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Reflection: Margo Groenewoud

Dr. Margo Groenewoud (University of Curaçao) shares how her experience helped increase her impact as an educator and develop a collaborative oral history project.


At the start of my involvement with the NEH Institute, I observed that the project could not have come at a better moment for my island and my institute, the University of Curaçao. I wrote:

“As one of the leading institutes for higher education in the Dutch Caribbean, it has been a key challenge to balance our target to educate global citizens with specific local and regional educational needs and ambitions. Small scale, limited resources and historical ties to the Netherlands make it hard to decolonize learning material and to optimize the impact of education and research for the future of our communities. With our digital library and our network, we are ready to achieve much more in this area than we had ever envisioned, but we need collaborative action and support in capacity building.”

By participating in the NEH Institute my ambition was to boost my impact as an agent, collaborator and teacher. In particular I expected to further the use of oral history and Caribbean tales, songs and rhythms in education, and to collaborate on innovative ways to involve students in the validation, enrichment and valorization of local data in open spaces.

Three experiences in particular have had a major positive impact on my development in these areas. First and foremost, the in-person session had great added value as a pressure cooker, where tools and insights were not just presented, but practiced and shared in teams of colleagues with similar backgrounds. Second, because the NEH institute made an exceptionally successful effort in bringing together this group of teachers and scholars, every second was worthwhile, and I am still in contact with many of them. Thirdly, being introduced to the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program has been, and will be, of great value to my work as scholar. I have introduced the work of the institute in my research for Traveling Caribbean Heritage, a Dutch NWO-funded  research program, and hope to work together with the institute on capacity building and history projects in the future.

In 2019-2020, as part of my learning and teaching agenda for the Institute, I have developed the “Introducing Digital Humanities in creole language teacher education on Curaçao” project in our university. This project is based on an assessment of staff of the Faculty of Humanities, in which we discussed various opportunities and challenges relative to the introduction of Digital Humanities tools in our specific setting. One of the major observations was a ‘fear of the unknown’ in the current generation of Papiamentu teachers & researchers. This challenge could be met by introducing the use of an important Oral History collection, Zikinza, and the user-friendly tools learned at the Institute, to the youngest generation of Papiamentu teachers.

Together with a young Papiamentu language teacher, Rendel Rosalia, I have set up an assignment within the ‘Listening and Speaking’ course for first year Bachelor students training to become Papiamentu teachers. We introduced various DH tools and sources that teachers can work with in the classroom, leaving choices open for them to apply and adjust to their needs. Also, we gave the students a responsibility to share project outcome, such as transcriptions of oral history data, to the university repository. Our overall project goal was to observe and analyse readiness of the students to innovate their education by offering a semi-guided approach leaving choices for selection of tools with students. Unfortunately, given the partial lockdown because of the Covid-pandemic, only a few students could finalize and present their work in a physical setting with full interaction and reflection. Nevertheless, rich material has been collected by the teacher that can be used for further analysis and planning of follow-up.  A general observation is that using the digital material seemed to be embraced primarily as something of added value for our students in the role of (future) teachers. Though this is a valid starting point, follow-up needs to be given to building awareness of added value for our language student’s pupils.

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