Monday, November 23, 2009

The Meaning of Thanksgiving. From Voice of America


Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA. I'm Faith Lapidus. This Thursday is a day for families and friends to share a special holiday meal and think about what they are thankful for. This week on our program, we ask some people to share their favorite memories of Thanksgiving Day.



Special English reporters June Simms and Dana Demange talked to people about the holiday.

JIM OLDHAM: "My name is Jim Oldham and I'm from Nashville, Tennessee. I remember my father drove a bus and my mother was a waitress, and so we often didn't get to have Thanksgiving together. And I remember when I was about twelve, her work and his work permitted us all to do that. And we had brothers and sisters, and the traditional turkey and all the trimmings. We always had pumpkin pie, and if we were really lucky, a little bit of whipped cream on top. And it was just a wonderful day."

ANN GEIGER: "I'm Ann Geiger from Tucson, Arizona. Thanksgiving is special for our family because like so many families our adult children live around the country. And we usually get at least part of them together for Thanksgiving."

REPORTER: "And what is one of your fondest Thanksgiving Day memories?"

ANN GEIGER: "Oh, I think a recent Thanksgiving when my son and I had a turkey cook-off. He brined his turkey and I didn't brine mine. And we decided which one was the best."

REPORTER: "Who won?"

ANN GEIGER: "He did."


Brining is a way to prepare meat in a salt solution, whether for a competitive "cook-off" or just any meal. Traditionally the meat served on Thanksgiving is turkey. The bird is usually served with side dishes including a mixture known either as stuffing or dressing.

Many families also bring out their finest table settings -- the "good china" -- for Thanksgiving.

JOEL UPTON: "My name is Joel Upton. I'm from Livingston, Tennessee. Thanksgiving at my family was always a time when brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, we all got together. And someone would bring different dishes. Someone would bring the sweet potatoes. Someone would bring the meat. Someone would bring the dressing. And we would all sort of combine the efforts to have a family Thanksgiving dinner and bring out the good china for that particular event.

And Thanksgiving also, in my early days when I was a child, the kids would all get to play, maybe we hadn't seen each other for a while. The men would always watch a football game on TV. And Thanksgiving was just a really, really special time. And, of course, we had in mind the Pilgrims and what it was all about too. But it was a family time."



The Pilgrims first arrived in America in sixteen twenty. They were separatists from the Church of England and other settlers. The ship that brought the first group was the Mayflower.

An exploring party landed at Plymouth, in what became the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The state is named after an American Indian tribe -- a recognition of the groups that came long before the Pilgrims.

The First Thanksgiving
The first Pilgrims established a village. Those who survived the first difficult years held harvest festivals and religious celebrations of thanksgiving. These events formed the basis of the holiday that Americans now celebrate.

But there are no official "rules" for a Thanksgiving meal. Some people like to find ways to do things a little differently.

BUTCH HUNSINGER: "Butch Hunsinger from Williamsport, Pennsylvania."

REPORTER: "The bird. What are you going to do differently this year?"

BUTCH HUNSINGER: "Try to shoot it myself, instead of go to the store to buy it. Go to the family cabin, and hunt on the family land and try to call in a turkey and fire away."

REPORTER: "And who's the better shot in the family?"

BUTCH: "Oh my son, by far."

REPORTER: "What about your worst Thanksgiving memory?"

BUTCH: "Worst…[Laughter] The worst was also the funnest, 'cause I got up early Thanksgiving day and we went to the Burwick Marathon, but it's a nine-mile road race. Just a crusher." [Laughter]

HUGUETTE MBELLA: "Hi, my name is Huguette Mbella. And I was born in Cameroon and grew up in France. And I live now in the United States in Washington, D.C. The whole concept of Thanksgiving was a little bit bizarre. In France, the main celebration is Christmas, not Thanksgiving."

REPORTER: "Can you think of one of your most fond Thanksgiving memories?"

HUGUETTE MBELLA: "I would say my first one. It was in New York. Suddenly the turkey comes on the table, and I was amazed by the size. It was huge! The first thing that came to my mind was actually that's a lot of food!"

