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Taking it for granted that the humanities have to jump into the digital band-wagon and that humanities specialists have to put more vigor and determination into it than sheer dilletantism or bel-esprit, it has become urgent to see what are the requirements for this drastic shifting or metamorphosis.
To start with an analysis of the current situation in European universities would be needed. However a general or detailed picture of that size can hardly be envisaged.
Fortunately, there is data available concerning the digitization of humanities in some specific fields, and this is the case with languages, and non-European languages in particular. As a matter of fact, the CRIM (Centre de Recherche en Ingénierie Multilingue) at INALCO (Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales) in Paris has had the opportunity to extract relevant information on those issues through an inquiry on some aspects of the teaching of African languages in Europe and various projects about Japanese, of which a vast inquiry about the teaching of Japanese in Europe.
The present findings are being disseminated via the ACO*HUM thematic network on Advanced Computing in the Humanities through its working group on Non-European Languages.
The CAMEEL group is dedicated to computer applications for a wide range of languages including non-European languages studied in Europe. This is certainly representative of the directions languages specialists are taking with respect to the digital paradigm shift. This European project aiming at the creation of a European Masterís Degree in Multilingual Engineering (restricted to African languages in its first phase) involves 15 EU universities.
The inquiry was required by the CAMEEL Steering Committee so as to get a precise description of the potential of this European partnership and define the future structure of the Masterís curriculum which has to be based on the cooperation of all the universities involved, since competencies, technological facilities, resource centres appeared to be disseminated all over Europe. A questionnaire was sent to all the partners, aimed at teachers and researchers, plus a specific one to Heads of Department.
44 Heads of Department, teachers, researchers answered the questionnaires, out of a potential of 170. As a general rule those who did not fill in the questionnaire, 68% of the target group, seemed to feel either that they did not have anything to do with it, or that they did not know enough about computers and information technologies to give relevant answers.
Of the 44 responses received, the following answers were given to the question about their computer literacy or expertise:
23 persons (52%) mentioned their needs to acquire new software programmes. 2 declared they would like to be informed about the software they could use in relation to African languages. The rest of them (19 persons) had enough software to carry out their work, or were creating their own tools or adapting some to their needs.
As far as the use of programming languages is concerned we obtained the following results:
The total number of programming languages in use is of course superior to the number of "programmers", some of them being able to work in 4 to 5 languages.
Computational resources are unevenly distributed. Only one African Department (out of the 10 who answered the corresponding question) has its own computer unit and specialized staff. 3 African Departments depend on the Faculty or School for those facilities. 6 have to call on the University resources to meet their needs.
The divide between Macintosh and PC computers has evolved towards a predominance of PCs (with only four partners still equipped with Macintoshes but progressively turning to PCs). MSWindows is of course the winner in the DOS field, Unix/Linux environments are used by 3 of the CAMEEL partners only.
E-mail and Internet access are not widely spread in African departments, where it would appear that it is mainly Heads of those departments who have an e-mail address. This could be and acute drawback which will have to be overcome quickly for the good running of the CAMEEL European Masterís, especially when part of the teaching will be based on ODL modules. It is not only the teachers who will need those means of communication, but the students as well!
From this quick analysis of the digitization of Africanistics within the CAMEEL project, where the will to go forward has been strongly expressed, it can be concluded that about 10% of their staff are well prepared and well trained (target group: 170; experts: 16), their expertise being largely based on computer linguistics.
This means that a fair number of the staff belonging to the universities involved in the project still have to acquire some knowledge in computing, skills in the use of information technologies, and to a certain extent a better vision of what is at stake for their disciplines.
The Steering Committee of CAMEEL is counting on the momentum of the project to stimulate a majority of the not so much computer minded teachers, lead them to share the expertise of their colleagues, and absorb the skills which they will not be able to do without in the future.
The inquiry about the teaching of Japanese in Europe was different from the CAMEEL one. It was of a more general nature, and basically closer to a mapping exercise. Nevertheless it was an opportunity to send questionnaires to heads of Japanese departments, their teachers and their students.
A few items in those questionnaires dealt with information technologies and their use in Japanese departments. But before presenting some of the results depicting the development of digitization in those departments, it can be interesting to have a look at the general landscape, so as to put things into perspective.
Naturally since for the target public the inquiry had no specific interest, and they were not directly involved in it through a common project, the total number of their answers was less than 15% (45 out of the 300 institutions contacted accepted to fill in the questionnaires).
As a general rule it appeared that Heads of Japanese Departments might not be that keen on dealing with extra paper work which can look a bit like administrative torture to them, especially when precision is required.
It is quite natural of course. And their reaction is all the more understandable since, for the vast majority of them, their Japanistics interests lie in literature, philosophy, history, arts or religion.
As for the teachers the situation is partially similar. Their favorite subjects are those of the classical humanities. Economics, sociology, linguistics are the more modern subjects but are represented by a small minority. The teaching of the Japanese language, particularly to undergraduates, seems to be insufficiently fulfilling for most of them. Besides this teaching of the language is generally the task of teachers coming from Japan (trained or not), most of the time on temporary contracts.
They very often see the learning of Japanese as a challenge, and their personal reasons for studying Japanese, at least when they start this subject, range from their interests in martial arts or Japanese culture, to the hope of getting more job opportunities later if they can speak this language.
Broadly speaking, and to finish with this general landscape, it can be felt that academic Japanistics has a tendency to follow the development of modern Japan a bit slowly. Besides it can be observed that Japanese teachers associations and the various conferences they organize centre their efforts on traditional humanities.
Concerning the computer facilities Japanese departments can make use of, only 25% of the heads of departments found the questions related to this subject worth answering or answerable. The numbers of machines they report range from quite a lot (a hundred) to very few (three, four or five), the average lies within the 10-30 bracket. Comparing the number of students in the Japanese departments with the number of computers available to them is a difficult task, since not all heads seemed to be ready to publicize the number of students studying Japanese in their departments.
In any case Japanese teachers do not claim they use computers with their students, and apart from that they generally do not know about Japanese CD-roms. This is confirmed by the fact that most Japanese departments have none.
However 50% of the teachers have an e-mail address.
Despite the fact that more and more households have their own computer and that universities or departments have a few, only 5% of the students use Japanese CALL programmmes (but according to some Japanese people specialized in multimedia resources for the teaching of the Japanese language to English speaking students, only 10 CD-roms in that field are adequate).
16.5% of the students said they had used the Internet privately. In fact more than double that percentage (i.e. 36%) had used it; as a matter of fact 20% of the students had used it either at university or in cybercafés.
Although the data concerning Japanistics was collected with a different aim from the one of the CAMEEL inquiry, there clearly emerges that Africanistics is far ahead of Japanistics as regards digitalization. The Africanistics community being of a smaller size will be able to progress quickly, all the more so since it is having a leading role in the creation of the European Masters in Multilingual Engineering (EMME).
The Japanistics community still has to wake up. When will the EMME see the birth of a "Japanese option"?
This could mean that some sectors of the humanities are ready to leap forward into the 21st century (especially if they receive reasonable amounts of encouragements) and that others have forgotten to look ahead and could remain behind for quite some time if no drastic measures were taken.