February 10, 2009

The nature of PhD (Note jotted from How to get a PhD)

Some people asked me what does a PhD mean to me. What makes PhD holders different from non-PhD holders? I read Pugh and Philips (2005) How to get a PhD and found answer for it:

Table 1: Differences among bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctor’s degree

Bachelor’s degree

Master’s degree

Doctor’s degree

The recipient had obtained a general education.

Specialisation started in 19th century.

A licence to practice (historically in theology).

Possessed advanced knowledge in a specialist field.

A licence to teach, in a university as a member of a faculty.

A faculty member needs to be an authority, in full command of the subject right up to the boundaries of current knowledge, and able to extend them.

The recipient is worthy of being listened to as an equal by the appropriate university faculty.

Table 2: Differences among doctor’s degrees

Higher doctorates

Doctor of Philosophy degree

Doctor in medicine

Awarded as recognition of a substantial contribution to the discipline by published work.

E.g. DD (Divinity), MD (Medicine), LLD (Law), DMus (Music), DSc (Science), DLitt (Letters, i.e. Arts).

An early 20th century concept imported from the US to British universities.

DPhil or PhD.

Represents a more restricted achievement than the higher doctorates as it envisages a limited amount of academic work (3 years or so).

The recipient is in command of the field of study and can make a worthwhile contribution to it.

Honorary title given to general medical practitioners although they do not have a doctorate from their universities.

On the basis of their university course they are credited with 2 bachelor’s degrees, although having a licence to practise they exemplify the concept of a master’s degree.

February 08, 2009

Malaysia Night 2009 "Home" – My home is where my heart be

I attended the annual grand show organised by Warwick Malaysia Students Association (MSA), themed Malaysia Night 2009: "Home" last night at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry City Centre. I was an heart-warming experience. As a Malaysian myself, I am proud of what my juniors did in promoting Malaysia as a multi-cultural and friendly country.

I knew being a Warwick student, especially undergraduate student is extremely exhausting in study. However the performers managed to squeezed a great amount of time in practicing and rehearsing several dances, the play, and the modernised 'dikir barat', BROVO!!

I like the play 'Home' very much. It was a wonderful production. Although I watched it alone but I wasn't lonely. I heard graceful Malay, Malaysianised Mandarin/Cantonese and Manglish (Malaysia English) conversations; I saw Milo T-shirt which most Malaysian kids wear when they participate in sports. The 'DVD buy 5 get 1 free' of Petaling Street, and scenes of Jalan Masjid India called upon my memory of working life in Kuala Lumpur from 2004 to 2007. The script that stroke me most is 'my home is where my heart be'. Being an international student, having home sick is common, especially during Chinese New Year (tomorrow is Chap Goh Meh, the last day of Chinese New Year celebration). Watching a play like 'Home' amplified such feeling.

To be frank, I am not sure where will I work after fulfilling the requirements in my conditional sponsorship with UPSI. I sincerely hope that Malaysia could be the place I pursue my career: Associate Professorship and then Professorship in Multimedia or e-Learning. The problem is I know what is the actual situation. Anyhow, one thing for sure, I will always be proud to be a Malaysian, wherever I be. 

All the best to all Warwick Malaysian students! 

Lessons learnt in mock interview

I attended ARM session: The Ethnographic imagination – the art and craft of ethnography on 07 Feb 09. This session was conducted by Prof Pia Christensen. It was a fruitful session, especially the half-an-hour mock interview role-playing activity. In a group of three, the role of interviewer, interviewee and observer were played by each student. The research was meant to explore the interviewee’s perception on the meaning of learning and education in his / her life. 4W1H (‘why’ was excluded due to the ethnographic nature of the research) approach was recommended to generate questions.

I was teamed with Sati and Theo. Sati led both Theo and I to an unoccupied lecture room. After we settled down, we discussed and agreed on the role we play: Sati was the interviewer, Theo was the interviewee and I played the observer role. Next, we spent roughly 5 minutes to prepare for the task. Sati listed the questions to be asked, while I drew an observation table based on the guideline given by Pia (see Table 1).

