10 Nov 2016, 11:00

On of my students who has been very strong (his marks have been extremely high) wrote about one course I teach (E304) that it "has been a challenge to most of us". 

I think that this can be interpreted as a compliment to the course as it has pushed a student who is very strong rather than letting him coast through content that is not demanding enough.  Of course, if the course is chellenging to him, it is likely to be even more so for others.

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An interesting brief talk on translating brand names into Chinese

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 15:15

I found this talk on translating brand names into Chinese interesting:

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/languages/chinese/chinese-the-tip-your-tongue-how-do-you-translate-brand-names?in_menu=349360

It shows how creative translators need to be if the translation is to be effective.  In some cases, as in the example of "mini", there is a "lucky" coincidence of sounds that matchg the original and a positive meaning (although, this new meaning rather changes the connotation of the original).  In some cases, there has been more of a focus on the meaning and the original sound is lost and someone not speaking Chinese will not know what car is being referred to - as in the translation for Land Rover.

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National Associate Lecturers in Languages Conference Part 3: my talks

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Sunday, 22 May 2016, 16:40

I also gave some talks at this conference.  The first one was on the use of extracts of student assignments as a teaching aid.  The talk seem to provide for interesting discussion from the audience with suggestions of how and when they can be used.

The second talk was on the use of podcasts.  Again, there were interesting comments from the audience but perhaps it was less successful as a talk.  Perhaps it was not as clearly focused in terms of the balance between the practicalities and the principles.

The slides for the talk on student extracts are attached.

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National Associate Lecturers in Languages Conference Part 2, Stephen Bax

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 28 Apr 2016, 14:35

The second talk at the conference was by Stephen Bax, a fairly recently appointed professor at the OU.

He gave some background on his experience and interests.  He has experience of working in Arabic speaking and also studied the language. It seems that this interest in Arabic and the Arabic speaking world might become influential within the OU in the near future - I hope so as it is clearly an interesting and important part of the world.

He discussed his interest in languages more generally and referred to the mysterious language, Voynich (the name sounds Russian as "voina" means "war" but I think this is just a coincidence).  Apparently, it still has not been decoded although he has attempted parts of the manuscript.

He then referred to his role in encouraging research and referred to the important research that the OU is engaged in.  This is highlighted at http://www.open.ac.uk/creet/main/research-themes/language-and-literacies  He suggested that research is not intrinsically complicated although some of the details are.  He explained about his interest in eye movements while reading.  He referred to some very sophsticated equipment that can track these movements and showed some of the results demonstrating that effective readers move around a text rather than in a linear way.  This is quite familiar in principle from what I have read on reading as a skill but it would be useful to know more of the detail.

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National Associate Lecturers in Languages Conference Part 1, Klaus-Dieter Rosdade

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I was at the NALLC conference this weekend and found it an interesting and worthwhile occasion.

The first talk was by Klaus-Dieter Rosade.  He emphasised the joy of language learning and also argued that there is a clear link between the senses and language learning.  For example, he described how he had strong associations between smells he associated with Mexico (eg corn tortillas and beans) and the Spanish language.  At first, I felt sceptical about this as the smells are associated with countries rather than languages but perhaps there is a sensory link between certain smells and certain varieties of languages.  For example, I would associate certain smells with Qinghai province in China - perhaps chilli and mutton and different smells with Guangzhou - perhaps soya and oyster sauce and a more vegetal smell.  This might link to the different languages and varieties of Chinese spoken in these places.

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Podcasts

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I recently made a podcast for students on E304 "Exploring English Grammar" (it can be found at http://patrickandrewsuk.podomatic.com/entry/2016-04-05T08_49_43-07_00 but is probably only of interest to my own students).

I have been surprised and pleased by how positive the feedback has been.  Amongst the reasons for liking it have been:

- it is concise

- it is suitable for listening to on the move

- it enables students who could not make tutorials to have access to some of the issues that were covered

I think it is quite low fi but relatively easy to produce and is another way of communicating with students - it seemed to prompt several emails and interaction with students that might not have occured otherwise.


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New information for tutors

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A new feature has appeared on the records tutors have about students on their Tutor Home and this is date of last module login.  This looks useful in diagnosing students who have not been keeping up with studies and I have used it to contact a few students to check that they are not having particular problems.  So far, the students seem happy to have been contacted but I wonder whether it might seem like "spying" to some.

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Teaching students in prison

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Over the past few years, I have been teaching students in prison on some OU courses and it was good to discuss some of the issues at Saturday's staff development day in Bristol.

One thing that has become clear is that prisoners are very diverse and the circumstances are also very diverse.  They vary greatly in terms of how much time and space there is for study.  Some students submit early because they feel they have so much free time to fill whereas oithers have many other duties (one I taught was doing many jobs and many other courses).  Students can also be disrupted by suddenly having to share cells.  An issue I was not aware of before doing this work is that many prisoners change prisons quite frequently and at short notice.  Apparently, they are not always able to take their materials with them, which must be very disruptive.

I think OU tutors are used to being flexible and working with prisons demands this habit of being flexible.  For example, visits can be cancelled at short notice and some students submit by post and this might mean they arrive at unexpected times.  Some prisons have much stricter security procedures than others and tutors need to be prepared for long waits at the gate although sometimes entry can be reasonably quick.

A big issue for the OU as an institution is enabling courses to be accessible to prison students and courses that are completely online (eg L185 EAP Online) are not available to students.  Unfortunately, this would be a very useful course for many students in prison.

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Tuition group policy

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 7 Mar 2016, 18:51

I went to a meeting about this in Milton Keynes on Friday.  I think there are many advantages to increasing the amount of collaboration between tutors and also in allowing students more opportunities for tuition. 

There seems to be an expectation amongst some of the OU management that this will lead to improved retention and progression.  However, as far as I can see, it is mainly the very strong students that make use of the extra opportunities for tuition.

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Lexical distance of European languages

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 24 Feb 2016, 16:18

I find this diagram about the lexical distance between European languages intriguing:

https://elms.wordpress.com/2008/03/04/lexical-distance-among-languages-of-europe/?utm_content=buffere404a&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

It seems to show English as being close to French in terms of lexis (which I would expect) although it belongs to the Germanic rather than Romance sub group.

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Profile pictures

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 18 May 2016, 14:18

I am quite intrigued by the kinds of profile pictures people have on sites like the OU site, Facebook, LinkedIn.  I notice the following main patterns.

1 A simple face picture, facing the camera.

2 An action shot doing some kind of relevant activity,  My current picture does this by showing me teaching.

3 A picture of the person as part of a group.

4 A symbolic picture (eg of a flower).

5 A picture of the person next to something significant (eg a statue).

It seems that these are all representative of how the person wants to present themselves and we may have different pictures for different sites.  For example, my non professional twitter account has a picture of me running in a 10K.

What intrigues me particularly are pictures that seem to break some of the rules.  An ex-student (not at the OU) has a profile picture on a professional website  that is taken from the side with her looking at her mobile phone with most of her face covered by her long hair.  I wonder about the extent to which this is a conscious decision and if so, what she is trying to express by this choice.


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