explorations in the ed tech world

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Tag: language

Language and the OER problem

I have about 3 posts I could write about this topic and eventually I might get to my 2 half-baked drafts and book reviews, but the topic is complex and multifaceted, so let’s see where this goes.

One of the shifts in OER movement that I’ve really appreciated has been the thread of declaring social justice as part of what we do in the OER space.  I’m hoping that as we evolve we can remember that social justice is inherently tied to language which has been so well argued in Ingrid Pillar’s recent book:  Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice.

OER has a language problem.

  1.  The majority of OERs are in English. This is both a barrier and an opportunity.

A major challenge for delivery of OER on mobile technology globally is that most currently available OER are in English, and learners in many countries do not read or speak English. However, some countries see students completing courses in English as an opportunity for them to learn or improve their English language skills. 

2.  It’s not as simple as translating from English to a local language.  This requires time, resources, and a fair amount of skill.

Revision also involves a substantial amount of thought into the process of localization. In the case of revision-as-translation, the linguistic concern is of primary importance. An often-ignored barrier to remix and revision is the English-language and western bias of the Internet and particularly OER.

3. A language problem was identified by UNESCO in 2012.

Encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts. Favour the production and use of OER in local languages and diverse cultural contexts to ensure their relevance and accessibility. Intergovernmental organisations should encourage the sharing of OER across languages and cultures, respecting indigenous knowledge and rights. (UNESCO, 2012)

4.  There are language technology limitations when it comes to OERs.

Connecting and creating resources depends on the availability of tools that have interfaces in local languages, which is not the case for much software. These are important barriers when considering who is remixing and the limitations a wide audience has in engaging in OER-related practices.

5.  We spend very little time searching, reusing, adapting ,and quite frankly, amplifying OERs that have been created in languages other than English.  No research to link to this, just an observation that is open to debate.

Fortunately, there are frameworks for looking at questions of language in relation to social and political contexts.  The one I’m most familiar with it W.F. Mackey’s which I recommend  as an easy to read introduction to his framework:  Determining the Status and Function of Languages in Multinational Societies.  This framework explains how #1-5 happens, and provides insight into how to shift it.

Ultimately, I’d like to put on the table two provocations:

  1.  Reusing and Revising OERs is an important proposition, but let’s not overstate the ease of doing this without considering sociolinguistic realities and the fact that this is currently a largely unequal transaction that favours English over other languages.
  2. Well resourced OER initiatives favour the creation and diffusion of OERs in English, as opposed to, for example, translating and localizing OER that originate in other languages.  Or supporting the language revitalization of lesser used, and possibly endangered languages as a result of colonization (e.g. indigenous languages).

open learning and language

An interesting (old) quote from geolinguist and sociolinguist extraordinaire, William Mackey.  I’m parking it here because it’s related to discussions on open learning, and in line with my last post on language and the open access movement.

“The combined impact of this accelerating mobility, globalization of instant information and uniformization of mass media has lessened the contact between neighbours while increasing the impact of dominant cultures whose massive loudspeakers silence the small voices of local speech and minority cultures.  In sum, the far erodes the near and eventually drives it out.”

Mackey, W.F.  (1992).  Mother tongues, other tongues and link languages: What they mean in a changing world.  Prospects, 22, 81.