ELIZABETH BRINKMAN: "My name is Elizabeth Brinkman and I'm from Cleveland, Ohio. It was always a day that my mother did all the cooking. And we had turkey and I got to chop the vegetables for the dressing. And we got out the good china."

GORDON GEIGER: "Gordon Geiger from Tucson, Arizona. We used to get together at my parents' house and all of my relatives would come over and we'd have a big dinner. And after dinner we would watch football games on the television.

I think it's probably really the most important holiday in the United States because it is a day that is not tied to a particular religion. It is not tied as much to commercial activities. It's more a reflection of the fact that we've had a good life and we appreciate it."



This Thanksgiving, Americans can be thankful that the Great Recession may be over. But the job market faces a long recovery. Unemployment is now above ten percent. And if the underemployed are added, the rate is seventeen and a half percent. The underemployed are people no longer searching for work or only able to find part time jobs.

Last week, the United States Department of Agriculture released its "household food security" report for two thousand eight. The study found that families in seventeen million households had difficulty getting enough food at times during the year. That was almost fifteen percent -- up from eleven percent in two thousand seven. It was the highest level since the current surveys began in nineteen ninety-five.

The Agriculture Department says poverty is the main cause of food insecurity and hunger in the United States.

President Obama, in a statement, called the report unsettling. Especially troubling, he said, is that there were more than five hundred thousand families in which a child experienced hunger multiple times during the year.

He said the first task is to renew job growth, but added that his administration is taking other steps to prevent hunger. These include an increase in aid for people in the government's nutrition assistance program, commonly known as food stamps.



The Continental Congress wrote the first national Thanksgiving proclamation in seventeen seventy-seven, during the Revolutionary War. George Washington issued the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation in seventeen eighty-nine. Here is part of what he wrote.


Northern soldiers having Thanksgiving
dinner in their camp
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor -- and whereas both houses of Congress have by their joint committee requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the twenty-sixth day of November next to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious being, who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be ...


Sarah Josepha Hale was a magazine editor and writer who campaigned for a Thanksgiving holiday. That way, there would be "two great American national festivals," she said, the other being Independence Day on the Fourth of July.

In September of eighteen sixty-three, Sarah Josepha Hale appealed to President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had made proclamations in the spring of eighteen sixty-two and sixty-three. But these gave thanks for victories in battle during the Civil War.

Then came another proclamation on October third, eighteen sixty-three. It gave more general thanks for the blessings of the year. This is part of what it said:


In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Abe Lincoln, praying
Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. ...

I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.


Lincoln's proclamation began a tradition. Presidents have issued Thanksgiving proclamations every year since eighteen sixty-three. All can be found on the Web site of the Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth.

In nineteen forty-one, Franklin Roosevelt was president. Roosevelt approved a resolution by Congress. It established, by law, the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.


Our program was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.


1. A turkey "cook-off" is a ___________________________ .
a: race to see who can cook a turkey faster
b: a competition to see whose turkey tastes better
c: cooking turkey away from the house and in the yard
d: a competition to see which turkey is larger

2. The establishment by law of the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving day was accomplished under ______________________ .
a: The Continental Congress
b: Sarah Josepha Hale
c: Franklin Roosevelt
d: Abraham Lincoln

3. In two of the interviews, Thanksgiving dinner was followed by _____________________ .
a: hiking in the woods
b: a game of poker
c: watching football on TV
d: taking leftovers to relatives

4. Brining is ____________________________ .
a: baking mixed vegetables
b: preparing meat without using spices
c: preparing meat in a salt solution
d: preparing gravy

5. The tradition of issuing Thanksgiving proclamations was begun by ___________________ .
a: Abraham Lincoln
b: George Washington
c: Franklin Roosevelt
d: Thomas Jefferson

6. The Mayflower is a ship that brought the ____________ to America.
a: Pilgrims
b: Anglicans
c: Catholics
d: Puritains

7. When parents both have different work schedules, _________________ .
a: neither has time to eat
b: it's difficult to celebrate a holiday like Thanksgiving with the family
c: the turkey is easier to cook
d: the children have to take care of the trimmings

8. In 2009, President Obama found a __________________ unsettling.
a: report on unemployment
b: report on food security
c: report on turkey farming
d: report on the Great Recession

9. Originally, Thanksgiving was both a religious and _____________ festival.
a: an evening
b: an athletic
c: anniversary
d: harvest

10. Thanksgiving today is probably different from the time of the Pilgrims because _________________
a: the turkey probably tastes a lot better
b: it much more religious
c: it's not as religious
d: the Pilgrims didn't have turkey

This is a very nice video of the First Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jane Goodall: Still Hard at Work for the Chimps. Voice of America.


