2000 Paper Presentations
"Teaching Japanese On-line"
Adagio is the code name for my on-line Japanese course. Throughout this paper, the term "Adagio" will be used to refer to this course. Adagio is a joint project with Prof. Hiroshi Yokoyama from the Department of Information Engineering of the University of Akita, Akita, Japan. Prof. Yokoyama is responsible for the CGI scripts which make Adagio interactive. I'm responsible for everything else.
Click here to go to the actual page.
I started teaching Japanese on-line in the fall semester of 1999. Teaching a language on-line is hard because it's difficult for individuals to interact with each other when they are on-line. Thus, new material needed to be developed for the purpose of teaching Japanese on-line. Similarly, learning Japanese on-line was also a new experience for students. They needed to establish new study habits for learning a language on-line. Drawing from these experiences, this paper will discuss the following four points. 1) Adaptation of classroom exercises. 2) My experience of teaching on-line. 3) Advantages and disadvantages of teaching an on-line. 4) Students' experience and computer skills.
1) Adaptation of Classroom Exercises.
Obvious most classroom exercises and activities were made before web-based instruction started. Adapting such exercises and activities for an on-line course is very helpful.
The example given here is what I call the "Michiko san Exercise." The purpose of this exercise is to find a man whom Michiko is likely to fall in love with. In a regular classroom setting, the instructor divides the class into groups of 4 people each. Then, the students are given a handout with pictures of Michiko and 4 men. After giving students the handout, the instructor orally gives the class descriptions of the type of man Michiko likes. Next, one student from each group goes to the instructor and obtains information regarding the likes and dislikes of one of the men. This is repeated for each man. After all four descriptions have been given, the students share the information they have and decide the best man for Michiko.
Click here to see the whole exercise. (sound files are in MP3 format.)
In Adagio, the exercise was modified in the following way. All of the information was recorded and uploaded to the server as sound files. Students click on the picture of each person to hear information regarding that person. Then, they choose the best man for Michiko and send their answer to the instructor.
2) My experience
When I started Adagio in Fall 1999, it was my first-time teaching a course on-line. For the students, too, it was a new experience. Even though the instructional material was almost complete ready, I was not prepared for the flood of questions from students. The first three to four weeks were extremely busy with explaining to students how to navigate and study via on-line. I would like to share some of my experience, especially the problems, here.
Initially there were a few students who had no experience accessing the internet prior to the course. They were brand new to the internet. They signed up for the on-line Japanese course and asked their parents to buy a computer for them. Therefore, their computer knowledge was minimal. They couldn't figure out how to type in Japanese (which will be discussed later. Click here). Some also had a hard time understanding why they needed extra software to display Japanese on their computer. Most of these computer "illiterate" students dropped the course because they couldn't figure out how to operate the computer, not because they couldn't keep up with the coursework.
One student dropped the course because she lost access to the computer. She used her boyfriend's computer to study on-line. After she broke up with her boyfriend, she had no computer to use. She could have used the walk-in computer lab on campus available to anytime. However, using the walk-in lab as one's main computer for studying an on-line course is inconvenient. Most of the time, the lab is full requiring one to wait in line for one's turn.
Some students used web-based free e-mail services and found that one cannot display Japanese on their e-mail by using such e-mail services. It's possible the web browser was not set up correctly to allow Japanese characters to be displayed. However, if a student cannot figure out how to set up things, there's no way for other people, including the instructor and fellow students, to help.
Even so, it is clear that certain e-mailers are not able to display Japanese. When you join certain nationwide ISP, they provide you with a software package which includes e-mailers designed for that particular ISP. It seems that some e-mailers can't display Japanese characters. The only solution in these cases was for the student to change e-mailers.
Another problem had to do with technical problems with the Internet. Since the Adagio server is located in Japan, occasionally it was difficult to connect to the server. For example, during the lunch hour in Japan, net traffic gets very busy and the connection speed slows down.
