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April 24, 2010

Letting go and moving forward

I lost a set of analysis I did two months ago. It was about the definitons of games and concepts associated with games—nearly a week’s effort. In stead of searching up and down for it, which I actually did for a moment, I decided to discarded it and redo it again, but at a macro level. Though I have yet to finish redoing it, I am quite happy with the progress.

Sometimes life is like this, we have to learn to let go and redo what we have doen with an open mind and heart. Letting go what’s passed, embracing what’s about to come to us. Facing change is difficult, no doubt. But what could anger or depress do in making me progress in thesis writing? None, at heart.

I keep claiming myself as a pragmatist in research, so this could be seen as a form of manifestation of my claim. In conclusion, what’s passed is past, move forward and progress!


March 18, 2010

Kepentingan pemahaman epistemologi di kalangan penuntut Malaysia

Selepas dua tahun saya membuat pengajian dalam pendidikan di Universiti Warwick, saya dapati masalah utama sebagai seorang penuntut yang berasal dari Malaysia peringkat doktor falsafah (PhD) adalah kekurangan pemahaman tentang teori ilmu pengetahuan, atau epistemologi. Masalah ini masih menyingkung penjalanan pengajian saya kerana ia menyentuh isu reliabiliti dan validiti hasil pengajian saya. Justifikasi qualiti sesuatu pengajian bergantung kepada mutu ilmu pengetahuan yang dijanakannya, dan justifikasi ini perlu berasaskan reliabiliti dan validiti yang konkrit. Penguasaan ilmu dalam epistemologi menjadi sangat penting dalam konteks pengajian ini.

Untuk mengisi kekurangan ini, saya telah membuat refleksi mengenai proses pembelajaran yang saya alami sejak umur tujuh tahun. Saya dapati bahawa pembelajaran saya di Malaysia terhad dalam mengikuti ilmu-ilmu yang telah dibetuk dan diguna pakai. Isu-isu mengenai cara-cara pembentukan ilmu pengetahuan baru yang bermutu tidak dijadikan sebagai satu jenis pengajaran formal di semua peringkat pendidikan. Saya rasa saya bukan seorang murid, pelajar atau penyelidik yang lemah, malas atau lembab. Tetapi penginsafan atas kekurangan pada diri saya hanya muncul selepas saya menjejak langkah ke dalam sistem pendidikan England.

Oleh sebab didorong oleh persoalan-persoalan yang sukar dijawab dalam pengajian PhD, saya mula mengambil kursus Sijil Pengajian Falsafah Terbuka (Open Certificate in Philosophical Studies) pada tahun akademik 2009/2010. Kini, dua semester sudah berlalu, dan saya bersyukur kerana dapat membuka mata yang selama ini hanya dapat pejam dalam isu-isu falsafah. Pendek kata, pembelajaran falsafah amat penting dalam proses memboleh saya untuk memahami kewujudan, penjanaan serta pengemaskinian ilmu pengetahuan.

Saya harap saya dapat membuat cadangan kepada kedua-dua Kementerian Pelajaran and Kementerian Pengajian Tinggi untuk menyerapkan teori mengetahuan atau epistemologi dalam sukatan pembelajaran selurah Malaysia, tanpa ikut jenis sekolah, agama atau kaum. Contoh yang boleh kita rujuk adalah buku teks yang digunakan oleh Program Diploma International Baccalaureate (IBDP). Unsur-unsur teori pengetahuan sangat penting jika negara kita berhasrat menjana ilmu yang bermutu tinggi—salah satu faktor utama untuk menjadi negara yang maju.

Malaysia mempunyai cuasa yang stabil serta alam semula jadi yang begitu menarik. Ini bukan sahaja boleh memupuk perkembangan industri pelancongan, tetapi juga sesuai untuk perkembangan pengajian dan penjanaan ilmu pengetahuan. Namun tanpa sokongan latar belakang yang berunsurkan epistemologi, iaitu pemahaman kritikal atas kaedah-kaedah penjanaan ilmu, masyarakat pada umumnya tidak dapat merasai keunikan and keunggulan bangsa Malaysia dalam potensinya bagi membuat sumbangan dalam akademia yang mutu tinggi.

Bangsa Malaysia mempunyai suasana masyarakat yang berbilang kaum. Keunikan ini telah membolehkan ramai di kalangan kita menguasai kemampuan untuk bertutur dalam pelbagai bahasa. Bahasa jiwa bangsa, maka penguasaan pelbagai bahasa ini telah menyuburkan jiwa bangsa Malaysia. Jiwa yang subur ini jika ditujukan ke arah penjanaan ilmu pengetahuan, ia bukan sahaja dapat memajukan negara dari segi budaya and sosial, tetapi juga membolehkan bangsa Malaysia memiliki pemikiran yang berkualiti.

Dengan terbelajarnya epistemologi, pelajar atau penuntut Malaysia samada di tanah air atau di luar negara dapat memahami potensi sumber ilmu pengetahuan baru dan cara-cara pemikiran yang perlu ada untuk menjelmakan potensi itu kepada realiti.


March 05, 2010

Challenges in interdisciplinary research

I attended a very insightful workshop, organised by Institute of Advanced Studies in Warwick. The two speakers of the workshop were Dr Camille Kandiko, whom I met in a conference last year in Oxford, and Prof Margaret Jacob, a visiting fellow from UCLA. Thanks to Chris and Deborah who ran the workshop, I managed to externalise some of the findings of my doctoral research to people who faced similar challenges about interdisciplinary research but under different contexts.

