Mashallah! The Online Palestinian Arabic Course is almost ready…

We have now finished piloting the first two units of the Online Palestinian Arabic Course. There are adjustments we need to make, but we are well on our way to have the course ready for the end of June. Soon, Inshallah, the course will be available to anyone interested in learning Arabic with a Palestinian flavour, taught by experienced and trained teachers based in the Gaza Strip.

So, here are some details about the course (below we offer you the preview of one of the course’s videos!)

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Here are a few quotes from the evaluation questionnaire completed by the volunteer learners  who piloted the course:

“We were in Palestine, with Palestinian food, habits, accent and this made me [feel] very close to the people there.”

“I really enjoyed the one to one lessons with a lovely teacher and the opportunity to see a little bit of the life in Gaza”

“I really enjoyed the tailored approach of my teacher who sometimes added content when I was curious to learn but also brought me back to the main content of the class.”

“We got to speak a little about life in Palestine and my own life – though it wasn’t necessarily extending my Arabic, it humanised the whole experience and created a bond across borders, which for me, is one of the things that makes the learning experience so unique and valuable.”

“I really enjoyed the videos – I found them to be a great tool for focusing the lesson around.”

And now, to whet your appetite for this amazing new course, here’s one of the videos which introduces one of the latter lessons. In this video, Italian born Sarah and Adam, guided by their Gazan teacher Anas, take a look at some Palestinian artifacts, including a key, the symbol of Palestinian right to return.

As well as the key, the brother and sister also see a shawl and a dress decorated with the wonderful traditional Palestinian cross-stitch patterns.

By doing this course, you’ll be able to understand Adam, Sarah and Anas only after a few weeks! Get in touch and the admin team at the Arabic Center will tell you what you need to do to start this great adventure!

Getting here, getting there

Despite the tension and anxiety caused by the Israeli response to the demonstrations; despite the ‘normal’ power cuts and logistic difficulties; despite having to experiment with different tools and new materials; despite everything, the pilot lessons for the Online Palestinian Arabic Course have now started. Finding the right online platform and the right digital tools to do justice to the materials is proving more challenging than anticipated. As an online course with multimedia material, designed and developed with very modest financial resources, elaborate and costly solutions are not an option. However, technicians at IUG are doing wonders with the software they have available and, although not without glitches and setbacks, the word documents we designed are slowly but surely transforming into an innovative, engaging, creative, multimedia online course.

Managing a team of course developers, technicians, filmmakers, teachers, photographers requires constant presence and coordination. As we write this, Dr Nazmi Al-Masri, our wonderful colleague and project partner, is managing the Gaza team while sleeping rough at the border crossing. He has a UK visa (and this already meant several hurdles) and invitations from a number of British universities. However, the queue of people waiting to leave the Gaza Strip from Rafah, in the few days during which the crossing is open, is incredibly long. Having to camp just to get a chance to leave the Gaza Strip does not stop Nazmi from working to ensure that the technicians at IUG upload the materials, and the piloting course can continue. This is just the latest example of the Gaza teams’ wonderful commitment to our common project.

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As the pilot lessons take place, we are asking the volunteer learners and teachers for open-ended feedback. While we will be assessing more formally the pilot at the end of six lessons, for now we ask them just to let us know what they liked (so we can do more of it) and what they did not like or found tricky (so that we can redress this in preparation of the final version of the course). Unsurprisingly, all learners agree that the main positive element of the course are the Arabic Center teachers. Their pleasant and capable attitude is regularly remarked upon, and this does not surprise us: all of IUG’s Arabic Center teaches are trained and experienced, and while the materials are new to them, working online is not a new experience. Several of the teachers in the pilot have already worked in online collaborations with colleagues at the University of Glasgow: with team members Giovanna and Grazia in the context of the RM Borders project, and/or in Grazia’s doctoral study.

