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Director weekly highlights 11 Feb

Jane Simpson, Outreach

Date: 11 February 2022

It’s been a special week. CoEDL alumna Denise Angelo graduated at ANU’s first in-person graduation ceremony since COVID hit us. I was part of the academic procession, and was struck by how well the mediaeval robes went with the plague-beak masks… But I was more struck by the strength of the graduating students and their families in getting through the last two years, and by how the challenges have differed so much from person to person. It’s also humbling to read about some challenges that international doctoral students have faced in the University of Melbourne’s new languages and linguistics blog

CoEDL people’s work has been in the news in unusual ways — the BBC presented work on Australian languages by Felicity Meakins, Clint Bracknell and others, in a dramatic interactive story format: Giving life to new languages in Australia. And Danielle Barth was interviewed in Tok Pisin about “bikpla wok igo hed long holim strong Matukar Panau tok ples long PNG Madang provins” (begins ca 15:14 - 23:00) on ABC’s Wantok program, as well as stories in English. The language loss is alarming: a study by Alfred Kik and others (PNAS 2021) found that only 58% of 6,190 students were fluent in their traditional languages (speaking between them 392 languages), compared with 91% of their parents. But it was so good to hear an interview about PNG languages in a language which is accessible to many in Papua New Guinea. 

A century ago, equitable access to knowledge was enabled for all through public libraries, and through Workers Education Institutes. Today, the main tool we have for information equity is through making research open access (encouraged by the ARC). That’s how we can reduce the divide between the digital haves and have-nots, between rich and poor countries, and within Australia, between those with access to university libraries and those without such access. In this vein, it was great to learn that two recent CoEDL alumni theses are now in their university repositories on open access; details for the theses of Sarah Matthews - Steps toward technology as a creative material  (UQ) and Susan Poetsch - Arrernte at the heart (ANU)are available in repositories. Many Australian universities require doctoral students to deposit copies of their theses in public access repositories. It's not yet the case for honours and coursework masters theses (but I just happily learned that you can now get Maryalyce McDonald’s 1977 masters thesis on the phonetics and phonology of Yaraldi  free through ANU instead of paying Lincom). So, here’s a plea to staff to encourage lodging these theses in repositories, too. And a plea to budget for open access publication costs in grant applications! 

Finally, this week is also special because Nick Evans has returned from his long service leave, restored, energised, invigorated, inspired to take us through to the end of the Centre, and to take on new projects. We’ll hear from him about this in next week’s update. And we also want to continue hearing from our CoEDL alumni and students in these updates — across nodes, and across disciplines. All we need is 250 words about yourself, what is currently exciting you, what your plans are, perhaps about what CoEDL has meant for you. Just send a note to Cale Johnstone and let her know what week would suit you. 

I end, as always, with great gratitude to our superb CoEDL team who have kept CoEDL running harmoniously in Nick’s absence: Romina, super-star; Jo and Morgan, who, among their other tasks, have done a mammoth job with reporting and writing the Annual Report, and now with planning the legacy website and report; Celine, who has so gracefully managed starting her new finance position in lockdown; Cale, who has coordinated these information-rich updates; and Julia and Wolfgang, who have been managing different aspects of CoEDL data and putting a lot of thought into our data legacy. It is a great pleasure and honour working with you. 

Jane Simpson
Deputy Director 


A view from Brisbane 

Sarah Matthews embodies the cross-over, interdisciplinary nature of CoEDL. Her University of Queensland PhD thesis (2022) Steps toward technology as a creative material was through the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering (ITEE). To this thesis she brought her skills in design thinking and experience as an industrial designer — thinking about everything from sticky notes to the design of educational products for children. She is now teaching in the School of Architecture as well as continuing her work with ITEE. 

It has been an encouraging start to the year, and although working from home is never fun, the PhD was awarded, papers have been submitted and now teaching will be ramping up for the year. The projects I have had the privilege of working on as part of the CoEDL family encompass the possibilities and the challenges we face when using technology to support the learning of endangered languages. 

My passion project is developing tangible toolkits that encourage young students to take ownership and create their own interactive technologies. One of our projects, Animettes, has highlighted that in order for students to take ownership they need to be able to associate meaning to their creations. One way we have observed that young students attach meaning is through telling each other stories about their creations, as they create. This has the added benefit of motivating students to deal with (and persist past) the frustrations inherent in working with technology, something we can all relate to. We are now looking at ways that we can couple more formalised language sessions with the learning of technology, whilst maintaining a child-led approach to critical enquiry. This year we are continuing to develop new technologies for students and teachers that apply the understandings we have gained from our field research. I have greatly enjoyed working with the CoEDL team at UQ! 

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University