Criando Niños Etiquetados: Discapacidad y bilingüismo en la vida de madres latinxs

In this post María Cioè-Peña, the author of our 2021 book (M)othering Labeled Children, writes about the recently-finished Spanish translation of her book. 

In Eric Alvarez’s 2021 review of my book, (M)othering Labeled Children (MLC), they wrote that MLC “will undoubtedly be an asset to researchers, policymakers, and teachers interested in bilingual education, disability studies, and special education.” I happily read on as Alvarez noted something that was important to me throughout the development of this manuscript: I wanted to produce a rich, complex, and jargon-free book accessible to teachers and service providers who may not be familiar with these mothers’ experiences and, simultaneously, had the capacity to enact change within their classrooms and institutions. However, Alvarez also noted that while MLC was accessible to some, by being available in English only, it ultimately alienated the families whose stories it tells adding that:

“to expand the book’s reach to the very people to whom it gives a voice, a future translation project into Spanish could be considered. If not, it seems that it will only perpetuate the marginalization of Latinx mothers…”

This perpetuation of marginalization through scholarship is an issue that I have raised in my own work, most notably in From Pedagogies to Research where I put forth a need to engage in culturally sustaining research practices that included “ensuring that participant communities have access to the knowledge they helped produce [… and] that the work is published in modes that are accessible and available to participants.” Within that piece I also shared that we should not “place fault solely on researchers, particularly researchers of color, who are bound to the ideology of ‘publish or perish’ to advance their careers.[…] experience[ing] pressure to disseminate their research products in prestigious venues over those that might directly benefit the communities they work alongside.” Which brings me to a guarded, but important, truth: I wrote MLC because my advisors demanded it of me, for the sake of my career and this content. I wrote MLC for professional growth, both mine and that of Emergent Bilingual Learners Labeled as Dis/abled (EBLAD)s’ teachers and service providers. Still, I knew that I wanted a translation to exist for the women who shared their stories, the parents navigating schooling experiences with their EBLADs today, and for the people who poured into me throughout my life (i.e. my Spanish-using aunts, uncles, and cousins) but especially, my own mother.

In late 2020, once the final manuscript for MLC was submitted, I identified and hired a translator, Pedro Guzmán. As much as we wanted the Spanish release to coincide with the English one, that wasn’t possible as we continued navigating work/life amid a pandemic. Alvarez’s review did not reach me until June 2022 but I am grateful for it because it motivated us to finish and on July 1st Criando Niños Etiquetados: Discapacidad y bilingüismo en la vida de madres latinxs became available for FREE. Parents can download a PDF, EPUB, or MOBI version straight from their phones. Ultimately, this translation was a labor of love: my amazing translator Pedro Guzmán refused to take payment, which removed all overhead costs, and the first reader was my mother who, while undergoing cancer treatment at the time, said she felt like it reflected so much of her experience. Her reading it and feeling seen was/is a gift.

I hope Criando Niños Etiquetados will help other parents and families of EBLADs feel seen.

You can access Criando Niños Etiquetados here.

The original English language text (M)othering Labeled Children is available on our website.

An Asset-based Understanding of International Students in Higher Education

This month we are publishing International Students’ Multilingual Literacy Practices edited by Peter I. De Costa, Wendy Li and Jongbong Lee. In this post the editors introduce the book’s main themes.

In the second language (L2) community, international students are often viewed as “English language learners” whose limited linguistic and cultural repertories need to be remediated by the “experts” (i.e. instructors, supervisors, and native English-speaking students). Our edited volume promotes an asset-based understanding of international students in US higher education and calls for a similar stance to be adopted in comparable educational contexts. Funded by a university grant to promote inclusiveness and enhance academic quality, we invited graduate students in Second Language Studies, TESOL, and the Writing, Rhetoric and American Culture (WRAC) programs as well as instructors in the first-year writing program to jointly investigate how international undergraduate students acquire the English language and develop their academic discourse in first-year writing classrooms.

