Materials Development for Indigenous Language Learning and Teaching: Pedagogy, Praxis and Possibilities

  • Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu GallaEmail author
Living reference work entry


With an increase in awareness of Indigenous languages on a global scale and with local, grass roots revitalization efforts and initiatives underway, a significant challenge that exists for language learning and teaching is the formulation and availability of language materials. Based on a university course, developed and taught in various iterations at the University of British Columbia, this chapter will discuss pedagogy, praxis, and possibilities for materials development using digital technology in contemporary university settings for Indigenous language learning and teaching. This course has reach beyond students enrolled in the course and in fact has consequences for language speakers and learners of endangered language communities, students in K-12 schools, post-secondary institutions, Indigenous communities, families, and so forth that are recipients, readers, and users of the newly developed materials – print or digital resources.


Indigenous language revitalization Indigenous language learning and teaching Materials development Multimedia technology Digital technology Training and praxis 


In the nineteenth century, an assimilationist movement swept across the United States and Canada in an effort to erase linguistic and cultural evidence from the first inhabitants - Indigenous peoples that include American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaíians, First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Migration, urbanization, wage labor, extractive industries, and schooling have shaped Indigenous communities current cultural and linguistic landscape (Luykx 2016) in North America and beyond. Residential schools, language policies, colonial and post-colonial institutions, created long lasting impacts on these populations, resulting in a language shift from Indigenous languages towards English. Despite drastic measures by colonizing powers, “the imposition of European languages and the dislocation of myriad indigenous societies did not halt the dynamic interactions among indigenous speech communities themselves” (p. 1). Indigenous languages, cultures, and people still exist. With an increase in awareness of Indigenous languages on a global scale and with local, grass roots revitalization efforts and initiatives embarked upon in community, a significant challenge that exists for language educators, practitioners, and the community is the limited amount of language materials that are available. While some communities have established orthographic systems, written and audio documentation by early Indigenous community scholars, linguists, missionaries, or published materials in the form of dictionaries, grammars, newspapers, books, digital media, and so forth, other communities continue to rely on oral forms of communication. Further, commercially printed materials used for school curricula have historically excluded Indigenous peoples’ histories, knowledge systems, stories, language, and culture, and these are often misrepresented and told from the perspective and voice of cultural outsiders. Over the last decade there has been increased attention by academic researchers and Indigenous scholars on providing critical perspectives and analyses of Indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books as well as a concerted effort by Indigenous authors, illustrators, and publishers to represent Indigenous peoples in a culturally sustaining, authentic, and relevant way (see Harde 2016; Hoffman 2010; Jackson 2016; Reese 2006; Sheahan-Bright 2011). Digital technology addresses some of the disparities that endangered Indigenous languages face, providing a means for Indigenous peoples to develop language materials and resources. The adoption and adaptation of digital technology has been especially evident, for example, in the Hawaíian language educational settings since the 1990s (see Kaʻawa and Hawkins 1997; Hartle-Schutte and Nae‘ole-Wong 1998; Warschauer and Donaghy 1997). Indigenous youth have increasingly become active users of digital technology and producers of digital media in an effort to archive, promote, document, and learn their Indigenous languages (see Carew et al. 2015; Cru 2015; Kral 2010, 2011, 2012; Rice et al. 2016; Wyman et al. 2013, 2016).

Drawing on my combined reaching and teaching experiences to date as an Indigenous language and technology teacher and scholar to date, I will outline a university course on materials development and discuss its relevance to Indigenous language education, broadly defined, to reflect pedagogy, praxis, and possibilities while adopting or adapting digital technology. I continue with two frameworks – technacy framework for language revitalization, which proposes contextual factors to consider when considering digital technology for Indigenous language learning and teaching, and multimedia technology training and praxis model, which conceptualizes how multiliteracies are realized in a materials development course for Indigenous language education. The chapter continues with a discussion of course outcomes, findings, and implications. This course has reach beyond students enrolled in the course and in fact impacts language speakers and learners of endangered language communities, students in K-12 schools, post-secondary institutions, Indigenous communities, families, and so forth that are recipients, readers, and users of the newly developed materials – print or digital resources.


