Monday, May 25, 2015

Quick Visual Diary for #VCUIIT15

Major Ideas from Institute that Resonated with Me.
Major Ideas from Institute that Resonated with Me.

Last year, it took me a couple of weeks to distill my thoughts into a blogpost. This image captures some of the ideas I'm mulling over. TBCont'd.. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

This is How I Tweet and Chirp

I use Twitter as part of my work and for professional development. I created an account in 2007 but wasn't actively participating in the web until ALT Lab came along. I have ways to go but there are several things I've learned from using Twitter actively since October 2014. I've summarized and illustrated them as 7 big ideas thus far.

But the biggest takeaway for me is that Twitter is all about participation. The more you participate in activities and connect with others, the more you will get out of it and the more you want to be in a position to give back to others for being so giving to you. So participate, connect, share and give back. Be authentic and courageous. Loosen up a bit and have fun!

1. I get the latest information from my Tweeps/Twends? (Twitter People/Twitter Friends)

For example, I'm interested in Reggio-inspired Visible Thinking and what Project Zero (at Harvard) is up to. I want to know the latest professional development opportunities and conferences they offer.

I didn't think I'd see this show up on Twitter but it did - Thinking Routines!

Slowly as more thought leaders sign up on Twitter, I am able to get the latest information about their recent presentations and writings via Twitter. As a boundary crosser, my interests span education, instructional design, visible thinking, inclusive learning design, arts, French, leadership and creativity. Having been a teacher for many years of my life, at heart, I still see myself very much as a teacher. I participate in Twitter chats like the #satchatwc, #UDLchat, and any that I sometimes stumble across that interests me.

Our very own ALT Lab #TJC15 (Twitter Journal Club, run by @googleguacamole) chat is one I very much enjoy. Although I don't do research as much as I used to, I miss reading about the latest research in education. Twitter chats meet my need for shared community and online engagement beyond the posting of solitary tweets.

I even got the chance to contribute to a radio play and read a few lines. Talk about fun!

There are opportunities to write articles. I was honored to be invited to write a blogpost by a Twitter friend, Maha Bali who runs EdConteXts with a group of colleagues.

Tweets that show me being invited to blog for an webzine.
Tweets that show me being invited to blog for an webzine. 

Sometimes, professional development ideas for and with faculty arise out of unplanned spontaneous tweets. I recall posting a tweet about my training at Sabot and included the hashtag for my summer course. Suddenly, a conversation developed about crafting a faculty version of the course. 

Tweets that show a conversation developing around an idea for professional development
Tweets that show a conversation developing around an idea for professional development

2. My Twends tutor me when I need some help. 

I struggle to learn French at my grand old age, but I have a couple of Twends (Nadia, and Tania Sheko) who will jump in to help me. (I do curate a vast amount of resources but nothing beats a live tutor.)

Tweets that show a Twitter friend helping me with my French
Tweets that show a Twitter friend helping me with my French

There are too many people to mention who have taught me and tutored me (see blogpost on which was introduced to me by Greg McVerry). Pardon me if I fail to mention all of you in this blogpost. All my Twends from #rhizo15, #et4online, #satchatwc, #udlchat, folks from #a11y where I've been lurking... Thank you from the depths of my heart!

3. I reflect and wonder out loud on Twitter. 

Sometimes, someone will pick up my idea, join me in an extended conversation and provide fresh perspectives and resources on the idea.

Even when I couldn't present at a conference, I received some feedback about my presentation via Twitter.

Tweets that show feedback for a presentation I was unable to be present in person
Tweets that show feedback for a presentation I was unable to be present in person

4. Let's not forget the social aspect. Many of my Twends are warm and helpful. 

After all, Twitter is part of social media.

Tweets that show casual conversations with Twitter friends
Tweets that show casual conversations with Twitter friends

You get to connect with new and old friends.

