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!

Meet the Palestinian teachers!

After the celebrations of the last months, which saw the launch of the Online Arabic from Palestine course, and the arrival at the University of Glasgow of twenty Masters’ students from the Islamic University of Gaza, our team has been busy planning future projects (so watch this space!)

Meanwhile our online intercultural community of students and teachers is expanding. A growing number of learners from different countries are enrolling to take the Online Arabic from Palestine course, people with different cultural backgrounds, interests and expectations. This is really motivating for the Arabic Center’s teachers, who are busy developing even more tailored activities to maximise the students’ learning experiences. The teachers use the innovative course that has been developed but are also integrating it with their own ideas and teaching materials, making our great course even more flexible and suitable for all different needs. They are truly dedicated and creative professionals.

There is some trepidation in the air thanks to these online encounters! When enrolling as a language learner into a new course, you might feel excited, curious, hopeful and even, let’s admit it, maybe a little bit worried, or anxious… One of the first questions you ask yourself is who and how the teacher will be. This is always true, but even more so for one to one lessons, where there’s no way for you to hide 😊 The same happens to the language teachers, who, at the beginning of any language course wonder who their new students will be, how the course will go, whether the students will be rather shy or extrovert, whether the lessons that have been planning will meet the needs of the students and so on.

In this short promo video Lubna, Neveen and Jehad, three of the teachers at the Arabic Centre, introduce themselves. You can see their smiles, hear their voices… even before the first lesson! During the course you will get to know them a little bit better, and they will get to know you a little bit too since – remember – the aim of our course is not only to be introduced to Arabic as a foreign language, but also to create connections and get to know each other’s worlds.

If you decide to take the Online Arabic from Palestine course (you know you want to!) remember that you can contact the Arabic Center through our contacts section or directly on the AC’s website!

Knowledge exchange (beyond borders): some good news

After the sadness and frustration of the last blog post, here is some good news: tomorrow we will attend the Language, Translation and Migration Conference and Public Summit 2018, held at the University of Warwick and organised by the Migration, Identity and Translation Network.

We are delighted: this is a chance to share our learning and experience, to meet and exchange ideas with other people working in the field of education and to get more feedback about the OPAC project. Our happiness also has some sadness, though, because our colleague Dr Nazmi Al-Masri from Gaza will not be able to join us in Warwick as planned due to the brutal realities of travelling out of Gaza, and we don’t know when he will next manage to leave his country.

But, returning to the positive side of this news, we are ready for our presentation for Warwick. This will focus on the OPAC course as a  transcultural creative practice, a practical and useful way to challenge the siege which oppresses the Palestinian people, their culture and their language. Working on this is helping us to see again the wider context in which our project is developing, which at times we have lost sight of when caught up in the minutiae of lesson plans and IT problems.

20180523_165857.jpg

In particular we are re-discovering  the role of language learning and exchange as a key element of hospitality, in the context of  creating welcome and safety for Arabic speakers who come to Europe seeking refuge from conflict. We plan to highlight this use of our course in Warwick and look forward to meeting other researchers who are working to connect language education to issues of migration.

This news really has been a welcome reprieve after weeks of feeling a bit stuck and downhearted. This series of ups and downs really does prove the point that we will bring to the conferences: building this OPAC project is a creative practice, and like all creative processes it has its moments of clarity and moments of doubt. We know it will all be fine (more than fine) in the end – but we look forward to sharing and receiving support from like-minded people before we get to the end!