Data were collected during the 2017-2018 academic year, when the number of international students at the university exceeded 6,500. Over the course of that year, the contributors to this book – most of them international students or scholars themselves – traced the learning pathways of individual international students both within and outside first-year writing classrooms. Our team of researchers documented fascinating stories of how international students with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds drew on their cultural and linguistic assets, social and academic networks, and university resources to navigate the turbulent academic waters and (re)construct identities as capable multilingual writers and speakers.

In Part 1 of this book, the chapter authors describe the participants’ multilingual literacy practices in diverse spaces, including the writing classroom and writing center, and show how these practices shaped and, in turn, were shaped by the students’ own identity development.

Part 2 reports how the international students marshaled their communicative resources to make sense of the auxiliary services offered by the university and other sources, such as the university’s writing center and the active Chinese student community network on a social media platform.

Part 3 introduces readers to theoretical and pedagogical orientations worth considering in the teaching and researching of international students. Central to our investigative enterprise is the students’ use of multiple languages and semiotics to construct meaning in their social and academic encounters.

A unique feature of this book is that it showcases the result of a collaborative, interdisciplinary research project while at the same time providing a glimpse into the collaborative process at all stages of the project. Readers are thus afforded the opportunity to see how a data set can be analyzed from multiple theoretical perspectives and through diverse analytical frameworks. Additionally, the book’s readers – in particular graduate students who are interested in collaborative work – will benefit from our behind-the-scenes accounts that highlight matters that deserve greater attention and care when researching collaboratively.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Languaging Myths and Realities by Qianqian Zhang-Wu.

Relanguaging Language

This month we published Relanguaging Language from a South African Township School by Lara-Stephanie Krause. In this post the author explains the term ‘relanguaging’.

This book documents a thought experiment. It emerged from a long-term linguistic ethnography with a focus on English classrooms at a primary school in Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town, South Africa. The thought experiment results in an attempt at a new conceptualisation of language classrooms – and, by extension, of language practices more generally. My methodological approach is unconventional and risky. Being at the school and engaging with the situated linguistic data in detail gave me the sense of overlooking something when applying existing theories of classroom language practices (like code-switching or translanguaging) to the data. This researcher’s intuition pushed me to reconsider existing analytical lenses. My hypothesis became that the phenomenon I observed could indeed not be described via the repertoire of existing theories. I pursue this hypothesis throughout the book and it drives me to develop a fresh analytical lens at the intersection of linguistics, applied linguistics and sociolinguistics. Relanguaging is what becomes visible once this lens is consistently applied.

While translanguaging focusses on flexible and fluid languaging practices, relanguaging is a relational phenomenon. It does not focus either on fluid languaging practices or on institutionally enforced, fixed named languages (nomolanguages). Rather, relanguaging focusses precisely on what is going on in the space that opens up between languaging and nomolanguages. In this particular study, this space is the Khayelitshan English classroom, which I see as constituted by the relationality between fluid, flexible classroom languaging practices and enactments of Standard English. Here, relanguaging is a linguistic sorting practice that is enacted by teachers (and sometimes learners) and that works in two directions:

  • Linguistic fluidity and heterogeneity (classroom languaging) gets sorted out to arrive at a homogenised classroom repertoire (Standard English)
  • Standard English gets reassembled with other linguistic resources into a heterogeneous classroom repertoire (classroom languaging)

Relanguaging therefore conceptualises language teaching not as a progression from a fixed L1 to a fixed L2 but as a circular sorting process constantly sorting out and bringing together again fluid, heterogeneous classroom languaging and Standard English.

Another notable difference between translanguaging and relanguaging is that the latter can make linguistic sorting practices visible. In translanguaging research, the idea of sorting also exists: People are said to sort through their individual repertoires made up of heterogeneous resources (rather than out of separate languages), choosing to actualize the resources most suitable for the interaction at hand. However, the sorting process itself is inaccessible to (socio)linguistic analysis. It remains ‘hidden’ in each individual’s head. By spatializing languaging – relying on the concept of spatial rather individual repertoires – relanguaging brings this sorting practice into the open and makes it accessible to (socio)linguistic analysis.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society edited by Albert Weideman, John Read and Theo du Plessis.

How Do We Work Towards Linguistic Justice for Multilingual Writers on Campus?

