#CORPUSMOOC : Week 1 Notes from @drbexl

Here’s my notes from week 1 of Lancaster University’s MOOC ‘Corpus Linguistics’ (Haven’t got time to do the practical exercise, but this is twigging some thinking re my PhD thesis database!):

Screen Shot 2014-10-01 at 18.03.52 (3)

What is a corpus?

  • A collection of words?
  • It’s a methodology but not a theory of language.

Why might I use corpus linguistics?

  • Look at language ‘as it is’
  • Large amounts of data which are difficult to ID with intuition/anecdotes
  • Large amounts of data show us things we’re doing that we don’t even realise.
  • ID rare/exceptional cases not identifiable in others ways
  • Human beings are slower/less accurate than computers for purposes of this kind of research.

What is your research question/hypothesis?

  • Is the corpus ‘off the shelf’ useful to your question?
  • If you’re developing a corpus – how will you need to define it?
  • 30,000 à billions of words.
  • Needs to be representative of the corpus – e.g. http://www.natcorp.ox.ac.uk
  • Must be machine-readable (not just a photo of the text) – so that the computer can identify the words
  • It may act as a standard reference for what is typical in language.
  • May be annotated with extra linguistic codes (e.g. grammar)

What is annotation and markup?

Computers do not have the cultural knowledge that we have, so we have to mark-up the text so it can read the nuances, etc.

  • Delimit particular sections as e.g. a ‘heading’, a ‘sentence’, etc. allowing computer to analyse just those areas, etc.
  • Understand how this is done, as the computer can automatically do this, etc. then allows sophisticated searches through the data.

Types of Corpora

Come in different flavours, so different things can be assessed – e.g. date, time, genre, etc. Specific = outline the areas, but are also general ‘corpora’ – especially language (note difference between spoken/written).

  • Think about the shape of spoken language – especially the differences between e.g. the different people you talk to.
  • Parallel, new language, historic material, on-going corpus…

Frequency data, concordances and collocation

A search, how often does it appear, but also how frequently per million words, and what kind of documents/context does it appear within.

  • Think you see a pattern emerging, can ‘sort’ so can start to see patterns emerging [on the basis of which attain themes to identify].
  • Needs a cycle of extraction of data, and analysis, and close reading of relevant parts of the text.
  • Collocation – co-occurance – from which meaning (and possibly) grammar appears – words are not randomly put together – words ‘shade one another’s meanings’ and ‘co-construct meaning’ – seek patterns in language.

Corpora and Language Teaching

This is less relevant to me, but interesting that need to identify the right words that help people understand which words are used frequently, so which to come first within a textbook – could be helpful within digital literacy training.

What can’t we do with corpus?

  • Just because it doesn’t exist in the corpus doesn’t mean it can’t be used – may be rare.
  • As with any scientific method, we are making deductions, not facts.
  • No visual information (pictures or body language) – traditionally people have set aside the visual and focused on the written language, but tools are being developed. * See database methodology – visual material collated in the 1990s for PhD research.

Value in a PhD?

An interesting piece on the ‘value’ and employability of a PhDphdgrad

Who would do a PhD? Who would willingly submit to spending endless hours, over three or four years, in the laboratory or library, racked by self-doubt and money worries, in preparation for a career for which vacancies were never more oversubscribed? …

But do doctoral students really feel prepared for life beyond the ivory tower? And how ready are they to embrace it? Here, we speak to five current and former doctoral students from a range of disciplines and universities about why they did their PhDs, what their experience was like and where they see their futures now.

Read full piece, with a couple of more positive responses 28/811/9.

 

Group Work: Not Pulling Your Weight?

Enthusiastic Study GroupI’m really interested in group dynamics (see mini project undertaken as part of PGCLTHE), so an interesting case study here:

“Academically ambitious students contribute to moving the average up – unenthusiastic students and shirkers do just the opposite,” he added.

Indeed, some hard-working students may even defect to “the dark side” of the slackers if they saw their classmates getting away with minimal effort, he continued. To combat this problem, students were offered the chance to gain a higher mark for their group assignment if they managed to raise the grade scored by the weakest student in individual tests on the same subject.

Read full piece.

Work less, do more, live better (@timeshighered)

botanical-garden-gazebo-1430498-mI am SO EXCITED to be reading this piece in Times Higher Education – over the last year I’ve been seeking to work in a healthier pattern (although ironically this week has been a 6 day-week & I need to do some more over the weekend so that I can take a week off… to write a book proposal … carefully planned this is though!)

