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Face to face tutorials and committed students

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Last week I had a tutorial in Plymouth and this also showed how committed a lot of OU students are as they struggled through the transport problems due to the recent floods.
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Elluminate and committed students

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I offered an Elluminate session last night for students on E852 and I was extremely impressed by how committed students were.  The session took place at 9pm GMT but students attended from Russia (where it was a 1 am start) and Korea (6am).  Even for those in Europe, it was late by the finish (well after 11 pm). Even for the few in Britain, the timing was not necessarily convenient with aspects of family life providing distractions.

So, it seems that many students are willing to devote time for the chance to interact in real time by the best methods we have that are practical.


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Language creativity in a football podcast (the Nii Lamptey Show)

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 23 Apr 2015, 17:28

This post attempts to apply some of the ideas from a course I am teaching on the Art of English (E301) to a football podcast for the football team I support (Coventry City).  It tries to show that the language used in the podcast displays many features of creative language use.  I first give some background information about the podcast and then discuss some of the instances of creative language use in one episode (number 14).

The podcast is called the Nii Lamptey Show and is now on the 14th episode.  It can be found here and is released towards the end of each week and consists of a few supporters of Coventry City discussing the previous week in a fairly irreverent way. 

The title itself is somewhat creative.  It makes use of the name of an ex-player for  Coventry City.  However, he did not have a particularly distinguished career for the team - see the posting on September 5th 2012 here.- although he had seemed to be a promising player when young.  It is possible that his career is seen as a kind of metaphor (Cameron 2006) for the fortunes of the club, who have had a decline over recent years.  This is a kind of intertextual reference (Swann et al 2004 in Gillen 2006) where the reference to a relatively obscure player would be recognied by supporters of the club but perhaps not by many others.

The podcast abounds in intertextual references that will make sense to the audience of Coventry City fans but will largely be obscure to outsiders.  For example, there is the punning feature "Go for Gould" which puns on the name of an ex-player and manager, Bobby Gould and the more obscure "Pead all about it", referring to a less well-known player, Craig Pead.  There is often a use of humour that mocks the team.  For example, they refer to a tradition of getting five goals from the distant past and the fact that a five goal win was secured by bringing on a poor quality striker when the team was winning 5-0 so that they would not get more than 5 goals.

There are other references that would be more recognisable to football fans in general but perhaps mysterious to people outside this group.  For example, there is a reference to the "hairdryer treatment".  For most people interested in British football, the would be a clear reference to Alex Ferguson and stories that he stands very close to players he is angry at and shouts at them in order to motivate them.

There are a number of metaphors used in the podcast.  Some examples are football related such as "the midfield got squeezed", "the goals flowed", "we were bombing on" or "Hartlepool got stuffed". There are others that refer to the  incidents in the game "that was the least X certificate stuff" (referring to some violent behaviour) and "he buried that" (ie he scored).  There are metaphors used to describe the way players are playing "Moussa's on fire".  There are also metaphors that are more general.  For example, Hartlepool is described as an "armpit of Britain".

Idioms are sometimes used creatively in a way similar to those mentioned in Carter (2004) .  For example, the idiom, "the roof caved in" is used and adapted for the context.  One speaker said "in a nice way, in a beautiful way for us for Hartlepool the roof caved in".  Of course, it would not have been a beautiful way if the roof really had caved in but the idiom refers to the way that Coventry were successful in the second half of the game.

There is frequent use of hyperbole (McCarthy and Carter 2004, Carter 2004). For example, there is reference to "our 89th left back of the season".  While it is true that the team has had many left backs, eighty nine is an exaggeration.  There is another entertaining example where the speakers says that one of the players drops back because it is very important for him to find a place to play "20 minutes of head tennis, every game".

Styles are switched frequently.  As can be seen from the examples above, the register is often informal and there are also uses of relatively mild swear words.  There can also be some relatively formal language used for an incongruous comic effect.  For example, the manager is described as "young Mr Robins".  Another interesting example is when describing the tactics at a corner and the speaker seems to suggest that there is something clever and complex but then undermines it by saying "dirty bastard".

New words are invented (Carter 2006).  For example, there is the following exchange:

A:  What effect did leaving John Fleck have?
B:    It left us a little Fleckless

This gets an acknowledgement of creativity in a "hey".  Similarly, there is the invention of nicknames for players.  One player, William Edjenguele has been renamed "Billy Edge".

