February 2019
M T W T F S S
« May    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728  

Ethics

When I read the case summaries on the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website (https://ori.hhs.gov/), I was shocked that so many researchers were engaged in research misconduct. Some of them made mistakes accidentally, and others’ misconducts were intentional. Regardless of their intentions, all of these people got harsh punishments. For example, Maria Cristina Miron Elqutub from University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center labeled her own blood samples as samples from 98 participants in a cancer genetics study (https://ori.hhs.gov/index.php/content/case-summary-elqutub-maria-cristina-miron). This falsified data were used in two published articles and two grant reports submitted to the National Institutes of Health. Because of this misconduct, Ms. Elqutub’s future research has to be supervised for three years. Any Public Health Service supported project that involves Ms. Elqutub has to submit a certificate to ORI and prove their data collection is valid.

Why are ethics in research so important? In my opinion, research usually has a higher impact on society. One misconduct may cost millions of dollars and even people’s life. For example, the results from her own blood sample cannot be generalized to other people. Findings from that study are not helpful to fight cancer but may kill some patients indirectly. Because of the huge responsibilities, researchers should take every effort to guarantee research Integrity.

Effective prevention of research misconduct is more critical than harsh punishments. A good way to avoid mistakes in research is to have multiple people to check the procedures and results before submitting reports. Education of ethics is also essential. In our department, we have a required seminar course called Professional Ethics and Expectations for incoming graduate students. Also, we should further promote open access and replicability of studies. For example, many journals in Applied Econometrics require authors to submit data and programming codes with their manuscripts.

What Motivates Me to Learn English?

Recently, an administer in Duke University stepped down because she advised Chinese students not to speak Chinese on campus. Otherwise, they may get punishments. As an international student, I would like to share my own experience in learning English.

I started to learn English at 12 years old in middle school. At that time, I could not understand why we should learn a second language, so I studied English for the purpose of exams. My English grade was often lower compared with other courses, and I didn’t like it at all.

In the third year of college, I changed my attitude and took an effort to improve English skill after deciding to study abroad. I thought it was a tool to use in order to live and study in the United States. Even though I had been here for five years, self-consciousness bothered me sometimes when I talked to native speakers. I was worried about making mistakes and felt embarrassed about my accent. The feeling of inadequacy urged me to work hard on practicing English skills under pressure.

Until one day, I met my best friend at Virginia Tech, who is an American. There is a profound connection between us even though we grew up in very different cultures. I think that English is the bridge and also the barrier for us to know each other better. I cherish every minute with my friend since I’m graduating soon. I felt very sorry when she did not understand a sentence I said, but she always tried to understand me patiently. She also told me the appropriate way to say something. Because of her, I developed a passion for English and spent one hour per day to improve my pronunciation, speaking/listening and vocabulary. I’m willing to improve my English with a whole heart not for exams or pressure but for love.

The advice made by that administer with a good intention did not work because it failed to motivate international students in a positive way. My learning experience told me that love is the best motivation for people to make a positive change.

Mission Statements

Today, I went to a church service. The pastor asked the audiences: “do you know what is the purpose of your life?” I thought it is a difficult question as a person needs to have a deep understanding of one’s core values and summarizes them into a few sentences. Writing a mission statement is not an easy thing for a person, and I would expect that developing a mission statement for a university could be much more challenging. For example, how can the statement reflect multiple goals pursued by different groups in a university? Who has the responsibility or privilege to draft and edit the statement?

I searched several universities’ mission statements and selected the ones answering the above two questions.

The first mission statement comes from Harvard College (https://college.harvard.edu/about/mission-and-vision):

The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.

Beginning in the classroom with exposure to new ideas, new ways of understanding, and new ways of knowing, students embark on a journey of intellectual transformation.  Through a diverse living environment, where students live with people who are studying different topics, who come from different walks of life and have evolving identities, intellectual transformation is deepened and conditions for social transformation are created.  From this we hope that students will begin to fashion their lives by gaining a sense of what they want to do with their gifts and talents, assessing their values and interests, and learning how they can best serve the world.

