Michigan State University has been awarded a four-year, $2.5 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support further development in the research and teaching of less commonly taught languages (LCTLs), with an emphasis on Indigenous languages.
This is the second Mellon grant received by the LCTL Partnership, led by the Center for Language Teaching Advancement (CeLTA) at Michigan State University, to facilitate the teaching of less commonly taught languages at all “big ten” universities in partnership with the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA).
This multi-university initiative seeks to transform the way LCTLs are taught by leveraging cutting-edge research and advances in instructional technology with the aim of creating sustainable and effective models of instruction.
“This grant allows us to provide more students with higher levels of proficiency in languages that are less commonly taught and more difficult to sustain,” said Christopher P. Long, dean of the College of Arts and Letters and principal investigator (PI) on the grant. “This is important because a higher level of language proficiency deepens our understanding of the cultures to which these languages give voice.”
Currently, MSU offers instruction in 29 less commonly taught languages, including Vietnamese, Turkish, and Indonesian. Often the challenge in teaching these languages is having only one or two students at any given university taking a course, and in order to have a full class and higher levels of competency, a critical mass of students is needed across multiple semesters.
This issue is resolved by sharing courses across the Big Ten Academic Alliance through the CourseShare program, which enables students to take a variety of different languages online that are not sustainably teachable at individual institutions. With strategic coordination, the LCTL Partnership has taken a more proactive approach by creating innovative courses through CourseShare instead of relying on the on-demand model so often used.
The materials that have been developed as part of the LCTL Partnership are varied, from a fully asynchronous online course in Hebrew to flexible modules in Swahili and Hindi that can be easily inserted into current courses.
“These modules will be released as open educational resources (OERs) so that the materials can continue to be reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed by instructors within the LCTL community,” said Emily Heidrich, academic specialist and project manager for the LCTL Partnership.
With this next grant cycle, the project will expand to one Indigenous language, Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), an Indigenous language spoken in the Michigan area and Great Lakes region. The LCTL Partnership will develop an Anishinaabemowin program that will serve the needs of Michigan’s Indigenous nations as well as establish a model for other Indigenous language instruction that is rooted within Indigenous communities and aligned with Indigenous knowledge systems.
“For hundreds of years, generations of Indigenous people in communities throughout the Great Lakes have fought for the preservation of Anishinaabemowin,” said Gordon Henry, professor of English and co-PI on the project who is affiliated with the American Indian and Indigenous Studies Program at MSU and an enrolled member of the White Earth Chippewa Tribe of Minnesota. “It’s important for people in knowing their culture to try to live their language, to have it as a living way of communicating in a community, and that’s what a lot of tribes are trying to have happen again.”
With this grant, Michigan State University will partner with other universities, tribal colleges, and tribal communities to establish a larger community that connects and sustains Indigenous language work at all of these institutions. The initiative follows a participatory research and pedagogical model that places members of Indigenous communities, including Indigenous faculty and language instructors, at the center and in leadership positions.
“What I am most excited about is the opportunity to think about how we can invest in the teaching of Indigenous languages and cultures to retain and recruit Indigenous students to Michigan State University and across the Big Ten Academic Alliance,” Long said.
The LCTL Partnership website (http://lctlpartnership.celta.msu.edu/) will become a repository of resources for LCTL instructors, including a language-independent manual, which will be updated in this next grant cycle.