Keep-Up Vicious Circle in the Classroom of Taiwan

Asia Language education in 2020 is still in a mire, all the more so when everything seems to be much more efficient through technology. The major problem is that teachers keep busy lecturing at the blackboard, while students listen altogether to the same things in the classroom. Individuals are treated as a group, rather than as a single person.

Consequently, the students are now suffering from failing to keep up with the group learning schedule of which level usually fits the top 10% in the class because teachers are evaluated with the performance of the best ones, and as for the lagers, it is because of their laziness rather than inadequate instruction, or so it is widely believed in Taiwan. In that case, once someone falls behind a bit, the evil cycle starts. Again and again, a question shows itself, yet nobody could help–the teachers are busy lecturing and the students are busy memorizing by rote with confusion in extremely low efficiency. The same situation even goes for the after school course, leading to an over-12-hours bad learning experience. Soon, their minds are to be destroyed by the famous devil in terms of education:

Learned Helplessness (Seligman, 1972).

In the Learned Helplessness experiment, the dog is so frustrated that, as a result, learns the illusion that it is hopeless and becomes extremely inactive, no matter how many positive hints shown to it. Alas, the same tragedy goes for those young, promising and energetic students in their golden age of learning, only to be forced to sit in the classroom listening to something they cannot understand for years–or rather, something full of questions that cannot be answered. They surely do want to learn something about the world since learning is just a natural desire of human beings and since I was once among them. What a pity for those who have invested their treasure in education–the students, the parents, and the country.

The solution, however, is as easy as everyone can think of: Just give them some help! Unfortunately, it usually seems impossible in modern Asia education because students and teachers are too busy doing inefficient work–lecturing and rote learning.

So, who is to blame? It should not be the teachers’ fault because they cannot please everyone, and yet it is not the government’s fault because it cannot please everybody either. Reasonably speaking, from the point of view of investment, if there are only some groups that deserve the finite resource, it would be the best and most diligent ones–It must be just a universal rule in the world of human beings. Or, is it?

The Only Solution: Cost Reduction

Through careful observation, this study suggests that cost is the core issue behind the sufferings. Imagine, if the education system had limitless budgets and made the teacher-student ratio equals to 1, there would not be any keep-up problems. However, If money would not magically show itself for the time being, we might as well reduce the cost.

In that case, technology is to save the day.

Notice that, because the cost is reduced so much that the whole project becomes sustainable and extremely scalable, making the experiment scale huge enough to gain big data of precious human learning behavior.

Cost Solution 1: Technology Integration

Technology, such as wind mills, is usually meant to reduce the cost. With the dramatic evolutions of computers these years, technology for education becomes so low-priced that brand new possibilities are now open. The lingo about this includes technology integration, integrated learning systems, computer assisted language learning, mobile assisted language learning, and so on.

As far as we know, the best practice of education technology integration in the world could be Khan Academy. It utilizes the technology to replace most of the work of teachers. In other words, it frees the teachers, and thus brings up the issue whether AI, or rather robots, will be a job killer and eventually the replace teachers.

From the perspective of this study, technology cannot do psychological things, such as  listening to, relating to, encouraging, etc–which is exactly the lack of modern education mentioned above. As a result, technology integration will empower teachers with the time freed to help, listen to, encourage students, as well as leading students to a learning world full of challenge and fulfillment.

In that case, teachers become capable coaches, who set up goals for the team to drill, stand by and observe, and most importantly, encourage individuals as well as giving them suggestions. Teachers as coaches is a dream for modern education. For example, in the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach, Richards (2005) said: “They [students] were expected to take on a greater degree of responsibility for their own learning. And teachers now had to assume the role of facilitator and monitor.” (p.18)

Cost Solution 2: Extensive Approach

Extensive Approach started from Extensive Reading. It typically lets students choose their own beloved story books, and then read for fun–with little instruction. That is the reason why it has other names such as, Recreational Reading, Leisure Reading, Free Voluntary Reading, or even better, Drop Everything and Read (DEAR).

