Shengliver’s Note: This is one of the first few entries posted in Shengliver’s Garden on the MSN blog in December, 2005. In this entry, Shengliver shares with the readers his switch to digital technology being used for work and professional advancement. His initial excitement at the technology overflows between the lines. Almost six years has lapsed since then. While not a few Chinese still equate the Internet with pornography, addiction to games and all the other negative aspects, Shengliver has made himself comfortable with the technology, which in turn has seen him grow tremendously in his career and in his English language skills. Hooray!


Pressed to pass a provincial education evaluation, the school where I work is going through a digital revolution.


Around RMB1,800,000 has been invested in an all-school network. It is a big sum, and to be honest at the present the network is not very practical in everyday teaching. But to save face and to win the title of Hubei Provincial Model High school, the leaders made the decision to have it put in place, though the money could have been better spent.


At a demo held for the staff, I was told that the school network is multifunctional. It will play an important role in the day-to-day running of the school. Teachers will be able to avail themselves of the resources on the network for classroom teaching and research. Furthermore, a teacher can create courseware and share it with his colleagues through the network. Each classroom is equipped with a terminal and a projector, by means of which a teacher can access the network and make presentations to his pupils with ease. In theory, on my laptop in the office, I can choose to observe any teacher’s classroom teaching in real time and assess it via an app. Should I find a lesson helpful, I could record it and save it for future reference. Another key feature of the network is that it monitors the school through the many surveillance cams installed in all corners of the campus. The trainer giving the demo claimed that the facility is user friendly, employing state-of-the-art technology. The whole package is developed by an IT corporation based in the Chinese capital.


There was an interesting prelude to this revolutionary drama. Before the digital network was ushered in, the school had had TV sets installed in all the classrooms. The sets were connected and controlled by a central machine. It was convenient enough to have many activities organised through this TV network. The leaders thought we could get through the education inspection effortlessly. Well, after the first round, the inspectors from the provincial Education Commission issued an order that a digital network be built despite the TV sets. Without it, passing the evaluation would be out of the question. Ha-ha. Our leaders had to obey their superiors. Hence the big money has been spent.


For the digital network to function, the teaching staff have to be equipped with laptops. The first laptops were purchased last year for the city-level inspection. I didn’t get one then. Under a school arrangement a teacher had to share the cost. In other words, he had to pay about 6,000 yuan for the laptop. I didn’t have the dough. Also, I thought that it was unfair for the teachers to shoulder the expense. In my opinion, each teacher should get one free of charge, for we would use it for work rather than for purposes like entertainment. This year, the provincial-level inspection prompted the leaders to urge more teachers to splash out on a laptop. I had to give in. I handed in the share I was obliged to pay, and a brand-new laptop has come into my possession. In fact this entry is right now being written on it.


This laptop of mine is smart, with the latest mobile technology, and produced by the computer giant Lenovo in China. It runs faster than my home computer. Also, it has a built-in web cam. I will be able to show myself to my e-pals, and even a short video clip can be made using the cam and a piece of software called EasyCapture.


This laptop delights my daughter. She enjoys using my home computer on the weekend for some simple games. But the computer used to be burdened with all my English resources. At times it was like a snail. Now that I have my own laptop, I have moved my resources off the tower computer. Without the load, it is much faster, making my girl all smiles.


I feel high with this new learning kit. The computer and the Internet have made my language learning more enjoyable and efficient. Before I bought my first computer, I relied on paper books for reading. For listening, I resorted to tape cassettes and a cassette player. Speaking was a big headache, though. I had to talk to myself most of the time. An alternative was to talk to the wall. It sounds funny, but I really did it. In China, an English learner can hardly find a speaking partner in his real life. Even teachers of English do not speak the language outside the classroom. Some guys might have thought I was mentally disturbed when they saw me murmuring English. What a difference the technology has made to my language experience! I read online British and American newspapers. Access to a British or American newspaper or magazine of the paper version has been next to none in China. I listen online to various English language broadcasts, which beat my shortwave radio in clarity and reliability. You probably know well the frustrating inferences when you tune in to shortwave stations like VOA and BBC. I write English online by emailing, by moderating some English language learning BBSs, and by blogging. Many friends have come to my English blog, offering encouragement and feedback. The blogging experience convinces me that I am to persevere with my English studies rather than stay where I am.


Of the four language skills, my speaking has benefited the most from the technology. The interactivity of the Web makes it possible to keep in touch with English language enthusiasts from all four corners of the world on an IM like Skype or MSN. Some English language chat rooms are especially helpful. My almost daily visit to them has seen my speaking skills advance day by day. I had the knowledge and the vocabulary, but I didn’t have the opportunity to use in real communication what was accumulated. You wouldn’t talk in English with your friends on the streets in China, would you? Those chat rooms are a platform on which to communicate with a live person in English. I treasure them very much indeed. When I am logged on, I will find myself entering those speaking communities. The moment I join them, I will take the mike and talk. I do monologues in the beginning. What is more helpful is that in most rooms now two or three mikes enable the takers to engage in a question-answer exchange, which is more interactive than a monologue. My online talking is clear evidence that the only way to better speaking is practice, practice and practice. It is a cliché, but it is absolutely true. You could not circumvent it. You have to do it. I am today able to speak with greater confidence, with a richer vocabulary, with clarity and with fluency, all thanks to my practice on the net. I chat with a friend face to face, even though he or she could be over the seas or on the other side of the globe. Such virtual communication is a sharpener of my oral skills. It is virtual, yet it could not be more real.


In the near future each and every staff member will gain free access to the Internet in the office and in the classroom. My laptop will play a bigger role in helping further my English language competence. And I am sure information technology will transform the way I am as I embrace it.


My laptop will be a library, lexicon, radio, journal, speaking partner, and more. What is nice is all in one.


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