Culture on WeChat, WeChat on Culture, WeChat Culture on me Attachment


Culture’s impact on WeChat

Every morning I use my mobile phone to check Facebook and WeChat. I use Facebook to connect with my non Chinese friends and use WeChat to stay in touch with  my Chinese friends. By May 2016, WeChat has 1 billion registered users and 700 million active users. (the population of Europe was 740 million by 2010).


Due to Great FireWall, the Chinese online community is separated from the rest of the online world. WeChat is barely the exception. Its main content language is in Chinese.  Chinese culture influences its product design, content view points and even the emoticon  design.

Emoticon by South Korea mobile chat application

Emoticon  by Facebook.  Are you able to articulate the differences between Asian emoticons and US emoticons?

Wechat Culture

One thing very unqiue about WeChat is that it goes beyond being someone’s personal photo album and address book. Every user can create a public  account which he/she can use every day for publishing purposes. Therefore WeChat becomes 1 billion people’s individual publishing platform. In my view, it replaces official newspaper which only has one view representing the government. People actually trust WeChat publishings more. They read news from WeChat not from official paper newspaper which people view as old fashion and very boring.  The power structure is flattened out quickly with people more and more daring to challenge authorities.

WeChat Cutlure on me

I rely on WeChat to maintian connection with Chinese speaking community. I left China in 2000 but thanks to  WeChat, I maintian my Chinese identity by keep on reading about news in China and interacting with my Chiense friends on mobile phone. Wechat also is an alumni network tool. People who went to the same calss in primary school, high school and university organised WeChat communities .  Even I am living in UK and studying with a Canadian centric program, I feel a very strong connection with my familiies and old friends in China.

But WeChat changed my behavior and my cognitive ability. I read less, check mobile phone more often. I am more impatient on Wechat than on emails in terms wanting responses from people.  WeChat becomes my extended memory. I bookmarked good restaurant list, travel guides on my WeChat so I only need to remember what I have on phone rather than the content itself.

I am not entirely sure if this is a good thing or not. But WeChat is a culturally embedded technology product and it is hugely impacting the Chinese culture and my individual life. It strengthened my personal identity. That is just a matter of fact.

Sources of pictures


Are platforms all the same?


Several major countries have their own MOOC platforms. Are they all the same?

My approach is to select a few representative MOOC platforms and review their structure. For each platform I chose a random course to review how the course design and platform design worked together.


Framework used

I reviewed three major areas: social relationship, epistemological beliefs and temporal perceptions.

Social relationship: teacher student power

There is one indication of power of teacher. In Chinese culture, teachers are usually seen as sage on the stage. Writing down what the sage says in the notes becomes a common learning practice. Therefore XuetangX (a Chinese MOOC platform) has a specific feature for students to share their study notes.

In terms of power of students, I used two indicators: is there an option for students to provide feedback to teachers? Are there venues to students to show their identities? Spanish language MiriadaX designed a course rating and review bottom. Two European platforms (FutureLearn and iversity) and one US platform (NovoEd) offer students to present their personal

Social relationship – student-to-student interaction

How collaborative learning is perceived? There are a few things to check on this dimension: is it possible to have peer review each other academically? Provide informal feedback such as likes and comments? Contact and connect each other directly? And how group work is reflected in the platform design?

The strongest platform for peer interaction is NovoEd of USA. The China XuetangX and German iversity are weakest in peer-to-peer collaboration.


Epistemological beliefs

In terms of what constitutes learning, FutureLearn platform demonstrates a very unique approach. When most other platforms offer only discussion forum, FutureLearn courses have discussion questions designed and embedded in each course design. It reflects a very UK approach when it comes to learning – the importance of guided debate.

Temporal perceptions

Is time to be managed? Should students monitor their progress? Both FutureLearn (UK) and NovoEd(US) offer students progress visualization tool so students can ‘see’ as their own learning journey towards set goals.


MOOC has been a global phenomenon, but how each country’s platform responded to it is different. The differences of how each platform is conceived and designed reflect how each assumes a ‘normal’ way of teaching and learning. We can better understand better how one culture of learning is by reviewing how one school of teaching is revealed online.

