China, 8/2/06

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The first session of the conference ended, and I have to say that the quality of most sessions has been very good. It’s been a very different experience having a translator by my side to listen to others as well as to present. A 30-minute presentation turns into roughly ten minutes of talking, ten minutes of translating, and ten minutes of q&a. The translators are graduate students and they have been an essential component in making the conference a success. No technology used for translation!!

As foreigners, we speak very (and I mean very) little Chinese, although we quickly learned how to say ni hao and xiexie. Most Chinese scholars do not speak English, or not very well. I have learned a few Chinese words, but nothing that would enable me to follow a presentation in Chinese. Speakers have come from all over the world, including China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Macao, Australia, the UK, Holland, Germany, and the U.S. Most presentations have been in either English or Chinese.

With regards to technology and schools, China is dealing with issues of access the U.S. has had to deal with in recent decades, but they have to do it on a scale that is almost impossible to imagine. A city like Shanghai has the population of a small country, and has 30 universities, as well as countless numbers of elementary, middle, and high schools. Student to computer ratios are something like 19:1, and staff to computer ratios approach 11:1. Another staggering figure, there are something like 1,000,000 elementary schools in China.

Some of the issues that have been discussed include a lack of technology, a lack of training, overemphasis on technology at the cost of the curriculum, and a lack of meaningful connections between technology and pedagogy. Also, there seems to be a perception among scholars, esp. the older ones, that technology is a bad influence on kids, esp. in the areas of morals and values, and socialization. This is similar to the fear that exists in the U.S. when it comes to new technology but in China it seems to be based more on traditional morals and values.

More observations to follow soon…

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