I'm Doug Johnson.


And I'm Faith Lapidus with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Jane Goodall is one of the most well known scientists in the world. She has spent most of her career studying wild chimpanzees in a protected area of Tanzania called Gombe National Park. Over the past fifty years, she has made very important discoveries about the social behavior of chimpanzees.

Today, Ms. Goodall spends most of her time traveling around the world speaking about wildlife protection and working to build support for her foundation. She recently wrote a book about endangered animals.



Ever since she was a child growing up in England, Jane Goodall dreamed of working with wild animals.

JANE GOODALL: "As long as I can remember, it was animals, animals. Even before I could talk, I was watching earthworms and things, reading Doctor Doolittle books, wanting to learn the language of animals. Then finding the books about Tarzan, falling in love with Tarzan."

When she was about eleven years old, she decided that she wanted to go to Africa to live with and write about animals. But this was not the kind of thing young women growing up in the nineteen forties usually did.

JANE GOODALL: "Apart from my mother, everybody laughing, she would say if you really want something, you work hard, you take advantage of opportunity, you never give up, you find a way. So, eventually a school friend invited me to Africa."


In nineteen fifty-seven, Jane Goodall traveled to Africa. She soon met the well-known scientist Louis Leakey and began working for him as an assistant. He later asked her to study a group of chimpanzees living by a lake in Tanzania. Very little was known about wild chimpanzees at the time. Mister Leakey believed that learning more about these animals could help explain the evolutionary past of humans.

JANE GOODALL: "That led to this extraordinary opportunity to study, not just any animal, but chimpanzees. I wouldn't have aspired to that. I mean, I had no degree. I wasn't qualified, I thought. He thought differently."


Louis Leakey thought Jane Goodall would be a perfect candidate for the job. She had spent much of her time reading and writing about animals. And, she was not a trained biologist. He believed this would keep her mind open to new discoveries.

Observing chimps was not easy work. They were very shy and would run away whenever Miz Goodall came near. She learned to watch them from far away using binoculars. Over time, she slowly gained their trust. She gave the chimps human names such as David Graybeard, Flo and Fifi.


Giving the chimps human names was a very unusual method. Most researchers would have identified the animals using numbers instead of names. But Miz Goodall believed that to understand animal behavior, the observer had to see the animals as individuals, not as interchangeable objects. Watching the chimps, she learned that they have very different personalities, with complex family and social relationships.

They ate vegetables and fruits. But she observed that they were also meat eaters and skilled hunters. A few weeks later, she made an even more surprising discovery. She saw chimps making and using tools to help them trap insects.

JANE GOODALL: "I suppose the first really significant thing that the world heard about was chimpanzees using and making tools. It was thought that only humans did this and that this set us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom."


Jane Goodall wrote Louis Leakey to tell him about her discovery. He responded by saying: "Now we must redefine 'tool', redefine 'man', or accept chimpanzees as human."

Up to this point, Jane Goodall still did not have a degree. She returned to England to begin working towards a doctorate in animal behavioral science. She received her degree from Cambridge University in nineteen sixty-five.



Jane Goodall spent many years studying chimps in this area of Tanzania. Today, the research program at Gombe represents one of the longest continuous wildlife studies in the world.

Miz Goodall has written many books for adults and children about wild chimpanzees. Her scientific research was published in the book "The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior."

It explains her discoveries about chimp behavior, including the extremely close relationship between mother and child. She describes the chimps' intelligence, their hunting activities and their sometimes extremely aggressive behavior.