Speece (2012) suggested that ‘student who have particular learning styles are unlikely to choose a mode which does not fit their styles well’. Does it mean a German MOOC platform would accommodate German students best? And does it imply there will not be a truly global platform for all? Do culture shape platforms and platforms have no influence on learning and teaching culture? There are outstanding questions in need of further investigation.


  1. 12 March 2015. Definition Massive Open Online Courses. OpenupED website. Retrieved on 6 October 2016 via

  1. Parrish, P. & Linder-VanBerschot, J. A. (2010). Cultural Dimensions of Learning: Addressing the Challenges of Multicultural Instruction. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, retrieved from
  2. Salili, F., & Hoosain, R. (2007), Culture, motivation, and learning: A multicultural perspective. Charlotte, NC. Information Age Publishing.
  3. Speece, M. (2012). Learning Style, Culture and Delivery Mode in Online Distance Education. US-China Education Review, retrieved from

Group behavior


Group behavior – Would you like to go to the washroom together?

When I was studying in my primary school in Shanghai, it was very normal for some girl to invite me go to washroom together. Actually it was so normal that if a girl was not invited, it means she was not popular. We went to washroom together not because it was dangerous to go alone, but because it was ‘normal’ to go together. (I cannot speak for boys).

It is normal to be in a group. It is not normal to not to belong to one.

So it is normal to travel in groups and to have wedding in groups. These groups are informal. Mostly in each group, there is a leader who is not necessarily the most capable but usually who is the most considerate and connects well with everyone. Democracy exists in these groups. People discuss and agree upon things, then act collectively.


Group behavior in social media

The group behavior also demonstrates itself significantly in the world of social media. A combination of Facebook, Instagram, Paypal and Twitter, Wechat is the biggest social media in China. I use Facebook to connect with my friends outside China and Wechat with my friends in China.

On Facebook most my messages are based on a one-to-one relationship. The conversation happens between two persons – the counterpart and me. Meanwhile half of my Wechat messages are take place in groups. I have groups with people from my school, family and work community.

redpocketIn cater to this group phenomenon, Wechat developed many useful features to including ‘Wechat Red Pocket’ . It is based on the tradition of red pocket for Chinese New Year, when money is wrapped in red envelop given to family and friends as a gift. ‘Wechat Red Pocket’ offers users the ability to send out virtual Wechat credit (linked to real money). The ‘grouped’ red pocket can be posted to a group chat and group members can click to get the credit (first come, first serve).

Root of group behavior explained

Chinese society has been fundamentally agriculture based. In south part of China, migrants arrived centuries earlier and settled in places with enough land to cultivate. That means many descendants could remain in the vicinity, making for a critical mass of nearby kinsmen. (Ebrey P., Cambridge Illustrated History China, 2010). During 16th century, lineages were already introducing elaborate systems to control, support and discipline members. Over time the institution of lineages weakened but its concept rooted in Chinese people’s minds. The natural concept of belong to a group (although it is not necessary to be based on kinship) becomes the soil of the tree to guide individual’s actions and thoughts.

The notion of lineages is not uncommon in western cultures. For example, in the TV show ‘Madman’ we saw the Campbell Macdonald fight. These two men got into a flight from their loyalty to their ancestral Scottish clans, defined by family names.


However two revolutions in Western history diluted the role of groups in people’s life. The Industrial Revolution stimulated trading and thus reduced the economic benefits to stay together. The Culture Revolution in 1960’s UK and US created youth culture and strengthened the culture of individualism.

Take a look at our classrooms!

classroom-chinaBut culture is too complicated to view using only one lens. The photo on the left shows how a typical class looks like in China.  When we observe so much group behavior in social life and on social media, it is much less so in the classroom. In another word, the notion of group behavior, while permeating the social life and social media, has made little influence in the formal education system. Why?

For a long time in China’s ancient history the only way to achieve social mobility was to excel in the civil exam. To excel in the exam, one needed to recite accurately some most obscure paragraphs in selected books. Success of life hugely depended on a high stake exam. The exam required learning more through interheadaction with texts than through social emotion interaction with others. A famous student role model is a man who tired his hair on house beam so whenever he fell asleep while reading at midnight; the hair attached to the beam dragged his head up and woke him up. Key message – learning is lonely and hard.

