Web Teaching Networks in Taiwan

by DR. GERTRUDE W. ABRAMSON, Associate Professor William Paterson College of New Jersey Wayne, N.J. Is telecommunications technology brings us closer to the reality of McLuhan's "global village," knowledge about applications of technology in education worldwide becomes increasingly vital for meaningful replication. In Taiwan, where the literacy rate is 94%,1 education uses technology in the learning process almost exclusively in the same ways we use technology in business. Keyboarding and software applications are required competencies for all students, even those not college-bound. These skills are delivered and mastered in a classroom with computer screens connected to a system known as a WEB Teaching Network (WTN). This article provides an overview of the Taiwanese educational system and describes the environment for technology learning using WTNs. Taiwan, Republic of China Taiwan is an island whose total area is about 14,000 square miles, slightly less than three times the size of Connecticut. Its capital, Taipei, is inland in the northern part of the island. As of the 1990 census, there are about 21 million people in Taiwan. Its nationality is Chinese, ethnically divided as: 84% Taiwanese, 14% mainland Chinese and 2% aborigine. The official language is Mandarin Chinese although Taiwanese and Hakka dialects are also spoken. Taiwan's dynamic capitalist economy functions with considerable government guidance of investment and foreign trade and partial government ownership of some large banks and industrial firms. Real growth in the GNP has averaged about 9% a year during the past three decades. Export growth has been even faster, providing the impetus for industrialization. Agriculture contributes about 6% to GNP, down from 35% in 1952. Taiwan currently ranks 13th among major trading countries. Traditional labor-intensive industries are steadily being replaced with more capital- and technology-intensive industries that require a technologically competent workforce. Taiwan has the best developed telecommunications system in Asia, outside of Japan, with six million telephones; extensive microwave transmission links on east and west coasts; earth-based satellite stations;and submarine cable links to Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe.1 Computer Literacy In keeping with this need for technology competence, students are expected to become "computer literate" in the ninth grade. Their required course is Basic Computer Skills and includes fundamental competencies in keyboarding, Chinese word processing and programming languages. (The best-selling software throughout the Chinese-speaking world is a word processing program called I-TEN.2) A computer-literate person must display a thorough knowledge of the basics of hardware, operating systems, programming and selected applications. Vocational schools emphasize keyboarding skills. The Chinese keyboard looks like an American one with the addition of a symbol on each key. To generate a Chinese character, the operator must typically make three keystrokes. Teachers organize contests to promote speed and accuracy in keyboarding. A speed of 175 characters per minute (about 500 keystrokes) is considered good. Figure 1 is an example of word processed Chinese. Students in vocational programs also learn to use spreadsheet, database and computer-assisted-design software in addition to the literacy requirements.3 School Structure & Curricula There appears to be a national Taiwanese consensus that the "job" of the growing child is to become educated and it is the role of the family to provide the necessary means. Home computers and Nintendo units are common features of homes with school-aged children; they are considered tools of childhood. Homework is assigned regularly. In addition, most students attend after-school centers for supplementary learning. A unique aspect of Far East education is the widespread proliferation of supplementary schools, which are private after-school programs. Wealthy individuals send their children to off-campus schools specializing in computers, English, music and other disciplines. Supplementary schools have become a way of life even for the average middle-class family. A flourishing industry in Taiwan today has grown up around the teaching of English as a second language. Many university classes adopt textbooks written in English, the very same ones used in American colleges. Taiwan's education system has three levels: primary, secondary and higher. The primary level is for children six- to twelve-year old. The secondary level comprises three years of junior high school (JHS) and three years of academic senior high school (ASHS) or vocational senior high school (VSHS). These first nine years of school are tuition-free and mandatory.4 Only in primary schools do male and female pupils share classrooms; beyond that, classes are segregated by gender. Good discipline is strictly enforced throughout.3 All students who wish to continue schooling beyond JHS must sit for a national exam that determines placement in an ASHS or VSHS.4 Acceptance into the best colleges is based strictly