Table 1: What to observe during participant observation



Researchers should note


Clothing, age, gender, physical appearance

Anything that might indicate membership in groups or in sub-populations of interest to the study, such as profession, social status, socioeconomic class, religion, or ethnicity

Verbal behavior and interaction

Who speaks to whom and for how long; who initiates interaction; languages or dialects spoken; tone of voice

Gender, age, ethnicity and profession of speakers; dynamics of interaction

Physical behavior and gestures

What people do, who does what, who interacts with whom, who is not interacting

How people use their bodies and voices to communicate different emotions; what individuals’ behaviours indicate about their feelings toward one another, their social rank, or their profession

Personal space

How close people stand to one another

What individuals’ preferences concerning personal space suggest about their relationships

Human traffic

People who enter, leave and spend time at the observation site

Where people enter and exit; how long they stay; who they are (ethnicity, age, gender); whether they are alone or accompanied; number of people

People who stand out

Identification of people who receive a lot of attention from others

The characteristic of these individuals; what differentiates them from others; whether people consult them or they approach other people; whether they seem to be strangers or well known by others present

The mock interview started by Sati introduced herself and explained the nature of interview which she perceived. She also guaranteed the confidentiality of the data captured in the interview to Theo. The interview last for 20 minutes and a discussion were held among three of us regarding the lessons learnt in the role-playing. The lesson we learned in the mock interview were shared with other groups. Herewith some useful points to me in the activity:

-         Smile connects people

-         Never expect interviewees to remember things that you have said once, e.g. who you are and where do you come from, etc.

-         A good interviewee would help interviewer in focusing the research topic, provided that the interviewee was given information regarding the key research question and the context of the research in advance. Treat this as serendipity.

-         Interviewer should be flexible in adjusting prepared questions based on interviewee’s background and the real-time interaction with interviewee.

-         Provide options to interviewee or let interviewee determines where to conduct interview. If the interview location is not suitable and only being discovered after the interview has started, do consider to change venue on the spot (let’s get a better place) or arrange another meeting.

-         Interviewer should mention that ‘it is not about right or wrong answers’ at the beginning of interview.

-         Interviewer should ensure that none of the questions is out of the research context.

-         An experienced interviewer would know when to stop.

January 09, 2009

Wee Hoe is back on track, once again.

Today, I attended the first Karate training session in Sport Centre. Putting on Karate Gi and wearing my black belt gave me the confidence and the sense of being disciplined. Although I am ni-dan, but I have yet to be qualified as a Karate-ka--my ultimate goal in practising Karate-do. Karate-do would be my life-long practice, wherever I am in this world. I am glad now because I achieved one of my New Year resolutions.

My life was relatively unsorted after I moved out from Claycroft. I was hardworking, or I should say my life from March 08 to August 08 was only about research. Almost everything I did, I related them with my research unconsciousnessly. There is a Cantonese saying that could vividly describe such mental state: 'run fire entre demon' (走火入魔). When I met my old friends in Malaysia in September 08, most of them noticed the change I had. However, when I moved into Cannon Park, I was not able to cope with the environmental plus emotional changes. I was lagging from Oct to Dec 08. As I told my supervisors, I feel unease and nonproductive when the sun rises in the late morning and sets about 3:30 pm everyday. On top of that, I was under hypertension and high cholesterol medication. The pills slowed me down, in every aspects of life. Anyway, by relying on the work done before Winter, I managed to survive.

On Wednesday next week, I'll have my Upgrade Examination. I am grateful to have tremendous supports from my supervisors. Besides, after posting "Wee Hoe is preparing for upgrade from MPhil to PhD" in my Facebook, I received a lot of supports from old friends in Malaysia. I am really pleased that to have their support; even my retired primary school headmaster is blessing me now. Under such conditions, the research-oriented Tan Wee Hoe is in need now.

I have spent too much time worrying about my health problems. Now, I listen to GP's advice,' You are too young to start taking those pills. Stop being obsessed about your hypertension problem, measure your blood pressure once or twice a week, you have a lot of other better things to do now.'

I had my haircut myself, like what I did in Claycroft. Now I feel lighter and energetic. I am working on sorting things out and attempting to get those problems I ignored for quite some time solved. When Sun Tzu's The Art of War blinks in my mind, I know Wee hoe is back on track, once again.

December 21, 2008

The Person I Admire in Educational Research: Lev Vygotsky

When I was studying in primary school, a popular topic for free essay writing (almost assigned by teachers every year) is ‘The Person I Admire’. I can’t really remember who I admired when I was a kid, but recently I decided to be an admirer of Lev Semenovich Vygotsky. According to Wikipedia, he was a Russian Jewish developmental psychologist and the founder of cultural-historical psychology. To me, I regard him as my target in educational research. Although he died at the age of 37, his research contributions were magnificent.

The first time I learned about him was on 1 May 2004, when I was attending the 4th lecture of Learning Theories and Technologies, during my Master of Multimedia (MMm) study. I knew him through the concepts of the zone of proximal development and scaffolding. Although I got A for this subject, to be frank, I didn’t know much about him.

