Ph.D. earns more than Bachelor. Does it mean education improve your ability?  




After reading and discussing so much about education across the semester, I couldn’t resist the temptation to write some problems about education based on my Economic background.

Education is so fascinating that in Economics there is even a specific field called Economics of Education. The main research questions in this field are what is education for? How to measure its effectiveness? What is its return to human capital? These questions are explored by theoretical framework and tested by quantitative methods.

There are two main theories about the purpose of education. One is that education is to improve personal ability. Another is education is for signaling. This signal theory is based on assumption of information asymmetry.  The future employer and the candidate have different information about the candidate’s ability. The candidate may know his/her ability quite well, but the employer doesn’t have the full information about the ability. The only thing the employer knows is the candidate’s education: the degree the candidate holds, the university the candidate attended and the corresponding grades. Therefore, college graduator uses this education attainment, sending signals to employer about their ability to compete with other potential candidates.

Personally, I don’t buy this signal theory. I am more inclined to view education as a way to improve ability. However, ability is such an ambiguous word that there isn’t any ways to accurately measure it. The standard test score is just a proxy to part of the ability. Certain part of interpersonal ability like communication skill is hard to measure.

Because of the difficulties in measuring ability, it is hard to evaluate the return of education for individuals. Though it is true people holding higher education degree earns more, but it is hard to draw causality here. We cannot attribute this high earning to education. Because we don’t observe student’s ability, there are potential confounding factors. It is highly possible that people of high ability are more likely to be selected into better universities or later attend graduate schools. The higher pay those Ivy League graduates get may due to their high abilities, not their attendance of elite school. The causality can only be draw if we control all other variables other than education. For example, two groups each with individuals of exactly the same ability and family background, but one group went to university and another didn’t. If the first group earns significantly larger than the second group, then we can say education influence future earnings. Otherwise, it is just correlation, instead of causality. However, such experiment involves serious ethical issue that won’t be feasible nowadays. In fact, there is already research shows (Dale and Krueger (2002) ) if we control for the ability, attending elite university actually won’t increase the future salary.

Everything comes with a cost. There is huge opportunity cost, both money and time, of attending university. It is highly possible in the future that we can use the time and money to travel around the world, which may end up a better investment than university education. How to make university education more valuable? I am really looking forward to this challenging, yet rewarding exploration.




Berg, Dale, and S. A. Krueger. “Estimating the payoff to attending a more selective university. An application of selection on observables and unobservables.”  Quarterly Journal of Economics (2001).

What’s your plan B in teaching when the technology is completely broken?


In one of my Graduate Teaching Scholar (GTS) weekly meeting, someone came up with this question: What’s your plan B in teaching when the technology is completely broken? When the computer doesn’t run and the projector doesn’t function? I have to admit I never thought about this question before. I heard people talking about plan B in teaching, but I never link it with complete technology malfunction. If it’s just a computer problem, maybe I can borrow a spare one from my TA. If it is just the projector problem, I can still proceed when students sharing and looking at the PPT from their computer screens— though not as efficient as before, at least it works. But when there is a complete system broken down, honestly, I don’t have a plan B.

The way I design my teaching is so integrated with technology that it would be a disaster if technology is completed teased out from the classroom. The same is true for our lives. Technology has penetrated into all aspect of our daily lives. It is hard for me to envision what life would be without technology. Yes, I am a centaurs. I use Google Maps every time when I go to new places (sometime I still need it to go to Christiansburg). I looked up in Yelps to find interesting restaurant while in new places like New York or DC. I have TED app in my smart phone so I can listen to TED talks while walking or waiting for the bus.

In my perception, technology is a place where we can outsource part of human workload to. I am more convinced with this belief as the reading of this week continues. Machine and man can collaborate in the optimal senesce that both worked in their comparative advantages (like the man-machine team in chess game). Computers are good at storing, searching and computing information, while human brain are unique in terms of analyzing and adjusting based on intuition and insight. The development of technology makes technology more capable on what original done by human. By outsourcing these tasks to machine, it leaves man with more energy (cognitive resources) to explore other unknown fields.

Ok, back to the previous question, what will you do when there is complete technology break down in your class, instead of calling it a day?

how to make changes constructively?— A reflection of critical pedagogy and the issue of Dr. Coward in Berkeley.  


First thing first, I totally agree with the reading this week about critical pedagogy. We all, sometimes, went through the terrible banking learning mechanism. The classroom is boring. The lecturer is the best hypnotist. The final exam is really a painful but relieving time. The painful part comes from the fact that I have to memorize things for the test. The relieve part comes from the fact it is finally over. Wait, it is over for this one, for sure. But how about next semester? How can we make sure there is no such professor later? And also, how about our younger cohort? How to make sure they don’t have to suffer the previous boring professor again?


