Keola's portrait superimposed over a snow-covered Mauna Kea, with the name 'Keola Donaghy' in gold lettering

(This paper was initially presented at the DigitalStream 2003 Conference held at California State University at Monterey Bay, and is published in the conference proceedings) It is available in English only at this time.

Ke A‘o Ho‘okeleka‘a‘ike: Hawaiian Language Instruction On The Internet
By Dr. Kalena Silva and Keola Donaghy
Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language
University of Hawai‘i at Hilo


An estimated 200,000 people of Hawaiian ancestry currently live outside of the state of Hawai‘i with little access to their native language and culture. In Fall 2002, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo's Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language offered the first online Hawaiian Language course to 14 students from seven states. Both the course designer and its instructor share the lessons learned during the development and delivery of this pilot course that will be of interest to others teaching minority languages.

Technology in Hawai‘i

Since the arrival of Western man, the people of Hawai‘i have quickly adapted new technologies and found ways to make them distinctly Hawaiian. The arrival of the first printing press in Hawai‘i led to rapid transfer of Hawai‘i's rich oral tradition to paper. Within a few decades of the first translation into Hawaiian of the Holy Bible, Hawai‘i boasted one of the most literate citizenries in the world. Hundreds of ancient stories and chants appeared side-by-side with news items from Hawai‘i and around the world, as well as Hawaiian translations of classic English literature and popular novels of the time. Obituaries announced the passing of both nobility and commoners in print using the same traditions that had previously been expressed orally. Kamehameha III once proclaimed, He aupuni palapala ko‘u, ‘o ke kanaka pono ‘o ia ko‘u kanaka - "Mine is a literate nation, the just man is my man." The efforts to adapt the most significant communication technology of that era, the printing press, bore fruit that we continue to harvest today - approximately 250,000 pages of material that represent what may be the richest literary archive of any indigenous language in the world. These efforts also would have a significant impact on and provide inspiration to the individuals and organizations that would lead the effort to revitalize the Hawaiian language in the final two decades of the 20th century.

A Brief History of Hawaiian Language Technology

In the early 1990s, the staff of the Hale Kuamo‘o Hawaiian Language Center and Hawaiian Studies Department (reorganized in 1998 as Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language) at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo recognized the need to standardize technological support for the orthographical requirements of the Hawaiian language to display the language properly on computer monitors and in print. A number of incompatible font systems already existed, and after several months of experimentation and consultation with Hawaiian language teachers, the "HI" font standard was established by the Hale Kuamo‘o. Fonts and keyboards for both Macintosh and PCs were created using this system and made freely available to anyone involved in Hawaiian language programs. This standardization allowed for the localization of programs into the Hawaiian language, including ClarisWorks, KidPix, and the FirstClass Client, which led to the establishment of Leokī, the first computer Bulletin Board System (BBS) completely implemented in a native American or Polynesian language in 1994. Leokī currently serves over 800 Hawaiian language speakers and students from Hawai‘i to Switzerland.

The desktop of Leokī 5.8.

Completely bilingual since its inception in 1995, the Kualono website ( became the focal point of Hawaiian language on the World-Wide Web, offering computer resources, news, stories, searchable databases, and contact information for Hawaiian language schools and offices. Kualono has been the testbed for many innovations in Hawaiian language technology, from downloadable web fonts, Unicode support for Hawaiian, Flash-based language learning games and more.

Kualono Homepage

In 1998, Hale Kuamo‘o staff translated Netscape Communicator for Macintosh into Hawaiian under the Universal Localization Program (ULP) established by Netscape Communications. It was only the second complete translation of Communicator other than those officially created and supported by Netscape at that time. In 2002, Hale Kuamo‘o staff collaborated with programmers at Apple Computer, Inc. to add Hawaiian language support to Apple's OS X 10.2 release, code-named "Jaguar." Included in this support was the addition of the Hawaiian ‘okina (glottal stop) to the fonts supplied with OS X, as well as the addition of a Hawaiian keyboard layout to the list of supported languages in Mac OS X's "International" control panel. The combination of the kahakō (macron) and vowel characters used in Hawaiian were already included in the fonts that were shipped with Mac OS X, so their addition was unnecessary. This development marked the first time that a computer vendor had included official support for the Hawaiian language in a computer operating system. And as this support used Unicode, it will allow Hawaiian language speakers to migrate from the customized font system developed nearly ten years ago to one designed to support most of the world's written languages.

