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Social networking affordances for open educational language practice

Les affordances du réseautage social pour les pratiques éducatives libres
Katerina Zourou


Open Educational Resources (OER), as openly licensed content free to (re-)use at no cost, are attracting increasing interest from scholars and practitioners for their repurpose value in new educational settings, thus enabling Open Educational Practice (OEP). A topic that is under-explored to date is the role of social networking in OER uptake, affording ways for user groups to socially engage in meaningful learning, and bridging formal and informal learning contexts. This paper critically examines whether and how social networks enable open practice, focusing on the field of language learning and teaching in particular. For the purposes of the study, expert views in response to an open-ended questionnaire on OER/OEP for language education were collected between June and August 2014. The 18 respondents were scholars operating at the crossroads of OER and Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL). Expert views were analyzed through a content analytic framework in line with three dimensions: the value of the social dimension in OEP, social network affordances in OEP and open learning pedagogies. The study examines whether open educational practice for language education can benefit from trends of user engagement through social networks (comprising reputation, recommendation and badging systems), and the potential implications for open language education. It also contributes to an understanding of changes in learning pedagogies afforded by principles of openness.

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I would like to thank the reviewer of this paper, Alannah Fitzgerald, for her valuable comments on earlier versions of the paper. The author takes full responsibility for the paper. Many thanks to the experts who agreed to reply to the survey (Gosia Kurek, Linda Bradley, Sylvi Vigmo, Kate Borthwick, Tita Beaven, Anna Comas-Quinn, Teresa Mc Kinnon, Alannah Fitzgerald, Shona Whyte, Carl Blyth, Cristobal Cobo, Sarah Pasfield-Neophytou, Barbara Sawhill, Ed Dixon, Fred Riley, Christian Ollivier, Ana Beaven, Ania Skowron). In addition, my thanks go to Giulia Torresin for invaluable support in data collection and analysis and to Susan Pasco for proofreading. This study is part of the European co-funded project LangOER (Learning and Teaching Less Used Languages through Open Educational Resources), work package 6 (OER and challenges for language learning). This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

1. Introduction

1With the massive amount of content available on the Internet, this study seeks to understand practices with open resources that lend themselves to dynamic adaptation, (reuse, repurposing, redistribution, remix), questioning the role that social networking activity plays in this dynamic process. In particular, I focus on practice emerging in the field of language learning and teaching, for which the umbrella term language education will be used.

2Language learning and teaching benefit from social networking activity through various configurations and contexts. Social network sites for language learning (SNSLL, Lamy & Zourou, 2013) are an example of learning contexts enabled by social networking and gaming features that are designed to bring native and L2 speakers together for language interaction and socialization purposes, the most well-known being Busuu, Livemocha, Babbel and Duolingo. Another example is Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for language education (Martín-Monje & Bárcena, 2015). However, language materials available in SNSLL and MOOCs rarely afford re-use and adaptation of resources, as they are rarely openly licensed (with a Creative Commons license or other type of license allowing sharing and re-use). This is a key difference from OER, by definition open to adaptation. Therefore, the paper looks at language learning and teaching practices facilitated by social networking in contexts other than SNSLL and MOOCs, in the hope that policies of openness will soon be adopted for the content of these two types of learning environment.

3The paper is structured as follows. After defining OER and OEP (section 2), emphasis is laid upon forms of open content adaptation, namely through social networks affording social participation (section 3). This question is further situated in the formal and informal language education field (section 4). Next, the objectives, methodology and context of investigation are described (sections 5 and 6). Then come the results (7), broken down between the three main topics (the value of the social dimension in OEP, social network affordances in OEP and open learning pedagogies), followed by the main conclusions (8).

2. OER and OEP: focus on (re-)use, redistribution and remix

4Claiming greater access to and support for learning opportunities, the Open Education movement makes a strong case in favour of OER as openly licensed content free to (re-)use. It has been over a decade since the term was first coined at the UNESCO Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education (UNESCO, 2002). In this paper I adopt the more recent 2012 UNESCO definition of OER as

teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions (UNESCO, 2012: 1).

5My decision to opt for this definition rather than others (for a review of the most common OER definitions see Creative Commons, 2013) is motivated firstly by the emphasis on "adaptation and redistribution" of OER, thus their potential for repurposing, and secondly by the open licensing imperative, through the adoption of Creative Commons or other types of license.

