Come on! Let’s Play!

What a brilliant idea to use the theory of human learning built into good video games for teaching and learning! Isn’t that just the right way to set students’ minds on fire in the digital era?

Video games are both frustrating and life enhancing. So are and should learning be. But why most of us (at lease for me for sure) love playing video games more than learning? Because the former gives much more fun! Can we make learning more fun than it is now? Yes I think we can.

Check this video out:

It’s a simple program that you can download and compile without warning (according to most comments below) and OMG! Look at how beautiful it is! How diverse it can be! Now think about this: instead of making math, physics and coding the most boring thing in the world, you combine them in a single program and make it so much fun! Now I’m imagining taking the codes, making it incomplete, giving it to the students and asking them to make their own animation on whatever fluid process. Isn’t that a perfect learning game? I would love that!

If we don’t treat learning as such a serious topic, we can actually have fun with it.  We play, and we learn!

Ethics: ORI Case Summary of Ryousuke Fujita

ORI is the Office of Research Integrity and is under the US Department of Health & Human Services. Here I want to share one of their cases regarding misconduct in research by Dr. Ryousuke Fujita, a former Postdoctoral Scientist in Taub Institute for the Aging Brain in Columbia University Medical Center.

Dr. Fujita is found to engage in research misconduct by falsifying and fabricating data in 74 panels included in figures in two publications (Cell 2011; Nature 2013) and one unpublished manuscript. He inflated sample numbers and data, fabricated numbers for data sets, manipulated data analysis, mislabelled images, and manipulated and reused images. Then ORI listed specifically the details of how Dr. Fujita engaged in the above research misconduct.

The punishment for Dr. Fujita is that he has entered into a Voluntary Exclusion Agreement that for a period of three years (beginning on March 18, 2015), he will exclude himself from any contracting or subcontracting with any agency of the United States Government and from eligibility for or involvement in nonprocurement programs of the US Government, and exclude himself from serving in any advisory capacity to the US Public Health Service (PHS) such as serve on any PHS advisory committee, board, peer review committee, or as a consultant.


74 Panels in only three papers! I wonder how the editors let him do this under their eyes. And the journals are so high-impact: Nature! Cell! And also the university he was from, Columbia University, is always a decent school in my mind. This just inevitably reminds me of another high-impact journal faker: Haruko Obokata. She published two papers on Nature in one day early 2014, claiming that she has developed a radical and remarkably easy way to make STAP cells that could be grown into tissue for use anywhere in the body — which is really a big deal in biology field. But she then was widely questioned by biological scientists in US and was investigated by her institution. Under supervision, she never succeeded in making the cells again.

I brought this up because these two cases really taught me how much it can cost to misconduct research, especially when you are in a renowned institution, and you published something on a high-impact journal. One step wrong could ruin your life. We should make right choices.

The Moon and Sixpence

So many thoughts keep talking to each other after watching Dan Pink’s TED talk on motivation, reading Alfie Kohn’s “The Case Against Grades” and Liu and Noppe-Brandon’s “Imagination First”, I want to make a simpler but hopefully more interesting post that could help me release some of the tension of thinking, and also perhaps can add some thoughts, too (still being contradictory, can’t stop…).

Well, I am going to tell a story of a Straight A sleepwalker. He was a stockbroker, making good amount of money in London. He had a beautiful and considerate wife, raising two adorable children, a son and a girl. They lived happily together all the time and will live happily ever after…

No. I know you are expecting something different. Here it goes. After a summer vacation with the family, the man wrote a letter to his wife saying that he decided  to abandon them and would never come back. Then he moved to Paris with little money, found a stinky and shabby hotel and started to paint. Well, nobody liked his paintings and he fell prey to hunger and illness every now and then. Yet, he finally, for the first time in life, started to feel real happiness.

You may have caught me. That’s a stolen story from the novel “The Moon and Sixpence” written by W. Somerset Maugham in 1919 and it is believed to be based on the real life story of Gauguin, a great French artist.

While the story is trying to explore the relationship between arts and livelihood and is way more complicated than what I told in the above, I  saw it another way right now:

Sixpence is the grades and the Moon is our intrinsic motivation, our imagination, our urge to direct our own lives and the desire to get better and better at something that ourselves think matters.

Although there is a long way to go to delete the system of grades, and there are still a lot of issues related to this revolution (some of my thoughts are shouting: grading is more efficient; pure subjective comments can lead to corruption; etc.), I am fully supportive of DELETING GRADES or DILUTING GRADES. I believe those issues can be solved eventually.

Finally, to echo my favorite Zen master example in “The Case Against Grades”, where the master says “If you have one eye on how close you are to achieving your goal, that leaves only one eye for your task”, I want to cite Maugham here:

“If you look on the ground in search of a sixpence, you don’t look up, and so miss the moon.”


Open Access Journal in Coastal Engineering

Most of the journals in my field — Coastal Engineering — supports open access. Among them, Coastal Engineering is a journal from Elsevier, which is “a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals”. It is easy to confuse this journal with another one named Coastal Engineering Journal from World Scientific. But they are not the same. The Elsevier one has a higher impact factor.

Coastal Engineering is an international journal for coastal engineers and scientists. It publishes fundamental studies and case studies on almost all the  aspects of coastal, harbour and offshore engineering, combining practical applications with modern technological and scientific approaches, such as mathematical and numerical modelling, laboratory and field observations and experiments.

