FAVOR ends…but lives on!

The FAVOR project has now ended officially, but it seems like it isn’t really over. Here is a summary of how we ended:

“It has been a reinforcing, motivating and inspiring experience. It feels good to be part of this project.”– FAVOR tutor
There is strong government and societal acknowledgment of the importance of learning languages, and the FAVOR (Finding a Voice through Open Resources) project has worked to showcase the excellent and often unrecognised work of part-time, hourly-paid language teachers in universities, by engaging them in activities which enhance the student experience and contribute to the academic life of their institutions.
The project sought to understand how open practice might benefit the working practices of part-time, hourly paid language tutors working in universities. Teachers of language are usually on teaching-only contracts and have low status compared to their research-active colleagues. They tend to have intensive teaching timetables, allowing little time to pursue research interests, professional development or maintain professional profiles. As a result, such tutors are often a reservoir of untapped knowledge and experience and can feel a sense of alienation from their own institutions.
The project worked with part-time language tutors across five universities (Aston, Newcastle, UCL SSEES, SOAS and Southampton) to create and publish more than 340 new open educational resources for students. Resources are in at least 18 languages and are free to download, use and adapt. Materials include teaching activities and new resources which give prospective students a ‘flavour’ of language study at university. 
In the process of becoming ‘open practitioners’, tutors have learnt new technical skills, shared pedagogical ideas and learnt from others, and adopted new approaches to creating materials. Their project work has raised their profiles within their universities and the community and made a lasting impact on their teaching.
“I’ve learnt a lot…thank you very much for the project because for me it was great…now I’m so motivated to learn more.”– tutor comment
The resources created for the project benefit the education community by increasing the pool of high quality teaching materials openly available; archiving useful content at a time of cuts and consolidation in language departments, and promoting the benefits of studying languages. Resources and information can be found at www.languagebox.ac.uk 
More details are in our final report, which you can find at: http://www.llas.ac.uk/FAVOR 
Kate Borthwick
project manager

JISC podcast about FAVOR

If you want to hear about how the project has concluded, listen to this lovely JISC podcast!


If you make it to the end, you can hear my tips for student retention too…

Kate Borthwick


New FAVOR resources online

The long summer break has been hard work for our FAVOR tutors as they have been finishing off their resources for the project.

  • Check out the online activities shared by Southampton tutors: Katy Heady for German and Bianca Belgiorno for Italian.
  • Admire the beautiful kanga fabrics and proverbs for Swahili shared by Wambui from SOAS
  • Learn from the examples of student feedback from Richard Galletly at Aston University
  • Get into learning Finnish from Riitta at UCL – I’ve already wiled away an enjoyable half hour on the loanwords quiz!
  • Admire these beautiful and fascinating pictures of a Chinese market in Beijing from Dan Li at Newcastle University – they make me want to fill my house with giant calligraphy brushes and statues!

There are over 300 new resources on LanguageBox and all of them give a fascinating taste of language study in Higher Education. Have a browse and see what grabs your interest…

Kate Borthwick


Specks on the world map – making endangered languages visible

by Chris Moseley, UCL, FAVOR project tutor

I’ve been involved with small and vanishing languages for a couple of decades now, ever since I wrote a Master’s thesis on Livonian, a language of Latvia that has disappeared from the ranks of the world’s mother-tongues now but is still spoken by a band of second-language enthusiasts of Livonian heritage. For most of that time I’ve been involved with the Foundation for Endangered Languages, a small international charity based here in Britain, and currently I edit its newsletter Ogmios. Since I became the editor of the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger in 2009, I’ve been introducing the Atlas at various international venues – and it’s a chastening experience always, because no matter how much you think you know about threatened languages, there is always so much more to learn. Mostly from Western-educated scholars, but every now and then I come face to face with the native speakers of tiny languages that seem to be on the point of oblivion. It’s a subject that never allows you to be complacent or feel that your knowledge is complete. The Atlas presents each endangered language as a coloured speck on its maps, coloured according to the degree of threat to it.