As a Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaíian), my introduction to materials development began during my graduate studies at the University of Arizona when I attended the American Indian Language Development Institute (AILDI) – an internationally renowned institute, cited by the US Department of Education as one of the ten outstanding programs for minority teacher preparation in the nation (Leighton et al. 1995). AILDI has been a bridge to connect academic institutions with Indigenous communities. Since its inception, AILDI has engaged Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies from a myriad of professions, backgrounds, and communities from across the USA, Mexico, Canada, Australia, South America, and beyond, making significant contributions to Indigenous language learning, teaching, revitalization, documentation, research, and policy.

One of the courses at AILDI that inspired my research included “Computer Applications for Indigenous Communities” taught by Susan Penfield and Phil Cash Cash (Cayuse and Nez Perce) in 2004. The course assignments allowed students to explore the potential of digital technology for language learning and teaching. I created a multimedia language lesson in Hawaíian with the intention to share my “work-in-progress” with a Hawaíian language preschool teacher, who also happened to be a friend of mine. In spite of Hawaíian having a standard orthography, a history of published print material, and more recent success with Hawaíian immersion programs and Hawaíian medium schools, Hawaíian language teachers and educators were working with limited language materials and culturally relevant resources to support and enhance Hawaíian language development (Hartle-Schutte and Nae‘ole-Wong 1998; Warschauer and Donaghy 1997) – a hurdle that extends across Indigenous communities working towards language revitalization.

Following the course, I reached out to my teacher-friend in Hawaíi but learned that she left her position. Though my project was not shared beyond my peers at AILDI, I used my experience to further my understanding of materials development. In 2005, I had the opportunity to co-teach the AILDI course with Susan Penfield and Tracy Williams (Oneida). Later in the fall, I attended a digital storytelling workshop hosted by the Indigenous Language Institute (ILI) with the then AILDI Program Coordinator Regina Siquieros in Pojoaque, New Mexico. We were tasked to write a story with the hope that we would leave with a printed book by the end of the three-day workshop. I created an original story using pencil drawings and Hawaíian language text, knowing that I would need a proficient Hawaíian language speaker to review my work (though born and raised in Hawaíi and brought up in a hula – Hawaíian performative arts – family, Hawaíian was not my first language. I formally learned Hawaíian from grade seven through grade twelve when I attended Kamehameha Schools). I left the workshop with my printed, hard copy, work-in-progress book and was elated to know that materials development for endangered and Indigenous language communities can be created, produced, and published in-house with control over all aspects of the story, text, language, images, and so forth.

My growing interest in Indigenous language learning, digital technology, and materials development provided me the opportunity to join the ILI training team, which traveled to various Native American communities offering digital storytelling workshops. This interest led me to a research study (Galla 2010) involving the aforementioned AILDI course to determine how Indigenous peoples are using digital technology for language documentation, conservation, revitalization, education, and promotion. In addition, three case studies of students were provided to examine whether the digital technologies that were introduced in the 4-week university course to the students were applicable upon return to their respective Indigenous communities. Reflecting on my combined experiences, I have used my knowledge and research to develop a similar course at the University of British Columbia titled “Materials Development for Indigenous Language Learning and Teaching” which has been offered in various iterations since 2012 to the time of this writing.

Materials Development for Indigenous Language Learning and Teaching

Materials development is a recent field of academic study that investigates the principles and procedures of the design, writing, adaptation, production, implementation, exploitation, evaluation, and analysis of language materials, whilst exploring theory and praxis (Tomlinson 2012). Language materials can refer to any resource that is used by language teachers and learners to facilitate language learning. For Indigenous communities, these material products can be in the form of documentation field notes, newspapers, grammars, dictionaries, textbooks, children’s books, audio and video recordings (analog and digital), computer and video games, social media, and so forth. The sampling of materials that comprise bits and pieces of the language are instrumental resources for endangered and Indigenous languages that are working towards building language capacity within and for the community. Although these materials are not commercially produced – as we would expect for English language learners, for example – and may not be instructional in nature, the materials nonetheless are relevant and pertinent to Indigenous language learning. Materials development for Indigenous language learning and teaching faces a stark reality than that for languages with billions and/or millions of speakers, especially at a time where many proficient speakers are in the later stages of their life.