This month we published Linguistic Justice on Campus edited by Brooke R. Schreiber, Eunjeong Lee, Jennifer T. Johnson and Norah Fahim. In this post the editors set out three key principles to help educators move towards more linguistically just practices.

In the process of editing this book and discovering the many paths our authors have taken towards more actively anti-racist campus spaces, we have learned that a key component of linguistic justice work for multilingual students is bringing to light what’s usually hidden by typical, normative university practices. Often, the ways that universities represent and “manage” linguistic diversity on campus align with neoliberal discourses, treating multilingual students’ abilities, experiences, and practices in multiple languages as useful commodities for the global workforce. Students’ linguistic identities and language use are thereby rendered as simple, stable, and fitting neatly into pre-assigned categories. We offer here three key principles to help educators move beyond this limiting monolingual approach and enact more linguistically just practices in classrooms, writing centers, and professional development.

Shifting how we view multilingualism 

The contributors in our book argue for an epistemological shift in thinking about what counts as legitimate language and literacy; this goal lies at the core of linguistic justice work. Regrettably, what dominates on university campuses is often white-centered, English-only, monolingual, and racist ideologies that see and hear our multilingual students’ language practices through a deficit lens. We must actively seek more expansive ways to understand and highlight students and their communities’ rich, complex, and dynamic languaging practices. As our contributors demonstrate, taking such action requires questioning and destabilizing what is taken as “given,” “normal,” or “conventional” as it is often these discourses that maintain structural inequity. For instance, Shanti Bruce, Rebecca Lorimer Leonard, and Deirdre Vineyard’s work demonstrates that we should recognize the limitations that institutional categories such as “diverse,” “ESL,” or “second language writers” impose on our multilingual students. Students’ language use – and their linguistic identities – are far more complex than tools like language surveys might reveal. Ultimately, a shift in how we see and hear multilingual practices on our campus and beyond is a precondition to linguistic justice.

Learning to engage with difference rhetorically 

Linguistic justice work challenges us to approach language difference more rhetorically – focusing on meaning and intent rather than correctness. As several of our contributors, most prominently Alexandra Watkins and Lindsey Ives have shown, scholarly frameworks like rhetorical listening, translingualism, and decoloniality offer specific dispositions and terms that challenge our students, faculty, writing tutors and administrators to negotiate language difference on an equal footing.

This work is emotionally demanding, but sitting with this discomfort, especially for people in positions of linguistic privilege, is vital. As Marilee Brooks-Gillies explains, writing tutors can benefit from engaging with “difficult” and genuine conversations about race and language provided through professional development. Hidy Basta calls for us to create spaces for writing tutors that support a reflexive approach to counter privilege and linguistic biases, for example, by closely examining the writing center’s guiding documents and other artifacts.

For writing center directors and tutor educators, pushing tutors – and faculty members – to understand the problematic reality that writing centers have historically been places that promote “standardized” versions of English is a daunting task. Using strategies such as translingual reading groups, workshops, or shared blog post reflections can help tutors reflect on and deconstruct deficit language views.

Centering multilingualism

In our classrooms and in tutoring contexts, we must not only make visible but value multilingual students and language differences. Centering marginalized communities and their languaging practices means creating spaces for all students to learn more about the ongoing ideological and material consequences of colonial history. This could mean, for example, as in Kaia Simon’s work, bringing the experiences of child language brokers into the classroom.  It might mean making linguistic differences explicit features of writing classrooms, asking students to reflect on their linguistic privilege or non-privilege, as Zhaozhe Wang does in his classroom, or it could mean investigating and acknowledging the Indigenous history of the physical contexts our classrooms occupy, as in Rachel Presley’s teaching. As these chapters show, centering multilinguality and disrupting the hierarchical, standard notions of communication in higher education context benefits all writers, including monolingual students.

The research our contributors share is all aimed toward engaging others in thinking about, seeing, and understanding how our multilingual students practice language and literacy. It is our hope that this collection invites and inspires more teaching and scholarship that facilitates the ongoing work of linguistic justice.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Sociocultural and Power-Relational Dimensions of Multilingual Writing by Amir Kalan.