As the technology advanced and the price of high-tech equipment became so low around 2010, the Extensive Listening arose, in which the reading materials got accompanied with the narration through mp3 player and the like. Nowadays, thanks to web-2.0 as well as the selection algorithm in terms of information technology, there is a copious amount of high-quality learning videos on YouTube, which opens the era of Extensive Viewing.

Basically, the cost of the Extensive Approach seems pretty low itself–as the name “Drop Everything and Read” (DEAR) implies, in that teachers do nothing else at the course than reading along with students. Nonetheless, evidence has proved it a way better pedagogy than traditional lecturing courses. Krashen (2003) stated that “Free voluntary reading may be the most powerful tool we have in language education. In fact, it appears to be too good to be true… with a strong impact on reading, comprehension, vocabulary, grammar, and writing” (p.15). In that case, we expect a total cost reduction achieved through this pedagogy–including the teaching and learning cost.

Cost Solution 3: Extensive Viewing through YouTube

To further reduce the cost of Extensive Approach, this study uses videos on YouTube instead of printed words as the reading resource. But, before the cost reducing discussion, are the videos on YouTube qualified to be learning materials at school? The answer is yes, always.

On one hand, videos themselves are high quality learning materials, in that they contain the subtitles to read, plusing true pronunciation as well as authentic context, as evidenced by several researches (Stephens, 2011; Walter, 2009; Ari et al., 2014). On the other hand, videos on YouTube are of extremely high quality and of great variety. It contains things like open courses from the best colleges all over the world as well as the best interpretations and presentations from talented individuals or groups–thanks to web 2.0 as well as the the selection algorithm behind and collaborative filtering voting system that automates the video quality refinement–ranging from entertainment, like cartoons or talk shows, to professional knowledge, such as biology, statistics, psychology, etc.

As far as the cost is concerned, the high cost of buying and storing the books drop to nearly zero through the free viewing materials on YouTube–with an incredibly huge amount and variety of categories. In addition, the access cost for students to the learning materials is also immensely reduced through technology–for huge classes in particular. No longer physically borrowing and returning bureaucracy is needed. Furthermore, this variety of learning material options make it possible for Self-paced as well as individualized learning, which reduces the cost of learning.

Cost Solution 4: Asynchronous Distance Education

Distance Education means that students do not come to the classroom to learn but join the course through online platforms.The asynchronous approach, on the other hand, represents the idea that teachers are not necessarily to be online and teach through a microphone and a monitor, while students usually watch the videos prepared and do some homework on the course platform. This approach might sacrifice the interactive values created through traditional classrooms–which is also an important phenomenon to observe in this study. Nevertheless, the benefit as follows would be huge enough to compensate for the loss:

Gaining Benefit:

  1. It is a good practice in preparation for the next pandemic outbreak, since there is no need to get together with classmates in real life.
  2. Extensive Approach believes the more time for students to focus on comprehension work the better, which fits the Asynchronous Distance Education approach perfectly.
  3. Just because the asynchronous class comes into play doesn’t mean the physical class is gone. With the low-efficiency waste improved through technology, the physical class could thus alternatively be utilized for innovative activities when there is no pandemic, like thought sharing, speaking practice, individual problems solving, encouraging, motivation, and so on.

Elimination Benefits:

  1. Learners benefit from self-paced learning, since it is asynchronous–no need to keep up with the course–and since it provides solutions in text, video, or even better, the extra office hour due to education cost reduced.
  2. The lecturing can be recorded to use again and again, saving the time cost not only for lecturing but also the preparation, the same goes for paperwork or homework.
  3. The technology has even more possibilities in this approach to bring down the cost and take over the chores of teachers through Distance Education, such as videoed lecturing, homework assigning, management, scoring, etc.
  4. Once the automation has proved reliable, the course becomes so highly scalable through Asynchronous Distance Education as to further reduce the cost of education.