Project to develop branching readers with pronunciation practice
Let me count the ways this project is good; good for the world, good for language learners, and good for me. First let me explain what it is. (Or you can go directly to their KickStarter page.)
Did you ever try one of those “Choose your own adventure” books? No? You read a page or two, then you have a choice. Depending on your choice, you jump to a different page. Read that page, another choice. Another jump. I learned how to use hypertext while developing an online version of a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA). This was all before the World Wide Web. Now, people like Marcos Benavides are using CYOA for readers for language learners.
This project mixes Choose Your Own Adventure plots with Speech Recognition, to improve pronunciation. Most pronunciation software fails because it is not intrinsically linked to neither a purpose nor an important outcome. Linking the story and plot to your ability to pronounce should provide both. This project looks really, really interesting.
It is good for the world. This project is Open Source, it will be offered to the world for free when it is finished. Anyone can use it without paying for the software. People will even be able to work on it to improve the tool. I will guess that people will be able to write books for the project. It also means that is will be developed using suggestions from users.
It is good for language learners because it is based on stories, the mental unit that works best with memory. It mixes oral production (pronunciation) with reading in a way that is both natural and good challenging to language learners.
There are also a lot of ways that this project is good for me. I have been interested in both CYOA and Speech Recognition, and its application to language learning, main topics of my research in the early 90′s. I learned about it from a journalist from Colorado. One of the promoters is from Barcelona Spain (I used to live there). The developers are from Singapore and India. A truly international affair. It is also a bit of a geeky endeavor. So much fun just to be a part of it. I just pledged $100.
A good friend in the business has been long telling me that Japan is a mature market for language learning books, materials and software. The shrinking commercial areas at language conferences attest to this. Now, another indication I came across this morning. Mindsnacks is a new software for language games, with apps for iPads and iPhones. If you will notice below, we have a nice app for learning English as a Second Language (ESL). The interfaces for learning have lots of different interfaces. If you speak Spanish, Korean or Chinese, and many other languages, you have instructions in your language to learn English. The notable exception? Japanese.
It has finally arrived. The new university. The first update in 500 years. And it looks really good for learning. You get the best lectures and the best materials and the best classmates in the world, for free. Some people call it a MOOC, and there are some common elements. But the innovations bring people and computers, and all their strengths, together. All you have to do is work at it. It is up to you. Read this article about how it works. Or just go to the web site where the newest example looks like it is going to change education. Everywhere.
I’ve been watching for this. I knew it was going to come. I figure I will be just be able to retire with the traditional university still intact, but decaying. The university as we know it will not last much longer. There will be a place for teachers, professors, and people that tell good stories. But it certainly will not pay as well as it does now. Except for a few “rock star” professors who will make millions. The future of course production will be more like a movie studio, and the organizations that can put the right producers, directors, writers and actors together will have hit courses. So we will see teachers in their 20′s gravitate to one or another of these roles gradually, deconstructing what a teacher is, over the next generation. I fear for them, but am also excited for education in general.
I teach on Tuesday over at the University of Tokyo. I make a new course each semester to keep myself sharp and draw in some students again. The students visit the first week and choose. I get a great mix of students with high proficiency in English and others from abroad (Todai has more foreign students than most universities).
Dad is reading a new book called “The American Way of Eating” about the diet in America and how industry has influenced it. It got me to thinking about the progression of my courses over the last few years. Here is what I wrote him.
The American Way of Eating looks really good. I teach a class I call “Hamburgers and Rhetoric” where we look at books, movies (documentaries) and software games, and how they persuade people. The common link is McDonald’s. Se we start with Fast Food Nation (the book, I assign the movie for extra credit), then go on to Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock eats only McDonald’s for 30 days), then we do the McDonald’s Game (at Molleindustria home of many Serious Games).
That morphed into another course about “Documentaries and the Truth” Where we started with Super Size Me, then went onto Food Inc., and the Cove, then Temple Grandin. If they made a documentary about The American Way of Eating, it would be in this class too. I would recommend Food Inc as a precursor of TAWOE.
That has morphed into “How to Lie Cheat and Steal with Numbers in English”. In HTLCASWNIE, we look at numeracy, or numerical literacy and critical thinking. We look at big and small numbers, then how to talk about numbers, then we look at different ways to represent numbers (infographics and visualizations), and then finally, how to use statistics and numbers to change people’s perceptions.
