MOOCing and Learning: Corpora, Concordancing and Conversations

Corpus MOOCThis is another quick post with my impressions of the first few weeks of the Corpus Linguistics MOOC in response to Vedrana’s earlier comment

I had high expectations of this course and I think it’s fair to say that, so far, those expectations have easily been met and surpassed! I wrote in my last post that this was a great opportunity. I hadn’t realised just how good of an opportunity it was and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

We are getting to hear from a wide range of people who are developing and using corpus linguistics to research a wide range of questions. They are using corpora to confirm or challenge intuition and to gain insights about language use in ways that would not be possible without large quantities of data. Each week there are “In Conversation” pieces where Tony McEnery chats to someone about their work or involvement with corpus linguistics. These, I think, are my favourite part of the course and Tony has expressed how much he has enjoyed doing them. There has been a lot of good feeback about them in the comments and I have a sense that they are a good way to learn – even though we are not directly involved in the chat. They are particularly enjoyable to watch and the information they contain feels more memorable.  This could be a personal reaction but, as I like to use conversation in a language learning situation, I’d like to look into it a bit more. Although these sections are in the supplementary part of the course, I’d really recommend watching them.

As well as finding out about the range of applications of corpus linguistics, we are also learning how to use the tools and techniques. This is what I felt I most needed to learn before starting the course. Corpus Linguistics allows people to access large quantities of language and this can only be done with a computer, specially designed software and the ability to use them! In the first few weeks, we have been introduced to AntConc, freely available software developed by Laurence Anthony. The video tutorials are also available on a YouTube playlist. As I said in my last post, I never knew what I could do with corpora or how to do it. I now know how to find collocations and frequency data, investigate concordances and sort them to the left or the right of a search term. I can discover which words are unusually frequent in one corpus when compared to another one – keywords! I can clone results in order to compare and, this week, I’ve found out what n-grams are. It’s very exciting!

I’m enjoying the flexibility and the variety of the course. As well as the conversations and the video tutorials, there are introductory lectures, readings, practical activities and discussions that are well attended by mentors. These are organised in a ‘to-do’ list that you can mark as completed as you progress through the course each week. You can do the bits that are most useful or interesting for you. For the first few weeks, I’ve been lucky to have a lot more time to be able to spend on it and I can choose what I do depending on the mood I’m in, where I am, what time I’ve got or who’s with me. I’m dipping into the advanced lectures where they interest me. I’m not very interested in its application to translation studies at the moment but I really enjoyed finding out about its combination with discourse analysis. I would love to understand more about the statistical side of things but I got to a point in the first lecture on the subject where it no longer made any sense, so I’ll need to come back to that. (If anyone can point me towards any very simple explanations of how things like statistical significance are calculated, I’d be grateful.)

Next week, we’ll learn how to build our own corpora. The week after, we’ll find out about social issues and corpora as well as something called CQPweb, before we look at textbook and dictionary construction in week 6, language learning in week 7 and swearing in the final week.

I’m finding the course very useful and interesting. First impressions are that it is well prepared, well structured and well supported. It is probably frustrating not to have enough time or energy to do it justice or to feel that you are falling behind, but people are going through it at very different speeds. Some have just started in the last few days, while others can only spend a short time on it each week. We’ve just found out that the course will now be supported by the mentors for two weeks after the end of the course to add even more flexibility. And, there do seem to be plans to run it again in the future – another of Vedrana’s questions 🙂

16 Responses to MOOCing and Learning: Corpora, Concordancing and Conversations

  1. God I hope they run it again in the future. Your posts are making me wish I’d enrolled. But there are just only so many projects I can take on in a single month. I wish I could do it all!!!!! (sorry for whining – my point is that I really enjoy your posts and they really entice me to learn more about corpus linguistics as soon as I have the chance!)

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Hi Anne,
      Glad to hear you’ve enjoyed the posts. Sorry about the timing of the enticement 😉 but hopefully you’ll get a chance next time around. I’m fairly sure there will be a next time around. Good luck with all your current projects!
      PS: You’re not whining!

  2. Gordon Wells says:

    Carol, I had been vaguely aware that the course was in the offing, but it was your blogpost that actually got me to investigate further and enrol. So, thanks very much, I’m in your debt because, as you say, it is very well put together. Like you, I like the conversations too – though I do wonder how a corpus linguistics approach/analysis could possibly do justice to Michael Hoey’s hand gestures…. 😉

    • Carol Goodey says:

      That’s really good to hear, Gordon! Thank you.

      The gestures were very expressive! I’m not sure about corpus linguistics but it is interesting to think about the role of gestures in thinking and communication. Some conversation analysis includes information in the transcriptions about what people are doing physically and Scott Thornbury has recently been talking and writing about embodied language use and language learning.

      Hope you enjoy the rest of the course and that you find out something about multilingual corpora and/or decide to build one yourself 🙂

  3. ven_vve says:

    Hi Carol,

    It’s great to hear the course is proving to be so interesting and useful. Now that I see what you’ve covered so far, I would definitely find it frustrating not to have enough time to go through everything in detail! So it’s good to know they seem to be planning to run it again.

    As far as calculating statistical significance is concerned, I find statistics really challenging. I originally thought this was because I’m hopeless at math, but we were told in my Applied Linguistics program that you apparently don’t need to know any complex mathematical operations to apply statistical methods – it’s a question of logical thinking. Maybe I’m just hopeless at that as well. 🙂

    Now I’m really curious to hear more about what you’ll be doing, especially textbook and dictionary construction. I hope we’ll be able to read about it in the coming weeks!

  4. joannalw says:

    Reblogged this on Teacherpants and commented:
    I’m taking the same course, though I don’t think I’m as diligent a student as Carol is. I do have some comments and questions, but I’m going to discuss them later.

  5. annindk says:

    To create a text file from your posts just copy the text, bung it into Notepad, do a quick check for weird things and save in UTF-8 format.

    Do you use Dropbox or another cloud storage service?

    It’s good practice to go through the process yourself, but if you don’t get time I’ll just grab your files the next time I have a play with AntConc. Probably not unti tomorrow though.

    Have a great day!

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Thanks Ann! I’m able to create the text file but I do like the extra advice to ‘check for weird things’. I’ll be sure to do that! What I’m not so clear about his how to get it to your Dropbox location but that’s probably because I haven’t tried it yet. I will try, if I’m feeling brave enough, later today 😉

  6. Mary says:

    Great review of the course so far – thank you!
    I’m moving through it very slowly indeed, due to other commitments but really enjoying the experience. Totally agree with you on how well-structured and flexible the design of the course it.

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Thanks, Mary! It’s good to hear that you are having a similar experience. There’s a lot more to corpus linguistics than I had realised!

  7. geoffjordan says:

    Thanks VERY much for keeping us informed about the course, Carol. Great stuff – your blog entries I mean.

  8. Kathy says:

    Add my name to the list of folks who will be watching for it the next time round! Thank you for sharing your experience, Carol. I’ve recently started playing with COCA in a limited way (since I don’t know much yet). Usually, I research language use questions that come up in class. Often it’s not a matter of wrong or right but appropriate register. The corpus makes that clear in a way that I can’t! It sounds as if this course is perfect for taking it to the next step (and the one after that)!

    • Carol Goodey says:

      Hi Kathy. It sounds like you have a similar experience to me in your current use of corpora. This course is really quite extensive and allows you to pick and choose what you want to do. I think you’ll enjoy it when you do it.

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