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!

Celebrating connections!

It’s been a while… The end of the Online Palestinian Arabic project has meant a flurry of end-of-project activities to promote the Online Arabic from Palestine (OAfP)  course at the Glasgow end of the screen, and the start of teaching for the Gaza team. A substantial number of people has already made inquiries on the OAfP course, and several learners have already started learning Arabic with our wonderful Gaza colleagues. You can watch here the latest promo video the Gaza team produced, to advertise the OAfP course and all the other Arabic courses they offer, which cater for all abilities and needs.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, at the University of Glasgow we celebrated all the collaborations between our institution and the Islamic University of Gaza. As well as the Online Arabic from Palestine project, which is based in the School of Education, two other important collaborations were also celebrated. One was the EAST project which, for the past four years, has been twinning overseas student-engineers in Glasgow (at UofG School of Modern Languages and Cultures) with engineers in Gaza over five weeks each summer, to discuss authentic engineering issues through the medium of English. The other cause for celebration was the arrival at the University of Glasgow of twenty Master’s students from the Islamic University of Gaza, most of whom managed to miss a lesson (thanks to their very understanding teachers!) to be with us and with their IUG colleagues on the other side of the screen.

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Celebrating Glasgow-Gaza collaborations

The Master’s students are in Glasgow on an Erasmus+ scholarship. Some will stay for the whole academic year, some can only study with us for six months. All tell long stories of hope, uncertainty, happiness and tiring journeys. Sandra White, the Member of the Scottish Parliament who represents the constituency for the University of Glasgow, was with us to celebrate all our great projects and the ongoing partnership between our universities, as were many of the people who have been (and still are) working on both sides of screens  – and through screens – to make these projects happen. No wonder there were so many smiley faces! 😊

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ps – don’t forget that you can register to learn Arabic with IUG teachers by contacting us through the contact link above or through the Arabic Center. Also, don’t forget to follow the Arabic Center on Facebook and/or Twitter for the latest news!

Online Arabic from Palestine course now launched!

The sun was shining in the Gaza Strip, yesterday morning, when the Online Arabic from Palestine language course for beginners was launched officially at the Islamic University of Gaza. The weather was much less kind to the Glasgow launch, yesterday afternoon, when people had to brave the Ali storm to come and celebrate the official release of the new course.

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As so many times before during the many months of collaboration that led to yesterday’s launch, the Glasgow team was in Gaza, speaking from a screen to a room full of proud people, while our Gaza colleagues were later a presence on a screen  in Glasgow, telling about their experiences and roles in the design and development of the Online Arabic from Palestine course. As so many times before, we documented the events, sharing the dizzying kaleidoscope of photographs of people on screens and in person in each other’s rooms from each other’s points of view…

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But sometimes miracles happen, and people manage to escape the confines of screens and meet in real life. Sahar, our IUG colleague (who is Sara in the course’s videos) arrived in the UK just a few days ago to study. Despite having a million things to do and having to recover from her long journey, she was willing – actually, delighted – to travel again to be with us, on this side of the screen, in the room she knew so well from all our Skype meetings over the years (“It’s much bigger than I thought!” was her first comment).

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So our colleague and friend Sahar was with us outside the screen, decorating with leaves the table for the post-launch celebrations, gifting Palestinian embroidery bracelets, slicing pomegranates, taking people through the course at the launch event, and being enthusiastic about everything (despite Ali!). And showing everyone that screens can be portals, through which flesh and blood connections can be made.WhatsApp Image 2018-09-19 at 10.50.57.jpeg