Great Intro:

Some years ago, I heard that a colleague characterised me as “someone who didn’t work weekends”. This description was not meant as a compliment. It’s true that I make a concerted effort to keep something approximating normal working hours of 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. But I haven’t always worked like this. As a postgrad, I anxiously counted my hours and consulted with fellow students, worried that I wasn’t spending enough time at my desk. Eventually, I allowed myself one full day off weekly. When I became a lecturer, I stayed in the office until seven or eight in the evening, in part imitating the working patterns of my new colleagues, and continued to work weekends. Yet when I reduced my hours at the desk some years ago, my productivity did not decline. Instead, my mindfulness to follow regular hours means that my productivity is the same as or even greater than it was before, when I worked 50, 60 or whatever hours it was per week.

Further down, there’s a series of historical figures, and their living styles (most were writers)

The common feature in these workday schedules is walking, bipedalism, that form of locomotion that distinguishes us from the other primates. Walking and thinking seem to go together so naturally that perhaps it’s walking that made us thinkers. Aristotle famously taught while walking along the colonnade connecting the temple of Apollo and the shrine of the Muses. That link between philosophy and walking has stuck and was memorably parodied in Monty Python’s sketch about the Philosophers’ Football Match. Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000), concurs that walking is good for thinking: she concludes “a desk is no place to think on a large scale”.

Exercise and sleep are highlighted as of key importance to being creative (and I’ve certainly been working on my sleep), and then  How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing (2007) is quoted: 

His suggestions are simple: write and do your research daily in small blocks of time (schedule it in and don’t cheat on that schedule); keep track of what you do in that time; stay attentive to your writing goals and, ideally, get yourself a group that will help you keep to these goals. You might protest, what good are small blocks of time? But small, regular amounts of work build up to significant productivity. A few pages often make a big difference. If you were learning how to tap dance or play the French horn, you wouldn’t set aside one full day a week for practice or cram it into your Saturday afternoons; instead you’d practise for short periods, daily. Why should research and writing be any different?

As academics, we are used to research, so we should research our own habits (oh yes – and being ‘completely detached’ from the good and the bad of a job – is key) –

It is in our best interest to not only be productive but satisfied with our work, because work is vital to our identity and self-definition. We need work not just to put bread on the table but to feel of use, to serve, to contribute, to make and to connect. But the long-hours culture and the cult of busyness saps meaning away, as we tick through never-ending “to do” lists, becoming chronically tired and working less efficiently with each overtime hour.

There’s mention that even in the factory shorter hours have demonstrated increased productivity .. and I remember this from my research in the Second World War – it was SO essential to get arms out, that an extra day was added to the ‘week-cycle’ … productivity went down! And, even in times of crisis, this is key:

Before, Red Cross workers put in as many hours as necessary until the job was finished. Now the Red Cross recognises that workers need breaks in order to be able to respond effectively to the humanitarian crises they face.

Yes, yes, yes… (read full article – and also the opinion piece Know Your Worth).

How Not To Treat a Guest Speaker (Via @TimesHigherEd)

o9z97qS

This is an enjoyable hop, at which am wincing in recognition at 10 ways that it is possible to badly treat a guest speaker, who has usually spent quite some time (and probably years of study) in preparation of a talk for your delectation… but also some thoughts for academic speakers as to ways around some issues:

I later realised that my title of professor had probably intimidated them. Most bird-keepers are working men: miners, steelworkers, bricklayers and decorators, with little experience of the academy. Once they knew I had kept birds myself and cared about the same things that they cared about, there was no problem. Their close contact with birds gave them extraordinary insight and several of them went on to help me with my research on this topic.

Read full story.

A student’s lecture to professors (via @timeshighered)

amphitheather-667184-mThis looks like it could be worth a read – a student tells his lecturers what they should do with their lectures in order to ‘allow learning':

The question “Why am I here?” often strikes in the 73rd minute of a droning lecture. Don’t misunderstand – I love lectures. But only if the person delivering it knows how to allow learning. And yes, I do mean “allow”, for academics don’t create learning – only the student can do that. Unfortunately, most if not all lecturers are crippled by misunderstandings about their students and ill-founded assumptions about education itself. If we can filter the mud from the Pierian Spring, then they will have far less frustration in their lives and students will stop wishing that they were somewhere else. So one afternoon, after a particularly frustrating day with my professors, I sat down and wrote my lecture to them. I pray that they are taking notes.

Read full story in Times Higher Education.

The value of PhD supervision…

o1v7Rq6

Interesting piece on PhD supervision:

When a PhD supervision session constitutes just another blocked-out hour in a besieged diary, it can be all too easy to forget that it could make an impression that stays with the student for the rest of their research career.

We asked five academics for their recollections of the PhD supervision they received, and the way it had informed their own approach to tutoring. Three had enjoyed excellent supervision that had deeply influenced their own practice. But two had not. One recalls exchanges with their tutor characterised by yawns and silences, while another was treated with a “cutting harshness”, valuable only as an exemplar of how not to conduct yourself.

