Speak it through a Mic.

November 20th, 2009

Recently, I have been exploring the world of audio equipment thanks to the New Media guru Andy Rush here at DTLT. After spending some time working through mediacollege.com’s material on audio, which is totally deserving of its own post, I started looking into a number of microphones that we have available here in the office. Before digging into all that rich audio goodness, I want to jot down what my basic set up was. Another student aid, Shannon Hauser, and I read a short excerpt from Paradise Lost, only about a minute or so long.  Andy Rush smartly suggested having both male and female voices for the recordings.  In order to test the microphones I needed to get a solid recording, so I used the small (but extremely powerful) Edirol R-09 connected to a small mixer to record 16 bit wav files. While you can easily do a recording in a high bit mp3, it makes more sense to use a file with all of the information left intact. Mp3s will truncate your information through compression. So while this works well for podcasts, when testing a mic you want the best recording possible.

So with that set up in mind, I went about testing three brands of mics (not all of them were the same model mind you!)  I used the shure, studio project, and the audio-technica microphones.  Each microphone has its own uses that makes it perfect for some tasks and not others.  On the whole, each of these mics are solid and come from a range of prices.  We will be starting with the core microphone for almost any job.  That of course is the Shure Microphone Dynamic.  It’s an absolutely solid mic which can survive just about anything.  For purposes of doing a good recording, it will pick up the sound, but leaves a lot to be desired.  However, floating around different shops and talking to performers, the Shure dynamic really stands out when you need to do live work.  The Shure’s strength lies not only in the live aspect but also how well it works for vocalists.  Shure dynamic, in its own light, is a great and very versatile microphone, but when you start to compare it some of the audio-technica equipment it just can’t compare.  I tested audio-technica’s condenser mic with a cardioid polar direction.  Condenser mics have to be powered by a sound board but are extremely sensitive.  The best way to describe what these types of mics sound like is warm and nuanced.  For the purposes of conversations and studio recordings, condenser mics perform beautifully.  The polarity of the mic (where it is sensitive and strongest for picking up sound) lends focus to the recording as it gives a sense of direction.  Another intensive mic I looked at was from Studio Projects.  This specific mic has three settings which will change what parts of the mic are sensitive.  The first option, cardioid, produces a recording not unlike the audio-technica condenser.  However, the multi direction mic also has bi-directional and omni directional settings.  These two settings, although they don’t produce nearly as nice of a recording, work awesomely for when you have to record multi sources of sound and don’t have extra mics.

Finally I checked out a wireless microphone system with two styles of mics.  Frankly, you probably should not be recording with wireless mics, but the wireless system is always great for performances when you don’t want to bother with having cables all over the place.  I used a basic lavaliere and also an audio-technica head set.  I didn’t really enjoy the recording with the lavaliere, if it is set to be a little too sensitive, the mic can pick up movement and undesirable sounds.  Placement of the microphone becomes the key issue when using wireless systems.  They are often place so close that the plosives will get picked up by the mic.  So this is where the head set shines.  Not only is it close to your mouth, but is just far enough away that all you will hear is the clear audio without all of the puffs of air.

At the end of the day, having access to a full range of mics is the ideal situation, but in a pinch what should you do?  Well, if all you are looking for is live, hang out with Shure Dynamic, even pros use these babies.  If you have a lot of different types of jobs and scenarios (recording two people at once, or just the ambient sound of an entire room) shell out a little extra cash and go for the multi-directional.  You can’t go wrong.  And most of all get a good pair of headphones and start exploring the world of microphones!

Quests for Uni

October 10th, 2009

Right now I am sitting in Union station by Gate H waiting for a train, train #150 to whisk me away to Albany for the weekend.  I packed pretty lightly with my friend in tow.  I honestly feel strange to not be doing work right now, to just be able to sit and do whatever I want to do.  What does that mean my semester has become?  Further what does this feeling reflect about my views towards education?  I wonder if that intensive workload I heaped upon myself has caused me to harbor hard feelings towards a college’s mode of operation:  work until you can’t function.  I started to read David Allen’s work on stress free productivity and marvel at how low I have sunk to necessitate someone telling me how to relax.  Admittedly I feel pushed beyond my limits and question the normal process of being a college student.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by programwitch
First we must consider the aspects of being a student that must be drawn into our questioning.  The university has centered itself along different lines involving students.  It primarily functions as a space for students to come learn from professors and other faculty that the university administrators hire.  It’s second feature of course is to encourage the growth of healthy student social activity.  For most universities the first is a much easier requirement to satisfy than the second.  Student life usually gets relegated to clubs and organizations on campus for students to join and participate.  Sitting on top of these two is the university’s greatest concern, keeping the flow of money constant through student applications and good reputations, essential keys to turning a profit.

