Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Time to Mourn: Farewell Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Side profile of Mr Lee Kuan Yew within a black ribbon.
Image Source: Alex Yam, 2015

There has been commentary expressing surprise at why many Singaporeans are grieving so visibly and in several instances, unselfishly, at the passing of our former Prime Minister, and founding father, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. Is human identity ever a simple concept, let alone national identity? Singaporeans are a highly hybridized and still hybridizing people. We grieve the loss of the past, the pain of the present, the perplexity of the future, and more that we don't understand or can't even articulate.

Mr Lee connects me to my entire life, one that I negotiate every waking minute at the intersection of cultures. He reminds me of what my parents went through during the Japanese Occupation, starved, frightened children, their education disrupted and how they forged a life for our family despite their lack of resources; what life was like for me and my generation, including walking to schools in nearby kampong areas; not having many toys and art/dance/sports classes that wealthy families could provide for their children. We worked hard and learned to be adaptable, resourceful and not have a sense of entitlement. Many of my peers had the opportunities to excel and become who we are today (right, Mr Steven Cher? Meileng Koh Margaret Tay Lina Wee Eng Lin Koh ). In America, many Chinese people approach me and don't understand why I don't speak Mandarin first, but choose to speak English, and with ease. "汉人不讲普通话?" [FYI, who is Han Chinese? The term has no meaning to me.] "So you can speak English, AND Mandarin, AND Cantonese, AND...?" I thank Mr Lee for his foresight in crafting the bilingualism policy and the education system. It is competitive and far from perfect. But multi-lingualism has empowered me to access resources mono-lingual speakers are unable to access. Yes, there were a few years where we had to also learn Malay, and our national anthem is in Malay too. I look back on those days with fondness. It wasn't difficult to learn languages when we were younger.

Before I came to America, I had not paid attention to racial disharmony, and had not thought of race as a big issue, because I had friends of every race in Singapore. We spoke English as the bridge language and public signs were posted in 4 languages. (Did I live in a bubble? I don't think so.) Still, some who have heard of Singapore don't think of our racial harmony, instead of the "anti-chewing gum" nation. Like Joyce Hooi, I will say, "Enough. Go find out more before you pass judgment on us and our value system. Don't impose your standards for your country on ours, which is another place, another country, another circumstance. You don't live here."
After Lee Kuan Yew died, The Guardian newspaper devoted an entire article to his policy on chewing gum. Decades of phenomenal GDP growth, the lowest crime rate in the region and top-notch healthcare, and Westerners are still talking about the friggin' chewing gum. This is like being complimented on your English. - Joyce Hooi, Business Time, Singapore.
Seven days is not enough to mourn a lifetime of dedication to Singapore. I am grateful for what you have done for us, Mr Lee. The Confucian ethics (儒家思想)you instilled in many of us remain through the years ( Lina Wee, remember how we would 起立,行礼,坐下 in every Chinese class?)  My parents modeled them in their lives. A reward system based on merit and effort, and not on brown-nosing or the status of my relationship with my employer/supervisor/advisor/[insert name of anyone you report to]. Discipline, respect and uncomplaining at what we were asked to do. Simply, I will say to you, 我会饮水思源,不回忘记你这么辛苦艰难培养的新加坡。As you lay to rest tonight, Singapore time, March 29, I bid farewell to you. Go gently into the good night, Mr. Lee. We will not let anyone knock us down. 谢谢你,一路好走。Kami tidak akan biarkan orang mengetuk kita ke bawah. Majullah, Singapura!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Online Teaching is like Learning a New Language

Online Teaching is Like Learning a New Language
Online Teaching is Like Learning a New Language
Is online teaching like learning a new language?
Do bilingual (or multilingual) teachers find it easier to switch from face-to-face to online teaching? 
For several weeks, I pondered these questions as I tarried at the intersection of two/three facets of my life -- online teaching, online course design and learning French (Français or Française?). The second question is a hypothesis I intend to investigate!