on another national exam administered after high school. Neither money nor influence can guarantee college admission. Entry into certain fields, such as electrical engineering, is particularly competetive. Curriculum is very similar to that of the U.S.' in design but not in intensity -- Taiwanese courses have much more content to master. Indeed, the entire educational model in the Republic of China and elsewhere in the Far East emulates the U.S. model. This cross-cultural borrowing dates back almost 100 years.3 There are nine private and 698 public JHSs in the the Taiwan area. During these middle-school years, foreign-language courses (English) and computer literacy are emphasized, in addition to applied mathematics, industrial arts, biology, chemistry, physics, history, Chinese and physical education.5

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The next level splits students into two distinct groups. ASHS is the usual route for those planning to continue on to college or university study. Currently there are 80 public and 97 private ASHSs in Taiwan.5 Students attend class for 37-39 hours weekly. The Ministry of Education has prescribed the curricula and equipment standards to ensure the quality of education. Required courses include: Chinese, English, Civics, History, Geography, Mathematics, Fundamental Science, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Earth Science, Physical Education, Music, Fine Arts, Industrial Arts and Home Economics. Plus, all students are required to take courses in Three Principles of the People and Military Training. Electives include Languages, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Arts and Physical Education.6 On the other side of the equation are the vocational VSHS schools. In 1992 there were 212 such schools divided into seven categories: agricultural, industrial, commercial, marine products, nursing and midwifery, home economics, and opera and the arts. Computer programming is also a required course for VSHS students and is taught two to fourhours per week.5 According to Morgan Chang, 100% of the vocational schools have at least one WTN classroom.3 Computers in Teaching Taiwan's Ministry of Education recognizes the importance of universal computer skills as a fundamental literacy for all citizens. Thus computer literacy is a part of the skill set that prospective teachers are expected to demonstrate before being graduated from a preservice teacher-education program. It is possible, in fact, that the major cause of the rapid proliferation of WTNs is that teacher training on computers is always in a WEBbed environment and cannot be envisioned any other way.2 However, using the WTN or a computer as an instructional tool in the liberal arts and sciences is a concept that d'es not yet exist in Taiwan. School superintendents typically remain passive about the roles technology can play in learning. In fact, the entire concept of instructional technology focuses upon learning to master computer use. These machines are not yet seen as vehicles to improve the learning of subjects such as mathematics, social studies or literature. Computer Classrooms & WEBs Most of the computers used in schools are MS-DOS clones. Only 1% are Macintosh and 7% carry the IBM-brand label. Most have both hard and floppy disk drives. In the U.S., the WEB is called a Computer WEB becuase it connects computer monitors, and the word "network" is omitted to avoid confusion with local area networks (LANs). In the Far East, the WEB is called a WTN. The WEB takes its name from the spider web, a set of interconnected paths. The common principle underlying the WEB is the recognition that a computer system is a collection of building blocks that can be creatively combined. In Taiwan the WEB connects computer monitors for the broadcast and monitoring of screen images. The WEB has five primary modes or functions: Broadcasts the teacher's screen to all screens; Broadcasts the teacher's screen to one student's screen; Broadcasts one student's screen to all screens; Monitors a single student's screen; and Monitors all student screens at pre-set time intervals. The WEB can also be set to a null state so that computers work as stand-alone units. WEB use makes it possible to project clear images in a well-lit classroom. The WEB takes several hours to install and less than an hour to master; it d'es not require a systems operator and, unlike a LAN, it cannot "go down." This technology-for-the-classroom facilitates the development of a new teaching metaphor for the delivery of instruction and support of student learning.7 A WEBbed classroom offers restructuring possibilities. For example, in presentations mode, each student has a desktop view of the chalkboard, videotape, etc. In monitoring mode, personalized guidance can be offered in a very inconspicuous way, without calling everyone's attention to the fact that "Johnny is having trouble again." LANs are rarely seen in Taiwan schools. Early LAN installations caused so many problems that decisions were quickly made to use WTNs instead. There are a few higher-education sites in which Novell networks have been