Although club work takes us to a whole other level of problems, I want to just focus on the university’s way of producing stress through its academic programs.  The image above jokes at the solution for the stress yet, you will find if you go to flickr and find the photo a comment reading:  “I had this very thing posted in my university office for a number of years. It got a lot of laughs — and many folks wanted copies!!”  Even in the university office others are laughing at this statement.  What does it tell us?  I think it speaks to the fact that everyone feels the workload crunch and laughs in some ways to commiserate with all those whom suffer at the hands of heavy workloads.

I cannot speak from the angle of a college professor and will not attempt to do such.  However, the typical college student at the liberal arts institution must take a rack of General Education courses in order to fulfill degree requirements, besides the general requirements, major programs have their own significant hurdles.  Every program will require its own unique set of requirements in order to ensure the student that he/she has been receiving the education for which they paid; however the requirements often force students to take on hefty work loads in order to graduate on the four year track, because at least to me there seems to be some stigma attached to graduating late, as even the term Super-Senior feels degrading.  “Oh here’s  a college student that just couldn’t manage his time right.”

The amount of credit hours required to be considered a full time college student is, at least for my institution 12 credit hours, this roughly translates to 4 courses (unless of course you are taking labs which end up being 4 credit hours instead of the traditional 3).  Each course has a list of expectations in terms of both participation and assignments.  These assignments can range anywhere from extremely easy and fun to time-consuming.  When taking a heavy course load, the student can easily become overwhelmed with the level of work involved.  Yet at many times this is what a university requires of a student to complete a somewhat possible task but not with a feeling of satisfaction.  Perhaps I step a boundary to far and criticize that I fear in many ways I complete a whole set of assignments, then have to ask myself what I truly learned.

These thoughts are not articulated well enough yet, and I don’t claim to fully even understand where my problem with higher education lies.  However, I think we must ask ourselves as students and faculty what a B.A./B.S. should mean.  I won’t reduce the question to an A or B, because it is more complex than that.  However, who should define what the degree means?  If I want an education experience that puts me fully centered in studying China, why should I struggle against gen eds.  Furthermore (and most importantly to me) should a senior be taking the same amount of classes as the Freshmen?  While one could make an argument for the seniors being better trained to handle a rough courseload, I think this to be an absurd point.  Credit hours ought reflect the difficulty of a course with the intention that the student needs to focus specifically on that course.

Even if you read this post and believe it says nothing at all.  At least consider the core question of how academia functions for the undergraduate student.  Please post comments and add to the discussion.

The Panda wonders.

Help!

September 30th, 2009

I tend to feel very disinclined to write about my own academic frustrations, because such things are very sensitive topics, but I feel as if my current issues, and hopefully possible solutions, can be of help to other students.  The problem?  I cannot seem to take good notes while reading.  I have been working at this for a few days and literally have found no good way of reading and notetaking.  The closest I come to doing such is underlining what I feel are key passages and making notes in the margin.  What this doesn’t work for is books that are supposed to be library only.  These are texts that I won’t always be able to gain access to, so how do I address this issue?  I need my notes to not only explain what a reading says, but also be able to handle explicit quotes.  My note taking process as it exists now takes up way too much time for me to spare.  I can’t let a reading take me half a day to digest, ponder, and then summarize into notes.  What I’ve also noticed is that the notes are themselves a text that I allow to grow too long.  I used to think that taking notes in full sentences would ease the process of writing about a text later.  What I’ve come to realize is that it takes up far more time to create these full sentences.

This semester of too many credit hours forces me to find a new method to move through material quickly but most importantly effectively.  What point is there to doing all this work if it amounts to nothing?  I will give an example of a book that I am really struggling with:  Man Awakened From Dreams.  The book is divided into chapters which should potentially make my life easier, yet I find it difficult to divide the chapter it meaningful subsections as each portion of the chapter tends to be one long overarching discussion of a topic.  For instance right now I am re-reading a chapter on filial piety…the whole piece is threaded together in such a way as to make it difficult to put or cut into meaningful chunks.  How do you handle a monograph?  How do you divide up portions of a story?  The next problem I encounter is how to actually write while reading.  As I talked with a student about it, she mentioned “Well you can only do one thing at a time.”  That’s what is keeping me in this mess.  If I wait till after I finish a chapter, I have already lost the specific break down of the chapter.  Sure I could probably summarize it, just not be able to pull the info from my head into a nice paper and certainly not without the use of the book.