In June this year I was invited to a workshop in Cambridge run by the World Oral Literature Project (WOLP), an organisation that exists to archive and preserve recordings and artefacts of the world’s unwritten linguistic cultures. It was founded and is still run by Mark Turin, a passionate enthusiast for preserving oral cultural traditions who used to run the Digital Himalaya project in Nepal. This workshop was one of several that the WOLP has run, and they have been very receptive and supportive of the idea of the UNESCO Atlas. I had an opportunity to present the Atlas along with Anahit Minasyan, the project leader from the Endangered Languages section of UNESCO’s Paris headquarters. (You can find out more about the Atlas directly from the source, www.unesco.org/culture, or by reading the Occasional Paper on the subject that the WOLP has just published, or my account of it in the LanguageBox on-line as part of the FAVOR project.)

But what was fascinating for me was the company I kept there. I won’t easily forget the eagerness of a Sudanese woman in the audience, for instance, to make me aware of yet another threatened language that UNESCO seems to have neglected so far, Bedawi (or Beja), and how my conversation with her after the talk was mingled with one with a Hungarian scholar with similar concerns for the nomadic Evenki people of Siberia and their vanishing language. A generation or so ago, both of these peoples and their languages seemed to have a future that was reasonably secure, but they are threatened with disappearing before our eyes – in the case of Bedawi, because of the decimating effect of the war in Sudan on their livelihood, and in the Evenki case because the Russian hunger for exploiting natural resources is destroying their way of life. It might only take a generation to snuff out a language.

My own paper was an attempt to find out whether there is a link between being unwritten and being endangered. But the other papers given at the workshop were concerned with so many other aspects of language preservation: practical aspects of mapping and geospatial tools; publishing records of oral cultures; making the world’s scripts accessible; and the ever increasing sophistication of oral language archiving methods. At the University of Hawaii, a vast new Endangered Language Catalog is getting under way as a valuable information resource about the languages under threat around the world.

It’s gratifying to see that awareness of the fragility of the world’s smaller languages seems to be growing. Just in the same week as the Cambridge workshop, Google launched its Endangered Language Project, showing videos of speakers of many little-spoken languages around the world, and giving useful information about endangered languages and their plight on the home page to the average Google user. And now, the July 2012 issue of the National Geographic has published a sumptuously illustrated feature article about language endangerment, with snapshots of several languages on the point of extinction and the lives of their speakers. All this is a sign of healthy curiosity and concern about this threat to diversity in the world.

Basically there are two kinds of practitioner in the scholarly world of endangered languages. There are the active campaigners, who prepare reading and teaching materials to make sure the languages are passed on to the next generation; and there are the documenters, who see their task as to record as much of a language for posterity as possible before it dies. The future users of those records might be the descendants of the last speakers themselves, rather than merely foreign scholars. Both of these groups are very important. Look at the state of Cornish today, for instance – it seems to be dormant, but it does have a loyal band of enthusiast heritage speakers, who can rely on the carefully preserved written records of their language to learn it and keep it alive, even with artificial resuscitation. In the Atlas that I edit, UNESCO has a system of colour-coding to indicate five degrees of endangerment, from Vulnerable to Extinct, and when it was first published in 2009, this edition caused an uproar among those Cornish activists by labelling the language Extinct, with a black mark. We were forced to think again, and create a new category – Revived. How nice it would be to use that category in many more cases.

Kangas and Prometheus

I just made a project visit to SOAS to talk to FAVOR tutors there about their work and we had a fantastic and productive afternoon (once we’d got past the strict guards in the SOAS library!).

Check out Wambui Wa-Ngatho’s Swahili interest group and join up if you have an interest in Swahili. Wambui has uploaded a great resource about Kangas – she uses the images of these traditional East African scarves to teach language. SOAS have set up their own ‘Horn of Africa languages’ group and will be sharing their resources as part of this group.

