19 April 2007

Made in China: Mardi Gras

In my previous post, I mentioned an excellent resource, a documentary titled Made in China: Mardi Gras (Sundance, 2005), which I plan to use in my College Composition course to inspire and prepare first-semester college composition students to compose an argument essay about the human impact of globalization, as shown within the context of a documentary that follows the trail of Mardi Gras beads from China to New Orleans.

Made in China: Blouse

I suggest some of the following preparatory steps and resources for teachers planning to use the documentary for an argument writing assignment:

Suggested guiding questions:
  • What is globalization, and how does it impact product manufacture and sales?
  • Who produces goods for the U.S. market and where?
  • Why do more and more U.S. companies manufacture and source products overseas, and why do U.S. consumers purchase these products?
  • Why do overseas factories welcome U.S. customers and investors?
  • What are the working conditions at foreign factories producing goods for the U.S. market?
  • Why do factory workers in foreign factories work under the current conditions?
  • What role, if any, does gender play in the U.S.-overseas production chain?
  • How are artifacts/products embedded with social and cultural meaning? How and why does a product become disposable?
  • What are the economic and social impacts of globalization?

Suggested teacher resources:

Suggested Opening Activities:

"Made in China" Label Search
Ask students to check their clothes, shoes, and other personal items to look for “Made in China” and other product labels, and ask them to record the names of all countries printed on the labels. Use pins or masking tape to record the countries, along with the number of items, on a large world map (which has been placed on the wall or taped onto the whit board). Without further commentary, ask students to proceed to the next step.

Reflective Writing
Give the following instructions to the students: What does our map, with our notes, tell us about global trade? What do you already know about today’s global trade and its impact on people in the U.S. and other countries? What are your personal assumptions about “Made in China”?

Have students share their thoughts with the entire class. Write their main points on the board in two columns: global trade and “Made in China.” Ask the students to summarize what they already know about global trade and what their assumptions are about “Made in China” products in particular.

My complete lesson plan, which is available upon request, suggests two follow-up assignments:
1. An oral presentation, by groups of 4-5 students, summarizing and analyzing the motives and conditions of one category of people shown in the documentary and proposing one argumentative thesis statement about their topic. The students will get to choose from the following: The party crowd in New Orleans, the New Orleans businessman, the Chinese factory owner, the young female factory workers in China, and the families of the factory workers in China
2. An argument essay, expressing and supporting an opinion on some specific aspect about the human impact of globalization, as shown within the context of the documentary Made in China: Mardi Gras.

By the way, the documentary has also been used as a resource by many other disciplines, including sociology, history, and anthropology.

15 April 2007

"Made in China" - Visible Globalization

Why study China? It’s the future, right? But what does that really mean to us – and how can we get a good handle on such a broad topic in our classrooms?

Made in China: Box 2

At a recent Minnesota Humanities Center seminar titled Made in China: Economy, Environment, and Globalization, the seminar's leader David Davies, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Hamline University in Minnesota, suggested that it would make the most sense for us to study the underlying forces of “Made in China” products and product labeling. Why? Because we all have something made in China. Just ask the students to check the labels on their clothes or the items they own! What better way to show that China matters – that China already has a strong presence in our lives.

As we teach about the underlying – and often invisible - forces of today’s vast and fast-paced globalization, we could, Davies suggests, explore the relationships that already exist between homegrown companies and China. Minnesota students might have very little idea that many prominent local companies, including Hormel Foods, Medtronic Inc., and the Cargill Inc., have a strong presence in China, producing goods for both American and Asian markets. Davies questioned the relevance of studying the popular “hot” issues of sweatshop and child labor. Why study the anomaly, he asked, explaining that most U.S. factories in China are clean, well run, and law-abiding. It would make more sense, according to Davies, to examine the underlying motivations for Americans and Chinese to do business with one another, the forms in which such two-way exchanges manifest, and the economic, social, and environmental effects of the exchanges. For example, why do the Chinese welcome U.S. companies and why are the U.S. companies interested in working in and with China? Why does one U.S. company (such as Wal-Mart) decide to open retail shops in China while another (such as Target) has decided against it? How do U.S. companies and their Chinese partners and employees adapt to globalization?

During the seminar, Davies made a rather provocative parallel between the images of Sam Walton used in Wal-Mart’s advertisements and inspirational posters created for the company’s Chinese consumers and employees and the propaganda posters of China’s former leader Mao Tse-tung, showing both wearing caps and socially appropriate suits, with the right hand raised to a fatherly wave. Perhaps partly in jest and partly to provoke us, Davies introduced the term Wal-Mao” to us! Whether one accepts his “Wal-Mao” theory or not, a comparative study of the images could lead to interesting class discussions about cultural values and symbols, the nature of cultural exchanges, and other underlying forces of globalization.

The seminar also introduced me to an excellent recourse, an award-winning documentary titled Mardi Gras: Made in China (2005), directed by David Redmond. The documentary makes thought-provoking observations of the global ramifications of the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. The focus is on the Mardi Gras beads, made in China. The documentary reveals interesting contrasts between the Mardi Gras partiers, a New Orleans businessman who imports beads from China, a Chinese factory owner who produces the beads, his young female employees, and their families in rural China. Since the documentary includes some nudity typical of a Mardi Gras celebration (e.g., bare breasts and bottoms), it may need to be edited for younger viewers. However, I find the 80-minute documentary a very compelling way to make the invisible forces of the “Made in China” phenomenon visible to my students.

