Huge teaching development grant for UP

Posted on September 26, 2014

The Department of Higher Education and Training has granted funding of R8 million
for the development of higher education based on a project plan put forward by the University of Pretoria and the University of Cape Town. The University of Pretoria (UP) will be coordinating this development that will focus on the establishment of a collaborative open educational resource term bank (OERTB) for higher education.

The main aim of the project is to coordinate the development of terminology in the official languages at South African universities. Many universities are currently involved in multilingual terminology development to support students’ learning of threshold concepts in different disciplines through their mother tongues, which merits the establishment of such a resource. This collaborative effort will avoid costly duplication and enable the maximal utilisation of existing resources.

The project leaders are Prof Adelia Carstens, Director: Unit for Academic Literacy at UP, Prof Elsabé Taljard from the Department of African Languages at UP, and Prof Mbulungeni Madiba from the University of Cape Town, who is also the Chair of the Pan South African Language Board (PanSALB).

The project aims to democratise higher education, with due regard being paid to the fact that English and Afrikaans are currently still the dominant media of instruction at South African universities, and that study materials are available in these languages only. The student population uses various combinations of these languages and the other nine official languages to communicate, and English or Afrikaans is often not their strongest language.

At a number of South African universities initiatives have been started over the past ten years to provide speakers of official languages other than English or Afrikaans with opportunities to use their strongest languages as scaffolding to learn the important concepts of their core disciplines. According to Prof Carstens, these initiatives approach the challenge from two angles: firstly, to allow students to draw on their strongest language and their prior discourses to acquire new meanings and new discourses (the scientific discourses of the disciplines), and secondly, to allow experts to develop multilingual concept glossaries at the same time. These provide a starting point for ‘translanguaging’ practices (forums where students can discuss threshold concepts in their mother tongue/strongest language, and draw on terminology lists for terminological equivalents of English terms).

Prof Taljard emphasises that the notion that no terminology exists for the African languages is indeed a misconception. The problem is rather an unchecked proliferation of terminology without the necessary standardisation. The challenge, therefore, is not so much to create new terminologies, but rather to collect and standardise existing terminology. In this regard, collaboration with the national language bodies of the official languages is essential. ‘The purpose of the multilingual term bank is to aid students with the conceptualisation of key notions in the different subject fields in their home language. The term bank will, therefore, ideally also contain definitions of key concepts. Students are often familiar with a particular term, but may not grasp the concept to which the term refers,’ she said.

The project is divided into three phases, to be completed between 2014 and 2016 each with a set of objectives, some of which are recursive.

In the first phase (2014), the design and management of the OERTB will be conceptualised, and possibilities with regard to the design of software for depositing terminological information will be investigated. In this phase a multilingual roundtable and workshop for representatives of different universities will be organised to gain support for the selected open-source software and the design of the OERTB and to present examples of terminology resources at universities that have already conducted work in this regard.

In the second phase (2015), the OERTB will be developed and the existing terminologies from different universities will be uploaded. The database as well as the management system and user interface for the OERTB will be designed. Corpora of academic texts will be built, terms will be excerpted, terms will be translated from English into Afrikaans and into at least one Sotho and one Nguni language, and the translated terms will be defined in these languages and uploaded onto the OERTB. Newly developed terms will be submitted to the national language bodies for validation and standardisation purposes. The plan is to link the OERTB to the online learning environments of the different universities and to train staff and students to use the online terminology resources available through the OERTB. Teaching and learning interventions using the OERTB as a resource will be designed and a follow-up multilingual roundtable will be organised.

In the third phase (2016), possible gaps in the OERTB will be identified and activities of the second phase will be continued. The effectiveness of the OERTB in promoting students’ academic success will be assessed, and its use monitored. The idea is to host a national multilingual roundtable conference to discuss the outcomes of the project and the way forward.

The programme and activities are aimed at achieving equity and redress. Firstly, the African languages of South Africa have suffered marginalisation and underdevelopment during the colonial and apartheid eras, and the development of the envisaged OERTB will contribute significantly to the development of these languages. Secondly, the primary beneficiaries of the project are students, who will be afforded the opportunity to access key concepts in their different subject fields through the medium of their mother tongues. In addition, such a terminological resource could aid in the eventual production of learning material in indigenous African languages. Lastly, the envisaged multilingual term bank will be made available to all participating institutions under a Creative Commons license, thus becoming a national terminology asset.

- Author Renee Conradie

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