In the poem “Mutability”, Percy Shelley said: “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow; Nought may endure but mutability.” The university’s willingness to embrace transformation and diversity answers the first question. As an international student, I think students gain openness by exposing to diversity in education as well as their daily life. Without sufficient diversity, the social pressure tends to make people afraid to pursue a new life path different from the majority, because their behavior or ideas are viewed as “problematic.” This tendency will kill creativity as it limits the options in human’s imagination.

The second one was made by an entrepreneur and abolitionist called Johns Hopkins, who believed in improving public health and education. The mission statement of Johns Hopkins University is (https://www.jhu.edu/about/history/)

To educate its students and cultivate their capacity for lifelong learning, to foster independent and original research, and to bring the benefits of discovery to the world. — Johns Hopkins University

Source: https://www.jhu.edu/about/history/

It summarizes three stages of a scholar very concisely. In my understanding, learning is obtaining skills and knowledge that already exist; researching means addressing the problems which have not been solved; and the purpose of research is to make the world a better place. However, I do have a concern about the last point. Benefits of research are hard to evaluate in a short time. For example, many inventions endured public ignorance for decades before people recognize their values. Given the limitations of our vision, how to deal with emerging research projects that do not have obvious social benefits? Should the value of a study be determined by the desire of the society? I’m not sure. How do you think about that?

A Book Summary of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die

By Ruoding Shi

All the information comes from Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die. Random House, 2007.

 

Introduction

The central question of this book is how to make your ideas understandable and having a lasting impact on your audience opinions or behaviors. In fact, you just need to make a few ideas sticky in one year, such as your presentation and papers. So investing some effort to learn this is worthwhile.

source: https://www.amazon.com/Made-Stick-Ideas-Survive-Others/dp/1400064287

To begin with, there are two common mistakes when you are trying to communicate your idea. The first is Curse of Knowledge. To illustrate this point, let me tell you a story in the book. In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tappers” or “listeners.” Tappers received a list of twenty-five well-known songs, such as “Happy Birthday to You” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table). The listener’s job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped.  The listener’s job in this game is quite difficult. Over the course of Newton’s experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs: 3 out of 120. But here’s what made the result worthy of a dissertation in psychology. Before the listeners guessed the name of the song, Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50 percent. The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2. Why? It’s hard to be a tapper. The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge. And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily recreate our listeners’ state of mind.

The second is Bury the Lead, which means you provide too much information that bury the core idea. Even for the authors themselves at some times, it is difficult to identify which information is the core, no doubt how hard the readers find. However, we should always remember that if you argue  ten points, even if each is a good point, finally your audience cannot remember any of them. Instead, we should focus on one or two points and make them sticky. According to the authors, there is a template for communicating an idea that is sticky, The template is called SUCCESs.

S: Simple

–Develop a one-sentence statement so profound that an individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.

U: Unexpectedness

–Engage people’s curiosity by systematically “open gaps” in their knowledge, and then filling those gaps.

C: Concreteness

–Explain your ideas in terms of human action, sensory information and concrete things. Avoid abstract concepts

C: Credibility

–Sticky idea have to carry their own credentials.

E: Emotional

–Let people to care about your idea, you need to make them feel it.

S: Stories

–Let people to act on our ideas, we need to tell stories that people can mentally perform by themselves

s:  spot

–Spot great ideas is much easier than invent one by yourself. Observe the world and find it!

If you are interested, the following part summarizes some main points for each principal.

 

PRINCIPLE 1: Simple

  • Before communicate your idea, you need to know what is the core of your communication.
  • Be a master of exclusion, we have to get rid of any interesting but irrelevant information, and avoid showing your expertise to the people who don’t understand
  • Practical examples: slogan, proverb, tomorrow’s mission, create a visual reminder to do a few things and do them well.

 

PRINCIPLE 2: Unexpectedness

  • To get people’s attention, you need to break a pattern or their guess machine. Remember, surprise gets our attention and interest keeps it.
  • To be surprise, an event can’t be predictable, but to be satisfying, surprise must be “post-predictable”. In other words, we need insight in surprise.