Le magazine de l'Alliance de Singapour
Le magazine de l'Alliance
 de Singapour 1993
[Back Story: When I was twelve or thirteen, I wanted to learn French, but was dissuaded by my then Form Teacher, who felt all of us should focus on our core subjects. I dutifully listened to her and live to regret this decision. When I started working, I went to the Alliance Français de Singapour and began learning French with a colleague. We stopped because work got in the way. I'm starting all over again -- to learn the language I'd long wanted to learn.]

Learning a new language involves embracing a new lexicon, new pronunciation, new way of writing, a new culture ... New is the word. Everything is strange and très difficile. But I won't give up because I'm motivated to attain some proficiency in it. It's a childhood dream; my heart is involved, not just my mind.The French language is beautiful. I may not understand French songs but I love listening to its sounds. I will persist despite the challenges. It just goes to show how in learning, we must appeal to students' hearts too -- emotions must be engaged, not just the mind.

Listening to my French teacher takes a lot of concentration from me. Although I'm less overwhelmed than I was in Day 1, I feel like an outsider and am the slowest student in the class. I speak French with diffidence; I don't know quite often how to conjugate verbs or articulate the 's' or 'e' sounds. When I grasp some of the words she is speaking, I feel relieved that I can nod my head and say "Oui!" If not, it's an "Encore, s'il vous plait?" most of the time. One day, it dawned on me that this must feel a bit like how first-time instructors of online teaching feel.

Akin to foreign language (FL) learning, there is much to deal with and more is at stake in online teaching than in FL learning. My musings -- Question 1:
How do we make it less challenging for new online instructors to negotiate a new culture with a new vocabulary? 
For me, I know I must immerse myself in a French speaking and writing environment more often.
Question 2:
How do we support new online instructors so that they have opportunities to be immersed more frequently in online learning environments? [What does this look like? E-mentoring?]

Thursday, March 19, 2015 for Shared Annotation

A week ago, Laura (my colleague) tweet-alerted me to someone who had annotated my extended comment to her Twitter Journal Club blogpost.
It was Greg McVerry, a supergeek. (He knows all these cool tools I've been playing with.) He had responded to my blogpost by annotating and replying to the ideas. Impressive!

Intrigued, I had to check out before the second Twitter Journal Club happening. I fiddled with it and used it to annotate #tjc15's second journal article

For inquiring minds, is a Google Chrome extension. You can collaboratively tag, annotate, and comment on other users' public notes and annotations. features features

This is something Diigo already allows me to do, but allows me to show a stream of annotations based on a tag. One thing that I found annoying though, was that I had to keep changing the setting from private/only me to public for every annotation. Is it me, who hasn't found the key to unlock this default private setting? 

Check out the tag stream of #tjc15

The affordances of this Google Chrome extension are pretty slick. I can think of how it might be used in my teaching. Thanks very much, Greg McVerry!

And by the way, what a name!!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Truthseeking: Onward to the Next #TJC15 event

To Laura, and all potential truth seekers, 

Some preliminary thoughts.

Having read how your experiment first started (the background, your own journal reading club experiences), I understand better why you made the choices you did.

I have had pretty positive experiences of journal article reading with my peers in grad school. In a few classes and during dissertation writing sessions, there were some fine  debates with "a disputatious community of truth seekers" (Donald Campbell cited in Shadish, Cook & Leviton 1991 -- THE Evaluation book every evaluation student must read?). In real life, I've been blessed with some wonderful in-person mentoring experiences through grad school. Leaving those times behind, I often look to replicate these moments -- online and off. Alas, those were different times and a different dissertation topic from yours.