Most of these problems were experienced during the first three to four weeks of the course. I used this experience when Adagio was offered the second time. To respond to these problems, a web page (click here) was set up to answer FAQ. When Adagio was offered the second time, the first three to four weeks was not as hectic as it was when it was offered the first time.
3) Advantages and Disadvantages of Adagio.
The advantages of Adagio are directly related to what a web browser can do. The following are examples of grammatical explanations and exercises which benefit from web browser abilities.
Stroke Orders are shown easily via the web.
In Japanese, remembering the correct stroke order is important for one to be able to write the Japanese characters correctly and neatly. Visually showing a character being written with the correct stroke order can be done easily on the web. Look at the following example.
Click here to see the QuickTime Movie (requires QuickTime Plug-in).
Being able to synchronize graphic and sound files makes the explanation of the pronunciation of numbers easier to understand. As each digit in a number is shown, the corresponding sound file is heard clearly demonstrating how to correctly pronounce Japanese numbers. Students felt this made it easy to understand the concept of how the numbers in Japanese are made.
Click here to see (requires Flash plug-in).
Simulating Actual Speech.
Graphic animations can be easily used to create exercises which force students to simulate actual speech. Look at the graphics below. The man, called Hige sensei, moves in the animation. The students' task is to describe the directions they see in the graphics. This type of exercise is much more realistic as students create sentences based on what they see and not on what they are told to say nor on pictures with arrows showing Hige sensei's movement. Also, students seem to enjoy this type of animated exercise.
Click here to see Hige sensei (requires Flash plug-in).
Interactive Automated Grading Exercise.
By using a "form," it is easy to make an interactive pages. I named these types of exercises "Interactive Automated Grading exercises." Students choose their answers and then have the answers checked by the server immediately. It's possible to make exercises that are multiple-choice or that require students to type in answers. What's shown here is an example of a multiple choice exercise page.
Click here to see more.
Disadvantages of Adagio
A major disadvantage of Adagio is that it's impossible for the teacher and students to interact with each other in the way they would in a classroom setting. Since this is an on-line course, every student studies at a different time. There's no classroom or set time at which the class physically meets. Technologically, it's not impossible to meet with a classmate by using web cameras or similar devices, which could be purchased around $100. But students do not want to spend extra money on the course as can be seen in their choice of Microsoft's free software (Click here) over commercial produts for making the computers Japanese ready. Also, using such equipment would defeat the purpose of Adagio. The basic reason for developing Adagio is for students to be able to "study anytime, anywhere." If the whole class meets synchronously, it would eliminate the flexible schedule of an on-line course. Considering most students taking Adagio work around 35 hours a week, flexibility of schedule is a must. Besides, finding a suitable meeting time for all these busy schedules (including the instructor's) would be nearly impossible.
One solution to this is that my college offers a "language partner" program. They match up students, Japanese students and American students, for example, with each other. These students teach their own native language to each other. Some Adagio students are taking advantage of this program.
Another disadvantage was that the sound files were often too big making the access time for these files too long. Initially the sound format I used was the "AU" format. Even if I used lower sampling Bits and sampling rates (usually 8 Bits and 22 kHz), the size of the sound files was still large. I didn't want to use lower sampling Bits and sampling rates because it sacrifices the sound quality which is very important when studying a foreign language. Some students complained that they could brew a pot of coffee while waiting to access the bigger sound files.
The solution was to use new technology. I started using QuickTime streaming format and MP3 format for my sound files. By using the QuickTime streaming format, one doesn't have to wait for all of the file to be downloaded before one starts listening to the file. Files can be listened to as they stream from the server. Using the MP3 format to compress files to approximately one tenth of their original size while keeping the sound quality as good as that of a CD also helps. Students find the MP3 format to be excellent. No students have complained since I started using the QuickTime streaming and the MP3 formats.
Experience the download time difference. Sample Sound Files (Browser needs to be set up properly, to listen to some of the formats.)