In the Western research society of education, Lev Vygotsky’s ZPD theory gained its influence. People recognized learning and development through social and emotion interaction with others. The notion of learning with others and from others constituted the foundation of group learning.

Group behavior in online learning

We examined group behavior in social life and in classroom. How about group behavior in online learning? How about MOOCs when the division of formal and informal learning started to blur? How does group form, establish its power structure and culture? Are certain benefits of collaborative learning get lost or strengthened? I hope to address these questions in the following essays.

Sources of photos:

  4. Youtube





Just coming back from Edinburgh Cultural Festival I dived quickly into the academic discussion about the notion of culture. The Edinburgh festivals is a kaleidoscope demonstration of how people express themselves, the world by constructing stories in artistic forms. The notion of culture discussed in academic settings covers a wider range of situation: how people address uncertainty, power hierarchies, opposite gender etc. An art form of culture is an intense, staged version of daily culture.

I many times think of our world as a garden or a safari or a juggle, an ecosystem in which all kinds of live beings play a certain role. Just as we are amazed by the diversification our nature offers, we shall embrace how each genre of plant or animal plays a unique role in the world naturally. In the desert plants with thin leaves survive by reducing water evaporation. In the tropical regions, plants with opposite features thrive. The soil, the weather, the microenvironment and the food chain structure shaped the habit and the look of a particular plant or an animal.

In terms of human culture, things are even more complicated because we can change our environment. Our local environment shapes us (our local culture) but we shape our environment too. By environment, I not only meant natural environment also include the concept of institution, legal structure, etc. In certain cultures, rules matter more than in others. For example, right now I am preparing my driving theory test in UK. Part of it is to memorize hundreds of traffic signals. There are more than 300 articles to cover every situation for every type of drivers. It was not the case when I was preparing my driving theory test in Hong Kong. When I was negotiation contract with Chinese universities for my work, they usually complain how long UK contracts are compared to US contract. This is a reflection of culture. It is a result of intertwining of history, institution, constitution, geography and even weather. Accumulation of culture goes back long way and it is rooted much deeper than it looks.

In the wildness, it is possible to reach equilibrium over time. Without dramatic external change, number of each species stabilizes. However our civilization has a less peaceful record. We had wars and battles between nations and continents, many times due to clashes of religions and identities. As the concept of religion and identity forms our culture, I can therefore say, we had wars and batters, many times resulting from our incapability in resolving cultural differences.

Luckily we are increasingly aware of culture, thanks to modern technology and resulting cross cultural communication. The ultimate purpose  of knowing is not to know every possible stereotype. The significance of the study for me is to be aware someone’s way of thinking and being can be completely different from mine, or even from my imagination. And that demonstration of behavior is determined by value. That value is deeply rooted under the influence of history, social, anthropology factors. A certain value combined with certain behavior created the notion of certain ‘stereotype’. That stereotype can be even more deeply entrenched in our minds.

Zootopia is a movie about ecosystem. ‘From the largest elephant to the smallest shrew, the city of Zootopia is a mammal metropolis where various animals live and thrive. When Judy Hopps becomes the first rabbit to join the police force, she quickly learns how tough it is to enforce the law. Determined to prove herself, Judy jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case. ‘


We want to create a zootopia for an online learning community. It takes institution and many brave individuals like Judy Hopps.

Appendix: photo source –


Run faster, eat bitter for the better


One of my cousins works for a bank in Beijing. During her recent visit, she shared with me some stories of her colleagues from China’s second and third tier cities. These stories are history of struggles with happy endings. People worked really hard in school to move to the first tier city and get a better paid job. They continued to work really hard at work and save every penny they can. A standard formula for a happy ending:  with all these struggles, he/she bought a flat.

Work really hard and get a flat. That is success for you, in reality. Chinese young people shall not feel lonely. On the west side of the Eurasia continent, in London house prices are also crushing the hopes of a young generation.

However there are extra layers of complexity on the China map.

