Installing Windows 7 off a USB drive on an HP Mini 2140

So the time came to move my netbook’s operating system to Windows 7, easily Microsoft’s finest release on every count including speed, reliability, usability and security.

Being technically inclined, and having installed various versions of Windows (back to tardy Windows 3.1) on machines of all shapes and sizes, I wasn’t expecting much drama. However, it took several missteps and two days of trial and error to conquer this one. If you own an HP Mini 2140 and want to install Windows 7 via a USB key, save yourself time and anguish, and refer to my guide below.

Note: You may wish to consult your local IT superstar if things get too techie for you. Alternatively, leave a comment to this post if you’re really stuck. I’ve tried to keep things as low-tech as possible given writing time constraints.

The Objective

Install Windows 7 on an HP Mini 2140 netbook using a USB key/pen drive/hard drive/other.

Several websites insist it is easy to install Windows 7 using a USB key, which is necessary since most netbooks do not have an inbuilt CD/DVD drive (the media of choice for consumer Windows installations). I consulted several of these sites, but they didn’t have specific instructions for the HP Mini 2140, which flatly refused to comply with any notions of simplicity. So…

The Problem

The HP Mini 2140 ignores the attempt to boot using the USB key, and makes it impossible to change the boot order after the first attempt.

The Solution (Short)

  • Ensure the boot order of the “USB Hard Drive” is set to “Second”, NOT “First”.
  • The size of the USB key should be set to 3072 MB. More information below.

The Solution (Long)

There are different steps to be taken depending on which operating system you have installed. This solution works when preparing/installing from a Windows 7 beta or ‘release candidate’ version. It should also work from Windows Vista, though I have not tested it.

Special care needs to be taken when preparing to upgrade from Windows XP or older operating systems, so check out this guide before continuing (skip the USB key preparation section below and replace it with the instructions from the site mentioned).

i. Prepare the USB key

Check out and follow all steps in this great tutorial at Into Windows. If you want to be ultra-cautious (and follow exactly what I did to achieve a successful installation), change the following:

CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY –> CREATE PARTITION PRIMARY SIZE=3072

I got the above partition size tip from from the AbstractCode website – thanks! It is possible that you will have installation success without making the above change to the partition size. However, since I did not have time to test it myself, I won’t assume that it works. If any of you try it, let me know it goes.

By this stage, you should have a ‘bootable’ USB key with all the Windows 7 installation files copied over. If not, please re-read all the instructions carefully at IntoWindows and repeat the steps in order.

ii. Double-check the contents of your USB key to make sure all the Windows 7 installation files have been copied over.

Check the total file size and number of files (highlight all folders/files, right-click, and select “Properties”) on your USB key. Check these figures against the total file size and number of files from where you copied the original Windows 7 installation files. If they match, proceed…

iii. Change the boot order of the HP Mini 2140.

  1. Restart the PC.
  2. Press the F10 key before Windows loads again. This will load your BIOS management/”Computer Setup” program. If you don’t know what the BIOS is, don’t worry. If you  really want to know, consult Google. Suffice to say, do not change anything except what is indicated below.
  3. Use your arrow keys to move to the “System Configuration” menu, and arrow down to select “Boot Options”
  4. Arrow down to the entry called “USB Hard Disk”. By default, this is set to “Fifth”. Use the left/right arrow keys to change this to “Second”. DO NOT change it to “First”. If you do so, for some reason the PC refuses to boot from the USB key, and then prevents any further change to the “USB Hard Drive” setting on future attempts (the USB Hard Drive option will thereafter say “USB Legacy Support” rather than “First”, and you will not be able to modify it. This can be undone by selecting “Restore Defaults” from the File menu, saving the settings, and restarting). After you’ve changed the order to “Second”, press F10 to accept the changes.
  5. Arrow back across to the File menu, then select “Save Changes And Exit”

That’s it. The PC will automatically restart. The sanity-saving tip was found via the NotebookReview forums.

iv. If the above instructions have been followed correctly, the Windows 7 installer will start automatically upon restart.

Let the installer do its thing. You will be prompted for various details as per the usual Windows 7 installation procedure.

v. Ensure to remove the USB key before the installer restarts the PC the first time, or else the installation procedure will go back to the start.

If you forget, and wonder why the installer’s back at the start again, don’t fear/hyperventilate. Just remove the USB key and manually restart the PC by sliding the power switch and holding it for about 10 seconds (this will force the PC to switch off). Switch it on again and the installer will resume from the correct position.

vi. Follow the rest of the on-screen instructions, and enjoy using Windows 7!