During the initial stages of the Hawaíian language revitalization movement, the language programs and classrooms were constrained by the lack of textbooks, pedagogical materials, and other resources in Hawaíian language to support language learning. Hawaíian language parents, extended family, and community members were invited to create pedagogical materials by cutting and pasting Hawaíian translations over original English texts and textbooks (Hartle-Schutte and Nae‘ole-Wong 1998; Warschauer and Donaghy 1997). Laiana Wong (as cited in Warschauer and Donaghy 1997), a Hawaíian language instructor, expressed that materials that were created in this manner imposed perspectives from outside the Hawaíian Islands: “We need to develop original materials in Hawaíian that can reflect our own culture, perspective, and reality” (p. 352).

The shortage of pedagogical, culturally relevant, and authentic materials depicting Indigenous language and culture in an appropriate way is a significant challenge that language teachers face worldwide, especially in communities that do not have a standard orthography or a tradition of literacy. Community-based materials development has the power and ability to

instruct and delight its audience by teaching them histories (and her-stories), enabling them to hear voices that are too often silenced, entertaining them, and allowing them to find their way to understanding even the most complex situations. (Harde 2016, p. 7)

The adoption and adaption of digital technology soon thereafter became critical to revitalizing the language, developing curricula and materials, disseminating materials throughout Hawaíi, expanding the domains of communication, and raising the profile of Hawaíian language juxtaposed with English (Galla 2009; Hartle-Schutte and Nae‘ole-Wong 1998; Warschauer 1998). Where, since colonization, language, cultural, and historical resources have been published and disseminated about Indigenous communities from the perspectives of non-Natives (Ingle 2003), now Indigenous people and voices can be heard locally, nationally, and globally through the medium of digital technology.

It is critical now more than ever with a reconciliatory movement – specifically in Canada – that books and resources published about and for Indigenous children, youth, and adults are “depicted in positive and human ways in a variety of settings, urban, rural, and reserve” (Harde 2016, p. 5). Children and youth especially need to have books available at their disposal that are representative of themselves and their communities, in various mediums and in the media as well – something which Indigenous people yearn for. Materials development are at the “heart of Native survivance, self-determination, recovery, and development” (p. 7); approaches to them must reflect Indigenous values of relationality (Carjuzza and Fenimore-Smith 2010), respect, responsibility, relevance, reciprocity, (Kirkness and Barnhardt 1991), and resiliency (Galla et al. 2014).

UBC Course: Materials Development for Indigenous Language Learning and Teaching

As mentioned previously, through my cumulative experiences over the last decade, I developed a course at UBC to reflect my theoretical and applied research in the area of Indigenous language learning, teaching and digital materials development. Since 2012 until the time of this writing in Spring 2017, I have offered the course four times and have learned significantly from my Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who represent diverse ages, backgrounds, and professions. Their feedback as language teachers, language learners, and educators has helped me to refine and adapt the course to meet the needs of Indigenous language learners. The following two sections include frameworks that I use to efforts and the consideration of digital technology, whereas the subsequent framework is used as a technology training and praxis model to guide students through levels of progressions during the class.

Technacy Framework for Language Revitalization

Technacy, proposed by the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council, is the “ability to understand, communicate and exploit the characteristics of technology to discern how human technological practice is necessarily a holistic engagement with the world that involves people, tools, and the consumed environment, driven by purpose and contextual considerations” (Seeman 2009, pp. 117–118). The framework, as described by Seemann and Talbot (Seeman and Talbot 1995) aims to create “technate individuals” who understand the interrelationship between contextual factors. In a later study on multimedia technology and Indigenous language revitalization (Galla 2010), the framework was reconceptualized as the techacy framework for language revitalization (TFLR) (Galla 2016) to includes five factors – linguistic and cultural, social, technological, environmental, and economic – that are deemed critical in determining the appropriateness of digital technology use for Indigenous language revitalization and education. Each element requires consideration of the other four factors to help decide the appropriateness of technology based upon local context, language endangerment, resources, and individual or community linguistic and cultural goals. Since digital technology may be considered a contentious matter in Indigenous communities due to varying complexities, the TFLR is offered as an introduction to discuss and determine whether digital technology is a practical solution and option that will lead to achieving language goals.