Surly, we want to and need to change the status quo. But, how?  Paulo Freire mentioned about an educational movement to change from banking education to critical pedagogy, but I failed to find any suggestion about how to change. Whenever there is a movement, there are people, particularly those in power, don’t want to move. The recent issue of Dr. Coward in Berkeley indicates it is not each to make a change. Dr. Coward is losing his job of teaching in Math Department because he is doing great in teaching (see more detail here[1] also you can find Dr. Coward’s personal blog here [2]). Too good to make others look bad. He wins students’ hearts by inspiring teaching instead of banking teaching. But the department may refuse o renew his contract when he failed to follow the suggestion of “adjust to the norms of the department” (the finally decision will be made on October 20th, 2015).


Doing a better job in critical and inspiring teaching is not easy itself. But here is another layer of difficulty from your colleague and coworker, who don’t want to move, don’t want to change. This seems even harder. Paulo Freire talked about “teaching of the oppressed”, here allow me abuse the word “oppressed” a little bit. We know wherever there is oppression there is resistance. We certainly don’t want to oppress our students, but we also don’t that to oppress our colleagues. Therefore how to participate in this movement with constructive change? Certainly doing great at teaching alone is not enough. I am still searching for the answer. You are welcome to leave your idea if you have any thought.


[2] ttp://

How to Teach as an International Teacher  


Sarah Deel’s Finding My Teaching Voice reminds me of my own teaching experience. I had a hard time to find my own teaching style until I read the book The Courage to Teach by Palmer mentioned in Deel’s article. This book inspired me to teach with respect to my own voice, to honor the nature of my true self. I decided to write something about my experience as an international teacher in the USA.

I emphasize international teacher because that is how I see myself. I was shocked the first time a Virginia Tech professor in my department recommended me to teach. It was an honor to have the opportunity, but at the same time I felt quite upset because I am from a non-English speaking country and experienced a completely different learning and training system.

The first few days of my class were awful. I was afraid that the students wouldn’t respect me because I am merely a graduate student, not a professor. What’s more, I was mimicking the professor who previously taught this class. I tried to memorize and reiterate what he said when he taught. It was more like presentation, rather than teaching. In that first week’s class, I felt that I would lose my students if I did not improve my teaching.

I went to visit and observed other professors’ classes and tried to learn from them. Also, I read several books about college teaching and discussed teaching with my GTS cohort. Then I read Palmer’s book, which inspired me to be myself and to be honest about who I am. Later in the class I talked with my students about my accent and encouraged them to correct me or slow me down if I was not speaking clearly. I also began to focus more on delivering my own understanding of the subject rather than mimicking others. After this, I felt relaxed and had extra energy to motivate learning in class. In the end, the class went well. The tips I share below really helped me a lot in my teaching. You may also find them useful, especially if you are an international teacher as well.

  1. Speak Slowly. Most international teachers will have an accent to which students need time to adjust. Speaking slowly during the class helps them to understand the content, especially when you are covering the new concept or key idea.
  2. Use more words than equations. Due to different education systems, some math equations, which seem intuitive to international teachers, may not be obvious to the students. Therefore try to use more examples, graphs or tables to illustrate the idea.
  3. Less is more. “Don’t put too many ornaments on the Christmas tree.” This is a quote from Dr. Michael Ellerbrock, who won several teaching awards at VT. Don’t try to cover too much. Students will end up only remembering a few of them. Find one or two key concepts you want to cover, and then keep emphasizing this content throughout the class.

As a teacher coming from a different cultural and educational background, I am aware that there are more things I need to think about in teaching. That is why I am taking Contemporary Pedagogy. I am sure that most of you (my readers) once sat in an international teacher’s class as a student. What was your learning experience with that teacher? How do you think of their teaching? Is there anything else about them I did not mention in this blog, that you feel is important? You are more than welcome to comment on your experience to help me (and other international teachers) to improve and to help our future students to learn.

Two Challenges of Authentic Assessment


The readings of this week remind me of Bloom’s Taxonomy, where it categorizes learning into 6 cognitive learning levels, from rudimentary learning to advanced learning: remember, understand, apply, analyze, create and evaluate. The traditional assessment focuses more on checking the cognitive learning level 1-3 (remember, understand and apply), while the authentic assessment focuses more on the level 4-6 learning (analyze, create and evaluate).


