#corpusmooc 8 and wrap-up

See the #corpusMOOC tag for all my posts on this MOOC. One more to come, on notetaking and blogging, plus a little text analysis…

Week 8 was on swearing, focusing on conversational English, with a disclaimer encouraging participants to “discuss and debate the topic of this step in an adult and constructive manner”. The warm up activity asked participants to listen out for examples of bad language, make a brief note of the context, who was speaking to who [sic] and what was said, returned to in the discussion question/s: 

Did the analytical framework presented work for the data you collected? If so, which categories of bad language did you hear? If not, why not? Was the language used an issue perhaps? Were there contextual factors not present in the corpus data that seemed important to interpretation in context? Has linguistic innovation changed the use of bad language since the 1990s?

The vids looked at what is ‘bad language’, developing a classification scheme for the data, do men swear more than women (no, but they use different words), how do men and women swear at the opposite gender (men swear less at women), and their own (men use stronger words), do different categories of swearing select stronger or weaker words systematically (quite possibly), how does bad language use and age interact (the young swear more, but is it age which is the issue), how does the use of bad language and class interact (tricky), the desirability – and viability – of looking at multiple factors at the same time, combining gender and age/class in two case studies . It’s all in Tony’s book. See also an article on Rude Britannia, and When Swedes swear, they do so in English: “often in contravention of accepted linguistic norms”. It turns out there’s a network for swearing researchers in the Nordic countries, called SwiSca, and they’ve just published a book.

No quiz, instead the “the opportunity to participate in a rigorous assessment”, similar to that in week 4, with a choice of three essay questions:

  • use the Lancaster Newsbooks Corpus to identify key themes connected with the The Glencairn Uprising
  • use the Lancaster-Oslo/Bergen Corpus (LOB) to explore the use of the passive construction in different genres of written English
  • use the VU-Lancaster Advanced Writing Corpus to explore the use of linking adverbials in advanced student writing

Still not for me.

OK, so what of this MOOC as a whole, and the FutureLearn platform?

Looking first at the discussion forum that wasn’t, it felt hard work just to find comments – click to open the list, endless scroll…then out of normal ‘workflow’, how do you get back to comments?

I’ve had to take this screenshot down to a silly size to get everything on, which makes the point itself (click for a clearer version):


The comments link at the bottom of the screen opens the list of comments for that page. You can click on poster names, but I’m not really sure why I would want to do that. To get to a broader list of comments you need to click on the square top left, which opens a window with Activity as an option (alongside To do and Progress), see the pretty graphics below.

Here you get options for everyone, following and replies, all completely out of context obv, although you can go to the thread. To find your own posts you need to look somewhere else entirely – top right, the little grey man (I didn’t add an avatar) offers My profile (plus my courses, settings, sign out), with activity, followers and following as options.

Finally, the grey block of nine in the centre at the top of the screen brings down links to courses, about and partners. It’s all a bit sparse, although they oceans of white space may in part be due to the size of my (pretty bog standard) laptop screen.

In addition I found the tone of the discussion forum offputting. Every comment was given a pat on the head, and there seemed to be little substantive discussion. Moreover, on occasion the mentors might pose a question, but the commenter may never see it as there’s no mail alert or sensible way of getting back to your comment. You’d spend more time trying to find stuff of interest than actually digesting the comments. Very disappointing, and that’s without addressing the point that participants were unable to initiate discussions outwith the defined structure of the course.

Whereas in some MOOCs the instructors are completely absent, here they were falling over each other – not a sustainable approach, and I wonder how this affected the discourse. In his final mail Tony comments: “So many of you have said that you have learned a lot from me. As always happens with corpus work, the teacher learns a lot from the students too” – all very binary. And there was no peer review – while acknowledging issues with that, it’s a further reflection of the nature of this beast.

Finally, ain’t it pretty, but what does it all mean?

Under Progress, top left of screen – go me!:


More broadly, while corpus linguistics is not rocket science at this level (and the conclusions often seem surprisingly subjective) it’s a technique I’m glad I know more about. For my needs there was too much on using massive corpora – some examples of smaller projects might be an idea next time out, plus less ‘pure’ linguistics. In terms of presentation it felt more like a ‘course’ aimed at a fairly traditional student cohort than something more innovative, due in part to the absence of community and curation – just a loong stream of stuff. Looking at Tony’s post on Macmillan Education, this is perhaps not altogether surprising:

Are MOOCs the future of education? Well, in my opinion, yes and no. Yes – we must use them…But then also no – MOOCs must live with, and complement, face-to-face teaching, in my view. The responsiveness and immediacy of face-to-face teaching cannot be readily provided via a MOOC. If nothing else, the scale of the enterprise defies any credible and sustained attempt at building a rapport with individual students, which is, in my experience, a key motivator for students and staff alike.

In the light of all the above it’s not really surprising that Twitter didn’t really take off, but here’s the TAGS bits n bobs: viewer | spreadsheet | spreadsheet map version | map:



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