How tech-savvy is your kid’s school?

Just how Tech-savvy is your school? For that matter, just how tech-savvy are you as parents?

Besides the Personal Computer, virtual campuses or schools and reference websites on the Internet, some schools have been using technology in various ways as tools to educate children. Here are some ways in which they have and are likely to be used in the school environment:

Virtual-reality labs Labs can be set up where students can explore three-dimensional environments, using computers with large screens. Students can take on identities as 3-D characters to navigate environments like the insides of plants or the human digestive system. Teachers can use these tools to illustrate physical processes like photosynthesis and digestion. Science experiments take on a new dimension. Certain physics experiments are time-consuming and not easily replicable in the classroom or laboratory. Quicktime Virtual Reality is used to overcome this limitation by enabling teachers to take digital images of the various stages of an experiment. Through image processing software, these images are converted into movie clips (iMovies). These clips are then used to further develop students in the understanding of a particular concept.

Interactive games With the use of interactive whiteboards and individual voting devices, teachers can incorporate games into the curriculum to make learning more fun. Class assessments can be conducted in the form of games, in which studentskey in their answers for multiple choice questions from their seats and see the collated answers appear on the screen immediately. By linking up classroom systems wirelessly, students from different classes can also compete with each other.

Personal learning portal An e-learning portal will let students choose how they want to learn–as different students learn in different ways. The school will use the online portal to provide options like videos, podcasts and chatrooms, which students can use to further explore topics discussed in class. Teachers will also be able to offer online tests tailored to each student’s needs. The software will generate questions based on how a student has answered a previous question, so teachers can better assess their ability.

Community of learners The school will help students access forums, blogs and video-conferencing, then equip them with tools like tablet PCs, global positioning system (GPS) and digital cameras so they can take their classes outdoors. For example, students will be able to learn about the history of a place by interviewing residents, taking pictures of the area nad then embedding these in maps they can draw up from their GPS devices. These can be put online so residents can join in by adding their stories or feedback.

Global Academy A virtual campus in the form of an e-learning portal will enable students to learn any time and anywhere. They can connect with other students and teachers at satellite campuses and other schools. Students at one campus can attend the same classes via video-conferencing. They can also participate in classes held at partner schools through online modules.

Digitised textbooks and Tablet PCs For students who are equipped with Tablet PCs, they can access their digitised textbooks in various subjects. To find out more about e-textbooks, read Reviewing e-textbooks at this link.

Teacher’s handheld PDAs A school with a seamless ICT infrastructure increases administrative efficiency. For example students’ attendance in school and classes and CCA activities is automatically registered on the teacher’s personal handheld device.

Find out more project ideas at the Source

In the News below…

Mobile cell phones are being used by Waseda and Tokyo University as language-learning devices. See the Daily Yomiuri article below:

Mobile phones as language learning tool

Keiko Katayama Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

These days most people have cell phones, and many of those people use them to kill time while waiting or travelling. A few companies are taking advantage of this by offering language-learning services as an option to the usual video games or e-mail.

The biggest advantage to this method of learning is that users can study at their own pace, wherever and whenever they have the time.

Recent advances in cell phone technology have resulted in sound quality high enough that users can distinguish slight differences in pronunciation of the target language. The cited disadvantages of using cell phones for such study methods–small screens–are not likely to bother people using their phones for listening practice.

Cell-phone learning can be traced back to Waseda University Prof. Yang Da, a Chinese-language teacher who sought help to put his lessons online. Then doctoral candidate Wu Jianming, who now works at KDDI R&D Laboratories, helped the professor develop an e-learning system in 2003, following it up the next year with a similar system for cell phones.

Today, there is a growing interest in the Chinese language, but for Japanese students, pronunciation and listening comprehension are regarded as the most difficult skills.

The learning systems developed by Yang centers on practicing listening comprehension. Ninety percent of his students have reached level four (out of 11, with 11 being the highest) on the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi Chinese proficiency test after only three months, when using the computer-aided system. Level four, which would normally take a year of intensive study, is high enough to enter a Chinese science university.