Tweets that show I met a fellow alumnus from Syracuse University
Tweets that show I met a fellow alumnus from Syracuse University

5. It's not all serious stuff for me. Twitter brightens up a dull day with its jokes and funny tweets....

6. And clever ideas abound. 

7. I don't just wonder out loud. I reflect and share my written thoughts on Twitter. 

I blog and share reflections of my work on Twitter. This doesn't get me much feedback but I see that sometimes, some tweeted blogposts get more hits than blogposts that I don't disseminate via Twitter.

I can ramble on. This is my first draft and I'll likely revise it a bit. It's amazing how much I have learned from Twitter and am learning to give back to my Twends. Merci all!

This is How I Work

My Office View 1
My Office View 

[Questions: LifeHacker]

Current Gig: 

Learning Innovation Design Specialist at VCU ALT Lab. 

One word that best describes how you work:


Current mobile device: 

Samsung Galaxy S6 for most of my on-the-go stuff, blue-tooth streaming of playlists, long-distance communication on Whatsapp, spontaneous photo capture of special moments. Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 (8 inch) for reading Kindle books, and other web resources. I had an old MacBook Pro for consulting with clients but have recently upgraded to a Dell XPS 13 Touch which is much lighter and syncs with my Android devices. I had an old iPad 2 which I've set aside since acquiring the Samsung Tab 4. It's much lighter and more portable than the iPad.

Current computer: 

At work, I have an iMac and an Apple Thunderbolt display monitor. My home machine is a Dell XPS 8300 desktop which runs on Windows 7 Pro. It was easier for me to use a Windows PC when I was doing intensive research data analysis and most research software are compatible with a PC, like Access. I also used to create Adobe Captivate tutorials which previously only ran on a PC.

2 Monitors
2 Monitors

What apps, software, and tools can’t you live without?

Whatsapp connects me to family and childhood friends that go way back, people who have known me since I was 6 and know what I'm truly capable of achieving, ;-). It also connects me to many new international friends and ex-students. Kindle app, without which my life would be dull. Google products like Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar and Play for music streaming with my portable bluetooth speaker, Soundfreaq Sound Kick.

Two Adobe products I use regularly are Photoshop and Acrobat. Coming in close, for quick image editing, is PicMonkey, which replaced Picnik when it got bought over.

For work and professional development, Twitter, Diigo and Blogger (for personal reflections) are major spaces I participate in. I'm increasing my use of Rampages, our VCU hosting of WordPress sites for courses and eportfolios. And also of as I am getting more fascinated by annotations for learning interactions with authors.

What’s your workspace setup like?

I like to surround myself with beautiful things -- beauty as defined by me, myself -- artwork, books, and interesting artifacts, quotations, memories of life and people. The computers and mobile devices are there unavoidably, but I like to make my workspace look more human and home-like. I believe the environment is the third teacher and that walls speak of life experiences I've been through. So I decorate my workspace with stimulating ideas and color.

My Office View 2
My Office View 2

What’s your fave time-saving shortcut?

Are there true short-cuts in life? I'm not sure, although I've digitized a lot of stuff in my life, I still like to draw and paint by hand. Nothing replaces a pencil, pen or brush, to me. For work, I appreciate being able to import or export data from one app to another, and being able to store files in the cloud that are accessible wherever I go.

What’s your fave to-do list manager?

I don't have any that's digital. I write stuff on a notebook I carry around with me, to jot down ideas and to doodle. I use Evernote sometimes, but not in a huge way.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

No gadget is indispensable. I like to practice to a greater extent the philosophy of minimalism.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else?

I'm not sure how to respond to this, it makes one sound so superior, but if I pick communication, interpreted narrowly as number of languages one can speak, then I'm capable of crossing more boundaries and cultures with the three languages I speak fluently, and a limited number of vocabulary I can figure out in a couple of languages. I like to do things efficiently and be precise in word. I was reading a book recently and found it intolerable because of the style of writing, too verbose and not getting to the point. Parsimony of words and precision of thought is something I value and try to practice. I hope to teach a summer class on this! So I've got to walk the talk.

