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Learning Chinese on the Go in Chinatown

09 Mar 2010

Chinatown Interactive Learning Trail

Top prize winners Billy Aw and Alcalvie Leong from Anglican High School with their trail-enabled mobile phone at one of the hotspots.

A coolie, a rickshaw puller, a samsui woman and an opera singer - what do they have in common? Offhand, you'd probably say they're part of Singapore's history. Now, with the launch of a new Chinese-language learning trail through Chinatown, these historical figures have also become avatars - characters that students can take on and role play - as they embark on an interactive journey back in time.

The Interactive Learning Trail in Chinatown is Singapore's first interactive, location-based, multi-player educational trail. It's developed around specially programmed mobile phones that students use to engage in activities to foster the learning of the Chinese language, at seven designated wireless-enabled hotspots in the neighbourhood.

"The trail is a bit like The Amazing Race on TV, where contestants have to correctly complete various tasks before they are given the clue to the next location," explains Billy Aw, a Sec 2 student from Anglican High School. His schoolmate Alcalvie Leong chimes in, "At each location, there are a number of missions we can attempt. We have to plan our strategy and decide how many questions we want to answer at each location, in order to chalk up points and tokens, or quickly move on to the next location." The winning team is the one that accumulates the most points and tokens at the end of the game time.

Chinatown Interactive Learning Trail

Students can study an old photo of a rickshaw stop and learn about rickshaw drivers on their handheld device.

Learn as you play

Billy and Alcalvie were some of the students from Anglican High School, Victoria School, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) and Coral Secondary School who took part in a pilot competition for this learning trail. It was officially launched by Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State for National Development and Education, on 27 February 2010 at Spring, JuChun Yan, a restaurant in Chinatown which occupies the site of a former school called Chui Eng Free School. It is also one of the hotspots along the learning trail.

Billy and Alcalvie came in first in the pilot competition, while their Sec 2 schoolmates Fong Shu Juan and Lee Qing Yi came in second. "I think it's an interesting way to learn the Chinese language and discover our past," says Shu Juan.

Qing Yi elaborates, "We had to take photos or write down our answers on the handheld device, and submit our responses using Wi-Fi." The students are clearly fired up by the element of competition, as well as having the opportunity to use technology to explore locations in Chinatown, all in a mad dash from place to place.

Chinatown Interactive Learning Trail

ACS (I) students trying out the handheld device at a hotspot.

Identifying the hotspots

Almost four years in the making - from conceptualisation to research and content development to scriptwriting and testing - the learning trail was developed by MOE with support from Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, and operated by a technology partner. From the start, MOE had involved Chinese Language teachers from the four pilot schools. One of them was Mr Yeo Wee Kong, a teacher at ACS (I). "We want to make the learning of Chinese language and culture interesting and relevant for our students," he says.

The teachers had conducted research for data about Singapore's past and ploughed through the records at the Oral History Centre of the National Archives of Singapore. "We had to decide which topics to focus on and also identify the hotspots," relates Mr Yeo. The team then picked subjects that were part of the lower secondary and Sec 3 syllabus, so that "students can identify with what they are studying as they would have experienced the trail in Sec 1 or Sec 2".

The learning trail is designed so that when a player reaches a hotspot, the hotspot introduction is triggered. The player will then begin the series of missions or games. For example, he/she may be asked to take photographs of the site and send them to the control centre for real-time validation. Players can also collaborate or exchange information using the phone's chat function.

Chinatown Interactive Learning Trail

Mr Yeo Wee Kong (extreme left) and Mr Neo Hock Kheng (at extreme right), head of the Chinese Language department, with their ACS (I) students outside the former Chui Eng Free School, a hotspot along the learning trail.

The trail also caters to students of varying abilities. They have two hours to complete as many stations as possible, and as Mr Yeo points out, pilot testing showed that an average student can complete four or five stations, while the "really good ones" can finish all seven stations.

"I think it's a very fun way of learning," say Victoria School Sec 2 students Soh Jun Hong and Ng Syn Kae, who came in third in the learning trail competition. "As we move from mission to mission and hotspot to hotspot, things we have only read about, really come alive.