Five Myths About International Students Debunked

We recently published Languaging Myths and Realities by Qianqian Zhang-Wu. In this post the author explains what inspired her to write the book.

With the internationalization of higher education, millions of multilingual international students travel across the border to pursue tertiary education in Anglophone countries. In the United States, the largest international student host country in the world, Chinese international students represent the largest ethnic group. How do newly arrived Chinese international students negotiate their identities and draw upon their bilingual resources to navigate English-medium instruction at the tertiary level? How do they function linguistically across academic and social contexts? How can higher education institutions in English-speaking countries understand the within-group variabilities and dynamics among Chinese international students in order to provide better academic and linguistic support? Seeking to unpack these questions, my monograph Languaging Myths and Realities: Journeys of Chinese International Students draws upon rich ethnographic methods, including a 4-month digital ethnography, over 500 hours of bilingual language logs, semi-structured interviews, and texts analysis of writing samples among many other data sources, to closely examine Chinese undergraduate students’ first-semester languaging journeys in American higher education.

As a former Chinese international student pursuing tertiary education in the US and now an English professor working in an American university, I have always been fascinated by the mismatch between multilingual international students’ English language proficiency as measured by high-stakes standardized assessments and their actual ability to function linguistically across contexts. For instance, despite my perfect score in reading as measured by TOEFL, upon arriving in the US in 2012 as an M.S. Ed student in TESOL, I found myself scratching my head when reading about common academic concepts such as “L1 as a scaffold” and “English as an auxiliary language.” Similarly, regardless of my full mark in the TOEFL listening subtest, I was panicked when the barista repeated my order of “a small coffee with nonfat milk” as “a TALL skinny latte,” even though in reality the “tall” latte I finally received was way shorter than I had thought.

My lived experiences have made me curious – if high-stakes gatekeeping standardized language proficiency assessments do not always linearly predict multilingual students’ ability to meet the linguistic demands in English-medium environment, how can higher education institutions in Anglophone countries deliver linguistically responsive instruction to support their growingly superdiverse international student populations? I carried this question with me throughout my years as a graduate student. When I finally became an English professor specialized in multilingual writing and working closely with multilingual students in 2019, I did not hesitate to dedicate my very first monograph in life to explore this topic.

In my book Languaging Myths and Realities: Journeys of Chinese International Students, I took a unique insider-outsider perspective to examine the lived first-semester languaging experiences among 12 Chinese undergraduate students studying in American higher education. Through the lens of bioecological model of human development and languaging theories, my research has found that Chinese international students are not simply “Chinese international students.” My participants, while all able to meet the TOEFL threshold for university admission and are too often categorized under the catch-all umbrella term of “Chinese international students,” went through drastically different journeys during their initial experiences studying in English-medium higher education. Depending on their various language and education experiences prior to tertiary education, these students demonstrated complex within-group dynamics linguistically, academically, and socially. This has prompted me to propose a continuum to capture multilingual international students’ varying degree of academic and linguistic readiness for tertiary education in English-medium countries. I argue that higher education researchers, administrators and instructors must adopt a developmental perspective in understanding the dynamic languaging experiences of students from culturally, racially and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Challenging the largely misconceived homogeneity of Chinese international students has served as the foundation for my book to further unpack the diverse languaging practices, educational equity for international students and progressive pedagogies for English language users from various linguistic backgrounds. Joining the broader discussions on monolingualism and racism in American higher education, my book triangulated rich ethnographic data from various multilingual and multimodal sources to debunk 5 commonly held myths regarding international students including:

  • Myth 1: TOEFL results accurately predict international students’ abilities to function linguistically on college entry
  • Myth 2: An English-only policy is necessary in college classrooms to help international students improve their linguistic functioning in English
  • Myth 3: First Year Writing guarantees international students’ successful writing performances in content-area courses
  • Myth 4: English is responsible for all the challenges facing Chinese international students
  • Myth 5: Chinese international students are well supported in American higher education, both linguistically and academically

For more information about the book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Making Language Visible in the University by Bee Bond.

“Being There” vs “Being Here”: Behind the Scenes of “English Learners’ Access to Postsecondary Education”

We recently published English Learners’ Access to Postsecondary Education by Yasuko Kanno. In this post the author takes us behind the scenes of the research presented in her book.