Over the last decade, digital technologies have proliferated to support teaching and learning, and opportunities to interact with languages in non-traditional domains have been created and developed, Additionally, some of these technologies have claimed to “save” endangered and Indigenous languages. The integration of such technologies for endangered and Indigenous communities must place an emphasis on building capacity for language learning and teaching leading towards language proficiency and fluency. Once a language goal is determined, consideration of each of the TFLR factors is encouraged to determine if digital technology is a necessary tool and method to achieve the target objective (Fig. 1). Students are asked to reflect on their unique contexts and explore how each of these factors contributes to or impedes certain language activity within their community. This exercise helps students understand the resources (or lack of resources) they are working with as they work towards revitalizing their respective languages.
Fig. 1

Technacy framework for language revitalization (Galla 2016)

This framework and the factors involved offer a reference for individuals and communities who are considering using digital technology for language initiatives. The following questions for each TFLR factor reveal the uniqueness of each community, and by doing so define what types of initiatives (digital and non-digital) are possible. The conversation and discussion that result from these initial questions are foundational in determining what factors inhibit, contribute to, or support the proposed language goal, and whether digital technology is a necessary tool. Table 1 provides a sampling of questions associated with each factor to begin the process of understanding the unique language context we face when working towards Indigenous language revitalization.
Table 1

Technacy framework for language revitalization factors (Galla 2016)

TFLR Factors


Linguistic and cultural factors

What is the vitality of the language (i.e., speaker population, age group)?

What are the language ideologies, traditions, values, and cultural beliefs of the individual or community?

What are the oral and literacy practices (associated with the language) of the language?

Social factors

In what domains are the language used (home, school, church, community, university government, media, workplace, etc.)?

What contexts, activities, and/or gatherings does the oral language appear in (i.e., radio, news, prayer, ceremonies, graduation, parties, etc.)?

What literary and/or communicative contexts does the written language appear in (i.e., books, newspapers, magazines, website, blog, e-mail, social media, elections, etc.)?

With whom is the language used? (i.e., friends, family, elders, teachers, government officials, etc.)?

Economic factors

What types of financial resources are available to support language revitalization and education efforts?

What human resources are available to support language revitalization and education efforts?

What additional resources are available to support language revitalization and education efforts?

How much time and/or resources can be allocated toward language revitalization and education efforts?

Environmental factors

Where are these language speakers geographically situated (i.e., on traditional land base, urban, suburban, rural, etc.)?

Is the language accessible outside of the traditional or home territory (i.e., specific cities/ states/ provinces/ countries where speakers are located)?

What terrestrial biome is the language situated in (i.e., polar, temperate, (sub)tropical, dry, wet)?

What landforms contribute to the landscape of the traditional or home territory (i.e., mountains, plateaus, canyons, valleys, bay, ocean, volcanoes, etc.)?

What natural elements minimize the amount of face-to-face interaction for an extended period of time (i.e., hurricane, flood, drought, blizzard, tornado, landslide, avalanche, etc.)?

Technological factors

What types of infrastructure are in place to support the use of technology?

What types of technology are available (to support language learning and teaching)?

What types of technology training and information technology support are available?

This framework seeks to “develop skilled, holistic thinkers and doers who can select, evaluate, transform, and use appropriate technologies that are responsive to local contexts and human needs” (Seeman 2000, p. 2). This holistic approach is based upon factors that influence digital technology use. Indigenous peoples, since contact, have adapted to their changing landscape and environment, using new tools to adjust to changing tides.

Through this exercise, students are able to understand the contextual importance of Indigenous language learning and the resources that are available to help support language development and proficiency. Each student reveals a distinctive situation that they in a sense work from, as the resources will vary tremendously between language, community, and so forth. Students immediately learn that what works for one community may not work for the next, despite our continuing exposure to digital technology.

Multimedia Technology Training & Praxis Model

In 1994, the New London Group coined the term multiliteracies – the “multiplicity of communications channels and media, and the increasing saliency of cultural and linguistic diversity” (New London Group 1996, p. 63) – to address the evolution of new media and new literacy practices. Multiliteracies is a pedagogical approach that includes: situated practice, which draws on the experience of meaning-making in lifeworlds, the public realm, and workplaces; overt instruction, through which students develop an explicit metalanguage of design; critical framing, which interprets the social context and purpose of designs of meaning; and transformed practice, in which students, as meaning-makers, become designers of social futures.