Camille pointed five career options for being interdisciplinary:

1.    Follow disciplinary career, be interdisciplinary later on.

2.    Stay housed within a traditional discipline, pursue interdisciplinary career through teaching and/or research.

3.    Join an applied or related field

4.    Find an interdisciplinary home (e.g. centres, subject-based departments, etc)

5.    Pursue work in an alternative academic career.

I highlighted the set of skills required to be a world class professional—the skills to work or handle problems immediately to a situation, which proposed by Kenichi Ohmae. This set of skills includes problem solving, money management, and multi-lingual skills. Multi-lingual skill is particularly important in the context of interdisciplinary research, in which the notion of language here means the professional terminologies and disciplinary-oriented communication styles used in specific field of study.

Talking about the dividing the credits of research outcomes, Camille mentioned that in some situations, a single interdisciplinary study could be written by the same author using different “languages” and published in journals of different disciplines. As for the issue regarding authorship, Margaret suggested to follow existing rubrics or conventions which are field-specific—thus leads to the loop of unsolved issue. My suggestion is to be realistic and tolerant.

During the group discussion, David who was looking for strategies for collaboration like me, highlighted the different nature of participants: people who are doing interdisciplinary research at their own or without collaboration, and people who are doing collaboration across different disciplines. Another form is to study interdisciplinary as a subject in itself, which is what Camille doing as her research.

Margaret who led an interdisciplinary project, studying issues related to “pain” in the USA, worked with medical doctors, historians, psychologists and social scientists. She defined the roles and formed her team which conducted the research using a pragmatic approach. Quantitative data were collected and analysed by medical experts and psychologists; while qualitative data were gathered through interviews and narrative texts coding by historians and social scientists. This seems to me that to lead or even just to join an interdisciplinary project, one has to be well verse in and appreciate the epistemological positioning of various disciplines. 

Prior to my participation, I submitted a paragraph of writing about the issue relevant to my research which I would like to be discussed in the workshop, herewith what I wrote:

My research is interdisciplinary in nature, as I am comparing the views among academics and practitioners in creative industry on the use of games in education. This nature prompted me to think about the need to identify, justify and evaluate the potential of interdisciplinary research and collaboration. One issue I found along this thinking process is the challenge of decision making--whether to adopt or adapt disciplines that I am not familiar with, i.e. those fall beyond my comfort zone. So what are the strategies that I could use to make more informed and beneficial decisions in those situations?

In the discussion, I shared my preliminary research findings, which are three strategies for collaboration between academics and non-academics. These strategies will be available in my thesis or my upcoming writings. Email me if you are interested to know more about them.


February 28, 2010

Language learning and GBL practices

I am studying for a German language test which I missed last week due to my commitment in data analysis task plus physical illness.

German is a fun language to learn but learning German is not that fun. I have been searching for effective and efficient methods to learn this language and one way to do it is by reflecting my languages learning experience and process in the past, attempting to transfer my existing language skills in Chinese, Malay and English to the learning of German.

Speaking a language is a complex attainment. Philosophers, semiotic experts and neuro-scientists have produced a lot of literature to understanding how we learn language. Chomsky claimed that we can speak languages only because our brains have an innate capacity to understand the underlying structure of a language. So if I could understand the underlying structure of German language using my innate brain capability, I should be able to learn it well. But what is this capability?

In an article title “The day a language died”, Peter Popham stated that “language is a product of the mind, an arrangement among the different parts of different people’s nerves systems…so when a language dies, we lose the possibility of a unique way of perceiving and describing the world.”

I can speak multiple languages, that implicitly means I can perceive and describe the world different. Yes, I do realise such unique trait, and I think those who can speak more than one language could feel the same. 我仲意讲广东话因为它令我谂起快乐嘅童年—睇香港版七龙珠。Saya lebih suka guna bahasa Melayu untuk meluahkan perasaan saya yang postitif, sebab inilah bahasa yang selalu saya gunakan untuk memotivasikan anak murid saya. When I meet a Malaysian, I would prefer to use Manglish or 华语, but I would switch to 普通话or 國語when I talk to Chinese from either Mainland or Taiwan. I wasn’t aware the change of language myself sometimes because it seems like a switching mechanism is at work most of the time seamlessly (thanks to Cynthia who studies translation and cultural studies for introducing this concept to me).

------------------------------

Transferring the idea of “language as a means of knowing” to my current research, I gained some interesting insights. Both subject matter experts (SMEs) and game experts are accusing each other for not being able to understand each other’s “language”—pedagogy versus game design. This is an important finding of my research, which I see it as something rather common sense—but now I have empirical results to back this proposition. So if we want SMEs and game experts to speak the same language in GBL collaboration, we need to activate their innate capacity to understand the underlying structure of the GBL collaboration language. The question is what is a GBL collaboration language? How does the underlying structure formed? What are the effective or efficient ways to comprehend the structure? Finding these answers is my scope of research.

There is a Malay saying ‘bahasa jiwa bangsa’ which means language is the soul of a race. In the attempt creating of successful GBL practices, perhaps, we should first activate the soul of GBL race.


February 26, 2010

Game theory in game–based learning?

When people knew that I am doing research about game-based learning (GBL), they asked me whether game-based learning has anything to do with game theory. If I see this query from social science perspective, the short answer that I would give is “yes”. But this will prompt other questions like how do they relate to each other.