An example is Bat Overconfidence. Nancy Lowry and David Johnson studied a teaching environment where fifth and sixth graders were assigned to interact on a topic. With one group, the discussion was led in a way that fostered a consensus. With the second group, the discussion was designed to produce disagreements about the right answer. Students who achieved easy consensus were less interested in the topic, studied less, and were less likely to visit the library to get additional information. The most telling difference, though, was revealed when teachers showed a special film about the discussion topic —during recess! Only 18 percent of the consensus students missed recess to see the film, but 45 percent of the students from the disagreement group stayed for the film. The thirst to fill a knowledge gap—to find out who was right—can be more powerful than the thirst for slides and jungle gyms.

 

PRINCIPLE 3: Concrete

  • If you can examine something with your sense, it is concrete.
  • Examples: Use analogy to introduce a new concept. Bring something to your presentation to let people see, touch and feel.

 

PRINCIPLE 4: Credibility

Sources of credibility:

  • Expert, authorities or anti-authority
  • Vivid details: even irrelevant may affect people’s decisions
  • Statistics: number from some studies
  • Sinatra test: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere
  • Testable statement: see for yourself

However, you need to make these number meaningful. One good strategy is human-scale principle. For example, Stephen Covey, in his book The 8th Habit, describes a poll of 23,000 employees drawn from a number of companies and industries. He reports the poll’s findings:

* Only 37 percent said they have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why.

* Only one in five was enthusiastic about their team’s and their organization’s goals.

* Only one in five said they had a clear “line of sight” between their tasks and their team’s and organization’s goals.

* Only 15 percent felt that their organization fully enables them to execute key goals.

* Only 20 percent fully trusted the organization they work for.

Pretty sobering stuff. It’s also pretty abstract. You probably walk away from these stats thinking something like “There’s a lot of dissatisfaction and confusion in most companies.” Then Covey superimposes a very human metaphor over the statistics. He says, “If, say, a soccer team had these same scores, only 4 of the 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs. Only 2 of the 11 would care. Only 2 of the 11 would know what position they play and know exactly what they are supposed to do. And all but 2 players would, in some way, be competing against their own team members rather than the opponent. The soccer analogy generates a human context for the statistics. As you see, when we use statistics, the less we rely on the actual number the better.

 

source: http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/photo/coach-with-a-soccer-team-royalty-free-image/485408547

PRINCIPLE 5: Emotional

If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I took at the one, I will. – Mother Teresa.

source: https://medium.com/homeland-security/the-affective-influence-of-risk-perception-and-the-collapse-of-compassion-326a0214de33

In 2004, some researchers at Carnegie Mellon University decided to see whether most people act like Mother Teresa. The researchers tested two versions of charity-request letters. The first version featured statistics about the magnitude of the problems facing children in Africa, such as the following:

*Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than 3 million children.

* In Zambia, severe rainfall deficits have resulted in a 42 percent drop in maize production from 2000. As a result, an estimated 3 million Zambians face hunger.

The other version of the letter gave information about a single young girl:

* Any money that you donate will go to Rokia, a seven-year-old girl from Mali, Africa. Rokia is desperately poor and faces the threat of severe hunger or even starvation. Her life will be changed for the better as a result of your financial gift. With your support, and the support of other caring sponsors, Save the Children will work with Rokia’s family and other members of the community to help feed and educate her and provide basic medical care and hygiene education.

On average, the people who read the statistics contributed $1.14. The people who read about Rokia contributed $2.38 —more than twice as much. It seems that most people have something in common with Mother Teresa: When it comes to our hearts, one individual trumps the masses.

To make an idea emotional to others, we need to:

  • Associate something that they don’t yet care about with something they do care about
  • Use Maslow’s Pyramid: use more profound motivations rather than Maslow’s basement needs: physical, security and belonging

Do you know, people use two basic models to make decisions:

1) Calculating consequences (self-interest): choose the one that yields the most values

2) Based on our identity: What do people like me do in this kind of situation?

In this sense, appealing to self-interest and appealing to identity can help you to communicate.

 

PRINCIPLE 6: Stories

Story is part entertainment and part instruction.  It works because we can’t imagine events or sequences without evoking the same modules of the brain that are evoked in real physical activity. Overall, mental practice alone produces about two thirds of the benefits of actual physical practice.

