As part of my contribution to the OpenLIVES project, I have proposed a new Spanish BA Final Year module at the University of Leeds called “Discovering Spanish Voices Abroad in a Digital World”, which is intended to run from September 2012.
The module can be categorised as a professional skills and language-in-context module, but even such a long-winded and specific label does not help us much to figure out what the module actually is about. To make matters more complicated, I think most people looking at the list of skills and knowledge outcomes of the module without considering the educational rationale supporting it would think that it features a rather unusual combination. Why is this?
Currently, in most Arts and Humanities degrees programmes, the only form of socially relevant and tangible output that students are engaged in, as producers, is the “essay”, one of the many non-collaborative and writing genres that can be found in life outside academia. Modules are designed for students to be able to face the academic essay and this often leads to essays being seen as the best way of assessing modules. That’s one of the reasons why this new OpenLIVES module does not fit in within the rest.
In this module, students will produce their own audio documentaries in Spanish using soundtracks from the OpenLIVES interviews as well as their own interviews with other Spanish migrants. In order for students to prepare for such a challenge, the skills and knowledge scaffolding provided will have to depart completely from what students would do in a single module and even in a single degree. In the context of their work, students will learn about Spanish Society and Economy, as the interviews in OpenLIVES need to be contextualised; will learn how to deal with linguistically complex oral texts in informal/familiar registers in Spanish; will learn how to present and discuss their research in Spanish; will learn how to process critically primary and secondary sources and incorporate them into their own research; will learn how to design, produce and publish their own audio documentaries and will learn about editorial, ethical and legal issues surrounding research and documentaries production and publication.
How well will they learn these skills and contents? Well enough to produce outputs that most of them would have never dreamed of producing in their lives if they had taken a traditional academic module on, let’s say, Spanish migration, instead of the OpenLIVES module.
To allow for further contributions and debate, I will only add one last reflection. Producing tangible outputs, in the form of contributions to culture, education, business, government or science is what our students will end up doing in their professional lives. Most of them will do this as part of an organisation. This means that if we, in education, do not cover the whole cycle of production of tangible and socially relevant outputs, other than an essay, side by side with our students and from scratch, most of them will never do it by themselves either. If we do not cover the full cycle of at least two or three specific production processes, someone else, whose priorities may be different to ours, will do it for us. Do we want to take up that responsibility in Higher Education as part of our mission?