Although she has spent her life trying to protect chimps in their natural environment, these animals are still very much in danger. Miz Goodall says when she began working in Tanzania, there were between one and two million chimps in the wild. Today, she says there are about three hundred thousand at the most.

JANE GOODALL: "It's different in different countries. Chimps are in twenty-one nations. In countries like Tanzania, it's simply habitat destruction. But when we come to where the large significant populations are, which is the Congo basin, then we find that it's the bush meat trade that's the commercial hunting of wild animals for food. And, it's made possible by the logging companies, foreign logging companies, opening up the forest with roads."


The destruction of the chimp's natural environment led Ms. Goodall to give her full attention to protection efforts. She spends about three hundred days out of the year traveling around the world to discuss her many projects and goals. She talks about the efforts of the Jane Goodall Institute which she started in nineteen seventy-seven. Its aim is to increase public understanding of great apes through research, education, and activism.

The group teaches local communities how to manage their resources in ways that help them economically and protect the environment. It also has a sanctuary where baby chimps whose parents have been killed by hunters can receive treatment and protection.


The Institute's "Roots and Shoots" program is aimed at getting young people interested in environmental activism and leadership. The group has helped connect young people who are interested in working to save animals and the environment.

JANE GOODALL: "Hundreds of thousands of young people around the world can break through and make this a better world for all living things. Main message? Each one of us makes a difference every single day we impact the world around us and if we would just think about the consequences of the little choices we make -- what we eat, wear, buy, how we interact with people, animals, the environment --then we start making small changes and that can lead to the huge change that we must have."



Jane Goodall's most recent book is called "Hope for Animals and Their World." It tells about efforts to save several species of endangered animals.

JANE GOODALL: "I think the one story that inspired this book was meeting a wonderful man called Don Mertin in New Zealand and he explaining to me how he had saved a species of bird called a Black Robin when there were just seven individuals left in the world of which only two were female and only one of whom was fertile."


Some of the species Ms. Goodall discusses in the book have completely disappeared in the wild, and are only alive because they have been bred in captivity.

The California condor is another such example. This huge bird used to live along the West Coast of North America. By the nineteen eighties, there were only a few condors left in the wild. In a disputed decision, officials took the wild condors into captivity so that their breeding could be supervised and protected. The goal of such programs is to later place the species back into the wild. But preparing the captive bred condors to live in the wild again has not been easy. Threats the condors face in the wild include lead poisoning and mistaking trash for food.


Other species in the book still exist in the wild, but are endangered. One example Jane Goodall discusses is the Golden Lion Tamarin. She tells about the hard work of a group of researchers who have successfully released these monkeys back into protected areas of Brazil. Her book shows what is possible when people come together to work cooperatively to save animals.


Jane Goodall has said that it is often easy to feel upset about the destruction of the natural world. But her overall message has always been one of hope.

She says her hope comes from her belief in four things: the human brain, the human spirit, nature's strength and the energy of young people. She says people are starting to use their minds to solve the world's many problems and make wiser and more responsible choices. And, she believes in the strength of the human spirit which allows people to reach goals which might otherwise seem impossible.



This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus.


And I'm Doug Johnson. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs are at Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Walter Cronkite, a Great TV Newsman - Voice of America


I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Shirley Griffith with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

WALTER CRONKITE: "And that's the way it is ... "


For almost twenty years, that was how Walter Cronkite would end his newscasts. Americans all knew him. So did many world leaders. Today's news anchors could only hope for such recognition. He was often called the most trusted man in America.

He anchored the "CBS Evening News" until nineteen eighty-one. The sixties and seventies produced more than enough stories to fill a daily newscast. Those were years of social change and civil rights protests.

Years that saw John Kennedy, his brother Robert and Martin Luther King all murdered; the war in Southeast Asia expand; a president resign. Years of worry that the same rockets that could take people to the moon could also bring nuclear war to Earth.

And years when most of us still thought of a "mouse" as a small creature. Yet smart minds were thinking up the technology behind today's computers and the Internet.