What do you listen to while you work?

Vocal quality and lyricism are important elements in music I listen to. I can listen to background music that is soothing and meditative if I'm doing something that requires some cognitive load. Otherwise, for heavyweight cognitive stuff, absolutely no music or sound when I'm writing and synthesizing elements to craft something new, like a dissertation, proposal, article or blog post. I get irritated and distracted when I'm overloaded with adrenalin.

When I'm drawing or painting, I can tolerate more lively music, but still nothing loud or jarring. I listen to Broadway, R & B, folk, instrumental and foreign language music. French and Italian songs are very lyrical to me, Mandarin and Cantonese songs connect me to my cultural roots.

What are you currently reading?

Too many books that I read in chunks and try to finish when I have some time. I'll list the top 3. Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. I'm a fan of metaphorical thinking and writing, so I'm inspired by Lakoff and Johnson. Everyone Communicates but Few Connect by John Maxwell is another book I'm reading for tips on how to truly connect and not just communicate with a lot of noise signifying nothing. Creativity Inc by Edwin Catmull is intriguing for me, as with any book on creativity, which I'd once wanted to explore as a dissertation topic. I read mostly non-fiction books these days, unfortunately.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? 

I want to say I'm more of an introvert but I'm finding this to be a cultural and contextual perception because in Singapore, I'm perceived to be more extroverted and "louder" to most people than in the USA. Many of us are familiar with Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, and I feel with her that there's some common association of quietness and introversion with pathology in American culture. I very much appreciate and admire individuals with a quiet confidence and gentle humility. Maybe I'm familiar with being in a Deaf community and am used to people not talking but gesturing.

How do you recharge?

I retreat to some quiet place to be alone by myself, meditate, read, listen to music, go to a musical, go outdoors, write, draw, be close to the sea or some reasonably large pool of water. I have to be in touch with the spiritual dimension of my life.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I try to get to bed early but somehow end up sleeping late like at midnight or later, because I seem to have so many things to do before I lie down. Most of the time, that is when I call family in Singapore. I like to read and reflect a bit before I sleep. I get up about 6 to 7 AM for work, but really I need 8 hours of sleep to function well.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Not directly aimed at me but Bronnie Ware's blogpost on the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying resonated with me since I read it in 2012 (?). While struggling emotionally with dissertation writing, I read the blogpost and was able to move on to finish it, without obsessing more over it. I could have done this or that, but in the end, I wasn't going to bring my dissertation with me to the grave. And so I moved on and decided I had worked hard enough on it (Ware's #2 wish).

Is there anything interesting you’d like to add?

“I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Steve Jobs 
“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” Maya Angelou

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Group Learning

At work, there was substantial discussion around the terms collaborative work, cooperative work, team work and group work --- all focused on making the OLE (Online Learning Experience) a perfect experience for our participants. After a while, a colleague said he doesn't really care what words we use for these "more than one person" type of learning. Signs of burnout? In the end, I offered to use other words like group learning and team learning in place of collaborative learning. The most important thing is not which word we choose to use, though that is quite important, but what meaning we attach to it, because people will interpret words differently.

I picked up a couple of definitions of group learning from my last workshop at Sabot. Both individuals work with the Project Zero group at Harvard. What follows is Steve Seidel's poetic definition of group learning.

Benjamin Mardell's definition:

For text equivalent of images: Word Document

Other blogposts I've written about group learning: Group Work, Magically Imperfect Group Work

Friday, May 8, 2015

There's a Place for Us

[I revised this piece quite a bit and it is published at EdContexts:]

In late 1999, I relocated to the USA and have had much adventure navigating cross-cultural zones of change. As a Singaporean Chinese, I am often perceived as someone from the Republic of China, which is not a problem or a bad thing at all. It is when I am expected to exhibit behaviors that go along with that misperception that things get awkward and challenging. What follows are little snippets of the faux pas some people have committed in an attempt to relate to me. These illustrations highlight the fact that there is substantial work to be done in the area of education and awareness about dealing with difference.