Coming in with those positive experiences, I'm thus of the opinion that reading in advance helped me to learn and participate better (call it learning preference, whatever). I got out of your earlier posts that you are looking for a fresher approach -- the unstructured, unconference, unjournal, un-[insert new approach here] -- which doesn't suggest that older practices may not be good -- which you didn't claim they weren't, at all. I understand now that you are just trying out a new combination of learning conditions to see how learning might work better but differently.  Learning science theories -- I think -- show that designing lessons where the student can be positioned to make as many connections as possible to a new idea helps extend learning. Twitter probably facilitates this, if one can juggle the multiple threads to the same topic. Twitter forgets though that cognitive overload is a challenge for some people. And so, guided instruction may work better for some than minimal guidance.

In the last event, although the frustration of not knowing the content ahead of time and being befuddled -- in my case -- motivated me to go read the interesting article, I wonder how long this ambiguity might sustain interest once the novelty of live-skimming-tweeting wears off or the article is comparably "less" interesting. ;-)) (An assumption probably, since all articles might have to be carefully weighed against some criteria your group has). This is related to Angela Duckworth's research on grit. Do I have the characteristics of grit to overcome the negotiation of ambiguities? Courage, deep commitment, follow-through... to engender intellectual and emotional engagement? So here, the PROCESS of this live-skimming-tweeting experience has an impact on my further engagement. It is also possibly linked to my motivation for participation. For me, it's a fun novel engagement, I've no checkboxes to mark off, no agenda for participating. So, a highly curious question I have for myself: How long would my intrinsic motivation sustain me if the process of constantly negotiating in the zone of change/discomfort/liminality wears me out? My thinking dispositions have held me through many ZPDs, so let's see how this unfolds. :-)

As in every event of complexity, there are no easy answers, what works for one person, may not work for another. I won't have any prepared agenda but I feel my expectation for the next event is somewhat "defiled" with  knowing much more about the origin of this event than I knew about the last event. (LOL)

Like Campbell, I just want to go into new territories and frontiers to interact with new + old people and engage with a "a disputatious community of truth seekers" (Donald Campbell cited in Shadish, Cook & Leviton, 1991). Simple. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Thinking about Student Blogs and Community Building

Explaining hyperlinked blog concept to client using graphic depiction on a whiteboard
Explaining hyperlinked blog concept to client using graphic depiction
"So you mean we are sharing cyberspace?" 

Seven words that offered a glimpse into our client's thinking. I will refer to her as Ms. Z. [Stan and I met with her.]

Some background information before I continue. She had come to ALT Lab, bogged down by barriers to blogpost-editing and seeking some assistance on how to integrate Timeline into a blogpost.

From her instructor's [Dr. Halo, pseudonym] course site [BEY 500, fake course name], Ms. Z was able to "jump to" and "see" her own blog site. Happily, she has also been blogging on her own in Yet, how was she not able to edit her own blogposts when she clicked on her instructor's course site and landed on her own blog site? These bits of information gave me clues to her understanding about the concept of mother blog (and student blog) and how things work in an open connected course.

There were some details I clarified with her by drawing out the different entities on the whiteboard:

1. Her blog site and Dr. Halo's course site are two separate entities despite the fact that her blogsite is hyperlinked to Dr. Halo's site. She can access Dr. Halo's course site -- which is also on -- via the front door/public view, but she cannot enter from the back end/dashboard view, just as she does for her own blog site. Ms. Z has no control over her instructor's site, she is a student user, not a site administrator. As administrator of her own blog site, Ms. Z can edit her site and create new pages and posts.

Dr. Halo had linked to Ms. Z's blog site (and other students' blogs) using URL links, and not pulling in student content via RSS feed syndication (which Stan and I initially thought was the root of all the confusion). Pulling in students' blogs via RSS feeds would have created the mother blog functionality that I mentioned earlier.

2. Ms. Z wanted to be able to use Timeline and incorporate it in her blog site. Stan explained and demonstrated how Ms. Z could do that, with me chipping in at parts. Ms. Z reviewed the finished product and preferred a more text-based product. Stan suggested using Google Doc instead. After embedding it into her blog site, it still didn't achieve the look Ms. Z wanted. Stan ended up just adding the link to her blogpost.