Eclectica 2008

Here’s the track sequence of my best-of-2008 mix, “Eclectica 2008”. I thought it would be ready for CD cutting tonight, but alas, there’s still some audio editing to go. I’ll get there before 2010. Really. When it’s ready I’ll update this post with more info…

[Update 1: It’s done. Fertig. Finito. If you’d like a copy, contact me using the form on the front page of this site, or @ me via Twitter

[Update 2: I’ll post a spiel about the Eclectica concept and the rationale behind this specific track sequence ‘soon’]

  1. Juno Reactor – Inca Steppa
  2. Ashes Divide – Enemies
  3. M83 – Kim and Jessie
  4. Coldplay – Lost!
  5. Puscifer – Momma Sed
  6. Kings of Leon – Closer
  7. Oasis – Falling Down
  8. M83 – Skin of the Night
  9. Death Cab for Cutie – Graveyard Fires
  10. Moby – Live for Tomorrow
  11. Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts i/9
  12. Tricky – Past Mistake
  13. Cut Copy – We Fight for Diamonds/Voices in Quartz/Hearts on Fire
  14. Ashes Divide – The Ritual
  15. Juno Reactor – Pretty Crime
  16. Keane – Playing Along

Fifty 2008 US election tweets

As an Australian, people wonder why I care so much about US elections. Well, they matter (to paraphrase a failed past presidential candidate), and this election has mattered more than any I have been around to follow. The reasons are well covered, and Barack Obama noted most of them in his superb acceptance speech today. 

Political correctness aside, a non-white guy leading the most powerful nation (and still justified lead country of the free world) on earth is huge, and a symbolic victory for minorities everywhere. He speaks in common sense terms, has a sense of humour, and can relate to people on a level I haven’t seen before on the world stage. He’s either a really, really nice guy, or a brilliant con man. Having been vetted for the past two years, it would be surprising if the latter were true.

His victory is a defining moment in history. It has made many of us hopeful of a calmer world order, and an America we can look up to again. To see crowds in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East celebrating his victory speaks volumes about what this means for America.

Truth be told, at the start of the Democratic primaries, I wanted Hillary Clinton to succeed over Obama. I didn’t think he was ready. Well, he proved in the primaries that not only was he ready, but able to outshine an increasingly suspect Clinton as the more measured, articulate and decent candidate to take on the Republicans. It took me a while to be sold on Obama, but I am now certainly lining up for more.

Let’s hope he can keep special interest groups under control, retain his nobility (and humility) in power, and most importantly: deliver real change. 

The following fifty posts were made to Twitter over the past couple of months, in descending date order. What a campaign. What an emphatic victory. GOBAMA!!

