Developing Open Educational Resources in Indian Languages

Posted by Sohnee Harshey* at Jun 02, 2016 12:00 AM |
The Centre for Indian Languages in Higher Education (CILHE), Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), in collaboration with the Access to Knowledge (CIS-A2K) programme at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), has been involved in organising workshops on developing open educational resources (OER) in Indian languages with undergraduate and postgraduate students across various partner institutions. The objective of these workshops is to introduce students to: a) tools of collaborative knowledge production on the Internet, and b) methods for generating new online content in Indian languages.

During November 2015 - February 2016, four such workshops have been organised at TISS’ Mumbai and Tuljapur campuses, Krantijyoti Savitribai Phule Women's Studies Centre (KSPWSC), Pune University, and at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

A one and half day workshop was organised at KSPWSC, Pune during January 22-23, 2016. A total of 20 students attended this workshop along with three faculty members from the Centre. This workshop is a part of CILHE's ongoing and sustained engagement with KSPWSC to generate and strengthen content pertaining to women's studies on the Marathi Wikipedia.

On Day 1, after the opening address by Dr. Anagha Tambe from KSPWSC, Sohnee Harshey from CILHE, TISS spoke about the importance of creating open educational resources in Indian languages for social sciences and humanities. She sought responses from participants about the nature of their engagement with their research areas—which languages they used while collecting data, whether they had accessed reading material in languages other than English, and what were their sources of information. All the participants had used languages other than English in their learning process, some had even accessed Indian language Wikipedias, and all of them felt the need for more resources in Indian languages—especially in simpler and more accessible formats. Tanveer Hasan from CIS then spoke about the utility of Wikipedia for knowledge consumers and its immense potential for students to become knowledge producers, especially in the Indian languages.

In order to familiarize the participants with social sciences (specifically women's studies) terminology in Indian languages, an exercise was conducted, wherein they were asked to describe a concept (from a given list) without using the term itself. The idea behind this was to highlight what function a concept performs in a sentence and in the language context, and what assumptions are made while using this concept. This was followed up with another exercise where the participants were encouraged to choose two concepts and explain their denotation and connotation. This was done in order to familiarise them with the web of other concepts in which a concept is located. The concept of ‘labour’ or ‘shram’ (in Marathi) was chosen for discussion.

On Day 2 of the workshop, Abhinav Garule, Programme Associate with A2K-CIS, introduced the participants to the basics of Wikipedia editing through a hands-on activity. They navigated through both the English and Indian language Wikipedias to see how the edit, talk, and view history functions work, what the key characteristics of a good article are, and how one can read more about a certain topic through interwiki and external links and categories. This was interspersed with recalling the exercises done on the previous day and comparing the critical thinking process involved.

Since one of the simpler ways to populate Indian language Wikipedias is through translation of existing content in English, participants were encouraged to try this with an entry of their choice. They were asked to also list difficulties that they faced in the process of translation. At the end of this exercise, a range of ‘problems’ like lack of appropriate terminology for complex concepts, the dangers of oversimplification, differences between languages in terms of the structure of sentences, and lack of references in Indian languages, were highlighted by the participants. While they were still thinking about these problems, another challenge was put forth for them to look at two conflicting or opposing references for a topic (for example, a movie review, or reporting around an event) and come up with a ‘neutral’ write-up about it. Questions of what constitutes a valid reference, issues of plagiarism, personal opinion, codes of civility on Talk pages formed part of this discussion.

Following this, the participants chose one topic (each) on which they wished to create a Wikipedia article in an Indian language. Most of the participants worked on the Marathi Wikipedia. They worked in groups of 3-4 to edit and create a range of articles including ones on patriarchy, colonialism, masculinity, family, and tribes, among others. A total of 12 entries were created in this workshop. Participants also explored Wikimedia Commons, Meta, and Wikisource as allied repositories. The students have now become active as knowledge producers and will join the existing group of editors at KSPWSC in the wiki-sprints to generate new content every month.


Similar exercises were also conducted during the two-day workshop at EFLU, Hyderabad in February 2016. The participants worked on the Malayalam, Telugu, and Hindi Wikipedias. Articles were written on geographical entities like Tamil Eelam and West Godavari district, on academic figures like M.S.S. Pandian and Maxine Berstein, academic and literary works such as My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk and Towards a World of Equals by Susie Tharu, among other topics. Since creating an article from scratch also involved deliberation regarding issues of translation, and the limits of concepts and their meanings in the Indian context, it is hoped that these new editors will find it useful for their own research to think critically about the process of generating content on the Indian language Wikipedias.

* Sohnee Harshey works at the Centre for Indian Languages in Higher Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Article edited by Subhashish Panigrahi of CIS-A2K.