E-Textbooks for language learning are increasingly sophisticated, with ever more interactive, multimedia content designed to help students read, hear, and practice their target language. They come with a full suite of annotation and reference tools, and are highly portable, allowing students the opportunity for multi-modal learning on a variety of devices, whenever and wherever the learner might be. And yet, they are not without their drawbacks: many students still prefer to use printed language textbooks, which present content in a different format, making it challenging for instructors to keep students using e-textbooks and students using printed textbooks “on the same page” in class. E-textbooks can also present an economic hardship for students, who must also purchase a device on which to read them–an expenditure which is particularly hard to justify if students aren’t using e-books in other courses. In the case of both print and electronic formats, students may not necessarily know or practice the most productive ways of using these resources outside the classroom, and may require some additional instruction in annotation, repetition, and other helpful study habits.
In this recent webinar with the Associated Colleges of the South’s Modern Languages and Technology group, Prof. Li Wei explores these issues in the context of the Chinese courses he teaches in the of the Rollins College Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. He also describes and demonstrates Chinese Character Trainer, an exciting new application for the iPad that he has developed with the help of Prof. David Porter of the University of Michigan. The application allows Chinese language learners to practice writing characters with their finger tips across the screens of these devices, coaching them through stroke order and accuracy. It is aligned with the textbook used in Rollins classes, Enhanced Integrated Chinese, grouping characters into lessons that train, drill, and test students based on the order in which they are introduced in the text book. It also stores students test results and provide a useful analytic tool that helps instructors understand what specific problems students encounter as they practice. The application was developed by Wei and Porter as part of a Rollins College Faculty Instructional Technology Integration grant, a program that funds faculty experimentation with a selected instructional technology, and Wei is now looking to revise and expand the application for use in Chinese programs at other schools.