  1. Gee. Wow. So… I guess life can resume now. Good work, America
  2. CBS calls it for Obama! F*CK! 
  3. Stuck at a slow moving British Airways office while Obama takes over the world. Grr 
  4. VOTE, y’all 
  5. Melbourne Cup and US Election on the same day. If only they were in the same timezones, we’d have a two-for-one get-jiggy day
  6. The Economist 4 Obama: “..the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort” http://snurl.com/4yoic
  7. Palin is nailin’ it in Pennsylvania at the moment. Doing her 2012 election candidacy chances no harm whatsoever… 
  8. Sadly for McCainPalin, support for Obama from real people on Twitter will probably outnumber the McCainPalin propaganda-bots 
  9. Looks like McCainPalin have hired a spam company to flood Twitter with “Vote McCain” scripts. See Twitter election tracker and hot topics 
  10. I was (expectedly) impressed by Obama on the Daily Show last night. Tho, thought he lost some composure when talking about “tree huggers” 
  11. Barack Obama on the Daily Show: candid, relaxed, with a dash of humour. Dammit America, do not screw this up. http://www.thedailyshow.com 
  12. From June, here’s “Why white supremacists support Barack Obama”.http://snurl.com/4u4u6 They also hope Obama will energise their base 
  13. Alaska’s major newspaper endorses “steady hand” Obama over “erratic” McCain, calls Palin “too risky” a VP prospect. http://snurl.com/4powe 
  14. Palin annoyed & off the leash, insider indicating she would “like to go more rogue”. Yeh, bring on raw maverickism! http://snurl.com/4pnsk 
  15. Monday’s Daily Show was brilliant. Jon Stewart at his best, some of the US at its worst. Check it out. http://www.thedailyshow.com 
  16. Powell does a Lieberman (tho more tolerable), and endorses the opposition; Says Obama would “talk to people we haven’t talked to.” Exactly 
  17. Sarah Palin was a good sport on SNL: http://tinyurl.com/6dr72u 
  18. The money’s on Obama, and the money is rarely wrong:http://snurl.com/4flnc Please, America, do not prove the money wrong 
  19. McCain is sounding dodgy. Obama in prime form with a nice defence of himself. Go you good thing 
  20. McCain, nothing to lose, talks crap, reckons he’ll be stoked if he can be “half as good” as Sarah Palin was in her recent debate. Crikey! 
  21. McCain “in danger not only of losing the election but of tarnishing his reputation for honour.” http://snurl.com/4a9d9 
  22. Lame duck removes N.Korea from terror list, ball-breaking Kim JI lights a cigar, & insipid McCain gets in a tizzy: http://snurl.com/49wv5 
  23. I don’t get it. In a time of crisis, the conservative US mouthpiece endorses McCain because he’s more daring. Que? http://snurl.com/49irm 
  24. So, Palin abused her power in Alaska. http://snurl.com/49fq7 … Imagine what she could do with all the toys in Washington 
  25. And his thoughts on Barack Obama: “Clever, healthy, handsome.” Yep, that sounds like the kind of US President the world needs 😎 
  26. One of my local guys learns about Obama and McCain from The Daily Show. Brilliant 🙂 “I’m worried about McCain’s health,” he says. 
  27. “McCain has moved remorselessly rightward” … The New Yorker endorses Barack Obama. http://snurl.com/41tdu
  28. Taking my Australian self to a Canadian Buddy’s place to watch the US VP debate. In China. Ahh, if only we had a vote… 
  29. Wheels slowly misaligning on the Republican campaign just like they did for the ‘conservative’ side in Australia’s 2007 election. Good. 
  30. Now that the US presidential debate is over, we can get on with the main event of the day: The Australian Rules Football Grand Final 😀 
  31. McCain doesn’t talk like a leader who would preside over a peaceful world
  32. For a debate supposedly on US foreign policy, where was the China focus? Disappointing. 
  33. League of democracies? A good boys club? C’mon John. Kudos to Obama for reserving to right to engage at the highest level, with anyone 
  34. Yes, that’s what we need at a time of global instability: Mavericks! 
  35. This “Main Street” sounds pretty rough. Remind me not to live there 
  36. McCain can be a fluffy little puppy can’t he? 
  37. WTF, McCain does a backflip and triple somersault… bring it on? 
  38. Divide & conquer? Democrats moving to fasttrack bailout to force a Republican rebellion? Or does McCain have a silver bullet? Hard to read
  39. Ahhh McCain, you’ve done it again… 
  40. “Bush Doctrine” coiner takes on those who took on Palin for looking like a dunce re the Bush Doctrine. Hmm. http://snurl.com/3q962 
  41. On barackobama.com, you can create a “MyBO” account. Guys, seriously, what were you thinking? 
  42. Sarah Palin “… an absurdity… a joke.” http://tinyurl.com/525qut 
  43. Joe Lieberman, you’re a twat. Go away. 
  44. “As a pro-life super-achiever, puts feminists in a tizzy.” The Kooky Standard outlines Palin’s pros: http://snurl.com/3l2jv 
  45. Sarah Palin irks the crap out of me. Smart choice, though. Peh! 
  46. The Australian endorses Biden… http://tinyurl.com/5nys8d 
  47. “Realpolitik never died”: http://tinyurl.com/5tcjdo 
  48. Sullivan lays into McCain.. http://tinyurl.com/6oe563 
  49. Good old Aussie conservative Ms. Albrechtsen takes on Obama:http://tinyurl.com/57es8k 
  50. Can someone please smack Obama and Clinton supporters into line? United we stand, divided we all get smacked with Republicans again! ARGH

Monash/Jiao Tong Cross-cultural eLearning Exercise

Introductory comment

While I do not yet have formal teaching qualifications, I have designed and delivered several corporate training classes. I am fascinated by good instructional design, and have the highest respect for teachers that are able to motivate students with interesting lesson content and engaging delivery, to yield effective and practical learning experiences.

I have particularly strong opinions on education policy, the educational process, and what makes people learn effectively. These views started forming around the age of 14, when I wondered why I had to learn complex mathematical theories which I was not likely to understand and even less likely to ever use.

Since then I have been increasingly conscious of my learning experiences: analysing the materials being used, the structure of the instruction, the method of delivery, the instructors, the general interest level of students, and the eventual outcomes. 

Over the past year of developing Totuba, a business in the education sector, I have been fortunate enough to meet dozens of interesting people from around the world who are in some way connected with learning. Further, as my masters study is now conducted entirely online, I have had first hand experience with different online learning tools. These activities have further evolved my opinions and ideas for learning.