American White Male Prof: The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics was wonderful. Those Chinese girls didn't smile at all while performing. (Looks at Yin to explain why.)
Yin: *scratches head*

[Note: This is a faux pas that tends to happen because most people see me as Chinese, but I am a Singaporean. My grandparents migrated to Malaya and then to Singapore.]


American White Male: You speak such good English compared to other Chinese. How is that so?
Yin: ???

[Note: Again, this is a social blunder that happens because most people see me as a Chinese from China, but I am a Singaporean. And there is a presumption that Chinese internationals don’t speak or write good English. This is an overgeneralization. I’m always amused more than offended to see the shock on people’s faces when they read my writing or hear me speak.]

American White Male: So do you eat dog meat or cat meat?

[Note: This is a bad joke. The perception and assumption that I'm Chinese is associated with the idea that Chinese people eat strange stuff like monkey brains or dog meat. This is an overgeneralization.]

International Female Faculty Client. I interacted with her substantially at our Center's training sessions. I presented her my business card and offered to work with her. She subsequently chose to work with another Female designer (who is also White).

[Note: This is not an indictment of the faculty decision. She has her reasons for her choices. I chose to include these next three examples because I want to highlight that sometimes, we may not be aware of our unconscious decisions. In Singapore, for instance, we were a colony of Britain and at times, the colonial mentality remains and is exhibited in some behaviors. Some Singaporeans consider Caucasians to be superior to Asians and look to them for solutions to their problems. It could work the other way too; people may be intimidated by the supposedly model minority, Asians.]

Black Female Client contacts African colleague to work with her on accessibility issues after checking out our web bios. She was redirected to me.

[Note: People are comfortable with people who are more like them. It's human nature.]

White Female Client was assigned to work with me. Emailed me subsequently to say she was going to switch and work with another Female designer (who also happened to be White).

[Note: Same rationale as above.]


Invited to a large corporate firm for an interview which was then delayed for some time. At the meeting, interviewers made snide remarks about my being overqualified. I was subsequently not hired.

[Note: This happened quite frequently to me and my international friends who were selected for interviews to meet diversity requirements. Unfortunately, I think this is how people play games to beat bureaucracy.]


Diversity. Accessibility. Inclusivity. These are buzzwords in higher education. We hear them so often, I wonder if they lose their meaning for those in privileged circumstances. I think I was desensitized until I worked on my dissertation and when I first got involved with a planning committee that does work related to these buzzwords.

It is one work project that keeps me going, even on days when I feel irrelevant and wonder what all my 30 years of specialized training in Instructional Design is for. It's the Institute on Inclusive Teaching (May 18-22, 2015). When I do anything, no matter how small, for the project, I feel that I'm making a difference, and I know that what I'm doing will have a ripple effect, through time. There are real problems to solve; awareness to create; educational sessions to design and facilitate. There is a reason why I'm there, in the committee. There's a reason for all those years of education.

When I'm with the committee, I work less at making people understand the implications of diversity. I don't have to negotiate so hard at the intersections. People in the committee have been misunderstood in some way by someone (unintentionally?), have lived experiences of these issues and thus know how important it is to be inclusive and to educate people to be inclusive. I am at home in such a diverse multicultural setting like Singapore.

"If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." - Charlie Parker, musician. 
Among my committee friends, I find myself. And in turn I can help others to find themselves and not feel lost.

The Institute focuses on issues of access and equity in education, core goals of education. We touch on issues of social justice, stereotype threats, solo status, inclusive learning design, international students' acculturative stress and facilitate the transfer of these knowledge to instructors' design of courses.