6A salient conceptual shift in OER literature is the understanding of OER (as mere content) to OEP as a manifestation of content re-invested by users, teachers and/or learners, and repurposed for learning contexts (Ehlers, 2011; Beetham, Falconer, McGill & Littlejohn, 2012). This shift corresponds to the necessity to further address and support ways in which users engage in meaningful learning activities, ie ways in which openness catalyzes educational practices while giving shape to "open learning ecologies" (Ehlers & Caine, 2011). In his attempt to bring attention to the most vital part of OEP, engagement with resources, Wiley (2014) sets out five principles, termed the "5 Rs of openness": Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, Redistribute. Along the same lines, dos Santos (2008: 9), who critically addresses obstacles to OER adoption, claims that the institutional discourses that often accompany OER initiatives attach little importance to "offering true possibilities for knowledge building [and] use/re-use by its potential audience", while this should be a focal point of concern. Below I discuss whether social networking activity is a good candidate to afford OER (re-)use through social participation.

3. Social networks as enablers of OEP

7Social networks, a term that is used interchangeably with social media (as in Lamy & Zourou, 2013: 2), are defined as "a group of Internet-based applications (…) which allows the creation and exchange of user generated content" (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010: 61). This definition of social media is deliberately chosen as it highlights both the technical dimension of social media ("applications") and the human dimension, with users as bottom-up content creators and enablers of its distribution ("creation and exchange"). Finally, as in Zourou & Lamy (2013), the term "social networks" encompasses features that amplify networking activity, such as friending, ranking, reputation and recommendation systems to name just a few. It is also true that social networking and gaming features are two sides of the same coin as "social networking and gaming dynamics are intertwined, with social networking serving to spread and accelerate user game activity (…) across networks of one's friends" (Zourou & Lamy, 2013).

8Social networks come into play in the open education field, as they are claimed to offer opportunities for user engagement and social interaction, which are considered essential to OEP expansion (cf. section 1). One feature of social media that is particularly conducive in this respect is user participation. For O'Reilly and his team, user participation, one of the three pillars of social media, alongside openness and network effects, is understood as "participation leading to re-use" (Musser, O'Reilly & the O'Reilly Radar team, 2007: 16, my emphasis). From this perspective, user participation is the equivalent of active involvement in content manipulation practices that "go viral" through social networks. The viral potential of social networks characterizes all of O'Reilly's work, as in the definition of network effects that "occur when a product or service becomes more valuable as the number of people using it increases" (Musser et al., 2007: 13). Later in this paper, I examine whether O'Reilly's concept of social networks as enabling re-use of user-generated content can be successfully transferred into language education practices.

9Through social networks, aggregating, tagging, valorizing content through reputation and recommendation systems and giving new meaning to raw sources through new forms of expression constitute both a technical possibility and a social function that gives users far more space for creative engagement (Zourou, 2012: 5). Mark Pegrum, largely inspired by Lessig's work (Lessig, 2004), claims that although content remix was common practice in the media, what has changed is that "the tools of remix have been democratized, giving ordinary users of Web 2.0 a powerful voice" (Pegrum, 2011: 24). Taking stock of the social media experts' emphasis on social participation as "reuse" (Musser et al., 2007) and "remix" (Pegrum, 2011), scholars in the education field also argue in favor of (re-)use (Littlejohn, 2003) and remix (Wiley, 2014) of open resources. This cross-disciplinary "overlap" demonstrates the extent to which open and collective learning practices come to the forefront in various disciplines.

10Recognition and recommendation systems enabled by social networks can be instrumental in enabling open practice. In an OECD survey (Hylén, 2006: 4), the second most significant barrier identified in production of OER was "lack of a reward system to encourage members" to devote time and energy to producing open content. Hylén also discusses a three-year research project on adoption of learning objects by members of the Universitas 21 Consortium, a network of research universities. One of the main findings was that "the issue of reward for publicizing teaching and learning materials is of paramount importance to the success of a sustainable learning resource catalogue where the teaching staff take ownership of the system" (Hylén, 2006: 6). Social dynamics that occur as a result of recognition and reward of a user's investment in open practices will be discussed through the prism of data analysis.

11Incentives for users to engage with content are key not only to OER sustainability but also to new forms of open and collective learning. As van der Baaren and his colleagues (Baaren, Schuwer, Kirschhner & Hendriks, 2008: 1) put it:

unfortunately, open educational resources can be nothing more than the name implies: freely available resources that can be used for education. More is needed to make them truly "educational". Education involves different forms of student-teacher or student-student interaction and not just student-resource interaction.

12In this respect, Santos and Okada (2010) underscore the role of mentoring and peer support as catalysts in OER uptake. For the authors, this can happen through careful design of interaction affordances around open resources, by means of formal and informal mentoring systems, peer support and group facilitation, ownership of goals and results. Several environments facilitating OER (re-)use through the design and customization of social networks have been developed. Some examples that have been reviewed in the OER literature are Compendium (Conole & Weller, 2008), SocialLearn (Ferguson & Buckingham Shum, 2012), Colearning (Okada, Mikroyannidis, Meister & Little, 2012a; Okada & Ferreira, 2012b) and Connexions–now OpenStax CNX (Petrides, Nguyen, Jimes & Karaglani, 2008). Although this paper looks at social networked OEP at large, these bespoke environments have the merit of having implemented social network based interaction opportunities around open content. So far, OpenStax CNX seems to be among the most powerful.

