September 30, 2010, 9:00 am
Kochi, India – The fishing nets along the shore of this small coastal village look like catapults, except that instead of hurling stones into the air, they slowly dip a large net into the water and back out (hopefully weighed heavily with fish).
Locals call them “Chinese” fishing nets, since that’s apparently where the design came from, and they have been used here for hundreds of years. Each net is fixed to a dock, and the system is fashioned with rope, logs, and stones–old technology that still does the job. The only upgrades are that some of them are reinforced with steel rods and capped with a motorcycle tire at one end to help cushion the impact when the net is raised.
I read in the newspaper last week that India is now considered the third most powerful country, on the rise. And some of what I saw in the past few days confirms that–fancy new shopping malls in New Delhi, an…
September 24, 2010, 4:01 pm
Delhi – Getting to Indira Gandhi National Open University, a series of cinderblock studios and satellite dishes set in a neighborhood where goats and dogs pick at trash piles and cows stroll through traffic, took about 200 honks of the cab horn.
This is arguably the world’s largest university, with 3.2 million students and counting. It has its own satellite in orbit to connect the campus with hundreds of TV stations across the country that broadcast its lectures. In the past few years it has moved online, which has brought the university’s content to an even broader audience – the world.
The university now claims about 45,000 students abroad through its Web-based courses, and last week it held a meeting here for virtual institutions in other countries that serve as partners in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and other countries.
I sat down with…
September 22, 2010, 3:50 pm
Delhi — Just as I was asking about the big technology challenges at universities in India, the power cut out.
I was visiting the suburban Birla Institute of Management Technology, on a campus here that is only six years old and boasts of state-of-the art classrooms and campuswide Wi-Fi. They can’t fix the country’s iffy power grid, but the computer labs here are equipped with generators to keep students from losing their papers when the lights go out.
This week international news media are focused on whether or not India is prepared for its role as host of the Commonwealth Games, due to start in less than two weeks. Driving around the city this week involved traffic snarls made worse by construction. But many universities face challenges year-round, in terms of things like electricity, which their counterparts in the United States take for granted.
The power failed again as I was…
September 21, 2010, 5:32 pm
Seoul, South Korea—Many textbooks at Osandaewon Elementary School here are digital, and many classrooms feature a laptop on every desk. The school is part of a major e-textbook experiment run by the South Korean government, and it offers lessons for colleges looking to replace printed class materials with electronic ones.
Last week the school invited a small group of participants from the e-Learning Week 2010 conference to see the e-textbooks in action, and I was able to tag along. After a snack of tea and cookies served by mothers dressed in hanbok, we were allowed to briefly watch four different classes of students using the e-textbooks.
The classrooms looked like a TV ad for a technology company—the sixth-grade students happily clicked away on laptops, while their teachers showed video clips and PowerPoint presentations on a large touch-screen computer monitor built into the…
September 17, 2010, 1:19 pm
Seoul—Interactive whiteboards are big in South Korea—and they’re getting bigger. One new model on display this week at an e-learning conference here stood nearly two-stories tall, towering over the woman demonstrating it by writing out equations.
It was just one of the over-the-top teaching technologies shown at this week’s eLearning Week 2010 conference and trade show, which drew some 1,000 participants from elementary and secondary schools as well as higher education. The meeting was organized by four government agencies here, and it drew a sizable number of foreign attendees (conference sessions were held primarily in English and simultaneously translated into Korean and Chinese).
The whiteboards are essentially digital chalkboards with Internet access as well as the ability to write and erase. They don’t make that wince-inducing sound when you run fingernails over them, and they let …
September 16, 2010, 11:00 am
Seoul—Some video games sold in South Korea come stamped with a health warning: Obsessive use of online games can harm your health.
That’s one thing I learned today from a long interview with Kang-Tak Oh at South Korea’s National Information Society Agency here. Mr. Oh’s full-time job is to combat cyberaddiction, as director of the government agency’s Media Addiction Prevention Department. I don’t know of any other country that has such a government official (though I hope people will share others they know about in the comments).
South Korea has seen a few sensational incidents of Internet overuse. A couple here was arrested in March for letting their real infant starve to death while they tended to a virtual child online at a local Internet cafe.
I wondered if the government was working with colleges to combat cyberaddiction in the wake of such stories, so I came to this office near…
September 15, 2010, 11:00 am
Seoul—Robots may not be that good at teaching—not yet, anyway—but at least you don’t have to do background checks on them.
Mun Sang Kim, director of the Center for Intelligent Robotics at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, knows where his robotic teachers have been. He and a team of more than 300 researchers are designing them from the ground up—attempting to give them realistic facial features, arms that let them gesture, and sensors so they keep their distance from students.
The unusual project aims to create robots that can teach English to schoolchildren here, and it is a huge undertaking. The research is supported by more than $100-million in grants, mostly from the South Korean government, and it involves more than 300 researchers, said Mr. Kim.
As an engineering achievement, they are a feat. These roughly three-foot-tall robots can roll around, recognize…
September 14, 2010, 1:04 pm
Beijing—Fun-Den Wang, an emeritus professor and retired businessman, just wants to give away course materials—specifically, to translate the free courses offered by MIT and other universities in the United States into Chinese, and make them freely available online. But the Chinese-American professor has faced obstacles at every turn, and now the open-education group he started is facing its toughest challenge yet, as it tries to stay afloat once its grant money ends a few months from now.
Mr. Wang has a plan though—but like many things in China, it takes a bit of explaining.
Back in 2003, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced its ambitious project to give away all of its course materials online, Mr. Wang decided he wanted to help bring the lecture recordings to a Chinese audience. At the time, he and his wife were already running a small scholarship program in China,…
September 13, 2010, 12:05 pm
Beijing — Information does not want to be free. It doesn’t care, really. Despite the famous aphorism that the Internet inevitably drives openness, information might just as well want to be forgotten about — there’s plenty else for people to do in cyberspace that has nothing to do with news, politics, or activism.
That’s what I felt after visiting an Internet cafe near Peking University, a smoky basement where more than 50 people played video games, chatted with friends on instant messenger, or watched videos. None of them seemed to be blogging. Or Tweeting (that’s blocked here). Or trying to search for information on any of the subjects the Chinese government blocks on the nation’s Internet connections.
People I talked with here get it — they know they’re not privy to all the information online. “The Chinese government doesn’t want people to see some stuff,” said Ma Ning, a recent…
September 10, 2010, 11:24 am
Beijing — The Chinese government has sunk millions of dollars into a nationwide lecture giveaway online, but a recent report found the effort deeply flawed, and some professors say it is likely to be drastically revised or completely scrapped next year.
Finding out how the program works and what might become of it has been a continuing riddle during my week of interviews here. Luckily I wasn’t alone in the quest — most of the week I traveled with The Chronicle’s local correspondent, Mary Hennock.
On Monday we sat down with Mark Zhao, deputy director of the department of educational technology at Peking University, who explained how the program works. Each year since 2003 the Chinese government has designated a set of courses as “excellent quality” courses. In addition to the distinction, the universities running the courses are given about $20,000 per course to put the related materials …