Hawaiian Language Instruction Via The Internet

In the Fall of 2000, the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo was awarded a Title III grant by the U.S. Department of Education which targeted schools with a high percentage of Native Hawaiian students. One of the goals of the grant was to assist Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language in making the necessary modifications to several of its Hawaiian language and culture courses so that they could be offered asynchronously via the Internet.

In May 2001, staff was in place and work began to develop an online version of Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani's HAW 101, Elementary Hawaiian Language. The primary source of curriculum for this class was the textbook Nā Kai ‘Ewalu, written by Professors William H. "Pila" Wilson and Kauanoe Kamanā of Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani, and used in many first year Hawaiian language classes throughout the state. Wilson expanded discussion concerning important Hawaiian cultural concepts specifically related to the language taught in the text for use in the online class. The discussion of cultural concepts was an important addition to Nā Kai ‘Ewalu and will be included in future printed editions. Professor Kalena Silva, Director of Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani, edited the final online text.

As Nā Kai ‘Ewalu does not include spelling and pronunciation exercises, lessons and exercises from the book "The Hawaiian Language: Its Spelling and Pronunciation" by Professors Silva and Kamanā were adopted for use in the online class.

The class was to be offered as a four semester-credit class through the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo's College of Continuing Education and Community Service, and offered at the CCECS summer rate of $134 per credit to all students, regardless of their state or country of residence. Normal Hawai‘i resident tuition is $97 per credit, and non-resident tuition, $329 per credit.

The Goal - Two Way Interactive Audio

The Fall semester of 2002 was targeted for introduction of the online HAW 101 class, and the most pressing issue for the developers of the online class was to identify the technologies available to facilitate the instruction of Hawaiian via the Internet. Our desire was not only to enable students to listen to prerecorded samples of Hawaiian, but to enable them to record their voices in assignment submissions and to interact orally with each other and the instructor. Staff research in this area included visits to the National Foreign Language Resource Center at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and to the DigitialStream conference held at California State University-Monterey Bay in March of 2002. We were unable to locate any courses like the one which we were attempting to develop, that is, a completely asynchronous course teaching an indigenous language in an instructor-mediated format, and involve two-way interactive audio between students and instructor.

WebCT ( was selected to be the means of delivering HAW 101 via the World-Wide Web, as it has been licensed by the University of Hawai‘i system and is the courseware used by the majority of the system's distance learning programs. Among its many features, WebCT includes functionality and strong course management tools that allow the designer to create self-grading tests and quizzes.

WIMBA ( was also quickly identified as a promising technology that could be of considerable value to language learning online. It was thoroughly tested by project staff over the course of several months and, proving to be stable and usable, a license was purchased for the online class. WIMBA uses Java applets to enable users to hear prerecorded audio, record their own pronunciations and compare them to prerecorded samples, and submit assignments as voice attachments to email.

Final Preparations and Change Of Direction

By July of 2002, all technology and curriculum components were in place, and the pilot fall semester course was scheduled to begin in August, 2002. Professor Kalena Silva was selected to instruct the class, with technical support from course designer Keola Donaghy. Dr. Margaret Haig, CCECS Dean, provided assistance by contacting several members of Hawaiian expatriot communities on the mainland United States announcing the offering of the HAW 101 class. Announcements were also posted on Kualono and other websites. The project targeted the large number of Native Hawaiians living outside of Hawai‘i, and not in-state students, though a few Hawai‘i residents did apply and were accepted as students. These in-state students had been encouraged to seek and attend language classes already offered in their communities, mainly through evening university, community college or continuing education language classes. However, work and family circumstances made online instruction their only viable alternative.

The response to the course announcements was instantaneous and somewhat overwhelming - over 100 prospective students contacted CCECS to request registration information. By the mid-August deadline, 14 students from seven states had registered for the class. Student enrollment in this pilot course was intentionally restricted to allow the instructor and designer to carefully observe and evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum in the online environment.