The hallmark of canonical ethnography, as Clifford Geertz once opined, is “being there”: You immerse yourself in a far-away place for months, even years, in order to document the cultural life of a group. But what if you are a full-time faculty member at a university with all the usual obligations of teaching and service? What if you also have a young child at home? Disappearing from the face of the earth to focus entirely on one’s ethnographic fieldwork doesn’t exactly fit into the reality of a working-parent academic. We need to be “here” teaching our classes, attending committee meetings, feeding our children while also trying to spend as much time as possible “being there.” It is under those conditions that I conducted my fieldwork for English Learners’ Access to Postsecondary Education.

I must say that the “balance” part of the (field)work-life balance went out of the window as soon as fieldwork began. For one thing, high schools in the United States start early. At Brighton High School (pseudonym), the site of this ethnography, the first class started at 7:46 am. To make it to the first class for an observation, I would wake up around 5:45 am, pack a lunch box for my eight-year-old, feed him breakfast, get ready myself, and leave home by 7am. Then, a typical fieldwork day would look like this:

7:35 am: Check in at the security desk at Brighton to get a visitor’s badge

7:46 – 9:05 am: Observe Alexandra in her geometry class

9:10 – 10:29 am: Dash to another room to make it to Carlo’s American Literature class—only to find him absent that day (once again!). I observe the class anyway.

10:34 am: Walk to the other end of the school building to Ken’s study hall classroom, pick him up, and we walk together to the library for an interview.

11:15 am: Finish the interview. I stay in the library and add to my fieldnotes before I go home.

I made it a rule never to leave the school premises for the day until I finished augmenting my fieldnotes because I knew that as soon as I left the field site, my second and third shifts as a faculty member and as a mom were waiting for me. When my fieldwork ran late in the afternoon, I would sometime arrive at my son’s school just barely before the afterschool care ended. I would then pick him up, drive home, make dinner, and then head out again for his soccer practice. While waiting, I might read an article for my next class—or if I was truly desperate, grade some papers. At night, after my son went to bed, I would finish up the outstanding emails for the day, noticing that other mom colleagues of mine with young children were also emailing after 11 pm.

But is an ethnography produced by the “new me” who has so many other responsibilities inherently worse than work by “PhD student me” who had the luxury of devoting weeks at a time to fieldwork? The answer is an emphatic no. For one thing, I am now a far more skilled and experienced ethnographer. I can detect, much faster and with far more clarity, how emerging patterns fit into a developing narrative and subsequently adjust my data collection to confirm or deny these initial assertions. For example, I was able to notice, early on, that high-level academic courses such as honors and advanced placement (AP) courses were essentially inaccessible to my participants because they were ELs. My early detection of this pattern then led me to observe honors and AP classes to find out what kind of learning my participants were excluded from. Also, my interactions with students and educators who hold vastly different worldviews from mine has, over the years, led me to become more self-reflective of my own biases. In this study, I worked with two very low-performing ELs, Carlos and Eddie, who were constantly at the edge of dropping out. Seeing their struggles to receive any kind of career guidance that did not involve college caused me to re-examine my own deeply-held bias that a college education ought to be a goal for everyone. I now firmly believe that effective career and technical education at the high school level can benefit students like Carlos and Eddie, who were not motivated to go to college but who had other talents and interests.

So, although starting another ethnographic project always throws a wrench into my already precarious work-life balance, it is the thrill of discovery and learning that takes me back to “being there” again and again.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Educating Adolescent Newcomers in the Superdiverse Midwest by Brian David Seilstad.

How To Design, Run and Assess Quality Bilingual Programmes

We recently published Developing and Evaluating Quality Bilingual Practices in Higher Education edited by Fernando D. Rubio-Alcalá and Do Coyle. In this post the editors explain what to expect from the book.

We are pleased to reach the final stage of publication of the volume Developing and Evaluating Quality Bilingual Practices in Higher Education. It’s been more than two years of successful triangulation work with the authors and Multilingual Matters, which have led to the birth of a book that deals with topics surprisingly scantly covered in the literature of bilingual education. The publication of the book will undoubtedly unfold new perspectives on how quality bilingual programmes can be designed, run and assessed.