Walter Cronkite brought it all home each evening, Monday through Friday. As President Barack Obama said in a statement: "He was there through wars and riots, marches and milestones, calmly telling us what we needed to know."

And when the anchorman was not in front of the camera, there was a good chance he was on his boat. He went sailing up until almost his final days. He died on July seventeenth, two thousand nine, at the age of ninety-two.



Walter Cronkite was born on November fourth, nineteen sixteen, in Saint Joseph, Missouri. His father was a dentist, his mother a housewife.

With young Walter, the family moved from the Midwest to Texas. He worked on his high school newspaper and later left the University of Texas at Austin to become a journalist. He was a newspaper and radio reporter and sports announcer.

In nineteen forty he married Mary Elizabeth Maxwell, known as Betsy. They had three children and were together for nearly sixty-five years, until Betsy died in two thousand five.


As a young reporter, Walter Cronkite covered World War Two. He worked for United Press, the wire service which later became United Press International.

He landed in Holland with American soldiers in a glider. And he was in a military plane overhead as Allied forces stormed the beach at Normandy, France. It was June sixth, nineteen forty-four, the start of the Allied invasion of Europe, the final push to defeat Nazi Germany.

Later, Walter Cronkite reported on the trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Germany.


One day during the war, the famous journalist Edward R. Murrow offered him a job. It was a chance to report for a major television network, CBS, the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Yet TV was still young then. Walter Cronkite decided to stay where he was. United Press raised his pay and later made him its chief in Moscow. But in nineteen fifty he accepted another offer and went to work for CBS.

One of his early programs was a history show where he questioned actors playing people like Aristotle and Joan of Arc. But he was a serious newsman, and in nineteen fifty-two he led CBS' coverage of the national political conventions. They were the first to be televised coast to coast.


Ten years later, on April sixteenth, nineteen sixty-two, he became anchor of the "CBS Evening News."

The program was only fifteen minutes long then. It took him two years to get his wish to extend it to thirty minutes. He also became managing editor, which expanded his influence over the program.

WALTER CRONKITE: "I participate very directly in the entire process -- in the decision of what stories we cover, in the decision on how we're covering them, what length of time we're going to give to them. It's a continuing process. I write part of the broadcast. Every bit of copy that goes on the broadcast passes through my hands. I edit every word that I say, I say no words that have not gone through my hand, many of them my own."

Walter Cronkite met some of the most important people of his time. This was the time of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. In one interview, though, he asked President John F. Kennedy about another conflict that was growing then.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Mister President, the only hot war we've got running at the moment is the one in Vietnam."

JOHN KENNEDY: "I don't think that, uh, unless a greater effort is made by the government to win popular support, that the war can be won out there."


Americans would come to find truth in Kennedy's words. But, just two months after that interview, shots were fired at his open-top car. As we will hear later, Walter Cronkite had the sad duty of reporting that the young president was dead.

Happier moments came as he reported on the American space program. In July of nineteen sixty-nine he was almost speechless when Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Oh, boy! Whew! Boy!"


Walter Cronkite rarely expressed his own opinions. That was not a reporter's job. But in the late sixties he went to report on the war to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam.

President Lyndon Johnson and his advisers kept telling Americans that the United States was making progress. Walter Cronkite went to see for himself. Then, in a commentary in February of nineteen sixty-eight, he said the war seemed unwinnable.

WALTER CRONKITE: "It is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate."

Some people denounced him and questioned his loyalty. Others praised him for "speaking truth to power," as some might say.

Several weeks later, Lyndon Johnson surprised Americans and announced that he would not seek re-election. The unpopular war had cost him support.


It was Richard Nixon who brought home most of the troops before South Vietnam fell to the north in nineteen seventy-five. But it was also Nixon who became the first and only American president to resign. Americans learned from the press that there was political corruption in his administration.

Night after night, millions turned to Walter Cronkite for the latest developments. There were other anchors and other networks. But people thought of him like family -- "Uncle Walter."

He anchored the "CBS Evening News" for nineteen years. He was sixty-four when he stepped down on March sixth, nineteen eighty-one. But he explained that he was not leaving the network.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that's the way it is. Friday, March sixth, nineteen eighty-one."