However, Yang has not performed similar experiments with his mobile phone learning system.

Yang’s Chinese-learning system for mobile phones offers a gamelike setting–users first listen to target language dialogues or sentences. They then confirm their understanding of the featured words and phrases or the meanings of the sentences through multiple choice questions.

When the system was undergoing testing in Chinese classes at schools including Waseda and Tokyo University, Yang discovered that the students using the cell phone system progressed faster than those using the computer version.

“Cell phones are suitable for language learning because they allow people to study for as little as five or 10 minutes,” Yang said. “The phone system will probably be used for homework or tests.”

The learning system also allows teachers to check the progress of their students. It is being promoted by WEIC Corp. in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, a start-up set up to offer Chinese education services developed by Waseda University. The company has offered the mobile phone learning system in connection with NHK’s Chinese-language learning television program as well as a magazine published by ALC Press Inc.

NTT Resonant Inc., which offers e-learning services, has also entered the game. The company has just launched a service called “Dokodemo Gogaku!” (Learning Language Anywhere!) on NTT DoCoMo Inc.’s “Music & Video Channel,” where users can download programs of their choice from various video and audio options for their particular phones.

Dokodemo Gogaku! covers three programs currently being aired on NHK educational radio: Kiso Eigo I (Basic English I); Eikaiwa Nyumon (Introductory English Conversation); and Bijinesu Eikaiwa (Business English Conversation). Each program lasts for 15 minutes, and is based on programs originally aired over five consecutive days. New downloads–performed automatically for subscribers–are available each week and the users do not need to purchase textbooks to accompany the material, which can be reviewed repeatedly.

The service has proved successful, leading NTT Resonant to expand it to other programs.

Dokodemo Gogaku! costs 735 yen per program per month–in addition to a basic monthly fee of 315 yen for the Music & Video Channel service. Though the total is cheaper than buying the textbook and CD for the corresponding radio program, the download service is currently available for a limited number of models, such as NTT DoCoMo’s latest 905i series.

Other countries have also become interested in the effectiveness of using cell phones as a learning tool. “Mobile phones can spread faster than computers in developing countries,” said Yoshinori Urano, director of Waseda University’s Global Information and Telecommunication Institute, which has many visiting Asian students. “It’s possible that in the future, mobile phone learning in these areas will increase opportunities for people to learn.”

Ye Kyaw Thu, a doctoral student from Myanmar at the institute, has been developing a system to enable mobile phones to process Myanmarese, Bengali and Nepalese, which share similar writing systems but do not have any processing system to display and input their letters on mobile phones. His research received acclaim at an international conference last year.

“In Myanmar, the only mobile phones are in English,” Ye Kyaw Thu said. “If we could use our mother tongue to type on mobile phones, I believe they would be able to serve as a learning tool for us, too.” (Feb. 28, 2008)

Nintendo part of school’s game plan: Japan’s educators turn an ‘enemy’ into a friend.

TOKYO– Video-game machines, long seen by parents as a formidable enemy in the battle to get their children to study, are advancing into the Japanese classroom.

In a growing number of cities, teachers hoping to engage children born in the fast -moving digital age are using game machines such as the Nintendo DS, the hugely popular-screen handheld console, to draw in and hold students’ interest.

The strategy seems to be working one Tokyo classroom, where students come for extra-curricular maths lessons each Saturday morning.

Saito Miyauchi, 12, approaches teacher Raita Hirai with a bashful smile as he holds up his DS screen. “That’s great!” the teacher tells him after Saito has topped the class by doing 45 multiplications in 15 minutes. “I’ve grown accustomed to this, ” Saito says as he operates the machine with a touch pen.

Of the 26 students aged 12 to 14 who were advised to take the class to catch up with coursework, half showed up for the extra weekend session at the publicly funded Wada Junior High School.