11 April 2007

NAFSA Webinar on Global Competence

Today a few colleagues and I had an opportunity to participate in the first session of the 2007 Professional Development Webinar Series hosted by NAFSA: Association of International Educators. As stated by the presenters representing three institutions, the objective of today's webinar was two-fold: (1) "to list and describe the salient characteristics of three aspects of global competence" and (2) to "describe at least two strategies other than traditional study abroad for achieving global competence."

I found the webinar's opening observations about global competence very interesting. The presenters stressed the importance of developing and combining three kinds of global competence in our students: knowledge, attitude, and skills. Not only should our student gain facts and understanding of global issues, but they should also develop the ability to see global issues positively, from a perspective that is different from their own, and then be able to demonstrate their knowledge through foreign language skills, interpersonal skills, and task performance.

However, many of the practical applications mentioned by the presenters from Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Illinois, and Purdue University were, honestly, not very practical to much smaller two-year community and technical colleges like our institution, Lake Superior College. All of these institutions have large international education departments, with adequate funds and staff to initiate and support large-scale internship and research opportunities for their students and, in case of Georgia Institute of Technology, an institutional International Plan that requires and supports each department to integrate a degree-long international education plan. Yet, in small dozes, some of the ideas could work on smaller campuses, such as providing increased opportunities for language study. I could see great possibilities for offering more language courses online. Also, short-term internships might be possible for students in certain programs.

I am particularly curious about granting qualified students some type of global competence certification, with a designator on their diploma. At this point, I am not sure how much importance such designators actually carry. I suspect that a global competence certification would not have a great influence on a student's ability to gain employment, but what impact would it have on an individual student's self-awareness as a global citizen? And how would providing global competence certifications impact the institution's culture as a whole?

Obviously, each institution must select global education approaches that fit the institution's culture. As a common challenge, the presenters called for democratizing cross-cultural learning by encouraging us to seek ways to provide global education opportunities to all students, also those who "stay behind." In short, we must integrate global perspectives and issues to our curriculum plans not only through a greater variety of learning abroad experiences but also the rest of the curriculum.

09 April 2007

Typing Foreign Letters

Ää Üü Öö

When we are in contact with students, other people, places, and texts from different cultures, we often encounter words and names that contain characters that don't exist in our own language. What do you do when you are using a U.S. keyboard and need to type a word with a Swedish å, a Portuguese ç, a Finnish ö, or a French ÿ?

Some simply ignore the special characters while others try to memorize keyboard shortcuts. Since I often write in my native Finnish, which uses the characters ä and ö, I have tried many methods. For many years, I simply ignored the special characters, especially in emails and other casual correspondence. This, however, resulted in many amusing words and even some not-so-amusing misunderstandings. Then I installed a Windows keyboard layout, but that also had its problems, often interfering with my ability to type normal letters.

A few years ago, when I bought a new computer, I decided to search for another option. Through an Internet search, I discovered a website created by Tomasz P. Szynalski, a Polish translator, teacher, and web designer. Based on an idea he got from a Russian keyboard on the Apronus.com site, Szynalski created useful text boxes, or editors, for French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish. He even created a text box for IPA phonetics symbols, which types English pronunciations of English words as they appear in English dictionaries. This could be an excellent tool for many ESL and foreign exchange students!

How do the text box editors work? Each text box allows you to type characters that are specific to the language without having to use a special keyboard. You can edit your text in the box and then copy it to your email message, blog posting, or word processor, just as I have done in this blog entry. According to Szynalski, we can thank "the miracles of Unicode and JavaScript" for these tools! Personally, the text boxes have made my life a lot easier, and they have also inspired me to be more sensitive to the correct spelling of foreign names and words.

Obviously, Szynalski's text boxes don't help everyone. Another option, which I haven't tried personally, involves the use of keyboard stickers, like those described on keyboardstickers.net. I'd also be curious to learn about other solutions, as I am committed to trying to type every student's name correctly, especially in online courses, where the written word is the primary form of communication.

Şş æ ð Ăă

06 April 2007

Minnesota Humanities Center

If you live in Minnesota, or nearby, I recommend you to explore the professional development opportunities offered by the Minnesota Humanities Center (formerly Minnesota Humanities Commission) in St. Paul, Minnesota. Year round, the center offers evening and weekend seminars on a variety of cultural and global topics at a very reasonable cost and free lodging, in very nice hotel-like rooms, for anyone who drives to St. Paul from some distance. On occasion, the center schedules events at other Minnesota locations, including Duluth.

While most of the seminars are aimed at K-12 instructors, the materials can easily be adapted to college-level courses. The courses are taught by professors and other subject experts from a variety of public and private institutions, including Macalester College, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, St. Olaf College, Carlton College, and Hamline University, and the weekend seminars can also be taken for optional Hamline University graduate credit in Humanities, also at a reasonable cost. The weekend seminars tend to be somewhat lecture-heavy, but you can count on receiving a great deal of useful information and resources.

So far, I have attended two of their seminars, one titled The Art of the Cold War, which included fascinating information about Soviet poetry, propaganda posters, and fine arts as well as a field trip visit to the magnificent Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis. Another seminar, titled Immigrants/Citizens in France, gave a wealth of information about the impact of North African immigration on French society and culture, including rai music and contemporary Arab-French films and literature. This seminar introduced me to the Inch 'Allah dimance (Inch' Allah Sunday) film featured in the earlier Character Analysis Exercises.

Next week I will be attending a seminar titled Made in China: Economy, Environments, and Globalization, expecting to gain - and then share - more useful resources for globalizing literature and composition courses. Stay tuned!