The first online Punjabi language course for University of California students that launched earlier this year is a collaboration of multiple UC campuses, centered around UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis.
Punjabi language instruction has been offered at UCSC since 2012, currently the only course in a modern South Asian language on campus. Only UC Berkeley offered the Punjabi language for a longer continuous period. Now, a full three-quarter online degree program is available to UC students through the system.
Punjabi is spoken by approximately 130 million people worldwide and is the third most common language in the Central Valley of California, which is home to one of the largest Punjabi communities outside of India.
“This has been a great unmet need for a significant minority group in California,” said Nirvikar Singh, eminent professor of economics at UC Santa Cruz, who helped bring the online course to fruition as a co- principal investigator of the project. Singh, in addition to being an economist, was the first Sarbjit Singh Aurora Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies at UCSC, appointed in 2010. Last year, Guriqbal Sahota, Associate Professor of Literature, succeeded him. to the presidency.
Guru Nanak Heritage Fund
The teaching of the Punjabi language on campus was made possible by income from the Guru Nanak Heritage Fund, an endowment that was raised by the Sikh community in the Bay Area and placed at UCSC in 2012, thanks to efforts of Singh and Inderjit Kaur, a specialist in South Asian musical cultures, including the Sikh musical cult. She is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Michigan, as well as an Associate Music Researcher at UCSC. Singh developed the initial Punjabi curriculum at UCSC, using the UC Berkeley curriculum as a basis.
“This is our heritage, this is something we had to achieve,” said Singh, whose grandfather wrote Punjabi novels and non-fiction, and whose father translated a major Sikh story from English to Punjabi. Singh said he learned the language as a child in India, but learned Hindi and Sanskrit in school, with no opportunity to formally study Punjabi, even in a city with a large Punjabi-speaking minority. . “For complex historical reasons, Punjabi as a literary language has tended to be marginalized,” he noted.
The course is called Punjabi without walls and is a complex multimedia project designed around a series of interactive software modules to help students learn to read and write the Gurmukhi script and also become comfortable with basic conversations in Punjabi. To practice writing, a mobile application allows students to trace characters with their fingers and receive feedback on accuracy.
The technical and video production of the grammatical components of the course sequence was carried out at UC Santa Cruz, under the supervision of Michael Tassio and the UCSC online training office, with Daniel Rudin, PhD student in film and media digital. And it all happened from last summer, after the SARS CoV-2 pandemic closed the campus, sent everyone home, and turned teaching and learning into an online practice.
Expertise from several campuses
“We were able to leverage the expertise of several campuses,” said Tassio. “It has been an amazing effort on the part of so many people.” Tassio’s e-learning office has grown from 15 courses in early 2020 to supporting several thousand during the pandemic.
The online course has been developed with contributions from several UC campuses, with the direction taken by Davis, where over 800 American Punjabi students are enrolled, and Santa Cruz, with its active Punjabi language program. Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Riverside, and Irvine all made contributions in different ways.
Primary funding came from UC’s office of the President’s Innovative Learning Technologies Initiative, with support from campus funds and private donors. At UC Santa Cruz, Singh used the income from the Aurora Chair to create a fully UC online version of a course, “Introduction to Sikhs,” which he developed and taught at UCSC for a decade. The two-unit course will complement the teaching of the language by providing background information about the Sikh community, for whom Punjabi is also the language of sacred texts.
Another key contributor to the overall effort is Arshinder Kaur, a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, who has been teaching Punjabi on campus since 2012 and has extensive experience teaching the Punjabi language and Punjabi literature. Members of the development team included two other UCSC graduate student researchers and UC Riverside doctoral student Tejpaul Bainiwal, who were so committed to the success of the project that he organized additional funding from his home campus. Many faculty and students from Davis and other campuses, as well as language experts from the community, participated in the project.
Contribution of native speakers
The native speakers reviewed the course content and were filmed at UCSC speaking conversational Punjabi, the first time that community members have directly contributed to the course development, Tassio said.
The course development team is adjusting and fine-tuning the software modules and videos based on student feedback, now that the course sequence is in its second term of delivery. The program is language-focused, but includes aspects of Punjabi culture, such as food, health, festivals, and social issues.
“Language is absolutely important to a people,” Singh said. “It’s part of their identity. It’s part of me, it’s us as a community.