Language is used creatively to show the relationships between the participants.  For example at one point, an idiom seems to have been misused by accident ("tugging at the heartsleeves") and the other participants laugh at this and use it.  This seems to be an example of language pattern reforming that becomes pattern reinforcing (Carter 2006).  The joking about this comes to an end with a couple of jokey comments about it having been a hard week and then there is the comnment "What a player he was" as presumably it sounds like a player's name. 

Sometimes, there is a comic sense of anticlimax as in the exchange below:

A: Is that a serious point?
B: Not really.

This gets a laugh and is part of the irreverent atmosphere of the podcast.

These are just a few examples of the creativity used in a podcast - almost all of the examples are from a 20 minute extract.  The podcast is very clearly intended at a particular audience and the creativity of the language use is largely what gives the podcast interest for the intended listeners.  There are other podcasts that are aimed at different audiences but they tend to share the linguistic creativity.  Another example is the Guardian Football podcast, which can be found here


Cameron L (2006) "Metaphor in everyday language"in Maybin J and Swann J (eds) (2006) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Carter R (2006) "Common Language: corpus, creativity and cognition" in Maybin J and Swann J (eds) (2006) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Carter R (2004) Language and Creativity: The Art of Common Talk Abingdon: Routledge

Gillen J (2006) "Child's Play" in Maybin J and Swann J (eds) (2006) The Art of English: Everyday Creativity Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
McCarthy M and Carter R (2004) ““There's millions of them”: hyperbole in everyday conversationJournal of Pragmatics Volume 36, Issue 2, February 2004, Pages 149–184


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Elluminate meetings

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I have had a couple of Elluminate meetings recently with new students from my E852 groups.

It has seemed to me that it is difficult to encourage deep thought on Elluminate and the more exploratory talk (Mercer 2000) does not really occur.  One reason for this is that wait time in Elluminate seems very awkward - much more than in face to face student where it is possible to see whether students are thinking or just completely stumped. 

I put these thoughts to one of the groups at the end of the session and there was quite an interesting response with one saying that my view was the result of being a man.  This comment seemed to resonate with the other (all were female) students in the session.   Perhaps this relates to what Rovai (2001: 41) calls “socio-emotional messages” and they feel that the sense of belonging is more important than the content.

This seems reasonable as students can really theorise and reflect on complex issues in the asynchronous forums but Elluminate helps them to feel part of the course.

Mercer, N. (2000) Words and Minds: how we use language to think together. London: Routledge.
Rovai, A.P. (2001) “Building classroom community at a distance: a case study” Education Technology Research and Development, Vol. 49, No. 4, 2001, pp. 33–48


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Elluminate meeting on Saturday for L185

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We had an Elluminate meeting on Saturday for L185.

There are now issues relating to level of experience with Elluminate.  A few years ago, all students tended to need an introduction to the technology.  However, many of the students are now familiar with it from other courses.  For these students, introductory activities are perhaps not so useful but there are also students who are new who need a gentle introduction.

I suppose I need to clarify to students the expectations of the first session and also provide more content that is interesting in its own right.

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Giving feedback by podcast

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I decided to use a podcast to give general feedback for students on LB160 to see if this use of the spoken mode might be effective in getting attention.  So far, the response seems to be quite favourable but it is always hard to know how many people listen.

The podcast is at:


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Interpretation in the news

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As I mentioned in a posting on 9 Feb 2011, there seem to be problems with the privatisation of interpretation services and this is referred to in today's Guardian at


This seems to raise important issues about whether people's human rights are being eroded.


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Elluminate meeting with colleagues

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We had an Elluminate meeting of colleagues teaching on other Language Studies courses like E303 last night.  Most of the colleagues had only limited experience of using Elluminate and I think that they felt better about it having been able to practise in a relaxed way.
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Taunton Day School

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Here is the handout for a session I gave at the Taunton Day School.



The Textual Function


1 To examine what themes and rhemes are.

2 To examine what effects are produced as a result of changes in the organisation of texts.

Different ways of representing similar meanings

Compare the following text with alternative versions.

I heard that 100,000 Iraqi civilians were dead. I heard there was now an average of 150 attacks on US troops a day. I heard that in Baghdad 700 people were being killed every month in ‘non-war related’ criminal activities. I heard that 1400 American soldiers had been killed and that the true casualty figure was approximately 25,000.

I heard that Donald Rumsfeld had a machine sign his letters of condolence to the families of soldiers who had been killed. When this caused a small scandal, I heard him say: “I have directed that in future I will sign each letter.”

