September 22, 2018

Free online courses on English for Syrian refugees

FutureLearn’s Basic English 1: Elementary. Click on image to access course.

FutureLearn (2018) New free online courses launched to help Syrian refugees continue their education FE, June 8

Kings College, the University of London, has partnered with FutureLearn, the U.K. Open University’s MOOC platform, to deliver a series of twelve new free online courses to assist refugees affected by conflict in the Middle East. The first two courses, Basic English 1: Elementary, and Basic English 2: Pre-Intermediate, start on June 18.

The courses are a result of an interesting project called PADILEA, which stands for The Partnership for Digital Learning and Increased Access, whose partners are King’s College, LondonKiron Open Higher Education (Germany), FutureLearn in the UK, Al al-Bayt University in Jordan and the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. The PADILEA project will provide blended academic programmes, including Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), targeted online learning, and classroom-based learning to displaced students who are in refugee camps and other communities.

While the course content is specifically designed for people affected by the Syrian crisis, they are open to all people in the region and beyond for free. Learners can join the courses from any device, computer or smartphone with an internet connection. The courses will also have Arabic translations.


This is an example of the huge potential of MOOCs to improve accessibility to education and meet some very pressing needs. The PADILEA MOOCs are more focused and targeted than many other MOOCs but still have a large potential audience and have a very important goal. Professor Bronwyn Parry at King’s College perfectly captured the significance of this project:

In the scale of the enormity of the ongoing conflict in the region, English courses may seem a relatively small affair but access to education is absolutely vital and offers opportunity and hope for an entire generation whose lives have been devastated by war and displacement.

I have already reported on Kiron University’s efforts to help refugees with online learning. In some ways, online learning for refugees is like a band-aid for someone who is bleeding to death. It can only help reduce some of the effects caused by more fundamental political and economic issues that still need to be urgently addressed, but nevertheless band-aids are still useful when you are bleeding.

I hope though that eventually a more long-term and stable solution will be found for the education of the millions still stuck in refugee camps hoping to transition to a more normal existence – or better still, remove the need for refugee camps in the first place. 

Online resources for teaching and learning English as a Second Language

© Language and Leisure International, Ireland, 2011: Creative Commons license

There are several sites with resources for those learning (or teaching) English as a Second or Foreign Language (ESL or EFL).

TESL Canada Federation is the Canadian national federation of English as a Second Language teachers, learners and learner advocates. Its web site has a number of useful resources, including an guidelines on the English Language Proficiency Test  and English Language Test score requirements for major Canadian universities. Its Teachers’ Resource Centre contains a wealth of free resources for teachers of ESL.

The British Council also has a wide range of resources. Its LearnEnglish Kids has lots of free online games, songs, stories and activities for children to have fun and learn English too. provides a large collection of English as a Second Language (ESL) tools and resources for students, teachers, learners and academics.

An Online Resource for EFL Learners provides EFL learners with comprehensive exercises, tasks and useful links related to various skills and components of English language. It is the work of Hamed Ghaemi, a PhD candidate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) in University of Tehran, International Campus.

A Google search under ‘Online resources ESL’ will identify hundreds of other sites, but the quality varies.

Please note:

  • I do NOT recommend any particular ESL program, since I have no means to evaluate them, so please do not ask
  • I do not accept advertising on this site from commercial language schools so please do not ask for links or guest blogs
  • Please DO send other examples of sites that offer high quality free online resources for teaching and learning English as a Second or Foreign Language.


Using the web for open peer review

Cohen, P. (2010) Scholars test web alternative to peer review New York Times, August 23

Interesting article about the Shakespeare Quarterly‘s experiment in open peer reviewing.

‘The journal posted online four essays not yet accepted for publication, and a core group of experts….were invited to post their signed comments on the Web site MediaCommons, a scholarly digital network. Others could add their thoughts as well, after registering with their own names. In the end 41 people made more than 350 comments, many of which elicited responses from the authors. The revised essays were then reviewed by the quarterly’s editors, who made the final decision to include them in the printed journal, due out Sept. 17.’

The article provides an excellent overview of the pros and cons of online peer review.

The impact of digitization on the study of literature

Parry, M. (2010) The humanities go Google Chronicle of Higher Education, June 3

In 1959, a physicist and novelist at Cambridge University, C.P. Snow, argued that the breakdown of communication between the “two cultures” of modern society — the sciences and the humanities — was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.

This article looks at the modern interface of digital science with traditional literature, and from the way this article is written, the cultural interface remains an ugly mess. The article is about attempts by computer scientists to analyse on a quantitative basis all the works captured in Google books to identify (here I got a little lost) trends or themes that perhaps that have been ignored in the past.

One word cried out to me when reading this article: epistemology. One reason for the great divide in cultures is epistemological. Science and humanities approach the issue of what is ‘true’ from completely different perspectives. Writing algorithms to identify common ‘themes’ based on quantitative, statistical analysis seems to me to miss the point about meaning in literature and how it is interpreted.

For computer scientists, ‘meaning’ is a big, black hole into which billions of dollars have been sunk. Just look at the pathetic results from many years research into speech recognition or artificial intelligence (with respect to meaning – AI has been very successful in other areas.) Let’s not even consider the semantic web. I really do fear that if, one day, computer scientists do crack the code of meaning, as humans we will be redundant, and totally replaceable by machines.

There is so much in this article – the way it is written, the goals the computer scientists have set themselves, the attempt to dehumanize the reading of literature – that terrifies me. We do not need a single, dehumanized, reductionist, computerized culture. Be afraid, very afraid.

Open resource on essay writing from the University of the South Pacific

From the University of the South Pacific

I dedicate this item to all those Canadians who are getting sick of snow and below zero temperatures in the middle of our winter.

Established in 1968, the University of the South Pacific is one of only two universities of its type in the world. It is jointly owned by the governments of 12 member countries: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa. The University has campuses in all member countries. The main campus, Laucala, is in Fiji. The Alafua Campus in Samoa is where the School of Agriculture and Food Technology is situated, and the Emalus Campus in Vanuatu is the location for the School of Law.

The University also offers programmes through distance and flexible learning in a variety of modes and technologies throughout USP’s 14 campuses. Advanced communication technologies through USPNet are used to reach distance and flexible learning students across the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean.

After a year into the 32 month EDULINK-SideCAP Project, the University of the South Pacific team’s Open Educational Resource (OER) is now live and ready for use. It is a nice little course on essay writing and is available free. The USP representatives on the project, Louise Vakamocea and Alanieta Lesuma-Fatiaki of CFDL have been working on the OER since November 2008. The resource can be accessed from:

I will in fact be doing a keynote by video-conference into the EDULink conference in Fiji on Sunday – yes, I turned down an all expenses paid week in Fiji! However if you live by distance education…..