We have had the privilege of working with a host of experienced, recognized and well-known authors who have paved the way for producing a text with meaningful and grounded content. Emma Dafouz has prefaced the volume, and David Marsh, Wendy Díaz, Víctor Pavón, Patrick Studer, David Lasagabaster, Jennifer Valcke, Karin Bage, Pat Moore, Kyria Finardi, Inmaculada Fortanet, Maria Ellison, Felipe Guimaraes, Javier Ávila, Francisco Rubio and Rocío López have contributed to writing nine excellent chapters that have been strategically devised into two main parts. The first part is devoted to theoretical issues and discussion about language policy and internationalization, and the second to the application for setting up, supervising and evaluating bilingual programmes and classroom practice. We are very grateful to all of them and also to those that have endorsed the publication, namely Magnus Gustafsson, María Luisa Pérez Cañado and Esko Koponen.

The book is valid for all contexts in higher education. While the authors work mainly in Europe (UK, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland) and America (Mexico and Brazil), the contents can be applied to any geographical area. Being keynote speakers, many of the authors participate in international academic events and therefore, the mindset permeating our volume promotes a globalized vision and represents institutions around the world.

It addresses policymakers (especially those chapters related to the analysis of language policies), programmes’ coordinators, researchers, practitioners and other stakeholders (especially those chapters referred to the exposition of tools and analysis of quality indicators).

It is our challenge to make a significant contribution to the field of bilingual education so that we inspire the use and adaptation of innovative tools to raise the quality of each and every one of the myriad of multilingual programmes. In fact, if there is no quality in those programmes after the considerable economic and human effort it entails, what is the purpose of having those programmes at all?

Fernando D. Rubio-Alcalá and Do Coyle

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Academic Biliteracies edited by David M. Palfreyman and Christa van der Walt.

The Unique Challenges of Language Education in South Africa

This month we published Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society edited by Albert Weideman, John Read and Theo du Plessis. In this post the editors describe the unique challenges of language education in South Africa and the value the book will hold for a wider audience.

How do language testers respond to the challenges of education in an environment that is in transition, and in many respects unprepared for change? The short answer is that they do so as language testers in most environments would: as responsibly as they can, using the professional tools at their disposal.

South Africa is not alone in respect of the challenges thrown up by rapid massification of higher education since the last decade of the previous century. South Africa’s transition, however, was different from the challenges of massification elsewhere: it was complicated by the difficulties to move from an unjust system to a constitutional democracy. Its past considerably inhibited what needed to be remedied. That was not the only complication: there was also the constitutionally enshrined multilingual character of the country. A third difficulty lay in the degree of preparedness of new students arriving at university to handle the demands of academic language. How, in such a case, does one first identify, and then provide opportunities for language development to those who need it most? Once again, South Africa is not alone in noting that too low a level of academic literacy may be detrimental for the successful completion of a degree. Enough challenges, one would say, for a whole lifetime of work if you’re an applied linguist.

A quarter of a century on, we have now taken stock of the professional response of applied linguists to its transition, and this book is the outcome. The responses of our applied linguists may in certain respects be different from those in other environments, so it is a pity that the international language testing community still knows too little about how these challenges have been tackled. Indeed, the format and content of the innovative solutions of South African applied linguists to these large-scale language problems are noteworthy. Described in Assessing Academic Literacy in a Multilingual Society, their solutions offer several new insights into how they set about designing them, and are well worth a look.

Unsurprisingly, in an effort to identify and tackle the challenges early, the professional attention of language testers soon turned to the education sector that feeds into higher education: the school system. Here, too, there are language solutions that will interest a wider audience. Fortunately, the professional efforts of applied linguists in South Africa have been well recorded, though thus far mostly locally. This book offers a selection of the most significant innovations in conceptualization and design for the attention of a global readership.

In compiling a volume about language assessment at university level, co-editor John Read was the first international scholar to notice the lack of attention to the designs described in this book, and he was also the first to propose putting all of this together. His diligence and professional approach are evident in the content of the book.

