>What would "distributed teaching" be like?

>Perhaps you’ve heard of the idea of computing tasks being farmed out to many different computers? Science and business use distributed computing to solve complex problems when the power of one computer is not enough. SETI is a rather big and public example of this. It uses tens of thousands of computers around the world to help with computations related to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Already technology is playing a role in our teaching. Ten years ago Email was not widely used. Ten years ago the Internet as we know it was just a baby. Now we use these things quite extensively. Many of us are using them in our teaching as well. We have set up websites, we communicate with our students and other teachers through the Internet. Email and VOIP (Internet telephony) technology have eliminated the sense of distance between each other and makes almost everyone in the world feel

Each new technology opens a new door to opportunities we didn’t think of before. So we have to be constantly reevaluating the possibilities because what we can do today is something we couldn’t do yesterday.

What would “distributed teaching” be like? Seeing how distributed computing has impacted computing, how would distributed teaching impact teaching? What would distributed teaching be like?

Perhaps a network of teachers in different locations forming a team and each one applying his specialty to work together on each other’s students?

These are some questions I’ve been asking myself lately and, frankly, I don’t really know but think there might be some interesting possibilities there. What do you think?


>"Google Alerts" to alert you to interesting news

>Teachers are always looking for material to interest students. I’d like to say I’ve had great success using Google Alerts.

Alerts is a service that scans about 4000 news sources every day and sends you an Email of links to these sources that fit your criteria. For example, I’m teaching at an American company that works with McDonalds. I have alerts set for “mcdonalds” “kfc” and “logisitics china” (without the quotation marks).

I get lots of interesting news from these alerts. I found out about the death of McDonald’s CEO before my students did so they heard about it from me first. I have passed on to them detailed information about McDonalds new menu in the U.S. which, with all likelyhood, be coming to China in a couple years. I also passed on information about new technologies in logistics and warehousing.

This also helps you to tailor your class to your students need, as in English for Special Purposes.

The feedback from my students has been very enthusiastic. They said they are learning lots of interesting things about their industry and also how to explain things in English about their industry.

These students are managers or department heads and all use computers. Using features of Outlook I can put this news into messages and set the date for each message to go out. I usually gather up about 5-6 news stories and set them to go out one a day. Of course, if your students don’t have computers you can make printouts to work with.

Using highly interesting material you will see students make a greater effort to apply themselves to understanding and learning it than they would with generic material that is of little personal interest. Students will tackle material that would normally be over their head.

You can set the search criteria in exactly the same way you would a regular Google search. Have fun!

>Can we get ourselves and our students out of the box?

>A teacher wrote: “Can you imagine a scenario like this? A Chinese with an undergraduate degree in history from America and a master degree in sociology from UK came back to China and tried to explain to a bunch of EFL students how Electoral College system from America can be adapted in Chinese countryside.”

As an EFL teacher you have a duty to help your students learn the English they will need. If they are going to be involved in teaching villagers how to vote then this would be useful.

Aside from that, while I applaud your desire for an unconventional approach I believe you are still operating much too much inside the confines of the “box”.

Here is a little story I plucked out of one of Tom Peter’s books. Although it is more business related and a bit long please bear with me as there is an important lesson here.

Corporations are so boring. Stanley Bing in Esquire encounter with a job candidate that went nowhere.

He comes in and seats himself carefully on the edge of my guest chair. He is staring at the toys on my desk, trying to suppress the realization that I am an infantile nit whose job he could probably do much better…Of course he does not play with the toys. He looks out my window instead. ‘Nice view,’ he says rather perfunctorily, but he does not say, ‘Wow!’ – which is what my view of the canyons and spires of high-mercantile capitalism deserves…

‘I’m looking for an entry-level position in public relations. Maybe corporate marketing, if I get lucky.’ he says.

‘Really?’ I say. ‘Like out of the entire realm of human possibility, that’s what you want to be doing?’ I’m sorry. He’s really starting to tweeze my bumpers. What 24-year old really and truly wants to be in corporate marketing for God’s sake? I look him over as he burbles on about targeting demos or retrofitting corporate superstructures or some frigging thing like that. The guy makes me want to stand up o my desk and yell, ‘Booga-booga!’

Instead I say, ‘Didn’t you ever want to be a rock musician or a forest ranger or anything?’ He looks at me like I have a banana peel on the end of my nose. It’s quite clear to me that since he was in high school, he’s been preparing to be a … communicator. That’s actually what he says.

Screw it. There’s no poetry in this dude. No soul. No surf or wind or whalebone in his eye. He’s … desiccated. He makes me sad. I kick him out of my office.

Whom do I suggest we hire? I suggest we search for the young woman who went to MIT to study computer science, was doing fine, and then mysteriously dropped out midway in her sophomore year, said the place was the dreariest institution ever created, and took off around the world, maybe to work with Mother Teresa, maybe just to hang out. We really don’t know.

