Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer vacation begins

Just turned in my final grades, so that means the get back to the Big D on a fulltime basis season begins. Big D also means "Big Deadline" looming, so there'll be at most about 2 posts coming out of here this summer (probably around the end of July, if anyone cares). I'll still check my e-mail, but only once or so a day. Wish me luck!

[Update: OK, so I lied about the "2 posts". There might be a few more than that.]

Sunday, June 18, 2006


I won't be posting here for a while. I also intend (with help) to cut back drastically on my other online activities. I have some offline priorities that I need to make priorities again.

Have a good summer if you're in the northern hemisphere or winter if you're in the south! Be good to yourself!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Land of a million Britneys

Sorry, but my reference here is to how Britney drove around with her baby in her lap instead of in a safety seat.

In Taiwan, as Michael Turton illustrates (literally), we have thousands--possibly millions?--of parents who neglect their children's safety by carrying them "unhelmeted" around town on motorcycles or scooters. Michael's next project should be to photograph parents who don't put their kids in child safety seats. I don't know how many kids I've seen bouncing around in the front seats of cars or sticking their heads out of the sun roofs of Benzes...

Update: Taiwanonymous, coincidentally, also blogs about traffic problems in Taiwan: "Road Rage Scooter Style".

Monday, June 05, 2006

Five new books in the former native speaker's library

(Warning: mixed romanization follows. Proceed with caution.)

After our interesting non-vegetarian meal, the former native Chinese speaker and I wandered up to the 18th floor of Sogo, where there was in progress a large book sale benefitting the Cheng Feng Hsi Cultural and Educational Fund (鄭豐喜文化教育基金會). The fund is named after Cheng Feng Hsi, a famous writer who was born with severely handicapped legs. Despite the hardships of being disabled and poor, he graduated from National Chung Hsing University and returned to his native village to teach. He also wrote a best-selling book, A Boat on the Boundless Ocean (汪洋中的一條船). After Cheng succumbed to liver cancer at the age of 31 in 1975, his widow Wu Chi-chao (吳繼釗) started a foundation for helping the disabled and poor. (The book sale at Sogo goes until June 11, by the way. Books were donated by area bookstores and are on sale for half the cover price.)

OK--the books I bought are:
  • Photographs of Taiwan During the 1960's (六十年代台灣攝影圖像), by Ellen Johnston Laing (藝術家出版社, 2002).
    This book has a nice bilingual introduction in which Laing describes her life in Taiwan during the early 1960s. She had received a Fulbright to study Chinese language and art in Taiwan, and she lived in Taipei and Taichung. While in Taichung, she and her husband Richard lived in an old Japanese-style house on a lane off Minquan Road and she took the bus to Tunghai to study Chinese. She also went to the pre-Taipei National Palace Museum, which she describes as "a few unpretentious buildings nestled below the foothills outside Wu-feng and guarded by military police" (26-7). This book has some wonderful pictures of her house and 1960s Taichung. By the way, its "intended" English title seems to be Photographs of Bygone Taiwan: Taiwan in the 1960s, but it's also (mysteriously) titled Photography of Taiwan During the 1960s on the National Library stamp in the back of the book.

  • 台灣五大家族 (Taiwan's Rich and Powerful Families: The Old Monies), by Sima Xiaoqing (司馬嘨青) (玉山社, 2000).
    This book introduces the Yans of Keelung, the Lins of Banqiao, the Lins of Wufeng, the Gus of Lugang, and the Chens of Kaohsiung.

  • 阿樺:台灣建國烈士詹益樺紀念專書 (Ah-Hua: A Book Commemorating Chan Yi-hua, Martyr for the Cause of Building the Taiwanese Nation), ed. Zeng Xinyi (曾心儀) (editor, 1989)
    Chan Yi-hua committed suicide by self-immolation on May 19, 1989, during a funeral procession for Cheng Nan-jung, a pro-independence journalist who also committed self-immolation when police tried to arrest him for sedition. (More information on this is available in this issue (PDF) of the pro-independence Taiwan Communique. There's also an article available here.)

