Ana Beaven

English Language Teacher at the University of Bologna
How using open resources on activated her students' curiosity and creativity.
Photo: Ana Beaven

As a teacher in a university language center, I am constantly searching for high quality authentic materials which are relevant to students from different academic fields, and which I can transform into language teaching resources. Most such materials, however, are protected by copyright, making them extremely difficult to use legally in the classroom, let alone share among colleagues. Fortunately, some years ago, I came across a treasure trove:

It contains, among other things, an extensive series of videos of talks given by some of the world’s most inspiring speakers on a huge range of topics, including the environment, technology, food, education, war and peace, and women’s role in reshaping the world. These are not materials designed for the language classroom. However, they are freely available on the web with a Creative Commons licence.

The licensing choice made by TED organizers serves a dual purpose: first, it fulfills their mission of spreading the ideas of their speakers. Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on how schools kill creativity, for example, has been viewed over 11 million times. At the same time, and of greater relevance to language professionals, it provides us with top quality video materials which can be adapted and repurposed to suit the needs of our language students. We can then share the resulting materials with other teachers around the world.

I have used TED videos for a number of purposes:

  • to create authentic listening materials for upper-intermediate and advanced classes;
  • to trigger debates on hot topics, which can then lead to the production of class wikis or to the students contributing to the debates on the TED website;
  • to enhance reading materials found in the students’ textbooks;
  • to encourage the acquisition of field-specific lexis in English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses; and
  • to provide university students from a range of different academic fields with top-quality video materials for self-guided study.

Often, the students’ curiosity, triggered by a video watched in class, makes them want to explore the website and listen to other talks on other subjects. As one of my students observed, “TED was a true revelation; I never thought there were so many fascinating talks in one single place.”

The next stage in the process is that of making those materials freely available to colleagues worldwide as Open Educational Resources (OER). This, for many teachers, is the difficult step. There are many issues involved, both practical and psychological, including whether the materials are good enough to be subjected to the scrutiny of one’s peers, or concerns about how those resources will be used. These should be addressed as part of professional development initiatives. Embracing openness is a slow process, and requires not only the necessary practical information but a true cultural shift.

Once you understand the benefits of sharing, a whole universe opens up before you. Personally, this has been the most enriching development in my professional career.

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