4. OEP for formal and informal language education

13There is an increasing body of literature on OER/OEP in the language learning and/or teaching context, addressing topics such as crowdsourcing and user-driven practices with OER (Borthwick & Gallagher-Brett, 2014), the use of OER-based language corpora (Fitzgerald, 2013) and OEP from a language teaching perspective (Thoms & Thoms, 2014). The target groups addressed by the majority of studies are either learners attending language courses in an institutional context, or teachers who design pedagogical tasks and scenarios and share them as OER, or re-use existing OER and adapt them to their teaching contexts (by creating language learning tasks, scenarios or additional materials).

14It appears that research on OER/OEP for language education so far pertains almost exclusively to formal learning contexts, face-to-face or online. This is probably due to the ease of access to users and documenting their practices in comparison with more "transient" informal learning situations. As a result, research into open, informal language learning is scarce, although it is in line with the Open Education concept of unrestricted access to learning opportunities, encompassing informal and lifelong learning possibilities. Some authors (Littlejohn & Pegler, 2014; Weller, 2014) claim that to unleash the potential of OER we need on the one hand to focus on innovative pedagogies that embrace openness, and on the other hand to look beyond schooling as a transformative agent in education. Social networks can play a role in alleviating barriers between formal and informal learning, by enhancing the social value of OER re-use that cannot be a property of one learning context only (Rolfe, 2015).

15OEP for language education may face an additional challenge linked to the nature of the subject matter. Numerous language learning and teaching approaches emphasize communication skills and the ability of users/learners to use language in various social contexts as key to the development of L2 skills. As an example, the action-oriented approach advocated by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Council of Europe, 2001: 9) emphasizes

language use, embracing language learning, comprises the actions performed by persons who as individuals and as social agents develop a range of competences, both general and in particular communicative language competences.

16This emphasis on learner engagement in language practice and the development of communication skills by means of meaningful learning tasks will be further explored in the data analysis.

5. Objectives, methodology

17If OER are to fulfil the promise of widening participation and reach underprivileged communities by offering learning opportunities through open and repurposable resources, user engagement with the open resources available is vital. Based on the claim that social networks facilitate social interaction and content distribution/re-purposing, this paper explores whether and how social networks can be of critical importance for OER (re-)use in the language learning and teaching field. The paper addresses the following questions.

  • What value do experts attribute to the social dimension of using OER?

  • What are the affordances of social networks for developing open educational practice?

  • How is instructional design shaped by open, socially networked language learning and teaching?

18The methodology adopted aims to bring to the surface the relationships, expressed as similarities and divergences, which emerge in expert discourse generated in a survey completed by experts on OER/OEP and the role of social networks in language learning and teaching. The paper adopts content analysis as an analytical, interpretative approach to understand subjective realities (Mostyn, 1985; Mayring, 2000). A deductive categorization (Mayring, 2000) of discursive elements is used, as questions of the survey (Annex) serve as conceptual categories that shape expert discourse, although not in absolute terms, since replies to one question may resonate with another question of the survey. All extracts reported in this study are verbatim.

19To increase internal validity, a revision of categories and coding agenda was carried out by a project team member and CALL practitioner, who also validated the final interpretation of data. Further to the content analytic framework, the study gives insights into expert views, firstly by categorizing expert views around common topics that address the research questions, and secondly by giving insights into the value each topic has for the experts. While the first methodological aspect serves to organize discursive elements, the second sheds light on the significance attributed to them by the speakers.

6. Context of investigation

20The context of investigation is set within the framework of the European project LangOER (Learning and Teaching Less Used Languages through Open Educational Resources). A cluster of activities (work package 6) is dedicated to the role of OER/OEP to enhance language interaction and peer support to which this study belongs.

21For the purposes of this expert survey 20 experts operating at the crossroads of OER and Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) were identified. CALL experts are in the best position to assess the value of OER in language education. All of the CALL experts identified are or had been involved in at least one OER-related activity (project, publication, round table discussion, etc.) with varying degrees of expertise. Out of the 20 experts contacted 18 replied positively to the call. We conducted interviews with each expert, which were video recorded and made available in a video showcase at​videos. These videos are not part of the study. Secondly, an exclusively open-ended questionnaire (Annex) was distributed and all replies were gathered between June and August 2014. Data are anonymized, with letters replacing names (E1 for Expert 1, and so on). For transparency, the number of the question concerned is shown in brackets. Out of all the items of the survey, this study deals only with the role of social networks for open educational language practice (covered by questions 1 and 6 to 12 of the survey). Replies to other questions are also considered only if relevant to the three questions of the study.