I define GBL as a form of learner-centred learning that uses electronic games for educational purposes. So it is a study of learning, while learning is a study of education, and education is a study falls under social sciences. In a word, I see GBL as a study of social sciences. My GBL study is about how subject matter experts and game experts can collaborate to design and develop games for use in formal education contexts. In other words, this is a study about collaboration between two groups of human being—another form of social study. Therefore GBL collaboration is seen as a study of social science.

Game theory is a branch of applied maths that was originated in economics, which is a study of social sciences. It attempts to mathematically capture behaviour in strategic situations, in which an individual’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others. If game theory is to be used in the study of GBL collaboration, i.e. treating each group of human being as a player in the game, then the decisions they both made in the collaboration might be predicted mathematically. The fundamental assumption is that their success in making choices depends on the choices of others. Figure 1 is just a normal form game. However, there are many other options and factors that affects the success of a GBL practice. This normal form matrix game is just a demonstration that game theory and GBL can relate to each other.

SME chooses collaboration method A

SME chooses collaboration method B

Game expert chooses collaboration method X

4, 3

-1, -1

Game expert chooses collaboration method Y

0, 0

3, 4

Figure 1: Normal form or payoff matrix of a 2-expert, 2-method game.


February 10, 2010

Choosing a course of study

This morning, a mother of an ex-student of mine sent me an email, asking me for advice in choosing a course of study for her daughter. I think this maybe useful for those who intend to pursue a degree or further study, so I decided to share my view with you. Herewtih a slightly modified version of my reply to the mother:

Whether it is worth pursuing a course or not depends on the personal value she holds and the social value that surrounds her. It is too early to judge or even say Early Childhood Education is good or bad for her at this stage. Firstly, good or bad is very subjective and it really depends on her value systems--her priority in life. As a parent, you could assist her in establishing a set of positive values towards her life and guide her in determining the priority of those values. Secondly, I think it is unfair to evaluate a course based merely on its financial return in the future. To me what important is that after she completed her study, she could become a matured, independent and confident individual, in which she can further pursue her career in the field of study to become a professional. 

My limited life experience informs me that one doesn’t have to study a lot to earn a lot of money; while those who study a lot might not earn a lot in return. I personally don’t value money as much as the wisdom of life, and such wisdom is the use of knowledge and skills in all facets of daily living. I always remember you said to me in 2004 that a man should become established by the age of 30. I am 30 this year and I define “established” as having the foundation of career path firmly set, and this would be the completion of my doctorate degree.

It’s a pity that Malaysian generally judges the success of an education person, especially those who earned a higher degree based on the car they drive and the house they live. Back home in Malaysia, I am still driving my cute little Kancil—although I am driving a cute little A-Class here in the UK; maybe I just like cute little car, so it could be a preference rather than capability. I don’t own any business, property or investment like most of my peers do, but I never feel being poor. I am rich in terms of confidence, dedication, passion, aspiration and energy to pursue my research and my career; I am rich because I have access to far more than enough books, journals and other resources that enable me to continue the pursue of knowledge; I am rich because I have numerous supports from those who love and care about me—my family, my peers, my friends, my colleagues, my students, etc.

Some relatives and colleagues back home cannot understand why I choose to pursue a career in education rather than engineering, multimedia or ICT which they think could earn me a bigger, tastier or perhaps more luxurious bread. A lot of people see joining education or becoming academics as the last resort or career choice. Indeed there is some truth in it: experts in other professions can join education with ease, but not vice versa. I do realise that private sectors generally pay higher salary and more bonus and benefits; I do realise that if I pursue certain so-called promising career, I should be able to get rich financially. But it is a matter of preference. I believe in my value systems and I am being true to myself. Yes, myself, not anybody else.

I hope I am being helpful and not confusing. Good luck to Y.


December 11, 2009

My view of British education (1)

I am having a discussion with a friend who are studying in US. Herewith some of the views I generated in the discussion:

I did my Master in Multimedia (e-Learning Technologies) with FCM, MMU. I was fortunate to learn from Dr Tengku Shahrom, an e-learning pioneer in Malaysia who obtained his PhD in 90s from University of Georgia. Through him, I was exposed to US learning models, instructional systems design models, etc. I also gained exposure to epistemology, behaviourism, cognitive theories, Bloom’s taxonomy and constructivist theories.

However, when I arrived in the UK, I was surprised that most of the British academics around me—including some European leading professors who are not aware of US learning models. In my views, they just don’t bother to know about those models. Some even see those models as “factory-like” or instant production lines that generate graduates. What I realise is that the fundamental British education aim to nurture “ladies and gentlemen”, instead of people who can get a job after graduation. Of course, a lot of universities here are adopting “factory-like” production of graduation. But these universities are basically newly formed institutions which were upgraded from technical colleges.

Another thing that I think unique in England (Scotland and Northern Ireland have different systems) is that teachers are people who possess at least a Bachelor degree plus a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). Without PGCE, one cannot teach in school. This is different to where I work in Malaysia—Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, where I am training school teachers at Bachelor degree levels. In other words, those who intend to a teacher must already be a practitioner or qualified to be a practitioner in the field of study, e.g. psychologist, mathematician, statistician, engineer, biologist. And normally, after a person graduated from a degree programme, he or she will be expected (not respected) to be a professional. When everybody is a professional, then there is nothing to wow about to be a psychologist or engineer. If one professional would like to become a teacher, then PGCE is the key to the world of teaching. Also, unlike Malaysia, secondary Maths teachers can only be secondary Maths teachers. Maths teachers are not allowed to teach other subjects, including primary Maths, even though they themselves or other may think or they can.


