Ohio Wesleyan Professor Makes Learning Chinese a Social (Media) Event

Ching Hsuan-Wu incorporates Facebook into curriculum

Students in OWU’s Chinese Program presented a Lion Dance on February 18 as part of their Chinese New Year celebration. The activity was part of faculty member Ching-Hsuan Wu’s effort to incorporate Chinese into her students’ daily lives. She also is using Facebook as part of her curriculum, which includes Wu asking questions in Chinese via video and having students post their responses. (Photo by Alex Crump ’13)

To teach Chinese as effectively as possible, Ohio Wesleyan University assistant professor Ching-Hsuan Wu decided she first needed to speak her students’ language.

So during the fall, Wu, Ph.D., began to incorporate the social media networking site Facebook into her curriculum. That usage has expanded this semester.

“I began with an optional program that allowed students to earn extra points,” Wu says. “I wanted to warm them up, and encouragement is the first step. I didn’t want them to associate Facebook with homework. I wanted them to enjoy it.”

In the fall, Wu encouraged her students to use their newfound knowledge of Chinese to teach two friends to introduce themselves using Chinese and then to post videos of the results on Facebook.

The students really embraced the project, Wu says. “Some taught Chinese greetings to their parents, and some even did the teaching through Skype. They were able to collaborate with friends and family even if they weren’t in the same state.”

This semester, Wu is using Facebook with both her first-year and second-year Chinese classes. Once a month, she posts a video of her asking students a multi-part question in Chinese. Students have a week to formulate their responses and post the results.

“It’s helpful for students to see my face and the movement of my mouth,” she says. “Before Facebook, they were only hearing a recording of my voice, which is challenging. Seeing my body language and facial expression is an advantage in learning the language.”

Wu’s students also give the social media project a big “like” – or electronic thumbs up.

Rebecca Pollard, a sophomore from Lawton, Oklahoma, says being able to watch Wu’s videos has boosted everyone’s confidence in their own speaking ability.

“We then have some time to listen to fluent Chinese, format our answers, and film ourselves speaking those answers as fluently as possible,” Pollard says. “It both gives us an incentive to do well as it will be online for the world to see, but more importantly it gives us a venue to speak where we aren’t giving blank stares trying to translate what was said and format the answers in the split second a face-to-face interview would have us do. In a way, even though we are writing and speaking online, Facebook takes away the fear of messing up, because in order to feel confident enough to post the statuses and videos, we have to feel confident about the material.”

Wu says she’s pleased that using Facebook also has encouraged students to begin typing messages to her, each other, and their friends in Chinese – even though they aren’t required to do so.

“This has just happened naturally as students work to learn the language,” Wu says. “Facebook has helped me to achieve one of my goals: to have Chinese become part of their daily lives. I want Chinese to be more than a classroom subject. We’ve already succeeded with that.”

Pollard is among the students who shares Facebook posts in Chinese.

“It may seem silly to use an Internet fad to practice a school subject,” she says, “but by knowing generally what I want to say, seeing the sentence in my head, knowing the Pinyin [system for writing Chinese characters] in order to type the sentence using a tool on my computer, and then choosing the correct character from the list that subsequently appears really helps me to practice in a space that holds far less pressure than a face-to-face conversation. …

“Besides statuses,” Pollard says, “Facebook also allows me to write on the walls of my old Chinese teachers, friends who are now in China, and even have conversations via the chat window with people in my class currently.”

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