Last month, on 28 Nov, I rediscovered Vygotsky through Prof David Wray. David gave a lecture on Learning theories and their implications to PhD candidates of WIE. He put Vygotsky’s portrait under the title ‘Social constructivism’ and allocated 4 slides for this topic. Herewith the first slide:

Social constructivism

-         Vygotsky

-         Marxist

-         Revolution – not evolution

-         Development takes place first on a social plane then on an individual plan


In the second slide, he played a video clip, titled Vygotsky’s Development Theory: An Introduction

There was a caption in the video that struck me: ‘Using a 3% quota, Jewish students were chosen by lottery’, and Vygotsky was a lucky person who won the lottery of getting into school in Russia during the time of Tsar Nicholas II. What a coincident! The chance for me to get sponsored to pursue a PhD in the UK is 3%, and I always consider myself as winning lottery.

When I updated my lists of literature to be reviewed in ePortfolio, I came across Vygotsky’s work in 1933, titled ‘Play and its role in the mental development of the child’. Play is one of the key concepts that associated with my research, thus I searched for this paper and started to have a closer view of Vygotsky’s works. He produced seven books and a thousand over papers before he died—no wonder there are people who regard him as ‘The Mozart of Psychology’.

I do plan to write books, and hopefully more than seven. The title of my first book to be written, which I promised to write together with Prof Stan in Malaysia, is set: Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Learning Strategies. This book would be an expansion of a paper I wrote in 2006, titled ‘Globalization, e-Learning and The Art of War’. I always think that this paper was not well written because the elements of The Art of War were not thoroughly exploited. I need more time to explore those elements together with Stan.

I know I am nobody, or just as a beginner researcher in education. But I have aspirations and dreams. Like Gautama Buddha said, ‘we are what we think’, I think I am a game-based learning specialist. As a specialist, I will incorporate my knowledge and skills in multimedia technology and pedagogy into the production of the book. Perhaps, I should not call it a book; it ought to be my first game. I want to put my beliefs into practice. I know I am standing in an advantageous position, between creative industry and education. So, I want to try game-based learning out myself, for real. My goal is to revolutionise, to replace traditional teaching media with electronic games. I believe one day in the future, printed books will become antiques in museum, like those papyrus scribes now. Indeed this is not a new idea. For academics who conduct research in Visual and Performing Arts, ‘publication’ of research works could be in non-text based forms, despite its worldwide level of acceptance (see examples of research projects). I hope one day, academics would publish games instead of research papers. In the game, players instead of readers could experience the research conduct through the eyes of the researcher in a virtual world. Players will be engaged with the game play under the flow state. As a person who studied creative multimedia, I personally regard the existing ‘academic papers’ as dull, boring and scary. I imagine that if I could ‘multimedia-lise’ those academic papers, people with non-research background would be able to understand or even like what we are doing.

Like Vygotsky, my idea or imagination might be criticised as being too wild by contemporary academia during my lifetime. However, I sincerely hope to see such shift of paradigm. In the mean time, I’ll try my best to stay alive longer then Vygotsky.

December 17, 2008


我曾经与婚姻靠得很近,但是却因为“爱智慧”(ancient Greek meaning of philosophy)而狠下心肠,忍痛把苦心经营了七年的感情结束。我曾经沉溺在浪漫幸福的恋爱之中,但如今这段感情却因为尊重自由的权利而岌岌可危。或许这就是念博士学位的代价吧!就像一位来自香港的同修所坚持的,“我希望我为念博所付出的代价,能换来对人类智慧的贡献!”其实,这也是我的期望啊!



November 02, 2008

Mix methods vs multi methods

Dear Comrade D,

Herewith my understanding of mix methods and multi methods. When the notion of mix methods is used, it is normally referred as mix methods research design, which is mixing both quantitative and qualitative data collection and data analysis approaches. How the mixture of both approaches could be is shown as Figure 17.2 in Creswell (2008:557).

Meanwhile, my understanding of multi methods (research design) should be referring to multiple data collection and analysis methods used in a research conduct. The combination of methods could be either quantitative, qualitative or a mixture of both. In other words, mix methods could be a sub-set of multi methods research design.

The choice of research methods should be driven by your research methodology. Examples of research methodology are case study, ethnography, experiment, quasi-experiment, survey, etc. Each of these research methodology could involve quantitative, qualitative or a mixture of both methods to gather research data. And the choice of data type to be collected in a particular research methodology should be determined by epistemological paradigm or theoretical perspectives held by the researcher who designs and conducts the research (Patton, 2002).

To tackle your problems at this moment, you could either determine your research methodology, then decide which method or combination of methods you want to use to collect your research data. After that, justify the rationale behind your choice of both research methods and research methodology by stating your epistemological views or theoretical perspective—how you see the nature of knowledge in social reality.

I hope this email won’t confuse you, instead it should be able to help your research design.


