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Open Learning Curriculum: Week 5 - Mandarin Chinese

你好 [nǐhǎo]. I have taken on quite a challenging new task this week. I have begun the journey of learning Mandarin Chinese. I currently only speak English but have been reading a lot about the benefits of learning a second language. Two articles that came out in the last week from LifeHacker and the New York Times talk about this:

Being bilingual, it turns out, makes you smarter. It can have a profound effect on your brain, improving cognitive skills not related to language and even shielding against dementia in old age.

Based on this information and the idea of being able to look at the world from a vastly different perspective lead me to the choice of which language to speak. After looking at this data I decided to start learning Mandarin Chinese since it has the largest group of people on the planet speaking it. This means there are all sorts of resources out there that I could have access to and people I could meet and collaborate with on projects. This will not be an easy task, but I have found so far that it really engages parts of my brain that I don't use often enough with my typical focus.

Another reason I have decided to take on this challenge is some of the great resources I have found to help me along. The first resource, Mango Languages, unfortunately is not free for everyone, but my local library has started using it and is providing free access to library members. Now onto the Open Learning resources I have found; it was fun to take on this new challenge and apply all the Open Learning resources I have found so far to this task. The first step was to identify the categories of resources that would be beneficial to this particular task, then going over my Open Learning Mindmap to fill these categories with specific resources. Next I used a combination of search queries and analyzing the resources I had found so far to find additional resources to add that were specific to the task of learning Mandarin Chinese. Here is a layout of what I found:

Now for a cool new project I heard about this week. Many of you have probably heard of TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Well I just learned about a new project called TED-Ed: Lessons Worth Sharing which aims to “pair educators with talented animators to produce a new library of curiosity-igniting videos"

This week at Udacity I was challenged a bit more than usual in the CS101 class as we talked about improving the performance of our search engine. To do this we made use of hash tables. I have used them before but never implemented a hash function myself so this made this class more exciting this week. There was also a great article in Wired this week on Udacity

As mentioned last week, I am working on building my social learning network. I made some excellent progress in this area this week. First off, I finally deleted my Facebook account. I had tried to include facebook in my social learning network but found that there was too much distraction there between the advertisements and pointless conversations. I also really don't like how Facebook filters your feed based on which people you have been interacting with. I also had a lot of clutter in my Google+ circles since I had a lot of shared circles that I had added from other people. I removed all the shared circles from my main feed and created new circles specific to my current learning objectives. This way I can still go into those shared circles and hand pick individuals to add to my custom circles. This new strategy gives me a stream with a lot of valuable content actually relevant to what I'm trying to achieve rather than the abundance of unfocused information I was wading through before. I have already seen some benefits because of these adjustments. Instead of spending so much time getting distracted, I find it easier to stay on task. I am also starting to assign myself the task of answering a specific number of questions on Quora and OpenStudy each week to keep some momentum there for building a reputation and connecting with more people to further build my learning network.

As far as P2PU I haven't done much there this week. I started to play around with the lernanta code but got stuck with some errors in my dev environment. I have posted questions to the p2pu lernanta study group as well as the p2pu-dev mailing list, but am still waiting on a response. Regarding the task of finding a mentor for the DIY U, I posted there about my current difficulties with this task that I also discussed in last week's post and got a response about how a lot of individuals are having trouble with this task, so they might rewrite it “for folks who could benefit from a looser interpretation." While I still see the benefit in finding a specific individual who could be a mentor, there is also benefit in just building your learning network to a point where it is much easier to ask questions and get answers from a number of different “mentors," while at the same time sharing your own knowledge. I guess this would be more of a system of collaborative mentoring.

There isn't a ton of traffic coming to this site right now, so thank you to everyone who is taking the time to read these posts. As always, I welcome any input you have on the subject so please post a comment below or send me a message with the contact form on the site! 谢谢[xiè xiè]

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