Being a geek I’m always keen to lay my hands on gadgets. The recently launched Creative PlayChinese ZiiO Shenbi Tablet is my latest tech purchase.
It’s actually ZiiO 7 inch tablet preinstalled with Chinese apps and repackaged as a ‘fun tool to PlayChinese‘. My first impression of the gadget itself is quite positive. The capacitive screen is very responsive and the 4 styli bundled are pretty decent. This is my first Android device and I’m quite impressed with it. The Shenbi app is essentially a Chinese character writing app which features a scoring system. The more characters you write, the higher your score is. It also has features like pronunciation of the characters and dictionary. I certainly hope they will update the app with more functions like searching characters using 汉语拼音 in the near future.
Updates: The recent software update of Shenbi has included 汉语拼音 search. It’s a great feature especially when I have any character in mind I wish to practice. That means I can easily search for any character with the Chinese language syllabus.
My first impression of the PlayChinese pedagogy is mixed bag. Creative CEO Mr Sim Wong Hoo completely eliminated the ‘learn’ part of language mastery and decided to go all out to play it. Play-based learning is great. We all know kids are always engaged when they are playing. However, to remove ‘learning’ in the process of language acquisition makes little pedagogical sense. Ironically Mr Sim calls PlayChinese a pedagogy. In my humble opinion it’s more like a marketing gimmick. Sadly, Creative’s weakest link has always been her marketing.
Another big downside of PlayChinese is the weak integration with MOE Chinese language curriculum. Mr Sim did not promise PlayChinese will improve test scores as its main
learning outcome is to let kids learn master Chinese in a fun way. To me, fun might not last long when the activity is not purposeful and satisfying. Hence I’m not sure the fun of this high tech drill and practice of character writing activity will be able to sustain in the long run without complementing what the kids learn in school.
Nevertheless I am very excited to try out this gadget with some of my weaker Primary 3 pupils. I plan to let them use the tablet to practice a few characters in before the Spelling test. I will update again after the mini experiment is done
My unboxing and first look at the new HansVision PX2051 e-Dictionary (White). Commentary done in Mandarin.
Creative’s Vado improves on its prototype, the Flip Ultra mini camcorder, in a number of ways, including design and price, but its choppy video quality may be too much to overlook.
Hmm…I am having second thoughts about getting it after reading this review.
I am not sure how the trial is going take place. 1:1 laptop or traditional classroom environment? 1:1 would be fantastic.
I am also a little puzzled that the news reported the bilingual nature of iFlashbook. True, but many reference materials like the infamous 词语手册 (A complete series of reference books which contain vocabulary from textbooks) are already using English to explain meanings of Chinese words and phrases.
If interested, please read my review of this application.
What is iFlashBook?
I was first introduced to iFlashBook last year during its launch at Creative Technology. My first impression was that iFlashBook is an electronic version of the Singapore Primary Chinese language textbooks. This year I decided to purchase it and try it out in my classroom.
So, has iFlashBook revolutionize the teaching and learning of Primary Chinese language? Let’s take a look at its product description from the iFlashBook homepage.
iFlashBook technical platform incorporates multimedia, speech recognition and a library rich in content. Different ways, channels and three-dimensional effects are used to present the traditional content of a book on the Internet, helping students to learn Chinese with fun in an easier and more effective way.
iFlashBook technical platform is rich in learning features, comprising of “Phonics”, “Dictionary”, “Hanyu Pinyin”, “Character Strokes” etc., simple yet effective learning functions.
To get iFlashBook working on the PC, you need to go through several steps.
Step 1: Register an account and login
Step 2: Subscribe to textbooks you desire
Step 3: Download and install the client
Step 4: Purchase an e-Prepaid card, either online or from Creative stores
Step 5: Enter the prepaid card information (Card Number & PIN) and security code in order to activate the online book subscription.
As you can see, this process could be a little tricky for users who are used to buying software CD-ROMs.
One important thing to note is, you MUST be connected to the Internet in order to use iFlashBook. I have been using my school’s network and loading speed has been satisfactory, although there were a few times when my login was denied due to some unknown reasons.
In a typical lesson using iFlashBook, I would fire up the client and ‘flip’ to the page I wanted to teach. After my pupils practised slient reading, I would click on the small loudspeakers icons on each paragraph to play the pre-recorded audio. I would then click on the cartoon animations to enthuse my pupils. Afterwhich I would ask comprehension questions and explain meanings of phrases.
I must say there is nothing really revolutionary in my teaching, however iFlashBook has certainly increased the attention span of lower ability pupils based on my observation.
Revolutionary Chinese language teaching?
Basically, there are 4 main features in iFlashBook.
1. Cartoon Animation:
My pupils’ reaction to cartoon animation has been overwhelming. They would ask me to click on the animations without fail when I used iFlashBook. For visual learners, this feature certainly helps them to understand the passage better.
This is a feature I rarely utilized since I used iFlashBook mainly for classroom presentation. It is geared more towards self evaluation of reading.
First you record your reading, then the built-in speech recognition feature will help to evaluate your pronounciation. I have tried it with my web cam microphone and it worked pretty decently. It would be great if iFlashBook could be use in a computer lab environment, with noise-cancelling headsets provided for every pupil.
This is one feature I used most frequently, yet with the least success. It is fine if you view the ‘floating’ E-Dictionary on a PC monitor, however the characters are way too small on a projector screen. My pupils sitting at the back of the classroom often complained they cannot see the characters clearly.
I feel It would be better to open a movable and resizable new window with larger characters instead of the gimmicky floating type.
4. Reading and writing of Chinese characters:
This feature is only used when I teach more complex characters. It worked well, perhaps the only complaint is, the strokes display are on the slow side even at the fastest setting.
The iFlashBook is great multimedia software to complement the existing Primary Chinese language textbooks. It has somehow brought textbooks to life (Second Life!) with the E-Textbook interface. The features are also pretty useful for pupils to engage in self-paced learning of Chinese language.
I would not say iFlashBook has revolutionized teaching of Chinese language, but it has the potential to inspire newer teaching pedagogies and practices in Chinese language.
Some of the challenges faced by Chinese language teachers who wish to use iFlashBook in classroom are the must-have Internet connection and small size of the Chinese characters. Developers can look into an educator version to improve usability of iFlashBook in classrooms.
Interesting multimedia E-Textbook interface
Excellent audio and visual features
Purchase process can be tedious
Internet connection is a must
Not ideal for projector screen presentation due to small sized characters