Creswell, J.W. (2008). Educational research: plannning, conducting and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research, 3rd ed. New Jersey: Pearson International Edition.

Patton, M.Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods, London, SAGE.

August 26, 2008

Action Summary of 'How to get a PhD'

I re-read the bestseller book of Phillips and Pugh (2005) again. After being a PhD student, I gained new insights. Herewith the action summary of some of the chapters which could be useful for others.

Action summary:

On becoming a research student

  • Be aware that in doctoral education you are under your own management and have the responsibility for determining what is required as well as for carrying it out.
  • You will experience periods of self-doubt which you must come through with the clear aim of becoming a competent professional researcher.

The nature of the PhD qualification

  • Set out to discover the standard and achievement for a fully professional researcher in your discipline that justify the award of the PhD degree.
  • Read others’ PhD theses in your field and evaluate them for the degree of originality in the research which has satisfied the examiners.
  • Be aware that the initial enthusiasm for the research will inevitably decline eventually. Provide the determination and application (rather than brilliance) that are required to complete the work and obtain the degree.
  • Use the full range of services that your university makes available to ensure that you have proper support in your studies.
  • The tension between the boundaries of the research project and the time available to complete it should be continually reviewed and adjusted by the student and the supervisors.

How not to get a PhD

  • Be aware of the seven ways of not getting a PhD
  • Not wanting a PhD
  • Overestimating what is required
  • Underestimating what is required
  • Having a supervisor who does not know what is required
  • Losing contact with your supervisor
  • Not having a ‘thesis’ (as in position or argument) to maintain
  • Taking a new job before completin
  • Work to understand the implications of these traps fully in your own situation and determine not to succumb to them
  • Re-establish your determination regularly when blandishments to stray from your programme of work occur.

How to do research

  • Consider very carefully the advantages of doing ‘testing-out’ research for your PhD.
  • From observation and discussion with your supervisor and other academics, construct a list of the craft practices that characterise a good professional researcher in your discipline.
  • Aim to ensure that no procedure, technique, skill, etc., that is relevant to your project will be exercised by you there for the first time.
  • Find out from researchers in your subject how the scientific approach actually works in practice.

The form of a PhD thesis

  • Ensure that the four elements of the PhD form (background theory, focal theory, data theory, contribution) are adequately covered in your thesis.
  • Do not make your thesis (that is, the report) any longer than it needs to be to sustain your thesis (your argument).
  • Remember that you need only take a very small step indeed within regard to the ‘original’ part of your work.
  • Discuss with your supervisor the many different ways in which a thesis may be presumed to be ‘original’ and come to some agreement about the way that you will be interpreting this requirement.
  • Write your thesis in readable English, using technical terms as appropriate but avoiding jargon.
  • From the beginning, use the footnoting and referencing conventions of your discipline.
  • Take very opportunity to write reports, draft papers, criticism f others’ work, etc. during the course of your research. Do not think that all the writing can be done at the end. If you do avoid writing you will not develop the skills to write efficiently, or even adequately, for your thesis.
  • Write up your final thesis in the order which is easiest for you. It does not have to be written in the order in which it will be read. The method section is often a good place to start.

Common structure

-         Introduction (including aims)

-         Literature survey (background theory as a review of the relevant literature)

-         Method (data theory including a description of what has been done)

-         Results ( focal theory including what was found)

-         Discussion (development of focal theory and suggestions for future work)

-         Conclusions (summary and contribution)

August 19, 2008

Looking for perfect research?

A colleague of mine said, 'there is no perfect research'. I certainly agree with this statement. In fact, I regard each research study as a journey, a journey of learning and there is no perfect learning as well. Even though the outcome of learning could be assessed and the learner might score 100% in this assessment, that doesn't mean the learner had learnt perfectly. The results of learning are not limited to the outcomes set by the instructors or teachers. For example, I always came out with ideas that were provoked by the sayings of my research supervisors, which sometimes surprised them. I regard that as the 'follow through' effect of learning, which is not the explicit learning outcome but it is definately the result of learning. Because of the existence of such effect in learning, there will not be the so-called perfect learning. Same goes with the so-called perfect research. Sometimes, even an unsuccessful research--those which failed to reach desired research outcomes, could generate 'follow through' results which might be useful to the researcher or the research itself.

In a word, stop looking or planning for perfect research. Just do it!

August 08, 2008

Reflexive inquiry


I started to use the term 'reflexive' consciously after attending a lecture of Mick on Action Research in Apr 08. Recently, I found a diagrom, used by Patton (2000) which lists questions to be used in the reflexive thinking process. It is very useful, both for research and for self-improvement. I would like to share it with those who view my blog.

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