The Open Centre for Languages and Culture (OCLC) launched in October 2020, providing short courses which cover general linguistic and intercultural communication skills and specific industry-related support.
The project will be presented at OU COVID-19 Research: Online Learning and Education Seminar, which will take place on 27 May 2021.
Discussing the motivations for establishing the OCLC, Dr Hauck, Director of the Open Centre for Languages and Cultures and Senior Lecturer at the OU, stated:
"Language is key to everything we do [at the OU]. This has become particularly salient during COVID-19: enabling communication by and with marginalised groups, establishing and communicating truth and reliability of information have become key to effectively managing public health in the four nations and beyond. The Open Centre provides learning that is highly relevant in this context, empowering individuals with communication and the related cultural and digital literacy skills through short, accessible courses."
The OCLC has been established to provide the opportunity for scholarly investigation into new ways of designing and implementing, with a focus on intercultural communication, the teaching of the languages of the regions and nations and heritage languages.
Discussing their motivations to provide opportunities to learn about indigenous languages and awareness of related communities living in the regions and nations of the UK, Dr Mirjam Hauck and Dr Sylvia Warnecke recorded the following video.
Sylvia Warnecke: Hello, I am Sylvia Warnecke, I am the Associate Head of School for Students and Nations in our School of Languages and Applied Linguistics. I am here with my colleague Mirjam Hauck to talk about our Open Centre for Languages and Cultures, within which, my remit is the support of indigenous, community and heritage languages.
Mirjam Hauck: Hello, I’m Mirjam Hauck, I am the Associate Head of School for Internationalisation, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and I am also the Director of the Open Centre for Languages and Cultures.
Sylvia Warnecke: One priority of the Open Centre is the promotion of the use and learning of the UK’s indigenous languages. We want to support people’s understanding of the communities living in the regions and nations of the UK. This aligns directly with the OU’s social justice mission as the learning we offer empowers marginalised groups to participate in society and to access services and importantly, education.
One example is our work on the Scots language.
Scots only received official recognition as a language in its own right in 2015. Although it had been the official language of Scotland in the Middle Ages, it had since been mainly excluded from public life and was only spoken in the community. To revitalise Scots, we developed two major initiatives.
In 2019 we launched a Badged Open Course for the general public, which since has attracted over 25,000 visitors from 90 countries.
Our second initiative is designed to bring the Scots language back into education. We are developing a professional development short course for teachers from primary and secondary schools, from any subject area. It upskills teachers to bring Scots language into their teaching.
It is the first of its kind as an online course and it carries a professional recognition award from the General Teaching Council for Scotland.
In its 2020 report, the Council of Europe highlighted this as a best practice example of helping the Scots language survive.
Mirjam Hauck: Another example of this work is our community languages project.
This came about because OU students contacted us through our student association and suggested we teach some of the languages spoken in Milton Keynes.
So, we have started developing a taster course in Tamil – it is the most widely-spoken Indian language in Milton Keynes. 0.8% of the MK population having it as their mother tongue!
We are actually producing the course with members of the Tamil community – and you might find it interesting to hear that Tamil speakers in Milton Keynes come from Sri Lanka, South India, South Africa, Mauritius, and Malaysia. We will be launching this course in July this year to celebrate South Asian Heritage month.
The total Tamil population in Milton Keynes is presently estimated to be about 6000 people. There are three Tamil schools in the city and pupils can even get a GCSE in the language! The idea is similar to that of the Scots project – raising awareness of other languages and cultures and of people with other identities living at the heart of our society.
We want to encourage Tamil speakers to perfect their language and English native speakers to learn the languages of the community, at least to get a taste of it.
Coming back to our Open Centre for Languages and Cultures: in its name we mention cultures. Language learning is closely linked to learning about other cultures.
So, our languages short courses also offer insights into the many different cultures associated with the languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Welsh, and we’ve already mentioned Scots.
We also offer bespoke short courses in Intercultural Communication and short courses in Artificial Intelligence which are directly relevant to industry, the workplace, and our own staff.
At the same time, we are exploring business to business opportunities with The Open University’s Business Development Unit and our faculty’s External Engagement team.
All of this comes with a systematic scholarly inquiry into the design, production, and delivery mode of the short courses, including learner reception of this innovative product.
The insights gained from the inquiry will inform sharing of good practice and hopefully the roll-out of this new model elsewhere in the OU and this is actually quite timely because there is currently a university wide Redesigning Production Programme for core curriculum on the way.
The launch of the OCLC will also facilitate the need for skills and industry support, with experts at the OU developing short courses to improve communications in professional contexts and to address specific industry requirements such as Artificial Intelligence in the workplace.
Discussing the opportunity to provide learning in the field of British Sign Language (BSL), Dr Warnecke, BSL project lead on the OCLC and Staff Tutor based at the OU in Scotland, stated:
"The content related to BSL draws on and will inform research with the deaf community and BSL practitioners, part of which focuses on these groups' experience during the pandemic and how education providers like the OU can collaborate better with them to cater for these groups' needs more effectively.
"A second objective is to influence policy in the longer term to enhance the status of BSL in those UK nations where BSL does not yet have legal status. This research is undertaken in collaboration with the charity Deaf Action Scotland. The design and delivery of the short course will benefit from our own expertise in LAL (Languages and Applied Linguistics), in digital literacy skills training, in technology-meditated learning and teaching of languages.
"This is a much-needed development as many BSL practitioners have not been able to work effectively with the BSL community due to COVID-19 related restrictions."
Research conducted by the Open Centre for Languages and Cultures into British Sign Language has been supported by funding from The Open University's COVID-19 Research Funding Grant. This has been used to carry out focus groups with the deaf community as well as BSL practitioners informing our production of curriculum in BSL and English for deaf people, as well as develop a Knowledge Transfer Voucher which in collaboration with Deaf Action has been designed to support the charity with challenges in the funding and delivery of their charitable activities.
The collaboration will also support online course production, improve the awareness of the charity and help create employment opportunities for members of the deaf community; which is a requirement in the Scottish Government's BSL National Plan 2017-23.
Further plans for the OCLC include involving members of the deaf community in the design, production and delivery of courses, providing an auto-ethnographic approach to research.