Why the chicken Soup books are so popular? Here are common features of chicken soup stories:

  • The challenge plot: Obstacles seem daunting to the protagonist. They inspire us by appealing to our perseverance and courage
  • The connection plot: These stories often develop a relationship that bridge a gap: racial, class, ethnic, or otherwise. They make us want to help others, be more tolerant of others.
  • The creativity plot. They involve someone making a mental breakthrough. This type of stories make us want to do something different and new.

 

Final Point

We don’t always have to create sticky ideas, spotting them is much easier and more useful. Knowing this template will help you communicate your ideas to others, spot the ideas and stories that have potential to be sticky, and use them appropriately in different situations.

A Brief Summary of The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health

All the following information is cited from Lockwood, Alan H. The silent epidemic: coal and the hidden threat to health. Mit Press, 2012. Not opinions of Ruoding Shi

  1. Introduction

About 45% of the energy used to generate electricity in the U.S. comes from burning coal, and 28.9% world coal reserves are in U.S. One third coal was mined in Appalachia. Recently, researchers observe increasing incidence rates of coal-related diseases, such as black lung disease, which may be caused by relaxation of regulatory activity due to lobby effects of coal-based companies.

  1. Mechanism of coal effect on health (mainly through air pollution)

It is difficult to link a coal activity to a health effect in question, but we can define the proportion of the pollutant that is attributed to coal activities, such as oxides of sulfur, nitrogen and particulate. This book focuses on burning coal. Usually, high rated coal has a low-ash and low-sulfur content. As for miners, working in a big coal mine is better for their health than working in a small coal mine, and surface mining is better than underground mining for miners’ health. For example, black lung diseases are more prevalent among underground miners than surface miners. For general population, the most influential coal effect seems to be burning coal, which produces huge amount of coal ash containing harmful materials and chemicals such as

  • Particulate: PM 2.5 and PM 10: especially on children and outdoor lovers. Inhaled particulate causes inflammatory response, increased free radical and oxidative stress
  • Oxides of sulfur: burning coal is a leading source
  • Oxides of Nitrogen
  • Mercury: can be found in fish. Bad for brain.

source: https://www.healthtap.com/topics/coal-burn

The following are coal-related respiratory diseases

  • Asthma: air pollution as a trigger of asthma, such as ozone
  • COPD: narrowing airway is permanent
  • pulmonary inflammation
  • lung cancer
  • Black lung disease: diagnosed by chest X-ray, working  history and elimination of other illness
  1. Understanding coal mining

Generally, there are two types of mining techniques:

1) . surface mines include

  • Strip mines: huge pieces of earth-moving to remove the soil and rock covers the bed of coal
  • Open-pit mines: create an enormous hole in the ground and make it difficult to reclaim the land
  • Mountain-top-removal valley-fill mines: the top of a mountain is removed and dumped into an adjacent valley, the consequence is that the valleys and their ecosystems are destroyed and water supply may be damaged.

source: http://ilovemountains.org/resources

2) Underground mining techniques include

  • long-wall mining: Once the shaft reaches the seam of coal, a rotating drum equipped with teeth moves back and forth to loosening the coal from the seam. Typically, this is highly mechanized.

source: https://www.worldcoal.org/coal/coal-mining

All mines may damage ecosystem. Mining exposes large surface of rock and may leach dissolved mineral and heavy metals into the water supply. Large amount of methane and coal dust are released when coal is mined, as well as high sulfate concentrations in coal mining areas.

  1. Coal washing

This step separates the coal from dirt and rock based on differences in their weights. However, disposal of the resulting waste or slurry is substantial challenge. Most coal slurry is stored by impoundment behind dams or injection into abandoned mines, so there is a concern that chemicals will leach into the groundwater, which may cause kidney diseases.

source: https://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389×8125645

  1. Policy implications

1) Why it matters?

Health care cost are rising faster than any other segment of the economy. So we need to know and define something about the population that is potentially affected by coal industry, and do cost and benefit analysis.

