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:


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. 


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.


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

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






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


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。












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

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