(Weinburger E (2005))

100,000 Iraqi civilians were reported to be dead. An average of 150 attacks on US troops a day were reported. Sources suggest that in Baghdad 700 people were being killed every month in ‘non-war related’ criminal activities. Official figures suggest that 1400 American soldiers had been killed but there are rumours that the true casualty figure was approximately 25,000.

Donald Rumsfeld had a machine sign his letters of condolence to the families of soldiers who had been killed. When this caused a small scandal, he said: “I have directed that in future I will sign each letter.”

By the end of 2004, 100,000 Iraqi civilians were dead. There was now an average of 150 attacks on US troops a day. In Baghdad 700 people were being killed every month in ‘non-war related’ criminal activities. Officially, 1400 American soldiers had been killed but true casualty figure was approximately 25,000.

Donald Rumsfeld had a machine sign his letters of condolence to the families of soldiers who had been killed. When this caused a small scandal, he did not apologise but said: “I’ve directed that in future I will sign each letter.”

Which of these texts do you find most powerful and why?

Compare the following

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree.

My true love game me a partridge in a pair tree on the first day of Christmas.

I was given a partridge in a pair tree by my true love on the first day of Christmas.

Why is the first one the one that is used?


The first element in a clause is of great importance in English and this is called the theme whereas the rest is called the rheme.

Thompson (1996: 119) defines these as follows:

“Theme is the first constituent of the clause. All the rest of the clause is simply labelled the rheme.”

Halliday (1994: 38) writes that the theme is “what the message is concerned with: the point of departure for what the speaker is going to say”.

The theme “must include the whole of the first item in the experiential meaning. This means that the division between theme and rheme always comes at the end of the first group or phrase relevant to the experiential function and meaning” (Butt et al 2000: 136).

When the theme slot is occupied by a nominal group, it is the whole of the nominal group that is included.


What are the themes in the following texts?

He replaced the receiver in its cradle without answering her ….(Frantzen 2001).

The price on the beautiful paper wrapped filet that he was handed was $78.40.

(Frantzen 2001).

The concept of writing as interaction between writers and readers adds a communicative dimension to writing …..(Hyland 2002: 34).

Circumstances as themes

Quite often the first element is a circumstance as in the examples below:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me.

The following Tuesday, Chip made dinner for Melissa….(Frantzen 2001).

In these examples, there is just an experiential or topical element. However, in many cases, this can be preceded by interpersonal or textual element. In this case, the clause has multiple themes (Butt et al.2000: 137).

Often, we link our experiential meaning to the previous part of the text. Conjunctions are used and when they occur at beginning of clauses, they have to be considered as part of the meaning but they are not the starting point. They are referred to as textual themes.

The examples below show how there can be textual and topical themes in a clause.


The pig

Would not







came tumbling after





(Butt et al 2000: 127)

The examples below show some combinations of interpersonal and topical themes:



the door please







lacked the temperament..





( Frantzen 2001)

Analyse the following extracts from a novel.

But she laughs at this suggestion. (Lahiri 2004)

But, darlings, you don’t know how fond I am of you (Nesbit 1906)

Theme and markedness

The idea of theme can help to explain why we see some kinds of clause as being marked and others as being unmarked. This is one of the most interesting uses of the idea.

Giving information


Some statements are given below. Rank them in terms of how marked they seem to be writing 1 for the least marked, 2 for a slightly marked statement etc.

1. My alarm clock wakes me at 7.30.

2. I am woken by an alarm clock at 7.30.

3. At 7.30, my alarm clock wakes me.

4. With the ring of an alarm clock at 7.30, I wake up

In declarative clauses, an unmarked clause would have the actor, subject and theme in the same nominal group. This would be true of “The cat sat on the mat”.

Where the nominal group are goal and subject as in “The book has been read“, the theme seems more marked. This, however, is not so marked as when the first group or phrase is circumstance or adjunct as in “In my road, there are some very old fashioned lampposts.”

Where the first group is attribute and complement, the theme is extremely marked. Butt et al (2000: 140) give the following example: “Happy is the bride the sun shines on.”

Where might you see such marked themes?

Demanding information


Rank the following in term of markedness.

1. Seen the new film?

2. Have you seen the new film?

3. That new film, have you seen it?

An unmarked theme for a yes/no question would include a finite (the interpersonal theme) and a subject as in:



seen the film?



Interpersonal theme

Topical theme

For wh- questions, the wh- word is the unmarked theme as in, for example “Who is he?”

What would be a marked version of this?

