According to a recent survey data from the College Board, students spent more than $1,200 on books and supplies during the 2019-2020 academic year (Trends in College Pricing and Student Aid 2020). The average cost of elementary Italian textbooks is $80 per semester, given the need for an online platform to practice grammar, reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills. During the pandemic, the price of Italian-language textbooks has surged, and this has increased the financial burden especially for BIPOC students, first year generation college students, and low-income students. Additionally, the vocabulary, language, and images numerous American and Italian elementary textbooks use today reinforce existing biases and stereotypes by presenting a conservative picture of Italian society, especially with regards to issues such as family, professions, gender, and race.
In response to this need, with the generous support of both Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College, in Spring 2021 we started working on an Italian-language open educational resource textbook with Haverford Pressbooks, Voci: Corso elementare di lingua e culture italiane. This OER textbook promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion by ensuring that all students have immediate access to a no-cost learning platform and by presenting a realistic, diverse picture of Italian culture. Incorporating authentic materials such as songs, film clips, commercials, and literary excerpts, Voci provides a diverse student body with rich learning stimuli. Its open structure permits language instructors to update the material to better reflect the issues of the time, such as the changing standards of femininity and masculinity, racial discrimination in Italy, the struggle for citizenship of Afro-Italians, cultural diversity, and LGBTQIA+ rights. In so doing, students will have the opportunity to understand the transformations of 21st-century Italy and deepen their awareness of cultural variation through cross-cultural comparisons. They will get to know not only a culture of fine arts, major historical gestures, and great genius, but also testimonies from writers of color interpreting Italy, Italian women criticizing the male-centric view of society, and the ongoing debate on migration. Last, they will familiarize themselves with inclusivity issues in the Italian language given its limits in regards to non-binary genders.
The first volume of Voci: Corso elementare di lingua e culture italiane consists of 10 Units and includes a textbook, a workbook with answer keys, grammar explanations, and vocabulary lists. Designed for the first semester of Beginning Italian at Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College, Voci is a communicative, approach-based textbook that aims to foster students’ comprehension, production, and interaction in Italian by keeping in mind different ways of learning. To promote an inclusive classroom and provide an accurate portrait of contemporary Italian culture, every unit of Voci offers one or more cultural sections, “Cultura”. Given the level, these sections are gradually presented in Italian, since the main goal is not to exercise the reading and comprehension skills, instead to refine students’ intercultural competency.
IMPORTANT: while we worked very hard to create an inclusive, engaging, and stimulating textbook based on the needs of our Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore students, we are aware that Voci is not perfect. Any comment, question, or suggestion is really appreciated. Please, feel free to contact the lead author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Grazie!