Why would I hire her? I’ll tell you. She’s demonstrated – at least one point in her life – the gumption to do something exciting, maybe extraordinary, something that breaks the mold.


Too many of our students are climbing academia as if it were the ladder to success and happiness. As Stephen Covey pointed out, too many people climb the ladder of success only to find that it’s leaning against the wrong wall. Their definition of living has become money.

If you want to be able to offer your students something of real meaning then why don’t you go off to the countryside for a year yourself and experience the tribulations and the joys these people experience. It’s different if people go to experience this themselves as opposed to being forced to do it by political ideology. Then go to India and do the same for a year, maybe with Mother Teresa’s people. After that go spend a year as an intern at a corporation in Manhattan and then a year in Iraq as part of the rebuilding process.

At the end of that four year plan you will have something to think about. After you put all of those experiences into perspective and make personal sense out of all of that then you will have something to talk about.

>Education reform or education revolution?

>I am not faulting him. I’m sure he’s a great guy, especially after your commendation. Your assessment of his situation is where lies the problem:

“However in the field of Chinese academia he realizes he must have the paper background (degrees) to support his theories in developing new and better teaching methods in the Chinese university system.”

It is this “change the system from within the system” idea that is the death of many a true reformer. What kind of degree did Mao receive to qualify him to start a revolution? What degree did Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak have to qualify them to revolutionize technology? What degree did Li Yang have to qualify him to launch a new English teaching methodology in China?

And of those highly degreed individuals who are in China, what new thing have they brought into academia? I am currently using a book to teach a college intermediate-level English class which was written recently by an American PhD who lives in China. It is the most complicated thing I have ever used. You have to be a native English speaker just to understand the explanations. There is no hope for my students to understand it.

Every Chinese person today who is involved in business has gone out and got themselves an MBA. Great. Now there’s a million MBA holders. Everyone is doing the same thing. No one is thinking differently. They are all marching lock-step in the same direction.

I knew a couple Americans who came over to China after graduating from a University of Texas course on Entrepreneurship. They were going to start a business here. They lasted six months. Haha! By the time universities start teaching it, it is not revolutionary. It’s too late to go back to Jobs’ and Wozniak’s garage and start Apple again.

I felt a spark in his message. There was a spark of someone who is not afraid to do something different. I wanted to fan the flame a bit. But you cannot be different by doing things the same. I am not criticizing him, I’m pushing him.

>Using a "podcast tour" as a teaching exercise

>A teacher asked: “Does anyone else have good lessons for teaching directions?”

Here’s an idea that goes beyond the box.

This is an article about a really cool idea. They have developed dial-up audio guided tours through various cities. I think it’s fantastic.

When I went to Beijing and visited the Forbidden City I opted for an audio cassette recorded tour. I think it was Roger Moore (AKA James Bond) who narrated it. It was great. He told you to go to the left, look up and then explained the ceiling. Then told you to walk over to the door and he told you about the door. He was kind of funny, too, and slipped in a few jokes. I really enjoyed that tour.

This is something teachers could do. Teachers could record a tour for their students to listen to. Lots of students have MP3’s these days.

The teacher could guide the student through part of the city or campus or whatever. The teacher doesn’t have to give a straight tour but could tell little stories about what the place reminds the teacher of (“This is where my bicycle was stolen”), could relate it to places in the west by comparing (“These McDonalds are exactly the same all over the world”), make up a drama to go along with the surroundings (“She was sitting there, on the park bench, when she saw a shadow moving behind the bushes”), make it like a treasure hunt (“Your next clue will be on the second tree to the left”), a city crossing (“Take the number 12 bus to the third street past Beijing Lu, get out and walk to the right”) or other personal comments (“I liked the lunch box meals they sold here until the time I got sick for three days”), etc.

On a recent trip to Macau I was thinking about doing something like that. I was following some tour from a book but it was a bit boring. So I thought about making my own tour in audio but just invent stories and totally crazy made-up things to make it at least more interesting than the tour book although not as factual.


NEW YORK — Would you like Steven Tyler to tell you to “walk this way” in Boston, or Jerry Stiller to escort you through New York City?

The Aerosmith rocker, “Seinfeld” actor and “Aliens” actress Sigourney Weaver are among several stars lending their voices to new cell phone-guided tours of U.S. cities, a technology-based project that trades unknown docents for high-wattage celebrities.

In the “Boston: City of Rebels and Dreamers” tour, for example, visitors to the Massachusetts capital can call a special number and be treated to Tyler’s quirky take on Fenway Park, Boston Common and other historical hotspots.

“Eh, this is Steven Tyler. This stop is about gardens that even a rocker can love,” the raspy-voiced rocker says, describing Boston’s public garden. “Don’t worry, we’ll get to that rocker stuff later.”