Electronic Device or Not?

Some teachers forbid their students to use any electronic device in the class. I was in a such class. From the perspective of a student, I do think electronic device will decrease efficiency in class learning. It’s human nature that we are easily get distracted by any prominent external stimulus. Use of laptop and other electronic device drastically elevates the possibilities of occurrence of these distractions. So electronic device may have negative effects on learning. Meanwhile, in some class, teaching is a type of performance and the teacher may feel upset or frustrated when these careless audience don’t pay attention to his/her performance.

As an instructor, however, I never ask my student not to use laptop. Just like we did every time in GEDI class, use of electronic device is able to improve learning. The line between facilitating learning and hindering learning by electronic device is subtle, which depends on the methodology used in teaching. When comes to traditional lecture, as far as I am concerned, teacher is the center of the activities in the class and use of electronic device will threaten the central position of the teacher and become distractions of learning. Learner-centered class, on the other hand, encourage students to adopt their own ways to acquire knowledge and communicate with each other. Electronic device then become a powerful tool to enhance learning. To sum up, I don’t think we should give a conclusion about whether we should allow students to use electronic device or not. The most important consideration would be whether this helps students in their learning or not.

Education Bias or Social Justice?

About two months ago, a group of more than 60 organizations has filed a complaint with the federal government claiming Harvard holds higher expectations for its Asian applicants than other minorities. The coalition is made up of nonprofit organizations, including Chinese, Pakistani and Indian groups, and it claims Harvard uses racial quotas to control the number of Asian-Americans on campus.

This Asian-American-initiated event bring the pubic a very tricky but extremely important issue of education: What is social justice in education? Asian Americans are a special group when discussing racial issues. They are minorities and protected by the laws and rules against discrimination based on race and ethnicity. However, a considerable percentage of Asian Americans are high in SES and enjoy social privileges, which is represented in education. A lot of Asian Americans come from families of skilled worker immigrants who received higher education. These families are able to provide ample financial support to their children’s education. Another interesting observation is that Asian American families consider children’s grade as the most important part of their school work. Most Asian parents require their children to get high grade and control their leisure time. Even some Asian parents encourage their children to participate in activities other than doing homework, they have a very clear goal — to get admitted by an elite university or college. It’s no doubt, Asian American have taken much more education resources and the advantage of the education system in U.S., compare to African Americans and Hispanics.

The consequences of this situation in education for Asian American are complicated. First, because Asian students tend to spend more time on studying and improving their grades, they are more likely to get a higher GPA, which makes them more competitive in applying for elite schools. On the other hand, when Asian students are enrolled in top schools, they are not doing better than students of other races. To do good in college, there is much more than just maintaining a high GPA. Second, if we looked the ratio of Asian students in elites schools, we will find that this ratio is somewhere between 10% and 15%. However, the Asian American only account for 6% of population. In other words, other races are inadequately represented in U.S. higher education. Under this circumstances, to control the ratio of Asian students is an approach to increase the chance for African American and Hispanic students to get higher education.

However, from the perspective of Asian Americans, these elite schools did have a higher criteria for Asian applicants. Now, the problem becomes whether we should hold same standards for all students or should give the equal chance for all racial and ethnicity groups: education bias vs. social justice. I’ll leave this question in my blog and hope we’ll have to discuss this problem of diversity in U.S. education in class.

Find My Authentic Teaching Self from Four Classes

I have worked for professors as teaching assistant and taught different classes for four years. It’s the first time I think about authentic teaching self after I have read the reading materials in this week. Ironically, to find my teaching self, I’d like to start with four teachers I know in my department.

The first professor I’d like to mention is a research faculty who teaches both undergraduate lecture and graduate classes. I was both his teaching assistance and students in his classes. One feature of his teaching is emphasis on information and details. When I did TA job for him, some undergraduate students ask me how to grasp the gist of the professor’s lecture. The students complain about so many details they need to memorize for quizzes and exams. Speaking of his quizzes and exams, the grade of his lecture is made up mostly of quizzes and exams. I was also his students in graduate courses. The professor would modify a little bit in graduate courses or seminars, but to memorize knowledge and information is very important. These make sense to you if you are in the classes. He has B-type personality and is always at a slow pace.

I was also a student in the second professor’s graduate class. This professor, in my opinion, is definitely A-type personality. He seems to do everything very efficiently and fast: grading papers, conducting studies, writing manuscripts, and so on. In his graduate level class, we were asked not to memorize much information but to read research papers; and, there were always discussions and even debates in the class. He would lead discussions and debates. Instead of quizzes and exams, he gave us take-home midterm and finals. We could write anything related to the question in and just need to defend our arguments in the exams. As students, our participation is the most important part of his teaching.

The third teacher is my colleague. I invited him to give guest lecture to my class and observed his teaching. He likes to use multiple media and digital methods in classes. Interestingly, he took Contemporary Pedagogy class. He always tries different methods to attract students’ attention and get them engaged. He is an outgoing person and loves communicating with other people.