Contrast – There is huge inequality between first tier cities and the rest, between urban areas and rural areas. Each province has its relative independent ecosystem, with its own infrastructure, governing team, subcultural, career opportunities. What people aim for is to move to a better system, better pay, more efficient administrative system, more job opportunities.

Mobility – But mobility is difficult due to the home registry system (户籍), a ‘sub visa’ scheme operating within the country. Each person’s home registration is attached to a local province, with gives him/her the title to study, work and receive welfare only within that province. It is a lottery where you were born. (Isn’t it universally true?). The usual channel to achieve upward mobility is to go to a university in first tier city which improves your chance to find a job in that city and settle down there significantly.

tom and jerry runningThe channel is narrow but achievable, for someone from a less privileged family. One needs to eat bitter (吃苦). Eat Bitter is a concept meaning making huge sacrifices usually to obtain certain goal. In this context, it means studying extremely hard so that one can score higher than 1000, 10,0000 peers in the university entrance exam. It means try every possible way to get a better pay job and stay in the best city possible. It means work non step, count every penny you pay for living because the next thing on the checklist is to save enough money for a flat downpayment.

This has brought an interesting context for education – what is the purpose of you going through an official education system? To compete and win so you can beat the 1000 others and get to the next level?

What if you have a happy ending here? When everything that has been driving you is achieved, what is next? Run faster towards which goal? Eat bitter for what? For the better measured by what? Who are you? A winner at life but what is your cause?











Technological tools for collaboration


Collaboration is hard (think of the most intimate format of collaboration – marriage, 48% of them fail in Canada and 53% in USA, source – divorce demography wiki). Virtual collaboration is harder.

For the four stage of (mostly offline collaboration) : form, norm, storm and perform, if we want to migrate that online, obviously we need tools which support the whole process – to know each other, to form standard and bond, to discuss and debate, until ultimate to produce outcomes and develop portfolios.

What are some existing technological tools available to facilitate this process? Are they fragmented along the process or can they be integrated?

facebook iconlinkedin Icon

Profiling – we want to feel we are cooperating with humans, that makes the process and impact more personal. The network of Facebook and LinkedIn make it so much easier to establish a profile and network both in personal and professional context.

wechatGoogle hangout iconslack iconSkypeCommunication – There are numerous communication tools in the market. They can be in the form of either asynchronous or synchronous, pass over messages via the format of text, audio, video or multimedia. Some of them run better on mobile devices and others do so on computers.

google_docs_original_icons_by_painiax-d74oqqfCo-creation – This is where nobody does better than Google documents. For almost every group project I am in, all of them rely on Google documents and Google folder, except my projects in China. (power of firewall, see my related blog – love letter for Google)


slideshare  icon

pinterest iconyoutube icon

 e-portfolios – slideshare, pinterest, youtube are all possible e-portals for people to display their collaborative outcomes.

These technological tools are not just made for educational purpose and they are fragmented. Does it matter?


Is the world of education flat?


Assuming our world especially the world of technology continues to flatten, what does it mean for us, individually and institutionally?

I believe we need to have a global and a growth mindset. A global mindset to equip us to be able to collaborate with people beyond cultural boundary. A growth mindset to upscale skillsets in order to stay relevant.

The world of learning and teaching respond rapidly to our fast changing reality, in both formal and informal learning space.

student packingFor students – According to OECD’s white paper ‘Education at a Glance 2012’, ‘the number of international (tertiary-level) students has increased fivefold from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to 4.1 million in 2010…Since 2000, the number of foreign tertiary students enrolled worldwide has increased by 99%, for an average annual growth rate of 7.1%.’


world mapFor teaching – New business models emerged with a groundbreaking example of Minerva School. The university allows students to live and learn in seven of the world’s cities during four years of study in accredited residential program. The first batch of its students come from different continents. (read commentary ‘Is Minerva University redefining 21st century education’)

For informal lifelong education – Open Educational Resources (OER) and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer everyone with internet access to read, watch and digest educational content.

If we can make educational content open at massive scale, can we make collaborative learning at massive scale, using technology?

