Archive for June, 2011

Koreans not so good at math?

June 29, 2011


From the Dong-a:

Korea will introduce next month a pension lottery that awards each winner an inheritable monthly payment of 5 million won (4,619 U.S. dollars) before taxes over a 20-year period.The new lottery is part of the Korean government`s efforts to cope with the rapidly aging society by benchmarking similar lotteries in the U.S., Canada and Germany.

Perhaps I misunderstand the article.  Is it saying that seniors could win the lottery and use the money as their pension?  Or will the proceeds from the lottery go towards senior centres and the like?

I, too, dream of winning the lottery and not worrying anymore about money.  I know better, though, and have never bought a ticket.  Surely, anyone with common sense knows that money given to lotteries is money thrown away?

I guess not:

A person can buy up to 100,000 won (924 dollars) worth of the lottery tickets at 1,000 won (92 cents) each. Sale of a ticket is banned for those under age 19.

I extended the quoted section to include the age limit.  As James at the Grand Narrative will tell you, the age of consent for sex is much lower.  It seems that the government understand somewhat that lotteries are dangerous… The money available from them is so tempting though – to the government, I mean.


cycling and urban traffic in the news

June 26, 2011

A few quick links:

Scientific American describes a bike that uses its brakes to boost its speed.

The bike (see the video below) uses a spinning flywheel to recover energy lost during braking so it can be later reclaimed to boost speed. A flywheel can temporarily store the kinetic energy from the bicycle when the rider needs to slow down, according to von Stein. The energy stored in the flywheel can be used to bring the cyclist back up to cruising speed. In this way the cyclist recovers the energy normally lost during braking. In addition to increased energy efficiency, the flywheel-equipped bicycle is more fun to ride since the rider has the ability to boost speed, he adds.

Tom Vanderbilt’s blog has a humourous look at a giant helping people park their cars.  The video is apparently by Junebum Park, so there is a Korea connection.  I want to make a video like this now.

Vanderbilt’s twitter feed also includes many interesting uses of the word ‘accident’ when describing car crashes. I don’t see how to link to a specific tweet, but this was from June 23:

Tom Vanderbilt

@tomvanderbiltTom Vanderbilt
‘Accidental death’ of Ryan Dunn. 2X legal BAC, +130 MPH & ‘Dunn had received 23 driving violations in past 13 years.’

Speaking of accidents that are probably mostly preventable, Monster Island reports on a Christian Science Monitor article about accident rates among food delivery workers (CSM article link). Quote from Monster Island:

I always thought speed cameras on major sidewalks that are triggered by vehicles going beyond the speed of a person running would be in order as well. Anything to get rid of these mooks who endanger the public.

Mayor’s Cup Surfing Competition at Haeundae

June 26, 2011

UPDATED: The Korea Times has a good picture of a group of surfers from the competition.  In the back row, right side is Heidi (last name held back), a friend and coworker at many of Minjok High school’s summer and winter camps.  I just don’t know what so many many of them are giving the ‘call me’ hand sign for.

Original post:

My friend Melvin of Pine Ocean SUP (1,2,3 and 4) invited me to hang out with him as he promoted his fledgling Stand Up Paddleboard company during a surfing competition at Haeundae.  I happily agreed.

The weather was more appropriate for sipping hot drinks inside than being in the ocean, but I persevered.  The surfers didn’t persevere; they all had wetsuits, the cheaters.

I ended up wearing a ‘rashie’ or rashguard shirt to trick the lifeguards into thinking I belonged.  The surfboard in my arms wasn’t enough to convince them I was a surfer.  If they had seen me out on the water, they would have known I wasn’t.

Melvin’s tent could have looked like this.

…except he didn’t have a banner.  We both owe a great deal to OceanEarth, a surfing company in Busan who shared their tent with Melvin and his crew (there is a photo of their tent somewhere below).

I arrived at 10:00am to pretty good weather.

Another friend, Dusty, had also been forbidden entry until he found a rashie to blend in.

Soon, visibility dropped to around a hundred metres.

Melvin makes paddling on a surfboard look easy, but I didn’t manage to stand for more than three seconds on Saturday.  Oh, this time it is I in the borrowed pink rashie. On Sunday, the ocean was much calmer – perfect for me but not so much for a surfing comp -and I stood for much longer.

Mel not only paddles his way around, but actually surfs.  That’s impressive to me, but perhaps not to people in the sport.

The kind people of OceanEarth.

This ten-year-old was in the surfing competition.

This painter seemed to have a good eye for the surfer’s bodies but an imaginative one for the weather and color.

Perhaps I am the only one who cannot stand on a paddleboard.  They looked like they were having fun.


Added later:

A friend on Facebook, who probably wouldn’t mind my quoting him here, had this to say about Sunday’s waves:

Sunday brought glassy, clean, overhead waves. Yet, only in Korea would a surf contest be cancelled by the “water” police because of a typhoon that “we” all knew was coming. How does this help Korean surfers? The higher-ups need to get the acts together. This is embarrassing.  