22Regarding the limitations of this data set, the fact that the open-ended survey was addressed solely to OER experts in language education may be considered one, as experts were subjectively chosen for their experience (non-exhaustiveness of the data sample) and there are no first-hand data; instead personal insights into OER-related phenomena. In addition, the expert opinions collected in this study may be biased due to the participants' background and work-related involvement in OER. The study did not include cross-validation with other target groups (non-OER experts in language education). However, the value of this non-exhaustive study lies in the cross-fertilization of expert opinions that, as the data will reveal, are far from pointing in a single direction, thus underlining the complexity of OER and OEP in language education. This brings to the surface the various parameters of these phenomena that only a study seeking input from a cross-section of open education practitioners in response to a specific set of questions on OEP and social networking activities can provide.

7. Data analysis

23Data analysis covers three interrelated topics, namely the value of the social dimension in OEP (7.1.), social network affordances (7.2.) and open, socially co-constructed learning pedagogies (7.3.).

7.1. The social dimension in open educational language practice

24Open practice is by definition a social activity, embedded in its socio-cultural context (Lantolf, 2000) and mediated by cultural artifacts (Thorne, 2003). In this section I gather expert discourse that emphasizes the social dimension in OEP, and analyse the types of social activity that experts put forward when discussing this dimension.

25In response to the question "OER for language learning: what is your first reaction?" the social component is raised automatically by several experts. For E6, OER for language learning corresponds to "a space for both teachers and learners–a shared space for development, contribution and agency–both learner and teacher–(q1). The vision of OER as a shared, dynamic enterprise echoes the following view: "I believe the '4R pedagogy' engages the teacher more in the learning process because they are more invested in user-generated materials than in off-the-shelf materials from publishers" (E18, q1). The author refers to Wiley's "4Rs of openness" (Reuse, Revise, Remix, Redistribute), more recently updated into the 5Rs of openness, including Retain (see section 1).

26A similar approach is adopted by E11: "Openness in education is a desirable thing in terms of widening access for the co-creation of educational innovation" (q1), as well as by E14: "the advantage of using OER is the possibility to share and repurpose the resources openly" (q6). Another interviewee points out the practical dimension of content reuse, as a time saving mechanism: "It is time-consuming to constantly create your own materials, and using others' materials makes perfect sense (ie OERs). It is quicker to adapt someone else's work for your own context than to create your own resource from scratch" (E2, q2).

27On the positive side, the socially constructed, participatory practices of teachers and learners are brought into focus in the experts' understanding of OER, with the concept of OER (re-)use implied by terms such as "contribution", "the 4R pedagogy", "engagement in the learning process", "co-creation", "shar[ing] and repurpos[ing]".

28However, the practice of sharing design iterations of open resources is not yet mainstream practice. One possible explanation is given by a respondent to this study, who draws on two aspects of the problem; one dealing with technical limitations and the other with professional identities.

29We have found that teachers are beginning to edit and adapt OER when the technology is accessible, eg, Google Docs. But we still see little evidence of teachers sharing their content with each other. That requires an easy upload process and a searchable archive where teachers can find content. So, at present, there remain technological barriers to sharing such as user-unfriendly platforms or uneditable text. Finally, we have found considerable reluctance to share user-generated content because of the face threat. Teachers don't want other teachers to evaluate them negatively. We have discussed the idea of using badges to encourage and reward greater participation. Moreover, badges could be used to structure the editorial process in such a way that the end product could be more professional (E18, q8).

30When it comes to groups of professionals, here educators, visibility of one's creations and achievements mediated by social networks becomes a delicate issue. In a study analysing professionalization practices of teacher education student participants through a social network site (SNS), Kimmons and Veletsianos (2015: 480) claim that "some expectations of professionalization in SNS cut deeply into participants' self-concept and that tensions arose surrounding unclear expectations of professionalization". Social participation in the open, self-exposure and public self-consciousness impact professional identities in various ways.

31In a 2014 study, Whyte and colleagues (Whyte, Cutrim Schmid, Hazebrouck, Thomson & Oberhofer, 2014) report reluctance expressed by teachers when offered the possibility of receiving feedback (moderated user comments) by peers external to the specific teacher-training context (the team finally decided not to authorize moderated comments from contributors other than team members).

