And now… a book!

It has been a while in the making, but it is finally here: an edited collection on the experiences of collaborating online, and across borders.. The book is entitled Multilingual Online Academic Collaboration as Resistance. Crossing Impassable Borders and is published by Multilingual Matters. Authors from a range of academic backgrounds discuss, over nine chapters, an overview of online collaborations between universities in Europe, the USA and Palestine. The chapters recount the challenges and rewards of online collaborations which promote academic connections and conversations with the Gaza Strip , and which forge relationships between individuals, institutions and cultures.

The book’s cover

It took the book editors and contributors a lot of effort and a long time to perfect a manuscript that weaves together different academic traditions, styles and disciplines, one that was entirely planned, discussed and put together through online collaboration, precisely in the same way (and with the same challenges and rewards) the projects described in each chapter. The book also came together through times of worry and grief. Almost 200 people were killed and tens of thousands injured during the Great March of Return in 2019, as we were writing the book, and several our Palestinian colleagues experienced repeatedly frustrated (and frustrating) attempts to travel out of the Strip for work or personal reasons. However, the time during which the book was taking shape also knew moments of joy and celebration, such as when two of our Palestinian colleagues finally managed to leave the Gaza Strip and were able to visit us in Glasgow.

The book starts with a prologue, which reproduces a WhatsApp conversation as an example of the frustrations we experienced, and with an introduction by the book editors. Part 1 collects chapters on ‘English as an Additional Language and Online Technologies’; part 2 consists of chapters on the topic of ‘Finding Motivation for Language Learning in a Situation of Forced Immobility’; part 3 discusses ‘Palestine and the Arabic Language’; while part 4  collects chapters that focus on ‘Making Connections’. An afterword by Alison Phipps recounts the delight of being together in person, after many failed attempts.

The book’s content

As we were putting the finishing touches to our book, the Covid-19 pandemic – and consequent lockdown – meant that the online work we had learnt to rely on, in order to keep collaborating despite the blockade of the Gaza Strip, had become the only way of working for many people around the world. Our long experience of shouting “Can you hear me?” at a computer screen was, suddenly, the experience of most academics who had, until then, taken for granted the possibility of meeting colleagues and students face to face, of travelling to conferences, of taking up international fellowships, of shaking hands, and of sharing books, offices but also food and drinks with colleagues around the world. The experiences of working online which the book was discussing was suddenly an experience shared by many, many more people. Our colleagues at the Islamic University of Gaza, like academics everywhere, were stuck at home working remotely. But they were mostly unfazed. While the threat of a pandemic was especially alarming for a country with a health system much weakened by a blockade that has now lasted more than 12 years, the sense of alarm and panic and the need to suddenly – and radically – change one’s life and taken-for-granted practices was nothing new to them, and so they were sending us messages of solidarity and affection, and strength…

For anyone interesting to purchase the book, a promotional 50% discount is available until the end of August. Below you can download the flyer with all the necessary information on how to buy the book at a discounted price.

The birds return

As we wrote in a previous blog post, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (1941 – 2008) – like all Palestinians, and those living in the Gaza Strip in particular – knew all about the personal and collective suffering that comes with not having full control over one’s own freedom of movement, with losing one’s (home)land and with being besieged, controlled and coerced day in, day out.

During the Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2020, the UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts (UNECO-RILA) based at the University of Glasgow – of which the Online Palestinian Arabic Course (OPAC) was part – organised an online version of their annual Spring School. Following that, a virtual Refugee Cycle took the place of the Refugee Cycle UNESCO-RILA organises every year. Despite having moved on to other projects, some of the OPAC team members have found the time to come together to make a short Arabic Language taster video, so that it could be used both for the virtual Spring School and the virtual Refugee Cycle. We based the short lesson on the idea of birds that Darwish talked about in his poem “The Earth is Closing on Us“.

The birds in our video speak to everyone’s need and wish to escape any cages by which they may be trapped, including our Palestinian friends and partners in the Gaza Strip, who have been virtually imprisoned by a blockade for well over a decade. We offer this short taster to all you now, so you can learn a few words of Palestinian Arabic and play around with the wings that knowing a new language has the potential to give you.

A Palestinian Arabic language taster

Our friends and colleagues in Gaza can help you learn more, if you liked our taster: just click here!

Collaborating online at times of crisis

As we write this we are in the middle of a pandemic that has huge numbers of people around the world grappling with uncertainty, disruption and anxiety. The spreading of the COVID-19 virus means that millions of people are having to self-isolate or are in lockdown in many countries. It is a difficult and troubling time for everyone, everywhere, and one the world is struggling to cope with.

As academics we are privileged in that much of the work we do can also be done through the use of online technology. This is something that is not an option for many people, and livelihoods are at stake. However, for those of us able to work online, there is now a wide range of tools available and, while online work requires a different set of skills and strategies from those needed for face-to-face teaching or researching, there is still a lot we can do to keep going.

Our friends and colleagues in the Gaza Strip know all too well what it feels like to be ‘locked away’, to have your movement and social interactions curtailed, as a nation and as individuals. They have, for many years, invested in online technologies as a means to escape isolation and to carry on functioning and interacting despite living in a prolonged state of crisis and precarity.

The Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) has established a large number of international online collaborations over the past few years, collaborations which span most subjects, and which make use of several languages. Through these partnerships, IUG has been able to share knowledge and skills with international partners, and these benefit academics, students and the whole of Gazan society. A range of these collaborations are the subject of the forthcoming book “Multilingual Online Academic Collaborations as Resistance. Crossing Impassable Borders”, published by Multilingual Matters. Below is a shot of the book’s cover, with a photograph of a very Scottish-looking Palestinian seascape (or is it a Palestinan-looking Scottish seascape? What do you think? 🙂

Front cover

There is a lot that Gaza’s academics can teach us about lateral thinking, problem-solving, resilience and online working in challenging situations, and this new book illustrates and discusses some of the ways in which this is done. To pre-order a copy of our book, click here

Hopefully the COVID-19 pandemic will pass soon, and we will all be able to go back to our normal face-to-face learning, researching and teaching. What we are learning now about online collaboration, however, will stay with us and hopefully make us more flexible and creative. We sincerely hope that freedom from isolation will also soon be true for our friends in the Gaza Strip, that borders will be open and that meeting and working online can become a choice for all, rather than a necessity.

Be well, everyone!