Feng Xiao

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Project Overview

Awardee: Feng Xiao, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Literatures and Coordinator of the Chinese Section

Research Assistants: Rakia Segev (Harvey Mudd ’21), Mercy Bickell (Pomona ’22), and Emily Wang (Pomona ’24)

Title: Individualized Chinese Vocabulary Retention Tracker

Goal: To create an application to help Chinese language learners improve vocabulary skills using data visualization and tracing techniques

Project Description

Feng Xiao’s project was born from the knowledge that it can be difficult to address individual student learning paces and retention rates, and furthermore, that the Chinese language has a particularly extensive vocabulary. As a result, Xiao set out to create an application that could aid in students’ self-paced learning.

Chinese Vocabulary Retention Tracker App Interface
Chinese Vocabulary Retention Tracker app interface

The Chinese vocabulary retention tracker application uses data visualization and longitudinal tracing techniques to help Chinese learners monitor their progress in vocabulary acquisition. Unique features of this digital tool include organizing learned characters and words by radical and showing vocabulary retention trajectories based on individualized data visualization. The goal behind the application is to significantly improve Chinese learners’ vocabulary retention rates and increase their metalinguistic awareness (the ability to learn any additional language).

Xiao’s project has spanned several semesters with the help of Rakia Segev (HMC ’21), who now works at Microsoft, and Mercy Bickell (POM ’22), who will join Facebook after graduation. Segev set the foundation, and Bickell wrote the code. 

Sample of code used in Feng Xiao's app
A sample screenshot of the code used in the Chinese Vocabulary Retention Tracker app

Beginning in Summer 2021, Xiao synthesized findings of empirical research for the design. At the same time, he worked on gathering the target characters and words based on Chinese textbooks used at Pomona College and in the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) Chinese proficiency test. In Fall 2021, Segev and Bickell assisted Xiao with creating the application.

Chinese Language Retention Tracker app GitHub page screenshot
Screenshot of the Chinese Vocabulary Retention Tracker app GitHub page

Following the development, he launched the beta version and began testing it (Spring 2022). He expects the official implementation to begin in Fall 2022.

Project Outcomes

Xiao’s initial takeaways have been the importance of consulting Andrew Wilson, Director of Research Computing and Digital Scholarship at Pomona, for his technical expertise and also tapping students for ideas, as they are his primary target users.

While this project has an immediate impact on local Chinese learners at Pomona College, Xiao hopes that in the long term, it will have an even broader reach. He envisions the free application being accessible not only to all learners studying various levels of Chinese at the Claremont Colleges but also to anyone with a smartphone who is interested in learning the language. Potential university adoption of this digital tool includes Carnegie Mellon and Duke.

Watch this space for further outcomes after Xiao completes and assesses the final implementation.

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