The technology world is flat


A decade ago, in his book ‘The World is Flat’, Thomas L. Friedman argues that the world was becoming a level playing field for commerce, citing ten driving forces such as

  • Breakdown of political division : collapse of the Berlin Wall
  • Internet ubiquitous allows information, content, work to flow, and the possibility of uploading and collaborating of online projects
  • Business model: outsourcing and offshoring

Top 10 technology companies by market cap 1995As of today, all of them are proved true especially in the world of technology.

In 1995 world’s top 15 technology company list (by market capitalization, source: Mary Meeker, ‘Internet Trend’ 2015) told us a few things:

  1. Companies were all from North America territory and Europe (1 from Germany)
  2. They were still largely operating in their home base.

Looking back it felt the world was living in another life.

Top 10 technology companies by market cap 200520 years after, situation largely changed. Among the top 15 list, 4 of them come from China. All of them are global brands aiming for the world’s lion share.

Most of them also did not exist in year 1995, such as Facebook (USA), Alibaba (China), Tencent (China).

These technology unicorns are young, ambitious and global known.

In year 2016, technology continues to disrupt all industries including taxi (Uber of USA, Didi of China), hotel (Airbnb of USA), personal finance (Ant financial of China). They entered into the world’s league table with equal ambition to face the flat world.

The question is – how does our formal and informal education respond to this new world?

Top 10 technology companies by 2016

Sweat together and bond after


Recently I did a talk about learning and collaborating online in small groups with slides HERE.

Main storyline goes as

  • Higher education is shifting from location/culture based towards objective/interest based. My undergraduate education was totally immersed by Chinese culture. But the situation is much different when I take a MOOC course or even doing an online degree program which was designed by a Canadian university.
  • A diversified learner population decreases the chance of marginalising minorities (in terms of races and professions). Being marginalised is not some experience I am familiar with as a child but something I had to deal with as a grown up. A carefully designed international program usually balances its student background mix so there will be no dominant culture. Naturally so does a MOOC course.
  • A good team communicates and works together to overcome a shared challenge.
  • Network formed from a good small group experience goes beyond course duration and course content. 

teamworkA good team and network formed after can be a result from either a MOOC course or an online degree course. The prerequisite is that the team shall be motivated intrinsically and have certain collaboration skills. So that they are prepared to spend time communicating, negotiating, sweating altogether in the same boat and know how to do that.

Isn’t that the same with all our human experience? You share a challenging journey together and bond after.

The Openness


This is another piece of learning experience comparison between MOOCs and online degree program courses – Openness. The further I explore into these two worlds, the more thorough I got to understand the meaning of openness, in terms of content, peer interaction, assignment and cohort community.

google catContent openness – It is a no brainer that you need to enrol in a degree program or in a MOOC course to interact with content. What is worth noticing is that some MOOC courses make their content open by uploading their videos on Youtube. All that means, you don’t need to register before you engage with content. And more importantly, the content is Googlable. That is a vital step to make educational resources truly open.

Interaction openness – In both cases, you cannot view peer to peer interaction unless you sign up for a course. But my question would be – why is that? Would it be ultimately thinkable that discussion of a certain subject be open to anyone? That means, people can Google about what others talk about when they learn basic algebra or biology. Would the pros overshadow the cons?

Assignment openness – For a couple of NovoEd  (NovoEd began as a social learning MOOC platform but pivoted towards a corporate training platform over time) courses I took, the best fun I had was to review others’ assignments. That is when creativity really exploded by viewing  and reflecting on what others think and do. In an accredited online course, the design is less so. One of my instructor did provide a very sound rational – since it is graded you can only view others assignments after you complete your own. That is very fair. I reflected on these two experiences and think – does it mean MOOC is for fun and accredited course is for external recognition? What are the implications and consequences of that? And would it be possible these two trespass one day?

Cohort community openness – I had a mentor from my NovoEd course ‘Technology Entrepreneurship’. He contacted me recently to introduce a current learner group to pick up my brain. Happily I accepted. Because I had fun in that course. The course design was superb, my group members worked really well together.  My mentor was very supportive and encouraging. You can feel everyone puts their heart into teaching, learning and mentoring. That engaging experience left me with no hesitance to be connected to future cohorts.

I keep my mind open when I felt openness.