Visual appearance of corpus resources is a barrier to uptake in ELT

*This is not a rigorous examination of appearance or barriers to uptake of corpus resources. It’s just a few disorganzized thoughts, externalized.*

Even though corpora are widely used in materials development (dictionaries, grammars, etc.), classroom use of corpus resources is under-developed. If, like me, you see a lot of pedagogic benefits in corpus resources you might describe them as underused.  I actually think this underuse is quite rationale, for several reasons, and I sympathize with teachers who choose to avoid “corpus work” in their classrooms.

IMO, one of the biggest barriers to uptake is that so much software, the presentation of data, and the specialized terminology are daunting, seem inaccessible or irrelevant, feel time-consuming, and generally seem to not be user-friendly. The sense of not being user-friendly is, I think, a huge stumbling block for those who would otherwise be interested in experimenting with corpus resources.

Whether the resources are actually user-friendly or not is, I think, a subjective question. But anecdotally, I think a lot of teachers feel this way. And to be honest, I feel this way about quite a few of the resources out there, even ones I like and use. It took quite a bit of practice and training just to start to feel any sense of confidence using them, whether it was hands-on use of a corpus and analyzing language myself or integrating into class corpus-based software/information that I needed to make pedagogic decisions about. I dont’t think this difficulty was just because the work is complex, but that a feeling of user-unfriendliness creates a psychological aversion to engaging with the resource(s), as well more conscious decision-making along the lines of thinking that the resources are too complex/opaque/irrelevant for one’s teaching or for learner-use.

There’s no easy fix to this. Nor should there be. But there are some things that would improve the perception of the user-friendliness of corpus resources. I believe one of those things is simple layout and design, the way the resources look. Some corpus resources have a steep learning curve, but poor visual design and layouts makes them appear even more difficult and inaccesible. So teachers avoid trying them out and/or sharing them with students  That is why I’m very happy about the update to the BYU collection of corpora. EFLNotes conducted a brief interview with Mark Davies and obtained a few screenshots of the new-look interface. I think it looks great. I think it looks more inviting, modern, and accessible.

Not only the BYU corpora, several (maybe most?) corpus resources might be looked upon more favorably in teacher-circles (and experimented with by teachers) if they modernized/updated their appearance. I know this seems like a superficial thing to worry about, but it is a real perception. Would better visual design suddenly make corpora go mainstream in ELT? No, that’s simplistic and fanciful. Would it improve the perception of their user-friendliness? I think so. Of course, there are many other ways (and perhaps more substantial ways) that corpus resources could be designed that would make them more pedagogically attractive to teachers. Still, improving the appearance of corpus resources would be a step forward, I think.

I am *VERY* interested to hear if anyone has any thoughts about this or related issues (ease-of-use, visual presentation, layout, uptake barriers, etc.).

A final note: another nice aspect of the BYU corpora update is that it will make the interface mobile-friendly. This is also important for uptake, IMO, and a topic I plan on addressing in a future post.

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7 thoughts on “Visual appearance of corpus resources is a barrier to uptake in ELT

  1. Ease of use is definitely an issue for corpus resources. One of the stumbling for me when trying to learn to use corpus resources is definitely usability, and appearance has a big impact on that. Attempting to introduce these resources to students becomes a nightmare, as the appearance of the those resources seems to daunt them.

    By the way, if anyone could point in me in the right direction for learning how to better use corpus resources I would be very grateful.

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