During the week before instruction was scheduled to begin, students were given links to a number of web tutorials and diagnostic modules that assisted them in downloading, installing, and testing the software necessary for them to complete their assignments. This included the downloading and installation of the Hawaiian fonts and keyboards made available without charge to students, as well as other platform-specific software (Macintosh Runtime for Java, for example). It was at this point that we discovered compatibility problems with the WIMBA Java applets on certain Windows XP and Windows 2000 systems, as well as on Macintosh OS X. Several days and numerous exchanges with WIMBA's technical support staff failed to resolve these problems. An upgrade to the WIMBA software was available that resolved the problems with Windows XP and 2000; however, this update rendered WIMBA unusable on any Macintosh computer. A quick survey of our registered students showed that seven of the 14 students would be unable to use the WIMBA software without the upgrade, and that the other seven students would be unable to use WIMBA if the software was upgraded.

Four days prior to the start of class the decision was made to move the class to Leokī (the Hawaiian language Bulletin Board/Intranet System). Students were given instructions for downloading and installing the FirstClass Client software, issued accounts, and all course curriculum was placed on Leokī. The logistics of this move were not insignificant as all text and audio curriculum content had already been posted on the class WebCT site; however, Leokī proved to be a much richer and friendlier medium for the students and the instructor, who had used Leokī since its inception in 1994, and no previous experience using WebCT. Students were given until noon on the first Monday of instruction to login to Leokī, Leokī an email using the Hawaiian alphabet (including the glottal stop and macron), and attach a voice recording to their email. All 14 students successfully accomplished this feat prior to the deadline, and the pilot HAW 101 on the Internet began.

Online Class Environment and Curriculum

The FirstClass Client provides a user interface that is not unlike the Macintosh and Windows operating system, using folder and document icons and a desktop that is similar in appearance to that of a hard drive connected to the user's computer. On the desktop of each student's account was placed the class folder, and within this folder, separate folders for each chapter. A general discussion area appears below the class, where important announcements are made, and general questions regarding the class are discussed.

First-year Hawaiian Class Conference

Although the FirstClass Client had been translated into Hawaiian, students in this inaugural class were allowed to install and use the English version of the FirstClass Client. One reason for this decision was that the Hawaiian version of the FirstClass Client was incompatible with Windows 2000 and XP, and not yet available for Macintosh OS X. Another reason stemmed from the concern that the Hawaiian language client software, where all menus and dialogs appear in Hawaiian, would be an impediment to the progress of the students, who would need to spend considerable time navigating the system to accomplish even the most basic tasks. The only comprehensive users guide of Leokī is available in Hawaiian, though development of an English guide for the Hawaiian client is being considered specifically for use in this class.

One of the features of the FirstClass Client that had been infrequently used on Leokī prior to the online class is the recording and playback of audio files as attachments to email and conference messages. This feature proved to be extremely valuable for conducting the HAW 101 class. Within each chapter folder, 20-50 individual assignments were posted. These included vocabulary lists, grammatical examples as well as homework assignments. When required, students created a reply to the assignment, and their reply appeared below the original assignment posting which appeared in bold.

Chapter 6 Lessons, Assignments and Student Submissions

Individual assignments often included audio samples which could be played within the message itself. Each student submission was reviewed and corrected by the instructor, returned directly to the student, then copied to the chapter folder. Students were also provided with a Shockwave vocabulary game which allowed them to practice vocabulary and spelling and to hear the audio of Hawaiian words spoken as students typed. Finally, students were also provided with automatically corrected practice exercises that were developed and placed on the class WebCT site, using WebCT's quiz module. These exercises allowed students to practice grammatical structures focusing on everyday life situations and receive immediate feedback. Each exercise attempt provided five questions drawn from a larger database of questions, allowing students to retake the exercise with different questions as many times as he or she wished.

Sample lesson in text and audio

Shockwave vocabulary practice module

Sample question from WebCT practice module


At the conclusion of every two chapters, students were given a quiz to gauge their progress in reading, writing, listening and spelling. A sample outline of the quizzes is given below.

  1. Five audio samples of spoken Hawaiian are to be transcribed and then translated into English.
  2. A picture forms the basis for a descriptive paragraph, 8-10 sentences in length.
  3. A dialog in English between two individuals is to be translated into Hawaiian, then recorded for evaluation by the instructor.
  4. Five Hawaiian sentences that contain spelling, grammatical or contextual errors are to be corrected.

