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Using Blackboard to Teach Chinese

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Australasia2012,Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference Australasia 2012 Presentation by Zongmin Chen and Paul Black. …

Australasia2012,Blackboard Teaching & Learning Conference Australasia 2012 Presentation by Zongmin Chen and Paul Black.

Lessons from the online Chinese program of Charles Darwin University.

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  • Good afternoon, everyone. We're going to talk about using Blackboard in the Chinese program at Charles Darwin University.
  • I'll start by describing the program, and especially the external program that uses Blackboard. Then Paul Black will talk about the special issues it involves, since he understands the technology better than I do.
  • We were able to begin the Chinese program at CDU because of support from Hanban, an organisation within the Chinese government. Basically, they sent me to work at CDU for the past four years, and now they have also sent us a second lecturer.
  • I came at the end of 2007, and after developing the program I began to teach it in the second semester of 2008.
  • When I started teaching, it was only on campus. However, CDU has a strong external program using Blackboard, and so I was encouraged to use it to make Chinese available externally too. We started working on the Blackboard offerings in 2009 and I began teaching the first year units externally in 2010.
  • Since they we've been extending the external program to include the second and third year classes as well.
  • Here's how the external program has grown over the years. In the left hand column you see the six Chinese units, one for each semester, and the rest of the table shows when they were offered externally and when they were actually taught. The information for 2013 is a prediction, of course.
  • We have thus been teaching first-year Chinese externally for three years and the second-year Chinese for just one. Our first third year unit is now online, but it does not yet have any students – maybe it will next year.
  • Let me now tell you a bit about how the program works. All of the classes are based on an excellent set of Chinese textbooks, called the New Practical Chinese Reader .
  • Since this also has a workbook and CDs, it provides a good basis for external studies. However, students may still need help with understanding the meanings of some of the Chinese dialogues, and with the explanations of sounds and grammar.
  • Thus we use the basic Blackboard platform to give guidance on using the textbook, as well as giving them assessment tasks and occasional supplementary material.
  • We provide the learning materials in a number of formats. This raises some of the issues that Paul will talk about later.
  • The sorts of supplementary material can include extra readings, songs, and pictures, such as this picture of a Chinese sign. The sign is advertising a type of bread called mantou , in a particular style for which Shandong Province is famous. (The sign says they cost 6 mao each, or about 10 cents Australian.)
  • In addition to the basic Blackboard platform, we use Collaborate to deliver online classes. These not only allow students to practise their Chinese, but they also let me explain points of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary.
  • For this I have found it very useful to prepare my lessons on Powerpoint and present them through Collaborate.
  • For example, this is part of a lesson about using words for 'the day before yesterday', 'yesterday', 'today', 'tomorrow' and 'the day after tomorrow'.
  • I have not yet found occasion to use such other features as the ability to take students to websites, but I think these will also prove useful.
  • I also do not use such Blackboard features as the Discussion Board very much, because it is hard to discuss aspects of Chinese in normal written English. (If the Chinese characters do not appear properly, say: On the last two lines you should be seeing the same Chinese characters twice, but you don't see them in the upper line. This relates to a technical problem that Paul will talk about.)
  • I'm now going to let Paul talk to you about the various special issues involved.


