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Tag: other languages

OER in other languages – a project update of sorts

It’s been 5 weeks since I started the Other Language OER site and what started as  part whim, part experiment, part inspired by following the #opencon stream, has evolved into an itch that that gets me on a daily basis.  My goal was to post one OER per week from another language than English but after 5 weeks there are 12 OERs in 12 different languages, one of them submitted by someone other than myself (thanks @tomonagashima !)

The background and rationale for the site emerged from some longer deliberations and an even longer one over here  and I get that it’s really a very limited audience who might be interested in this.  But I’m learning a lot in my almost daily practice which incidently  feels like a 15 minute treasure hunt I try and do first thing in the morning.  Perhaps the biggest learning is that the resource itself isn’t the most interesting thing, but it’s how the resource is found, accessed, and ultimately what can be said about the broader OER landscape that is most interesting.

The first few posts were focussed on the resource itself and I wasn’t too explicit about my intention for posting it.  But every post has an intention and observation, so in more recent posts I’ve tried to include those, since that’s the interesting part.

For example, my first post was text modules for a grad course on India and the World, and the purpose of starting with this one was to demonstrate that if you wanted to teach a course in say, Indian or South Asian politics, why not extend a search to include regions of the world where they might have a particular insight that might not be available or visible to us in English.  Similarly, if we covet the Finnish K-12 education system so much, looking for K-12 material in Finnish seems like a great way to extend a search and build on their efforts.  Of course, obviously its difficult to transport a Finnish K-12 textbook into our own K-12 curriculum. First it has to be translated. Then it has to line up with our curriculum.  But if the potential of OER is truly in the remixing and adapting, then we need to set aside the difficulty of translation and localizing from other languages and practice what we preach where it makes sense.  In some cases, especially where there are already resources that have been created by recognized experts in recognized countries, it seems ludicrous to even bother starting from scratch.

Of course, the 5 R’s tells us that an open license opens possibilities for new educational practices (OER enabled pedagogy if you will).  What are the practices we want to see?  First of all, I’d love to see K-12 open textbooks in Canada for reasons I expressed here.  Imagine if an open textbook on Canadian History, for example,  could be remixed (rewritten?) by Indigenous educators.  Or imagine if students had to compare the North American chapter of an open Slovenian Geography textbook with their own high school Pearson edition?

Textbooks aside, there are other things I’ve learned from these past five weeks, some of them more obvious than others:

  1. Google translate is incredibly helpful
  2. Some languages, despite have a large population of speakers,  turn up no open resources (eg. Swahili).  Admittedly, this could be the fault of the searcher.
  3. Large pdfs don’t translate easily, as Google gets overloaded
  4. Some languages produce better translations than others
  5. If you want your OER to be reused, or simply translated, it really needs to be provided in multiple formats and not in a proprietary package (e.g. i-books that don’t download). Also, when said proprietary package company disappears, what happens?
  6. When a course is all text, there’s a fine line between a course and a textbook. Point being, if looking for an open textbook a repackaged open course might do the trick
  7. There are some great resources on sites that are dying a slow death, probably as a result of short term funding.  Reusing and mirroring are important to maintain the life of these efforts.
  8. There are some fascinating cultural insights you gain from looking at OERs in other languages.
  9. Lesser used languages may have the most to gain from being more visible due to open licenses.
  10. There are no shortage of ancillary resources out there for the STEM type disciplines. Cf. German , Chinese, and Portuguese
  11. We really don’t need any more math textbooks- those seem to be the most frequently encountered subject in my searches
  12. Some countries are doing open courseware really well. C.f Delft (Holland) and Hokkaido (Japan).

A final shout out to Alan Levine aka  @cogdog for creating the SPLOT template I use to create the site. It really is the simplest WordPress site you can have, and by allowing me (and anybody else who wants to)  to quickly upload and publish without logging in and futzing around, it actually makes doing this on an almost daily basis a possibility.  If you want to test drive it, grab an OER in another language and submit it over here.

OER and the language problem (part 2) – the status and function rationale

Critical scholarship ought to analyse the strong forces that are at pains to create the impression that English serves all the world’s citizens equally well, or those who uncritically assume this is so, when this is manifestly not the case. (Phillipson, 2001)

 

In my first post on this topic I put forward some high level statements on why I think OER has a language problem.  The “problem” may largely be one of awareness and as the movement evolves into its adolescence I think it will be increasingly important to surface the intersection of language, OER, and social justice.