We would welcome enquiries and discussion with colleagues. If you have an observation or an idea to share, please contact the corresponding editor, Albert Weideman: albert.weideman@ufs.ac.za.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like The Linguistic Landscape of Post-Apartheid South Africa by Liesel Hibbert.

Online Academic Collaborations in Situations of Forced Immobility: Lessons from Palestine

We recently published Multilingual Online Academic Collaborations as Resistance edited by Giovanna Fassetta, Nazmi Al-Masri and Alison Phipps. In this post the editors explain how the Covid-19 pandemic has given the world a taste of the forced immobility faced by academics in Palestine.

The moment we had been working towards for almost two years was announced to us via an email that said:

Dear Contributor

“Multilingual Online Academic Collaborations as Resistance” is now published. Your copy will be sent out shortly.

We gladly shared this happy news with our Palestinian colleagues at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), and elsewhere around the world, who contributed to the edited collection with their reflections, experience and expertise. The news, however, came at an unprecedented time for many of us: as we were celebrating our joint effort, huge numbers of people around the world were still experiencing severe restriction to their freedom of movement and to their ability to meet with others for work, family or pleasure, as the Covid-19 pandemic meant widespread and severe lockdown rules in most countries, including Palestine.

While a pandemic is an exceptional experience for everyone, some of the effects of lockdown are not new for our colleagues at IUG. The Gaza Strip, where IUG is located, is a tiny territory (only 365 m2) which is home to nearly 2 million people, the vast majority of whom are refugees from other parts of Palestine. It is one of the most densely populated places on earth. IUG’s academics, like all other people in the Gaza Strip, have been enduring a 14-year blockade that has crippled the economy and severely limited people’s freedom to move from/to the Strip for work or personal reasons. Being unable to travel and having to rely on online tools to remain in touch with the rest of the world is thus not a new experience for academics at IUG and the other educational institutions in the Gaza Strip.

Discussing the political and military situation in Gaza is beyond the scope of the newly published book, but the humanitarian, economic and academic repercussions of the blockade – further exacerbated by frequent bombings of the Strip by the Israel Defense Force – are not. Maintaining and expanding knowledge and scholarly work under circumstances of economic hardship, crumbling infrastructures and constant disruption, pressure and fear is beyond challenging. It requires a lot of determination, resilience and the steadfast refusal to give up hope for a better future which is the main component of ‘Sumud’. Sumud is “[…] a very distinct, Palestinian, idea […] the art of living to survive and thrive in the homeland in spite of hardship and under occupation practices” (Marie et al, 2018). This includes the strengthening of academic life through the online national and international exchanges of knowledge and expertise that are a core part of academic growth and advancement.

Driven by the need and the will to be equal partners in international academic collaborations despite the blockade and virtually impassable borders, IUG has, in the recent past, developed online, multilingual collaborations with a range of Higher Education Institutions worldwide, especially in Europe. These involve a large number of academics from a range of disciplines and backgrounds, and academic partners in several countries around the world who strive to connect with their Palestinian colleagues despite the challenges that come from having to work without being able to meet face to face.

Our book Multilingual Online Academic Collaborations as Resistance collects reflections and discussions by seventeen academics from Palestine, Europe and the US who worked hard (online) over many, many months, and through frequent challenges and disruptions, to put together a book that primarily aims to convey the importance of online and multilingual academic collaborations as a form of ‘Sumud’ and of ‘virtual academic hospitality’ (Phipps, A. and Barnett, R., 2007). The interdisciplinary, intercultural nature of the chapters are the book’s strength, although they have also meant many compromises, tricky online discussions, changes, and delays. Different research approaches and subject traditions; unequal availability of resources such as books and journal articles; distinctive academic conventions and expectations have all been negotiated over several months to produce a book that, we hope, is informative in its contents but – crucially – offers an insight into what can be achieved when the will to collaborate and work together is stronger and more powerful than the difficulties faced along the way, especially in contexts of protracted challenges, crises and emergencies.