And if you are wondering…this problem has also been crossing over into lectures.  Lectures, unlike books, tend to be in shorter segments, giving it a sense of urgency, purpose and direction.  Professors only have 50 minutes or so to deliver a talk, so their talks carry a very strong thread, for the most part.  I know for instance my history professor specifically shows an outline of her talk before even beginning.  This not only sets the stage for the talk but also gives students a framework to take their notes.  They will know how the talk is divided and this really helps to organize notes.  But what about professors that take tangents?  What about a complicated talk that does not have a solid outline.  Even worse, what do you do with a discussion based class?  So far my answer to this has been to start using the Cornell system.  I used to just bring my computer and essentially write down every word.  That process is not notetaking, that is transcribing, they aren’t the same.  Frankly, writing every single world is just laziness.  It’s easy to take down everything said and not be critical about the material.  When you are forced to create a series of keywords about the lecture, you have no choice but to think critically.  What is important?  Tangential?  These are judgment calls which ultimately make the information more important.  Cornell, in my mind, through the use of keywords on the left side of the page encourages a student to categorize information.  However, I still haven’t settled on it.

Penn State University put out a helpful guide dealing with a wide range of note taking strategies depending on the style of the lecture and how content heavy any given talk is.  Many of these options boils down to experimenting and seeing what works for you.  Most people assume that they know how to take notes, but I would hazard to say that it is a skill most people do not have fully developed just yet.  Why?  I believe that note taking is actually a challenging task that requires very thoughtful musings in creating categories, keywords and key phrases.  Maybe note taking relies on the same structural method of a blog?  This is the end of the road, I have discovered a problem in my study skills, and now I reach out to you, fellow scholars, avid readers, and beyond, because you all might have information and thoughts that I have not stumbled across yet.  This semester’s work requires new methods, new ways of tackling and processing information.  As it stands, I do not process it fast enough.

So if you get any thoughts or ideas, particularly about reading and notetaking, leave me a comment or send a message @bahktinjali on twitter.   I greatly appreciate any help!

The Panda has requested!

From the New Media Studies Class

September 28th, 2009

In consideration to the projects most of the members of the New Media Studies class are finishing up, I wanted to touch on what I thought about the different mediums available, process of world building, and my own interests in the art of world building. Although the primary purpose of the world building leans towards a game like environment, I question that lean as the sole objective to world building. Virtual worlds can have so much more than the game quality, and I believe that if we look at what virtual worlds should be, we will find that virtual worlds truly are more than a supped up version of pacman.

Our projects come right off the heels of reading a number of short stories/articles about virtual realities, watching tron, and going through Snow Crash. Each item we studies presented, sometimes in vastly different ways, the virtual realm. We saw in an article about LambdaMOO the powerful affects of being attached to an online space. Strange enough, the New Media Studies class conducted a few talks about this subject within our very own maryMOO. This added a certain bizarre factor that can only be experienced and never fully, nor accurately, described. For Dr. Whalen the process of discussing and exploring a virtual world does not encapsulate the understanding of a virtual world. You won’t understand the thinking that takes place behind a world until you actually begin building it yourself. As a subscriber to the idea of Edupunk, I am down with the approach and loved our virtual world assignment. It was straight forward, build a world and then talk about it, yet we had a number of tools introduced to us.

During the course we have seen or at least talked about five different ways of world building: MOO, Metaplace, Inform, Second Life, and There. From what I saw of the classes’ worlds, everyone stuck to the first three options, where as Second Life and There (which mind you is not even accessible to Macs) were not used.

My weapon of choice for working on the virtual world was the good old MOO. I love the absolute freedom that you can find by using text rather than images. The MOO comes with its own set of limitations, namely the necessary knowledge of certain code phrases to create objects. However, once you have a feel for how that system works, it becomes a breeze to “dig” new areas of exploration. The MOO, while it can have obstacles for a player to overcome, lacks the options of winning or losing the game. Most of the oldercrowd will recognize MOOs by their earlier variant the MUD (you see a door to the north, go north? Y/N) Any one can access a MOO by downloading tkmoo or for mac users a program called MUDwalker. Remember that “@exits” is probably about your greatest ally, otherwise you may have a hard time finding your way around the world.

