Helping ESL teachers find classroom games and strangers in Taiwan find coffee and language exchange.

Overview

During my tenure as an English teacher for Gloria Schools in Taoyuan, Taiwan, there was a constant need for fresh, educational classroom games to play with students. Teachers relied heavily on other teachers to connect them to games, and there was no central repository of good information for inexperienced teachers.

To solve this problem, I sought to develop a database of games, a website where users could log-in and contribute to a collective teacher resource. This was the inspiration behind taiwanenglish.com. As co-founder and designer, I did a great deal of design and front-end development, as well as marketing, analytic, and content throughout the site. Working closely with a developer in Chicago, we were able to develop a thriving ecosystem of games and language learners.

What my co-founder had to say about working with me:

Jerry and I worked together on multiple web applications. His attention to detail, organizational skills, and creativity were huge assets and major factors in the success of our projects. Specifically, regarding the user interface design, he always made sure to balance architectural simplicity and functional requirements with the quality of the user experience.

Director, Software Development at Intercontinental Exchange
New York Stock Exchange worked directly with Gerald at Self-Employed

An ESL games database for the masses

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The Taiwan English ESL games database allows any user to add a classroom game, and now boasts over one-hundred and fifty classroom games and game metadata such as materials required to play the game, age level, teaching purpose and the user who added the game. The free and open system can be sorted by age level to allow teachers of various grades easy access to the games their students will enjoy.

Adding games gives users points to allow them to move through an animal ranking system, an incentive system that was to encourage more games being added which was met with mixed success .Though setting out to serve a niche population — ESL teachers in foreign countries — the database has received very positive responses from a variety teachers across the world.

I worked closely with my close friend and associate, Bretlan Fletcher, in coding the CSS, XHTML, and PHP ends of this database, in addition to working on database architecture with MySQL.

Writing a guide to Taiwan

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In addition to our games database, as a foreigner arriving in Taiwan with relatively little information, I found it extremely difficult to find simple solutions for problems such as where to eat and how to best utilize the public transportation in Taiwan. The relatively small number of foreigners in Taiwan left traditional online resources, such as Wikipedia, lacking.

To this end, I spent a few months developing and composing a comprehensive guide to Taiwan, with extensive coverage of issues such as acquiring a visa, purchasing a scooter, and which items are not widely available in Taiwan. I instituted SEO for the guide as well as indexed the pages by frequently asked questions.

Sharing language across borders

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When one is fully established in Taiwan, it is time to begin learning Chinese. One unique feature of teaching and studying abroad are online communities known as “Language Exchange” communities, where two people can meet to exchange languages.

Searching through the current options available to foreigners in Taiwan, sites such as esl99.com and tealit.com, I felt that I could design a site designed more cleanly and beautifully.

To this end, in conjunction with my associate Bretlan, I developed the Taiwan English Language Exchange. The free service now boasts over two-hundred local and foreign users, a search system, user profiles, and an in-site messaging system.

Working with Google Analytics and Adsense

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In working on Taiwan English, I began to get a full view of the end-to-end nature of web development and the garbage collecting tasks entailed in operating a website. I spent a great deal of time investigating search engine optimization and the Google suite of tools, including setting up Google Analytics, Adsense, and Adwords.

I dealt with larger questions of monetization and advertising, instituting Adsense ads on our pages and affiliate marketing with Amazon. I responded to user requests and feedback through iterations of design, and developed some local affiliate advertising campaigns to encourage use of the site.

Conclusion

I believe Taiwan English remains in a nascent form, and needs substantial development to be called a truly beautiful and usable site. As this was my first pet development project, it sparked a fire in me for developing usable and useful websites for the world. I believe that it serves a great purpose, even to a small number of users, and learned a great deal it its development and implementation.