Quizzes are posted on Thursdays, and students are given until noon of the following Monday to return them. Midterm and final examinations are similar in format to the quizzes but are comprehensive and include all vocabulary, grammatical structures and cultural concepts learned. Midterm and finals are also timed: once a student has opened the exam, he or she is given a set amount of time to complete and return the exam, usually 2 1/2 or 3 hours.

Progress Through The Semester and Attrition

The majority of the students progressed well through the curriculum, and nine of the original 14 students completed the midterm exam which was posted on October 24, 2002. Between the midterm and final exams, an additional three indicated that they would be unable to complete the class. Most cited personal reasons for withdrawing (unexpected pregnancy, death in the family, loss of employment), though several admitted to having been "overwhelmed" by the amount of work required to keep pace with the class.

Students experienced no significant difficulties with the technology used in the class once the first week had passed. No less than 5 different computer operating systems (Windows 98, 2000, XP, Macintosh OS 9 and Macintosh OS X) were used by the students; however, none experienced any technical difficulty in typing Hawaiian, playing or recording audio as required by the class. No student who failed to complete the class reported difficulty with technology as being a reason for withdrawing from the class.

On December 12, 2002, the final examination for the class was posted, and the final 6 students passed both the exam and the class, and were informed that they would be able to continue to HAW 102 in the spring. Of these 6, 4 chose to continue.

Lessons Learned

The online HAW 101 content, scope and period of instruction matched that of its on-campus equivalent; however, the learning media of the two courses differ significantly. Online students needed sufficient computer capability and skills to navigate their way through the several technological requirements of the course. That said, we note that use of our Hawaiian language Bulletin Board System, Leokī, made course delivery -- and student use -- much easier than had it been delivered exclusively through WebCT.

The correcting of student assignments - done collectively and, thus, more quickly on-campus - was done individually in the online course and required many hours that became difficult to maintain because of the instructor's other teaching and administrative responsibilities.

The requirement that on-campus students physically gather together at a designated place for instruction at regularly scheduled times provides a kind of support for student progress that was not also a part of the online students' learning. While on-campus Hawaiian language courses require a good deal of student commitment and self-motivation, the online course required at least as much and probably more of these essential qualities for language learning success. We found that, as important as it was to use various technological means to provide a variety of learning approaches through reading, writing, listening and speaking, it was equally important to humanize the decidedly impersonal circumstances of online learning by making it a point to praise good work, to offer words of encouragement through difficult periods, and to insert humor whenever possible.

The online and on-campus courses each attract a different type of student. Unlike the generally young on-campus students who take Hawaiian language courses to earn the B.A. in Hawaiian Studies or to fulfill general education requirements, most online students were older, employed full time and enrolled because of personal interest in the language. Clearly, the time exigencies for course completion by on-campus students did not also apply to these online students. As a result, we are now considering providing an option to online language students -- i.e., completing the course during the usual four-month UH Hilo semester or during an extended period of two semesters. As we have received inquiries about offering online Hawaiian language courses to students at other universities, and as the number of text chapters can be easily made to conform to time periods of varying length, we also anticipate providing online courses at universities on the quarter system. In this case, the 18 chapters of first-year UH Hilo Hawaiian language study would be completed in a year of three quarters instead of two semesters.

HAW 101 is being offered online this spring semester 2003 out of sequence because of the great interest expressed by people mainly on the mainland U.S. but also from as far away as Lausanne, Switzerland. HAW 102 is also being offered using the same organizational and technological template established last semester for HAW 101. It remains to be seen how many higher levels can be taught successfully beyond the first year level.

The Title III grant that presently supports UH Hilo's online Hawaiian language courses has allowed us to plan for an online Certificate in Hawaiian Culture offering both Hawaiian language and culture courses over a two-year period. The period of study would ideally culminate in online students visiting our campus for one or two weeks to augment their online study through immersion in language use and cultural activities.


The process of planning, designing and teaching the HAW 101 class online has clearly demonstrated the feasibility of teaching minority languages via the Internet. This new language teaching medium offers Hawaiians living abroad a unique opportunity to learn their ancestral language, and participate in its revitalization in ways that were previously unthinkable. While the importance of the technology and curriculum cannot be understated, the success of this pilot class can be attributed to the strong desire of its students to learn, and the eagerness of the faculty and staff of Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke‘elikōlani College of Hawaiian Language to reach out and share the wealth of knowledge only available to us ma ka ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i - in the Hawaiian language.