The fourth teacher is an old professor. I talked to him about his teaching and sat in his class to observe his class. He always told me he see teaching as performance and see students as his audience. He gets himself prepared for every class physically and mentally. Although he doesn’t use a lot of modern techniques, he will also try as much as he can to make students engaged in class.

I found my teaching self in all of these teachers. We always think the first professor’s teaching is old fashion and not efficient to facilitate learning. And, sometimes students wouldn’t like his teaching. However, I found the students in his class benefits from this old-fashion teaching most. The second professor’s teaching most fits graduate seminar. The students need to prepare for the discussions and debates very well in the class. You wouldn’t expect to obtain knowledge and information from the discussions but would get training on how to think a question from different perspectives. Personally, I did’t enjoy the third teacher’s class very much, because he used too much technologies and didn’t treat students as active learners. I think to cover materials will decrease students’ motivation no matter how fancy the teacher covers the materials. As the fourth instructor, I admire his passion and effort to make the class vivid. In contrast to the third teacher, the fourth professor does use modern technologies as lot, but he is still able to engage his students and make them learn from the class. Therefore, I think whether use technologies is not the most important in teaching, but how to effectively facilitate learning of these active learner is crucial for successful teaching.

Give A Fish or Teach Fishing

Four Things Lecture Is Good For conveys a simple, but always being overlooked, principle: instructors should teach students thinking in lectures, rather than cover materials. It has been recognized that modern education changed from “teaching-centered” to “learning-centered”. This means that the primary purpose of any forms of teaching, including lecture, is to improve the ability of the learner. The role of instructor in learning becomes minimum and learner is the center of learning. In a lecture, Robert Talbert thinks, to model thought process, to share cognitive structure, to give contexts, and to tell story are the four missions of the lecturer. As far as I am concerned, all these four missions are to teach students how to think. Just like the old proverb, to teach students how to think will benefit them for a long time.

However, how to teach students how to think is an interesting topic. When all efforts of an teacher is to tell student the steps of thinking in an abstract way, to draw knowledge maps, or to make categories of cognitive units, this information itself becomes “materials”. In these times, examples including facts and general knowledge are important. I do agree with that telling stories is a good approach to fulfill the purpose of teaching students how to think, but video games seem to go too far. James Paul Gee’s arguments have some reasonable points. For me, it is okay to use video games as a sort of metaphor, video games themselves are not transcendence or extension of reality but escape or distortion of reality. We should by no means learn any thing from or through video games. Moreover, Gee’s arguments are very easy to be misunderstood. In my opinion, the best expression of ideas in the reading articles in this week is still “learning through action, and reflection”.

Manage Short-Term and Long-Term Goals in Learning

As a student, I did ask my teacher the typical question mentioned by Lambardi in her article; as an instructor, I also did get the same question from my students. The issue of grading in teaching and learning is not as simple as the statement that grading is hindrance from learning. Borrowing the concept from Welsh’s article of last week, I’d argue that we should balance the “significance” and grade in learning. In a sense, connecting significance with learning is the long-term goal of learning while achieving good grades is the short-term goal. So, to manage the long-term and short-term goal is important in motivating student in learning.

In psychology, there are two types of motivation: internal and external motivation. External motivation is more effective in simple tasks whereas internal motivation plays a more important role in complicated tasks. Too much external reward as external motivator will decrease internal motivation of people when they are engaging in complicated tasks, which is detrimental to the performance in the complicated tasks. These are reviewed in Dan Pink’s videos.

I’d like to think the long-term goal, connecting significance, as the internal motivator and the short-term goal, achieving better grades, as the external motivator. Applying the results in psychological research, the balance of these two types of motivation is the key to motivate the students. As we discussed in class for multiples times, which teaching methods or methods to motivate students depends on what the discipline is. In basic science, I still think the short-term goal and external motivator are more important. However, when the class requires more complicated work, the long-term goal and internal motivator will be more useful. Moreover, although teachers should respect individuality of all education receivers, the current education still needs in-class teaching. So, it’s unrealistic to discard the external motivator. Instead using only internal or purely external motivator for all students, teachers should teach students to find the balance point of their own motivations.

Last but not least, using grade as the assessment of learning may be not the perfect way but is the most effective way for teachers to evaluate the learning at present. I’m looking forward the discussion on this point in the coming class.

Demystify Demystification about Learning

In this week, we were introduced with new topics in GEDI — teaching and learning. Ken Robinson’s TED talk and reading articles criticize the traditional in-class teaching. Ken Robinson talked about the importance of regarding individuality and creating learning environment. The article “Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance” echo the TED talk, Michael Welsh also emphasizes on learning instinct in human and the role of teachers in encouraging students to learning. I do appreciate that the two authors found the fundamental distinction between teaching and learning. For teaching, we take the perspective of instructors and see students as passive and uniform information receivers; whereas, we take the perspective of learner when using the term “learning’ which entails uniqueness of every student. No matter whether I am an instructor or a student, I strongly agree with it.