I have thought for a while that it would be useful to tap into student diversity at different institutions around the world – synchronously or otherwise – using the myriad technologies that are readily available. Having an opportunity to design a learning experience as assessment for an elective subject, I pounced on the chance to connect classes at two institutions to which I have exposure, and where it seemed the right people were in the right places.

And it was so: agreement was reached to connect a group of Chinese students learning English at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, with a group of Australian students learning Chinese at Melbourne’s Monash University. Two great institutions with great instructors who were willing to try something different. A cross-cultural exercise would transpire in the form of a role-playing game. 

In setting out to design this learning experience, I kept the following in mind:

  • The most effective learning experiences I can recall were participatory (learning by doing), interactive (real-time feedback), fun (actually enjoyable) and practical (relevant to today)
  • That conducting a live online learning experience would be at the whims of available Internet bandwidth, which if insufficient, could completely derail the experience
  • That peer groups can be resourceful among themselves to solve a problem
  • I attempted to achieve a balance between the creative use of Internet tools, the design of an activity that was neither too easy nor too difficult, and something that would fit into the curriculum of an existing class.

It should be noted that this project involved the coordination of no less than four separate stakeholders, two geographically distinct learning venues, and was conceived, drafted, proposed, finalised and executed within two weeks.

Acknowledgements

 

Monash University

Two eLearning instructors, innovators and enthusiasts, who provided enthusiasm and support throughout the process, were able to mobilise a group of Aussie students on a Saturday at very short notice, organise a venue on the Melbourne side, and help run connection tests:
  • Dr. Scott Grant
  • Dr. Michael Henderson

Jiao Tong University

Three enthusiastic learning professionals with a connection to eLearning technologies, including the recent authoring of a paper on the use of web 2.0 technologies in the classroom, and involvement with Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s distance learning arm:
  • Ms. Kerstin Borau
  • Ms. Jinjin Feng
  • Dr. Carsten Ullrich

Project Abstract

Conduct a fun cross-cultural class simultaneously across two countries, utilising Internet technologies to facilitate the learning experience. In this ground-breaker, The class should take the form of a game, conducted live in two geographic locations. The game consists of two point-scoring rounds with a bonus score accumulation opportunity during the first round. 

Summary in tags

Students teaching students, cross-border live group student exchange, cross-cultural learning, Australia-China relations, game-based learning, learning via role-play.

Technologies used

  • Skype video/audio: to facilitate live interaction between the classes
  • mIRC/MSN/Skype: for instructor communication during the exercise
  • Twitter: For teams to take notes during the exercise
  • Blogger/Wordpress: Post exercise feedback

Learning activity

 

Situation

Monash Sports Company (Monash group) wants to buy an air ticket/hotel package deal for a staff incentive (total 5 staff) trip to Shanghai from Jiao Tong Travel Company (Jiao Tong group). For this package, Jiao Tong Travel has a list price of USD$5000 per person. Monash Sports Company’s HR team, represented by X individuals, initiates a video call. The call is led by one member of the team. Jiao Tong’s sales team takes the call, which is led by one member of the team.

In conducting the negotiation, teams must attempt to use as many of their designated keywords as possible.

Team keywords

Australia team: Australia Day, Coffee, Melbourne, Australian Rules Football, Relaxing, Koala, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

China team: Shanghai 2010 Expo, Chinese New Year/Spring Festival, One-child family, Rapid development, Xiao long bao, Chongming Island, Premier Wen Jiabao

Exercise proposal

 

Game rules

  • The teams have up to ten minutes to complete a negotiation and transaction. The buying team wants to get as low a price as possible as they cannot afford $5000/person (the budget is max $23,500 / $4,700 per person). The selling team wants to get as high a price as possible (and no lower than $4,600 per person each). These budget limits are to be advised at the start of the game, and teams are to be communicated the budget privately.
  • Each team is assigned n keywords/phrases/concepts, all of which should be attempted to be included in the negotiation. These keywords are the basis for the cross-cultural learning component of the exercise. Five points are awarded for each keyword used.
  • The Negotiation Round: After keywords are presented to the students, they will have ten minutes to discuss amongst themselves to consider how they can weave the keywords into their role play.
  • The Knowledge Round: After the negotiation is finished successfully, each team will be asked 3 questions about the keywords used by either team. Each question will be worth 10 points. In the Knowledge Round, students from opposing teams will be asked true/false questions based on the keywords assigned to the other. For example, the Jiao Tong group might be asked: “Australia Day is the day when Australia gained independence from Britain. True or False?”. These questions will be pre-determined and then customised as appropriate by the Faciliator during the exercise (in negotiation with the Referees via Internet chat if necessary).
  • Bonus Commentary points: Each team’s non-negotiating members should provide a text ‘commentary’ on the events taking place during the Negotiation Round. These comments are to be posted live on Twitter for later review. For each topical post on Twitter, a team will be awarded two points. Level of relevance will be determined by a Referee from either side and reported to the Facilitator by the end of the Knowledge Round.
  • The team with the most points at the end of both exercises will be the winner.
  • In the event of a tie, no further playoff is required and a tie is announced.
  • Referees are the teachers on both sides plus the Facilitator

