Not You Again

Yesterday, six weeks into the semester, a student who failed last semester returned. He popped up in my English 2 class, though he failed English 3. His study skills were awful and he missed more than 33% of the classes.

No one explained that he was coming back and his English is so bad that I’m not sure whether he’s now in my class or if he’s just coming this week because he has a test on Sunday.

They give our final exams again to students who failed and then even though my final is only worth 10% of the grade, they pass if they get 60% or better on the test.

I emailed the administrative office and they’re not sure why this boy’s returned. Hmm. If he’s turned over a new leaf, I’ll be happy to take him, but if he’s basically the same, which missing 5 weeks of class suggests, I’ll grudgingly take him.

I hope this gets cleared up tomorrow.


For College Success

Joan Keem offers good advice for advice for new and continuing college students.


While in Beijing for a day Monday before I moved on to Japan for a conference and some sightseeing. I noticed some signs around town for “eMBA’s.” I assumed the “e” stood for online, aka electronic learning.

I was wrong. Last night on Channel News Asia they did a segment on parents’ efforts to get their children into just the right primary school. Seems Beijing is like New York in their desire for elite private schooling from grade 1. “eMBA” stands for Early MBA. In these expensive classes children some not yet 3 study economics because to paraphrase a parent, “you can’t start too young.” They showed the lessons and the kids while bright certainly weren’t getting it.

These kids are going to several afternoon lessons in addition to kindergarden — English, math, geography, soccer (which looked far more serious than what my nieces and nephews did at age 3 or 4). These kids were quite articulate on the process of gaining entry into a prestigious primary school. That might have troubled me the most.

Ask and It Shall Be Given

A few weeks back when we studied advertising in English 3, I showed my students ads by the Chinese office of DDB. I used to work for DDB and have an affinity for them.

I then contacted the name on the press release about this campaign. A couple weeks and a few emails later, I’m delighted to say Volkswagen is giving us 6-10 units!

The air has been cleaner this spring, and it’s about to get even more so on campus.

Toxin Release Inventory

For my Government Documents class I had to make a brief presentation on the Toxin Release Inventory.  It’s a very interesting website to find out how much companies are dumping into the environment.

A company or agency has to report what they do when they produce more than 25,000 pounds or handle more than 10,000 pounds of a listed toxic chemical. You can see how things are in your neighborhood or anywhere.


This week I’ve been trying to complete a remote installation of a software program on to a server in the Illinois from China. It’s for my digital library class. While I’m above average with computers, I’d never had to use my Terminal box on my Mac to put in codes and change code.

The Terminal looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 21.45.01

We had to install Greenstone, an open source digital library software, program on to our servers at the university. I knew doing something like this from China would be hard. It was painful to sit through the online lesson as a lot of people had problems. The class ran an hour overtime. I figured, I’d just watch and try on my own. I wound up having to leave the class when it was 40 minutes over time. (I wish they’d stopped, realised they needed to find a new way to convey the information and find another means and time to do it.)

It took three tries, but now it works.

Knock on wood.

I won’t call myself a Linux expert after one project, but I’m pretty satisfied with my new skill.
I’m glad I had a Mac, because to do this on a PC, I’d have to have downloaded a program called puTTY and its website says you need to get government approval to use it in China.

Nah, that wouldn’t happen.

Have you overcome any challenges recently? Or learned anything new?

Plagues, Witches & Wars: A Good Class

I’ve started a fascinating class in historical fiction, for readers or writers, through Coursera. It’s called Plagues,Witches & Wars: The Worlds of Historical Fiction. It’s free and offered through Coursera by the University of Virginia. I’m just in week 2 and am learning about the roots of historical fiction.

The professor is knowledgeable and the lessons for each week come in 10-20 minute lengths, perfect for little gaps of time.

If you want to learn about a particular subject, you can browse Coursera, which has lots of courses in all areas. Some you must pay for and some offer a certificate if you pay.

Let me know in the comments if you see something interesting and sign up for it.

Academic Accreditation: Chinese Style

This coming week our university is due for a visit from the Ministry of Education. A few weeks back at a meeting we were told we would have to submit several documents for the accreditation, but we’d be told what they were. Rumor had it that we’d have to submit every handout, quiz and test we’d given. We’d have to collect and give every single student’s work, as well as daily lesson plans. When I checked with the foreign affairs office they said we wouldn’t have to submit anything. Well, that works for me, though I began to keep one clean copy of every new handout.

Later a veteran Australian English teacher informed me that all that mattered in accreditation visits was:

  1. The quality of the hotel where the assessors stayed and
  2. The quality of the prostitutes hired for them.

Say it ain’t so!

We have been told that our classes may be observed, which I’m ready for. Tomorrow two classes will have literature circles. On Tues. and Weds. students will present their group videos. So there’s a lot of interactivity and student work to be seen. Students will also do some sustained listening and extensive reading. Since next Monday’s a holiday and it would be foolish to have an exam on the Friday before a holiday, one class will have a final on Thursday, the last possible day for observations. Well, that is part of education, like it or not so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

For months the administration has arranged for the buildings to be spiffed up. New posters are in the classrooms, the walls were painted and we got new desks in September. It’s been quite nice to work in a brighter, cleaner environment.

I’m pretty confident of my courses and relieved I didn’t have to collect every handout I’ve ever given students so I’m ready for the observations.

Yet, on Friday a Chinese professor told me that perhaps no one will visit our campus. They may must review the Qingdao campus, which has about 40,000 students to our 1,500. That makes some sense. It’s easy to forget that our school is very small in the scheme of things. So easy to feel that the issues we face are major issues. We just guppies in a small pond connected to a larger sea.

Still I’ll be prepared for tomorrow.

Oliver on Standardized Testing

I learned about this segment on John Oliver’s HBO program. Oliver goes to town on every facet of standardized testing: the silly ways schools try to psych students to take the tests, how confusing some questions are, how Pearson education pulls in big bucks while paying test graders they find on Craig’s List peanuts to score high stakes tests and how opaque the whole game is. He didn’t address how corruption can creep into the process as seen in Atlanta, but he hit all the major problems with testing.

Though I sort of liked standardized tests, which I realize is a bit bizarre, I see their limits and believe the current system is too expensive and nets few benefits.

Kudos to the kids who refuse to take them. As the Grumpy Old Teachers wonder: Why don’t more students opt out?

A tweet about Grumpy Old Teachers led me to the Oliver report cum lambast. I am sort of hooked on this podcast. Basically, it’s what it says two veteran teachers skewering and whinging about the more ridiculous aspects of teaching. They digress a lot, but sometimes they’ll edit out (and tell listeners when they have) discussions of basketball games or of Costco hauls. Grumpy Old Teachers have got me thinking of joining the tech-oriented teaching organization ISTE. They’ve got global and student rates, which fall within my budget.

Watching the video and listening to the blog made me thankful that I’m not teaching in the US K-12 world. Now I’m not happy about the social promotion we have here in China, but from what I’ve seen there’s little anxiety about testing here. Heck, if the kids don’t pass the CET-4 (College English Test, band 4), they take it or a watered down version till they do. No pep rallies for a test, just an assembly and cash prizes — for teachers and students.

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