Inform acts a lot like the MOO, so you might wonder why you would want to make use of it. The difference between MOO and inform are two key differences in how you approach world building. A MOO encourages development of an interactive world, a place to socialize, hang out; however, inform has its hands in the realm of interactive fiction. You craft a story that has a definitive beginning and end, which a user will play through until he either wins or loses. The win/lose scenario makes inform stand out from all the other mediums possible to world building. That being said, one you win the game starts over, as if whatever you did never truly happened at all. This mentality also makes inform, as Dr. Whalen said in an earlier post, a single player experience. It’s just you, maybe some NPCs, and the world moving along with the waves of a gripping plot. One of the reviews I did over this weekend focused on an inform world that I thought was beautifully crafted. The second advantage to the inform option, you don’t have to know code! Each action, item, and place can be built with plain English sentences. I’m not personally aware of how that process works, but it seems very straight forward. I would download inform 7 and give it a testdrive.

I noticed that many of my classmates used a special, cozy spot called Metaplace. Immediately, and very frankly, the one major up it has on MOO is its use of visuals. Not only does this significantly help out the user (that would be you!) but it also streamlines the building process for us wanna-be wizards. I noticed that people using Metaplace definitely built their respective worlds much faster than the students crafting in MOO or even in inform. Nothing can compare to the ease of drag and drop building. It’s a far less intimidating experience than building in a MOO which leaves you literally digging out empty space. You can easily access Metaplace online, which means that going from world to world or stumbling across something interesting is a lot easier here. If you don’t know that a particular MOO or inform exists, you probably won’t happen upon it. That is hardly the case at Metaplace, all the separate worlds funnel into the Metaplace central, and the game…excuse me world, encourages you to explore other places. Although I love the idea of Metaplace as a superior medium, it does not come without its limitations. A world within Metaplace can easily lack any direction or purpose, where as a MOO or inform, by being limited creations with limited actions available, already have a very “defined” feel to it.

The world building process…well okay that’s just different for everyone. I took my inspiration form a radio show I did about last week, which mind you can be heard at http://wmwc.umw.edu if you click the first link on the page! I started exploring some electronic music and came across the genre known as “Darkstep” which just had this great cyber punk feel to it. Before I knew it, the idea of building a club jumped into my mind. I started work like a mad man. The world itself needs some fleshing out, but it’s a great source of inspiration and an interesting departure from the sword and sorcery model of most MOOs.

So, I am a hater of Metaplace to a certain extent, the MOO way of life is just who I am, however I got struck by one particular world I came across in Metaplace. The user crafted a world that had all sorts of arcade machines. These machines were not just for a look, the user could actually interact by clicking on the game. A second window pops up displaying a flash version of the game. It’s impressive how metaplace can pull in outside websites into the world. It got me thinking about my own personal interests in Chinese studies and building a personal library of language tools and videos. Even closer to what I am looking to do, I just found a user who has created a world for some of his different communication classes. http://www.metaplace.com/play2learn2play/play I would love to see a coopoerative project using this virtual space. Although I don’t subscribe to the Second Life as a classroom theory, I think that a space which can centralized online information would be very handy.

Interested in world building? Give it a test try and check out the range of options. If you are particularly brave, why not try Second Life? However if all you want is a cool place to walk around, come check out maryMOO (moo.elsweb.org:7777)