4) Students' Experience and Computer Skills:
Students like Adagio and studying on-line. I took an informal survey of Adagio students a little after their midterm test during the Spring semester of 2000. Part of what they said they like is the flexibility on-line courses provide. The type of students taking Adagio is quite different from the type of students taking my regular courses. Only one Adagio student is a full time student. 60 % of Adagio students work full time, 20% work an average of 35 hours per week. This is very different from my regular Japanese classes where 80% of the students are full time students even though most have jobs. Nobody in my regular classes works full time. Thus, understandably, on-line students need more flexible schedules than regular students. This can be seen in the following quotes from students from the midterm survey.
- you can take the class with out going to class which is very convenient for me because of all the things i must do throughout the day.
- I can access it everytime I want.
- It's convenient.
The main reason for taking an on-line course seems related to the "convenience" and the flexibility these courses offer regarding access time.
One problem students face relates to the set-up of their computers. In order to study Japanese on the computer, students' computers must be Japanese ready. This means their computer should be able to display Japanese, and students should be able to type in Japanese to send answers in Japanese to the instructor. None of the students had computers with Japanese capabilities prior to taking Adagio. Therefore, they needed to install appropriate software to make their computers Japanese ready. I provide my students with the necessary information regarding the software needed to make a computer Japanese ready. (Click here.)
One big problem I encountered is related to platform differences. I use Macintosh whereas most of my students use Windows. Therefore, I am unable to assist them with setting up their Windows software. I'm not claiming that an instructor should be able to solve software problems. However, the first person to whom students ask questions, including computer hardware and software problems, is the course instructor. So problems related to computer software and hardware inevitably arise. Since I can't help much with Windows, I refer my students to the tech support pages of the software they use.
The catch is that my students use free software from Microsoft to make their computer Japanese ready. (Click here) This free software only works with Microsoft software (though Netscape recently made modifications so that Netscape Communicator 4.72 is compatible with this freeware. Click here for more information.) The problem with this software is that, since it's free, tech support is almost nonexistence. So, referring a student to tech support doesn't help much and I can't help much as they are using Windows. (This semester, luckily, there's one student who seems to be able to easily solve most problems related to set up. So, he is helping out other students. Even so, there's one student who still cannot send e-mail out in Japanese.)
Another problem encounterd relates to the fact that students need to be very self-motivated to study via Adagio. When Adagio was first offered in Fall 1999 as Japanese 101, I gave students quite a bit of freedom. In this "freedom approach," students were allowed to set up their own study schedules. I didn't assign much homework. Instead, the interactive automated grading system discussed earlier was implemented as much as possible. Students only needed to study so that they knew the material before they took the test. I chose this approach because I believed that as much freedom as possible needed to be given as the basic philosopohy of Adagio is one can "study anytime anywhere." I thought too specific of a schedule would defeat the purpose of being able to "study anytime anywhere." So, I left it up to each student to set their own pace as long as they studied the material before the test. The result was not satisfactory.
However, students didn't set regular study schedules. Access log analysis showed that most students simply crammed before the test. This is not an ideal way to study a language.
In Spring 2000, Adagio is being offered a second time as Japanese 102 and I changed the approach completely. The approach I'm taking now is a "follow the schedule" approach. In each chapter, there's at least one take home quiz and there are at least two assignments students need to turn in. In other words, students need to study constantly to meet the deadlines. The Michiko san Exercise discussed earlier (Click here) is a good example of this approach. Even though the answer to this exercise can be easily automatically checked by the server, it is set up so students need to send their answer to the instructor before finding out the correct answer.
Though less flexible, this "follow the schedule" approach appears to make it easier for students to maintain a daily study schedule. Access log analysis shows that most students are accessing the site almost everyday. Thus, they are studying constantly. I am confident this will help the students in their language learning efforts.
What can I learn from the result of these two very different approaches? Students need to be told what they need to study and then given a time limit. Students still don't know how to study effectively on-line. Since the Adagio class never "physically" meets as a class,
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