2) Policies that can be helpful

  • Clean Air Act and other EPA regulations
  • Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969: This act established limits on the exposure to dust from coal mines and established a chest X ray screening program for underground miners. However, researchers found recent relaxation of regulatory activity due to lobbying effects, especially in small coal mines.
  • Air Quality Act of 1967

3) Increase the efficiency of energy use

4) Give the public an opportunity to be informed and comment on proposal rules

5) Role of physicians: be aware and prevent diseases caused by environmental pollutions and actively participate in community health issues.

What I have learned from Respiratory System at a Glance

Book Name: Ward, Jeremy PT, Jane Ward, and Richard M. Leach. The respiratory system at a glance. Vol. 19. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.

  1. Examination of respiratory diseases

1) General

Hands, face and neck, tongue

2) Chest examination

3) Forced expiatory test

4) Lung volumes test and others

  • CX: X-ray and CXR: two-dimensional image

source: https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fimg.webmd.com%2Fdtmcms%2Flive%2Fwebmd%2Fconsumer_assets%2Fsite_images%2Farticles%2Fhealth_tools%2Flung_cancer_overview_slideshow%2Fprinc_rm_photo_of_lung_cancer_xray.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.webmd.com%2Flung-cancer%2Fss%2Fslideshow-lung-cancer-overview&docid=2VD3qaZUPJK1PM&tbnid=TwFDmmeQOSpTIM%3A&vet=10ahUKEwjt2PzW4PDTAhXJLsAKHf_VAJgQMwhQKAAwAA..i&w=493&h=335&hl=en&authuser=0&bih=416&biw=730&q=x-ray%20for%20lung%20cancer&ved=0ahUKEwjt2PzW4PDTAhXJLsAKHf_VAJgQMwhQKAAwAA&iact=mrc&uact=8

  • CT: allow thin slide

source: http://www.aboutcancer.com/lung_xrays_abnormal.htm

  • Bronchoscopy

source: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003857.htm

  • Pulmonary angiography

source: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/421904-overview

  1. Treatment

1) Respiratory failure: caused by COPD and asthma, feel breathless

— Airway maintenance, clearance of secretions, oxygen therapy

2) Asthma. Hospitalization is required for Typical PEFR<= 30% (very severe asthma)

— Step-wise long term control: inhaled compounds.—justify health insurance

3) COPD:  Reduced expiratory airflow and increased work of breathign. COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema

–No therapy can reverse COPD, smoking cessation is needed, and oxygen therapy

* Death usually occurs from infection, acute respiratory failure, pulmonary embolus or cardiac arrhythmia

4) Occupational and environmental-related lung disease (i.e. coal worker pneumoconiosis (CWP) )

Sulphur dioxide is one of the main causes: combustion of fossil fuels, mining

CWP is often symptomless. The surviving year of usual interstitial pneumonitis (VIP) is less than 5 years—justify importance of screening and early diagnose

–Oral corticosteroid, lung transplantation for patients with advanced fibrosis

5) Pneumonia: due to infection, includes community- , hospital-acquired and other pneumonia

–Early identification of likely pathogens is crucial –justify the health center, refer to a critical care unit

  • Oxygen by face mask and intravenous fluids and inotropic drugs
  • Ventilatory support

6) Lung cancer: demonstration of malignancy, staging and suitability for therapy.

  • Stage I, II and IIIA: surgical research is optimal
  • Stage IIIB or IV are treated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. IV has a surviving time of 6-12 month
  1. Technology of treatment

1) Mechanical Ventilation

source: http://www.rtmagazine.com/2016/02/managing-patient-mechanical-ventilation/

2) Acute oxygen therapy: life-saving if correct, careful monitoring of oxygen therapy is essential

3)  Antibiotic therapy: if infection

source: http://healthdrip.com/antibiotic-therapy-in-peridontal-disease/

FAST IS NOT ALWAYS A GOOD THING

Compared with most students in our class, my internet life started quiet late. In 2008, I went to college and was so excited to get my first laptop. I haven’t realized that a small thing happened at that time changed my life dramatically until reading and reflecting upon the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”. One day. I asked my roommate about a problem of my new laptop. she simply told me: “You should Google it. When others ask me a question, I often suggest them to search it online first.” Although I was a little upset because she didn’t offer to help, my subconscious mind adapted to her strategy so quickly. From then on, I seldom asked others a question if its “answer” can be found online. Also, whenever others ask me a question that I don’t know, I tend to suggest them to search on Google like my previous roommate.