Reflections on CW

September 21st, 2009

The CW is in reference to Colonial Williamsburg, which granted I have not visited in many years, but I can still hold opinions!  Especially after reading Richard Handler and Eric Gable’s book entitled The New History in an Old Museum.  Over the course of this semester I have worked in conjunction with Professor Eric Gable, anthropology professor at UMW, for an Anthropology 491 (independent study) course focusing on the nature of museums.  This course doesn’t, however, touch on the same range of topics that say a historic preservation class would.  We aren’t so much interested in how to create an exhibit, but rather what are the effects of the created exhibit, what does it say about the world around it?  Every week I work through a book, typically with a question in mind given to me by Prof. Gable.  As I already mentioned, I was actually reading a book that he wrote and working, toying really, with the question “How ethnography works in studying museums, what does an ethnography offer?”  Here’s the thing, the authors I have read so far on Museology (Tony Bennett and Carol Duncan) do not take a strictly ethnographic approach (which needs some defining in a moment here), but rather these authors study the texts a museum already produced.  These are generalized messages and ignore the everyday status of a museum space.  First we have to ask why studying that museum space is important.  Is it not possible to just study the artifacts and plaques around the museum?  My answer to that is no, of course not.  Right, why?  The Museum exists as more than the pure collection of text written by and about it.  Gable’s choice of a detailed ethnography of Colonial Williamsburg (CW) produces a wealth of details that bring many of the conflicts and questions which both Bennett and Duncan seek answers.  The central question posed by Gable and Handler is whether or not the “social history” CW promotes so heavily is truly being carried out.  The ethnography, as a main technique for anthropology, grants the researcher a flexibility that pure library research lacks, the ability to interview and look at an exceedingly broad picture.  Gable in his opening to this work neatly draws out the initial stages of thinking as well as methods for his ethnographic research.  During the entire book, the authors make extensive use of actual quotes, as opposed to purely paraphrasing.  Quotes recorded from multiple interviews with employees add additional layers of details to the anthropological analysis of what occurs at CW.

In addressing how the ethnography works in studying museums, field research steps away from just studying the plaques, pamphlets and other works produced by the museum, and turns to the people within the museum itself, both workers and visitors.  Rather than focus mainly on architectural concerns, an ethnography seeks to understand how the people themselves make sense of the contradictory messages of commercialism and genuine desire to educate all visitors to CW.  Through the collection of interviews, the anthropologists start to use recurring thoughts or conflicts to create new questions dealing with the museum.  An ethnography, unlikely many forms of study, attempts to approach the research subject without bias or previous judgments.  Here is where ethnography tends to be problematic for those unfamiliar with the idea of fieldwork, ethnography’s questions are generally produced as you go, narrowing as you gain a strong understanding of the important details.  Gable is very open that they started with broad ideas about what they wanted to study.  The second question I need to address is what an ethnography brings to the table.  One of the final chapters of this book, “The Picket Fence” deals with a strike between a union and upper management that occurs during Handler and Gable’s two year period of field research.  The ethnographic line of thinking decides to take advantage of any shift in the field, because field research actively seeks out what matters to the research subjects.

The New History in an Old Museum covers a broad range of topics within the world of CW, but again its main interest lies in uncovering whether the rhetoric of the new social history truly exists within this museum or is it another “Republican Disneyland”?  The narrative fluidly moves from topic to topic, building upon the foundations of the organization that attempts to constantly deal with potential views held by the public towards the CW foundation.

But it’s four in the morning go check it out yourself!

Student Teaching

August 6th, 2009

While studying at ICLP I have been confronted with a great deal of questions concerning how to approach Chinese upon returning to my home institution. Thus far, everyone’s answer has been, “Language Partner”. This is just fine considering that the surrounding Fredericksburg area does in fact have a, albeit small, Chinese population who speak Mandarin (dialectal issues can come up given that most Chinatown residents happen to speak Cantonese). Language growth on my part isn’t what I am necessarily worried about, I am certain that with a history professor who speaks Chinese and the Chinese language professor being a resident of the Mary Washington campus, I can continue to work on conversation everyday as well as do private work on vocabulary and grammar. Additionally many of the ICLP teachers have opened up their email inbox to any and all questions I could have while studying. The icing on the cake of course is my study abroad to China coming up next year in February.

