JiSHOU, HUNAN — Last week our classrooms all became multimedia rooms. Four years of waiting, and it finally came to pass.
Here’s what the master console looks like:
Operation is easy. Everything starts up as soon as I unlock the console desk: screen comes down, projector lights up, Lenovo ThinkCentre boots up. Internet is not yet working, but I don’t need it immediately anyway.
They came just in time for my lectures on Western music in two weeks — part of the Western Culture course I have this term. You can see a slide in the pic from my lecture on literature this week.
This is second time I’ve taught the course, using the same all-English, Chinese-made textbook as before. This time around, I set aside the book’s chronological presentation and organized my own topical syllabus. It creates more work for me, but I hope the subject becomes somewhat more approachable. Here’s the plan. See what you think.
Quick review of Western civilization: Mesopotamia to the Modern Era
Science and Technology
Art and Music
The course is only for one term, so we have to move quickly. Too quickly, I think. Each unit is two weeks long — three hours each. Excluding the final, that’s 15 weeks of classes. We lost two weeks of classes to the sport meet and the October holiday, so I dropped a planned unit on philosophy.
For me, the system is more enjoyable and (I think) easier to teach, in that I can show how each topic has evolved over the centuries. It also allows me to cut out some of the chaff in the text, which at times is overly detailed and at other times surprisingly lacking in detail. (Case in point: discussing the Enlightenment and its effects on later political events, mentioning only the French Revolution with not even the barest hint of the American one. I mean, WTF?)
To supplement the text, which the students all find too difficult to read, I’ve been posting my lecture notes in my QQ zone. Apparently, Chinese profs don’t do this. Some students say the notes are still too long, but easier to understand than the text. (You try writing about Western political systems in 500 words or less!) Written by a Chinese university professor, the textbook uses very erudite English, has few images and provides no pronunciation guides for the plethora of proper names.
Just for kicks, I typed in one paragraph from the textbook into an online readability test. The Flesch Kincaid Grade Level was 25.8, meaning it was suitable for a fluent reader of English at university or graduate school. One of my paragraphs had a score of 10.4, suitable for a high school sophomore.
I’m still writing like a newspaper reporter, I guess.
Now, while my students are in university, they are Chinese students, not native speakers of English. Their English reading level is closer to an American high school student’s than an American graduate student’s. While I can appreciate the textbook author wants to sound like a university professor, there’s a lot to be said for clarity of prose.
(The same can be said for a lot of American university professors’ writing styles, I might add. Education monographs, for example.)
The students say they are learning more in this manner, though they aren’t too crazy about all the reading in English. Quite a few also can’t get their heads wrapped around the whole topical arrangement idea, as they keep asking me which chapter of the book they should read next. (Sigh. I posted reading assignments the first week of the term. Students are the same the world over, I swear.)