Now, I am a third-year PhD student and the nine-year experience of online searching changes my learning habits a lot. I’m so addictive to Google search that whenever I meet a difficult question, the first thing comes to my mind is to search for an answer online. It is admitted that online searching makes our life much more convenient than before. However, information overload and distraction seem to make us stupid. For me, my brain usually prefers to look for an answer rather than solving the problem by itself.

According to the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel, our brain has dual processing systems. System 1 likes a “mindless” processor, which is fast and operates heuristically with little cognitive resources. System 2 uses a slow, analytical and deliberate process but requires more cognitive resources. Usually individuals will try to conserve cognitive resources by switching more processing from system 2 to system 1. I think this is what happened to me as well as many other students regarding online search. Indeed, it is quite convenient at the first glance. However, this habit may deplete cognitive resources and the ability to operate system 2 in the long run, since our system 1 dominates the brain more.

As a researcher on food and health. I wonder why convenient and effortless lifestyle is often not good for health. For example, why most convenient foods are unhealthy, and unhealthy foods are usually tastier than health foods? Why physical exercise is good for health but drains willpower? I think this may due to the fact that human evolution is too slow to keep path with the rapid changing environment. Physically, our body still adapts to live a heavy physical labor lifestyle with very limited foods, so our preferences of the energy-intense foods are written in genes. Likewise, our brain still adapts to the old time of low literacy levels, when information was so scarce. In this sense, the ability of filtering useful information from distractions has not been well-trained. As educators, it is our responsibility to help students adapt to learning from online searching and avoid its negative effects, such as lack of deep reading and thinking.  I believe this situation can change and we will grow from this process.

 

Reference

Nicholas Carr;? Is Google Making Us Stupid. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED

Unfortunately, I grew up in a culture that lacks critical thinking inherently. In the past, many sages told people how to adapt to the society which they don’t like and to be “happy” with a miserable living. Even at recent decade, I got to know the world “critical “after entering college. As a freshman, how I wish I can think independently and not take any information as given like a fool! So I asked one of my favorite professor: “professor, how can I be thoughtful and think independently?” She didn’t answer my question directly, but said:” when freedom of speech is protected by the Law, and when people are not afraid to doubt anything because their thoughts and pursue of truth won’t be punished. There are many wise people in the world, but they are afraid to make a different voice.” At that moment, I realized that critical thinking is much more complicated than I thought before. It not only depends on how we train ourselves and the next generation, but also is affected by culture, power, social status, etc.

Let me focus on education in this post. When I read The Banking Concept of Education by Paulo Freire, Freire compares “banking” education with oppressive society. The general idea makes sense to me but I think the problem is over simplified. Based on my understanding, banking education means that the instructors treat students like objectives and fill knowledge into their brains. While Freire’s solution is problem-posing education–through dialogue, teachers and students learn from each other.

However, before using this approach to achieve critical pedagogy, a few prerequisites should be carefully considered. Firstly, I don’t believe that simply change teaching method can achieve critical thinking from my learning experience. For example, if the instructor is not very open-minded, he or she tends to seek the answer closest to the “standard” one in his or her mind through dialogue. If the students realize this, they are likely to guess what the instructor wants to hear instead of thinking independently. Secondly, I think dialogue-based approach may be good for a teacher with rich experience, who is highly respected by students and has good control of the classroom and conversation. While a beginner instructor may need to take this approach with caution. Why it can be a problem? Critical thinking is very appreciated in academia. However, in some cases, people criticize other’s work not for the sake of pursuing truth but to show off themselves. For instance, some reviewers make every effort to criticize their assigned papers without providing any constructive comments. In a seminar, some “critical” participants focus on a few limitations of that study to show how smart they are, and make the presentation hard to continue. The same problem may happen in classroom. Therefore, instructors should be careful to develop a collaborative and respectful environment—a safety zone for critical thinking to grow.