Ms. Z jotted down notes of our explanations. But one thing that she kept repeating was, "So I go to, then under My Sites, look for my blog site, and ..."

I noticed a few striking details:
  • Being able to log in and "do something" on her own site seemed to occupy her mind  considerably. She needed really clear, step-by-step instructions on how to get to her site. 
  • Despite being aware of her classmates' blog sites (they were all hyperlinked to Dr. Halo's course site), she was not aware of what they were writing about or doing until we clicked on one of the blogs and showed her what her classmate was doing. 
  • Depicting the different software applications as separate entities helped her to understand how she would work -- that is, where were the gateways and the sandbox. Not understanding how to gain access stopped her from frolicking in the playground.
  • Ms. Z wanted the demo examples to be left published on her blog although they didn't contain real data. She wanted examples of how things were actually done so she could easily follow the steps when doing things on her own. 
In closing, this consultation raised a few questions:
  • Does aggregating content in a course site create community? The technical structure facilitates community building. But how does community really come about? What makes participants in the community want to check out each other's content and actually connect? 
  • How can we better help students to navigate the sites -- mother blog and student blogs -- so that they can understand the relevance and purpose of these structures and want to engage further? 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Bold Experiment: Live-Skim-Tweet Journal Article #tjc15

Laura Gogia, a.k.a @GoogleGuacamole, my ALT Lab colleague (NOT a Google App as one of my Twitter friends thought!) invited me to her community's experiment to live-tweet reading a journal article. I needed little persuasion because #1. I enjoy Twitter chats and #2. I am highly curious and like to learn new things. It turned out to be a thoughtful learning experience.

There are 2 dimensions about the event I'm going to highlight in this blogpost and a third one I would need to think a bit more about:

1. The Article (pdf)

Personally, one of the big gains of this experience is the article; knowing about it, interacting with the ideas of the authors and with others who read/were reading the article. In this new connectivist learning paradigm, the role of the teacher in MOOCs has been a subject of some private consideration and discussing it openly is progress for the field of open access education.

By themselves, MOOCs do not all fit a simple typology; either as an xMOOC or a cMOOC (Ross, Sinclair, Knox, Bayne & Macleod, 2014). There are "fifty shades of MOOCs" (Just kidding!). Anecdotally, I've participated in several MOOCs on various platforms, and they've been noticeably different to me, even for some of those hosted within the same platform. Suffice to say, as a grand experiment, the various components of a MOOC -- the teacher(s), learners, learning activities, assessment, etc. -- are worth examining. But as the authors rightly indicated, the role of a MOOC teacher -- allegedly a rock-star, co-learner, or an automated assessor of learning tasks -- is nuanced. To downgrade teaching to only "facilitation" (Ross, Bayne, Macleod & O'Shea, 2011) in cMOOCs does not capture the fullness and richness of what teaching is all about, in all contexts. Just as every learner is different and we have Differentiated Instruction, Universal Design for Learning and multiple learning theories to attempt to explain the intricacies in learning and teaching, we need more dialogue on the role of a MOOC teacher. After all, MOOCs don't seem to be disappearing from the learning horizon in the immediate future.

Here are two quick thoughts I have after reading the article:
  • Are MOOCs and online education to be regarded as subsets, one of the other, or do they just overlap along some dimensions? This is significant because at some point, the article appears to suggest a discussion of the role of the MOOC teacher would have some implications for our thinking about the role of the online teacher (pg. 62):
From our earliest conversations as a team, in Spring 2012, about whether we could develop a MOOC, and how this would challenge and refine our beliefs about good practices in online education, this has been a process of critical experimentation. 
My perspective is that online learning can have degrees of in-person teaching components different from most MOOCs. Online education can include blended learning (sometimes called hybrid learning) components with some mandatory in-state residency hours. Online courses can also be crafted using different modalities.  Some are entirely synchronous in nature, and not all online courses are massive, even though they may have large enrollments. When we use the term online courses or online education, they are typically used in reference to institutional online education programs designed to confer specific credentials upon program completion. Although MOOC providers are now experimenting with signature courses with a targeted sequence that leads to specialization certificates, MOOCs and online education are not synonymous.

