Realizing the importance of humanities education

I grew up in a school environment where it values math, and science, and devalues liberal arts. At the second year of high school, we have to choose between science and liberal arts as the major focus, in order to prepare for College Entrance Exam. In a school of 13 class groups for each year, we have 2 aiming for liberal arts, and the rest 11 aiming for science. Students who get lower scores in science exams will be assigned to the 2 liberal arts class groups, and the undertone message is that “they are not intelligent”. Somehow, I can always feel the discrimination towards the liberal arts class groups in my high school years. This is the poor reality in Chinese education. But we still have literature reading classes in science groups. I remember the teacher would repeatedly emphasize that the importance of her class, and that to learn literature reading is the foundation to get a good grade in math. I thought they were just struggling to get students’ attention at that time.

Then I read the article by Dan Edelstein about humanities education, and some other articles about how the training of arts empowers the creativity in students. I realized that it’s the trick of cognitive thinking training. I do agree that students will be exposed to cognitive processes more often in humanities than in science or engineering classes. As Dan Edelstein talked in his article that America takes ambition to create independently minded individuals, and encourage students to reach conclusions on their own. I now see clearly what deficiency does Chinese education have.

Internet addiction?

When I read the articles about disconnection from the internet, and how the internet has altered people’s mental habits, I immediately thought about the topic internet addiction. China has a big issue of young generation addicting to the internet. Some young kids play video games online days and night in internet cafes without even eating any food. Some college students are addicted to the internet so much that their academic performance gets poorer and poorer to the extent they are forced to drop out of school. Li, secretary-general of the top legislature in China, claimed that about 10 percent of the estimated 40 million Chinese children using the Internet were addicted. China is the first country to issue the definition of internet addiction. Many boot camps throughout the nation have been established to help kick Internet addiction. Children and teenagers were forced to and tricked by their parents into the boot camps. Korea has the same issue, and it’s developed a curriculum to teach children as young as 3 years old how to protect themselves from overusing digital gadgets and the Internet.

We have to admit, the evolution of internet has done a tremendous job of creating a more convenient life style. However, if excessively used, is it really helping us or destroying us? I have to admit that I’m addicted to the internet or to the computer without choice. I get most of my work done on the computer, I get the news and information around the world through my smart phone or the internet, and I relax myself and have entertainment on the computer. I spent most of my day sitting in front of the computer. Luckily I have two dogs I need to walk, that is some time I have to step away from the computer. Although I might be checking my phone while walking the dogs. The world is getting ironic in the way that people actually think it is a meaningful way to connect with people and places around us through internet.

At last, please enjoy some comics about the internet addiction.

Some thoughts on banking theory

I used to think that the learning process is composed of the three procedures:  receive, memorize, and repeat. That impression is what the education I received taught me. While Paulo Freire is opposed against this banking concept of education. After reading this week’s material, I began to think back on my previous school years. I see that I was passively receiving the knowledge my teachers gave, until my junior years when I had the chance to do my own research. It was only then when I had my real passion for learning. Before then, I was merely motivated by getting high score in exams which sort of resulted in not questioning the authority – teachers. I do see the downside of banking education, that leads to students lacking creativity, and the ability to transform knowledge. Students are only good at withdrawing the knowledge when asked by the teacher or exammer. They’ve adapted to the education system, rather than truly taken in the knowledge.

I think getting undergraduate students or even high school or younger students exposed to research experience is a good way to avoid the banking style education. Because research is open-ended and simply depositing and withdrawing knowledge will not work. It requires constant questioning and can be challenging and encouraging at the same time.

How to reduce stereotype threat?

It makes people discouraged to take challenge in academia while being worried to be confirmed the limitation associated with stereotype. However, a lot of people are not aware that how much stereotype threat can devastate the effectiveness of education. One example is that the students with stereotype threat might not trust the feedback the teacher gives them. It’s very possible that they will wonder if the feedback is based on the quality of work or the stereotype of their abilities. Without the trust on feedback, they will not be motivated to improve. Then how to give critical and effective feedback? The paper by Whistling Vivaldi introduced Tom Ostrom strategy, which is able to break the stereotype by demanding more and believing the students are able to meet the demand. The criticism based on this strategy is more trustworthy. Not only in terms of feedback, it’s also really important to include identity safety while designing the class activities. Not necessarily by praising, but by maintaining a “calm working relationship”.

 

Money alone won’t solve the problem

I’m kind of shocked when reading the commentary Setting Students’ Minds on Fire which talked about Obama’s warning in the beginning. More than a third of America’s college students fail to earn degrees. (The actual figure is closer to 50 percent.) I agree money alone won’t solve the problem. Actually setting something to a high value forces people to appreciate and cherish it. If education is cheap, people will tend to take it for granted. Chinese higher education has very cheap tuition. It’s approximately $2,200/year compared with $8,240/year in public schools and $28,500/year in private schools in US. Although I myself do not know anyone who dropped out of school, however, not dropping out does not mean they enjoy the school. I could literally say more than a third of college students skip classes everyday if the instructor does not set some kind of punishment system. If students do not come to the class, the teacher will gradually lose their passion for teaching, and begins to put less work in preparing for it. It’s becoming a vicious cycle. I mean we all want to make the most out of what we invest for (money, time, etc.).

In terms of engagement, it’s really effective to incorporate games or activities in the class. Just as the commentary says, students learn more when they are obliged to think in unfamiliar ways. I had one class where the instructor turned the classroom into an engaged activity room. We had to reflect on what we learned and apply it to reality. Everyone has to contribute, which means everyone needs to invest their time in preparing for it. That memory stuck with me more than any other classes.

 

About motivation – thoughts on Dan Pink’s talk

I feel I’ve been resonating a lot with the topic motivation. Last week I was pondering on the talk by  Mike Wesch, Cathy Davidson, and Randy Bass  that later evolved into a discussion about how to motivate students. This week Dan Pink gives me an unusual understanding of motivation. He convinced us that what motivates us depends on what task we are to perform. The reward system usually works pretty well in terms of simple straight forward tasks. However it does not have its place in more complicated tasks that would require cognitive skills. How does that tell us about the impact of assessment on students? I guess whether a grading system will benefit students depend on the topic of the course. If it’s a math course, it’s about right or wrong. Then the grading does do its job of assessing a student’s ability to do math. If it’s something like literature review or designing course, then it does not make sense to have grading. It might even restrict students’ creativity.

Some thoughts on teachers’ roles in the 21st century

 

It makes me ponder when the topic was brought up in class that teachers play the role as filter in the technology infused classroom. What are the roles of teachers in the 21st century? Since everything can be googled on the internet, and students can learn by themselves through reading textbooks on kindle. It has transformed teachers to being a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage. However, before becoming facilitators of learning, from my point of view, teachers first should take responsibility to motivate students.

The talk by Mike Wesch, Cathy Davidson, and Randy Bass gives us some insight on how to spark the interest in students to learn. Here is what I collect from the talk:

To have an informal learning atmosphere on the internet.
Help students understand why we have passion for our research.
It seems people love a sense of challenge, difficulty, and uncertainty. Something open-ended usually attracts attention.
Show them examples of pathway to successful life.
Design the curricula in a sense of purpose driven rather than content driven.

Overall, You can give your whole attention only when you care, which means you really love.  -J. Krishnamurti