What I am concerned about is, where other students sit on studying Chinese. Having now been studying in an intensive environment where language classes is the only type of class you take, I realize that at universities across the board you are merely treading water, at best. I have found students who although have been studying Chinese for several years have major issues with pronunciation. To be fair, I still royally suck at tones, however this is the downfall of almost every single non-native speaker of Chinese. The problem lies in there not being enough time for people to practice their Chinese outloud and have someone over them helping to correct their pronunciation. At ICLP we have a class called a “Dan Ban Ke” which is literally a single person class. The process is excruciating as you no longer can hide your voice in the crowd. Just you and the professor, no where to run or hide. The reality of the normal university’s situation is that first and foremost they do not have the manpower in terms of language instructors to do this for every student enrolled in a Chinese course, which mind you can sometimes go upwards to 25 people in smaller institutions. This is problematic as students learning a new language require individual attention to address their needs. I recall many days in 101 and 102 being able to not have to speak at all for the entire class unless I wanted to. No one is at fault for this situation, it is merely how it has to be given the fact we have only one instructor who already teaches four classes. Another force at work here is the student’s schedule. Unless they are majoring in Chinese, currently not possible at UMW, they will not be using or even studying for Chinese everyday. We only have class every MWF so there are two down days per week plus the weekend where many students won’t practice their Chinese. As the program at Mary Washington is still very young many students cannot yet hold fluid conversations for a long period, and we don’t have upper level students that can help guide and tutor lower levels. That’s a little bit of a lie since we did in fact have tutoring services available from some of the upper crust students of the 200 level classes. However, maybe it doesn’t matter whether students need tutoring or not, but that they require more opportunities to speak out.

Chinese, as an English speaker, feels horrifically awkward to speak at first, and I personally felt very embarrassed to be making these weird sounds in my dorm room or in any public space. Where do you practice? Where do you go to work on tones and the subtle differences between sounds? My question to you, readers, is what do you do to help overcome the above situation? I have come up with some of my own answers to address this, but feel that they are limited. For instance, 100 level students do not really have the ability to speak but you could potentially hold pronunciation clinics to get them to understand how to make some of the more awkward sounds. Many students still pronounce “xue” as “shui” because the x u e combination produces an umlaut that non-native speakers do not produce clearly. So although I am only an intermediate student, can I actually effectively run a say once a week pronunciation clinic? Would students even show up? Ultimately I would like to see 200 level students meeting up with 100 level and working through the beginner’s book, do practices and drills together. This I feel would benefit both learners as going through the old material can refresh your mind on grammar structures and potentially forgotten vocabulary.  I started checking into a book series that is big in mainland china called “Crazy English” where an instructor will take students outside and just have all of them shout english phrases out collectively so no one feels nervous.  I could definitely imagine a rack of Mary Wash students outside on Ball Circle yelling “Nihao!”

Thoughts?

ICLP Zone

July 25th, 2009

It has been a long while since doing a solid blog post on this space. While my readership probably isn’t the largest out there, considering the might of bavatuesdays and confessions of a community college dean, I still feel this very bizarre obligation to continue to write to an audience I can’t quite see. Over the next few weeks I’d like to share a little bit of my own ICLP experience, perhaps also write a post-ICLP talk. Many of us have not done an intensive language program and so don’t have a very firm grasp on the benefits and pro’s that a language program can bring to the table, not too mention how one goes about selecting the appropriate program. At another time, it would be awesome to write up a broader piece dealing with the whys and how to’s of language study, but for now I will settle with a look at my time at ICLP.

I have three classes at ICLP that stretch from 10AM until 2PM with a break at noon for lunch. My classes, I think I have mentioned this before, contain no more than three people, including myself. My first two classes work out of different books and are the group classes with two other students and me. In the group classes we work our way through grammar points by setting up scenarios and looking at the dialogs of a given lesson. I’ve noticed that of the two classes one really focuses hard core on the grammar, very nitty gritty, while the other one takes a much lighter approach by teaching you how to work with certain scenarios. From there you get a basic understanding of the grammar tools that will allow you to handle transactions, ask questions etc. Now, I have to admit I am coming to ICLP with way less language experience than most people normally come to ICLP with. The best way to put it, ICLP trains scholars in the field of China studies on how to use language towards their field. So The normal langauge student doesn’t necessarily come to ICLP as his first training area. However, ICLP has recently made a point in creating classes and hiring teachers to work with students that are at or near my level. I noticed some students that are using level one books, normally these students have some experience with say reading or have massive vocabularies but require some correcting in basic grammars and pronunciation. It’s actually funny how most students tend to come here with great reading comprehension but less than quality speaking skills. Although, admittedly, most of those students are by now very proficient at speaking since we are in week…five or perhaps four I have now lost track unfortunately! My days at ICLP have felt a bit strange, I have the same classes everyday so it is a bit like being back in high school and a weird twilight zone. Everyday, I walk into the same bakery and got some delicious bread and juice, quickly jog (慢跑)to the school. I hear the bells (not actual bells but speakers under the clocks) that go off with the traditional da da dada da da dada, however you decide to represent sound via text, but you are familiar with the tune that goes off to announce classes. Classes happen, I catch my break for lunch. I’ve been using my lunch breaks for drum practice using a small practice pad, metronome, and my sheet music. The ICLP teachers (laoshi=老師)will sometimes come out and watch me play on their way to pick up lunch. It’s kind of weird being a little attraction, especially since let’s be honest my drum skills are less than quality, but it makes for good conversation! Afterwards, I jaunt over to the computer lab and check email as well as take a quick refresher glance at my new vocabulary.