At the 2009 UNESCO World Conference on Higher Ed, the OECD Secretary-General said:

“The first priority is access and equity… the second priority area is efficiency and effectiveness [and] the third area is quality and relevance.” – Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary-General. 

Access and equity, these are two priority areas that make me get up in the morning to go to work. If I don't find myself fighting for these causes anymore, I think my work will have lost a significant bout of meaning.

If you are still wondering what I'm talking about, please visit the project site at 

If you are considering applying for this Institute, hurry up, we have very very few seats left.

2015 Institute on Inclusive Teaching
2015 Institute on Inclusive Teaching 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Reggio Educators' Training at Sabot Institute

Are you learning forward or backward? ... Do you attend conferences or workshops year after year, yet rarely adjust your teaching or leadership as a result of what you learned? - Frederick Brown, Education Week Teacher
Voila! A Reggio-educator professional development opportunity surfaced in town; courtesy of Jon Becker. I jumped at the opportunity. These events are short in supply.

Event: The 2015 Sabot Institute 

As a visible deliberate action of learning forward, this blog-post is a reflection of my learning experience. I'll try along the way to provide some information about the learning beliefs and values I cherish about the Reggio approach.

1. The environment is the third teacher.

The city, the countryside, and the nearby mountains serve as additional teaching sites. - Loris Malaguzzi 

Idyllic setting of Sabot School
Idyllic setting of Sabot School
The Gardens at Sabot, Stony Point
The Gardens at Sabot at Stony Point

The children have outdoor learning time. In the woods nearby, they built some simple structures to hold their backpacks together and planted some daffodils.

Learning in Nature, Sabot at Stony Point
Learning in Nature, Sabot at Stony Point

2. "Our walls speak"

Throughout the school, the walls are used as spaces for both temporary and permanent exhibits about what the children and teachers have created; our walls speak and document. - Loris Malaguzzi.
Documentation of children's making sense of light
Documentation of children making sense of light

Documentation of children making sense of materials/paper
Documentation of children making sense of materials/paper

Documentation of children making sense of time?
Documentation of children making sense of time?

3. "What children learn does not follow as an automatic result from what is taught. Rather it is in large part due to the children's own doing, as a consequence of their activities and resources." - L. Malaguzzi. 

Children shape their own learning experience
Children shape their own learning experience

Reggio schools have no preplanned curriculum. (Yikes? :)) But this does not mean they start with nothing. Reggio educators use themes to guide student learning. Children are listened to; they shape their mainly project-based school experience, rather than being shaped by any advance curriculum planning or textbook (Edwards, Gandini, & Foreman, 2012).

The Reggio image of a child is...

A child who is competent, a child to whom we must offer many opportunities, so that each and every child can find possibilities for his or her individuality and subjectivity to be expressed, enriched, and developed. (Carla Rinaldi, President of Reggio Children Foundation). 
I saw this concept illustrated and discussed in many of the presentations and workshops. In one hands-on workshop at the Atelier (French for studio), the atelierista (Studio Teacher) gave us a prompt and some inquiry questions. She asked how we would represent the following idea:

  • The teacher forms a connection between the city and the child.

There were about 8 or 9 of us in this workshop. At first, we asked the atelierista some questions which she didn't answer. I got the message. We have to analyze the questions ourselves and come up with our "make" collaboratively.

We tried to doodle on paper what we might want to express. Not used to making things in a studio instantaneously, I decided to just dive in and make as I think. That ended up being our approach. As we each made something with the resources available to us, we found that we were able to build upon each other's "make" (artifact). The final product came together as we saw each one building something and hooked on to each other's ideas. In a very organic spontaneous way, we created something together in the moment.

This is what our model looked like in the end. Using the resources in the city/environment, the child explores and negotiates layers of understanding about the city (hence the wires protruding out).