Now, Steve Ember looks back with a personal story about Walter Cronkite.


I remember the afternoon of November twenty-second, nineteen sixty-three. I was a first-year student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and was relaxing between classes at the student union building. A TV was on. My eyes were elsewhere, but my ear was caught by the unmistakable voice of Walter Cronkite.

WALTER CRONKITE: "A bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting."

The first bulletins coming in from Dallas were read by Cronkite over the CBS News "bulletin" slide.

WALTER CRONKITE: "More details just arrived. President Kennedy shot today, just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Missus Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mister Kennedy. She called 'Oh, no!'"

Before long, though, there were pictures, with Cronkite at his desk in the CBS newsroom in New York.

For so many of us, the presidency of J.F.K. represented a time of promise. "This could not be happening" was the sentiment expressed as a growing crowd gathered around that black-and-white TV set. And Walter Cronkite, in measured tones, informed us that yes it was.

What I'll always remember was seeing him, about an hour later, momentarily take off his thick dark rimmed glasses, and announce:

WALTER CRONKITE: "From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at one p.m. Central Standard Time, two o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some thirty-eight minutes ago."

You could see the flash of emotion as Cronkite removed and replaced his glasses and regained his composure.

WALTER CRONKITE: "Vice President Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly, and become the thirty-sixth president of the United States."

But going beyond this trusted anchor's solid presence in delivering such news, you have to know something about television news in that era. There wasn't the clutter of crawls, flashing graphics or other moving "stuff" that we see today.

There was Walter Cronkite in shirtsleeves, with a microphone in front of him. That was it -- nothing to distract the senses from the message. It was up close, and very personal.

It was not long after the Kennedy assassination that I actually got to meet Mister Cronkite. He was anchoring live coverage of the nineteen sixty-four Maryland Democratic primary election, originating in Baltimore.

I was hired in a minor role on the CBS production team for that night's broadcast. I can't say I remember all that much about the experience, other than it being very fast-paced.

But what I do remember was, at the end of that long, continuous coverage -- it must have been about two a.m. -- Cronkite sat down briefly with us production functionaries to chat.

I could not begin to tell you what we spoke about. It was enough to be in the presence of this great anchor I so admired, and to realize he was not above having a beer at the end of a very long broadcast with low-level support people.

That was the sort of thing that made a young man with broadcasting stars in his eyes ... glow in the dark. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Shirley Griffith. Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Dana Demange. You can find transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs at Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Information Age, Part Three: Teaching With Technology.


I'm Faith Lapidus.


And I'm Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today we finish our three-part series about communications.



In our first two programs we discussed the history and importance of communicating information. We talked about the development of the Internet. This has made it possible for almost anyone with a computer to share in what is called the Information Age.

Research shows that the Internet's World Wide Web is especially popular with young people. As a result, colleges and universities are recognizing the learning gains that can be made with Web-based instructional technology. For example, George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia offers its professors training in instructional technology. G.M.U. teachers can learn how to use the latest Web tools to improve their classes.


Rick Reo is an instructional designer at the university. He says the education profession has entered the Web 2.0 period. He says Web 2.0 is a marketing term that defines a renewal of the Web since the start of the twenty-first century. Any kind of Web-driven tool that is interesting, useful, easy to learn and free is Web 2.0, says Rick Reo.


One such tool is a social networking service. This is a Web site that helps people find others like themselves, create personal identities, exchange resources and work together. Facebook and MySpace are two social networking Web sites popular in the United States and around the world.

Educause is a nonprofit organization that supports the use of information technology in education. The group says up to ninety percent of American college students have created Facebook Web sites. Social networking sites also provide teachers a way to reach their students outside of the classroom. Rick Reo says students use Facebook or MySpace as often as they check their university e-mail.


Social bookmarking is another Web 2.0 technology that has many educational uses. Professors can use the tool when doing personal research. It can also add to classroom learning. When you save the address of a Web site that you want to visit again on your computer, you are bookmarking it. Social bookmarking sites let people store collections of bookmarks. These can be shared with other people or made private.