Proposed pre-briefing (one class before the exercise):

  • Facilitator to provide background briefing and situation setup to the teams via a video recording. Also talk about Australia-China relations. Introduce the universities.
  • Facilitator to provide a brief outline of the situation, objectives, expectations on involvement, and short team intros (provided by students)
  • Connection test

Proposed exercise agenda:

  • Live welcome
  • Outline video replayed to both classes
  • Keywords are presented to both sides via an Internet chat interface. Teams acknowledge receipt and have ten minutes to discuss amongst themselves. Any language issues or misunderstandings may also be resolved in this period. A five-minute grace period will be allowed for, if required. Students will not be informed of the grace period unless necessary.
  • Negotiation begins. One designated Referee tracks the time and calls the game off at 10 minutes or before if the negotiation is completed. A time warning will be issued at 8 minutes.
  • Facilitator asks three questions of each team in the Knowledge Round, while Referees tally up the Bonus Commentary points.
  • Facilitator announces the winner!
  • Free video chat between the two classes in Chinese and English.
  • Live farewell

Both sides will be given a game summary and explanation of the keywords. This may be delivered electronically.

Applying Gagne’s “Nine Events of Instruction” to this exercise

 

1. Gain attention
  • “You will play a game with students on the other side of the world via a live video hookup.”
2. Inform learners of objectives
  • “Test your negotiation and persuasion skills”
  • “Learn about another culture”
  • “Teach others about your culture”
3. Stimulate recall of prior learning
  • Identify students who might be linked to the process of travel (the game topic)
  • Utilise that knowledge in the negotiation
  • Consider what you know about your own culture
4. Present the content
  • Each side uses their knowledge of their own culture to teach the other side
  • Pre-briefing on the subject keywords if language insufficiency exists
5. Provide “learning guidance”
  • Instructors on both sides to provide backup advice in case of conversational blocks
6. Elicit performance (practice)
  • After the negotiation is finished, each team to be asked three questions about the keywords used by the other team.
7. Provide feedback
  • Instructors to intervene when something incorrect is said or when the activity goes off track
8. Assess performance
  • Assess the points scored (and in what manner) and provide advice for improvement
  • Review the teams’ ability to follow game rules
  • Review results of the micro-blogging (via Twitter) notes taken by each team

9. Enhance retention and transfer to the job

  • The on-the-spot pressure of the game’s live communication gives real life experience with immediate feedback, which can be more readily retained and used ‘on the job’ or ‘in life’.

Actual exercise preparation

 

Proposal modification

  • Feedback on the idea and rules was attained from Monash and Jiao Tong teachers
  • Agreed that due to the tight time constraints and experimental nature of the exercise, the game rules would be scaled back to include only one round (negotiation) and the use of one Internet tool (Skype) for interaction/partcipation.

Class setup

  • Participants finalised on the Melbourne and Shanghai sides
  • Agreed to use Skype for video and a connection test was conducted during the same time window as the proposed exercise
  • Briefing document sent to instructors on both sides, for distribution to participants

Actual exercise reviewed

Date: 2008-10-18

Australian side: Two instructors, five students

Chinese side: One instructor, seven students

Facilitator: Me

I arrived at Ms. Borau’s class in the morning of Saturday 18 October 2008. I proceeded to conduct a 30-minute briefing session with the Chinese students, who were nervous yet excited about what was about to transpire. Realising that it would be challenging for them to catch the meaning behind many of the keywords assigned to the Australian team, we went through each in some detail. Australian Rules Football and koalas elicited quite a positive reaction.

The designated speakers on the Chinese side had prepared pages of potential conversational pieces for the game. While it was heartening to see that level of preparation at such short notice, the idea of the game was to be spontaneous and natural, like a normal transactional conversation between customer and vendor.

A Skype video call was initiated to start the day’s events. Fortunately, the biggest technical glitch of the day happened at this point, where both audio and video started to misbehave. After a ten-minute delay, another call was initiated successfully.

It was exciting to see the Australian and Chinese classes ‘facing’ each other (see image below). Formal introductions were made, followed by a re-brief on the day’s exercise.

 

Both sides had seen the keywords prior to the formal starting of the game (against the prescribed rules but necessary given the short notice of the exercise). They were then advised of their budget limit, and given five minutes to finalise their preparation for the conversation.