Group product at the Atelier Studio workshop
Group product after the Atelier Studio workshop

Learning forward, there are many rich nuggets I've collected and continue to unearth as I probe further into this philosophy. I bought 3 books to add to my growing Reggio library. There are too many ideas to share but here are two I'll document in this space. I feel that they connect to a challenge raised by #rhizo15 in the discussion of learning subjectives:

I. Untie the cultural knots we have about teaching and learning (Benjamin Mardell, author/professor, Lesley University)
We tend to think of several concepts about teaching and learning in dichotomies: teaching/learning; theory/practice; curriculum/assessment; individual/group learning; thinking/feeling. [And may I add another pair: art/science.] Mardell noted that in Reggio Emilia schools, these dichotomies are non-existent (Mardell in Project Zero, 2001, p. 282). I am not suggesting that learning science research is useless or that it doesn't matter. Research is important as scholars continue to build upon existing knowledge for future generations. For me, the Reggio approach unveiled more layers about the complexity of learning, one that I continue to be fascinated and inspired by. Since my encounter with this approach, I will share that I don't write learning objectives in my own teaching courses/workshops anymore, if I have my way. I much prefer to explore open questions in a course with learners, including myself.

II. The role of a teacher in Reggio Emilia and implications for my teaching and design.

Although the Reggio approach is originally used in early childhood and in Sabot, applied up to 8th grade classes, it has transferable concepts to learning at higher levels (The core learning principles of Visible Thinking and The Arts and Passion-Driven Learning courses I'd taken in the past are connected in many ways to the Reggio approach). The Loris Malaguzzi International Centre of Reggio Emilia regards the Reggio Emilia approach as

an educational philosophy based on the image of the child, and of human beings, as possessing strong potential for development and as a subject of rights, who learns and grows in relationships with others.
Comparison of traditional versus Reggio educator roles
Comparison of traditional versus Reggio educator roles
Text Equivalent of Image (Word Document) 

P.S. Of course, not every teacher is strictly one or the other, as I had written above, but I believe learning in contemporary society, as Reggio schools and children have shown, will become more engaging as we move towards ideals on the right.
Application: My learning goal is to seek to apply some of these concepts in my teaching and design in higher education. 
How will we apply these Reggio Educator roles in our professional contexts?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Could've Been: #et4Online68425 2015 Presentation Notes

Hello to all who are / may / might be thinking of attending session #et4online68425, I'm sorry I couldn't be there to present in person due to personal reasons.

Title of Presentation:

When Graduate Students Become Online Instructors:
A First-Time Online Instructor's Teaching Toolbox

The proposal can be retrieved at

The website for our presentation is at:

This presentation started when my colleague and I met a group of students from PSYC 795 Practicum in the Teaching of College Psychology (Fall 2014). The provocation to create a resource arose when I observed that graduate students who had not taught or had limited teaching experience were concerned about teaching in a different learning environment.

How does one teach online? Especially when one is just learning to teach in person? Also, when asked about specific questions they might have about teaching online, what might they be? I observed that they found it challenging to articulate their concerns. They expressed very broad concerns about challenges they might face and wanted to know more about teaching strategies.

I took their concerns and my observations of their behavior to heart and wrote the proposal. Stan and I both created the website as documentation. As a Visible Thinking/Visible Learning/Reggio-inspired learning proponent, I believe in documentation for retrospective but also prospective reasons. I hope this website will provoke different interpretations and sharing of ideas.

If you feel at times like the students we encountered, I hope that you would feel free to enter a question or more, into the web form at: 

Metamorfosi website: Screenshot of Chime In page
Metamorfosi website: Screenshot of Chime In page

I had intended to raise 3 questions with participants at the session and I hope readers will comment on this as they feel led:

  • How do you conduct needs assessment about something learners know little about?
  • What are novice instructors' first thoughts about online teaching? How do you begin to extend their knowledge and practice?
  • How do we integrate technology seamlessly into our teaching sessions?

I am attaching our proposal for anyone who might wish to download it.  Proposal PDF

I miss being there in person, but life unfolds, and we deal with it. Wishing all a great conference!