Reflecting on Digital English in Taiwan

Screen Shot from Peace's Video Project
Screen Shot from Peace’s Video Project

With a little bit of time in Tokyo’s Narita Airport, I figured I should try to capture some of my thinking about teaching my Digital English Learning course at Shih Chien University (USC) in Taipei, Taiwan. As expected, the three weeks have disappeared already, and we focused conversations and class activities on issues such as online privacy, creating a professional digital footprint, participatory culture, media literacy, and, of course, digital writing.

Because I was teaching a course for the Applied Foreign Languages Department, most of my students were studying English. Yet, as with all students we teach across all contexts, my students in this course came with differing levels of proficiency. As the mantra goes, “we teach the students who are in front of us,” and after a few days and some formative assessments, I was able to adjust my expectations and pacing as I learned from them and they from me.

Having never fully learned another language myself — and having little official training in teaching English as a second or other language — I adapted many of the reading and writing strategies that I have used across the years, from teaching middle school to graduate school, and our shared efforts — me teaching, them learning; me learning, them teaching — seemed to work quite well. They produced more and more writing as the weeks went on, and that led to more participation in class. In hindsight, I am sure that I could have scaffolded more interaction in class, and helped them get to know one another better, so if I had that portion of my teaching to do over again, I would focus more intently on community building in the first few days.

Still, I was able to work with them in class as well as through individual writing conferences with many students (on the weekend, no less), and I modeled the researching, thinking, and writing process for them with Google Docs, Citelighter, WriteLab, resources from the Purdue OWL. This also led to modeling and trying a variety of multimedia tools that they could use to create and share their final presentations. Last night, they shared their projects, with most creating work with Prezi and Powtoon.

Most of the projects were quite good, and a few really stood out. One student, TJ, created both a Prezi discussing the positives and negatives of using social media and, embedded within it, he also produced a short live-action film using WeVideo. Using the example of a friend who got in a fight with his girlfriend via social media, TJ demonstrates the ways that he can compose multiple forms of media and blend them together to create an effective argument.

https://prezi.com/embed/dwciewb6g42e/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=0&autoplay=0&autohide_ctrls=0&PARENT_REQUEST_ID=e84402de13f4b43a#

Another student, Emma, took the idea of “remix” that we discussed in the class, and created a mash-up of news stories about Snapchat to complement her brief oral presentation.

As mentioned, many students used PowToon, and Banet’s was one of the most powerful examples. Combining critical media literacy skills with his knowledge of social media and fashion, he effectively blended images of fashion, his own voices, and elements from PowToon to create a compelling description of what the industry is doing — and could do better — with social media.

Finally, Peace found that he could not accomplish all his goals with WeVideo, so he turned to iMovie. Combining his own drawings with screencasting and other found images, Peace creates a thoughtful argument about the ways in which students can, and should, take responsibility for their use of technology in learning.

There are more projects than what I can reasonably feature here in a blog post, yet these four represent a great deal of thinking, writing, and learning that has happened in our brief three weeks together. I’ve enjoyed the experience teaching at Shih Chien, and I hope that you enjoy these students’ projects as much as I have enjoyed watching my students create them.


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Teaching Digital English in Taiwan

Image of Shih Chien University's main entrance to campus (photo from Shih Chien University).
Image of Shih Chien University’s main entrance to campus (photo from Shih Chien University).

The beginning of a new month finds me in the the midst of the new teaching experience; for the first time ever, I am teaching a class overseas to students who are non-native English speakers. My course, dubbed Digital English Learning,  is a three-week, two-credit intensive course for undergraduates at Shih Chien University (USC) in Taipei, Taiwan.

In January, I was invited by the department chair of Applied Foreign Languages, Li-Te Li, to propose a course and make plans for a three-week adventure in Taipei. My journey so far has been both engaging and challenging, as I have only really travelled to France and England, with a very brief trip to Argentina when I was still in college. Additionally, I was allowed to bring my daughter on the trip, and this has made the trip all the more rewarding. While we miss everyone back home, the new places, foods, and events — including a student drama competition yesterday — have made our time here wonderful.

For the purposes of this blog post, my main interest is in thinking about how the course I have designed is working as both a course to introduce academic writing to non-native speakers as well as a course on digital literacy and media studies. I began the course last week with a survey to find out my students’ interests, questions, and concerns. Many noted their interest in the topic — digital English learning — and how they could learn to use their smartphones and the Internet more effectively. And, as I imagine I would be in a similar situation, many of them were concerned about their abilities to read and write in a second or other language. To that end, I have worked carefully to scaffold their writing through journals and, later this week, the rough draft of an essay.

Also, I am expecting them to create a media project of some sort or another. Building off the success that my students felt in my ENG 201H and ENG 514 courses this spring, I am trying to share many different media sites that my USC students can use for their own projects. So far, in the first week, we have only dipped into some initial ideas for composing multimedia work, though we will begin doing more of this work tonight as we look at ideas surrounding participatory culture.

Finally, I have been reading exit slips from last week’s class and working to figure out a variety of resources for students to use as they begin their essays both in terms of content (which seems to be focused on social media) and form (which I have loosely categorized as  problem/solution, compare/contrast, and cause/effect (ala the New York Times Room for Debate blog). This week, I am hoping that we can get into a computer lab so I can have them begin their drafts in earnest.

There will be more to report before the course is over, I am sure, and any ideas for teaching digital and media literacy to non-native speakers would be more than welcome!


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Resource Round Up

As anyone who has followed my blog probably knows, there are no ads. No banners. No AdSense. No clickbait.

