The impact of language: a cross-border collaboration for the design, development and promotion of an Online Palestinian Arabic Course

Khyanyunus Park at Gaza Beach

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OPAC Project Summary

The design, development and promotion of an Online Palestinian Arabic Course (OPAC) aims to significantly extend the impact of the AHRC project 'Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law and the State' (RM Borders). The RM Borders Project was funded through the Translating Cultures themes and led by Prof Alison Phipps (University of Glasgow). OPAC, funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund by AHRC, will expand the impact of the Teaching Arabic to Speakers of Other Languages case study (TASOL CS) of the RM Borders Project through the design of an innovative online Arabic course that is sustainable, grounded in Palestinian culture and language and adapted for delivery in challenging contexts.

The TASOL CS was a piece of action research to train online teachers of Arabic in the Gaza Strip (Palestine). For the past 10 years, the Gaza Strip has been under blockade. Because of the blockade, the population of the Strip is in a state of forced immobility, unable to move freely in and out of the Gaza Strip. The blockade has resulted in very high unemployment, especially among young graduates, and in forced cultural and linguistic homogeneity. The aim of the TASOL CS was to create opportunities for multilingual, intercultural and professional collaboration between graduates of the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) - a partner institution in the RM Borders Project - and a team of foreign language teaching experts based at the University of Glasgow (UofG). It consisted in a 60-hour training course for a group of graduates from IUG, to co-explore effective practices for Arabic language teaching through online tools.

The TASOL CS was instrumental in the establishing of the Arabic Center, an offshoot of the RM Borders Project. Housed at IUG, the Arabic Center offers opportunities for online work to the teachers of Arabic that were trained through the TASOL CS. As a practical output of the TASOL CS, the Palestinian teachers have now the opportunity to work online, teaching Arabic learners worldwide. As well as enabling them to gain financially, online work also offers the Palestinian teachers and their international students opportunities to engage in intercultural and multilingual exchanges. The first group of online international learners who were taught by the trained teachers at the Arabic Center expressed high satisfaction in the course they completed. However, they also voiced a need for curricula and resources grounded in Palestinian culture, art, literature and heritage and for engaging with Palestinian Arabic alongside the modern standard variety of the language. OPAC - designed collaboratively with the TASOL trained teachers - is an innovative language course that meets this need, and which offers a unique leaning experience and a pioneering syllabus for online education in/from a context of crisis. OPAC will also build on the expertise gained through the design of the successful Multilingual Learning for a Globalised World MOOC, an output of the RM Borders Project, and will contribute to the portfolio of work done under the UNESCO chair on 'Refugee Integration through Language and the Arts' held by Prof Phipps, UofG. 

The online TASOL course delivered as part of the RM Borders project has already received much attention by academic and non-academic audiences and a presentation on it was one of the few selected for presentation at the
UNESCO/UNHCR Mobile Learning Week (Paris, March 2017), which focussed on 'Education in Situations of Emergencies and Crisis'. The design, development and promotion of an innovative, context-specific, multimedia, multimodal online course will expand significantly the impact of the RM Borders project, greatly enhancing its economic social and cultural value by ensuring engagement of new audiences worldwide with the work carried out at the Arabic Center, and by providing a template for effective and sustainable online language teaching in challenging contexts.

OPAC is currently in the development and beta testing phase. Once finalised OPAC will use readily available, free software to ensure that it is accessible to the widest number of potential students worldwide, thus guaranteeing deliverability and sustainability in challenging situations. OPAC will be made available to trained teachers at the Arabic Centre, as a tool to attract and engage potential Arabic language learners worldwide, and so increase opportunities for online employment in order to overcome (however partially) the constraints imposed by the decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip.

AHRC Grant reference: AH/R004617/1

Grant awarded: £99,955

Dates: September 2017 - May 2018