Once the negotation between the two classes commenced, there was some adjustment necessary for the very slight time delay (<= 1 second) on Skype. Aside from that, the technology was behaving well. The Chinese side were quite shy leading into the exercise (expected), and the Australian side took charge of proceedings creatively (also expected). Both sides took the negotiation seriously, with Australia demanding a low price for their travel package, and the Chinese side dismissing it as impossible, retaining their price as high as possible.

Australia were innovative with the use of their designated keywords, and had used many of them in the opening few minutes. The Chinese side were extremely focused on using correct English, and coming up with the right answers to the Australians’ questions. As a result, they did not use any of their designated keywords by the end of the exercise. Also hampering the Chinese side was a now choppy Skype connection, which made the Australian side’s communication difficult for the non-native speakers to interpret (see video 3 below). Ms. Borau and I had to intervene to assist at that point.

Around 15 minutes into the exercise, neither side was budging far from their opening price requests, and received a friendly nudge from me to initate a final offer. The Chinese side relented and offered their minimum budget price, which the Australian side duly accepted, bringing the exercise to a conclusion.

A 30-minute interactive session transpired, in both English and Chinese. This was conducted in very good spirits, and the students appreciated the ability to talk directly with one another on more casual topics. The instructors had to guide some of the conversation, particularly on the Chinese side. Once the Australian side started speaking Chinese, however, the Chinese side were visibly more engaged and relaxed (see video 1 below).

Overall, the interaction during the game was up to expectations, and interesting to see the live reactions on both sides.

Interaction highlights

1. Chinese speakers in Melbourne eliciting a great reaction from the Shanghai students

2. Both the Chinese and Australian teams were driving hard bargains

3. At times, the Skype connection was being unfriendly

4. Finally, and upon the threat of no deal being concluded, the two teams agreed on a price

5. Quote of the day: “Five people in China is not a group!”

In terms of a winner, the Australian side came out on top, with the Chinese side failing to use their designated keywords. All sides were winners on the day, however, and the exercise has set a precedent for future such exercises, and many valuable lessons were learned.

Lessons learned

  • The Chinese side would have benefited from a few more weeks notice, and most likely a practice session, to get the most out of the exercise. Perhaps a real assessment could be tied to performance during the game, which would hone their strategy to use the specified keywords, for example.
  • Students could have been better briefed to ensure they used the keywords in an instructionally meaningful manner, that is, not to simply tack the words on (e.g. “Koala Travel”), but to explain them: “We have many koalas in Australia, they are cute little creatures who eat leaves all day. They must be similar to your pandas, but much smaller!”
  • Next time, students can be briefed on how to most appropriately communicate with the other side. For example, the Australian side was talking quickly at times, making it challenging for a non-native to catch many of the words being communicated.
  • Many of the Chinese students had not been exposed to an Australian accent before, also increasing their difficulty level. In a future exercise, further preparation in this area would be helpful.
  • The English proficiency level of the Chinese students needed to be a little higher to more completely achieve the game objectives, and the explanation of the game rules required further reinforcing. While the students were wholly focused on winning the negotiation, they did not use any of the prescribed keywords. If the game were part of an actual assessment, they would have failed. Given that this was a first-time test conducted within a very short timeframe and with relatively little briefing, the outcome was still satisfactory.
  • A more rigorous vetting of keywords is necessary, to create the most rounded learning experience as possible.
  • The scenario should be tailored around the keywords to ensure they make sense, to allow smoother running of the game, and to assure a solid learning experience.
  • A lecture before the interactive synchronous class should be conducted to introduce all the keywords and the game objectives more clearly.
  • The “Knowledge Round” is necessary to consolidate the learning experience. It wasn’t possible to run the Knowledge Round during this trial exercise due to the short timeframe.
  • Technology training would be necessary if students are to submit exercise actions during the game, such as Twitter posts. This technology would need to be introduced and exercised prior to a live event, to ensure smooth running of the game.

Feedback from the instructors

Six questions were sent to the instructors on the Chinese and Australian sides to evaluate the exercise:

1. Knowing your students, how would you rate their enjoyment of the exercise? Did you have any direct comments from the students that you could share?

Ms. Kerstin Borau (Shanghai Jiao Tong University): They enjoyed it very much. It provided the chance to talk to native speakers, which is rarely given for most of them. If they communicate with foreigners, it’s mostly via email, so this was a great chance to them to actually use their English skills. Also a very good exercise to train their intercultural communication skills.

