OUP has called its Network programme, launched this summer, “the first course to use social networking to help students succeed in English”. However, Languages Out There, a relative minnow in the ELT world, says its English Out There (EOT) programme published in 2009 was the first.
Moreover, it alleges OUP knew this, having consulted Languages Out There about EOT in 2010-11 before deciding not to collaborate with the company – a claim OUP denies.
A spokesman for Dorset Trading Standards said: “We are concerned about the claims that are being made by the Oxford University Press and we have taken that up directly with them and are still thinking about how we will deal with that.
“We are concerned about the claims that are being made by the Oxford University Press and we have taken that up directly with them”
“In particular there are claims relating to whether or not this was the first type of product that used social media in a certain way.”
English Out There launched as “the first ever ‘social media’ English language teaching course book” in 2009, offering “unique” course materials which can be used both offline and on through platforms such as Facebook and Skype. Founder Jason West said the course was developed through thousands of teaching hours at his language school, but had only turned a small profit in the last few years.
West said he was excited when OUP expressed interest in English Out There at the start of 2010, but after a meeting and email correspondence, OUP declined to take the relationship further in May.
West was asked to another meeting with OUP representatives in November 2011 where OUP mentioned it was developing a programme using social media. No collaboration followed but West was dismayed when OUP launched Network – Get Connected in 2012 claiming to be a “first” in what he considered was a similar way.
“It just seemed strange to claim to be the first, given they were developing the programme while speaking to me and I had been promoting mine as ‘the first’ for two years,” West told The PIE News
Since being contacted by Trading Standards, Oxford University Press has removed the claim from its website and Amazon of its own volition, while making private a number of promotional videos on Youtube. However, it still appears in the Network textbooks (pictured above) and in numerous Google listings.
A spokesman for OUP told The PIE News the claim had been made in good faith. “We believe that Network was the first classroom-based ELT course to stress the teaching of social media etiquette and to teach students how to be critical users of social media for language learning purposes,” said a spokesperson.
“We recognise that other services which harness the power of social media are available for English language students”
“We recognise that other services which harness the power of social media are available for English language students, and accept that some of our marketing messages might not have reflected that.”
It added: “While there has been contact between several OUP employees and Mr West in recent years, the team involved in developing Network, and those producing specific marketing messages for the course, were not involved in these discussions.”
Trading Standards is yet to make a decision on the case but said that OUP “did not seem capable of substantiating its claims” which could potentially be creating “unfair competition” with Languages Out There.
If OUP is found in breach, Trading Standards will try to make it comply with its ruling “through advice”, but could issue a warning or take legal action if necessary.
“Any claims that we have been made aware of, we will scrutinise and if there has been a breach of any legislation then we’ll apply our usual enforcement policies,” it said.