Questions (…) arose on several occasions over the course of the project, particularly the advisability of allowing moderated user comments on practice reports. On the one hand, partners felt that such commentary would allow teachers to obtain feedback on their practice, that it would benefit other OER users, and allow the development of a community of practice of language teachers using the IWB. Against this, however, is the danger of participants feeling judged or evaluated, perhaps by users who lacked full understanding of their overall practice. Several partners also felt that opening up the OER in this way would violate the initial terms of agreement governing teacher participation and harm ongoing researcher-teacher relationships. It was therefore decided not to allow external comments on the website for ethical reasons (Whyte et al.: 144).

32The "reluctance to share user-generated content" and other implications that public engagement in open educational practice has on professional identities has been discussed in the literature (Alevizou, Conole, Culver & Galley, 2010) and in a recent study conducted with the same pool of experts as the present study (Zourou, in press). The latter study focuses on the impact of digital creation and sharing (as professional open practice) on identities and users' perceptions of self and other. In that paper I argue that the blurring of boundaries between production and usage of open resources (cf. "produsage", Bruns, 2008), further intensified by social networked based modes of participation, catalyzes user understandings of self and other in open educational practice. The reader can refer to that study for more insights into the implications of OEP on user identities; the current paper deals particularly with the role of social networks in open educational language practice, which will be discussed in the following section in relation to content reuse and remix.

7.2. Social networks for content reuse and remix

33Almost all of the surveyed experts acknowledge the capacity of social networks to facilitate access to and distribution of open resources. For E3, "social media has an important role in disseminating work on OER and in tapping into existing communities" (q6). E16 argues that

[social networks] can be used to spread the word about the value of OER, and to disseminate OER. Topics can "go viral" very quickly on Twitter, say, so a good OER could be disseminated rapidly to target communities (q7).

34In addition, social networks can afford communication among teachers engaged in OEP.

As a teacher I think it is essential that professionals share information about their tools, their successes, their questions as well as their failures through social media. Our professions are too isolated as a rule (E15, q6).

35This resonates with the following extract.

Social networks are key to learning and disseminating the open educational practices at the heart of OER. Whether they are students or teachers, users need to create a community of practice to show each other how to adapt and use OER. Since OER are all about learning by doing, it only makes sense that there be a social network where OER users can talk to each other about their OER practices (E18, q6).

36An example of such a realization is provided below.

37Although sharing and exchanging on OER across networks is undoubtedly positive, it was deemed worthy of investigating whether the experts in this study consider social networks to be an enabler to OER re-use and remix, as a concrete open practice. This is valid for E18 for whom

OER should grow organically within a community of practice in which members can teach each other how to learn with OER and how to repurpose the materials for personalized learning (q14).

38Along the same lines, "since social networking is a way for everyone to take responsibility and engage, this is a trend that is useful" [in the language education context] (E8, q14). Equally, for E17,

OER make sense only when the rule of 4R's is involved so it should not only be about using or reusing the OER but also about revising and remixing them. Only then can we talk about user engagement with OER (q 14).

39To conclude, experts consider the re-use and remix affordances of social networks as valuable to OER uptake.

40Public manifestations of OER adaptations, in the form of re-use and remix, as practices that are built on and expand OER, illustrate and exemplify how content is handled and repurposed in meaningful ways to fit other learning/teaching contexts. The act of expanding a primary OER by creating new versions of it, and usually by hosting them within the same repository or platform as the primary OER, is termed "versioning" (Thorpe, Kubiak & Thorpe, 2003). This process is considered as a quality control mechanism for content management and discoverability, and as an enabler of user interaction (initial authors receive feedback on their creations by other users having repurposed them) that enhances the collective dimension of learning. Social networks, through the ease of networking among users of the same interests, and also through rating and recommendations systems that expand social networking activity, can enhance social sharing and re-use of resources and their adaptations. As an example, Merlot (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching), one of the oldest OER repositories, affords versioning and commenting of resources, although these practices are far from being mainstream.

41Interestingly, content adaptation and reuse is proposed not only as a teacher-initiated practice, but also as a source of student engagement in OER uptake.

Why not engage students in the design/adaptation of OER [?] They often know other resources than we [teachers] that can be helpful for peers and can bring explanations that are easier to understand. OER could be co-designed by students or at least commented (E5, q14).

42This calls for a more active role of users in the OER lifecycle and more generally in bottom-up practices. A parallel can be drawn with other social network based bottom-up practices such as crowdsourcing, a term that refers to using the contributions of highly motivated users in the production process (Howe, 2006; Zourou & Lamy, 2013).

