Hobart and William Smith Colleges - New Chinese Language-Learning Technology
The HWS Update
Tung Yi Classroom-00148

New Chinese Language-Learning Technology

This semester students are utilizing new technology to practice recognizing, memorizing and writing Chinese characters. Funded by the Katherine D. Elliott ’66 Faculty Innovation Grant, the HWS Chinese program has incorporated seven iPads into beginning, intermediate and independent study courses for individualized exploration of the language.

“Students are digital natives in the 21st century,” says Yi-Tung Wu, visiting instructor of Asian studies. “With the use of iPads, we are able to engage students in the learning process in a more innovative way, to encourage students to use technology to guide their learning outside the classroom.”

Using the app Pleco to learn Chinese characters, students are able to check Pinyin (the romanization system for Chinese characters), hear how to pronounce words and view the correct stroke order when writing characters.

“The iPad helps me with pronunciation,” says Amanda Ngo ’19. “By using dictation and other features that read the texts aloud, I have had an easier time learning and practicing speaking Chinese.”

With other opportunities for students to read, type and hand-write Chinese characters, look up terms and definitions, and record their own pronunciation, the interactive nature of the tablets is a valuable supplement to standard course materials. Kaitlyn Brathwaite ’22 says, “I can write down characters I don’t know and the tablet can define them for me.”

For Emma Lucas ’22, the app and tablet are helpful “because I see and hear characters and Pinyin at the same time.”

“The iPad lets me quickly check to see what characters need to be used in sentence structure,” says Joshua Salazar ’22.

“It helps me to improve my writing as I recognize more characters,” says Moritz Marchart ’22.

Grace Mongeau ’22 agrees that “the iPad has helped me recognize characters better because I am able to click on the ones I don’t know.”

Wu, who tries to balance interpersonal instruction with the tech-based learning tools, says “High-tech can’t replace the benefits of face-to-face interaction. Overuse of technology could be a distraction because the main purpose of the language lab is for students to practice speaking” — which is why the Chinese program is also exploring how to leverage technology to facilitate interactions between students and instructors.

Established in 2018 by Trustee Katherine D. Elliott ’66, L.H.D. ’08, the Faculty Innovation Grant supports a breadth of faculty proposals, from innovation within the curriculum to professional development. The $200,000 grant is disbursed evenly over two years to support innovations in undergraduate education at the Colleges.

Members of the Chinese program consulted on the implementation of the first phase of the tablet pilot project with IT Services Director of Digital Learning Juliet Boisselle and Field Support Engineer Craig Meyers.

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