This refresher glance is usually very helpful. Lately I have been getting a hold of so many words that it is hard to keep a hold of the words. The issue, which should be more fully addressed in a separate post, comes from the fact that different words can have the same sound. But this isn’t like the homonyms like bee and be, two too and to. It’s usually like “shi” with a fourth tone (a sharp drop) can be a whole host of sounds. This is really why having the characters is super important. Without the symbols you would have all these different sounds that would be awfully hard to figure out their meaning. Although I imagine context would clarify things, but we’ll find out in the future. My last class of the day is the real challenge. It’s a single person class called a 單班課 (dan ban ke). The instructor never ceases to amaze me on how he manages to work with me, especially when my brain just won’t work at all. If you can imagine you are in this class alone so you have no one else to rely on. If you don’t know the information you have to ask and then work your way around the definition of the word using words you already know. Maybe, it isn’t that complicated for other people, but my class tends to leave me really exhausted. The vocabulary isn’t usually what bothers me, it’s the correction of tones. I almost always need my tones corrected. Tones have become the bane of my learning experience. What’s sad is, you often don’t hear yourself properly. When you think you are making third tone, you are actually doing fourth. So 老師 corrects you and you still won’t get it right away.

So my constant rinse and repeat at ICLP leaves me pretty tuckered out by the weekend, making traveling around Taiwan tough, since your brain is just worn down. However the classes are really well thought out. I’ve been impressed with how the school puts together the courses to work with each student’s needs. One individual has nothing but one on one classes and each class dove tails into the next. I guess it’s easier to do that with all language classes. My week surprisingly moves very quickly. The days blend into each other almost seamlessly, making it difficult to recall what day it is, unless it is Friday. Friday, all filled with tasty tea and delicious snacks and wandering around, is my fun day, period. : D

Wiping off Dust

July 21st, 2009

I have to admit, it’s been a while since I’ve touched this space. I can’t say I’m proud to have left her in such a bad condition, but my circumstances, my circumstances! Either way, ICLP has been a crazed ride this entire summer, but it is high time to kick both Panda Musings and Panda’s Workbook back into high gear. Does this mean I will be able to update all the time? Heck no. But the fact is that at any given point a person can become busy. This does not mean the person has to stop working on the projects that interested him/her. In fact it’s during that busy period that maybe you can pick up some kickin’ scheduling skills. Either way, it’s time to turn the lights back on in this old musty warehouse filled with cobwebs and maybe some strangely mutated creations that would love to give me a piece of their mind. Tomorrow is midterm day here at ICLP so probably little writing will be happening for tonight, but let’s work out a schedule, light a fire to roast some veggies and have a talk. You bring the soda, I’ll bring the talking. Good times will be had by everyone! Sorry, I ahve been feeling my english slipping in bad ways as Chinese wording tries to weasel its way into my English sentence structure.

This Panda just donned battle armor.

Jus’ Talkin’ bout da Bava

July 11th, 2009

I have been really busy with classes at ICLP, but I came across a blog by Jim Groom that just really needs some talking about. The question being dealt with here is how open should umwblogs be. Since my attending UMW’s faculty academy, I have been thinking about this issue of opening of online spaces to further connect and encourage students to knowledge creation. As a student, I want to touch on my own perspective and side of the argument. While at the Inter Chinese Language Program in Taipei, I have been keeping blogs to talk about Chinese language learning and my classes. It got me thinking that it would be awesome to have other students that are here participate in my own work as co-authors, but the problem is I can’t do that on umwblogs. It’s unfortunate, but this space isn’t open up to outsiders who could potentially be brought into the conversation beyond just comments, any one can do that. I want to be able to talk about Chinese language with a multitude of other students and be writing a blog that informs other people. Here’s the thing, at Mary Washington there are very few people who are as interested in studying China or the language as I am, how awesome would it be to get other scholars from different institutions writing on the same space? It would be sweet and could connect schools in totally different ways. I would love to have the capability of adding authors to my blog who are in similar veins of study. If we are all about having a “conversation” which was the buzz word at faculty academy, shouldn’t we be talking to more people than ourselves? If that answer to that question is yes, then what do we do?

