What we do on Chinese Island
There are a broad range of inworld learning activities that can be undertaken on Chinese Island, both synchronously and asynchronously.
During the regular semester students participate in three different kinds of lessons on Chinese Island:
- Each semester, all Introductory level students do three 1.5 hour computer lab sessions that require them to interact with our non-player characters (NPC) to complete a range of of communication-oriented tasks (see below). Linguistic interaction occurs via text-chat in Mandarin (using Chinese characters). Our NPCs are programmed to understand input from students and respond in Mandarin (mostly text-chat in Chinese characters, but increasingly also audio and body language) as they work their way through the various tasks. Students also interact with the NPCs via virtual artefacts such as a virtual wallet (where payment is required), digital documents (in the medical scenario), train tickets, etc. The tasks are designed to reinforce and extend content students are learning in their textbook in the regular classroom environment and to get them to use what they have learned to communicate in scenarios that reflect authentic everyday real life activities.
- Since 2013, each semester all Introductory students also participate in three 1 hour long sessions that require them to interact with native speaking staff from the National Taiwan Normal University to complete task-based language learning scenarios also aligned with the content covered in the main textbook. This interaction occurs primarily in spoken mode (utilizing Second Life’s voice functionality) and is supplemented by text-chat in Chinese characters and the manipulation of a range of virtual objects by the students. As with the NPC lessons, tasks reflect both content from the textbook and authentic real life scenarios.
- Also since 2013 each semester a small group of students doing the two Introductory units in off-campus (flexible) mode have been required to attend two hours of live classes on a weekly basis on Chinese Island. These classes supplement the asynchronous learning these students do with synchronous interaction with fellow classmates and the instructor running the lessons. The lessons involve a combination of spoken and text-chat interaction. Content of the lessons is very similar to the on-campus students who also do 2 hours each week of small group tutorials, but with additional virtual world twists (e.g. visiting other locations in Second Life that facilitate a particular spoken exercise such as discussing the weather, etc.).
Examples of communication-oriented task-based language learning tasks:
- Learning a range of vocabulary related to restaurants, ordering food, reading menus, etc.
- Exploring the environment and learning about various cultural features
- Asking about ingredients to make a traditional Chinese dish
- Asking for directions to the farmers’ market where the ingredients can be purchased
- Following those directions to go to the farmer’s market
- Using purchased ingredients to make a traditional dish in the virtual kitchen
- Farmers’ market
- Following directions given by the waitress in the restaurant to go to the market
- Asking about ingredients
- Asking about prices
- Purchasing ingredients using virtual Chinese currency
- Exploring the market to learn new food related vocabulary
- Exploring the market to discover unusual features of a farmers’ market in China
- Medical clinic
- Talking to the receptionist nurse, doctor and pharmacist to learn about the process of seeing a doctor in a Chinese university medical clinic
- Registering in the clinic and paying the registration fee
- Obtaining and filling in a medical history card
- Seeing the doctor to describe symptoms, obtain a diagnosis and receive a prescription for medicine
- Paying for the prescribed medicine
- Going to the in-house pharmacy and obtaining the medication
- Taking the medication to cure the illness symptoms
- Travel agent and railway station
- Enquire about train tickets to Beijing
- Asking questions to establish which train the most appropriate
- Purchasing a ticket for the train (based on budget & timing)
- Finding the correct platform and boarding the train
- Finding a seat and having tickets inspected
- Finding accommodation
- Locating the real estate agent based on a written address
- Enquiring about suitable accommodation
- Clarifying monthly rental costs and deposit
- Inspecting available accommodation and checking if appliances working
Examples of culture-focused tasks:
- Traditional festival related activities
- Qingming Festival (Grave sweeping festival)
- Visit the grave of ancestors on the island
- Sweep and clean up the grave site
- Pay respects to the (hypothetical) ancestors buried in the grave
- Receive a prize for remembering and showing respect to ancestors
- Engage in a typical leisure activity associated with the Qingming Festival
- Zhongqiu Festival (Mid-autumn or mooncake festival)
- Undertake the ‘Mooncake Challenge’ quest and learn about the Zhongqiu Festival and two associated traditional folk legends
- Search for mooncakes placed in strategic locations around the island and answer questions about the festival and the associated legends to obtain new clues to the whereabouts of the other mooncakes
- Become a character in one of the legends and save the earth from 10 rampaging suns
- Duanwu Festival (Dragon Boat Festival)
- Visit ‘Old Zhang’ in the traditional Southern Jiangsu garden to learn about the legend of the Duanwu Festival, the history of dragon boat racing and the story of Qu Yuan, the famous poet-patriot
- Paddle a traditional dragon boat (alone or with friends) out onto the river (the straits between Monash University island and Chinese Island) in search of the body of the famous patriot poet Qu Yuan
- Throw sticky rice dumplings to the fish and shrimp in the water to stop them from eating him and to find the location of his body