Drawing, among others, from expertise in TESOL, educational technology, the arts and humanities, architecture and teacher training, the chapters discuss research and capacity building projects that have used (and/or use) multiple languages and online technologies to ensure collaborations across borders. The crucial importance of online communication tools to ensure academic and intercultural collaborations when borders are impassable are at the centre of each chapter, meaning that the authors (unintentionally) anticipated a shift that most academic institutions worldwide had to face in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. As we were putting the final touches to the book’s manuscript, the online teaching and research which the book was discussing suddenly went from being an option needed by a few academics working in exceptional circumstances, to being the only available way to continue working for most educators and researchers worldwide.

However, most of our fellow academics can hope that, in the not so distant future, lives will go back to ‘normal’, and that well-known practices will be resumed. This is not currently an option for our colleagues and friends in the Gaza Strip (nor for other colleagues in similar contexts of protracted conflict and crises) for whom online collaborations will remain the norm even once the Covid-19 pandemic is a thing of the past.

What Multilingual Online Academic Collaborations as Resistance shows is that, even though it cannot and should not replace the freedom to move and live a life free from fear, online collaborations can be fruitful (as well as crucial) when they become a way to resist and defy constraints and a means to reach out to others, to share experiences, to foster mutual growth, and to offer – and receive – academic hospitality. What this book also shows is that the extremely difficult experiences our Palestinian colleagues have had to endure for well over a decade, and the individual and collective resilience and steadfastness (the ‘Sumud’) they have maintained throughout, can be a source of inspiration – and a lesson – on how to keep on going, and growing, through challenging times.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Decolonising Multilingualism by Alison Phipps.

Internationalisation and EAP: Transforming the Academy through a Focus on Language

This month we published Making Language Visible in the University by Bee Bond. In this post the author explains the context in which her book was written.

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) and the (neoliberal) Higher Education policies of internationalisation have an ‘elective affinity’ (Zepke, 2015). In other words, the exponential growth in the demand for EAP is directly linked to an increasing focus on marketing Higher Education study to an international market. EAP as an emerging field of study and practice would not have been afforded as much space to grow and develop had it not been for global Higher Education policies that encouraged student mobility across borders and the increasing stronghold of English as the accepted norm for most academic communication. EAP and its practitioners directly benefit from this growth.

However, for most EAP practitioners, the neoliberal focus of such policies sits uncomfortably with their world view and their professional practices. The connection between the international student and financial gain for an institution works to the detriment of a focus on the intellectual, cultural and social benefits that come from studying in a global community and does not sit well within the epistemology of those involved in the study and teaching of languages.

Furthermore, there is a tension between EAP and the rest of the academy due to the frequent framing of international students as being in deficit. This perception positions those whose work is focused on supporting English language learning students to find ways of accessing academic content in English as being on the edges of academia – acting as a bridge to the real work rather than an integral part of academic life. This is also connected to the invisibility of language within the academy which, as Turner argues (2004) only becomes visible when it is viewed as a technical problem that then needs to be ‘fixed’ by an EAP practitioner.

It is these intersections and misconnections between internationalisation, the EAP practitioner and the view of language as either an invisible or a technical aside to the real academic work of disciplinary content knowledge development that provide the context for my book. In order to address these issues, and move EAP away from the ‘edges of academia’ (Ding & Bruce, 2017) it is clear that it is necessary to work within this context; to embrace the ‘elective affinity’ that EAP  has with internationalisation policies and to work through them to effect change rather than to ignore or resist from the margins. By engaging in scholarship; acting as ethnographers of the academy to better understand the role of language within specific disciplines and contexts, and then communicating and highlighting this understanding beyond the EAP community, I believe it is possible for EAP practitioners to work in partnership with international students as agents for change.

International students have the potential to positively transform higher education practices, forcing a reflexive, shifting awareness of pedagogy, academic practices and the disciplinary canon. EAP practitioners, fully embedded and accepted within their institution as valued scholars, should work as advocates and allies for these students, pushing for structural change through policy decisions. In this way, EAP practitioners can become agents for positive change rather than marginalised technicians who are exposed to the political and structural decisions made around them.

Bee Bond, The University of Leeds

b.bond@leeds.ac.uk

@BeeBond1

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like International Student Engagement in Higher Education by Margaret Kettle.