Michael Welsh’s point about finding the significance in learning is similar to Maslow’s argument about means and ends. Maslow discussed the motivation in his popular work “Motivation and Personality” (1969) and argued that some behaviors are just means to fulfill certain goals, whereas other behaviors themselves are the ends. Michael Welsh seems to suggest to find a purpose or significance for learning is important, which also relates to connected learning we covered in last week. However, Maslow noted that enjoying doing something just for its own sake is a more sustain motivation. Apply it to learning, to find significance in a bigger picture is good, learning itself might be fun and the motivation to learning.

We can also find its root in Maslow’s work in the article Mindful Learning. Ellen Langer suggests that focusing on present learning have better effects in learning, which is similar to Maslow’s concepts. However, close examination reveals that Ellen Langer’s argument is contradictory to Michael Welsh’s points in some ways. Mindful learning not only means not relying on past learning but also means not being influenced by future. Past learning, by Ellen Langer, is stereotype. Future, here, is the significance in Michael Welsh’s paper. Therefore, learning with mind is more like Maslow’s concept than Michael Welsh’s argument. Moreover, my own experiences tell a different story from Ellen Langer’s demystification. Practice is necessary for understanding knowledge and any types of creation. only after I master “basics” and skills and do not need much mental effort to think about these “basics” and skills, do I have chances to build something on them, to create.

Taken these together, I think these authors provide with different perspectives to look at learning and teaching, but while they are trying to explain away the myths about learning we should not mystify their arguments.

Is Connected Learning a Better Approach?

In the first lesson, Dr. Nelson has introduced the concept “connected learning’. We will discuss connected learning in the second lesson in details. After watching the video clip about connected learning, I searched on the internet and found something about connected learning before our formal discussion in class. In Wikipedia, it is defined as “a type of learning that integrates personal interest, peer relationships, and achievement in academic, civic, or career-relevant areas.” The other feature of connected learning is the use of networks and digital media.

However, is connected learning a better approach than traditional learning? Here are my thoughts. As one of classmates said in the first class, the modern technology can not necessarily provide all learners with better learning. I do admit that digital media and connected learning could be efficient in some ways. However, connected learning could also be less efficient in other aspects. Learning of basic science and abstract knowledge requires memorizing definitions, equations, and simple facts. These should not be substituted by any other teaching or learning methods. These are fundamental elements of further learning. As far as I am concerned, connection learning is not the best way to learn in these areas.

One more thing about connected learning is that it produces inequality in education. The students of less resources have less access to connected learning. Forcing these students to adopt the approach of connected learning is, actually, to reinforce this education inequality. Even for those students who have full access to connected learning, they have the right not to choose connected learning. Thus, replacing traditional learning with connected learning without giving all students the right of free choosing their own way to learning is not only inefficient but unfair.

Despite of these two main drawbacks of connected learning had in my mind, connected learning have gain an momentum in modern education. I am look forward to more about connected learning in the next class.

First Class in GEDI

This semester, I am taking GRAD 5114 Contemporary Pedagogy. I have been teaching my own lecture for two years. This will be a great chance for me to improve teaching and develop my teaching philosophy. In the first class, Dr. Nelson introduced us to this course and prepared us for the tour to being a better instructor. Looking forward to more interesting materials in the class.

Improving Higher Education

The question I’d like to talk about is gender differences in academia. Recent decades have experienced a great change in schools, higher education, and academia. Gender equality has become an important consideration in a lot of programs in universities. Indeed, women have enjoyed the positive outcomes of the fight for their rights in academia. More and more women got and are getting their success in different positions of higher education. However, gender inequality still exists in a subtle way.

Ecklund et al. (2012) examined the data from a survey  and interviews of scientists at top graduate programs in US and found that gender is more salient than discipline in determining reasons scientists provide for gender disparities between disciplines. Further, these authors suggested that gender is the primary factor shaping the experiences of scientists regardless of their own gender. This study revealed a complicated mechanism underlying seemingly gender equality in academia. A lot of people may think nowadays women and men already have had the same opportunity to learn knowledge and develop professional abilities to obtain success in academia. However, when we look at the current situations in the academia, we could find that the cognition of concepts such as “science”, “engineering”, and “academia”, is still gender-marked. The stereotype of women is still incompatible with people’s understanding of science.

The reason for this phenomenon may be more than policies in recruiting female faculty in universities. Some social and cultural factors also contribute to this problem. As far as I am concerned, this is one thing needs to be improved. To solve the problem, we can not only address the issues about gender equality in higher education. We need to find the solutions in a wider range. However, we should start with higher education. Indeed, higher education is a pathway for people to recognize the problem.

Social Media, MOOCs, and other Disruptive Tech

The article I found about social media, MOOCs, and disruptive technologies is “Making ‘MOOCs’: The construction of a new digital higher education within news media discourse” published on the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning in 2014. In the article, the authors argues that a critical analysis of MOOC discourse throughout the past two years highlights broader societal struggles over education and digital technology—capturing a significant moment before these debates subside with the anticipated normalization and assimilation of MOOCs into educational practice. I agree with the authors on that we should not dismiss the discursive construction of MOOCs in the established news media sources. On the contrary, these old media are still sites where the vast majority of the general public are exposed to the notion of ‘MOOCs’.