- Win a prize by locating the body of Qu Yuan
- Qingming Festival (Grave sweeping festival)
Examples of other culture-focused activities:
- Visit the traditional courtyard house (四合院)to learn about the history, myths and cultural practices that surround this unique form of accommodation
- While in the courtyard house, visit the painting exhibition to learn about one of China’s more unusual 20th Century female artists through a display of some of her more ‘controversial’ paintings and by watching a movie about her life
- You can also visit a photographic exhibition of traditional lane ways (胡同) in Beijing and learn about how lane way life is slowly disappearing as the city modernises
- Visit the traditional college on the island (书院) to see a small exhibition on the terracotta warriors (entombed warriors) of Xi’An and also view a sub-titled video on their discovery by a local farmer
- While you are there also visit the Chinese character display to learn about the evolution of Chinese characters over the centuries and even try your hand at writing some characters
- The traditional college also has a small display of traditional Chinese musical instruments, some that you can play yourself! Also watch a video of a real musical performance of one of the instruments
- Learn about the historical emperor-poet Li Yu, his passion for beautiful women and the tragic tale of his empress-wife Empress Zhou the Younger
- Visit ‘Old Zhang’ in the Southern Jiangsu Garden to hear three traditional folk tales associated with three major traditional Chinese festivals
- Enjoy a relaxing ride on a southern Jiangsu canal boat and listen to the boat woman sing traditional songs or for the more adventurous, row a traditional canal boat yourself as you explore the canal way through the middle of the island
- Go to the kitchen behind the restaurant and make traditional sticky rice dumplings (also see Duanwu Festival above).
- Learn about the history of rockets, gun powder and the Chinese space program (see tab on main menu “Chinese Island Space Program”
- Fly a mission on the Shenzhou 9 rocket to the Tiangong No.1 space laboratory
The Back Story
To set the overall context for lessons on Chinese Island, students are introduced to a “back story” in the first lesson at the beginning of the first semester. The following is the story they are introduced to:
Chinese Island is a small rural city somewhere in China. It happens to have, among other things, a renowned Chinese language and culture school. Each year students from Monash, and indeed all over the world, travel to Chinese Island to engage in experiential learning and use and improve their language and culture skills in an interactive environment rich with opportunities to engage with input and output in meaningful ways.
Zara’s story is a typical one. After studying Chinese at undergraduate level for a year at Monash, Zara applies to study in the Chinese Island Chinese Language Institute. She has been anxiously awaiting an acceptance letter from the institute that will enable her dream of studying Chinese in a Chinese environment to come true. Today is a special day for Zara, bitter sweet in some ways. Watch the following video and find out why:
Examples of some of the lessons
Beginning Chinese 2, 2010
The lesson shown here required students to go through the process of seeing a doctor in China. The process is real and based on an actual clinic at a university in China. The students were given a ‘Lesson Manual’ in which they read (in Chinese) a brief introduction to 茶叶蛋 (chá yè dàn – tea eggs) and 玉米 (yùmǐ – corn) both snacks commonly available on the street in China and also about seeing a doctor in China. They then had to go out on the street and buy either a tea egg or a piece of corn, which as you will see from the video makes their avatar ‘sick’. To get better and stop the symptoms (clutching their stomachs and groaning or coughing), they have to negotiate their way through the whole process of seeing a doctor communicatively to obtain medicine that will make them better.
This video is an exemplar that was provided to students before the lesson to give them some idea of what to expect during the lesson.
Chinese Media Studies Pt 2, 2009
This semester our CMS students are interviewing a range of Chinese speakers from around the world. The data gathered from two interviews, one on-location (of the person being interviewed) and informal and one a formal sit-down chat show format, is going to be used to write a formal text-based bilingual news article and to film and produce a bilingual evening news type program at the end of the process. The interviews, the chat show and the evening news program are all being filmed in Second Life. CMS students are assessed (according to detailed rubrics handed out to them) on various stages of the process.
This has truely been an amazing experience of international cooperation and collaboration for all concerned. In addition to our CMS students here in Australia, our guests (interviewees) are from China, Singapore and the USA. We have been very lucky to have students from the Oregon University Centre for Applied Second Language Studies ‘MyChina Village Virtual Chinese Immersion Camp 2009’ (many thanks to Assistant Director of CASLS Sachiko Kamioka) and a representative from California State University, Prof. Tim Xie, join us us interviewees. All of the filming, editing and post-production work is being done by masters students from Boise State University unit called “EdTech 597: Social Network Learning in Virtual Worlds” (the students themselves are also spread across the US and their instructor, Anne Jeffrey, is located in the UK – many thanks to Anne for making our collaboration possible).
Here are some photos from the first day of filming of our CMS Chat Show:
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The following is a composite video of some of the activities.