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The materials themselves are praised by the volunteer learners, including our videos (that are our pride and joy). The biggest challenge is making sure that the different platforms we are using for the self-study and the face-to-screen parts of the course work well together. As we are aware, successful e-learning depends heavily on the technical resources or tools used to deliver the course. The tools need to be easy to use, reliable and up-to-date if the lesson is to work. As the financial resources available to the team to design, develop and deliver the course do not allow us to buy sophisticated, state-of-the-art digital tools, all of IUG’s technicians’ creativity and knowledge are needed to make the course work for both teachers and learners using as much as possible free software. This is not without some serious issues, but we are confident that we will have soon a course that is ground-breaking in approach and content, as well as one that is sustainable in the long term by not relying too heavily on expensive software to function.

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Multilingual smiles

This is a post in the first person, written from one side of the computer screen. So far our posts have been from all of us, in Gaza and Glasgow. But this is a post about being responsible for a project in a language one does not understand, and there is just me (Giovanna indicates herself) in this rather peculiar position. So, this is my blog post about frustration, trust, collaboration. About looking for patterns and sounds (and smiles). About the affective dimensions of languages…

 

Scene one

An office at the University of Glasgow (zoom in on an email inbox). I open a document that has just arrived from our Gaza partners. I know it’s the script for the films that will accompany the course: we were expecting it. It’s in Arabic. I stare at it, but it remains silent. I minimise the document and get on with other work, waiting for Esa to come and breathe sound into it.

Esa and I look over the script for the short videos that will introduce each lesson. We are concerned that the dialogues have too few lines for Sara, the female character, and that we’ll need to expand her role a bit. I can tell when Sara speaks even though the script is in Arabic and I cannot read it. I can recognise the name ‘Sara’ because its last letter is a little ‘o’ shape, with two dots above it. I can see eyes, a nose, and a little wonky smile off to the right. Let me introduce you to Sara of the little smile:

سارة      

So, I can count the times the little smile appears as the first word of the script, just before a colon (I can deal with the right to left script, that seems easy enough). Yes, there are definitely not enough lines for Sara: we will need to make sure that she speaks a bit more… Esa reads the Arabic dialogue aloud for me, in Italian. We discuss the parts that we like, those that we’re not sure about (Esa and Giovanna speak Italian to each other). We make comments on the margins of the document for our Gaza partners, in English.

 

Scene two

Today we have a full team meeting. We have not had one for a while, so we have a lot to discuss. Esa and I sit on the floor, in the living room of a Glasgow tenement building, a wood fire to keep us warm. On the coffee table are: two laptops, some sheets of paper, empty coffee cups, pens, a few oatcakes, chocolate (it is lunchtime, after all). One of the laptops takes us to Gaza, via Skype. On the other one we bring up the documents we are working on.

The Gaza team look into the Glasgow living room from the other side of the screen. They look a lot more professional: a university room, desks, books, pens, laptops. No debris of a meal in sight (well, it is mid-afternoon there). Two countries, two rooms. Two laptops, eight people, three languages. Sometimes all three languages at once.

For some reason the connection today is poor. Our voices break up when they reach Gaza. I speak closer to the screen, in English, slowly: “Did. You. See. Our. Comments. To. The. Script?” The Gaza team consult in Arabic and Esa translates in Italian what they are saying: they are not sure which document. I try again: “We. Sent. You. The. Comments. Last. Week”. The Gaza team are struggling to understand my fragmenting English (puzzled faces on the screen). Esa enquires about the document in Arabic. They understand, and they all chat away (Giovanna puts more wood on the fire).

The reception improves and we work together for a couple of hours , honing the dialogues, discussing the activities.

 

Scene three

We wave goodbye to the Gaza team,  drawing another long, productive meeting to a close. I offer my “Ma Salama!”, a bit dizzy from the concentration required to juggle laptops, languages, echoes. Esa’s goodbye in Arabic takes longer (Esa and our colleagues in Gaza laugh).

Esa and I settle down for the rest of the afternoon, to do the work we agreed we would do. The Gaza team are doing the same in their university room, getting started on the many tasks they have taken on. Esa and I write the screen-play using the dialogues we agreed on, so we can send it to Gaza before evening: Sara likes music (she gives a thumbs-up). Adam likes drawing (he shows his sketchbook). Anas would like sage tea (close up of fresh sage).

The filming in Gaza will start within days, and there’s no time to waste. Sara (of the little smile) now has more lines.

“Ce la faremo!” Esa tells me (she smiles).