My specific concern is with the uni-directional nature of OER from English to other languages.  English as a language holds considerable economic and social power, which has obviously facilitated its emergence as a global language.  This emergence is perhaps neither good nor evil, but carries with it some consequences that are worthy of consideration and have been documented for some time.  The positions on this topic range from moderate to extreme, with scholars like Tove Skuttnab-Kangas dedicating decades to topics such as language rights,  linguicide and the consequences of colonialism to more functional perspectives such as WF Mackey’s framework for understanding prestige, function, and status of language in relation to language vitality.

I was a grad student of Mackey’s at Université Laval in the 90s when he was already well into his seventies.  Mackey ran a internationally well known centre on research in language planning but also had been an advisor to many nations on language planning and policy, and as the story goes, had played an important role in shifting Quebec from English to French in the areas of education, government and the workplace in the 60s and 70s.  What was interesting about Mackey was that he was very academic about his approach, adopting a neutral stance that leaned on the science of language planning, and thus avoiding the inevitably polarizing debates that occur when language planning or revitalization is a topic.

This seems like a good place to start in attempting to be critical about the uni-directional nature of OERs.

Language Vitality = Prestige, Function and Status

In Mackey’s framework, the vitality of a  language can be thought of in terms of three buckets – prestige, status and function.  As he describes it “the essential difference between prestige, function, and status is the difference between past, present and future”.

Prestige:  depends on its record , or what people think its record to have been.  In some cases this is largely symbolic.

Function:  what people can actually do with the language

Status:  the potential for people do do something with the language, eg. legally, culturally, economically, politically and demographically.

“The functions of a language, as defined as what one in fact does with it, can be directly observed in the language behaviour of the population of any area. The status  of a language can often be modified by changing its functions.”

So what does this have to do with OER and open?

Status is also “what one can do with a language also depends on what  is available in it – books, films, and other cultural products (cultural status)” .  Demographic status is important in the cultural production since it is tied to economic power to some extent.  This is how Mackey relates the two in relation to literacy (note – he was writing this in 1976)

 ” the production of reading material – books, newspapers, magazines – whether undertaken by the state or by private enterprise, is an economic undertaking.  Literate people who can afford to produce and market books in their language promote it’s usefulness in as much as people buy and read their products.  Being economically dominant, their language is likely to be that of trade, commerce and industry, and as such a valuable language.  The same people can afford to travel and to invest, thus expanding abroad both their activities and their language “

It’s interesting to consider this quote by replacing reading material with OER, and situating it in a context of knowledge production and digital divide.  Importantly, the more functions a language has, the more status it will have. This is not a problem per se, unless it is being done at the expense of the other languages, which some argue is in the case of English (more on this in Ingrid Pillar’s book, see also Phillipson ).  We see this in the growth of academic publishing in English (and resulting inequalities), the   growth and availability of English language university programs in nations where English is not the traditional language of higher education, or in the massive English as a Foreign language teaching industry –  all are evidence of an increase in the function and therefore status of English.

The critical question for the open movement to consider is what is gained or lost when we feed the function/status machine of English.  For example, is it a detriment to scientific knowledge or is it a response to an economic necessity?  Who benefits and who is left out?  Does open benefit when it is multi-directional or is the predominance of English as a global language facilitating our efforts? My assessment leans towards the former – hence this project on OER in other languages- but I’m aware more scholarship and discussion is required.  As a parting thought, consider Skutnabb-Kanga’s (2000) distinction between an diffusion of language paradigm and an ecology of language paradigm.

So What’s the Takeaway?

The story of French in Quebec in the pre-1960s revitalization is one of a local French majority where French lost status, function, and ultimately prestige to an English minority.  This was reversed through government intervention and language planning, but continues to be an area that English Canada has difficulty understanding but makes total sense from a Mackey framework perspective.   The important takeaway from this example is that the framework not only describes what is happening, but also gives us some mechanisms for shifting it if we choose.  We have some agency in the open community to care about language planning and insert it in our conversations about OER and social justice.

 

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