It’s not often that OER make the news but in December the Open University in Scotland’s new Scots language and culture course made a bit of a splash. I spoke to the OU’s Sylvia Warnecke, who led production of the OER, about interview requests, open archives, and creating a new pedagogy for a non-standard language.
Scots Language and Culture sits on OpenLearn Create – the OU’s most open platform, which makes course building tools available for free to anyone interested in creating, reusing or remixing content. We also use it for co-producing resources with partner organisations, which is what Sylvia did, rather than placing the course on OpenLearn, which houses only OU-generated OER.
“We had to develop a whole new pedagogy for learning Scots as it is not a codified language. There are no agreed standards for written Scots and the language has many regional variations in addition to 10 main dialect areas. We approached teaching Scots in the way a child learns a language, through immersion, mainly by listening. To do this, we had to have a new feature added to OpenLearn Create to enable people to listen to authentic Scots, then record themselves speaking and play it back so they can hear if their pronunciation sounds right.”
The project originated in 2016 following the Scottish Government’s launch of the Scots Language Policy, but it has been a long time evolving into its current form. It was produced in partnership with Education Scotland and was very much a community effort. Many Scots linguists, speakers and authors gave their time to the project, writing content and providing audio material. It also drew on content from archives and other online resources that have been made available with an open licence, such as the Dictionary of the Scots Language and the Scots Syntax Atlas.
Since Part 1 was launched in December (Part 2 was released this week) the course has been accessed by more than 8000 learners, making it one of the most successful on OpenLearn Create to date. Was Sylvia expecting the course to be so popular?
“We knew there was an interest but we’ve been taken aback by the overwhelming response from the public and the media. It was strange to be fielding requests for interviews with newspapers and radio. One of the questions I got asked was “why did it take a German lassie to make this happen?” I think it’s because I had no preconceptions about Scots, I just approached it as a linguist and could compare it to Swiss German, another non-standard language which is fully recognised in Switzerland. So many people have fed back to us what it means to them to have the validation that the way they speak is a real language and not ‘bad English’ like they were told at school. They are proud to be recognised as bilingual.”
Sylvia reckons social media has helped change attitudes to using Scots, reaching younger audiences and people with Scottish roots around the world. The Duo Lingo app’s recently launched Gaidhlig course has also been hugely popular and far exceeded expected numbers. The Scots OER is being used by a wide range of people and institutions, in schools, in prison learning centres and by groups of retired people, some of whom were not allowed to speak Scots when they were in school. 40% of people accessing the course are based outwith the UK (that’s right autocorrect, I said ‘outwith’!) from Canada to Australia.
Scots speakers may enjoy learning about the role of the language in Scottish history and culture and explore reasons for its ‘lack of prestige’. If you’re new to Scots you’ll learn to understand spoken and written Scots in different dialects and can begin to build your vocabulary. Each part of the course covers 20 study hours and you can earn a digital badge on completion of both Parts 1 and 2.
Gie it a shot!