Added even later:

Korean lifeguards and Coast Guard personnel have prevented me from swimming more than once.  If the conditions aren’t as safe as they can be, aquatics officials don’t want you to risk it.  On the one hand, I am a great swimmer, even now one of the world’s best, and feel I, and anyone, should be able to judge the risks for themselves.  I saw pictures of the waves on Sunday and I would feel comfortable swimming in them – excited even; they looked great!

On the other hand, I don’t carry special “great swimmer” ID and the nations aquatic rescue teams were pretty darn busy on Sunday…

From Yonhap:

 A rescue official in South Korea’s eastern province of Gangwon was killed during a search-and-rescue operation for a missing toddler, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said.

   A student presumed to be 15 years old was found dead after being washed away in rapid torrents in Chungju, 147 kilometers southeast of Seoul, according to the local anti-disaster agency.

And the Joongang:

Powerful Typhoon Meari drenched most of Korea yesterday with strong winds and torrential rain, killing two rescue workers and collapsing a bridge. Four people also were reported missing.

According to the National Emergency Management Agency, a rescuer in Sangju, North Gyeongsang, died while trying to save an 80-year-old farmer swept away by a flooding stream near his rice paddy. Another rescue worker searching for a 3-year-old swept into a nearby river in Yeongwol, Gangwon, also apparently drowned. The farmer and the child are still missing.

A 20-year-old man in Songgye Valley, Jecheon, North Chungcheong, and a 14-year-old middle school student in Cheongju were also missing after being caught in floodwaters. 

My great sympathy to the family that lost their child and my great admiration to the selfless rescue workers who risked and lost their lives trying to help.

I still think that in general people should be allowed greater freedom to swim in Korea but perhaps they were overwhelmed with work on Sunday and their decision to close even a surfing competition that needed big waves because of the big waves was reasonable.

Seminar-style lectures

June 11, 2011

My title refers to what I think the difference between lectures and seminars were twenty years ago when I was a university student.  In lectures, the flow of information is one-way.  In seminars, there is more interaction.  In my day, the reason the two forms of teaching existed was a matter of economics.  One highly educated professor could speak to a hundred or more students in a lecture, then teaching assistants could interact with smaller groups to ensure the information was received.

To no one’s surprise, research has shown the interactive style of seminars is a far better way to teach students.  The big surprise is that university management has not yet caught on to how seminar-style teaching can be brought to larger classes.

Research Digest, a journal of The British Psychological Society, has an article that asks,”Is it time to rethink the way university lectures are delivered?

…the intervention students were led by Deslauriers and Schelew (both of whom have fairly limited teaching experience) and took part in a series of discussions in small groups, group tasks, quizzes on pre-class reading, clicker questions (each student answers questions using an electronic device that feeds their answers back to the teacher), and instructor feedback. There was no formal lecturing. The aim, according to the authors, was:

“…to have the students spend all their time in class engaged in deliberate practice at ‘thinking scientifically’ in the form of making and testing predictions and arguments about the relevant topics, solving problems, and critiquing their own reasoning and that of others.”The control group students had their usual lectures, covering the same material as the intervention students and they were given the same pre-class reading.

 two days before the test, students in both classes were emailed all the materials used by the intervention group: the clicker questions, group tasks and their solutions.

The ‘intervention’ group’s test scores averaged twice the control group’s.

Although I agree with the stated conclusions of the research and find them reasonable, I am not sure I agree that the test justifies the conclusions.

The researchers dismissed the idea that their findings could be explained by the Hawthorne Effect (i.e. a mere effect of novelty or of being observed). “While this experiment is introducing change in the student experience in one particular course (3 total hours per week) it provides little incremental novelty to their overall daily educational experience,” they said. 

I am only reading a digest or summary of the research, so I could be missing details, but it sounds to me like the novelty went way up in the week of the experiment. My physics classes -admittedly from 1986-’87, were well done with an excellent lecturer, but were far different from small-group discussions and ‘clicker-questions’.

I suspect the students were physics students and this a major (vs minor, required or elective) course.  My students take English as a required, non-major course, so I may be comparing apples and oranges here.  My students seem to enjoy my seminar-style lectures (no clicker-questions, but lots of other forms of interaction) for several classes or weeks.  Later in the semester, the novelty fades and some students need to be reminded that mine is a seminar class, where interaction is required and not a lecture class, where sleeping is possible.

When I look into lectures going on in other rooms in other majors, I often see a full class -100 or so students – with many chatting, sleeping and using their phones and tablets.  In this respect, I would say I have a smaller percentage who visibly lose interest.

I guess my conclusion is that lectures should be more interactive, and that I would love to outfit my students with ‘clickers’, but that the dramatic improvement would likely decrease somewhat with time.

Sharing Bikes in cities around the world; would it work in Busan?