I don’t accept advertising nor do I often pass along information from others. Sadly, as Dan Meyer explained many years ago, many people make many dollars from those clicks, and I think that educators and parents want a website they can trust. So, I don’t do sponsored posts or the like.

Every once in awhile, however, something comes along that I think is legit: the people running it are working to support teachers and students, they engage in genuine education reform or improvement, and/or the message resonates loudly enough that –even if they take ad money or are directly selling a product — I am willing to share their wares.

As it happens, this past week, three sites came my way that fit this “every once in awhile” phenomenon. I will share a bit about each here:

BestSchools.com

First, I was contacted by Herrie Coralde at BestSchools.com about the possibility of sharing information for students about, as you might guess, the best schools that offer online degree programs. Many sites, like the ones Dan mentioned in his blog post, create these guides or portals with the intent that someone will click from them to the online program and they get a kickback.

Not so with Best Schools. As they note on their About page, they exist for two reasons:

The first reason is simple: there are too many online programs out there. It’s impossible to keep track of the industry’s growth. And if you turn to Google for help, you’ll see a glut of for-profit schools. It’s hard to know what’s legit and what’s not.

The second reason is more complicated, and it’s the reason why we started BestSchools.com. The existing ranking systems aren’t anywhere close to perfect. They look at metrics like graduation rates and extrapolate them into a ranking. While graduation rates can be a telltale sign of a high quality school, metrics like that don’t tell the whole story.

Moreover, they offer many articles that tell this broader story about online education such as Kristen Hicks’ (no relation) “For-Profit Colleges: What Every Student Should Know.” After providing a list of pros and cons for these types of schools, she advises the reader:

In short, if for-profit colleges continue down the path they’re on now, they may not have much of a future. But if they evolve to better meet the needs of current students and appease the governmental powers currently challenging them, they may just weather all the current storms…

Do your research. Don’t just listen to what a representative from a college has to say, get online and see what else you can find about the school you’re interested in.

Overall, I appreciate the way that BestSchools does their research and presents their findings. For instance, and not just because they pick my employer, CMU, as #1 in the state, they provide an overview of the state’s programs and then dig in to the top 10.

BestSchools.com Screenshot
BestSchools.com Screenshot

Overall, BestSchools.com appears to be legit and I appreciate having a balanced, research-based team looking at the many options available for online learning. So, finding two in one week was quite interesting, as I will share next.

OnlineMasterPrograms.org

The second query I received came from Lauren Ford at Online Masters Program. Again, I did some looking around on their site, and found their About page compelling, too. Given my criteria for such sites, listed above, I noticed two things about their page work:

Are you affiliated with the programs featured?

OMP.org is an independently run site. We are not affiliated with any master’s degree programs or schools. None of our links to particular programs or schools are sponsored. These programs were chosen because we regard them as some of the most reputable graduate schools.

How do you make money?

All money made through our site is done so via 3rd party advertisers and affiliates. All ads found on this site, be they banners or forms, are labeled as such. The material we produce ourselves and the tools we offer are all ad-free and 100% free to access. We will never require visitors of our site to use or endorse advertised or affiliated content.

So, fair enough. They are clear about their advertising policy, and I appreciate it. More importantly, they provide a good deal of information for each program, as evidenced here by this entry for CMU’s masters in education.

OnlineMastersPrograms.org
OnlineMastersPrograms.org

The site includes public, private non-profit, and private for profit listings and the reviews are written, like BestSchools.com in a balanced, research-based way. Their data comes from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, U.S. Department of Education and the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Again, this makes for a very thorough and useful site as someone begins to review online programs. Of course, there are other ways for teachers to get online, too, and this third resource shows how.

Start Blogging Online

Finally, I got an email from Mike Wallagher who manages Start Blogging Online. His purpose is straight forward:

I began blogging in 2009 – and since then I’ve managed over 20 blogs, some with 200,000 visitors. I started getting tons of questions about blogging from people all over the world, so I thought it’d be a great idea to pack all that information onto one site where I could share it with everyone.

In doing so, he has created a robust website with a clear approach, a clean design, and usable tips. For instance, the screenshot below shows step two in his step-by-step guide. You can see the clear advice, the helpful links, and (just barely at the bottom) a helpful graphic. Most of the resource pages on his site are designed like this.

StartBloggingOnline.com Screenshot
StartBloggingOnline.com Screenshot

He is also very clear about how he earns money from his affiliate marketing program, but that is not the heart of his work. He adds “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I want to make money from you. It’s mostly to keep my site up and running so I could provide you with the latest blogging tutorials, guides and strategies in the blogging niche.”

Overall, Mike’s work is smart, concise, and useful. Probably his most relevant page for educators is “Blogging in the Classroom,” followed closely by his “What is a Blog?” resource. In particular, I could see using that document as a great way to talk about audiences, purposes, and genres for blogging, not just for using blogs (ala Bud Hunt).

So, there you have it. Three coincidentally timed contacts in the past week, all of which have led to useful resources that I may have not otherwise considered. Please let me know if you check these resources out and what you think by leaving a comment below or following up with me on Twitter.

Addition: August 3, 2015

I was recently contacted by Matt Banner from On Blast Blog about his resource “Blogging in The Classroom: How to Get Started.” His post provides the following sections:

  • Ways to bring blogging into your classroom and daily lesson plans
  • The litany of benefits blogging brings to education
  • Deciding the purpose and goals of your blog
  • Setting up your classroom’s blog
  • Easy ways to promote and grow your classroom blog

He provides many useful links and suggestions, so I encourage you to check his post out as well.


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