43The short analysis conducted in this section indicates that although social media can help to spread open resources and their adaptations across networks, enable contextualization and peer exchange, in reality sharing resources and re-sharing repurposed resources are still limited. The concept of "community of practice" emphasized by E18 as an enabler of OEP, is crucial to sustaining open practice. In simple terms, the situation can be illustrated as two different realities that call to be bridged: on the one hand the relatively low visible/public re-sharing and re-use of repurposed materials and on the other hand the wish to make OEP sustainable through communities of practice that can benefit from horizontal, social networked modes of engagement. One possible solution is firstly to see open educational practice through its value for exchange and collaboration between community members around OER and secondly to consider OER less as end products, but more as intermediary objects with a view to their finalization by the primary author or by the community. McGill, Falconer, Dempster, Littlejohn, and Beetham (2013) claim that OEP is at risk if emphasis is laid only on sharing OER as a polished product, which reflects a commercial approach of exclusively creating end products. In the authors' terms,

less polished materials may be easier to release, and be more easily re-used and adapted for other educators illustrating how this kind of conflict can affect both what is released and how re-usable the OER is (McGill et al.: 6).

44This approach of seeing OER as beta versions or as work in progress, which is adopted by many communities of practice (Wikipedia, open source software communities, crowdsourcing communities) can be a sound response to the reluctance to share, raised in section 7.1., and allow OER communities to free up their potential for exchange, joint commitment and collaboration.

Social network based gaming and recommendation systems

45Game mechanics, including reputation/recommendation systems (such as points, badges, rating features) embedded in digital platforms and networks are closely related to social networked activity (cf. 2.), while due to their capacity to make information go viral, social networks are regarded as a means by which one's contributions and reputation can be spread among members of one's network and beyond. This section explores whether gaming and recommendation systems can enable user engagement with open resources.

46Within the framework of this study, experts agree on the value of game mechanics while being cautious about their generalization. For E18, one way to overcome this reluctance is to try out gaming mechanics, such as badges.

Teacher don't want other teachers to evaluate them negatively. We have discussed the idea of using badges to encourage and reward greater participation. Moreover, badges could be used to structure the editorial process in such a way that the end product could be more professional (q8).

47As E2, a respondent who has long experience in the design of OER repositories, points out.

I think game-based mechanics have some relevance–but also some dangers. Using them risks prioritizing certain resources over others (…). We abandoned the idea of ratings on [the OER repository I am involved in] because the quality of resources is so subjective, but we still like the idea of introducing some kind of metric to help people–no one can decide what though (q8).

48In the two aforementioned extracts, one can perceive the distance between the intention to implement badging systems ("we have discussed"; "could be used" in E18), and its actual implementation ("we abandoned the idea", E2).

49Social networking and gaming features are common in web 2.0 communities (ie OpenStax) and those targeting L2 practice (Babbel, Busuu, Duolingo, to name a few) and less common in OER communities, with the exception of Klascement, the OER community of Flemish teachers, with 50,000 users (2012 data). From a design perspective, a user in KlasCement possesses a dedicated web page in the form of a user profile, similar to ones that users create on social network sites such as Facebook, and considered as key enablers of social connectivity (boyd & Heer, 2006). Figure 1 is an example of a user profile in Klascement.

Figure 1–A user profile in the OER community Klascement.

Figure 1–A user profile in the OER community Klascement.

50In this OER community a user profile contains a range of social networking features appearing on the left side of the screen such as i) a picture, ii) contact information and other social networks that the user is active in (Diigo, Skype, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter) enhancing social connectivity across various networks, and iii) user activity ("my resources/my favorites/ my scores"), that are all clickable/accessible allowing increased discoverability of a user's open practices. Reputation systems in the form of awards (here: prizes) are offered, and resources having gained a prize are showcased on the right side of the screen. Each of the resources call for interaction with community members, through a rating system, a Like and a commenting functions appearing at the bottom of each resource. The way the user profile in Klascement is designed has many similarities with social networking sites (ie Facebook) and web 2.0 language learning communities, that place social networking and gaming at the very centre of user activity. Figure 2 displays a user profile in one of these (Busuu).

Figure 2–A user profile in the web 2.0 language learning community Busuu (Zourou et al., in press).

Figure 2–A user profile in the web 2.0 language learning community Busuu (Zourou et al., in press).

7.3. Open learning pedagogies

51OER are often regarded as pieces of content affording little or no interaction and contained in repositories that learners and teachers cannot always directly reuse by themselves, as they lack pedagogical frameworks (a learning approach, pedagogical tasks and scenarios, interaction scenarios, all forming a sound framework) that would allow them to be repurposed and adapted to new learning contexts (Pegler, 2012; Kortemeyer, 2013). In language education, CALL scholars have pointed out the significance of instructional design in the development of curricula and learning opportunities (Levy & Stockwell, 2006), as well as the role of task design (Task Based Learning, Ellis, 2009).