Read full story, and accompanying editorial.

The Scholarly-ness of Sources

ml6m22KInteresting piece in this week’s Times Higher Education. I certainly use a range of sources in my writing, but then my recent book Raising Children in a Digital Age does not count for the REF, as it’s aimed at a ‘general readership’ (which does at least mean it gets read by 1000s of people, rather than the average of 3!)

A student is researching scholarly material for her essay. She finds an excellent quote. It ticks all the boxes: original and insightful, persuasively argued, provocative, with just enough holes for a good forensic analysis to expose any weaknesses. There’s one problem, however. It does not come from an academic paper. It comes from a blog written by an obscure amateur. It has, technically speaking, no academic credibility.

By convention, students – and academics – are supposed only to engage in critical discussion with “academically credible” sources. What, then, is the student to do? Pretend this precious nugget doesn’t exist? A terrible waste. Plagiarise it (after all, who’s to know)? Downright unethical.

Read full story… and check out this piece from Barbara Graziosi re women and the REF.

Perhaps, I considered, women simply prefer to devote their energy to research and teaching.

“Women on Your Bookshelf” by @MaggiDawn

maggi-dawnI saw this post come through my feed earlier today, stuck a bookmark on it (I was being focused on #bigread14 … for which I do need to Skype Maggi to get a recording of Evensong – and which I’ll be reading alongside Maggi’s Giving It Up!) and thought, great to go and look back at next week – and then tonight realised that I was mentioned on it (just published in time!), which is a great encouragement to go to sleep on – especially looking at some of the other women on the list!!

 

A call for Interdisciplinarity

mhihBNsHaving had a role promoting interdisciplinarity, and taken a job where I can be part of a team within an academic context – an interesting argument for more working together in the humanities:

Why not the academy? What if we were to picture a team of professors, the academic equivalents of Lincoln’s collaborators, devoted to maintaining not the Union but instead the union of the humanities? Might this approach be no less effective in leading a first-year course than in leading a nation?

Few lines of work are more public yet more solitary than teaching the humanities. We are alone in our research, alone in our reading and alone in our writing. And though it is the most banal of observations, it nevertheless still surprises when we realise we are alone in our teaching. From our graduate days, we knew this would be so, but truly understood what it meant only on the first day we stood, alone, in front of a full lecture hall.

Read full article.

PhD: Has the quality dropped? If so, who’s “to blame”?

mfIRNyuThis is rather concerning (but not particularly surprising, as we’ve heard all those complaints about GCSE, A-Level, degree level standards dropping, etc.) re PhD doctorates. Really, by the time you sit the viva, you should know that your work is ready to pass, and that your job in the viva is to demonstrate that you actually wrote it (although others will still see it as a test) … and as I hope to take on a PhD student before too long:

Our experience does not lead us to criticise any particular system of examination or type of thesis. However, it does raise serious issues about the quality of work submitted for the PhD degree (or its equivalent) and the standards employed to judge such work.

To cut to the chase, a significant number of the theses we have examined did not deserve to pass – at least, not in the form in which they were submitted. One of us has examined six doctoral theses in the past year and believes that not one of them was worthy of the degree. Yet he had the means at his disposal to fail only two of them. Administrative conventions and examination procedures, not to mention social pressures, simply did not allow the possibility of failure.

Read full post.

Creating ‘Networking Buzz’

2dzvOq5Enjoyed this piece, as I’m always looking for ways to connect people up and make the most of that knowledge – let’s stop reinventing the wheel, and put our heads together:

The forty delegates were asked to submit information in advance both about their own research interests and about the specialist areas that they wanted to know more about. After the first couple of talks, there was a “speed dating” round, where each was paired up for 10 minutes with four people with very different knowledge bases.

Even this created an immediate “buzz”, said Dr Carazo Salas, and “at the next set of talks questions came from all over the room, not just the usual couple of rows at the front”. A second “dating” round made even more direct use of the “wish lists” to bring together people with highly developed skills in a research method such as intravital imaging or microfluidics and those who wanted to learn about that method.

Read full article.

Times Higher: Is there still a place for lectures?

o9z97qS

The end of this piece made me laugh:

Not that lecturers themselves are necessarily so wedded to such high-minded considerations. One extremely distinguished English literature professor habitually ended his lecture on Shakespeare in the middle of a sentence. Baffled students read any number of interpretations into this idiosyncrasy. Was he implying that there was no definitive conclusion? That students must fill in the meaning for themselves? Was the content too ambiguous to merit a traditional ending?