WHO TEACHES SMALL ANGELS?

According to The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vendantam, children start to realize face colors when they are three years old and assign specific attributes and stereotypes to different groups of people. It is admitted that this tendency comes from our nature of lazy brains that turn on autopilot mode frequently. As an international female. I would like to share my experience with two children.

Two years ago, I went to the Disney World in Florida, and was playing merry-go-roung. Suddenly I realized a little girl was looking at me curiously.  She was about two years old and was accompanied with her mother on a wooden horse by my side. From her smiling eyes. I felt the pure love that I never experience before. Somehow, there was a deep connection between us at that moment. We were looking at each other’s eyes and smiling until the end of that playing song. She was still smiling at me on her mother’s shoulder and finally disappeared in the crowd. However, I could tell her mother was not so friendly. She did not say anything or smile, even though she observed the friendship between her daughter and me. From her eyes. I realized that I didn’t belong to their group and definitely was not treated as a friend. However, in my heart, her little daughter liked an angel who cannot tell the differences of skin colors or any stereotype assigned to that.

The second thing happened in three weeks ago. I went to the gym and there was a small girl playing with some young white ladies at the locker room. She was about four years old and looked very pretty. I smiled at her and sat down to change my shoes. However, when she walked to me, her face changed dramatically—from smiling to angry. She beat me and scolded me by some words such as “pig!” At that moment, I was so angry not only because of her offensive behaviors but also because nobody she played with there said anything her until her mother came back and simply apologized to me. Then she said nothing to her daughter. I really hesitated to forgive her but had to say “It is Ok.” in order to be polite. I think there is something wrong in that girl’s education.  I’m afraid that when she grows up, that bias and hatred will not disappear but hide deeply in her unconscious mind. She might be as superficially polite as her mother, but treat people differently based on their races, religions, cultures and background.

These two things make me think that whether my small angel in the Disney World will turn into a girl like the unfriendly girl in the gym when she grows up to the year of four, due to the influence of her parents, teachers or the public media in the very early stage of education. If this happens, I will feel so sad.

 

Reference

Shankar Vedantam. How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us

CAN WE LEARN FROM PLAYING GAMES?

This week’s post “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire” reminds me of a Ted talk called “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life”. In this Ted talk, Jane McGonigal introduced a set of real-life games called “SuperBetter” which can help people to adopt a new habit, to overcome depression,  and a life challenge. She said that SuperBetter is a gameful way of living to be stronger and happier. I was fascinated by her idea and purchased this app from app store.

In this app, it has several “powerpacks” such as “Being Awesome”, “Absurdly Grateful” and “Fun Days”. In each “powerpack”, there are several “quests” (daily and weekly goals), “power-up” (things that can trigger positive emotions) and “bad guy” (obstacles to overcome). “SuperBetter” asked me to do three “quests”, activate three “power-ups” and battle one “bad guy” every day. You can either play it alone or with friends if they also install this app. This program tracks your progress by what you have done and provides scores of resilience in physical, mental, emotional and social aspects. I played this game for one semester and enjoyed the self-development.  Finally, I stopped to play “SuperBetter” because it took me too much time, but I like the idea that game is not only for entertainment, but also can be used to adopt a new habit or skill and overcome life challenges.

This idea is more commonly used in nature. For example, lion cubs learn how to hunt by playing with their mothers and peers. Although what we are learning is much more complicated than that of lion cubs, I hope a gameful way of learning can be adopted into our life. Could someone design the multiple choice questions like a brain training game in the app store? Could teachers guide students to play with 3-D graphs to improve their understanding of abstract mathematical equations?

Many game companies are investing a lot of money to develop attractive games on our digital devices, because people would purchase. Our students spend a lot of money on tuition, but there is little incentive for teachers to develop games beyond primary school education. I think this may because most teachers do not have enough time, money or energy to do this like a company. Also, some of them might think that it is impossible to teach their materials through games, and others may doubt the learning outcomes of games. I was wondering under what situation games provide favorable learning outcomes compared with traditional methods. In that situation, how to provide educators enough incentives to develop and adopt games into their classrooms remains to be a big challenge.