The introduction of digital pedagogical methods into Chinese as Foreign Language (CFL) classrooms provides opportunity to address pedagogical problems long lamented by educators in the field. My current digital pedagogy project is rebuilding AC’s CFL curriculum with these methods at the foundation.
Effective Fall 2014, Chinese 101 will use the textbook Chinese for Tomorrow, which integrates computer input of Chinese characters as both a language learning aid and a “fifth skill” for students—equally as important as speaking, listening, reading, and writing by hand. The significance of this integration is likely lost on those who have never studied character-based languages (what’s the big deal about typing?), so some background: Pinyin, the system used to teach the pronunciation of Chinese characters, is also the basis of typing in Chinese: in order to type a Chinese character, you must first know how to pronounce it. Teaching students vocabulary by teaching them to type immediately shepherds students toward productive study: it nullifies the vocabulary cramming instinct of learning character, pronunciation, and meaning as three distinct categories.
The unification of these three elements is significant, as it helps remedy a pedagogical problem for CFL: the division between oral/aural skill building and written skill building. This divide has traditionally been bridged by either privileging orthography, thus greatly reducing the number of learned vocabulary, or ignoring character recognition entirely and teaching only pinyin in intro levels. Both have problems: the former creates lengthy learning plateaus that discourage students, the latter disadvantages students pursuing meaningful proficiency, as pinyin is a pronunciation aide, not the language itself. Teaching vocabulary through typing helps remedy this problem by allowing the introduction of more vocabulary without overwhelming students with orthographical skills.
Digital input as the core pedagogical method creates a stronger link with several digital pedagogy interventions I already use: online clicker participation programs, practice modules and quizzes deployed through Moodle. Asian languages create some issues for these programs, but I am working with qualified individuals to fix them. I am also looking to integrate some new tools:
- Flashcard programs – help students create personalized protocols to promote active recall and spaced learning.
- Collaborative white board applications – If students are not writing characters by hand, they will need electronic tools to facilitate in-class group work.
- Oral skills – there are currently some apps in development that immediately respond to students’ pronunciation attempts. This kind of consistent, individualized feedback would be game-changing for introductory students of Mandarin.
I will begin with free versions of these strategies and work on developing specifically tailored protocols as student needs become clearer. These strategies should be readily transferrable to other foreign language classrooms; I will evangelically share my results with my colleagues. I plan to attend the Chinese Language Teachers Association meeting to participate in some workshops on the topic, and will be submitting a proposal for a paper of my own on the subject at the annual ASIANetwork meeting.
I believe the concentrated deployment of the strategies described above will not only create a more exciting Chinese language curriculum, but one that students are able to customize in a way that prepares them to address their own motivations in learning the language.
I have arranged for this course to meet in JFLH 103, which this summer was converted to a “bring-your-own-device” lab. Since the platforms I am implementing should run on Mac or PC laptops, as well as Android or Mac tablets or smartphones, the BYOD format should alleviate most hardware needs. There are, however, some remaining points:
- Projector. We were not able to upgrade the JFLH 103 projector. The current model does not support wireless or HDMI connections, both of which would be ideal for the way I envision the course proceeding (easy ability to project student work, use of tablets, etc.). Probably the most judicious use of funds would be a portable projector that supports such connections (that way we can use it outside of JFLH 103). Amazon has a well-rated one (Epson PowerLite 1761W) at $679.00; I assume this is a reasonable budget for this type of machine, but I will yield to the opinion of those with greater expertise.
- Loaner tablets. While the overwhelming majority of my students will have suitable personal devices, sometimes students forget to bring them, and I have encountered those in serious financial need that do without. For this reason, I would like to have 2-3 iPads available. We have a variety of options for these (refurbished, Mini, etc.): with educator’s discount, I would expect these to run between $250-$350 a piece.
I would not expect ownership over any of these items; I will happily make them available for use by other faculty outside the timeslots of my courses.