In PGCE programme, trainee teachers learn learning theories and practices which are tailored to their specific subject area. Therefore, a Geography teacher is not learning how Maths could be taught in schools, and vice versa. The advantage of this is that teachers, researchers and policy makers could play only their roles and execute their responsibilities well without bother other fields of study. Ideally, academics conduct research related to educational issues and disseminate findings in conferences, seminars, lectures, books and journals; policy-makers that fund the research make educational policies based on the findings; school teachers instruct according to strategies, syllabus or programmes structured under those policies, and the loop goes on and on. Ideally, if everything works as it should be, the quality of education will be forever improving. Of course this is oversimplified scenario, but in a nutshell, this is how it works.

Because of the above mentioned conditions, it is dangerous to jump to the conclusion and say “US is currently adapting and learning from European/ UK education models”. The following issues need to be explored in advance:
- Which model in which subject matter are you referring to?
- Which era are you referring to?
- Which level of education are you referring to?
- Which part of Europe are you talking about?
- Whose model are you referring to?
- Why do they refer to?
- How do the adaptation and learning happen?


December 09, 2009

The Nature of Dissapointment (tentative English version)

Follow-up to 失望的本质 (The Nature of Disappointment) from Wee Hoe's blog

disappointment_Eng

This is a tentative English version


December 05, 2009

失望的本质 (The Nature of Disappointment)

人会失望,每每是因为有期望。有人认为有期望是因为在乎,但是为何在乎?

我认为,期望的前提是个人的价值观。有自己的一套价值观,是因为自己对身边的事物定下价值。

这价值可以是具体的如金钱、时间、人力,也可以是无形的如心思、心血、青春等等。

人们透过累积的知识和经验,建立了属于自己的一套价值观。有人的价值观是明确的、稳定的;有的则模糊或随时都在改变。

价值观明确且稳定的人对于周遭的事物该如何评价、为何评价--什么比什么重要、什么该做和不该做、什么可做和不可做,心里有个谱。这一切如果表现在行为上就成了稳重、有独立思想和主见。这样子的个人价值观如果和该人所处的社会的价值观协调,这个人就入流、识时务,甚至可以主导所处的社会的发展。相反的,就会被所处的社会标签为异类、不入流,甚至可能被孤立、边缘化、批斗或打压。不过有时这种人反而因不按牌理出牌而逆流而上,表现异常地出色。所谓的牌理,就是所处社会的价值观所定下的明文与不明文条规。至于明文是否等同于明智,这是另一个层次的价值观课题了。

价值观模糊或不稳定的人在应对周遭的事物时经常会举棋不定甚至在做了决定后后悔、反悔、抵赖。这一切如果表现在行为上就成了幼稚、不成熟、没主见或吊儿郎当。如此的个人价值观如果和该人所处的社会的价值观“协调”,这个人可能误导他人,甚至把所处的社会的引向纷乱、争执不断的情况当中。不过,如果这人与所处的社会的价值观不协调,就可能因其不稳定的表现与行为而经常让人无所适从,并导致被排挤、放弃。

了解了个人价值观这个前提,将有助于剖析人们做抉择时的依据。期望的产生是抉择的结果,而之所以在乎是因为主观或客观地对期望投入了价值。当有了一定程度的投入,期望的等级就会提升进而把事物的结果看成的是成果的实现与否。如果达到了成果,就会感觉有成就,不然就会失望。另一方面,即使选择不投入价值,人们还是会有所期待的,但是其期待的是结果而非成果。如果结果符合所期待的,那就是侥幸;不符合所期待的,也会有失望,只不过这种失望和之前所提到的失望是有等级上的不同的。

我依个人浅薄的知识、经历与生活经验,整合了如图一所示的流程,并希望籍此抛砖引玉,欢迎各位提出有建设性的意见。或许,诸位可用这流程图来尝试评估自己的意见是否有建设性。

[English version will be available soon]

chinese_ver


November 06, 2009

Curiosity: The most important quality of a good researcher

‘I wish I had a chance to learn from me when I was like you.’ This is what I said inside my heart after today’s session.

I arrived at the venue about 12:30 p.m. A session was just ended and it was time to have lunch. I sensed the weird ambience in the hall, I knew something has gone wrong. Over the lunch, T came and talked to me, depicting the situation. He proposed his ideas as a form of remedy but I felt the worry and pressure he had.

Lunch time’s over, we gathered inside the hall again. We changed agenda, incorporating more hands-on, as requested by the teachers. I shared my ideas with three mentors on how we could help the kids to work out their ideas. I wasn’t sure how much the mentors could capture in a minute or two, but I highlighted the three levels of WHY approach (thanks to Prof Peter Woods for teaching me that in MMU, Malaysia).

I particularly enjoyed sharing my research experience with the group which intended to do research in virtual learning environment (VLE). It’s really amazing to discover how mature they were when they attempted to tackle my three levels of WHY attack. I tried to play the role as a critical evaluator but at the same time trying not to demolish their aspiration in carrying out their research. So balancing both roles as a evaluator and a motivator was rather challenging to me. But when I saw ‘sparkling in the eyes’ of those kids, I knew I succeeded.

When I had my session, I managed to see the 'flame of research' among the participants—both the teachers and the students. Although it was only a 9-minute session, I tried my best to share as much as I could with them. Knowledge is really meant to be shared! Mission accomplished.

