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.


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