Classical Tibetan Online

This year-long course is organized around a task-based language teaching (TBLT) model, with students moving through weekly modules focused on project-based tasks to be solved by the learning community as language skills develop. Students will begin by learning the Tibetan script, fundamentals of basic grammar and key vocabulary, and move on to reading and translating texts in Classical Tibetan. Project-based modules will also teach scaffolded contextual competencies relevant to producing scholarship in Religious Studies, History, or Linguistics using sources in Classical Tibetan, such as the histories and various forms of Tibetan writing, ethno-linguistic particularities of forms of Tibetan, and the wide range of resources available for advanced reading in Tibetan (i.e., dictionaries and other bibliographic resources, many of which are online). Beginning in the fall of 2016, the course will be delivered asynchronously, with synchronous communication provided for problem-solving group work. The instructor will be available for “office hours” or discussion at scheduled times.

By the end of the year, students will be able to:

  • Read out loud complex sentences in Classical Tibetan with accurate pronunciation and pauses indicating general comprehension of a sentence’s basic grammatical structure (even when not being sure of the precise meaning of the sentence).
  • Apply targeted strategies for deciphering the grammatical structure of a long, complex sentence and have a foundation of key vocabulary.
  • Find unfamiliar vocabulary in a range of specialised online and print Tibetan-English and Tibetan-Tibetan dictionaries.
  • Make an educated evaluation of the genre of writing displayed by a given text in Classical Tibetan, and know how to identify its author and other bibliographic information that may be available, using textual analysis and online Tibetan bibliographical tools.
  • Identify the basic structure and outline of a particular text in Classical Tibetan (without fully reading the text).
  • Translate a complex sentence from Classical Tibetan into English.

The course design draws on best practices in computer-assisted task-based language teaching (CATBLT) pedagogies. Research comparing CATBLT with traditional grammar-based instruction demonstrates that students learning language through goal-directed actions and projects consistently outperform those trained in more traditional models. The course is organized into modules that promote an ecological approach to language learning, with students engaging in relational, experiential activities in which they enact linguistically specialized tasks that are authentic to the work of a scholar using Classical Tibetan in “real world” research contexts. This approach is grounded in the “backwards design” process developed by Grant Wiggins (1998) to ensure authentic learning. This process emphasizes the instructor’s role as the designer of student learning processes, linking learning goals to corresponding assessments of student understanding, supported by effective, scaffolded learning activities.

Our selection of a CATBLT approach to this course is also based on the foundational design framework of the community of inquiry (COI) model, where learning activities and strategies are developed in balance across the three spheres of educational experience: social, cognitive and teaching presence. (Richardson, Arbaugh, Cleveland-Innes, Ice, Swan & Garrison, 2012). CATBLT course structures reflect a student centric design and are specifically organized to enhance authenticity and motivation in language learning, foster a community of learning and inquiry, and provide student choices and feedback (Lai & Li, 2011). Development of digital literacy is promoted from the course’s beginning, with extensive orientation materials and technical requirements and guidance on set-up, with links to ongoing supporting resources and communication tools (See Appendix 1). Materials and assignments will be organized into modules to support ease of access and progression of the student through sequenced and scaffolded learning activities. Modules will include (1) targeted vocabulary lists and quizzes; (2) one to three short video tutorials on grammar; (3) a video on contextual information (e.g., a lecture on how Tibetan is classified by historical linguists, a lecture on how to identify the parts of a text, a lecture on genres of Tibetan literature); (4) a problem set or assignment focused on the module’s topic(s), to be completed as a group project if desired by students; and (5) a second problem set or assignment to be submitted for evaluation and feedback (sometimes written, sometimes oral).

Course modules work with already deciphered (tagged) Classical Tibetan digital texts, with online exercises or worksheets for practice and testing. Source texts for these modules are provided by the Tibetan in Digital Communication project, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK (2012-2015). This project built a part-of-speech tagged corpus of Tibetan texts spanning the language’s entire history. In addition to the corpus, the project has developed a number of digital tools that allows for the corpus to be employed in many areas of humanities research, and enable other researchers to more easily develop their own corpora or software tools. Edward Garrett was the lead developer for this project and thus lends his expertise with the linguistic and computational research conducted in the UK to the current course.

The use of digital texts that have already been tagged with grammatical parts of speech allows us to mark word divisions, quotations, case markers, and so on, such that students can initially focus on reading the text rather than deciphering it. As they build confidence and facility (through worksheets, etc.) these aids will be minimized. This approach requires feeding tagged texts into the course engine. Drupal has been selected as an appropriate platform with which to develop these features. There is no other Tibetan language learning course that utilizes digitized and tagged Classical Tibetan texts in this way.

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