Proposal for testing laptops

May 12, 2010

Name of Project: Language Documentation on Ambrym, Vanuatu

Number of Laptops (or other hardware) You Request to Borrow: 1
Loan Length—How Many Months: 6-12 months, depending on further developments

2. Team Participants

Kilu von Prince, prince@zas.gwz-berlin.de, +49 30 20192 422
Manfred Krifka, krifka@zas.gwz-berlin.de, +49 30 20192-400
Soraya Hosni, hosni@zas.gwz-berlin.de, +49 30 20192 422
Susanne Fuchs, fuchs@zas.gwz-berlin.de, +49 30 20192 569

Employer: Center for General Linguistics (ZAS), Berlin
Past Experience/Qualifications: Three of the participants are linguists, while Hosni is an anthropologist. They all have experience in the field and with the targeted community and are proficient in the use of computers with various operating systems for the transfer and manipulation of data. Contacts with community leaders and local teachers have already been established, as well as with members of the ministry of education (Linda George), of the Cultural Center of Vanuatu (Marcellin Abong, director) and of the Vanuatu National Cultural Council (Ralph Regenvanu, director).

3. Objectives

Project Objectives: The participants are currently documenting several languages in the Southwest of the island of Ambrym, Vanuatu. The project work involves audio and video recordings, which will lead to the production of dictionaries, story books and grammars for the previously undocumented and undescribed languages. Due to the lack of devices with the capacity to display accustic and visual information, however, local communities will hardly have access to the audio and video recordings. Also, the opportunities for speakers to actively participate in the documentation of their languages and traditional knowledge themselves are very limited. The laptops provided by the OLPC project would help to make recordings accessible to the communities as well as empower the youngest generations to use modern technologies to explore and record the traditional knowledge which is in acute danger of being lost. The objectives of a collaboration with the OLPC would therefore be the distribution of laptops to local schools, storing the data collected during the documentation work on the laptops and training children — and their teachers — to use the laptops for documentation. The country of Vanuatu has already shown interest in the OLPC and is very adamant about the importance of language documentation so that we expect a collaboration would be welcome.

4. Plan of Action

The participants will have to get familiar with the laptops and their operating systems and software to explore the best ways in which to present the collected data and to use the laptops for further documentation by the communities. They will have to present their ideas to local communities to get their consent and discuss the best ways to proceed. Hopefully, with the support of the OLPC Oceania group, more laptops can be aquired to provide the children of at least one school with one computer per child. The total population of the region is only about 3000, so if only one school is to be covered, only about 50 laptops would be needed. To cover all the schools in the region, a number of about 500 laptops would be required.
A workshop for teachers would have to be organized to explain to them how the laptops function. Together with their help, the laptops could then be introduced to the children. At the end of the project, a corpus of data would be transferred  to all of the laptops.

5. Needs

As explained above, local communities hardly have access to digitized data, which means that especially the audio and the video content of the documentation work will not be accessible to speakers. The collaboration would enable speakers to access these data as well as empower them to do their own documentation work, as they see fit. If successful, this project could be a model for language documentation and revitalization in empowering local communities with modern technologies while encouraging them to use these technologies to preserve their own indigenous knowledge.

Apart from the specifics of documenting indigenous knowledge, the laptops would also represent a significant improvement of the teaching situation more generally: there are hardly any teaching materials and schools are fighting hard to make lessons informative and interesting for the students.

For the first testing and demonstration purposes, one laptop would probably be enough, but it should be in good shape. Later, more laptops and ideally school servers should be made available: At least one of the schools in the region should be outfitted with one laptop for each pupil and a school server. Ideally, all schools in the region would be involved. As the total population of the region is only about 3000 people, the number of laptops required would be rather modest even if all schools are to be involved.

6. Sharing Deliverables

The stages of the project, if approved, could be documented in a blog. The work with local communities will take place during our field trips and the laptops will be distributed by us personally.

7. Quality/Mentoring

Help by a mentor from the OLPC community would be much appreciated. Especially in the early stages of the project, it would be helpful to learn more about the opportunities the specific setup of the laptops provides and how to maximize their benefits for the project’s purposes.

8. Timeline (Start to Finish)

The language documentation project is funded until Summer 2012. The stages of the laptop project will have to conform with the planned field trips:

Provided the testing laptop will be delivered before July:
July — September 2010 (Vanuatu): First testing of the laptops, discussions with the local community leaders on Ambrym and with government officials of Vanuatu.
October 2010 — April 2011 (Berlin): Exploring the best ways to use laptops for the purposes of documentation; transferring data to the laptop. Exploring options to get donated laptops for a pilot project at at least one of the schools.
May 2011 — September 2011 (Vanuatu): Organizing workshops with local teachers to introduce the use of the laptops. Organizing the introduction of the laptops to the children. The laptops would then be left with the locals.
March 2012 (Vanuatu): Examination of how the project has developed. Discussing and addressing possible problems and discuss further developments. Presentation of the project together with the results of the documentation project in the country’s capital, Port Vila.

[yes ] I agree to pass on the laptop(s) to a local OLPC group or other interested contributors in case I do not have need for the laptop(s) anymore or in case my project progress stalls.

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