The multiliteracies framework and its four components are used to guide the training and praxis when developing materials for Indigenous language learning and teaching. I indicate the primary components that transpire in the three levels of this training model in Fig. 2; however, each of the segments may “occur simultaneously, while at different times one or the other will predominate, and all of them are repeatedly revisited at different levels” (New London Group 1996, p. 85). Applying this pedagogy to the university course, in Level 1, students are (re)introduced to common software and learn different built-in features they may not be familiar with. Technical knowledge and skills are acquired through direct instruction and hands-on training. This teaching and training includes

active interventions on the part of the teacher and other experts that scaffold learning activities, that focus the learner on the important features of their experiences and activities within the community of learners, and that allow the learner to gain explicit information at times when it can most usefully organize and guide practice, building on and recruiting what the learner already knows and has accomplished. (New London Group 1996, p. 86)

With overt instruction, students are able to “accomplish a task more complex than they can accomplish on their own, and … they come to conscious awareness of the teacher’s representation and interpretation of that task and its relations to other aspects of what is being learned” (p. 86). The diversity of students enrolled will vary tremendously each time the course is offered; thus, this community of learners will require different types of technological assistance – some more complex than others. In Level 2, depending on their familiarity with the digital technology introduced, willingness to explore on their own, and motivation, students use their prior knowledge, as well as overt instruction and hands-on training, to consciously practice what is acquired – they find ways to connect what they have learned to their particular interest and/or needs. With guidance from the instructor or more capable others (e.g., assistants, other peers in the classroom), students can apply their knowledge of what was acquired in Level 1, so as to become more comfortable and make the skill intuitive. In Level 3, a critical awareness, understanding of knowledge, and growing mastery of skills are applied to their practice, taking into consideration various contextual factors mentioned in the TFLR. At this stage, “theory becomes reflective practice” (p. 87), in which students are creating and developing materials for real purposes. Through this process, students determine the various resources they have in their community (e.g., school, library, home, and community center) that can contribute towards materials development and Indigenous language revitalization. Depending on the resources, students transfer meaning from one context (e.g., university) to another (e.g., their community) and can decide what digital technology can be used to best support their resource development and language learning and teaching efforts.
Fig. 2

Multimedia technology training & praxis model

Course Outcomes

Universities are entitled and privileged spaces that are afforded a wealth of resources (e.g., computers, language labs, new high-end technology, IT staff and support, language education specialists) and often house archived language materials from Indigenous communities in various mediums (e.g., wax cylinders, reel-to-reel, field notes, and records documented by linguists and anthropologists). To build on earlier research (Galla 2010) and iterations of the course, it was important to use, (re)introduce, software and digital technology that is commonly found in most homes, offices, workplaces, schools, libraries, and community centers.

The tools chosen for this course are based on three levels of technology initiatives: low-, mid-, and high-technology (Galla 2009). These initiatives scaffold students’ learning with digital technology as well as interaction with language. Low-technology or unisensory initiatives “emphasize one sensory mode, allowing the learner to receive the Indigenous language through sight or hearing. More specifically, the user visually sees the language either in printed material (e.g., books) or on a screen (e.g., subtitles), or audibly via a speaker or sound system” (p. 173). Mid-technology or bisensory initiatives allow “the learner to receive the Indigenous language through sight and hearing and/or require the use of a keyboard and mouse (point and click), and access to the Internet” (p. 174). High-technology or multisensory initiatives include “asynchronous communication, synchronous communication, or multimodal interactivity between the user and the technology. In this category, input and output of the Indigenous language are key factors” (p. 175).