Volunteer instructor Kyoko Yamaguchi said she envied today’s children.

“This was totally unthinkable when my children were in school,” said Ms Ymaaguchi whose three children graduated from Wada two decades ago.

Mr Hirai, a veteran private tutor, says the game machines help ease the strain of repetitive lessons.

“It’s not our aim to make them study. The aim is to make them study by themselves.

The school is headed by Mr Kazuhiro Fujiwara, a former businessman, who syas he believes that just like television, game consoles can begood or bad, depending on how they are used.

The western city of Yawata has expanded DS learning this year, introducing the machines to teach English. At the city’s four junior high schools, students use the console to study new words for 10 minutes every morning.

“The benefit is that students can look at, hear and write an English word at the same time. With conventional flash cards, you would have two of them at the best,” said Mr Yukimitsu Hayashi, a school education official of the city.

“With the game console, you can feel the fast speed and tempo. I think it matches today’s children, ” he said, adding the board had received no complaints from parents.

At jsut 1/15th the cost of a personal computer, the DS–at about 17,000 yen (222 dollars) each–is an economical teaching tool, he said, adding that results in an initial trial showed the English vocabulary of junior high school students using the DS had soared by 40 per cent.

At the private Otemon Gakuin Elementary School in the western metropolis of Osaka, Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) consoles were used from last September to March this year in a class of 38 fourth-graders, aged nine or 10.

Teacher Toyokazu Takeuchi did not need to print out or check tests. Instead his own console received realtime data showing which students were making mistakes and what mistakes they were making.

“This is e-learning made in Japan–traditionals efforts in reading, writing and calculating coupled with the power of information technology and game machines, ” he said.—AFP

More about DS as a learning device in

Educators turn to Nintendo DS to help middle-schoolers learn Yomiuri Shimbun

By Mitsuhiko Watanabe

Educators are finding new and varied uses for the Nintendo DS as a tool for learning. In addition to history or math game software, the popular handheld device now boasts gamelike workbooks based on middle-school textbooks.

The DS’ popularity seems to be based on its portability and the fact that it can be used anytime, anywhere. Some recent studies even have showed that the game consoles help to improve students’ concentration and knowledge.

In January, Benesse Corp. released the Tokutenryoku Gakushu DS (DS learning software to get high grades) series, which offers 18 different subjects for middle school students, with different versions available for each grade. The software is available in Japanese, mathematics, English, science and social studies.

The software is designed so students can acquire a solid basic knowledge and covers almost all middle-school textbooks. By choosing the New Horizon English textbook icon on the screen, the workbook for the appropriate page of the textbook also appears. Students can answer the questions by writing the words on the screen or selecting an answer. It is also possible to select only pages a teacher has designated for a test.

Nintendo’s No o Kitaeru Otona no DS Toreningu (DS training software for adults to train their brains) showed that learning software was a viable product, with nearly 5 million of the games being sold so far. Inspired by its popularity, a torrent of similar software for adults has hit the market, including software that helps gamers prepare for English and kanji tests. According to Nintendo, more than 2 million copies of the English software for adults have been sold.

Software for children and students followed in the wake of such successful games. Titles include Hyakumasu Keisan (100-box calculation), named by its creator, Hideo Kageyama, vice principal of Ritsumeikan Primary School, by Shogakkan, and Shosetsu Sekaishi B Sogo Toreningu (general training for detailed world history), supervised by textbook publisher Yamakawa Shuppansha. Its maker, Bandai Namco Games also sells Japanese history software. It has sold more than 110,000 copies.

Koichi Hamamura, president of Enterbrain, a company that publishes Famitsu, a magazine on family gaming, said: “We’re seeing a phenomenon in which adults who realized the effectiveness of these learning tools are letting their children use them. And as learning software becomes popular, more and more new software is being developed, increasing the size of the market. ”

Is the software really effective? Tokyo Institute of Technology’s Prof. Kanji Akahori, who was asked by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry last October to study its effectiveness, is now examining the effects of using DS for fifth- and sixth-graders in Obihiro, Hokkaido.

