I attended the ACTFL conference in Philadelphia on November 16-18, 2012. My panel, “New Tools for the Chinese E-Learning Environment,” drew an audience of around 30 colleagues. My presentation, “Quickly Create and Manage Graded Multimedia Chinese Texts Online” which, introduced a web tool offered by www.yes-chinese.com, which allows teachers to create annotated Chinese reading texts in minutes.
Graded reading adapted to Chinese courses at all level is a desirable component for students to expand their reading scope after class. With controlled vocabulary, graded reading will provide an enhanced reading experience without burdening students with excessive new vocabulary, especially at the advanced Chinese level, when students need more reading materials to reinforce what they learn in class. With the web tool, every Chinese instructor can create a text with audio files and with every character and words clickable to activate glossaries with pinyin and character stroke demonstration. The finished online text is accessible to students. The teacher can simply email the URL to his students, and then the text becomes available. The web site also allows the instructor to create and manage his own class. Instead of mailing students the individual URL, the instructor can create a special class which allows his students to register, so that students can access a whole semester’s reading documents in one place. This free tool is best for advanced Chinese courses, especially those that require a large amount of supplementary readings, such as media, literature, film, and business Chinese.
I also attended several other panels. I was very impressed by the presentation by Yuanyuan Meng from Columbia University on “Chinese for Specific Purposes: Context, Curriculum Design, and Material Development.” Her presentation was on a new course she has taught in recent years, entitled “Media Chinese,” quite similar to Yale’s Media and Society. Her presentation pointed to a very clear trend in Chinese curriculum building. More and more students find it necessary to go beyond the regular textbooks and to read a variety of Chinese texts covering broader fields. Students at Columbia, like those at Yale, are increasingly interested in content-based texts, especially if those students want to find jobs related to China after they graduate. Meng’s course is designed for students of both heritage and non-heritage. She has chosen texts from various sources, including newspapers, blogs, online publications, movies, TV news, journals, among others. While the course is effective, it is demanding, since the inclusion of time-sensitive materials requires that the instructor update course materials regularly.