A friend suggested ‘Sophie’s World’ to me two days ago. I started to read it and got myself addicted. One thing I learn at the beginning of this book is about the most important quality of a good philosopher: curiosity. I personally think this is also the most important quality for a good researcher. Innate curiosity is the ultimate motivator for a researcher to drive at full force into research conduct. It is better than financial support, material incentives, fame, power, etc. The problem is how to gain this innate curiosity. Since it is innate, it is with us all the time, so regaining would be a more suitable approach. Young researchers have relatively ‘strong’ curiosity. It is a good attribute to possess as a teenager, as compared to adult man like me, whom constantly need to polish my sense of curiosity and magnify it seriously. That’s why I think the young researchers I met today are really lucky to have learned or at least gained early exposure in the world of research.

I wish my 9-minute students all the best in their research journey, perhaps life-long research journey.


November 04, 2009

A session on Ancient Greek Philosophy

Quite a lot of friends wonder what I learn in the philosophical studies course. Below is the Week 5 session of my study in the course, just to share with you all.

I always try to reach the classroom say half an hour before the session begins. This allows me to stay away temporarily from my physical research work, though the mental research is working all the time. This 30-minute pre-session period also gives me a space to concentrate on reading what I should have read before each session.

Today, before the lesson started, I read Plato's The Republic. His writing inspired me to adapt the conditions of doing a PhD to the conditions of being a philosopher ruler:

"They (PhD candidates) must be tested both in pleasure and pain, to ensure that their determination [original word: loyalty] remained unshaken by pain or fear or any other vicissitude (变迁; 兴败; 盛衰); those who failed the test were to be rejected, but those who emerged unscathed, like gold tried in the fire, were to be established as Doctors of Philosophy (Ph. D, meaning teacher of philosophy)[original word: rulers] and given honours and rewards both in life and after death."

Besides, I captured the following sentence because I think this could be an alert bell that I should bear in mind when reporting the findings of my studies:

"...we were afraid of stirring up the problems we are now facing, and our argument evaded the issue and tried to get by without being seen."

The 5-minute time before the session starts is always a good time to socialise with course mates. This is really a valuable experience to me as a foreigner, even if I do nothing but being in the ambience of socialising. Like one of the course mate said today, 'British do not realise how lucky they are!' The opportunity of taking a 'normal' open study programme in itself is something that British should appreciate, I think. Attending evening classes no doubt is quite tiring to most of the people, especially those who have just finished work in places outside Coventry area. However to have a philosophical studies programme like this running in Malaysia and attended by people from various walks of life would be a miracle for at least 10 to 20 years.

The session normally starts about 7:05pm, when most if not all of the students arrived, rain or shine. Mr Michael Vaughan, the tutor of the course usually starts the class by distributing reading materials for upcoming session. This evening, he began the session with Democritus and his atomic theory. Next he talked about Plato and The Republic, which was the highlight of today's session. I enjoyed being in the conditions where my course mates project their views on ancient Greek Philosophers' propositions or writings while listening to Michael's talk. I personally find their views more interesting and sometimes I voiced out my views as well. However, my multi-tasking nature always directs me to relate what I heard or learned with my research topic--manifestation of deep learner, perhaps. In today's session, I kind of semi-detached myself from others mentally, and immersed into the following thinking:

philo

Also, I used the analogy of Plato in The Republic to generate assumptions for my research:

Plato's proposition: Not everybody needs to be a philosopher, but a ruler should also be a philosopher, hence philosopher ruler.

My proposition: Not every teacher needs to be a game player, but a game-based learning teacher should also be  game player, hence game-player teacher.

One of the interesting point of today's discussion that I captured is potentiality vs actuality. Michael used an analogy of pigeon's egg to elaborate the difference between these two concepts. I found it interesting because my supervisors and I were discussing about the nature of potential in game (which led to an important finding of my study, (see 'Simulation vs Simulation Game'). Now I think I should include the concept of 'actuality' into my meta-discussion chapter of PhD thesis.  

After a short break at 8:00pm, we started small-group discussion, and I shared what I thought about idea-thing-image continuum, and the Chinese interpretation of The Republic (理想国) with two course mates. The discussion stopped when Michael asked us what we intend to do for the assessment. I said I would like to make a presentation on the impact of the study of ancient Greek philosophers towards my doctoral research design.

The discussion with course mates continued even after the class ended. And this makes the discussion always be the best part of a session.


October 31, 2009

Simulation vs Simulation game

This morning when I played Sword Play (Kendo) on Nintendo Wii, I told my housemate Steve that I am doing exercise. Steve who is a multi-martial artist said, ‘Nah, let’s go to the gym or join Jeet-kune do training later.’

Instead of responding to him, I started to demonstrate that I fought the opponent seriously, as if I was fighting a real person. I did that by holding the Wii Remote Control like holding a shinai (bamboo sword), I entred the state of zanshin (the state of total awareness) by focusing on the action and reaction of my virtual opponent, hence a simulated Kendo competition. I won this first round. In the second round, I hold the controller using one hand, sit on the couch, fighting by merely twisting my wrist in a relaxing posture. I lose the second round. After that, I started to explain to Steve the different between simulation and simulation games, a finding of my second pilot study of PhD research.