The project-based outcome is also scaffolded so that students build on earlier initiatives. Depending on the audience, the materials that are developed for the course will vary tremendously from the medium, context, lesson, and language. For example, using the publishing layout format in MS Word (on a Mac) or MS Publisher (on a PC), students create original text for their low-technology initiative (LTI) to include in a printed material (i.e., storybook, manual, workbook). Images, photos, graphics, and tables can be included to support the language. To continue with this example, the next level – mid-technology (MTI) – uses the LTI as base to then record audio that accompanies the text (i.e., audiobook, ebook, digital story). Students can use Audacity – a free audio editing software – to record audio that is exported to a CD, or record audio in PowerPoint to support the language text in a multimodal environment. To produce a high-technology initiative (HTI) emanating from the aforementioned examples, students are tasked with creating a multimodal lesson that provides an interactive experience incorporating text, images, audio, hyperlinks, and so forth, which allows the learners to evaluate their learning at their own pace. Listed in Table 2 are additional examples of low-, mid-, and technology initiatives.
Table 2

Representative media and products of low-, mid-, and high-technology initiatives



Examples of Products


Desktop publishing/ printing press

Books, fliers, newspapers, newsletters, calendars, posters, banners, advertisements


News, headlines, language lessons, songs, commercials, public service announcements

Audio recordings, digital storybooks, lessons

Wax cylinders, 8-track tape, LPs, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs, audio podcasts, mp3, digital audio files, presentation software, e-books


Tape reels, Betamax, VHS, DVDs, video podcasts, digital movie files (mp4, mov)


News, headlines, language classes, cultural events, commercials, public service announcements


Audio media accompanied by texts

Audio recordings in the Indigenous language (IL) accompanied by a transcript in the IL, audio/digital storybooks in the IL accompanied by the story in the IL, video/movie in the IL with subtitles in the IL, television programs in the IL with subtitles in the IL

Web-based media

Wikis, electronic libraries, search engines, on-line dictionaries (with or without audio), web sites, social media platforms


Asynchronous communication

Blogs, discussion boards, e-mail, course management systems

Synchronous communication

Telephone, chat, webcam, audio/video conference, VoIP

Interactive multimedia

Digital/computer/video games, electronic bulletin board system, language learning software, virtual reality

The funds of knowledge that students bring into this course, as well as their linguistic and cultural diversity, shape how they each develop original material and for whom the materials are intended (e.g., early learners, adult learners, family members, language teachers). Students are also asked to consider the types of technology they use in the course, since university settings oftentimes offer more resources than their community, schools, and organizations they are working with. At the end of the course (approximately 40 contact hours), students develop three materials that they can use independently or collectively, while (re)learning new features of existing technology and building and developing ICT skills.

Course Findings

The course title “Materials Development for Indigenous Language Learning and Teaching” attracts both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students who are speakers and/or learners of an Indigenous language. Students that enroll in the course who are not familiar with Indigenous languages are generally interested in learning how to apply principles of materials development to their language teaching and practice (e.g., ELL, EAL, heritage languages), as well as learning about Indigeneity. On the first day of class, it is always revealing to hear about the language diversity of each of the students. Due to the heterogeneity of the students, a multitude of languages and professions are represented in any given course. Since the course requires students to apply what they are learning and the materials they are developing to their learning and teaching environments, there is great motivation to create high-quality language resources that can be used in their practice.

In addition to theory, practice, and hands-on-training, some class time is made available for students to work on their projects, as well as to seek help from the instructor and/or peers. Students spend a significant amount of time outside of class meetings to storyboard, gather resources, test out software, consult with speakers, write text, and record audio. Knowing that not all students in the class speak, learn, and/or have obtained permission to develop materials for an Indigenous community, students are encouraged to create language resources in their heritage language.

Due to the nature of the course and its intensive schedule, students continue to revise their materials when the course has been completed, seeking additional language resources (e.g., archived documents, curriculum material) and consultation from proficient speakers and language authorities (e.g., grammar, nuances), graphic designers (e.g., culturally relevant and appropriate images), and community (e.g., authentic representation of Indigenous knowledge). This is a critical component of materials development, especially when working with and for Indigenous communities who are continuously finding ways to bring their languages back to fruition. For materials that embed Indigenous knowledge into language resources, it is recommended that a protocol be established (if not currently in place) to provide a framework that guides the process. For example, students may work with language speakers in their family; however, if materials will be provided to the larger community, there may be a Language Authority and/or Language Council that would need to review and authenticate the materials before the resources are made available (e.g., community, schools, public) and published in print and digital form. Materials that contain Indigenous knowledge must be treated with ultimate respect and care since recent colonial history, from an outsider perspective, still often misrepresents Indigenous peoples in images, books, film, and media.

