Invigorating Indonesian studies in Australia through collaborative, online education practices

By Howard Manns, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, Monash University,
and Michael Ewing, Associate Professor in Indonesian, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne,
and Sharyn Davies, Associate Professor, School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University,
and Jess Kruk, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, International Relations, Asian Studies & Politics, University of Western Australia

In the second of three articles on the state of Asian studies and language teaching in Australia, Howard Manns, Michael Ewing, Sharyn Davies and Jess Kruk advocate new collaborate open education approaches to arrest the decline in Indonesian language studies.

Indonesian student numbers in Australia have been in freefall for decades. Better funding from the Australian and Indonesian governments is essential, and this has been argued extensively elsewhere.

We focus here on the imaginative, passionate and insightful teachers of Indonesian. Whilst they bring diverse and complementary skills to the classroom, more can be done to create infrastructure for them to succeed.

We can begin by looking at the evolving field of open education – the free sharing of resources, especially online and through collaboration with others. One suggestion proffered in recent years has been the creation of a national, online learning bank of Indonesian materials.

Australian practitioners can create focused, sophisticated and targeted online materials by learning from the US STARTALK program. Founded post-9-11, STARTALK sought to cultivate interest in, and take-up of, so-called ‘critical need languages’ (e.g., Arabic, Chinese, Persian, Urdu). STARTALK’s resounding success is linked to its focus on teacher/student motivations in the creation of materials, and a critical concern with quality control/updating of materials.

A centralised, online learning bank is a step in the right direction. However, research shows that it is not enough. Earlier approaches to open education adopted an ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach to the creation of online open education resources (OERs). But it has become clear this isn’t the case. OERs have proliferated but their take-up has lagged.

Where earlier open education agendas focused on the creation of open education ‘resources’, open education ‘practices’ draw a closer focus on the importance of community, social interaction and sustainability. Open education practices (OEPs) widen engagement, participation and inclusiveness in a community by bringing together individuals working toward a shared goal.

OEPs create the context for collaboration – they are classic communities of practice, but with a centralised online presence and focused goals (infrastructure), and with sustainable OERs as outcomes. Indonesian teachers often create the same lessons in isolation, where organised OEPs create the context for doing it together. Moreover, as we show below, there is great appetite from academics, business leaders and others in Australia to help teachers, as much as teachers would like that help.

So, OEPs break down barriers between providers, users, organisers and sponsors by shifting the framing from ‘knowledge for all’ to ‘construction of knowledge by all’. OEPs entail a sharing not only of resources, but rather a sharing of complementary repertoires of skills.

In sum, OERs are certainly a great idea for the Indonesian context and some excellent OERs already exist. However, an even better idea is to create the collaborative infrastructure for sustainable OEPs; infrastructure that includes teachers, universities and keen outsider collaborators.

OEP infrastructure for Indonesian teaching looks like a well-planned, community garden.

The ‘garden’ should be planted in a central hub online, with some scope for physical meetings. It would ideally be placed at an institution with a sustained commitment to Indonesian engagement—the Monash Herb Feith Engagement Centre would be perfect.

‘Garden planning’ would be shared by key stakeholders with shared interests such as Indonesian teachers, teacher organisations, university programs and the Australia-Indonesia Centre (among others).

‘Garden planning’ would entail identifying priority goals and facilitating the right people for these goals. The strength of OEPs come from passionate, skilled and engaged people who sustain them, and creative solutions that emerge when they do. It would also involve something similar to ‘guild planting’ which refers to the positioning of plants that do not compete for resources, but rather help one another flourish as gotong royong (‘mutual assistance’).

OEPs have been wildly successful in other parts of the world. For instance, Rice University’s OpenStax project has been co-created through collaborations between teachers, students and professionals, and now boasts 6.5 million users from 140 countries.

OEPs might seem unrealistic at the outset in Australia, but Indonesian teachers, researchers and professionals are already doing it—just not in a long-term and co-ordinated way.

The Indonesian space is full of discussions and resources, such as this book by Dwi Noverini Djenar, Michael Ewing and Howard Manns (free) on Indonesian youth language, or this lesson on Indonesian metal by Jess Kruk.

But it can be difficult to track down these discussions and resources and conversations addressing these topics are often ephemeral – limited to conferences, workshops or social media.

We need to create a central, well-curated and sustainable hub, where Indonesian teachers can interact with one another, universities and other stakeholders in the Australia-Indonesia relationship. We see glimpses of what a well-curated site might look like in the form of Jemma Purdey and Deryn Mansell’s recent collaboration on resources for the ReelOzInd! film festival.

However, the take-up and sustainability of OERs relies on engaged OEPs. We see a ferocious appetite for collaboration between teachers and stakeholders, but we also see the need for a centralised context within which this can take place (we would propose, a centralised, online infrastructure).

While there has been much talk about the ‘holy grail’ and the ‘missing link’ of Indonesian studies, one thing that has struck us is that maybe we’re already doing the right thing – we’re just not doing it sustainably nor are we doing it enough together.

Howard Manns is a senior lecturer in linguistics at Monash University; Michael Ewing is associate professor in Indonesian at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne; Sharyn Davies is associate professor in the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics at Monash University; Jess Kruk is lecturer in the School of Social Sciences, International Relations, Asian Studies & Politics, University of Western Australia.

A longer version of this article was published by Melbourne Asia Review, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne.