Taking Remote Tests

Since I’m working on grad school applications, I went through some standardised tests. Even though many colleges have waived the requirement for GRE for fall 2021 applicants, I still had to take it, as some programs I’m applying to still require it. To be fair, I expected something like this so I still spent some time working on the GRE official test guide. What was surprising to me was, most schools waive the English language requirement if a non-US applicant completed a post-secondary degree in the US (either for some time or finishes college completely in the US) or at a recognised institution where English is the primary language. One school specifically mentioned that they would not waive it for any reason. I personally do not think that this requirement makes a lot of sense, as they would still acknowledge my bachelor’s degree—and my ongoing pursuit of master’s—just not my ability to use English in the academic context. Since my TOEFL score has long expired (the last, and only, time I took it was in 2011), I had to take a English language test too.


For the English language test, I went with Duolingo, as they offer a faster grading turnaround. The test format is quite different from TOEFL, and it definitely needs some practice. The software has multiple sections where the test taker is presented with a sentence, and they need to record them saying it out loud under a time limit. To record, you need to click the ‘start recording’  button, and to end recording and move on to the next section, you need to click ‘end recording’, or let the timer run out. My issue was that the ‘start recording’ and ‘end recording’ is the same button, so if you take the test on a laptop and the trackpad is very sensitive, it is very easy to prematurely terminate the section, and there’s no way to go back and re-record.


For GRE, ETS contracted a third-party to proctor the test. The test had to be taken at an indoors location with no clear disturbance, and since I wasn’t sure how the proctors would react to the electronics in my living room (I have a TV and was unsure if they want me to move it somewhere else before I can start the test), I opted to take that in my bedroom. The test requires you to use a laptop or desktop with a webcam and microphone; on top of that, you need to install several software. One is made by ETS (used to deliver the test), another is a browser plugin made by the contractor to make sure you won’t cheat, and the last one was a software so that you can communicate with your proctor during the exam. One last change in the testing procedure is, instead of being given pencil and paper for taking notes and making calculations, I need to use a whiteboard (or a piece of paper inside a sheet protector, which I went with) and erasable markers. Otherwise, it was something that’s not too out of the ordinary.

Zoom for Remote Learning

I want to reflect on the challenges for interaction and collaboration using Zoom after a semester of going almost full-remote.

A significant amount of my class time are conducted using Zoom in this semester. Apart from occasional hiccups, it was functional for me most of the time. It allows the active speaker to share what their webcam captures or what they choose to present from the screen of their computers and tablets, and has a barebone chat function built in. Even though it has a poll feature, I think it’s a bit underutilized. One problem I encountered was the difference in feature sets between desktop and mobile versions. For example, the automatic chat saving feature (https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115004792763-Saving-in-meeting-chat) is absent from the mobile version, and if you were to manually save chat when host ends the meeting, tough luck, you’d be kicked out of the meeting room.

One thing I do like about Zoom is how it integrates with our existing toolset. It has plugins for Gmail that allows me to schedule a meeting and sync that to my Google Calendar. Since I have the calendar added to my phone, the notification makes it easier for me to keep tab on my tasks. Similarly, once it’s synced to calendar, it can detect meetings that I’m invited to as well.

Collaboration with Zoom can be interesting. In my case, since my laptop doesn’t have a webcam, I need to join the meeting on my tablet if the collaboration requires me to use my laptop. For my case, the actual collaboration (in terms of working on same file with other people) are performed outside of Zoom. Google Docs has been good enough for text editing, and Visual Studio has a Live Share feature that’s handy for coding projects, as it would allow users to quickly diagnose a problem.

Future of the University

I was reminded of an exam I took for an entry level computer science class when I was reading the prompt. Apart from multiple choice questions and written verbal response, one or two questions (cannot remember how many exactly, it was a while back) require the students to scribble down computer code with pen and paper. Even though I can see the intention behind this rhetoric (to make sure that student have perceived fundamental understanding of syntax of a programming language, etc), this is quite ironic, as no other assistance that was afforded by computers, such as autocomplete or spellcheck, was allowed in a compsci exam. Personally I find this attempt rather lousy, as it would need to create a scenario that is unrealistic and unlikely to occur in everyday in order to meet the metrics set for this class.

I believe that the changes of the higher education extends beyond the physicality aspect. We are in a less-than-ideal situation where universities have to adapt to the evolving situations with not a lot of prior experience, but the reduced physical operation is a good call for administrators, educators, and governance of accreditation institutions that may have set rules that might not be the most forward-looking, to review the modality and mentality related to their teaching philosophy.

Since we were talking about testing: an element that is frequent overlooked is how test proctoring software operates. Since those software can be invasive and might require data collection for identity verification purposes, it is imperative to understand how those personal, usage, and biometric information are handled, if those information would be used for commercial purposes, and if those software would expose the computer it operates on to security vulnerabilities.