Dr. Scott Grant (Monash University): My students were very forthright about how they felt about the exercise. They openly stated they enjoyed it and thought it was a worthwhile exercise and could see the benefit in doing something like that again. One of my more experienced Mandarin speakers was even so keen that he emailed me and asked if anything similar could be organised during the summer break here in Australia and while I am in Shanghai.

2. How easy were the (simplified) game rules to grasp?

KB: “I don’t think my students really understand that they should use the keywords – next time we should give them an example.”

SG: “I don’t think my students had no problem with the rules – they seemed grasp them very quickly and were able to work within the structure/rules quite easily.”

3. Would you consider using similar game-style exercises in the future (if not already part of your curriculum)?

KB: “Yes, definitely. The advantages I see: it allows them to communicate with native speakers within a given frame, so they don’t have to come up with a conversation / questions themselves. Keeps the conversation going. The students enjoy it because it’s so close to their real life situations. Prepares them for real business deals.”

SG: “This is like a role play, but the innovative aspect of it is that each team while playing a role within the scenario responded to the situation very “naturally” in cultural terms – i.e. not like Australians trying to play Chinese.”

4. What do you believe could be improved for next time?

KB: “More time for communication between the groups of students. Maybe the students could prepare more questions and / or more topics on their own / the foreign culture.”

SG: “At this stage I guess the main thing is just where you physically place the camera – try not to move it around too much… I think also having the goals and objectives of the class set out in more detail (linguistic, cultural, etc) would be beneficial, and maybe some way of doing a formal evaluation by the students would be good too.”

5. Do you see potential to extend the exercise, incorporating the original game rules (multiple rounds, using multiple technologies such as Twitter)?

KB: “Yes, but I need to make this mandatory as part of an assignment. Maybe we need to come up with a whole “business concept” for our students – I like this idea because I think this would also increase motivation and class participation.”

SG: “Yes. I would include Second Life in this too. I would also suggest that if two groups of students are potentially going to meet several times in a semester or a year, that having a Facebook group for them would help create a sense of “community” and allow them further interaction outside the formal class setting that might be interesting to explore (share photos, daily life, etc).”

Conclusions

  • The concept worked, the students enjoyed the exercise and participated well
  • The technology was sufficient to achieve an interesting interactive learning experience
  • The simple application of existing free technologies can create a compelling learning experience
  • More instructor feedback and student briefing is required beforehand to achieve more optimal outcomes
  • Expected learning outcomes need to be clearly communicated to students
  • Schedules need to be organised well in advance (at start of semester) to get higher participation rates and fair conditions for both sides
  • Need to consider potential backups for Internet bandwidth issues (moving to audio only, for example)

Future possibilities

  • Conduct a similar exercise, with the Chinese side speaking English exclusively, and the Australian/Western side speaking Chinese exclusively.
  • Conduct a similar game exercise multiple times over a full semester, with links and logical learning iterations between each exercise.
  • Coordinate these exercises with study abroad groups (prior to leaving, during their program, after returning home)
  • Extend the community aspect of the exercises by engaging and briefing students online prior to the exercise, then reporting back and eliciting feedback afterwards
  • Assess other technologies such as Adobe Presenter, Dimdim, and web conferencing tools for suitability in a future exercise
  • Apply the shell of the instructional design to other subject contexts, such as MBA classes.

China-Australia workshop: Managing international students

I spent the day out at Shanghai University’s Baoshan campus, kickin’ it with members of the Chinese and Australian academic fraternity who were sharing their respective experiences of managing international students.

Australia has one of the highest per capita shares of international students, allowing Australian institutions to develop systems and processes for their management, together with national legal frameworks and policy standards. Meanwhile, China is seeing increasing global demand for its domestic education services, and is seeking to evolve its own infrastructure, service standards and capacity to handle current and future growth.

I met several interesting people from the sector: policy innovators, leading industry advisers, and miscellaneous misfits who were simply good value for a chat. Here’s a quick wrap of the day…

Most insightful point: That the presence of international students has forced Australian higher education institutions to provide international student support services, which has had the positive knock-on effect of placing focus on domestic student welfare as well. Market forces at their best? Probably.

Most agreeable point: That we should be doing more to leverage the diversity of student populations for better cross cultural understanding. Separate from this event, but along a similar theme, I coordinated a Monash-Jiao Tong joint cross-cultural eLearning class last week.

Presentation highlight: The ubiquitous Chinese “Rising Anti-virus” lion mascot popping up on screen, pointing its backside towards us and wagging its tail as it scanned the unsuspecting presenter’s PC for viruses. The likeable but ultimately distracting cat remained on screen for about twenty minutes. yes, twenty minutes. No one did anything. The Aussies in the crowd weren’t entirely sure whether it was part of the presentation or not (given the relative quality of the presentations, their confusion could be forgiven. See below).

