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Introduction to "Social Dynamics in Open Educational Language Practices"

Katerina Zourou

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Open Educational Language Practices

1What kind of social dynamics emerge in open educational practices (OEP) involving the learning of languages? What roles can OEP play in language learning contexts in which individual and collaborative learner trajectories move across learning practices? This collection of papers approaches these questions by offering theoretical insights and empirical evidence to the field of Open Education and Open Educational Resources (OER). The originality of the collection lies in its emphasis on the social dynamics that arise in open learning practice. Although open education advocates "give the battle" for openness (Weller, 2014), very little research is being conducted on the way social dynamics promote open practices, especially in the area of language education and multilingualism.

2In this group of papers, we aim to fill this gap in research and discuss implications for practices by exploring the role played by social dynamics, consequences, and conditions for open learning expansion, by identifying challenges for researchers, teachers and learners, and in particular by critically examining language practices afforded to groups in open educational language practices.

3We have now reached a development point in time at which users' digital participatory cultures can no longer be overlooked as impacting not only life in general but also specifically learning and teaching. Interaction, communication and learning in social networked environments imply the open dimension, in which users find personal reasons to engage and set goals to reach, both individually and collaboratively. Using languages in everyday life today is characterized by social interaction and communication across and within technology mediated contexts, on a local as well as a global level. It is time to look beyond technology deterministic expectations to achieve more in-depth insights in order to address dilemmas for open language learning and teaching practices.

4Participation and engagement in social contexts imply moving between and across open digital practices without limitations set by, for example, educational structures or policies. The degree of "openness" of the practices and the associated resources is central to current debates regarding the nature of learning, teaching, access to and engagement with resources by a variety of players (learners, educators, researchers, professional content providers/publishers). Educational scholars find an opportunity to join these debates through this collection of papers.

5OEP, understood in its wider sense as using OER and working with open learning, open technologies, open pedagogies and open research and scholarship (Beetham, Falconer, McGill & Littlejohn, 2012), is at the heart of the global field of open education. This movement triggers debates worldwide as it relates to core educational issues such as the nature of learning and teaching, schooling, collaboration, agency, global equity and production models to name but a few. Despite the increasing number of Open Education advocates, there is still limited evidence on the value of OEP and the general picture is one of OER/OEP as an emerging field that "needs 20 to 30 years to reach its ultimate global realization" according to Fred Mulder, UNESCO Chair in OER (Mulder, 2012).

6This emerging field has recently been brought sharply to the fore with the advent of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the focus of much media attention at present, though not always embracing openness in a deeper sense. The need for evidence-based research on OER/OEP is a productive and more concrete way to situate in more explicit terms challenges, lessons and achievements in language education and develop pedagogical approaches that embrace openness.

Objective and topics

7Against this background, this collection of papers attempts to reconcile the much-hyped discourse around OER/OEP (and MOOCs) with data-driven research, with an overarching interest in the social component of open practices. User-driven initiatives flourish across the Internet, with developments such as crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, and especially in the language sector recently with open communities of volunteer translators, and the adaptation and translation of OER into other languages and for other sociocultural contexts (among others initiatives one can mention TED Open translation project, Amara communities, digital activism communities, etc.). All these user-generated practices are central to the collection of papers and reflect the capacity of individuals and communities to engage in open learning practices. New forms of interaction occurring through social networking and game-like features are questioned in relation to their affordances for OEP.

8The selected contributions address the following topics.

  1. How can social dynamics contribute to the wider ecology of learning, when open educational resources are used in open educational practices, involving the learning of languages?

  2. What roles can open educational practices play in situated language learning contexts in which individual and collaborative learner trajectories move across learning practices?

  3. What affordances and constraints can be found in open educational practices in relation to social dynamics and language learning?


9It is worth devoting a few words to the genesis of this editorial project. This collection of papers is one of the results of the European Commission co-funded project LangOER (enhancing learning and teaching of less used languages through Open Educational Resources, OER, and practices,​). Two among the papers figuring in this collection (one by Gosia Kurek and the other by Katerina Zourou) are grounded on data sets collected throughout LangOER.

10For the preparation of this collection, a call for contributions was published in January 2015, and twelve authors were invited to reply to the call. Ten abstracts were submitted, resulting in nine papers in the first selection round, and five in the second round. Sylvi Vigmo acted as co-guest editor until January 2016.

11Last but not least, on behalf of all the authors I would like to thank several people for their valuable support. Firstly, the editorial committee of Alsic journal, and especially Françoise Demaizière, with which we share a passion for the present and future of openness. We could not have found a better means of scholarly publication than this editorial project. I would also like to express my gratitude to Angeliki Tseliou, editorial assistant, and to the two proof readers, Susan Pasco and Serena di Iorio, whose services have been covered by the LangOER budget.

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Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L. & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Open practices: briefing paper. JISC.

Mulder, F. (2012). "OER will need 20 to 30 years to reach its ultimate global realization". Interview for the Open Education Europa portal, 25 October 2012.

Weller, M. (2014). Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn't feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press.

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Katerina Zourou, « Introduction to "Social Dynamics in Open Educational Language Practices" »Alsic [En ligne], Vol. 19, n° 1 | 2016, mis en ligne le 07 août 2016, consulté le 21 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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