MOOC participants tend to have significant years of formal education, "just over 60% had post-graduate level qualifications" (p. 63). Most of these students participate in MOOCs to learn something new -- highly motivated non-traditional(?) students -- not to check off a list of program requirements.

The above-mentioned factors may distinguish the role and responsibilities of online teacher(s) from MOOC teachers. What we learn from this article about MOOC teachers may have some implications for online teachers, but I'd comment that the two terms -- MOOCs and Online Education -- are quite distinct from each other.
  • Teacher identity received a fair bit of discussion both within the article and during the Twitter chat. Watson (2009, cited in Ross et al, 2014) singled out three related sites for academic identity -- the department, the institution (Aren't these both the professional sites where a teacher enacts his/her role(s)?) and the personal/professional context. To me, the personal and the professional facets of a teacher's life are entwined and the sum of these experiences shape her teaching and teacher identity. A teacher who says s/he could easily disentangle the personal from the professional in her teaching roles and responsibilities is begging the question, "What makes one a teacher?" I'd say ALL of his/her life experiences, but Parker Palmer would say, [Catherine Cronin cited him in a tweet], We teach who we are (Parker, 2007).  
Like Parker, I ask, "Who is the self that teaches?" because "the human heart-- is the source of good teaching." Many or most educational institutions prize the intellect of teachers, oftentimes neglecting the emotional and spiritual dimensions of teaching, tying academic identity to research accomplishments, less to teaching efforts. Erroneously, not to recognize and support the other dimensions of the teacher's life is to bankrupt him/her; and as Ross et al mention, is to diminish and mischaracterize the teacher. 
Ross et al disclosed the authentic but ambivalent feelings they had as new MOOC teachers: anxiety, excitement and vulnerability in negotiating the newness of the experience. I hope they follow up on the question they posed to MOOC teachers: "How can we provide reassuring and recognizable evidence of our attention earlier?" Not an easy question to answer for sure at a site with thousands of participants, but I feel connection with students trump co-participation and co-learning pedagogical approach. Insert a course introduction video into the course right at the beginning where every MOOC teacher is presented and schedule a Google Hangout ASAP.

2. Doing the Event

I had little expectations for the event and even less preparation. Laura told me I didn't need to read in advance and I'd participated in Twitter chats before, so I thought I was "prepared" for the event. When the time came, I showed up "online," calm but eager to see how it would all unfold. Laura provided some tips for event setup, so I tried to highlight chunks of text for discussion, using Acrobat X Pro and my free Windows snipping tool. Here's the visual for Jeffrey Keefer who asked about the tool:

Windows PC snipping tool on Start Menu of Windows
Windows PC snipping tool

What was unusual about this event is the fact that it was touted as a live reading event. It's somewhat paradoxical for me to read and talk at the same time. Reading is a silent time for me, outwardly. My mind is far from silent, and so the busyness of tweeting, reading (skimming really!) and interacting with other participants was quite a cognitive overload for me (and maybe me alone). In other Twitter chats I've participated in, we were given questions ahead of time to prepare for the chat if we wanted to. There was an agenda set up ahead of time. This live-tweet reading event was rather disorienting for me because of the nature of the reading material. It was rich, complex and full of interesting quotes. As it is right now, in its present format and form, I feel that the pace of Twitter interactions and communication does not do a rich journal-article-reading justice. We did retrieve some gems from the article. We raised a few interesting ideas, but the depth of exchange that I was expecting escaped me. I had expected more from my own history of having participated in journal article discussions in person. (Maybe it is me who needs to change?) Several threads of conversation were going on at the same time; threads I couldn't make sense of because the other participants could be or maybe were talking about some quote or phrase from the article I wasn't present when it began. I recall just pausing at one point and wondering what was going on. Where could I chip in and how do I answer some of these questions posed at me which didn't seem very related to the quotes I had pulled out? Is this my singular experience? How did the other participants who were not involved in the planning of the event feel? Had their previous discussions prepared them differently for this event?

