It is about the trials and tribulations and how having young modern teachers with internet experience and a principle who wanted to use technology even though she didn’t know very much about it herself.
The young teachers were using power point in the classrooms and the classes all had internet access. Just standard stuff nothing spectacular.
I’ve been teaching ESL to kids for a number of years so I know what I am doing. But in China you, as a foreign teacher are expected to do the unusual without any warning.
I started off my China experience in the standard classroom in a primary school with anywhere between 30 and 70 kids in a classroom. That was standard and i perfected my flashcard and drawing on the blackboard teaching.
But then In China nearly every school has a lecture hall they call a multi media classroom, seats probably 300 and you have a book projector and a white board at the front plus a hand held microphone. It is like a lecture hall with the teacher at the bottom and most students staring down at you. To save money they figured if they put me in there I could teach all the classes at once, except they forgot to tell me that they had changed the schedule. When I got there there was every grade one student, 6 year olds, about 400 of them sitting everywhere. On the stairs and they brought in extra seats for the gap at the front. The kids were actually seated in their class, in the big hall with their English teacher controlling them. I think there was 8 classes in there.
It was a very successful class, i turned it into an entertainment event and the kids loved it, but they all knew me so that was a plus. I taught all the kids in the whole school this way. That was from grade one to six. This was my first experience of teaching a very large class.
Now we get onto the internet bit. I was back to teaching one class at a time and the school, being a private school had to upgrade to get a higher rating in the private school list in the city. So they put these huge 2 meter TV screens hooked up to the internet in all the classroom. There was one young English teacher there who spoke perfect English and had never left China, but she spent a lot of time on the internet. And she figured with my help we could join up all the classes in one grade and i could teach one class and the other classes could watch the class on the TV.
That was easier said than done as the principle said we could give it a go as long as it cost nothing. First we tried secondlife.com. I had a strange feeling that is where she went to speak English. It looked good but not really very engrossing and the kids faded out very early on in the class. It was easy to set up we just downloaded the software to most of the computers in grade 1 – 5 and 6 year olds. We had one avatar on each computer. Secondlife dropped the under 13 level I think so we were all on the main virtual world. The little kids were fascinated but the parents were not to impressed, which is nothing unusual.
But in secondlife I couldn’t do anything like the flash cards or writing on the board. So the kids could only repeat what I said. And they could yell and scream as much as they liked and they could hear themselves and they loved it. I used to call out the class number so they could repeat what I said, instead of all the classes answering at once. We all met at the Library of Primitives Sandpit in secondlife. And we could make as much noise as we wanted and nobody cared.
The underlying learning theory
The only learning theory we struck was Collaborative Intelligence where the class functioned together and followed me the teacher. The mass brain of everybody in the class made the learning memorable. We could have used a bit of the Multimodel Meaning with flash cards and chalk and voice. The other learning theories fell by the wayside. That was because the classes were all kids and all Chinese and they were learning English words and simple sentences.
It was really good and we did what we set out to do. Which was one teacher over many classes. To be honest I faded out before the students as I was just repeating myself. After 15 minutes i think we were all pretty bored, so we started looking for something else.
So we tried ustream.tv. Now ustream.tv has two big glearing issues, one the screen size is fixed, you can’t go to full screen and there is no return audio, everything is done through a chat box. But it is very easy to set up and very easy for the classes to hook up to ustream.tv and watch the class. But they couldn’t join in. It was live and I could use the flash cards and write on the whiteboard, which kept me happy. The size was an issue and after the kids realized that I couldn’t hear them they lost interest. When we were on secondlife the kids knew I could hear them so they yelled as loud as they could, and they tried to drown out the other classes.
The Technology in practice
So we went looking for a free audio and video conference call with as many windows as we could get. To teach all the classes in one grade we needed seven screens. I already had an account with oovoo.com and had used them before when they had 6 screens. Now they have 12 screens, just what we were looking for. We had to download the software just like secondlife, but the learning curve to get it all set up was pretty easy. That meant showing the other teachers how to get online and join in the class. In most of the grades there was an internet apt student that could put it all together.
Anyway we played around with the screen sizes and somehow managed to keep my screen on top so I hogged most of the screen, while the classes videos were on the side bar. Anyway the kids loved it as they could see themselves and me and they knew they were live. In most cases there was just my screen and the class screen visible to one class. We started off with all the classes on the one screen but then we slowly cut a few off. Also we could record my screen and the kids could watch it again whenever they liked.
We thought we were set and we were. The principle took a liking to ustream.tv since the whole school was linked on ustream. And the principle could give talks live to every class and to the whole school. Before she used to use the speakers now she used both.
Critical reflection
We finally got all the bugs out of the system and everything was back to normal until. I worked for a private school company and they had a number of schools scattered around the edge of the city. The owners came and had a look at what we were doing and they were very impressed. They wanted to make sure we were not breaking any rules to do with putting stuff up on the internet. Then when they realized we were not uploading anything except me they were quiet happy.
Everything was going well until the foreign teacher left one of the other schools. Then we had to go and set up that school, so they could also receive the video lesson. It was just enough as there were 6 classes in each grade. We had a few more teething problems but we got it together. I first had to go to the other school to give lessons so the kids got to know me. And this way I could alternate between the schools to give the main lesson to different classes. I was doing that now at the main school, so I was actually teaching a different class each time.
When we had a guest teacher in who was just going to give a talk. We would either hook them up to secondlife, so the whole school could join in and listen and ask questions or ustream it. And the kids could just listen.
Having all the classes linked together gave the school a lot more options. Some teachers were worried they would lose their jobs but they were still needed to keep control of the classes during the video lessons.
Conclusions and recommendations
Follow Nike and just do it and learn as you go. If you don’t know something “Google it” As the process evolved we changed to keep up. It was a process but it was more about learning what was available as opposed to following a set pattern. We knew what the end product was to be, all we had to do was get the tech so we would get the end result. We basically started with the end in mind and worked backwards. We re engineered the tech to suit the end outcome. We looked at lots of different tech but since we had the end in mind it was easy to ditch what wouldn’t work like Moodle or other LMS platforms.

To find out more about teaching in China go to http://animalsdinosaursandbugs.com/Teach-In-China.html click on the link to amazon and buy the book.

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