March 2012 Archives

Last Day of Semester One

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Today was the last day of my first semester as a PhD student at KMUTT. For the last four months I have been taking two courses: Research Methods and Theories of Language Learning. Both have been great. When I think back over all of the topics we covered -- from psychology to education to linguistics to educational software and more -- I am amazed at everything I have learned. And as is usually the case, the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.

The Research Methods class was one I definitely needed. My undergraduate and masters degree were both in technical fields, so this is my first time to really focus on a liberal arts subject. I learned a lot about how to do research as an "Applied Linguist". Even though I won't ever use most of what I learned, it was an eye opening experience to see all the different ways that the research can be approached.

And I have really enjoyed thinking about how to organize, plan, and conduct research into Applied Linguistics areas. I am enjoying the process of figuring out what my dissertation topic should be (even though it's a bit frustrating at times), and I especially love to hear what research others are doing, and making suggestions to them about how to approach things.

The Theories of Language Learning course was also fascinating. Part of the reason I wanted to study in this field was to try to get an understanding of why learning a language is so difficult for everyone. And wow, now I see just how complex it really is! It looks like my dissertation will be exploring some of this complexity and hopefully uncovering some relationships between various linguistic features and perhaps providing some insight about the best way to learn a language.

But even though I have thoroughly enjoyed the last four months, I am definitely looking forward to a break from class. Not that it's going to be a real break -- I have a huge list of things to accomplish over these next three months, including two more assignments that need to be finished for class over the next two weeks.

But I am really, really looking forward to being back in Phuket and finally accomplishing a few goals I have had for years. I'll share more about these exciting tasks later...

Some of the work I have been doing lately at school has had an aspect of analyzing "reading level" -- or how difficult some text is to read and understand. One research project I am involved with is creating some reading comprehension tests, and we wanted to find good copyright-free text at our student's reading level that we could use on the test. And one of my class assignments is also about analysing text to determine how complex it is.

So the other day I was just using Google as usual to search for something, and I saw an interesting feature that sorts results based on the reading levels of beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I can't find much information on how this filter works, but it seems to deliver good results. I did a search on the word "quokka" and this is what I found:

Beginning Level:

The Quokka is a marsupial from brushy areas in southwestern Australia. It is a small wallaby, a type of kangaroo. Quokkas can hop with their powerful legs and walk on all four limbs. Their life span is about 5 years in captivity.(1)

Advanced Level:

The quokka (Setonix brachyurus), the only member of the genus Setonix, is a small macropod about the size of a domestic cat. Like other marsupials in the macropod family (such as the kangaroos and wallabies), the quokka is herbivorous and mainly nocturnal. It can be found on some smaller islands off the coast of Western Australia, in particular on Rottnest Island just off Perth and Bald Island near Albany.(2)

I'd have to agre that's a pretty big difference in reading levels!

By the way, that last quote came from Wikipedia, so I was wondering what the reading level for Wikipedia is in general. Doing a search for "" shows these results:

The supposedly "Simple" Wikipedia website doesn't show much difference, according to Google:

So then I wondered how this website stacks up:


So then I wondered when those few "Intermediate" level posts were, so I checked by month and this is what I found.

This seems to show that I was writing at a higher level in 2006-2008 than I was at the years before and afterwards.

What does this mean? Since I can't figure out what Google is using to rank these pages, I can't tell. The only thing I can find from a Google employee is that

The feature is based primarily on statistical models we built with the help of teachers. We paid teachers to classify pages for different reading levels, and then took their classifications to build a statistical model. With this model, we can compare the words on any webpage with the words in the model to classify reading levels. We also use data from Google Scholar, since most of the articles in Scholar are advanced.(3)

But perhaps a more detailed analysis is needed. Which is exactly what I am doing for the class assignment I mentioned at the start of this post. Stay tuned!


(1) Quokka article at Enchanted Learning

(2) Quokka article on Wikipedia

(3) Google Product Forums

It looks like Google Street View has finally been released in Thailand. I'm not sure how much coverage they have, but at least Bangkok and Phuket (my two homes) are done. It's interesting too, that in Phuket, the Street View is much more current than the actual map. The neighborhood that I live and work in was built in the last two years. On the Google Map it shows up as a big dirt field. But in Street View, all of the buildings in the neighborhood are finished already.

I was alerted to this by a former student at PSU who is now a Street View Superstar. There are two pics of him on his motorcycle coming out from his apartment on the main road. He said that he doesn't remember seeing the camera truck, but he is definitely noticing it in these pictures!

I noticed that his face is blurred in this pic, and so is the headlight of his motorcycle. So I guess Google has a face detection algorithm that blurs anything face-shaped. I wonder what it will do with advertisements.

There you go. If you ever see the Google Street View truck and you don't want your face to be blurred, then be sure to hide behind some electrical wires!

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This page is an archive of entries from March 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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