  • 台灣歷史年表:終戰篇 I (1945-1965) (A Chronology of Taiwan History: 1945-1965), chief ed. Xue Huayuan (薛化元) (Institute for National Policy Research, 1993)
  • 台灣歷史年表:終戰篇 II (1966-1978) chief ed. Xue Huayuan (薛化元) (Institute for National Policy Research, 1994)
    These two volumes list major political, economic, social, and international events that affected Taiwan. They also cite contemporary newspaper and magazine articles that covered those events.

All in all, the five books cost me less than the cover price of the last two books. Not a bad deal.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Tunghai symposium on distance language learning

This afternoon I attended a symposium at Tunghai on the topic of "Issues in Distance Language Learning." It was run by the MOE-sponsored Distance Language Learning project at Tunghai. There two speakers: Professors Herng Yow Chen (陳恒佑) of National Chi Nan University and Michael Jacques of Tunghai University.

Professor Chen, of the Computer Science and Information Engineering department, was the first to talk. He introduced us to Chi Nan's impressive multimedia language program infrastructure. He explained how the multimedia language learning program was making use of kiosks and the wireless net to allow students to make use of language learning programs from all over campus, not only through computers, but also via cell phones and PDAs. He emphasized that the advantage of online learning is reusability, and explained how the multimedia system makes use of live and recorded versions of "English Corner" activities to provide students with Video on Demand (VoD) and Audio on Demand (AoD). He demonstrated some of the resources to which the Chi Nan students had access.

Most interesting to me was the student-produced materials located at NCNU's Mountain Media site. With Prof. Chen's assistance, students write the news items and record and edit audio and video presentations for this site. Prof. Chen mentioned that participating students are paid part-time workers. In answer to a question I asked, he said that students have to be recruited for these jobs--and they're not exactly knocking down the doors to participate--and don't get paid a great deal, but that they receive a lot of training and practical experience in producing online multimedia content in English. One of the challenges that the program has to face is the difficulty of paying teachers (and students) to stay active in these kinds of activities. Although the program is part of an MOE Teaching Excellence project, the money isn't coming in very regularly to help pay for things and people. (Also, as I understand it, full-time faculty cannot be paid out of the MOE grant money.)

Prof. Chen also introduced an online English writing program that Chi Nan is using to require students to write more in English and get feedback from their teachers (or TAs) regarding grammar, spelling, and other formal issues. Right now only first-year students are making use of this online program, but he hopes that in the future all students from the first to the third year are required to participate.

During the break, I was talking with Prof. Chen and he mentioned that the school is thinking of phasing out the Freshman English program (大一英文) in favor of requiring students to study English during their first, second, and third years of attendance. This would require some major changes in staffing, however, and the logistical issues haven't been completely worked out. The idea is intriguing, though.

The next speaker, Michael Jacques, demonstrated the FLLD Online materials that he has developed for the students and teachers at Tunghai. He also discussed three key questions related to online language learning:
  1. Who should be the audience for online language learning materials?
    This is a huge issue, he said, because users can be added for "free" (in terms of the costs to the school of providing the materials online to other users). While this doesn't affect the technical details of the online project, it does affect how producers of the materials should view their pedagogical aims and approaches.
  2. Who is going to do all the work?
    Here he mentioned the need for language teachers, computer scientists, and computational linguists to work together on the project. All these parties have expertise in certain important areas, but they do not have enough expertise in other areas--so, for instance, a language teacher might have ideas about how to teach, but not know how to write a program to do what he or she wants to do.
  3. How and when do you compensate people?
    Prof. Jacques, who has a JD, emphasized that producing these online materials does not exactly seem to fall under the umbrella of "work for hire", which isn't really a concept often used among academics. Since creating these materials is not explicitly part of anyone's job description, he said, this work "challenges the boundaries" between academic work and work for hire. Also, it appears that the laws and university policies governing producing distance learning materials are not very well developed in Taiwan (this might be my own observation).

This was an informative and interesting symposium. Unfortunately, Michael Jacques is leaving Tunghai at the end of this semester to return to the U.S., so he won't be able to continue working on the Distance Language Learning project for Tunghai. (By the way, he has a list of items for sale in case you're looking for furniture or other equipment.)