Demanding goods and services

Process/predicator as theme would be the unmarked theme eg “Put the rubbish out”. Marked versions would have the subject or adjunct as the theme as in “You, put the rubbish out” or “Under no circumstances, forget to put the rubbish out”.

Theme and clause complex, paragraph and text

There can be complexities in how theme and rheme are considered in cause complex. Thompson (1996: 131) gives the example “As the universe expanded, the temperature of the radiation decreased”. Here, “expanded” and “decreased” could be considered as rhemes for the preceding parts. However, the starting point is really that the universe expanded.

At the level of clause complex, the first clause can be regarded as theme for the second.

If you see her, say “Hello”.

Thematic progression

If the theme is the starting point of a message, the rheme might be considered the destination (Butt et al 2000: 142).

Most themes will relate back to themes or rhemes that have occurred in a previous part of the text.

What are the themes and rhemes in the following extracts and which of the themes build on previous rhemes?

This is where Bob lives. Every morning he rises at six o’clock. He has a cup of tea and two eggs for breakfast, before leaving for the rocket launch-pad. On the way he stops to buy a newspaper and some chocolate toffee. He’s on his way to work on the moon.


Bob starts work. His job as man on the moon is very important. He has to keep the moon clean and tidy. Quite often astronauts drop sweet packets and cans.

(Bartram 2002)

Mervyn King: Bank of England not to blame for crisis



It was the banks and Gordon Brown wot did it. Neutered by New Labour and unable to prevent the City from behaving in an increasingly reckless fashion, the Bank of England could only issue reports and deliver sermons as Britain slid inexorably towards its worst financial and economic crisis since the 1930s.

That is the recent past as seen through the eyes of Sir Mervyn King, and there will be many both in the financial sector and at Westminster who will raise more than a sceptical eyebrow at the governor's conclusions. King, they will argue, is now rewriting history in order to salvage his own reputation.

Several mistakes were made, the governor admitted in his BBC Today Programme Lecture. The Bank should have done more to prevent the disaster and should have tried much harder to make the case for a big recapitalisation of the banks before the critical moment in October 2008 when the entire global system teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. But a mea culpa it was not.

Larry Elliott The Guardian May 3, 2012 http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/economics-blog/2012/may/02/mervyn-king-financial-crisis

Given and new

Organisation into given and new is parallel rather than the same as theme and rheme. The most unmarked way of giving information is for the given to be in the same place as theme and the new information to be the rheme.

New information is shown by a proclaiming tone whereas given information is shown by a referring tone. Proclaiming tones are shown by a fall whereas referring tones use fall-rise tones.

Implications of an awareness of this way of viewing the textual function

An awareness of theme and rheme and how they are related can be very useful for learners of English as they read or listen to texts and help them when they produce their own spoken and written texts.

When students are writing (and, to a lesser extent, speaking), they need to use textual themes to help the structure of the text clearer.

The idea of markedness can help learners to become aware of how certain texts are attempting to emphasise certain aspects of the message. This can be useful in the receptive skills because it will allow the learners to read or listen more critically. When producing language, learners might be able to produce language that achieves their purpose by using more or less marked forms. This awareness of marked ness may be particularly useful when reading literary texts (writers on literature and language teaching (eg Short 1996) tend to refer to this as deviance).

The idea of given and new is very important in terms of pronunciation, especially for intonation. Being able to use pronunciation effectively so that the new information is highlighted can have a great influence on how intelligible a speaker is.


Bartram S (2002) Man on the Moon: A day in the life of Bob Dorking: Templar.

Butt D, R Fahey, S Feez, S Spinks and C Yallop (2000) Using Functional Grammar (2nd Edition) Sydney: Macquarie University.

Frantzen J (2001) The Corrections London: Fourth Estate.

Halliday MAK (1994) An Introduction to Functional Grammar (Second Edition) London: Arnold.

Hyland K (2002) Teaching and Researching Writing Harlow: Longman.

Lahiri J (2004) The Namesake London: Harper

Nesbit E (1906) The Railway Children London: Puffin.

Short M (1996) Exploring the Language of Poems, Plays and Prose Harlow: Longman

Thompson G (1996) Introducing Functional Grammar London: Arnold.

Weinburger E (2005) “What I Heard about Iraq” London Review of Books 27: 3.

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I have had a busy week on Elluminate this week with sessions on consecutive evenings.  It is quite an intense way of working, especially with small groups.  I think I need to work on giving time to students to think and not be afraid of the silence as they think.

Would any of the participants like to comment?