‘I can join you to learn Jeet-kune do but do not take it seriously and learn nothing from it; however, if I practice Kendo seriously using Wii, I can actually learn something. So, to learn martial art effectively, it depends on the degree of seriousness I hold when I practice,’ I explained. ‘Even when you practice martial art in probably training place, putting on proper attire, armors or guards, if you do not take the training seriously, you could be playing a simulation game, just like what I did in second round. But if you see the training as a simulation of a real combat scenario, in which you need to fight to survive or to win, then you are practicing martial art, regardless of the nature of your opponent--a real human being or a virtual character. In other words, you could learn nothing in Jeet-june do training session if you are not serious in the training; while I can learn the same martial art in virtual training environment if I take the virtual training seriously. Therefore, it is the mindset of a player or learner that matters, when comes to practicing martial art effectively,’ I elaborated.

In conclusion, it is the mindset of learners that determines whether a game is a simulation or a simulation game. Hence, arguing whether we should delineate between serious games and leisure game is rather meaningless. The focus of game-based learning should be nurturing game learners to be able to take or see games seriously—the key is the learner and not the media. 

Kendo

Virtual Kendo playing in action.


October 16, 2009

Less than 24–hour Vienna trip

15 Oct (Morning)

I am on my way to Vienna from Graz. As I plan to depart from Vienna to Graz Airport tomorrow, I said bye to Graz, the City of Design. I bought an one-way train ticket at 33.70 Euro. Taking a train instead of coach/bus was highly recommended by the host of the Workshop of 80 Days Consortium. He said the railway journey is a UNESCO World Heritage: the first railway on the mountain. This railway reminds me of the tour in Switzerland last year in April. I can still vividly remember the fascinating sceneries of Switzerland, and what I am seeing now is very much alike: mountains with snow, authentic countryside with fairly-tale like houses. Even the train ticket is very similar—with German that I cannot understand.

Going to Vienna is like a dream. Like the experience to Geneva last year, I never imagined that I would have the chance to visit Vienna before I landed on the UK in March 2008. In my old house in Malaysia, I kept a series of calendar-posters which depict European sceneries when I was a teenager. I always dreamt of visiting these places since then. And now I am realizing my dreams, one after another.

Due to the nature of this journey, which is meant for attending a conference and a workshop, I travel alone. Language was a barrier but English plus body language keep me at ease. The best thing about being alone is the maximum flexibility. I have to admit that I am tagged as a well-planned person, but not when I am having holidays. Like now, I don’t know where am I going and what will I do when I reach Vienna later. The good thing about flexible is that when I hungry I eat; when I feel like taking photo, I take photos; when I discover a museum that I feel like visiting, I visit, etc. To be frank, it is not easy to be flexible—I need at least a healthy body + sufficient financial capability to be flexible. And I am really grateful that I have both at this moment.

I am not a food-fancier but in Graz, I was fortunate to taste all kinds of authentic Styrian food: typical food of Austrian students in the FH JOANNEUM University of Applied Science; Mid-range/ splurge food at Hotel Daniel, Hotel Das Weitzer and SchloBBerg-Restaurant (at the Clock Tower). To balance the feeling of being a humble student, I had Doner Kebap when there is no arranged meal.

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16 Oct (Early morning)

I am on my way back to the UK. The train passed through Alps again, and I am trying to record my memory in Vienna.

Vienna is a beautiful city, no doubt though the weather didn’t seem to be very friendly.

There were combinations of snow, rain plus strong wind throughout my stay. Here I have problems to communicate, most of the people I asked for direction didn’t know English. What’s worse, I thought I understood German! Because of this, I was looking for the Wombat Hostel under rain with my luggage for one hour, and the actual walking distance should be 15 minutes.

As I knew I have only one day, the least I can do is to visit a museum and watch a concert or performance, therefore I made my visit relaxing. After analysing the transportation network in Vienna—interconnected tram, train and underground networks, I started my adventure by going to the Parliament Building. I met an Australian who lost her camera after she visited some of the famous tourism spots. She bought a new camera to re-take photos in Vienna. We felt good to meet people who can understand English, and helped each other to take photos in turns.

The rain got heavier, I ran to the National Library of Austria which was part of the Imperial Palace. I visited the museum inside the palace which holds three types of exhibits: musical instruments, weapons, and the ruins of Ephesos. Next, I visited the Natural History Museum. I was impressed by the magnificent collections of minerals in this museum. Also, I saw the Venus of Willendoft, the earliest known human sculpture.

In the evening, I watched a concert-like performance at 1, Beethovenplatz. The performance featured the works of Mozart, Beethoven and Johann Strauss. It was designed for tourists, thus it combined talk-show, concerto, opera, ballet and symphony orchestra. The acoustic was great and if I am not mistaken, this concert hall was used for performances dedicated to the imperial family.

So I did manage to accomplish what I wanted to do without proper planning and gained a happy and interesting experience.


August 23, 2009

Coco before Chanel

Writing about web page http://www.warwickartscentre.co.uk/events/film/coco-before-chanel

I watched the film ‘Coco before Chanel’. I am inspired by Coco’s bravery in penetrating the existing fashion world with her own style. But then she based her design on her understanding of philosophy. She used fashion as an arena to project her philosophical thinking—simplicity. Herewith her saying: “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”. Her principle of design is: simple, comfortable and revealing.

Like clothing, learning should be simple, comfortable and revealing. It should be simple because learning process is a means to acquire knowledge and skills pragmatically, therefore the focus should be applicability of the learning outcome, not the learning process itself—leave it to learning theorists to think about and deal with the process.

Learning should be comfortable before the effectiveness and efficiency could be at its optimum level. Proves are needed to justify this claim though.

Learning should also be revealing. Learning should not be seen as an end itself; instead the completion of one learning should mark the beginning of another if not several, hence the idea of revealing more potential of learning area and opportunities.


