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I'm writing this on a Nanjing-Beijing flight. I just left a 5-day conference on Technology in Language Education that took place in Hong Kong & Nanjing (co-sponsored by Hong Kong University of Science & Technology and Nanjing University).
Interesting conference. There's a lot of good energy in China devoted to use of technology in education. The conference featured the usual things you'd find in an ed tech conference in a developing country--some multimedia development, distance ed programs, etc.--but also presentations about some top-notch programs integrating project-based learning and technology (see for example http://call.suda.edu.cn -- if the Web page isn't up now, try again soon). I continue to be amazed and encouraged by the time and effort that educators, in China and elsewhere around the world, devote to trying to make effective use of technology with their students. It's a tremendously satisfying experience to help people gain new power and control over their lives using new technologies, and involvement in grassroots technology projects seems to often bring out the best in people. (For any of you reading this who were involved in the conference, congratulations and thanks!)
A few miscellaneous technology notes. This is my first international trip with my fairly new G4 laptop (Apple). If you don't have one, and you can afford it, rush out and buy one now. The new ones now come with CD-R (rewriteable CD) option, making it an ever better deal. I've never really used a laptop much while traveling, preferring to carry presentation files on diskette, but this things a beaut. (One word of warning though. The titanium computer is apparently not as sturdy as it's made out to be. I dropped it, in my brief case, from about 1/2 meter. The hinge partially broke, though it still works fine.) [Post-script--monitor eventually stopped working, which explains the delay in sending this message. It may also be my last message for a while!].
And, while I'm it at, I can also recommend a digital camera -- the Canon S110. I'm generally not a pioneer when it comes to using new technologies, and digital photography has been no exception. I just bought my first digital camera -- this Canon -- last month. Here's the combo that I have that I recommend, the camera itself, a case and extra battery, and a 128 MB compact flash memory card. A little looking around on the Internet (try mysimon.com) and you can get the whole package for $600. The 128 compact flash card stores about 200 photos at the highest resolution (2.1 megapixels) and the extra battery provides great power back-up. The camera itself is tiny (a few ounces) and together with the battery fits either in a pocket or in the case, which hooks nicely on a belt.
Now, here's a great story about my first real use of the camera. Last night the conference attendees were treated to one of the most wonderful shows I've ever experienced, including everything from Chinese martial arts, ballet, traditional music, 5-year-old kids in the cutest costumes putting on a latin dance performance (!!), and a 60-year-old woman doing a solo disco. I was able to get a lot of great shots with the Canon. The program ended about 10 pm, and I quickly downloaded the shots to my PowerBook and inserted a few of them into my PowerPoint presentation (which I delivered at 8:30 this morning). It was a fun way to add local color and spice to the presentation. Perfectly routine for those of you who have been digital photographers for a while, but exciting stuff for this digital photo newby.
Internet access is cheap in China. Remarkably, the hotel in Nanjing offered ethernet access in every room! You had to pay to use it -- about 100 RMB ($13 US) a day, but a great service nevertheless. I instead chose dialup access, which I'm assuming and hoping exists nationally. I just hooked up the phone line to my computer and dialed 0 (for an outside line) 990, and then put in the userid of 990 and password of 990. I called in several times and paid a total of 4RMB (fifty cents US). A reasonably good 28K dialup connection.
Internet cafes are apparently also very cheap -- 4 RMB an hour at a commercial cafe, and about 1 RMB an hour at universities for students. Of course salaries in China are also low but many people in the cities can afford an occasional half hour at an Internet cafe.
Back to the conference news. Zhong Yingxue gave an interesting paper on "The Mismatch Between Objectives and Realizations" of educational technology in China. The paper was based on her MA thesis at Sydney University. A not-too-surprising (but interesting nonetheless) account of how, despite high hopes for educational technology, computers (even in the most high-tech schools) are principally used as projection devices for the teacher. Certainly similar to what I and others have found in a variety of other developing and developed countries. Reminds me of Steven Hodas's articles on Technology Refusal and the Organizational Culture of Schools first published in Educational Policy Analysis Archives (http://epaa.asu.edu), and also Larry Cuban's work.
Being at a conference reminded me of the tremendous power of face-to-face communication, for the richness of communicative content (I recently read a claim that 70% of communicative content -- and I have no idea how that figure was arrived at! -- is carried in gestures, tone of voice, non-verbal expressions, etc., rather in words themselves), for the opportunities for rapid one-to-one and many-to-many interaction, and especially for the frequent chance encounters. John Dewey (in _Experience and Education_) once said that "Perhaps the greatest of all pedagogical fallacies is the notion that a person learns only the particular thing he is studying at the time." A conference allows one to learn so much other than what he or she is purportedly studying, by creating great opportunities for chance encounters, informal discussions, networking, etc. Advocates of distance education often miss this point entirely. Sure, collateral discussions take place on the Internet, but they take place much more readily when you're surrounded by other learners or participants, which is why a real-life conference is so much more valuable than an online one, and a campus education is richer than a downloaded one. The campus experience gives you more chances to learn not only what you set out to learn, but also things that you never dreamed of learning. (For more on this kind of stuff, see _The Social Life of Information_, a must-read book.)
Turbulence is getting pretty bad. I'd better stop. Best wishes to all--
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