During interactions with JISC and ALT in particular, MOOC’s have been hot news for quite some time. MOOC is an acronym for ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ – freely available to all. They don’t have the best reputation for completion rates, which has opened up a number of discussions at JISC/ALT events as to whether completion, and particularly full completion, of a MOOC is the point of these things. In 2012, JISC ran a session ‘What is a MOOC?’ – one of the early slides here:


Picking a Course

Last year, I decided to get my head around these, wondering whether CODEC could usefully develop a MOOC (as the financial imperative is not clear, except as a marketing exercise, for many of these courses). I cheerily signed up to about 3 courses, and… didn’t get started on a single one of them, as other work priorities took over. As we were developing potential funding bids earlier this year related to ‘religious identity online’, Pete suggested that I undertake the ‘Corpus Linguistics’ module that he’d had a go at last year. I had no idea what that was – so as all good academic researchers do, popped across to Wikipedia first for a definition:

Corpus linguistics is the study of language as expressed in samples (corpora) of “real world” text. This method represents a digestive approach to deriving a set of abstract rules by which a natural language is governed or else relates to another language. Originally done by hand, corpora are now largely derived by an automated process.

so I could see how this would be useful for analysing words collected from Twitter, Facebook, etc. to analyse large social and cultural questions.

Corpus Linguistics Online

The course, hosted on Futurelearn, and presented by Tony McEnery, Lancaster University, was designed as a practical course for humanities and social science researchers, with the following stated aims:

Combined with all the recent changes in CODEC, the first week’s material seemed a little overwhelming, so early on I made a conscious decision to focus on the theoretical explanations each week (likely to take around 60-90 minutes per week, rather than 3-4 hours), so that I could grasp an understanding of the method, and the kinds of questions it can allow us to ask, rather than the practical aspects of the software (also provided), although having just finished the course, I am now checking out some of the optional videos, especially one from Claire Hardaker re trolling, as recently I’ve been asked to contribute to debates about trolling, bullying (and the place of restorative justice in these debates):


The Process

First things first was making time in the diary for this. Originally expecting to take around 3 hours a week, this did drop, but I wanted the process to not just be about the course content, but about thinking how a MOOC works, and what it contributes to our learning, although much of this may have been absorbed at gut level, rather than laying it all out here, so this is more of a ‘quick and dirty’ response!

It was really easy to sign up for Futurelearn, and everything comes in via email, so it was simple to search and find the course I wanted (and you’ll see from the screenshot how easy it is to leave it too):


Week by Week

Each week the available material would appear. Clearly, it is technologically possible for all the material to appear at the same time, but there’s a need to encourage people to work on the material together, with a start date, etc. encouraging use of the well-structured (and well-used) ‘commenting’ space, which Tony himself contributes to frequently (and is clearly gaining insights into his own research), and with a number of mentors who have been assigned and are highly active (I’ve had replies to several, but without having asked for permission, thought I should just share my own comment!):



So, the material appeared each week, looking like this (I’m assuming if I’d completed all the practical activities, those lines underneath would have got longer!), with the most basic, introductory material (usually in the form of videos from Tony) at the top – which was the stuff I was really interested in.





Being able to see how much more to go is always a good incentive – below the fold there was much extra material – more videos, readings, practical software help, etc. but I usually finished at the point of the quiz (which isn’t assessed, but helps you “know” that you have “learnt” some material that week (and where one might want to go back and re-assess):





Users are encouraged to keep a journal throughout the project, which I did through notes kept in ‘Word’ and then transferred across to this blog, and shared using the hasthag #CorpusMOOC.

What have I gained?

Well, I may have more to say about this in the longer-term, but for now

  1. I’ve started a MOOC
  2. I’ve finished a MOOC
  3. I’ve done the bits of the MOOC I wanted (if you know me, you know I’m a bit of an completer/over-achiever, and initially thought I can’t just do the bits I want!) and no more.
  4. I think I’ve got a good sense of what Corpus Linguistics is capable of, and could see that I could use it in my research, although I would have to spend more time learning the practicalities/partner with A.N.Other.

I thought the material was well-presented, manageable (once I stuck to the first bits), the intentional interaction was good as well as the usability of the software, and I can see how more can be done in this subject area.


Thank you Tony and team!


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