  • 1. Using Blackboard to teach Chinese Lessons from the online Chinese program of Charles Darwin University by Zongmin Chen and Paul Black
  • 2. Using Blackboard to teach Chinese• The CDU Chinese program, and – How the external program works• Special issues – with Chinese transcription and characters, sound files, and assessment• Conclusion
  • 3. The CDU Chinese program• Charles Darwin University (CDU) began its current program in Mandarin Chinese thanks to support from the Chinese government Chinese Language Office (Hanban).
  • 4. The CDU Chinese program• After a semester of preparation, the on-campus program began in mid 2008.
  • 5. The CDU Chinese program• Many CDU programs utilise Blackboard for external teaching — CDU calls it ‘Learnline’.• Blackboard sites for the first-year Chinese units were first set up in 2009, but they were offered externally only in 2010.
  • 6. The CDU Chinese program• Since then the external program is gradually being extended to cover all three years of Chinese.
  • 7. The CDU Chinese external programoffered/taught 2010 2011 2012 2013 s1 s2 s1 s2 s1 s2 s1 s2CHN101 X X X X X XCHN102 X X X X X XCHN201 X X X X XCHN202 X X X X XCHN301 X X XCHN302 X X
  • 8. The CDU Chinese external program• Our external program is thus: – in its third year of teaching first year Chinese (CHN101 and CHN102) and – in its first year of teaching second year Chinese (CHN201 and CHN202).
  • 9. How the external program works• The Chinese program uses the popular text New Practical Chinese Reader (Beijing Language and Culture University Press).
  • 10. How the external program works• This textbook has an accompanying workbook and CDs, so it provides solid resources for external study.• At the same time, English explanations are limited and often overly technical, e.g. they speak of tonal ‘sandhi’ and grammatical ‘directional complements’.
  • 11. How the external program works• The basic Blackboard platform is used to give external students: – guidance on using the textbook, workbook and CDs, – details of assessment tasks, and – occasional supplementary material.
  • 12. How the external program works• Materials are presented within Blackboard and in attachments in several formats: – Microsoft Word (.doc) files, – Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) files, – Powerpoint shows (.pps format), – Sound files (.mp3 format), – Graphic files (.jpg format).
  • 13. How the external program works• Supplementary materials include: – a study guide and a few readings; – sound files of Chinese songs; – pictures of Chinese signs.
  • 14. How the external program works• Online classes are run each week: – to give students practice in using Chinese and – to make sure that they understand things that may not be clear from the textbook.• In 2010 and 2011 we used Wimba, of course, and now we are using Blackboard Collaborate.
  • 15. How the external program works• Online class explanations and exercises are often presented using Powerpoint, to save writing time during class.• Whiteboard tools can be used to highlight particular points.
  • 16. Here is an example of using Powerpoint:
  • 17. How the external program works• In Collaborate, the ability to take students to websites and to applications on the lecturer’s computer are also likely to prove useful, especially in more advanced classes.
  • 18. How the external program works• The Blackboard Discussion Board is little used: – Its hard to discuss pronunciation in print and – Beginners especially are not prepared to write: • Chinese transcription with tone marks, e.g. mā, má, mǎ, mà, and • Chinese characters like 妈,麻,马, and 骂.
  • 19. Special issues• Marking tone• Representing Chinese characters• Showing how to write characters• Using sound files• Handling assessment
  • 20. Marking tone• The pinyin transcription of Chinese uses tone marks above the vowels, as in mā, má, mǎ, mà and (neutral tone) ma.• Can students see these tone marks?• Can they write them?
  • 21. Marking tone• As far as we know, students have had no problems with seeing tone marks on materials in Blackboard itself.• We are less sure about other formats. We found we had to be very careful to make them appear properly in other .html material we prepared ourselves.
  • 22. To make sure, we began the firstPowerpoint lesson with this notice:
  • 23. Marking tone• Meanwhile, writing the tone marks may be difficult for most students.• We do it easily on a Macintosh using U.S. Extended as an input method.• We have not yet learned how to do it on a Windows computer.
  • 24. Marking tone• On Blackboard students only need to show tone in online tests.• We let them do this by writing numbers instead of tone marks: e.g. ma1 for mā, ma2 for má, and so on.
  • 25. Marking tone• In case students want to write tone marks on their word processors, we given them a page that they can cut and past them from: ā ē ī ō ū ǖ Ā Ē Ī Ō Ū Ǖ á é í ó ú ǘ Á É Í Ó Ú Ǘ ǎ ě ǐ ǒ ǔ ǚ Ǎ Ě Ǐ Ǒ Ǔ Ǚ à è ì ò ù ǜ À È Ì Ò Ù Ǜ
  • 26. Representing Chinese characters• One issues has been how to include Chinese characters in materials presented through Blackboard.• In some file formats, students may not see these characters properly unless they have the proper Chinese fonts installed on their computers.
  • 27. Representing characters• Blackboard and Collaborate do not seem to allow us to choose Chinese fonts, but if we set our computers to write in Chinese characters, these characters do appear.• Initial tests suggest that students can also see these characters even without a Chinese font installed on their computers.•
  • 28. Representing Chinese characters• For Microsoft Word, on the other hand, even we ourselves have problems when we do not use the same Chinese fonts across platforms.
  • 29. Representing characters• When we are not sure that our students will be able to see Chinese fonts, we put the material in picture form.• For example, in a Word document, instead of writing characters like 你好 , we use a picture: .
  • 30. Representing characters• We have tried Blackboards Chinese language kit.• This would allow us to put our menus in Chinese characters, but for less advanced students that would not be useful.
  • 31. Showing how to write characters• While students can learn to write characters on computers, it is also important for them to learn to write the characters properly by hand.
  • 32. Showing how to write characters• One reason this is important is so they can read handwritten characters, which look different from printed ones.
  • 33. Showing how to write characters• Another reason is because they need to know types of strokes and the order they are made in, in order to look characters up in some dictionaries.
  • 34. Showing how to write characters• To drawn characters on the Collaborate whiteboard, we have tried to use a mouse or track pad, but the results are not good.
  • 35. Drawing with a mouse is a bit like drawing with a brick.
  • 36. Showing how to write characters• Thanks to help from a colleague at CDU we are now experimenting with using a drawing tablet or an iPad.
  • 37. Using sound files• Sound files pose a problem because they seem to be handled differently on different computer systems.• We use .mp3 files in the hope that they can be handled without difficulty.
  • 38. Using sound files• When opened within Blackboard using the recommended Firefox browser, sound files create a separate Firefox tab containing a sound controller.
  • 39. Using sound files• On Firefox on a Macintosh the sound controller is clear:
  • 40. Using sound files• On Firefox on a Windows machine it is entirely black, although the sound can still be controlled:
  • 41. Handling assessment• At times we have wanted to develop online tests and quizzes, but our success has been mixed. Challenges have included the inability: – to include sound files in questions. – of first-year students to supply Chinese characters as answers.
  • 42. Handling assessment• Sound files are needed to assess student ability to distinguish Chinese sounds and match them up with the right transcription, and later with Chinese characters.
  • 43. Handling assessment• When developing the external units in 2009, we did try embedding sound files in questions, and even providing characters as graphics in answers.• Regrettably on some computers students only saw half the question and possible answers.
  • 44. Handling assessment• Now we provide sound files for students to download before starting the questions. But this is awkward: – One sound file needs to cover a number of questions, – It is difficult to control how long students can study the sounds.
  • 45. Handling assessment• As for Chinese characters, we can provide them either within questions or within answers.
  • 46. Handling assessment• For answers, however, first-year students are generally not prepared answer in characters themselves.• This tends to limit us to a multiple choice format, with students choosing among a given set of characters.
  • 47. Handling assessment• We have also tried giving students a list of about sixty numbered characters, so they can fill in blanks in dialogues with the numbers of the characters.
  • 48. Handling assessment • Regrettably this complicates answering: students must scan the list for possible answers.
  • 49. Handling assessment• That we have not found ideal solutions to these problems need not mean they cant be found.• We are still looking for solutions.
  • 50. Conclusion• CDUs Chinese program is young and it continues to develop.• However, we believe we have been able to use Blackboard to develop the external program fairly well, and we will continue to try to make it better still.
  • 51. Thank you• Any questions?