For some students, the technology initiatives have reconnected them with their linguistic and cultural heritage, sparking opportunities to inquire with family members about ancestry, language, history, identity, travels, and photographs. A bond develops, as many students have not had the opportunity to learn their Indigenous language or heritage language through intergenerational language transmission. Colonial languages have had detrimental effects on students’ well-being and ancestral knowledge, severing the direct connection between children, parents, grandparents, and the many generations that have come before. Parents are thrilled with the opportunity to teach their adult children their Indigenous or heritage language, thus creating a language bond that brings generations closer together. For others, new relationships with language speakers and learners are established.

The project-based outcome compelled many students to inquire about their unique cultural heritage, which made them cognizant of language ability. Students were exposed to language diversity and came to appreciate their own linguistic heritage and experiences. For some, this prompted discussions with family members to learn about their genealogical and linguistic history, while other conversations focused on writing, pronunciation, and so forth. This resulted in retracing their family’s journey, having open dialogue about language attitudes (i.e., reasons for choosing to speak the “dominant” language instead of their heritage or Indigenous language), reminiscing about past and current events, and revisiting family photos. These experiences, some of which were painful, helped to shape and form some of the students’ very personal projects.

Theoretical discussions were complemented with practical hands-on technology training, which provided speakers, learners, and educators with opportunities to create and develop materials for language education. In addition to learning the foundational theories and concepts of Indigeneity, multimodality, multiliteracies, new literacies, and the adapted technacy framework, their learning went far beyond the course goals and requirements. Embedded in the classroom environment were notions of funds of knowledge (Gonzalez et al. 2005), democratic merit (Brayboy 2014), community of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991), and identity (Esteban-Guitart and Moll 2014a, b).

In a short period of time, each student successfully created several language materials, which included a printed resource (LTI), audio recording to accompany the printed resource (MTI), and a multimedia interactive language lesson (HTI). Additionally, students demonstrated how their materials would be implemented in a language learning and teaching environment. Though each student varied in their language ability, digital technology skills, and academic background, their enthusiasm and success came from the need to create language-learning environments for their family, community, students, and themselves. This space acknowledged Indigenous “‘funds of knowledge’ (Moll et al. 1992) as valid and relevant pedagogy and scholarship” (Galla et al. 2014, p. 203), allowing students to draw from their linguistic and culture knowledge and ways to bridge academia and community.

Course Implications

The course objectives have guided the project-based outcomes, drawing critical attention to implementation, schedule, and training opportunities. Theory, practice, and daily readings are discussed to reflect students’ careers, professions, and personal interests. For some students (particularly non-Indigenous students), this is the first course that draws from an Indigenous perspective. Though the content of the course is based on language learning and materials development, the discussions in essence reveal many forms of colonization that have been imposed on Indigenous peoples, and knowledge systems that have not been widely acknowledged or accepted by academe. This requires foundational grounding in Indigeneity from the start of class and having open dialogue about the various terminologies that is used in practice – some forms of which may be more appropriate than others depending on situational context (e.g., Indigenous, Aboriginal, First Nations, Inuit, Metis, Native American, and American Indian).

Offering the course in condensed timeframe (2.5 hours per day for 3 weeks – usually a summer session) provides students with an “immersive” experience in a sense, because we are meeting on a daily basis and (re)learning skills, which are then applied to their material resources – to be used in their practice. There is no downtime but rather an accelerated momentum that requires students to create original text and then add different elements to develop their low-, mid-, and high-technology initiatives – their project-based outcome. The products that they finally create can be used independently or collaboratively. To combat the potential anxiety of what is expected in the class, examples from the instructor as well as former students’ work are shared to formulate some ideas.

Since time is limited, it is beneficial for the instructor to conduct a short questionnaire beforehand to determine the language background, technology skills, and particular interest in the course for each of the students to determine what their overall needs may be. In an effort to connect with the students prior to the beginning of the course, this will help them to identify, gather, and/or contact relevant resources (e.g., language materials, speakers) that may be necessary for their materials development for language learning and teaching. Collaboration is also key as students find that they do not possess all the tools necessary to successfully develop materials. Consultation is required with their peers and other language speakers so that they can receive feedback on their initiatives. Class time is primarily allocated to the daily theme inclusive of required readings, local and global examples of materials, hands-on training, and some lab time, in addition to a few guest speakers. It is imperative that students be provided in-class time to “test” out software and have multiple opportunities to ask questions specific to their project.