Those students calculate or write kanji using DS twice a week before class. According to the professor, the number of unfocused students has been reduced, as has the time needed to solve problems.

Said Akahori: “The screen is small, so students can concentrate on it more than reading worksheets. The memory also becomes more consolidated as they have to write on the screen with a special pen rather than just reading.” Daily Yomiuri (Feb. 28, 2008)


Get into electronic touch with kanji


Special to The Japan Times Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2008

‘A lot of squinting and counting.’ That is how Dries Durnez, a Belgian graduate student at Doshisha University in Kyoto remembers how he used to look up kanji, those intricate Chinese-based characters that make up a sizable chunk of the Japanese syllabary.

“I’d count 12, 13, 14 strokes. That would already narrow it down. But at times I still couldn’t find the kanji. OK, time to count again,” says Durnez, 25.

Few languages have a writing system as complex as kanji, 1,945 of which are designated for daily use by the education ministry.

Unlike Japanese-English vocabulary dictionaries (where the words are arranged phonetically according to the Japanese syllabary) kanji dictionaries are ordered by shape. By first identifying the radical (a portion of the kanji that recurs in other characters) and counting the number of remaining strokes in the character, only then can you locate the kanji in question. This process is made harder by the fact that some kanji comprise more than 20 strokes — and some do not even have radicals.

Fortunately for students of Japanese, technology is here to help. With electronic dictionaries, mobile phones and hand-held game consoles on the market, looking up kanji is getting easier.

Newer electronic dictionaries come with a stylus, allowing you to draw kanji on the screen. But that function is not a silver bullet, according Swede Marie-Louise Dahl, an exchange student at Kyoto University.

“You really have to know the way of writing — the stroke order from the top down, left to right,” she says.

A further complaint is that “since most electronic dictionaries are actually geared toward Japanese studying English,” the menus and navigational tools are usually in Japanese and thus difficult to use if you do not have a solid grasp of the language.

These tools don’t come cheap. Mid-range models such as the Canon Wordtank V80 or Sharp Papyrus PW-AT760-S cost up to ¥20,000.

Mobile phones are also a potential, albeit less scientific, kanji resource. By inputting characters as if you were composing a message, through trial and error you can see if the kanji in question appears as an option in the text box. Of course, if you don’t know a kanji’s reading, this approach won’t help.

Where cellphones come in handy is in double-checking kanji pronunciation on the fly, perhaps deducing the reading of a kanji compound in, say, an advertisement you’ve seen on the train in your daily commute.

Many newer models — such as AU’s Sanyo A5522SA — also have Japanese-English dictionaries installed, though they are limited to basic definitions and cannot look up kanji.

Perhaps the most user-friendly way to look up kanji is the Nintendo DS, the portable video-game console. With large dual screens and a stylus, the DS is a convenient platform for a kanji dictionary. Software such as the “Genius Kanji Sono Mama Rakubiki Jiten (Genius Easy-to-look-it-up-as-it-is Kanji Dictionary)” allows users to input characters using either a touch-screen keyboard or with a stylus. Clayton Tom, an American accountant at the Tokyo branch of Pricewaterhouse Coopers, recommends it.

“The touch-pad interface is very intuitive and the program itself has the best kanji- recognition system I’ve ever seen — I’ve completely butchered complex kanji with little regard to stroke order and somehow it always manages to read it correctly,” he says.

With a factory price of ¥16,800 and software selling for around ¥4,000, the price is competitive. The only downside to the DS, Tom said, was that “if you are looking for an in-depth analysis of each word, you’re better off using an electronic dictionary.”

The DS-as-study-tool seems to be catching on, too. A number of American students at the Kyoto Consortium of Japanese Studies told me they bring their DS to class every day.

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