52The centrality of tasks around which learning activities built on OER gravitate is acknowledged by E7 (q5): "There are many tools and platforms for both asynchronous and synchronous spoken and written interaction. Task design and feedback are the real challenges."

53Finally, in the design of OER to afford learner interaction, an expert argues:

OER can afford interaction if the information is designed and presented to stimulate discussion. If it is not designed to do so, then instructors need to have strategies to re-purpose them for conversations (E9, q5).

54Repurposing of content is a necessary move to ensure fitness for purpose. Wiley warns about what he refers to as the "reusability paradox" (Wiley, 2011 and 2015).

The [reusability] paradox claims that the more context laden a given educational resource is, the more effectively it teaches but the more difficult it is to reuse in a novel context. Conversely, the less context laden a given educational resource is, the less effectively it teaches but the easier it is to reuse in novel contexts. So with learning objects, you had a choice–a great resource that is essentially impossible to reuse, or a really poor resource that you can easily reuse (Wiley, 2011).

55In the language education field, Wiley's claim broadens the scope of OER, as content developers can go beyond commercial products, closed by definition, and beyond lack of openness (content without a Creative Commons license) by ensuring content is fit for purpose. To overcome Wiley's reusability paradox, adaptation of resources in any form (re-use, localization, Perryman, Buckler & Seal, 2014, repurposing) to serve the needs of the learners in different environments is necessary, while at the same time this is enabled by the use of open licenses, affording transparent content appropriation.

56While adaptation and remix of resources was a mainstream activity in the language teaching profession well before the advent of OER, I argue that the elimination of proprietary constraints, through the use of Creative Commons or other types of open license, is a step towards a more conscious re-appropriation, and a more overt means of user engagement with the resource; types of user engagement can be publicly displayed and nurture new circles of open, participatory learning. Open learning pedagogies can open the way to pedagogical intentions not initially intended by the original author, however further developed by other authors.

57For one expert, [There is the] "possibility to create communicative situations linked to specific resources". [There is a] "need to design specific resources in order to use the affordance of social networks" (E5, q6). This echoes E2's opinion, for whom

The resources could have a facet within them which enables interaction–ie a link to a discussion forum, or task which entailed contributing to an open, online space at which users could meet peers or other native speakers (E2, q5).

58Here again, the concept of designing interaction opportunities together with a resource as part of pedagogical design comes to the surface.

59Furthermore, the true value of openness in language learning instruction is the emergence of open learning pedagogies, which can be loosely defined as the embeddedness of principles of openness to enhance learning opportunities. For Bossu and Fountain (2015), open learning pedagogies "include connectivity, networks (of people and technologies), mobility, accessibility, formal and informal learning, and learner-led pathways."

60The most innovative feature of the OER movement is perhaps revisiting learning pedagogies through the lens of openness. This can be illustrated schematically as a trajectory from content access to open learning pedagogies. As one expert from the study puts it:

If OER are mirroring a basic traditional view on language use/language teaching and language learning, I think we are missing some essential parts of development in today's society. Why learn the same content as decades ago? Should we be a bit more critical and revisit what we expect–and what is useful today–and see how these two questions are addressed in existing OER for languages? (E6, q17).

61A very similar approach is expressed by E2, q2.

Using OERs also enables teachers to experiment with new approaches and methods which build on the experience of other language teachers (ie the ones who have shared their work.).

62Open learning pedagogies should also embrace informal educational practice, a topic that warrants greater exploration, particularly at a time when self-directed learning is occurring on a larger scale (through Massive Open Online Courses and other learner-driven initiatives for example).

63Finally, the question arises as to whether social networks can enable self-directed language learning for informal learners having access to OER (either OER for language learning, hosted in repositories such as HumBox or open content that can be used for language learning purposes). Or, in van der Baaeren's et al. (2008) terms, are OER often both incomplete and unsuitable for autonomous learning in an online setting? (van der Baaeren et al. 2008: 1). From our data analysis, self-directed OEP seems far from reaching its full potential. More precisely, the scenario of an autonomous learner freely using OER and benefiting from social networks as L2 interaction spaces does not seem likely, as experts raise doubts about its learning effectiveness. E7 argues: "[M]aking resources available is not enough for learning and online environments are perhaps not ideal learning environments" (q1). The same expert further develops this idea:

I have personally benefited greatly from using social media for language teacher education, and encourage my trainee teachers to use social media for ongoing professional development. But I think social media is good for finding resources, rather than actual learning (E7, q7).

64An analogy can be drawn with tandem learning, where peer support is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to ensure effective learning, as the following extract indicates:

[Social networks are a possibility] but only if they offer sustainable opportunities for interaction. We know the difficulties to maintain a tandem-relationship if students do not have experience and structure the exchanges proposing different tasks (E5, q15).