Also discovered that two tutors, Wambui and Berhane, had been involved in filming Ridley Scott’s latest effort, ‘Prometheus.’ They played language tutors, but apparently scenes which involved them were cut, and we can only hear their voices! Look out for them in the credits though…they said that Sir Ridley was a very nice man “We chatted like we’d known each other for years!” said Berhane.

Kate Borthwick


OERs in Languages

I have just taken part in a great event at UCLAN – part of the HEA/OER seminar series, ‘OERs in Languages,’ and organised by Michael Thomas. The day started out with a comprehensive and interesting overview of the OER landscape by Jonathan Darby, Academic Director of SCORE, at the OU. He noted that engaging with OER can increase student recruitment and reduce costs, but we are still at an early stage in widespread adoption of open practice: “…while it is something of a fragile bloom right now Open Education has the potential to play a significant part in higher education institutions pursuing their missions.”

I followed on to talk about OER and staff/professional development. You can find my slides on HumBox or LanguageBox. I talked about how languages- and humanities- community OER projects have led to an understanding of “how engaging with open practice is a valuable staff development activity in its own right, and can lead to professional development in explicit ways (through the demonstration of impact of work on an external audience or reflection on resource-creation for open sharing) and more subtle ways (through reflection, collaboration, review and interaction with fellow-sharer-practitioners).”

I mentioned learnings from HumBox and FAVOR and was tremendously pleased when one member of the audience indicated she wanted to implement a mini-FAVOR project in her own institution, using the ideas behind the project, and using the LanguageBox and its new ‘group’ feature. I’ve offered to help where we can and I look forward to seeing FAVOR ripples spreading beyond the project.

After lunch, Miguel Arrebola, from the University of Portsmouth entertained us with wonderful examples of how his Spanish students are engaging with open practice. He talked about early work, in which students created online grammar activities, shared them online, then peer-reviewed them via comments’ features; and also current work on the JISC OpenLIVES project. This project is a collaboration between 3 different institutions and Miguel has been using primary research data collected and openly published by Dr Alicia Pozo-Gutierrez, at the University of Southampton, to get his students to create interactive magazines. All of their work will become OERs. See project participants, work and outputs from the OpenLIVES group on HumBox. He notes that getting students involved in open practice improves digital literacy and is very motivating for them (and him!).

The day closed with Tita Beaven, from the OU, talking about OERs and teaching quality. In a thought-provoking session, she talked about the OU’s extensive experience of open practice with its language educators using the LORO repository. She noted that “OER projects seem to trigger considerable reflection on the part of users and that enhances educational quality.”  This is borne out by her experience with OU tutors, who see “the main benefit of [engagement with LORO] as the enhancement of teaching quality,” with many tutors reporting that they used LORO to standardise their practice and ensure the comparability of the student experience, as well as to avoid reinventing the wheel and so give them freedom to develop other areas of teaching.

It seems clear that language teachers have played an important role in engaging with open practice across a range of institutions, and in piloting web-repositories that are actively used today for community sharing (HumBox, LORO, LanguageBox are all based on ePrints and were initially developed based on continous feedback from the language-educator community). The great news is that language teachers are still active in all areas of open practice and are making important contributions to our understanding of how ‘openness’ can benefit higher education in real and tangible ways.

Kate Borthwick

And…special thanks to the HEA and Michael Thomas for organising Friday’s event. Southampton will be hosting another seminar in the HEA series on 29th June: Open Educational Resources as a vehicle for digital literacy in the humanities. I look forward to seeing you there!

UCL: talk and training

We have just held our second training session at UCL with tutors from UCL SSEES and SOAS. We spent an enjoyable day talking about the project, showing each other the resources that have been deposited so far and planning the next phase of the project.