Looking back, a live-read-tweet-and-comment experience might appear to be a rather incompatible combination. But tweaking the event a little could help. For example, reading ahead of time would have helped me tremendously. Maybe preparing some questions and posting it ahead of time would also help guide the discussion so it would feel less kafkaesque, not in the menacing sense, but it would provide some structure to make it less confusing.

This is not to say I didn't learn or benefit from this experience. I did. AFTER the event, I was very eager to read the article in solitude, and with great care, dwelling on the points and reflecting on some of them considerably. The event heightened interest in more attentive reading. I wanted to interact with the ideas a bit more.

I was certainly glad Laura storified the tweets, and we could access them to reflect a little more later. The hashtag also continues to have a life of its own. For me, I'd continue to add to it when it's appropriate and would follow up on some of the suggested readings.

3. What Next?  

I'd participate in another #tjc15 event but I'd read ahead of time. I would highlight quotes for discussion and plan for it with some questions of my own, just so I could have the opportunity to raise ideas that I'd understand more completely in the context of the whole article. Not reading the article in advance means I was just skimming and jumping from a chunk of text to another, and this doesn't situate the meaning of the ideas in the entirety of the whole piece. (I'm grasping at words to try to convey my message!)

But definitely, I'm honored to have participated in this inaugural event and am open to discussing this reflective piece further.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Poetry Practice Pieces 2.25.15

Five Not-So-Easy Pieces

My head hurt in my effort to complete these assignments. Ils contestaient missions! And so, I'm still working on the Dickinson one. Enjoy!

1.Five Liner

Stiff knotty hands misshapen by age
Sculpts earthy tators with black steel blade
Practicing the presence of God, he says
Can I tempt you to rest your gnarled aching grip
His neck stretches, recoils, bent on his sacred toil

2.  Sound and Sense (A la Peyton Manning -"Nationwide is on Your Side")

I picked this line from one of Barry Manilow's popular hit, I Write the Song:

I write the songs that make the whole world sing..

I uploaded to SoundCloud the recording of me humming to the tune to get the rhythm in my head and heart. Tried Vocaroo and it didn't work so well for this purpose.

Based on that tune, I ad libbed these words -- depicting sensory images -- to fit the rhythm, or as Randy calls it, "the sonic footprint." Seriously, Peyton Manning makes it look too easy! I'm learning that poetry writing is a discipline that trains the mind to become more precise and concise. One must be willing to put up with the frustration of not finding the right word at the time one needs it.

Down coats in winter feel so snug and warm

Space heaters roar and drown Queen's melodies

Hot soups banish bone-chilling bitter cold

Fresh made popcorn smells tart and heavenly

A Saab zips by and wrecks her pristine Dior  

3. Dickinson Inspiration (c. 1862)

The clouds blocked out the sun --
They did not think I cared --
The smiling sun displeased the clouds
And five sullen days was had

And then, the snow came down
The waters in the sky --
Frozen into ice, pelted earth a foot high
Lunar New Year hit town with no glad cry

The plans to huddle, cook and eat
Were threatened and subdued
No firecrackers, steamboat feasts or greets
I wrote my friends, celebrate we ought

[Sorry, Randy, unfinished, still under construction]

I'll go and try redrafting the older pieces now.

March 2, 2015 Update:

This is an original old draft where we were instructed to translate an idea into an image, which I didn't do so well at. It was too abstract and Randy wanted more specific details.

February 18, 2015

What is Self
A lonely, single figure
Huddled up on an island
With no complications
Free of interwoven dependencies
No part in a tapestry of complexity
And conspiracy
Self is at liberty to worship
Kneel, express,
Move in thankfulness
For gratitude