This authentic assessment is more time consuming than the traditional one, as Lombardi and Oblinger also mentioned in their paper, therefore it is harder for professor to adopt it given the time constraint within current tenure track evaluation system. I know most university offers position of instructor, who serves 100% duty in teaching. By doing that, the teachers can spend more time in designing the classes and assessing students’ performance to facilitate higher cognitive learning. This 100% teaching based placement is good. But the fact is people still value research higher than teaching. If instructor doesn’t obtain similar recognition as the research based professor in their tenure track (if there is one), then it would be a discouragement for the 100% teaching based instructor. So the way I see this change from traditional assessment to authentic assessment is more of the evolution of the university assessment system on teachers and professors as a whole, rather than the change of teachers alone.


The second challenge comes from the subjectiveness in authentic assessment. The evaluation of cognitive learning level 4-6 is more subjective than the traditional one. Therefore we would always assume that the teacher would be at a better (or higher) position to evaluate students. However, this won’t always be true, especially in fields like arts. I am even more suspicious as I read “Imagination First” by Eric Liu and Scott Nppe-Drandon. The authors try to demystify imagination. But the authors failed to say that imagination is judged by what standards. The appreciation of imagination is even more subjective than the authentic assessment. Therefore who would have the authority to judge?  What if the teacher fails to notice the value of the assessments of a genius?  Like Van Gogh, whose painting was not appreciated by audiences of his time, thus led a poor and miserable life. Those are the questions I think we, as a teacher, need to keep in mind when we assess students.


Change “is” into “may be” ? Maybe…..


Honestly, I agree with most of the opinion mentioned in this week’s reading. Teaching is a process of inviting. By teaching the knowledge, we are inviting the students to vigorously participating in the learning and at the same time developing their own understanding. Mindful learning requires mindful teaching and mindful textbook to open the possibility for student’s mental engagement. How to frame knowledge in an inviting way? To me, that’s a crucial and artful skill.


However, in the book the author mentioned the way they frame a textbook into a mindful textbook seems contradictory to what I learnt in writing. In the book, the author gives example of change “is” in textbook into “may be”. But, in my own experience in writing papers or essays or dissertations, I was recommended (both by my professor, or other writing instructions) to write in affirmative way. Otherwise, too much “maybe”, “would”, “possible” weakens my research conclusions and reduces my research significance. So I am wondering, whether this is the right way to write a textbook.


Some may argue that writing paper is different from writing a text book. But almost all text books are writing based on results from published research papers. It will be wield when the paper says “is” while the book says “may be”. I understand the need to open student’s mind in teaching, to invite their participation. So when the textbook says “may be”, it leave room for students own exploration. But if all knowledge is delivered in uncertainty, at least, as a freshman, I will feel frightened.


In my opinion, for certain basic knowledge, which requires understanding and comprehension, we need to state in affirmation. So that students, at the entry level, will have a clue on the structure of the subject. After that, for knowledge requires higher level of learning such as application, evaluation and creation, which is naturally conditional, we can adapt conditional statement to engage students.

The Pros and Cons of Connected Learning and How Can We Prepare Ourselves in This Trend

I tried to find a clear definition of Connected Learning (CL), but all I found is quite ambiguous. People mainly talk about what it will involve, what’s the core values and what’s the principles but not exactly what it is. In my understanding, CL is a broad concept contrasting the traditional learning model. There is no particular rule or formula to follow; rather it is a discretional model that uses all available resources to facilitate learning.

Comparing with traditional learning model, CL has its advantages. Firstly, it is more student-centered. The traditional learning model is more of teacher-centered, that is, teacher lectures on what they think is important. This is one-direction learning, from teacher to students. In the CL model, it is multi-direction learning. It can be teacher to students, students to teacher and even students to students. This CL promotes the students’ learning incentives.

Secondly, CL follows the cognitive learning process of the students, and adapts the teaching method accordingly. The future students in high education are the new millennium generation. This generation (and some of us as well) possesses its own features: grown up with sophisticated computer skills, surrounded by social media in their daily lives. They learn and share information through social network, search and explore thing that interested them through internet. In some sense, they are self-centered.  They are used to learn through images than words. Adaptation of social network or video/image that they are used to in teaching will help to facilitate their learning.

It is always exciting to have the opportunity to try new teaching model and apply new technology. But everything comes at a cost. My biggest concern of CL is the opportunity cost of time for teachers to adapt the new technologies. It is so easy to get lost in fancy technology. I think the core part of teaching is the content/subject/knowledge, and technology is just a tool that may help in facilitating the teaching and learning. So I would suggest using new technology with caution.

Given CL as an inevitable trend, my final thinking about CL is how can we prepare ourselves to future success in this trend. The most important one is to cooperate with expertise from other fields with an open mind. A successful CL teaching model is a hybrid of expertise from all fields. We all have limited time and cannot learn everything by ourselves. Everyone has their competitive advantage. Sometimes the young TA is better equipped in certain knowledge than the teacher. We want a close team work that each one is compensating the skill set of others rather than struggling by ourselves and learning all skills that take forever..