SSEES tutors Riitta and Ol’ga were keen to showcase their work: they have been depositing resources in the LanguageBox related to Finnish and Slovak. Riitta has shared many of her conversation topics and Ol’ga has shared a range of resources for use in teaching Slovak – I was intrigued by a document she uses in class on the topic of ‘False Friends – Zradne slova‘. She focuses on words that you may know in other languages which sound similar in Slovak, but actually have a different meaning. I liked the fact that ‘divachi‘ in Slovak means ‘audience‘ but in Polish, it means ‘wild boar.’  I’m sure there may be some audiences thus described…

We also talked through some of the issues faced by hourly-paid tutors when engaging, not just with open resources, but also with projects like FAVOR. Jo Eastlake at SOAS reported a range of admin delays simply because SOAS has no current procedure in place for allowing its hourly-paid staff to participate in this kind of project, and this impacted on processing payments and partner agreements. Jo’s work on this project should lead directly to the creation of a process which will make it easier for hourly-paid tutors at SOAS to take part in projects.

Another issue which was flagged in relation to tutors taking part in projects was the fact that part-time tutors often need to take work at a moment’s notice, and this impacts on ongoing project work. This has been the case with some FAVOR tutors, who were required to work on a new course through the entire month of March – this has led to a short setback in their work on the project.

Hourly-paid tutors also tend to load themselves with work in advance, taking on anything they are offered, as they are never sure how many teaching hours they will have (across different institutions and organisations). This necessity means that once student numbers are confirmed, tutors may well discover that they have a large amount of teaching work – leaving no time for engagement in any external project which may offer CPD and the chance to raise their academic profiles. It is difficult for such tutors to plan ahead in terms of their broader career in an institution.

Some technical issues were also reported with LanguageBox, for example, coping with foreign scripts seems to be an ongoing problem…and I left UCL with a list of new tweaks that tutors want to see on the site. Time to lift the hood and do some tinkering on LB again…

Kate B

Groups on LanguageBox

We are continuing experiments with LanguageBox‘s new group functionality. Newcastle, Aston and UCL SSEES have set up groups and their tutors are busily uploading resources as part of their team. I’m pleased to see that some other LB users have gone ahead and set up groups too!

We put in this kind of function to help our FAVOR tutors to be clearly identified with their institutions, as we aim to get their work more recognised and valued both in their home institutions and beyond. Setting groups is also a good way to bring coherence to materials too.

Kate B

FAVOR at the ‘Sustaining a Global Society: Languages of the Wider World’ conference

The FAVOR project participated in a conference dedicated to community languages and languages of the wider world. The event, which took place on 29-30 March 2012 at SOAS, London, offered an exciting opportunity to academics and practitioners working in these fields to present their project and research outcomes to an audience of colleagues and specialists in the field. FAVOR had a dedicated space for showcasing the aims of the project which involved contributions from partner institutions, especially SOAS and UCL, as well as talks by some of the tutors whose teaching work the project supports. The two days were very successful and FAVOR raised a lot of interest among the participants! A big thank you to all the FAVOR people who took part in the event for their brilliant contributions and to the tutors who gave up their time to share knowledge and experience with the community!


Big meeting in London

Hi everyone, just a quick note before I go off on my Easter hols, at last! While all of our FAVOR partners are busy beavering away uploading and hopefully by now beginning to create new content, Kate and myself have been out and about meeting people from other projects and having some very interesting conversations about the bigger OER questions, some of which were raised during our recent trip to Newcastle – how do we make resources more visible, how do we deal with quality, what is the long term sustainability of OERs and so on. At a recent meeting in London (26th March) we enjoyed the experience of a Knowledge Café in which we got together in small groups to brainstorm some of the challenges and issues for our projects (and OER) then created discussion groups to talk them through in more detail. Good fun and a great way to meet people and share similar experiences/worries. The only drawback is that with this process you may not get to focus on your particular issue as it can get lost in the crowd. It was also a shame that we didn’t get the chance to say how well we were doing and spent too much time being serious and a bit gloomy, we must remember that sharing can be very rewarding and quite enjoyable. I hope you will all agree, if not now but at least by the end of the project.

Looking forward to catching up with everyone after the holidays.


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