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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.


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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:


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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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:


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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The challenges of academic writing for students at level 1

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 4 Feb 2016, 12:33

I have been having interesting discussions with some students through email and OU Live about academic writing.  These relate to issues of avoiding being too informal and personal while also being evaluative and developing a point of view.

Part of the issue is that academic writing tends to value concision and personal markers tend to use words that would be better used for other things. 

However, it is important for students to show stance.  They can do this by using a variety of evaluative words such as "major/partial").  Epistemic modality ie modal verbs for likelihood (eg "might/will") or deontic modality ie modal verbs used to express desirability ("should/must") are ways that students can show their stance without being too personal in style.

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Collini on universities and teaching

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 15 Jan 2016, 10:31

Collini has written several articles and a book about universities and teaching and here is a new article from him in the LRB:


As with previous articles, I find the arguments here persuasive.  There is an interesting comment that now academics are seen as "spongers", which seems to reflect current discourse.  However,  it only requires a little thought to realise that nearly all academics are dedicated and do the job because they are motivated and interested - almost by definition, they are educated and intelligent and could earn more money for less work elsewhere but do the job because they are genuinely interested in their subjects and thinking in general.

Collini also raises issues about how teaching could be evaluated and casts doubts on methods like retention, student satisfaction surveys and employment figures as means of analysis.  Low retention figures might reflect non-educational issues such as health problems and changes in people's circumstances.  This is particularly relevant for the OU as it has many students who have health issues and although many succeed despite great health challenges, others have their studies so disrupted that they have to leave.

Good teaching consists of interaction and helping students to see the world in new ways rather than in them simply being happy.  Evaluating teaching should make use of some qualitative methods of observation but I wonder whether this will happen.  There are opportunities for the OU to show how the materials reflect good pedagogy (eg by scaffolding interaction with content).

Employment statistics may also not be relevant for a university like the OU that has a number of older students.  I currently have a student who is 89 years old and was speaking to a younger, but still retired, student at a tutorial recently and he was telling me how much he loves studying and that he just does it because curiosity is what a rich life should involve.

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Happy New Year

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The following link gives a translation for Happy New Year in a variety of languages:


I wish all the best for 2016 to anyone who reads this blog.

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Research on Tutor Group Forums

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Two colleagues, James Roy and Lynda Griffin have researched the use of Tutor Group Forums and the following slide show presents some of the main findings:


The research is very interesting as there is great potential for learning in tutor groups and I have a stake in making my Forums as effective as possible.  I would like to write more reactions to it in the future.

At the moment, a key point that strikes me is that it is vital for tutors to maintain social presence.  An issue I am currently considering is whether it matters that some groups are much more active and likely to post and whether I, as the tutor can do anything about it.

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Briton in space, multlingualism and intercultural competence

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 16 Dec 2015, 17:44

I suppose I am showing my age if I state how interested I have always been by space exploration.  So, I have been very interested in newspaper coverage and television coverage of Tim Peake's flight.

One of the aspects that drew my attention was his need to study Russian during his training,  This was not surprising as he is traveling in a Russian craft and the Star Gazing programme last night mentioned how Russian is naturally the working language for the Soyuz flights although English will be used on the ISS.  The international nature of the ISS also presumably means there would need to be a high degree of intercultural competence on the part of the cosmo/astronauts.

Probably most viewers would have been aware of his physical, psychological and scientific skills but linguistic and intercultural competence must also be vital for these cosmo/astronauts.

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New blog post

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A multilingual seasonal greetings sign seen in the underground (via the @OUDALEL twitter account).

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Student expectations

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I have recently had a couple of emails from students on a Level 1 course, stating how disappointed they were with their marks for their first two TMAs.  This surprised me as their marks were in the 60s and 70s, which strike me as encouraging starts.  I have tried to persuade them that if they work hard, they should be capable of getting higher marks later.  It strikes me as slightly strange that students should be so disappointed with solid marks at such an early stage on their degree that they wrote to me.

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Sound difficulties on OU Live

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 11 Nov 2015, 14:49

I am still rather concerned about the fragility of OU Live.  One student said my sound kept cutting in and out in an OU Live session last night but students this morning seem to have found the sound quality good.  There seems to be too much unreliability for OU Live to be an integral part of courses.

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Grammar 2.0

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 5 Nov 2015, 15:21

I came across the following article today.


I found it generally interesting but feel it misses opportunities to explore issues and ended up feeling slightly disappointed.  The sub heading Grammar 1.0 was presumably making a parallel with web 1.0.  I assumed there was going to be a discussion of Grammar 2.0.  This then made me think about what Grammar 2.0 might be and whether this was an appropriate term for SFL.  There seem to be parallels in terms of the focus on the social and language being seen as something that is produced by people for their needs rather than being an idealised resource that users simply receive passively.

Does anyone have any thoughts on whether it is useful to think of Grammar 2.0?

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Online language teaching

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I have just come across a rather negative critique of online language teaching at http://www.teflideas.com/055_The_Drawbacks_of_Online_Language_Learning.html

While there may be some challenges in teaching languages online, it seems to me that the post is unduly negative.  I first address the comments and then state some advantages of online language learning.

1 "only one person can have the mic at any time".  This is not true in OU Live.  The teacher may choose to restrict access to the microphone but it is easy to allow multiple speakers although this might affect sound quality.

2 "Groups tasks - are incredibly hard to initiate and execute".  Again this is not true.  In OU Live, there are Breakout Rooms where students can work together in groups.

3 "Circulating, listening in, praising good language, speaking specifically, demonstrating a point, eliciting errors and answers quietly to a group while others are working is virtually impossible in a virtual classroom".  Again this is not true.  A tutor can be in one of the breakout rooms and address feedback to the learners in that room only.

4 "Instruction gets filtered and convoluted when you put a medium between yourself and the learners. Non verbal gestures are unknown and unnoticed — you can’t point, shrug, nod, or grimace".  Perhaps there is more justice in this comment.  However, there is the option of the text box, which might be more public and allow for another mode for expression.  There is also the possibility of using emoticons.

5 "Teacher led teaching".  This does not need to be the case.  Learners can be asked to work in groups.  Learners also can/should bring their own needs to a class.  Learners can be asked to prepare to lead the session.

6 "whiteboard presentation, which forces all written communication to be typed".  This is not completely true but I am not really sure what the problem is with this.

7 "If a student asks something to the teacher, it’s inevitably typed rather than spoken".  This is not necessarily the case. 

Some other points that seem relevant are the following:

- the OU's online language learning tends to be integrated with the rest of the course (eg online asynchronous discussion forums) so online tutorials should not be seen in isolation.

- online classes allow for learners to be remote from each other and this provides opportunities in that the learners can see and know different things.  The sessions may bring people together who might not otherwise meet.

- sessions can be recorded and in theory, learners might be able to reflect on their performance in a way face to face teachers cannot.

Would anyone care to comment on the original posting or my reply?

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New courses about to start

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 29 Sep 2015, 17:46

I am about to start tutoring on courses about to enter new presentations (E852. L161, LB160, L185).  It is slightly confusing that for some courses, I can post introductory messages on the Tutor Group Forum but students cannot reply - I am not really sure why this distinction is made.

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I was at Milton Keynes yesterday for the induction meeting for the new course, E304.  It seems quite different from the previous course, E303.  In particular, the corpus tool seems very different from the previous concordancer in that there is more of an emphasis on grammar rather than the previous concordancer which had more of a lexical focus.

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