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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 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.


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?


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.


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.


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