Finally, in an effort to see how their technology initiatives will be used in a language-learning environment, a microteaching immersive language lesson is presented at the end of the class. This provides students a chance to showcase their newly developed materials, but more importantly it gives students an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness, usability, appropriateness, and relevancy of their technology initiatives in practice with a group of motivated adult learners – their peers in the course. Creating these technology initiatives encourages self-reflection and self-assessment (Hartle-Schutte and Nae‘ole-Wong 1998) as materials are developed for under-resourced languages. For Indigenous communities, the process is “as much about personal integrity as [it is] about collective responsibility and as much about research as [it is] about education and other forms of engagement” (Smith 2012, p. 125). Materials that are developed and created are “cultural artifacts with epistemological orientations” (Harde 2016, p. 7) that help readers, learners, and users mediate Indigenous knowledges.


Indigenous peoples have the right to “revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations” their own Indigenous languages (Article 13.1), “establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages” (Article 14.1), “establish their own media in their own languages and to access to all forms of non-Indigenous media” (Article 16.1), and “practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs” which includes “the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as … technologies and … and literature” (Article 11.21) (UN 2008). With the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, language policies, funding opportunities, and activism Indigenous communities have moved forward on language programming and schooling initiatives in an effort to restore the language in homes, schools, community, and beyond. Language resources are at the crux of this revitalization movement to support language speakers, learners, and teachers towards proficiency and fluency. By engaging in materials development, language educators can help themselves “to understand and apply theories for language learning” and “to achieve personal and professional development” (Tomlinson 2001, p. 67).

Digital technology has presented opportunities for communities to develop language materials and resources in-house, which has the potential for newly created materials to be disseminated and distributed locally, nationally, and/or globally; to expand the environment in which the language is used; to provide relevance, significance, and purpose; and to document, archive, and revitalize Indigenous languages (Galla 2009). Though this course is offered at a university, the ideal situation would be to teach these courses in community at a local facility (e.g., computer lab, school, language center) using their existing technologies to determine what is possible with their current resources based on their language goals.

The ability to generate culturally sustaining, relevant, place-based, and authentic materials in-house allows for complete control, ownership, and rights of the creation, development, production, publication, and distribution of resources. With appropriate software, communities are no longer dependent on large-scale publishing companies to print, to distribute language materials, and to oversee what type of content, text, and images would “sell” or appeal to a general audience. Materials development costs for printed books typically would be relatively inexpensive and would cover a laser printer (capable of duplex printing in color), toner, paper, cardstock, extended stapler, and staples. In addition to printed resources, an equally suitable format is a digital file that can be selectively available to community members, language speakers, language learners, and/or made publicly available to the general public for download or viewing. This energy efficient format eliminates paper altogether, which may allow for greater distribution for language materials to reach those who are living away from the traditional homelands where the Indigenous language is spoken. The digital file may also be saved as a pdf file, as well as in a booklet (and duplex) format so that these resources, in particular a folded book sized 8.5 inches by 5.5 inches, can be printed in homes, schools, work, community centers, and libraries as needed.

As Indigenous peoples around the world are finding ways to revitalize their languages, digital technologies can be recognized as an ally that supports language learning and teaching efforts, initiatives, programming, and education. Developing and learning new skills to assist with language revitalization builds capacity within Indigenous communities to grow the number of in-house material and curriculum developers, as well as language speakers. Digital technology for materials development and digital technology as resources requires appropriate planning to ensure that technology-based initiatives enhance language learning (Jones 2008) “in a manner that is appropriate to their cultural and linguistic realities” (Villa 2002, p. 92). Materials and resources – linguistic and cultural – published in Indigenous languages allow the languages to “co-exist with other, more dominant, languages. It helps the languages feel more “normal”, more a part of daily life” (as cited in Galla 2016, p. 9) – a goal that endangered language communities are striving for.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Section editors and affiliations

  • Margie Hohepa
    • 1
  • Carl Mika
    • 2
  1. 1.University of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand
  2. 2.University of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand

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