These classes are for my University of Tokyo students, the ones who go on to rule the nation. I think it will be a really good course.
Now that I have the skill set we are going to target in the class, I am working on collecting examples from media. The topics are falling into a list of “what not to talk about at a party”. Sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, politics, religion, money, race, and education. Will keep you updated on how it goes.
Seth Godin has written a collection of ideas against education in its current form, called Stop Stealing Dreams. As I read through it, I find resonance with a lot of the online courses, especially the ones that are large and network-based MOOCs like #Change11), in a lot of his writing. Idea 65, for example, is The Smartest Person in the Room. He quotes Dave Weinberger. Turns out it is not a person at all, but the room itself. The network that enables it. That is my goal next semester in my classes. Build networks.
This week we have just received an assignment that is more like a challenge. We have to create a “learning artifact”. Still not sure what that is, but he also gave us a bunch of resource links to go along with the challenge.
We are supposed to use this learning artifact as a tool to illustrate many dimensions of the learning (and teaching) process, or even IF it IS a process. We take a step back and look at the a whole simplified picture from many angles.
OK, so I teach languages, or, as a Professor in the Department of English Language and Communication, that is what I am ostensibly doing. Problem is, I don’t think I really CAN teach anyone how to speak English. This is not personal. I don’t think a language is really teachable, at least not in the traditional academic sense. I now use most of my time with students trying to develop curiosity, and then ways to sate that curiosity. That first part is by far the hardest. But goes with the territory.
So, like languages, but a lot simpler, I’ve decided that my learning artifact will be “how to use chopsticks”. Like language learning, it is usually done as a child, and when accomplished, becomes completely automatic, but everyday. Some people don’t learn it as a kid, though, and therefore have to learn it a different way. I’m looking forward to this.
Great timing too, as I just finished my grades for this semester, I may even be able to join the synchronous sessions, for only the third time this year (here in Tokyo, they start at 2 AM usually.)
New York is going to publish (as in local newspapers) the ratings of public school teachers. So the bad ones, who don’t care, will simply do their supermarket shopping down the road. The ones who do will leave. Note that student, or administrators, are not subject to these same measures. Bill Gates has come out against them in an IHT (NYT) opinion piece. The illustration at left is from the article.
While I think having billionaires tinkering with education is a bit frightening, most notably with the promotion of people like Michelle Rhee, some do have a rational take on the situation. Mr. Gates shows that here. What we do know positively that now is the time for experimentation. If you aren’t trying anything new, you will be marginalized in the near future. More on this at Hack Education.
OK, not really. But I am going to take one class at Stanford. OK, not AT Stanford, but through Stanford. Stanford has generously opened up some of their classes to people outside the university, for study online. It will have the same lectures, the same activities, the same quizzes and tests, and the same interaction as the for-credit students will get. It is free, but does not carry any recognition. For a guy like me, who is a professor, and no longer needs any more recognition, this is pure learning.
I will be taking the course in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). I am very excited, because it looks like I will be able to freshen my programming skills while applying them to an area of development that will help me create materials for my students, and students outside my classes as well.
I hope to chronicle my adventure here. I will also keep you up on my other MOOC course, Change11.
Really excited about the opening of the collaboration between Pearson and Google to make OpenClass, an LMS built for the web. Out this week some time. Part of Google Apps for Education. Will update when I get it.
When we say “the other half” usually it is poor or middle class people referring to rich people. But here, I am saying that all of us in Tokyo live so close together, with so much concrete and so many people, it is hard to imagine how some people with lots of sky and lots of space and lots of time, can live. It changes how they see the world and see each other. Let’s travel to Marfa, Texas. There, they have a group of very interesting people in what LOOKS LIKE a boring town, but it is not. Take the 5 minutes to watch what people do there. (via BoingBoing)
Over at BoingBoing, Mark Frauenfelder found cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt’s advice on getting things done. I like most of them. Execute dumb ideas beautifully is especially interesting. Another is “Don’t worry about how good it will be, just make it and do your best.” Words to live and learn by.
Looking into the future, or prognosticating, predicting, punditry, or guessing, is a skill. Recent results from a study at Hamilton College shows that some are better than others.
“We discovered that a few factors impacted a prediction’s accuracy. The first is whether or not the prediction is a conditional; conditional predictions were more likely to not come true. The second was partisanship; liberals were more likely than conservatives to predict correctly. The final significant factor in a prediction’s outcome was having a law degree; lawyers predicted incorrectly more often. Partisanship had an impact on predictions even when removing political predictions about the Presidential, Vice Presidential, House, and Senate elections.”
