A Grade is human, Degrade is divine

One issue we have with our World War One project is that we need to be very aware of not being “British”, and presenting the resources in an almost nation-agnostic way. My last blog post featured the fact that the first “British Empire” shot in World War one was fired in what is now Togo. Even that sentence carries a fair burden of colonialism – we say British Empire as almost a sleight of hand, using the Empire as an almost conjectural trick. Arguably it reinforces the approach that the soldiers from the empire who fought weren’t the same as “British” soldiers.  As I am also not an academic of Western Africa, I don’t know if Togo’s borders now reflect an Africentric development of a nation state, or remain a relic of the days of empire – is “What is now Togo?” still a sign of a colonial mindset?

However, this is an OER blog post, and the concept of geography can be tied to OER – but how does the concept of the nation state? Often as developers we aim to present the website in the best possible way dependent on who the browser is, and their associated technology. We make the site accessible to people with screen readers, use style sheets for old browsers, smaller text for mobile browsers and aim to introduce new features where we can using HTML5 or various plugins. As a design principle, we call this either graceful degradation or progressive enhancement – and it is something we might wish to look into for OER content for one reason, the same reason in fact that we don’t want our viewpoint to be too “British”. A “British” OER, one with language embedded in it is decidedly less useful than an “International” OER. So how much of this can become a design consideration? I’ve worked on some visualisations for the project, but these are all JPEGs at present – and so to translate them requires a lot of work. They are British, and without a lot of effort always will be – OER as the xenophobic, dogmatic little englander – Teach Britiannia? We could produce translations for other languages, or we could take the text away from the resource and allow translation that way – making the remixing of the resource possible for as many languages as possible.

So this ties our content in with graceful degradation – hopefully – but perhaps leave open the idea of deliberately making a sub-optimal British OER so as to make some of the remixing internationally easier for people. You could envisage the OER not being the content on the site, but a form made available 2-3 steps back in the development process so as to maximise the scope in which redevelopers and remixers can work. These strike me as good design principles, but not something I’ve noticed in OER terms. The OER movement seems to be largely British and Spanish in terms of countries, but Spain has many languages, as does Britain – but you never really see a link with “See this OER in Welsh” or “See this OER in Catalan” link on a website.

It will be interesting to see as the site and content develops how thoughts on supporting translation as remix can be supported.

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