installed. In these places, the LAN c'exists with the WEB. In the U.S., technology-classroom designers talk about superimposing a WEB on a LAN; in the Far East, they talk about superimposing a LAN on a WTN. WTNs have been installed and are used at all levels of education in the Far East, notably in Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong. Beginning in vocational and secondary schools, WTNs quickly took hold in teacher-education schools called "normal schools" and in higher-education environments. More recently, WTNs have begun to appear in elementary schools as well. A WTN is a standard feature of the design of any new computer-equipped facility, more standard than is a LAN in American facilities.2 Purchasing decisions in the schools tend to be centralized, in compliance with the government guidance previously cited. Government-sponsored training centers are typically equipped with WTNs. Private after-school sites are also installing them. Teaching is a respected profession in Taiwan; teachers are relatively well-compensated and enjoy attractive retirement packages.2 Because the services of a teacher are expensive, class sizes are large. Computer classrooms are all large by U.S. standards. Although a WTN may connect as few as 30 student workstations, the number is often as high as 64. The general rule for instruction is one student per computer. The newest WTN built in an elementary school, for example, accommodates 60 pupils. Without the technology support of a WTN, it would be impossible to attempt to teach anything to 60 primary pupils, even in an environment of strictly enforced discipline. The most-used functions of a WTN are to broadcast the teacher's screen to all screens or send a single student's screen to all screens. A WTN's primary function, as interpreted in Taiwan schools, is as a software-demo or modeling tool for teachers to provide clear examples to students. A secondary function is to allow students to examine and analyze each others' work without creating havoc in the classroom. The Future During this past year, a national Information Science and Technology Exhibit Center (ISTEC) opened in Taipei. This facility showcases the best technology applications of video, fiber optics and telecommunications in the world. Seminars are conducted for government, business, industry and education in two large classrooms in which the teaching metaphor is based upon the WTN. Guests to Taiwan place a high priority on spending a day at the ISTEC. One of the center's WTN classrooms has 30 PCs and accommodates 60 participants; the other has 37 PCs and serves up to 74 at one time. Figure 3 shows part of the larger classroom; neither the WEB controller nor the teacher station are in view. The rectangular boxes to the left of the workstations are multiplexors that connect student stations to the teacher station. Most cables are hidden under the floor. Within Taiwanese schools, multimedia materials such as videodisc, videotape and CD-ROM have not yet been introduced; thus, the ability of the WEB to broadcast moving, analog images is not being capitalized upon. Neither video nor television is used as an instructional resource in classrooms at any level. The exception to this rule is found in some of the after-school supplementary programs. James Chang postulates that with a growing awareness of multimedia in learning, worldwide availability of CD-ROM and videodisc-based curricula, and continuing professional education of teachers and administrators through the ISTEC, technology across the curriculum will soon be added to the uses of technology in education in Taiwan. Gertrude (Trudy) Abramson, an associate professor at William Patterson College of New Jersey, develops, teaches and advises a graduate-education program that features tool-based learning technologies. E-mail: abramsot@smtplink.wilpaterson.edu References: 1. Software Toolworks, The Software Toolworks World Atlas, [CD-ROM program], Novato, CA: Software Toolworks (1990). 2. Chang, J., Series of personal communications, (1993). 3. Chang, M., Series of personal communications, week of March 22, 1993, translation by James Chang. 4. Woo, Jennie H., "Education and Economic Growth in Taiwan: A Case of Successful Planning," World Development, Vol. 19, No. 8 (1991), pp. 1029-1044. 5 Government Information Office, The Republic of China Yearbook 1993, Taipei, Taiwan: Government Information Office (1993). 6. Fulbright Foundation, A Guide to High Schools in the Republic of China, Taipei, Taiwan: Foundation for Scholarly Exchange (1991). 7 Abramson, G. W., "Computer WEB: Improved Delivery of Technology-based Instruction," Proceedings of Orlando Multimedia 93, Warrenton, VA: Society for Applied Learning Technology, (1993), pp. 7-9. Editor's Note: James Chang is the president of COMWEB Technologies Group, located in Cedar Grove, N.J. Morgan Chang is the president of COMWEB Computer Co., Ltd. Taipei, Taiwan, ROC. The WTN discussed in this article uses the WEB unit manufactured by COMWEB, U.S. headquarters is in Cedar Grove, N.J.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.

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