65Along the same lines, another expert "still think[s that] learners need guidance, so self-directed communities help but won't 'take over'" (E2, q13). The same expert details this view by replying to question 4.

Yes, OER can be used in self-study situations but they would need to have inherent clear guidance and pedagogical structure for students to get best use out of them. Many OERs which are shared do not have this and so students/learners would have to understand how to make best use of them for their learning. Of course, many students don't necessarily know how to construct their own learning–this is why teachers are so valuable (both f2f and "virtual"–ie present through instructions/scaffolding in online materials) (q4).

8. Conclusion

66This study has explored the social dimension of open educational language practice afforded by social networks, as a means to wider OER adoption and repurposing. The study has identified opportunities and limitations of social networked based OEP for language learning and teaching. More precisely, although the role of social networks is understood as favouring public sharing and expansion of user-generated content, the open character of practices is often downplayed by reluctance to share and institutional mind-sets preventing wider spread. Along with raising awareness on OER, it is believed that (re-)use possibilities such as versioning and content remix will thrive as open practice expands.

67In addition, I argue that approaching OER as work in progress and not polished content off the shelf, as happens to other successful, social network enabled communities of practice, can increase participation and user engagement, and situate OEP in a more socially sustained environment. Designing open spaces (platforms, repositories) for content repurposing is an essential yet complex parameter for OEP expansion. On the one hand, enabling reuse needs to be enhanced technically, as well as by means of social networking and gaming features. On the other hand, issues regarding visibility of the practices and professional identities of users should not be overlooked, as they may prevent users from fully engaging in social sharing, which is the fundamental point of the whole OEP endeavour.

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Questionnaire "OEP in a language learning/teaching context: focus on interaction"

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A. Appropriateness of OER for language learning

1. OER for language learning: what is your first reaction?

2. Do you believe that OER are appropriate in a language learning context? What kind of justification can we provide for or against?

3. What do you think of the argument that OER are not very suitable for language teaching/learning due to importance of issues (such as granularity, contextualization, learning needs) in a language learning/teaching context?

B. Affordances of OER for language interaction

4. Do you see possibilities of OER (re-)use in contexts other than tutored situations (face-to-face, online or hybrid)?

5. How can OER afford interaction, either with native speakers or peers?

C. Role of social networking in fostering OER (re-)use in a language learning context

6. In a language learning context, how do you see the role of social networks in conjunction with OER?

7. Are social networks, with their user-driven capacity and ease of reaching peers and native speakers, a suitable means for OER uptake and expansion? If so, what kind of examples/practices do we have? If not, why not in your opinion?

8. How do you see game-based mechanics (badges, recommendations systems, etc.) as a means for OER uptake? Please justify your reply.

9. Do you know of any educational practices using OER in a language learning context that utilize social networks and/or game mechanics?

10. Do you know of any OER repositories whose social networking and/or game mechanics foster language interaction?

11. What kind of improvements (pedagogical, technological, organizational) do you think would foster the interactional dimension of OER?

12. In your opinion, can social networks and OER be complementary, where the former act as socialization/ language interaction spaces and OER as content?

D. Future of OER with regard to social connectivity

13. What direction should OER for language learning take in the future?

14. Do you believe that OER should converge with digitally enhanced social trends such as crowdsourcing and socially-developed and maintained resources as a trigger to more user engagement with OER? If so, how exactly? If not, why not?

15. Do you believe that OER in a language learning context will be marginalized possibly due to the lack of conditions for interaction for self-directed learners, with learners moving to more interactive solutions (web 2.0 language learning communities–such as LiveMocha, Busuu, Babbel–or MOOCs)?

16. How do you see the future of OER for languages in conjunction with the for-profit language learning sector (eg publishing houses, private e-content providers)?

17. Is there anything you would like to add that has not been brought up in the survey?

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1–A user profile in the OER community Klascement.
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Title Figure 2–A user profile in the web 2.0 language learning community Busuu (Zourou et al., in press).
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Katerina Zourou, « Social networking affordances for open educational language practice », Alsic [Online], Vol. 19, n° 1 | 2016, Online since 07 August 2016, connection on 20 September 2019. URL :

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About the author

Katerina Zourou

Katerina Zourou, Ph.D., is head of Web2Learn in Greece. She is interested in language learning/teaching from an open perspective (open educational resources and practices) and from the point of view of collaboration (collective learning) and networking (social media). She acts as project leader or partner in transnational projects such as E-lang, supported by CELV/Council of Europe, and others, financed by the European Commission, such as LangOeR, ExplOERer, Web2LLP, M-Lang and MobiLL.
Affiliation: Web2Learn, Thessaloniki, GR.

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