Friday, December 28, 2012

English-teaching Robot

South Korea has developed an English-teaching robot, named “Engkey.” The name is said to be "a contraction of English jockey (as in disc jockey)". South Korea wants its children to learn English, but it has been extremely expensive to import teachers from English-speaking countries. So this is a money-saving device. The teachers are in the Philippines, and communicate via telepresence using embedded microphones and speakers. The robot has a screen for a "head" with the face of a blond female. This design is said to be "for the students to feel that Engkey is approachable and not intimidating."
It is an interesting topic to discuss with engineering students: to what extent can technology replace teachers of language? Students can judge how effectively this robot can do the job, and which features the robot should have.

Here is an article from the New York Times about this robot:
This website includes a link to a video of teaching robots (time is 3:23).

Monday, December 24, 2012

Best Inventions of the Year

At the end of each year, TIME magazine publishes its list of the best inventions of the year:

On this website you can also look at the best inventions of previous years. For each invention there is a picture and a short text that explains what the invention is and how it works. The texts are short and easy to work with, and most entries have an internet address for more information.

These inventions are a good source of material for process description in almost any area of engineering. I’ve used texts for robotics and automation engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, information technology, biomedical engineering, medical sciences. And there are inventions for many more areas.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Technical Vocabulary - delivered weekly

A very useful – and free – source of technical vocabulary, for both teachers and students, is the newsletter Technical Word of the Week, the property of Paul East and Cornelia Kreis-Meyer of The Pyramid Group. To subscribe:

Each email includes:
·        the word of the week,
·        definitions,
·        link to spoken pronunciation,
·        a translation into 10 languages (German, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Finnish, Dutch, Greek, Russian, Arabic),
·        word family,
·        synonyms,
·        antonyms and
·        examples of the word in use.

It’s this last feature that I find most useful for classroom work. Students should learn that one-to-one translations don’t always work, and that the words that “go with” the featured word (prepositions, collocations, etc) could be different in their own language. When learning a new word (or learning more about a word students think they already ‘know’), it’s important to also learn how the word is used in context.

These examples can be used to focus students on aspects of the word in use. For example, for the word “fluctuate” examples of collocations include: price fluctuation, fluctuating workloads, fluctuating prices, temperature fluctuations, frequency fluctuations, voltage fluctuations.

I encourage my students to subscribe. Getting a vocabulary item that’s useful in technical contexts on a regular basis keeps them focused on the development of their English – and motivates them to take responsibility for expanding their technical vocabulary.

And for me, added bonuses are the “resource of the week,” which often leads me to sources of useful texts or ideas, “videos,” and “extra activities”.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Writing outside "The Box"

In my last post I mentioned the transcript of The Box, a program on KUHF FM (

In addition to using it for reading and listening material, I also use it for the practice of writing skills.

I focus students on the basic structure of the text:
· introduction: what the innovation is; when it ‘started’
· description of innovation
· how it was innovative
· changes caused by the innovation:
o       impact on area of innovation (e.g., shipping)
o       impact on economy
o       impact on society (e.g., port cities)
· conclusion: the world today with the innovation

Then I have them notice words and phrases used to ‘introduce’ and ‘connect’ the different sections of the text (for example: As a result; until; But the true marvel of the ___ was how it changed ___).

After working with this text, I give them one of 2 writing exercises:

1.     I have students choose another innovation that they feel is a good example of “here’s-a-problem-let’s-solve-it” engineering. They write a short text following the same structure.

2.     I have students ‘add’ to the article by writing one or two paragraphs about a further impact, e.g., container apartments – modular living units based on the model of shipping containers.

Students enjoy the "creative" aspect of this writing assignment, but they also see the connection between the technical innovations they'll be working on and the impact those innovations will have on the economy, society and the world.