Jim Groom makes a very strong statement in his post: “What is UMW Blogs if not simply a step towards something else? Why are we so jealous about protecting it, let’s burn it down and build it anew.” I feel that what we are seeing is a return to a very old problem concerning how academic works, it is madly sheltered away from the eyes of the public. It’s also something that should be vigorously controlled and locked down to just people at the institution, but really come on, is that how learning works for those of us interested in umwblogs? No, because it comes with the assumption that you can only learn from your institution and nowhere else. I have wondered if this idea about umwblogs and its bringing up of a network of problems also points to how academics have to publish through peer-review journals and have little control of their own work. Who really holds the reins in terms of umwblogs? The students aren’t the ones calling the shots, its the university. I remember at the end of the spring semester this year Jim Groom posted about a “umwblogs escape plan” for those students who were graduating and wanted to continue on the work they began at UMW. This sounds great, it sounds like a flexible system, but if you have an escape plan, you are getting out of situation that is stuck, trapped. In my own opinion that isn’t what umwblogs is supposed to be, but if you go to the mainpage it says “a publishing platform for the UMW community”. It doesn’t say “a publishing platform for the academic community” or even “…for the learning community.” It’s ultimately limited by a simple tagline to the university. I agree with Groom’s answer of saying bah to it, start over and open the sucker up, but that isn’t going to happen, just because as long as it is attached to the University, they are going to want to keep a handle on it. It’s how a school works, it needs to protect and secure its own intellectual property for its own prestige (which brings to question who owns the blog posts : P).

The eventual compromise looks towards a way of doing a plug-in to allow people from here to grab people in. I can settle for that. Groom said it right, ” This is a plugin/feature that we should develop, for we need to start thinking of this as network that both relfects UMW, but also all the various individuals and their networks and relationships that move beyond it.” Where does the UMW community end, really? If it is actually about the individuals then let’s allow the individuals a little more control, but how do we simultaneously call this the University’s space but say it moves beyond it as well? I think here at Mary Wash we do have a body of students that are very rigorous in their learning and want to try it out by letting the world see it. Frankly, it’s great practice. It doesn’t come with the fears of receiving bad grades, but allows you to still be susceptible to mistakes and grow from the process. I’m down for a new approach to the umwblogs and really am super stoked to see where it goes from here. We have seen this platform do exceedingly well, but just because this is having success doesn’t mean we should stop here and call it a day. Does it?

Week 3

July 5th, 2009

Has this become the blair witch project? You catch these snippets of me running around with short breath and snot dripping out of my nose? It’s quite possible, but that is just fine. This weekend went absolutely awesome in terms of training. A few of my new Taiwanese friends sat me down and forced me to make sounds and read outloud as they corrected me. I can finally ask questions of how you would say a specific word, which the word in question is the only time I am allowed to speak English with them. After last week’s successive defeats the weekends minor victories in communication have been glorious! I keep thinking about what it will take to break into a level of somewhat fluency. Chinese doesn’t have the same learning curve of European languages that we pick up in college. The problem with Chinese basics is that there is a lot of reprogramming that needs to take place in an English speaker’s brain before you can even hope to get anywhere. I don’t even sit at the point of being reprogrammed and ready to speak Chinese, which is exactly why I stumble. Dr. Campbell gave me some interesting book recommendations concerning second language acquisition and neural patterns that should be good reads when I get back home. I have basically nixed full hard core reading of books until I get home. I tend to read for hours at a time, and unfortunately I don’t have those stretches of hours…although with two independent studies next semester, will I even have the time then? Anyway! Today’s assignment is to go to a restaurant, order in Chinese and write about the experience. Superstoked since pictures also count as part of the assignment. Ooof I’d kill to have someone teach me photography, get me a nice camera, and (due to heavy bookbags) give me a shoulder massage : D! Don’t mind me I’ve just gone a little bonkers. As a side note, fourth of July when abroad is pretty lame, especially if you are the only American around. I got up and did a little dance for America, since I’m not exactly sure if people can set off fireworks in Taipei without some sort of authorization. The last thing I need is to be thrown into jail while abroad. Alright let’s get this week rolling. 3….2….1 BING!