August 14, 2009

Mid–doctorate doldrums? Or permanent head damage?

September 2009 will be the 18th month of my doctoral research study—where I am going to enter the so-called mid-doctorate doldrums.

For the past few days, as I need to define and redefine all the key concepts and issues associated with my research question, I relearn epistemology, which is aka theory of knowledge (TOK). To avoid being bombarded by tones of philosophical jargons, I chose the text book written for IB Diploma students as the key reading text. The author, Lagemaat used the following analogy to explain how we could examine whether our beliefs are reasonable or not:

“…our position is like that of a sailor who has to rebuild his ship while still at sea. If he dismantles the ship completely and tries to rebuild it from scratch, he will drown. His only option is to rebuild it piece by piece.”

In the analogy, Lagemaat used ship to represent the existing beliefs we hold and rebuilding is equivalent to reconstructing our beliefs. To me this analogy is also suitable for social scientists who has to refine their research design or even redesign the whole research while being in the mid-doctorate journey. If they discount the work done completely and try to restart it from scratch, they will fail to finish on time. Their only option is to refine it phase by phase.

To date, I have recorded 10 major and minor changes made upon my research design. Coping with the changes is really challenging if not exhausting, and such changes must be done to justify the research progress and the work done. Many days and nights of effort were put into this task, but the most crucial element is the occurrence of the “blink” moment (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The power of thinking without thinking). It doesn’t matter how much time I spent on thinking or writing, it is the quality of output that matters. When the “blink” moment occurs, I need to capture the golden chance and have my ideas recorded—through voice recorder, mobile phone, sms, parking tickets, tissue papers, etc. I have quite a lot of text messages which I sent to myself; I recorded a lot of my voice using think aloud methods; I have a lot of Post-it notes on my desk; I carry my voice recorder along most of the time; I will stop doing whatever I am doing to capture those moments. Even when I am driving, I will stop the car and jot down some notes. I know and people around me know that I am passionate about doing research. Is this the symptom of mid-doctorate doldrums? Or is it the sign of permanent head damage (PhD)? I am not sure, and please don’t tell me the answer unless you heard that I have completed my PhD. Thank you in advance.

Indeed, doing PhD is tiring especially when it becomes the core mission of life. A lot people advice me not to get myself burnt-out, of course I won’t. Else I won’t have time writing this blog, and I do realise the danger of being burnt-out. My current strategy is to finish it asap—before the process burns me out. Thanks to my undergrad lecturers and ex-bosses in Malaysia, they have me well-trained. To them, this is really nothing.

Anyway, I do reward myself once awhile. I include activities like travelling with friends, travelling alone, watching movies, listening to music, etc into my daily living. My next reward is to visit my family and friends in Malaysia in September. After that, I will start to learn French and Ancient Philosophy in autumn term.


July 28, 2009

写论文杂记

近来的日子都在写论文—文献评论和研究方法论。由于选择了个人化的叙述写法,个人的情绪随着对研究的热忱,对学问的敬畏和对难题的懊恼而起伏不定。最近两次和在做翻译学研究的同修谈论写论文的心得,不自觉地受了她所属的艺术与人文系的影响。身为社会科学系的研究员,我经常处于自然科学和艺术与人文两极之间的灰色地带。尤其是我较倾向于定性法研究,这在本质上与艺术与人文的研究方法相似。

实际上,我的身份是挺尴尬的,而这尴尬的身份常常令我难以作文。我的学术背景混杂,求学的大学和执教的大学加起来有五家有余,且它们的本质和作业形式都很不一样。我本科念了创意多媒体,主修电影与动画,这乃是媒体、艺术和资讯与通讯科技混合学位。念多媒体硕士,专攻电子教学时,接触到浩瀚的教育学,并把所学到的知识与技术应用到在我执教的吉隆坡大学里—号称马来西亚第一所的技术大学。后来有机会教南澳大学在马来西亚泰莱学院的双联课程,我接触了较人性化的大众传媒学。辗转去了苏丹伊德里斯教育大学的艺术与音乐系,见识到艺术家与艺术教育家颇另类的教学与研究方法。到了华威教育学院念博,除了面对文化冲击,还得接受深度的自我思想探索考验。过去一直用在生活和职场上的各种即战武器(包括暗器,写作用的)突然变得无用武之地了。原来被迫求生求存而求胜、求功名、求利益的日子,竟然不复存在了。这对在来到英国前,脚底下踩着成千上万个竞争者的我来说是不可思议的。在学风优良、研究风气鼎盛的氛围里,我尝到了获取智慧的甜果,自由地在研究的宇宙翱翔。我不再须要以如‘燕雀安知鸿鹄之志哉’的话语来自怜(自恋?)自叹。

今年六月中,我自觉地认为是真正开始写博士论文了。导师建议由研究方法论开始,然后引用我从去年9月到现今所写过、发表过的文章,并反思和自反我研究路上的反思与结论。听起来感觉很不错,写起来可痛苦难当,进度比蜗牛还慢!另一方面,我发出去的问卷音讯全无,希望是因为暑假的原因吧!但愿入秋后可以得到积极的回应。

很期待我写好的论文。在各路英雄/英雌的拔刀相助下,我有信心在限期内让她降世。加油!!


Model for identifying research area

Identifying research area

I am reflecting on my research journey. This is one of the outcomes of the reflection--to share with anyone who is searching for his / her research area, topic, question or aim.