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Exploring the BNC

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 15 Jun 2012, 09:47

During Saturday's E303 tutorial, we were practising using the Monoconc concordancer and tried comparing "bad" and "poor" as two words that can often be synonyms.  The main differences we found were:

- the common collocation of "not bad"

- the common use of "poor" to express sympathy - eg "poor little thing/poor dear"


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Student views of who distance tutors are

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It occurs to me it would be interesting to know who students think distance tutors are.  This is largely prompted by the fact that a student phoned me up at twenty past midnight last night.  Does he think we are counter cultural bohemians who stay up late or that we are robots who do not need sleep?  Actually I was still awake but I think we often assume that late phone calls are harbingers of bad news rather than extension requests.
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Elluminate and L185

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A new L185 has recently started.  I did the first Elluminate session with one of the groups a couple of days ago.  It seemed to work reasonably well although there were some problems with loss of sound.

Would any of the participants care to comment on how they felt about it?


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Michael Rosen on grammar

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I have increasingly become aware of Michael Rosen's blog and it is a good read that is of relevance to the E303 and E852 courses.  The following posting should be of interest to students on both courses:


I would be interested in any comments.


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Elluminate one to one

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 30 Jan 2012, 10:10
I had an Elluminate session yesterday which only one student attended.  It seemed to be quite a fruitful session as there was not so much time spent on management issues like organising breakout rooms.
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sign language and communication

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An article from "The Guardian" about sign language and the importance of members of the family being able to communicate with each other:


This overlaps with some E852 themes such as multimodality and learning through language.


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first assignment for E852

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 6 Jan 2012, 10:57

I have just finished marking the first assignments for E852.  Most students did well, probably most did better than those writing the first assignments for E844 used to.  Perhaps the three part structure helped and it also seems that more people are coming on to this course having had experience of previous Masters modules.

The more I look at the E852, the better I think the course is.  There are some great readings coming up as well.

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Poetry as the "great unsettler"

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 13 Dec 2011, 10:34

I admire her principles in refusing the prize but I also like her points that "poetry is the great unsettler. It questions the established order of the mind. It is radical, by which I don't mean that it is either leftwing or rightwing, but that it works at the roots of thinking. It goes lower than rhetoric, lower than conversation, lower than logic, right down to the very faint honest voice at the bottom of the skull."


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Another article critical of changes to university funding

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 12 Dec 2011, 17:34

Here is another article about changes to university funding.


It seems to me that the government have a flawed understanding of what universities are about and how collaboration rather than competition is the default and best mindset of academics.  There are occasions when competition is appropriate (as when applying for grants) but generosity has been the main attitude I have experienced when communicating with academics from other universities.

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The language of tutor group forums

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 24 Nov 2011, 12:16

There has been some discussion amongst the E852 tutors about the nature of the tutor group forums and, in particular, how formal and academic the language should be.  It is a complex question and it perhaps relates to the relative importance of different aims for the forums.

One of the aims is for the students to interact and this would seem to suggest that the language should be relatively informal.  Encouragement of interaction would perhaps tend to focus on frequent and relatively unreflective posting.

Another aim would be for students to explore ideas on the course.  This might suggest a more academic style as students refer to experience as well as what they have been reading.

Another important aim might be for the students to rehearse the kinds of ideas and the language needed for their later work.  This might tend to suggest that students should post in a relatively academic way.

I would think that it might be appropriate for the students to use a variety of different voices as they post but would be interested in what others think.


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Evaluating online sources

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 15 Nov 2011, 15:52

Some useful guidelines can be found here:


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Elluminate again

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Did another Elluminate session yesterday.  I think that one of the grreatest benefits is that students can share skills.  For example, one of the students told the rest of the group how to do screenshots and this seemed to be reassuring and some of the rest of the group seemed to appreciate a spoken explanation in addition to the one on the course website.
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Numbers again

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 10 Nov 2011, 14:44

I suppose a theme is beginning to emerge about my scepticism about numbers and thinking about education and this was reinforced by visiting my son's school this morning to meet his teacher.

The teacher had given us a profile with various numbers on that are supposed to represent his current level in various subjects.  She did not really explain them but more importantly, the numbers and our discussion did not points to detailed strengths and weaknesses and strategies for development.

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"Averages will be of no help"

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 10 Nov 2011, 14:43

This seems like a balanced criticism of what appears to be a naive attempt to produce a league table of English skills.


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Elluminate session for E852

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It was good being able to talk to students on the course yesterday and I think Elluminate can play an important affective role in bringing students together and giving extra momentum to their studies.  Does anyone have thoughts on this?
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