June 8, 2011

There are many programs in cities around the world that have bikes available to residents to use in that city (Yellow Bike Project search, Bicycle Sharing system, wikipedia).  From Wikipedia:

[These] are schemes in which numbers of bicycles are made available for shared use by individuals who do not own them. Publicly shared bicycles are a mobility service, mainly useful in urban environment for proximity travels. Proponents of public bike sharing argue that the concept can increase the usage of bicycles in an urban environment by removing some of its primary disadvantages to the individual rider, including loss from theft or vandalism, lack of parking or storage, and maintenance requirements.[1]

Bicycle sharing began as a private nongovernmental concept by various independent groups and organizations in an effort to increase utilization of nonpolluting transportation and/or to provide mobility for those unable to afford other means of transport. Since 1974, municipal governments and public agencies have also introduced publicly-owned bicycles for shared use as general transport as well as to facilitateintermodal transport schemes. Proponents also argue that public bicycle sharing can increase overall bicycle usage, potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, while improving public health through exercise. Bicycle sharing schemes may arguably be considered an early manifestation of the economic concept known as “collaborative consumption“.

Bicycle sharing systems can be divided into two general categories: Community Bike programs organized mostly by local community groups or non-profit organizations; and Smart Bike programs implemented by municipalities, governmental agencies, or public-private partnerships, as in the case of Paris’Vélib’. The central concept of many of the systems is free or affordable access to bicycles for short trips inside the city, as an alternative to motorised public transport or cars, thereby reducing traffic congestion, noise and air-pollution.

It has been estimated that as of 2010, there were more than 200 such schemes operating worldwide.[2]

I was reminded of the programs by the news in National Geographic that London will offer such a program.

Around the world, cycle-hire operators are rolling out bicycles that were tucked away for the cold and rainy months. Hundreds of new bikes and docking stations will join existing fleets, while many more cities, from Kailua to Tel Aviv to the Big Apple are joining the bike-sharing wave for the first time.

The idea is simple: Charge a nominal fee to give people all the benefits of cycling without the hassle of bike ownership. It’s an old idea, but the concept of a bicycle fleet for shared use has undergone a very modern makeover in recent years.

Today’s bikes are often equipped with GPS devices for tracking. Free and coin-deposit systems have given way to solar-powered, computerized docking stations designed to deter theft and afford easy installation. Users often can reserve a bicycle with a few taps on a smart phone, unlock a bike with the swipe of a smart card that links up with the local metro, and even track calories burned while pedaling.

Here in Busan, I have seen no evidence of any such program.  I am not sure that such a program would work and my concerns are not necessarily about the safety of cyclists in the city.  I am more concerned about the mountains.  To get to my university, I ride along nearly flat, river- and creek- side paths and roads and feel quite safe for 90% of the route.  The last 10% include about 200 metres vertical; something you don’t want just before arriving to teach -or study, or just about anything.  For exercise, the inclines may be of use; for commuting – when the destination is more important than the trip-  the inclines are nearly a deal-breaker.

There is another mountain-related problem; tunnels.  I have ridden through Busan’s city streets and felt safe, but the tunnels are very different in this regard.  I am uncertain if bikes are permitted in the tunnels.

I guess I don’t know enough about where a Bike Share program ends and a bike rental business begins.  Eulsookdo and other tourist locations in Busan have bike rentals that allow relatively cheap local travel but the rental operators don’t communicate and share bikes with each other.  One could not rent a bike at point A and leave it with someone at point B, for instance.

My bike is old and I need to replace it soon.  I am not sure if it will last through the summer.  If a bike share program started, I would patronize it but I am not sure if enough others would as well.

Using SWoRD in class

June 4, 2011

I am just now learning about SWoRD (Student Writing o? Reviewing Documents, is the closest long-form I can think of quickly), which is a way to correct and assist large classes of writing students:

SWoRD is a web-based reciprocal peer review system. In less fancy terms, students turn their class papers into SWoRD, which then assigns this paper to five or six peers in the class. The peers grade the paper and give advice for how to improve it. Students revise the paper and turn it back in to SWoRD, which distributes the paper to the same peers for final review. SWoRD determines the accuracy of the ratings through a complex process of separating out different kinds of bias in grading. The authors rate the advice given to them in terms of helpfulness. Reviewers get a grade for their work which is one half accuracy and one half helpfulness. In this way, reviewers must work hard and take their task seriously. 

For some reason, Marginal Revolution‘s review seems clearer to me in how the process works:

Basically students write an assignment and submit it to SWORD which randomly assigns 5 other students to grade the assignment and offer helpful comments; the gradees, in turn, grade the quality of the comments.

The typical students I teach aren’t yet capable of long essays so marking their writing projects is relatively simple.  If I were looking at larger reports or larger classes, this sounds very useful.

Busan KOTESOL mini-conference June 4

June 3, 2011

I post content here so seldom these days that using the blog to publicize an event hardly occurred to me.  The conference is TOMORROW!

Early English, Motivated Minds and Innovative Assessment” are the themes for the conference and each theme will have four speakers presenting for around 45 minutes.

More at the  KOTESOL website, including abstracts for the presentations.

Click to Embiggin the images below: