The whole country is flooding from the heavy rains of the past week (a result of Typhoon Noru which had a completely different name in the heavily ravaged Philippines), but we are safe so far. Usually, our neighborhood floods when there’s heavy rains, but the drainage systems just in our immediate area have worked well this time around. There’s supposed to be more opening of floodgates upriver (mainly at the Ubolrat Dam in Khon Kaen) in the coming week, so it may get worse. For now, there are a lot of volunteers filling sandbags in preparation of more rain and rising rivers. My students coworkers haven’t lost their sense of humor, either.
I’m brushing up on my Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite skills because I’ll be teaching in each of these soon. I went down this path a few years ago to each at our learning center, but then COVID came and shifted everything online. It’s taken too long for me to get back on track with this.
When I started out as a copywriter in a medium-sized translation office in Miyakojima, Osaka, I had more translation and technical writing jobs than anything very creative… but in that first year, a huge job landed on my desk, unbeknownst to me. The job was simple, the client wanted a rewrite and “native check” from a random gaijin on staff – me. The original headline was a single sentence, roughly worded. Something like, “We can see the future on this LSI.” Of course, nobody knew (and to this day, nobody knows) what an LSI was, so: “Large-scale integration (LSI) is the process of integrating or embedding thousands of transistors on a single silicon semiconductor microchip.” In semiconductor manufacturing circles, it refers to a specific kind of microchip.
I tried to convince the client to replace “LSI” with “microchip” for a few hours, but to no avail – the nomenclature was set in stone. So I suggested “The Future is on LSIs,” and promptly moved onto the next job. I was used to knocking out several quick jobs a day, so I didn’t really give it a second thought. Until I was watching TV one day half a year later and saw Jeff Goldblum, in the desert, with a spiky haircut, speaking words I had written:
It was my proudest day as a copywriter.
Later in my career, I would work with advertising legends like Leo Burnett on hot accounts like Sony Vaio, Virgin Records, and the Honda Insight, but I would always be drawn back to that hot day in the translation office in Osaka.
A new dialog popped up in Classroom today with some very welcome changes, the most welcome of which is the first:
Teachers or co-teachers are always meeting hosts: This is what has been needed for years now. Until now, unless an admin made some obscure setting changes across the whole institution, there was no reliable way to ensure a teacher would be the meeting host. The biggest problems caused by this was the entire meeting closing when the randomly-assigned host dropped from the meeting, and the ability to record and location of saved video file also being assigned to that person (usually a student).
Students will be sent to the waiting room until a teacher is present in a meeting: I would actually prefer this to be optional since there are times when I want the students to work without me before I join. I also let students practice presenting in our designated meeting room when I’m not there. I guess they can do it in a different room, but why not make the software more flexible and accommodating to as many situations and users as possible?
Video participants outside of your class can ask to be admitted by the host: This might be convenient once in a while, but honestly, it makes things less secure (because before this change, nobody could get in my university’s online classes without a university email address), and I suspect it won’t be trouble-free, either. Permissions problems across all systems are just too common.
The next improvements I really want to see for Meet are breakout rooms, more admin controls, and improved latency… Zoom still functions much better and is less laggy. The real improvement many need for Google Classroom is the Gradebook – this needs to be more directly editable and downloadable in a useful spreadsheet with everything contained therein. The way it works now is like a beta version of a janky ad-supported website built by a three person company on the weekends, not the big G.
The biggest COVID wave so far spread through Maha Sarakham from a couple months ago, so my university postponed the new term until this week. I’m teaching four Public Speaking classes per week online. This is what a typical class looks like, with about 2/3 the students:
I tell them they only have to turn on the camera when they speak because some of them are on weak connections or are connecting through mobile data plans, and it might save them money as well as improving performance. Thailand has good connectivity, though, and a lot of businesses share free wifi, so I use the first week to pinpoint who has internet problems and suggest they find a better hotspot or solution.
There are a lot of problems teaching online at a Thai university. The biggest problem is net connectivity and speed. The second biggest problem is that the university staff and teachers are horrible at teaching and doing their jobs. Doing it online just compounds the issues.
One of my current side hustles is teaching teachers how to teach online and helping them get set up at home. Some of these teachers are still doing grades by hand (even when teaching online with every grading management tool available), so you can imagine that the transition is rough. The IT staff are so bad at their jobs, they can’t keep our website up for everyone to register for classes or make class changes, haven’t figured out how to install a security certificate in the ~20 years they’ve had the domain, and can’t even issue student ID numbers or email for freshmen before the term starts (which are necessary to register for classes and to attend online classes). There are also problems on the student side, but now, well into the second year of online classes and lockdowns, most have figured out how to at least attend their teachers’ pathetic online lectures, and that online classes are actually a good way to try and get their parents to pay for an iPad (definitely not required).
Nam and I love teaching online, though. Before we started, I had already set up a Twitch streaming system for Mina with condenser mic and various cameras, so we adapted that and added to it over time. This is what my setup looks like now.
On the vaccine front, I went in to get a Astra Zeneca jab at the vaccination center set up at my university a few weeks ago, and was told at the last stage (there were 3 stages to navigate), “no foreigners!” So, fuck them and their jelly vaccine shots, I guess (a bad batch of vaccines in Thailand was recently found to have turned into gel). Nam and I have paid a private hospital the full price for 2 Moderna jabs each – 3,400 baht/person. No telling when the government will get off its ass and actually get these vaccines delivered, but we are told, “as early as October.” Looks like all of my classes this term will be online!
Teaching online has been a side hustle for 10+ years and I’ve taught a few workshops along the way, so I get asked about the best platform a lot recently: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet?
So after testing and teaching classes this summer on all three, I can say that Google Meet is the best for a university teacher in Thailand.
This is based on performance, security, ease of use (for both teacher and student), and features. Price did not really factor into this decision, because my employer enabled free access to Meet and Teams. I will say that the 40-minute limit on free Zoom account meetings probably affects many.
Google Meet (basic but reliable) > Zoom (dumb 40 min. limit) > Microsoft Teams (uh… better suited for business?)
BONUS TIDBIT: Google Meet can now show many (max. 16) people on the grid, one of the last advantages Zoom (max. 49) had over it (Microsoft Teams is still at 4).
I’ve been teaching the new freshman classes of Chinese students from various forestry and agricultural universities on exchange programs with Rajabhat Maha Sarakham University (my workplace and soon to be alma mater) for several years now. They keep getting more and more open-minded about the world, and the most recent group of 35 from Honghe University was the best yet…
The groupthink is slowly disappearing and real independence is just starting to show. I used this as an opportunity to accelerate their learning with memrise, YouTube, IG, and Facebook.
I’m thinking about writing a paper about how to most effectively stimulate their natural curiosity and independent thinking with only online tools, although it may be not looked upon so kindly by their minders… We have talked in class extensively about what will happen after they leave Thailand the day after tomorrow – their online profiles outside of the great firewall will become stagnant and wither… or will they? It’s said there are cracks in every wall.
Anyway, one of the kids just posted this on FB and sent me the translation, and it made me happy.
“Our English teacher is an American Japanese and I like him very much. The way of class is too humorous. When the teacher is in class, he will give us a game. It’s too exciting. Although my English has gone backwards after the college entrance examination, I just want to take English classes. Because the English class will make me very happy. The teacher also asked us to go to his house to cook. There are three kittens in his family. It’s so cute, I sometimes go to tease the cat. There is also a teacher’s daughter who is super beautiful. The teacher also said that he wants his daughter to marry at the age of 50. Absolute daughter slave haha “
When the curb is lined with cars and long pickups (can you see the diagonal parking lines? ), you definitely do not want to hug that lane line too closely… I’ve backed in in this photo, but people usually park forward, and back out pretty much blind if there are cars on either side of them.
On a more positive note, that’s possibly the best bicycle drawn freehand with a paintbrush I’ve ever seen.
This is a huge Windows-driven LCD with which I gauge my arrival to the university every morning. It’s usually not on when I roll by the first time since I have a lot of early morning classes, but on free days I sometimes see diagnostic screens, Windows startup, and the plethora of error dialogs that the operator has to click through before getting to the day’s scheduled programming. Sometimes I dream of hijacking it for giggles.