When you bookmark a Web site, you also tag the site with descriptive words. For example, you might tag the Web site with the words: English, teaching, learning, news and information. Tags help users organize their bookmarks. Users can also see how many other people have used a tag. And they can search for all resources that have been given that tag.

Rick Reo says social bookmarking is especially useful when creating a collection of resources to be shared with others. A biology teacher, for example, might ask her students to bookmark Web sites about flowers and plants. The students work collectively to create the list. When it is finished, the students have a group of resources that will help them finish their project.



Podcasting is also a very popular instructional technology. The term was invented with the Apple company's iPod in mind. IPods are small digital audio players that permit users to download music from their computer directly to the device for listening later.

The term podcasting no longer relates only to the iPod. It involves any software and hardware combination that permits the user to download audio files and control when those files are heard. Anyone with a modern computer can create, make available and download a podcast from the Internet.


Podcasting also makes education transportable. Teachers can make their talks, or lectures, available to students who miss the class. Podcasts also let students hear what other experts have to say. Remember that biology teacher who asked her students to bookmark Web sites about flowers and plants? She might also ask her students to report about that collection of resources in a podcast.

Rick Reo says George Mason is one of many "iTunes universities" around the world. Apple has opened its iTunes store to universities. Podcasts created by the schools are stored on Apple's computer servers. Anyone can download the free educational material at Apple's iTunes store. Stanford, Yale, Duke, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are other universities offering audio and video downloads.


Podcasts are fed to computers using a technology called RSS. Many creators of information on the Internet offer it directly to people using RSS feeds. Our biology teacher example might ask her students to register for RSS feeds from five popular science Web sites. To receive those feeds, students need to register for a free RSS reader, or aggregator. Google and MyYahoo both offer RSS readers.

Once the students register for a free RSS reader, a connection has to be made between the reader and the student's favorite science Web sites. Establishing these connections is called subscribing. It is easy to do. Just look for an RSS sign on the site.

Using RSS technology helps people easily get new material from Web sites that interest them. Did you know that Special English offers RSS feeds? You can find a link to RSS on our Web site,


Wikis have also become a popular Web 2.0 technology in education. Let us go back to our biology class. Suppose the teacher decided to take her class on a camping trip to collect plants and flowers. The students would need to work collectively to decide what to bring on the trip. A wiki can help. A wiki is a Web site where anyone can create, edit or change information collected on the site. Audio, video and pictures can be added to a wiki as well.


The most popular wiki on the Internet is Wikipedia. It is a free encyclopedia of information about people, places, things, events and ideas that anyone can write, add to or edit. Wikipedia was launched in two thousand one. Today, it includes more than ten million articles in more than two hundred fifty languages. More than two million articles are in English. Each article offers links to other Wikipedia articles or to other Web resources.

Educause reports that Wikipedia is the eighth most visited Web site in the United States. College students use it as a main research tool. However many schools look at the tool with a critical eye. That is because a person can put incorrect information on Wikipedia. The history school at Middlebury College, for example, has banned Wikipedia in student research. The ban was ordered after several students repeated the same wrong information from a Wikipedia article.

Other universities are using Wikipedia to teach students how to write without expressing an opinion. At Columbia University in New York City, professors have had their students create or edit Wikipedia articles to learn how to write in a neutral way.


Perhaps the best known form of Web 2.0 activity is the Web log, or blog for short. There are reportedly more than one hundred million blogs around the world. A blog is an online collection of personal comments and links to other Web sites. Anyone can create a blog using sites like or Bloggers often work together in small communities. They read each other's posts, link to them or report what other bloggers say.

Each individual post on a blog can become a discussion through comments left by readers. There are personal blogs, political blogs and entertainment blogs, just to name a few. In higher education, professors use blogs to communicate their opinions or to create a discussion with other educators. Students are also using blogs for personal expression or as part of their classes.


There are many other ways that information technology can be used in education. We have only reported about a few of them. For example, there are virtual worlds and gaming, Web-based self-publishing and photo-sharing. When it comes to information technology in higher education, Rick Reo at George Mason University says the sky is the limit.



This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.


And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English.