So there you have it. Conservative lawyers are the worst. Liberal economists are the best.
I teach Rhetoric and Hamburgers, a class about how to convince people about eating things like hamburgers. I start with a book, Fast Food Nation, then do a movie (documentary) Super Size Me, and finish with a computer game (McDonald’s).
Two interesting posts related to this topic came to me while browsing at Slate. One is about a guy that went on a beer-and-water diet for lent (40 days). Another is about violence at fast food restaurants. The more I see, the lest I like about fast food. My next movie is Food, Inc. Even better than Super Size Me.
People are uneasy here. The aftershocks continue unabated, now more than 1,000 since the big one March 11. We had 3 in one night, strong enough to wake us up. The epicenters are moving south, near Chiba, which is about 30 miles to the east of us. Fortunately, no significant damage has been reported. Our house, about 35 years old, is holding up all right. The spring rains have also come, and the school year has started up in most places. Julia spends a lot of time watching TV and reading.
One thing I do note, is that people are talking about their situation on the day of the quake. The topic of conversation quickly moves there, much like the “where were you when Kennedy was shot” kind of conversation. People are now making the before/after distinction, and although there are no big changes here in Tokyo, there are a lot of small changes. The streets are no longer lit by neon signs as much, and many of the escalators in the public transportation are turned off, all to save electricity. Right now there is enough power to go around, but come summer, with the load air conditioning puts on, it means there may be new blackouts. Tokyo Electric is ramping up their production, taking old coal-burners out of mothballs, and (more seriously) postponing scheduled maintenance on some nuclear powered plants. There is a small movement to try to shut down all the vending machines, which would reduce usage to manageable levels. Here is a before and after of downtown Shibuya near where I work.
Maki and Julia had a wonderful time in Hawaii for our niece Ruka’s wedding. They spent 5 days at the Moana Surfrider hotel with Ginger and Anri, in from Colorado. Maki’s sister, her daughter-in-law Jazelle and her son were also enjoying the meet. Ginger rented a van and got people beyond the confines of Waikiki. I’ve only heard a few stories, Julia and Anri fell asleep about 9PM. More later.
It’s been a month since the earthquake. Maki and Julia just returned from their trip to our niece’s wedding in Hawaii. About 2 hours after their return, we got a 7.1 shaker, pretty significant. I had time to get to the front door and open it (good), and Julia looked for the cat (bad). Just had another shaker, not quite as big. We have been getting them more regularly, but this is an increase in the frequency and intensity.
As rescue efforts get organized and more effective, the body count is rising more rapidly. We are still discouraged from travel to the area, and there seems to be a large government effort at restoration beginning. The construction industry, long the most corrupt part of the economy, have lined up to make sure that they are included in these relief effort. Very few outside companies are being considered.
I started school today. For my third-year students I have an activity where we look at how much each class session costs them. We divide tuition (about ¥1.2 million, or US$14,000) by the number of classes in a year (usually around 400, each 90 minutes). They usually guess pretty closely to the ¥3,000 ($35) price for each session. But then we add room and board (another ¥1 million) and lost opportunity costs. We define those as if they could work their part-time jobs 40 hours a week, instead of studying. That adds another ¥2.4 million, more than tripling the per-class cost to a total of more than ¥11,000. That is about $130 per 90-minute session. For each student. Sure, I explain they also get the office staff, the library, our Boston Campus, and 3 other retreat centers, the Career Advisory staff, etc, etc,. But they get the idea.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long. At the end of the class, I gave the students the option of using their laptop computers in class with our new wireless system, or the other option of a paper-only class. I told them web-based activities would be more interesting, and that they could learn much more, and more quickly. Most thought that carrying their laptop into school was too much of a burden. So we are using paper. (I have 3 classes where they don’t get the option, they HAVE to bring their laptops. At least they will get some muscle tone.)
Because of the electric situation, we will be finishing our semester 2 weeks early, just ast he really hot weather kicks in, and the air conditioner usage surges, causing rolling blackouts (but not in our area). I think it may have been that the university saw everyone else getting a late start, and wanted to get in on the inaction. The students cheered when they heard the news. So we have both administration and students working the system to get something for nothing, or, more accurately, less for the same.
I find it so hard not to just go along.
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