Someone finally plucked up the courage to ask why he insisted on leaving his insights incomplete. He explained, patiently, that it was nothing more than a linguistic device to keep everyone else in their seats while he secured his place at the front of the lunch queue.

Read full article.

“I shouldn’t really be here” says @timeshighered

mfjylSI

Been thinking about ‘Imposter Syndrome’ etc a lot recently, so here’s an interesting story from Times Higher Education about so many academics feeling like frauds:

On a recent train commute to work, a young man, seeing me editing some documents, asked me what work I did. I told him that I was a university lecturer. “That must be a cushy job,” he responded cheerily. Given his beaming smile, I felt that an equivocal murmur was the most appropriate response…..

This scepticism is particularly directed at academics in the arts and humanities, who are increasingly likely (in the UK, too) to find their claims that they contribute to a wider social or cultural good ridiculed in favour of a view of such subjects as private indulgences that should not be subsidised by the public purse.

Read full story.

The Power of Words (@timeshighered)

blackboard-abc-1132275-mThis is an interesting piece on the power of words:

It is only an imaginative use of language that allows for the emergence of new ideas and a new understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. We need to be linguistically inventive and ingenious if new insights are to be conceived of and articulated. And we also need to be aware of language that is no longer fit for purpose. It is incumbent on us to do something about words that have lost their vivacity and lounge lazily on the page.

C.?S. Lewis inveighed against the practice of verbicide – or the killing of words – a concept that was first proposed in the middle of the 19th century. Of course, words can’t be “killed” in a literal sense, but damage can certainly be done to them. For Lewis it meant hijacking words in order to use them to make evaluative judgements. His examples included “awesome” to mean “excellent”. “Awesome”, as far as Lewis was concerned, meant “inspiring awe or dread”. As I was writing this piece, using Microsoft Word, I clicked on synonyms for “awesome”. Up came “no suggestions”. The word has been confused. Another recent example of verbicide would be “wicked” to mean “excellent”, rather than “evil”.

Read full piece.

Lectures Still of Value?

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1380002

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1380002

Really interested in the debates about teaching styles, especially re: lectures:

By the 1970s, educational scholar Donald Bligh had written one of the first comprehensive reviews of the research evidence about teaching in higher education, a book titled What’s the Use of Lectures? It was comprehensively damning. Although there are a number of pedagogic systems that almost every research study has found to be more effective than the conventional alternatives, for the lecture-based approach the reverse is true.

More than 700 studies have confirmed that lectures are less effective than a wide range of methods for achieving almost every educational goal you can think of. Even for the straightforward objective of transmitting factual information, they are no better than a host of alternatives, including private reading. Moreover, lectures inspire students less than other methods, and lead to less study afterwards.

Read full story.

MOOCs are damaging Mentoring?

hands-family-1314523-mHaving spent a significant chunk of today talking about mentoring, an interesting piece to come across in Times Higher Ed:

I have spent nearly my whole life, since kindergarten in 1956, in love with learning and teaching. I have derived lots of pleasure and satisfaction from thinking, reading, exploring new ideas, and trying to identify and then answer questions and solve problems. These are all to me social processes that need to be protected and nurtured for the good of society. So when people tamper with the personal and interpersonal humanising elements of education, I feel they are defiling something sacred and making it harder for others to learn what it is to be human in the ways in which I was lucky to have had the chance to do.

Let me make two strong opinions clear. First, Moocs are a threat to the educational environment. Second, being mentored in a meaningful and lasting way is an endangered phenomenon.

Read whole article.

Rudeness in Academia?

olB3Z6Y

It’s definitely there! Is it really required? I am not really interested in working with people who focus on criticism over critique, a core difference in attitude:

And this, in Bloom’s cheerfully jaundiced view, is part of a wider sense of “resentment and defensiveness” resulting from the fact that most academics “don’t really produce anything that people want”. In extreme cases, this can lead to “hatred of the public and the world generally”. On one occasion, he recalls, his place of employment, at that time Middlesex Polytechnic, was visited by the mayor and mayoress of Haringey, “a small, olive-skinned Greek Cypriot couple, both in their chains of office. We gathered to meet them in the common room. As we stood in line with drinks and nibbles, one colleague turned to me and exclaimed rather too loudly: ‘Oh my God, they’ve invited the cast of EastEnders!’”

It is not difficult to turn up examples of academics being deliberately rude to each other, whether in print or in person, openly or anonymously. Another striking instance is recalled by Deborah Cameron, professor of language and communication at the University of Oxford. Many years ago she was invited by a similarly young and junior feminist academic to give a lecture on a feminist topic at a university in what was then West Berlin.

One to read with interest … what is the value in being rude within academia (or any other space!)