Open Access Journal

Interface Critique (IC) is an open access journal that’s very much in both of my majors (Creative Technologies and Computer Science) . IC is an English language, interdisciplinary journal based in Germany. The journal is published by Heidelberg University Library (Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg), and the Editor in Chief, Dr Florian Hadler, is a visiting professor at Berlin University of the Arts (Universität der Künste Berlin). The journal also receives support from Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG Karlsruhe), Merz Akademie, and Center for Art and Media (Zentrum für Kunst und Medien).

As declared by the journal themselves,

We encourage comprehensive, interdisciplinary perspectives and promote an understanding of the interface as a dynamic cultural phenomenon.

We are neither interested in the enhancement of usability and mere ergonomic questions of design nor in the optimization of user orientation and user experience.

We actively seek to expand the discourse beyond the western European framework.

The journal made it very clear that it is open access. Each volumes can be download in full as print quality PDF, and they provide full access to individual articles on their website. All articles published by IC are subject to Creative Commons license (CC BY 4.0).

Heidelberg University Library, the publisher of this journal, has a specialised open access publishing service art historicum. Books and journals, IC included, published by art historicum receives ISBN as well as DOI, so they can be referenced by scholars.


For the Ethics post, I will be looking at the case of Colleen T. Skau. The ORI case summary can be found here, and while I was looking for more information, I discovered that this particular case has already been covered by one of the alumni of this class. I’m therefore going to skip pass the part that discussed how data was cherry picked and manipulated in Skau’s papers, as they have been covered in detail.

Both papers listed in ORI’s summary (Cell, PNAS) have notice of retraction displayed at the beginning of the webpages. For the PDF versions, while it is still possible that prior versions of those papers can still be found, the current PNAS paper has a warning of retraction on the top left side of the pages, and the current Cell paper has a red watermark spanning the diagonal of the pages to indicate the publication status. By looking at citations for both of the retracted papers, I was a little concerned that papers as recent as November 2019 still cited the flawed research results.

I was unable to locate new publications by Skau after 2015, and according to Alison McCook of RetractionWatch, Skau was listed as the manager of research programs at American Urogynecologic Society (archived webpage in February 2018), though it appears that she no longer hold that position since late 2019 (archived in November 2019).

Mission Statement

Duke University (link):

James B. Duke’s founding Indenture of Duke University directed the members of the University to ‘provide real leadership in the educational world’ by choosing individuals of ‘outstanding character, ability, and vision’ to serve as its officers, trustees and faculty; by carefully selecting students of ‘character, determination and application;’ and by pursuing those areas of teaching and scholarship that would ‘most help to develop our resources, increase our wisdom, and promote human happiness.’

To these ends, the mission of Duke University is to provide a superior liberal education to undergraduate students, attending not only to their intellectual growth but also to their development as adults committed to high ethical standards and full participation as leaders in their communities; to prepare future members of the learned professions for lives of skilled and ethical service by providing excellent graduate and professional education; to advance the frontiers of knowledge and contribute boldly to the international community of scholarship; to promote an intellectual environment built on a commitment to free and open inquiry; to help those who suffer, cure disease, and promote health, through sophisticated medical research and thoughtful patient care; to provide wide ranging educational opportunities, on and beyond our campuses, for traditional students, active professionals and life-long learners using the power of information technologies; and to promote a deep appreciation for the range of human difference and potential, a sense of the obligations and rewards of citizenship, and a commitment to learning, freedom and truth.

By pursuing these objectives with vision and integrity, Duke University seeks to engage the mind, elevate the spirit, and stimulate the best effort of all who are associated with the University; to contribute in diverse ways to the local community, the state, the nation and the world; and to attain and maintain a place of real leadership in all that we do.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (link):

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the nation’s first public university, serves North Carolina, the United States, and the world through teaching, research, and public service. We embrace an unwavering commitment to excellence as one of the world’s great research universities.

Our mission is to serve as a center for research, scholarship, and creativity and to teach a diverse community of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to become the next generation of leaders. Through the efforts of our exceptional faculty and staff, and with generous support from North Carolina’s citizens, we invest our knowledge and resources to enhance access to learning and to foster the success and prosperity of each rising generation. We also extend knowledge-based services and other resources of the University to the citizens of North Carolina and their institutions to enhance the quality of life for all people in the State.

With lux, libertas — light and liberty — as its founding principles, the University has charted a bold course of leading change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems.


Both of those universities are in North Carolina. Duke is a private university while UNC-Chapel Hill is public.

Duke’s mission statement provided different visions for undergraduate and graduate education, which I find interesting. It is true that the undergrad and graduate education has different areas of focus, with the undergrad education more focused on personal development, and that was crystal clear in Duke’s statement. The statement also chose to highlight its medical research, and did not constrict itself within the traditional definition of an education institution; instead, it highlighted its roles for non-student individuals and the society.

While UNC-Chapel Hill has mentioned some of its global roles, it is very clear just from reading its mission statement that it is a public university in North Carolina, with a strong focus on public service for North Carolina. Unlike Duke’s statement, Chapel Hill did not mention what kind of characteristics they’re looking for from prospective students.

I can see the point raised by the LSE article (link) that the ‘[p]rivate sector universities noticeably focused on process, while the public sector focuses on individuals‘. Both of them explained their mission and vision in good terms, and it never occurred to me how different they could be.

Mindful Learning

Prior to this class, I have definitely heard of the concept of Mindful Learning — that’s what actually what came to my mind (as a polar opposite) when I was looking into Freire’s banking model. Both the critical pedagogy principles and mindful learning are very clear that teachers should adapt their course to be idiosyncratic and help their students to develop active learning strategies.


We have discussed that how quantifying grades can be adversarial to those common goals, but for classes with a lot of enrolment, having some kind of grading might be one of the fairer ways to judge how well the students perform and learn. The problem is, students will more likely to encounter classes like this early in their studies, and it might be difficult for them to get accustomed to this kind of class settings fast. So what makes classes like this any different from the online learning material or MOOC? Some of those popular engineering classes would have a lot of teaching assistants to compensate, and even though it worked for me, I can see how it might not appeal to everyone.

Critical Pedagogy

Some takeaways from the readings:

The authority vs. authoritarian distinction: Authoritarianism expect students to take the words of their teachers for granted, while authority refers to the means where teachers can affect the learning process. Questionings from the students should be respected, as they promotes critical thinking. This also implies that teachers should also be expected to enact an active learning role in class, even though the roles are inherently distinct.

The banking model is related to the authoritarianism, where teachers dictates knowledge and expects students to memorise. This practice promotes homogeneous outcome and discourages individuality.

The efficacy of critical pedagogy relies on many factors, but one aspect where critical pedagogy is different from the banking model is dialogic action. Having a genuine dialogue between teachers and students is important, but the dialogue should reflect the criticality of the learning objective. Teachers should engage students to participate in this dialogical learning process, but they also should understand and respect the student’s decision on if they ‘have anything to say at that time’ (as described by Darder).

Online Learning

One of the most amusing online class I took was a two or three years ago. As I was taking the most difficult class offered to undergraduates in my major, I sign up for an easy class to balance things out. The class was about computer literacy and how to access the internet, but I was not at all mentally prepared for the content. Many of the screenshots appears to be taken from Mac OS 9 (or possibly earlier), not no mention that an module was explaining how to use the most exciting things about the internet — newsgroup, and another one was talking about IRC etiquettes.


Some elaborations: Mac OS 9 was last updated in 2001; the reason I think some screenshot may even be earlier is the user interface elements in some screenshots doesn’t look like Platinum, the default Mac OS 8-9 theme; instead they look like System 7, which was last updated around mid-90s. Newsgroup and IRC are by no means ancient technologies, but it’s not really representative of what internet is in this day and age. And I distinctively remember many links and some thumbnails were broken (some points to geocities sites, which was shutdown in 2009). Bear in mind that I took this class just a few years back! The nerdy side of me was really amused to experience the artefacts of the ‘early’ internet. But how useful would this class be for someone who really wanted to learn about computer literacy?


I was trying to go back and find some of the old course materials of this class as I’m writing this. Problem is, the entire class was hosted on Scholar, the Sakai-based LMS that Virginia Tech phased out at around spring 2017. Since the system has been decommissioned, I could not retrieve the data from it: trying to access scholar.vt.edu just returns the ‘server not found’ error. It leads to me a grim realisation that most of my work submitted through Scholar is likely gone. Sure, it might still be sitting on a server or a tape backup system somewhere, but it is no longer accessible to me.

Archive, Mapping, Multimodal

Three terms I picked from the Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Archive, Mapping, Multimodal.

Archive, according to Society of American Archivists, is defined as ‘[t]o transfer records from the individual or office of creation to a repository authorized to appraise, preserve, and provide access to those records’. Looking at the comment section, there were some controversies in terminology. Some commenters felt it would be more appropriate if the essay is named ‘curation’ or ‘special collections’, which I feel is a valid concern, as some of the examples (like ‘Designing Object-Based Experiences: A Prototyping Game’ in ¶16–18) clearly pivot towards the curatorial aspect, that it not only talks about the preservation but also involves a deeper level of interpretation.

The process of mapping presents an interpretation of a collective of artefacts. I was a little taken aback when reading this article, as I was expecting a more general usage instead of the more constrained one, as in cartography/geology. It did not help when I saw incomplete inline citation (in ¶4, the ‘Kitchin, Perkins and Dodge 20XX’ did not contain the actual year, neither was it mentioned in the ‘works cited’ section) and words I find that can be subjectively interpreted (in ¶5, ‘dis-ease’; not in the sense of ailment, but unease. Not to mention, it might carry an unscientific connotation).

Multimodal is a term coined by Gunther Keiss, with a focus in semiotics. It has similarities with the term multimedia, but it’s not restricted to the digital realm. It’s a concept that has some connection with archive/curation, as they all need to go through the process of analysis.