#corpusmooc 1: introduction

And we’re off! Corpus linguistics started on 27 January. The FutureLearn page states workload is three hours a week, so clearly the average participant is not expected to work through the 46 items listed for week 1, an endless scroll…better navigation needed, this (from the welcome email) doesn’t quite wash:

This is a course where you call the shots – we want you to take away from the course what you need..we actively encourage you to pick through the host of materials we have produced for you and to learn what you wish.

From the ‘what lies ahead’ article:

 It will be best for you if you take from each week what you want and then move on – your fellow students will be shifting their supporting discussion of the materials as the course passes and if you fall behind you will lose your opportunity to contribute to and benefit from that discussion.

I started with the videos, moving swiftly on from the welcome to the vids for the week, ie why use a corpus, annotation and mark-up, and types of corpora:

types 1-2 types 3-7

Next up, frequency data (and normalised frequencies), concordances (a “stylised presentation”) and collocation – all to be addressed later and doubtless present in the glossary, and, finally for the week, corpora and language teaching (very interesting, may return to this).

All around 10 mins and fairly painless. In terms of presentation, not sure the standing behind a desk pose is ideal.

Moving on to the articles, keeping notes is encouraged, but described in a level of detail which feels a bit heavy handed for an open course rather than undergrads. There are long articles on the contributors and mentors – might work better as a reference doc. The whole welcome section is broken into way too many pieces – surprised there aren’t badges to say you’ve read them…

After watching the vids and before the quiz you are exhorted to update your ‘journal’:

Keep a record of what you are learning. You will find it really helps as the course proceeds if you keep clear, structured notes of what you have learnt.

OK after the welcome, introduction and quiz (with handy hints) it’s on to the practical stuff for the week – really need to be able to collapse the stuff you’ve marked as completed – which I will address in a separate post (all straightforward enough). After that come two PDF readings and the discussion question for week 1:

Noam Chomsky is one of the most influential figures in corpus linguists. His ideas have shaped corpus linguistics while also, paradoxically, seeking to deny its value. Discuss.

RU serious? A bit of a leap from the vids for the week. On Tuesday morning, 34 posts, by Monday 3 Feb, 530.

Next up, supplementary (ie optional) materials. I enjoyed the in conversation vid with Geoffrey Leech, who goes even further back than me. He commented that corpus linguistics first got going in the late 1980s – before that it was something which went on in a locked room, where no one was sure what was going on.

I did a module on what was called computational linguistics as part of my degree in German in 1983-4. I think I decided to do it because it sounded interesting and meant one less final exam, and who knew I would revisit the topic 30 years later. I examined some excerpts of plays by Expressionist author Georg Kaiser, typing the text in from scratch. I remember a group of us (all girls) making our way to the language lab to do our text entering, sitting in a room with a load of boys doing computer studies who were rather surprised to hear what we were doing! Our lecturer may have done some demos in class – my clearest memory is of him getting stressed trying to connect to some Big Computer after bashing an acoustic coupler into his phone. Happy days!

The advanced stuff, items 32-46, is made up of UCREL summer school presentations. I’ve looked at a couple and they seem at a similar level to the course vids, but sit a bit awkwardly in the stream. It feels a bit like they couldn’t bear to leave anything out.

Where’s the discussion forum? 

What of discussion? There’s an introduce yourself ‘discussion’, but this takes the form of a (long -1700+) list of comments. There is no forum as such, so no way of establishing community, initiating discussions, getting responses by email, searching…There’s an activity stream where you can see replies to your comments, but you can only see the comments themselves on your profile page.

On Tuesday I discovered that what I thought was a read or completed count is a link to comments on the page. Now this could be rather more obvious, although other people seem to have spotted it. A bit more digging about and posting a query on a random page eventually led me to the this from FutureLearn:

But not everyone likes being social, so rather than sending our learners off to separate discussion forums, you can add your comments alongside the content…We’ll be building on these concepts of ‘discussion in context’ and ‘following’ over the coming months, so that social learning feels less like a forced conversation and more like a chat with friends about your ideas and what you’ve learned.

Interesting that they are considering alternative ways of arranging discussion, but this doesn’t feel like a proper step forward. A case of either/or rather than both/and? As it stands it feels like discussion is only on the course organiser’s terms. First impression of the platform overall: too linear by a mile and not very intuitive. As well as the comments icon, it turns out icon top left and right brings up some more options if you click on them.  I don’t want to dismiss the approach out of hand, but it may be one factor in a my feeling rather less engaged in this MOOC than in most first weeks. Enough for now, it is early days.

Every MOOC seems to have its little ironies. In this one, on analysing large amounts of language, you can’t search, sort or do anything with the discussion forum, may be tempted to try something with the Twitter stream.

What’s going on on Twitter? 126 tweets by 83 people on day 1, total of 403 by 170 people by the end of week 1…you do the math! I’m using the TAGS Viewer to view the tweets, plus I couldn’t resist setting up a contributor map, which worked out of the box, fab:

map of people who have tweeted #corpusmooc

#corpusmooc contributor map – click for the latest version. Here’s how to.

Fair amount of bloggage: MOOCing in public | Initial impressions | #corpusMOOC underway | week 1 (see final para re the non-existent discussion forum)

See the #corpusMOOC tag for all my posts on this MOOC.


3 thoughts on “#corpusmooc 1: introduction

  1. The forum thing I think is crazy, but the lack of video download did for me.
    I feel a bit sad as they’ve clearly put a load of effort in, but no downloads means I have to sit and watch rather than on the commute like Coursera MOOCs.

    The navigation is a bit clunky too

  2. Great post! Thanks for your comment on my blog. It’s so good to know I’m not the only one finding the discussion forum, or rather page comments, slightly odd. I too thought the reading was a bit of a leap from the videos, especially at 29 pages! I’m only a beginner in this area so it was a little too heavy for me. I’m only about 10 pages in, but I’ve managed to at least get something from it.

    @pat, I have been watching them on my commute, but only because I’m above ground with a fairly good signal for most of it. There were a few points where the video would freeze when out of signal and then the audio would restart but the video wouldn’t. I would have preferred a video download though.

  3. I’ve just been having a look at a Coursera MOOC which has just kicked off (Scandi Film and TV) and it’s such a relief to be able to find your way around just a little bit, plus see what’s going on in one place. Who’d have thought it!

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