June 10, 2009

I love teaching

I led a session on Warwick Young Researchers Day today. It was the last session of the day and I could see most students having the “it’s about time to pack and go” faces, what’s worse, there was a break for drink and snack before that. I had to persuade them to return to their seats so that I could start my session.

‘Panic’ was the word I would use to describe myself at the moment: I was not well-informed about the overall structure of the programme—I only noticed that I ought to include a 15-minute activity / interaction at the end of my lecture. Anyhow, while the students were having their break, I added a slide, titled “Activity: How to write your Abstract” and recycled the slide I had about writing abstract. To avoid being noticed as recycled slide, I wrote ‘Magical number 7 (plus minus 2)’ in the slide to make it look fresh.

I used my mobile phone as a stop watch—in fact, as something to catch the attention of the audience. I managed to convince the audience that my presentation won’t be long and I need to catch up with time. They silently agreed and this allowed me to start the session.

The presentation began with self-introduction. It was successful after making fun of my overly formal attire and what I normally dressed when I was a 3D animator. Then I used Prof Wray’s “don’t get it right, get it written” to justify the importance of report writing. When I saw audiences nodding their heads and being engaged, I knew they entred “the zone”. At the end of the presentation, I managed to avoid having them doing the activity, which I have yet to figure out how I could run—the materials needed (flip charts and marker pens) were not actually available. Phew~ mission accomplished!

Today’s experience brought me back to memory of being a lecturer. After delivering my last lectures at both Universiti Kuala Lumpur and Taylor’s University College in November 2007, I stopped delivering lecture. I don’t know whether I am good in teaching or not, perhaps, I should say I don’t care much about my teaching, I care very much about my students’ learning, hence learner-centred. The joy of seeing learners transformed from being unknown to known and feeling satisfied after the events of instruction is the core driving force for me to be a teacher, instructor or lecturer.

I love teaching, I never doubt about this. Not because I could earn a lot of money out of my job (which I never do); not because I could claim to have disciples (some of my ex-students do claim to be mine); not because I could demonstrate how intelligent I am as compared to others. I love teaching because I believe that knowledge is meant to be shared. It is the joy of seeing people who experience the change before and after gaining knowledge that makes me loving teaching. Maybe I am trying to rationalizing my decision to be a teacher trainer, but I sincerely hope my future students, who are going to be teachers in primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions in Malaysia will love teaching and knowledge sharing as well. I am quite positive about this because taking the courage and risk of being a poor dad (see ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter) to be a trainee teacher itself shows one’s dedication towards teaching profession.


February 12, 2009

Botching it by rushing 欲速则不达

欲速则不达

昨晚请两位劳苦功高的导师到Leamington Spa的宝石粤式餐馆吃饭,庆祝我成功地晋级为博士研究生。回家后,读了以下这篇故事,(取自<<星洲互动>>于2009年2月11日刊登的沟通平台)自我警惕机制骤然启动。

一个年轻人到少林寺向师父拜师学艺,他问师父要练多久才能出师,师父说:“大概5年吧!”

“啊,这么久?”年轻人急切地问:“假如我比其他弟子花更多倍的努力,是不是可以提早学成武功?”

“这样的话,你大概需要10年!”师父说。

“甚么?10年?那如果我再加倍、加倍地努力学习呢?”

“20年吧!”师父淡淡地回答。

年轻人愈听愈糊涂:“师父啊,为甚么我越努力练习,学成武功的时间就越长呢?”

“因为,当你的一只眼睛一直‘盯著结果看´时,你就只剩下一只眼睛可以‘专注练习´了!”师父说。

学习,固然需要两只眼睛都“心无旁騖”地“专注”於自己的课业,即使是从事任何行业,不论置身任何岗位,要想出类拔萃、出人头地,少一份专注也是不行的。专注力不足,工作就会经常出错、发生状况,因此,许多谈论成功的励志书籍都告诉我们,在这分工精细的社会,专注,才是胜出的秘诀。

专注,就是集中精力、全神贯注、专心致志。

专注,就是“专精”於自己的领域,把每一件事做到最好,展现专业。

[为了让更多同修分享,本文接下来用英语]

There is a reason why a PhD is commonly set to be completed in three years time. The moral of this story is one could be botching something by rushing. It is still crucial to have an aim, but once it is set, both eyes should be focusing on the work to be done to reach the aim, instead of staring at the aim while rushing on things to be done to reach the aim. My take on is, sufficient time should be spent on planning and target setting. Once it is done, I should concentrate on the tasks to be done and only review the aim after I reach a particular milestone.


February 10, 2009

How can I be a professional researcher?

I want to be a fully fessional researcher at the end of my PhD study, and herewith my progress to date:

  1. I must have something to say that my peers want to listen to (Yes, I have)
  2. I must have a command of what is happening in my subject so that I can evaluate the worth of what others are doing.(Sort of)
  3. I must have to astuteness to discover where I can make a useful contribution. (Yes, I have)
  4. I must be aware of the ethics of my profession and work within them. (Yes, I am aware of them)
  5. I must have mastery of appropriate techniques that are currently being used and also be aware of their limitations. (I am still learning)
  6. I must be able to communicate my results effectively in the professional arena. (Further practice needed)
  7. All this must be carried out in an international context: being aware of what is being discovered, argued about, written and published by my academic across the world. (Doing my research in the UK and reviewing literature worldwide would allow me to reach this)
  8. I must be able to evaluate and re-evaluate my own work and that of others in the light of current developments. (I am doing this via reflective and reflexive thinking)

Reference: Pugh and Philips (2005) How to get a PhD