All entries for February 2010

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.

February 2010

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