OER Fund(ed): Bringing culture and community to online language learning

Last year, Dr. Mark Turin and other faculty members from the UBC Himalaya Program received an Open Education Resources (OER) Rapid Innovation Grant for their proposal: Nepali and Tibetan Language in a Community Context. The resulting project created two OER courses, developed by UBC Himalaya Program and Asian Studies language instructors Binod Shrestha (Nepali) and Sonam Chusang (Tibetan). These two open access and self-paced courses offer learners a basic introduction to each language, with lessons on script, grammar, basic vocabulary, and guidance on how to carry out a basic conversation.

Decorative images that includes the text: Open educational resources new available: Introduction to the Nepali Language and Introduction to the Tibetan Language
The UBC Himalaya Program’s open access courses are available at https://himalaya.arts.ubc.ca/open-educational-resource/

With this year’s call for applications for OER Fund grants now open, and to showcase some of the opportunities and benefits of OER, Mark and former Graduate Student Coordinator Patrick Dowd explain the Himalaya Program’s ongoing relationship with open education. They describe how the OER grant helped ensure that even when language learning moved online, the course remained embedded in culture and community engagement.

Q: What motivated you to apply for an OER grant?

The UBC Himalaya Program has developed unique language and cultural learning resources for two globally important – if under-resourced – languages: Nepali and Tibetan. We applied for the grant in order to share these resources beyond the UBC Vancouver campus.

The Himalaya Program has been teaching the Nepali and Tibetan languages as summer intensive courses since 2015, in conjunction with the Department of Asian Studies and the Institute of Asian Research.

More than just language classes, these courses fully integrate language learning with engagement with the Nepali and Tibetan communities in the Lower Mainland. When the COVID-19 situation meant that our courses had to move online, our dedicated instructors Binod Shrestha and Sonam Chusang moved quickly to maintain the community engagement aspect, even when online.

Our summer 2020 courses included learning a Nepali song and dance, and discussing Buddhist philosophy with the Tibetan monks of Tsengdok monastery here in Vancouver, all in an unprecedented online format. The digital resources created for the 2020 summer courses, including recorded classes, have provided the foundation for the Nepali and Tibetan OERs that we have developed.

Q: How will students benefit from your project?

In addition to teaching fundamental vocabulary and grammatical concepts, the courses seek to share the rich cultural traditions embedded in the Nepali and Tibetan languages.

By developing these OERs, from wherever students access these courses, they will benefit from the Himalaya Program faculty members’ decades of expertise in designing, delivering and teaching Nepali and Tibetan. The resources provide a critical introduction to these languages in a culturally appropriate, community-informed context.

Q: How does the use of open resources support your teaching and learning goals?

These OERs will not replace our real-time, community-engaged Nepali and Tibetan language courses (NEPL 390 and TIBT 390). Rather, they provide important introductory tools and educational pathways for students and community members, and help to further establish UBC as a leader in the interdisciplinary study of the Himalayan region.

The creation of these OERs supports the Himalaya Program’s longstanding commitment to hosting and disseminating resources about the languages and cultures of the Himalayan region, both in Asia and in Canada.

The Himalaya Program’s core faculty are deeply invested in the open access movement in general. Faculty members edit an open access scholarly series, and direct the open access Digital Himalaya Project, which is now headquartered at UBC.

Q: How did you get started on your project?

Instructors Binod Shrestha and Sonam Chusang completed the first step in their extensive preparations for teaching online in May 2020. Through their diligence and hard work, they rebuilt the courses for online delivery in a compressed format over that summer. In the process, our language instructors prepared the extensive digital resources, which now serve as the foundation for the current OERs.

Q: What support has been useful in helping to develop the open resources? Have students been involved with the development of the work in any way?

While the instructors were responsible for the content of the courses, both as they were delivered in the online summer courses and in terms of developing the OERs, the Himalaya Program staff were in continual communication with them to ensure that they had the support and resources they needed.

Student feedback also provided a formative component of the OER development, as all the materials featured in the OERs were originally used as instructional content for the summer 2020 Nepali and Tibetan language classes.

The instructors were supported in their work by the Himalaya Program’s Graduate Student Coordinator, Patrick Dowd, who received a summer research assistant role from the Institute for Asian Research in support of this project. Further support was provided by the Himalaya Program’s Work Learn Undergraduate Program Assistant, James Binks, and the Himalaya Program Steering Committee.

Q: Why do you think that it is important for instructors to consider using or creating open educational resources?

OERs provide a unique platform for sharing the concentrated learning resources of UBC with a broader, global audience. By making these language learning materials open and accessible, the UBC Himalaya Program is able to share some of its extensive knowledge and expertise to any interested individual with an Internet connection.

These OERs also provide powerful learning resources for the vast number of heritage learners in the Nepali and Tibetan diasporas, in the Lower Mainland of BC and across the world. While diaspora communities are deeply committed to the transmission of their unique linguistic and cultural knowledge, they may have limited teaching resources. We hope that our OERs will benefit Nepali and Tibetan diaspora communities in their goals for language sustainability.

The UBC Himalaya Program’s Introduction to the Nepali Language and Introduction to the Tibetan Language open access courses are available at https://himalaya.arts.ubc.ca/open-educational-resource/

Dr. Mark Turin is an Associate Professor cross-appointed between the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies and the Department of Anthropology. Patrick Dowd is the former Himalaya Program Graduate Student Coordinator and a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology. They and co-investigators received a 2020/2021 OER Implementation Grant for their project.

Applications for 2021/2022 OER Implementation Grants are now open. Learn more and apply at https://oerfund.open.ubc.ca/