Presentation lowlight: A Shanghai government official, discussing the ramifications for international students who violate their visa conditions, had a slide containing a nasty (and prominent) skull/bones image with the statement “Drugs are dangous to your hearth!” (sic). It was kept on screen for no less than five minutes. I can forgive a couple of large-font typos during a professional conference. No, actually I cannot.

Refreshing approach of the day: The Chinese candidness about problems they’ve had with international students and ‘bad news stories’, such as students being victims of local crime. The Australian side, on the other hand, turned on the spin when it came to international student safety. My beautiful homeland down under may be safer than many other places, no doubt, but it is certainly no safe haven: many international students are affected by petty and beyond-petty crime, and I have taped assertions from international students in Australia to prove it. I hope the denials are purely for the sake of maintaining a positive public perception, and not an actual policy position. The things we do to protect our third biggest export earner.

Questionable statement of the day: “Education is not a commodity.” Well, I disagree. One only needs to look at the way education is ‘traded’ on the ‘open market’. Universities market themselves aggressively. Governments market education. International student income is classified as an export item. Online degree factories are booming. The semantics of the statement could be argued for hours, but there is no denying that education is an openly tradable good with many substitutes. Ignoring the fact is counterproductive, because we must ensure the customers (students) of the traded goods (qualifications, degrees) are being fairly treated and getting value for money from suppliers (universities, schools). This is evidently not happening, and it doesn’t take too many discussions with the student body to acknowledge this.

Various reminders of the day:

– International education is a great sector in which to operate.

– Never forget about students’ needs.

– We need to think innovatively (game changingly, even) when it comes to educational approaches in a globalised environment.

– People generally make bad presentations. Don’t make bad presentations.

– Never misspell bold statements in a presentation, and if you do, don’t keep it up on screen for five minutes.

– Don’t use an anti-virus product that ships with annoying screensavers, wallpapers and/or has any remotely cutesy rubbish cluttering your screen.

Dark chocolate endorsement: Marks & Spencer Fairtrade 72% cocoa

Name: Marks & Spencer Organic Fairtrade Dark Chocolate 72% cocoa solids

Price: RMB 20

From: Marks and Spencer Shanghai (Nanjing Xi Lu)

Cocoa origin: Peru and Panama

Upon bite: Smooth and creamy

Taste on the ‘buds: Cherry

Palate-attack level: Low, doesn’t linger

Bitterness rating: Low-medium (this is one of the creamiest 70%+ dark chocolates I can remember having)

Meltiness: High (break it without touching it, or be ready to lick fingers clean. Or get someone else to)

Best served with: Japanese green tea (for those in Shanghai, get the Genmai Cha by UjinoTsuyu, from Jing’an Freshmart). I haven’t yet tried it with a single malt. If and when I do, I shall update this post.

Verdict: Inoffensive, tasty and a worthy daily treat.

Rating: 9/10

Fun learning is the best learning

All learning should be fun. Surely even accounting instruction could be twisted in a way that would make it immensely engaging and interesting? 🙂  It’s surely possible, it just needs the right people in the right positions of influence to make it happen.

I remember some of the best learning experiences in high school were game based. Wherever it was fun, learning was easy. The classic whodunit adventure game “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” was a fine geography teacher. It then made an otherwise drab atlas much more interesting. 

On a similar topic, I had a discussion with one of my guys today about US politics. It came up in conversation that Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show makes it easy to take in political news. Why? Because it’s darn funny, and with a high level of accuracy to boot. Someone who would never watch the news could sit through The Daily Show, laugh, and learn something along the way.

Again: Make it fun, and it will be easy to learn. Why are there not more fun learning experiences out there?

The Internet community really is a noble mass movement

We take it for granted now, but the level of contribution and collaboration on the Internet, without clear tangible reciprocal benefits for those contributing, is mind-blowing. In a selfish world, the amount of free information, free advice, and free goods (namely software) gives a sense of hope that the human race can indeed band together for the common good. Even more remarkable – this is happening on a global scale. Though I could be considered “Internet-native”, having used it almost daily since 1995, this astounds me still.

I have the utmost respect for opensource programmers, Wikipedia contributors, informative bloggers and those of a similar ilk. Brilliant.

Learning that works for everyone

I don’t believe in cookie-cutter approaches to instructional design, though success-backed methodologies obviously have merit. How to engage learners who are in specific situation and mindset? That is, how to make everyone happy all of the time. For something as important as education, this endeavour should never be consigned to the ‘too difficult’ tray.

Tailored learning? Core curriculum modules and tasks which are twisted to fit the real-life scenario of the student, perhaps? Possible with tech + money + creative people today, surely.