The journal supports open access by offering authors with several choices:

  1. The authors needs to pay a $2850 open access publication fee (excluding taxes) to make the articles freely available to both subscribers and the wider public with permitted reuse. This is also called hybrid open access or “golden” open access.
  2. Elsevier has a number of green open access options. The authors can self-archive the manuscript and enable public access from their institution’s repository after an embargo period. For Coastal Engineering, this embargo period is 24 months.

A study of random journals from the citation indices AHSCI, SCI and SSCI in 2013 claimed that 88% of the journals were closed access and 12% were open access, and very few offers open access with no additional fee. Therefore, based on the above information, I think Coastal Engineering has positioned itself in a pretty supportive way, although not perfect, in the open access movement.


to Learn, not to be taught

From primary school to middle school, high school and finally to college, getting good grades during tests have been the only goal of my life. I was raised in an environment that grades speak for every child, and I felt lucky that I was so good at this. My talent on taking tests has taken me all the way from a small town to a middle city, and to the biggest city in China: Shanghai.

The more specific the goal is and the stronger the desire is, the easier one can get lost once the goal is achieved. After the most stressful National College Entrance Exam, I got a good score and went to one of the top five universities in China. Suddenly all the pressure was gone and life is much more about tests and grades. I started to skip classes, attending activity associations such as dancing club, debating team, basketball team etc., any thing but paying attention to what was taught in class. But several questions kept haunting my mind:

What do I really like? Why am I studying this major? What is my life about?

Am I being stupid and unrealistic? No. I never had a chance to ask myself these questions. But they are so important for a student to love his or her life, love learning and live happily. And I am not the only one who did not start to think about the question of significance until entering college or later. More than one of my friends realized that their true  interest lies somewhere else in the second or third year of their Ph.D.. Why? Because their life direction has been led by grades, rankings and other people’s opinions, nothing related to their true inner desire.

We’ve been taught for so many years. It’s time to really start to learn.

On the other hand, from the point view of a future teacher, we need to learn to avoid the same thing to happen to the future students. Anti-teaching and mindful learning can be a guideline on this. “Learning is the hallmark of humanity”, and the purpose of teaching is only to invoke the students’ desire to learn. We no longer need to indoctrinate the students with all the knowledge, but some of the basics and the way to learn through connected learning. And basics are not basics either. “Facts, derived from science of not, are not context-free”. “The routine stayed fixed, while the context changed.” We need to insure that the teaching environment can facilitate mindful learning. i.e., encourage the students to think while they learn. Let them enjoy learning.

Mission Statements

The two university mission statements that I found are interesting are the mission statement of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the one of Columbia University.

Caltech is in California, United States. Despite its small size, Caltech is one of world’s best science and technology research universities. What stood out to me is how its mission statement emphasizes on research in the field of science and technology while also mentions education in two places (“…integrated with education”, “while educating…”). This implies two things. One is that no matter how excellent one university is in research, it still needs to consider its role in education. Another thing is that Caltech does emphasize more on research, which  makes sense considering its type.

Columbia University is in New York, United States. It is also a private research university. Other than research and education, Columbia University also emphasizes on two unique things. One is its location in New York, and the other is its diversity. The location of a university can be really important, especially when the location is a big city. Therefore, to link the research and education to the resources of a great metropolis is truly essential and helpful. Besides, considering the globalization of New York and today’s higher education, having a more diverse and international group of students and faculty also add values to Columbia University.

The Caltech mission statement reads:

“The mission of the California Institute of Technology is to expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. We investigate the most challenging, fundamental problems in science and technology in a singularly collegial, interdisciplinary atmosphere, while educating outstanding students to become create members of society.”

The mission statement of Columbia University reads:

“Columbia University is one of the world’s most important centers of research and at the same time a distinctive and distinguished learning environment for undergraduates and graduate students in many scholarly and professional fields. The University recognizes the importance of its location in New York City and seeks to link its research and teaching to the vast resources of a great metropolis. It seeks to attract a diverse and international faculty and students body, to support research and teaching on global issues, and to create academic relationships with many countries and regions. It expects all areas of the university to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level and to convey the products of its efforts to the world.”


Is connected learning the efficient way to go?

The emerging impact of the Internet are changing the way we live, work and entertain continuously. And education is no exception. In the past, our learning environment consists only one teacher, one classroom and one textbook. But now the Internet offers much more. We can learn whenever we want, wherever we are, and whatever we want. Connected learning, as I learn from our reading materials this week, is based on this. The idea is to use the Internet to stay connected and keep sharing information by blogging, tweeting and commenting, which is believed by a lot of people to be smart and informative.

However, is this really the efficient way to go? With so many blogs and so many posts that probably contain a large number of repetitive information, are we able to go through most of them within a limited time and get the best out of it? Wouldn’t this cause information explosion in our minds that gets us to lose the focus through the way? Take myself as an example, I always prefer to learn from real books and conduct equation derivations with a pencil and a piece of paper rather than getting on the Internet and get the answer out of it, if possible, since the former will make me focused and help me remember, while the latter can easily gets me extracted. Am I the only one?

After asking myself about these questions, further thoughts come into my mind. Maybe this specific problem is what I need to solve through connected learning, and what can be solved by connected learning. With years of research going on, I should understand by now how important the ability to search and learn is. If I stay too traditional and don’t improve this capability, I can’t take a qualitative leap in improving my efficiency at work. I need to learn more about connected learning to determine what I can get from it.