What MOOCs did change

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I was asked and I read a lot this question – what MOOCs really changed? Does it improve the way of teaching? What is so innovative and ground breaking about it? How is it different from online learning and teaching?

I take this question seriously. At the very beginning as a student of MOOC courses, I felt I suddenly have so many windows open to me, I was able to take all kinds of courses online for free. But like million of others, I did not complete every single one of them. I take my fair share being a dropout.

working catRight now after working in this area for some time I started to see how it changed/challenged educators. Educators are shown how subjects are taught by people around the world, in different ways. They started to see the possibility of illustrating concepts, designing exercises in different and expansive ways. I think that is the real impact of MOOCs (an overheated term many people feel, and their doubts are fair). In a way, the wall is breaking down between educators around the world, they are able to see, to compare, to evaluate and eventually to make use of other educators’ teaching resources.

Maybe MOOC is making education more international? Is it a start of teacher help teacher crossing the borders?

Late but not behind

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Our book club is reading [Brilliance by Design] this term. For the first two session, I selected representative paragraphs so we could circulate difficult vocabulary and discuss them together. But a few students were saying they, confused, found it hard to understand the structure of each chapter. They are lost. I hit the teacher’s blind spot. It is most students’ first time to read an entire book in English how did I forget that!

cat runningTherefore for the third time, I asked each student to take up one passage of the chapter we were supposed to go through. Each was to write the title of the passage and explained to all of us what that passage talks about. Then all together we drew a mind map how each part is linked and corrleated to establish the chapter.

cat familyTwo students were late as they had other engagements prior. That was even better. The rest of students needed to brief the two what had been discussed. The new comers would then lead the group to come up with a new mind map – suggestions to the author – how to improve the structure of this chapter. ‘Maybe you can email the author’. I said.

Students were happy and engaged. They understood better. It was a challenging session as they could not stop thinking. (A couple of them was stuck some times.) What I found particularly satisfying was for the two students who came late, they were late but were not left behind.

Would you like a cup of tea?

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Part of my recent project involves working with university educators on a MOOC course about tea. To read and listen about the history and business of tea is intense and fun. It also brought me back to a bizarrely cute tradition we had during our MBA program in Cambridge.

During the first term, we always had tea breaks within a class. During the class break, in the corridor, a table would be set for us with coffee, tea and biscuits. My brains, by then, would be stuffed with new knowledge. My stomach, on the contrary, had plenty of room for something yummy. A tea break was just what I needed (especially after the statistics class).

teapartycatLooking back the cute tradition – tea break, I suddenly started to cast new light on this old tradition. Was the tea break purely designed to fill our belly and rest our brains? Maybe there was more to it. Maybe it meant to be a social occasion purposefully arranged for us to know each other better, to exchange ideas and thoughts on what was just taught to us, to debate, to argue, with the nice company of tea pots.

A Chinese banquet is more than a dinner. It is a vehicle to break the ice, to discuss seriousness less seriously in format. The coffee shop offers more than coffee. It is a venue people interact with each other, to chat, to fall in love, to exchange thoughts and spark new ideas.

Would you like a cup of tea, cat?

Tiger Moms

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People with teaching or tutoring experience in my book club ended up talking about the special type of ‘customers’ they had to deal with – parents.

Parents are a very interesting group teacher or tutor interacts with. A lot of them are very stressed. They protect their children keenly (maybe to an extreme extent for Western standard). The criteria they use to measure the excellence of their products – children – is their school performance. Again the school performance is measured by a narrow ruler – exam marks. They put a LOT of pressure on their beloved little ones.

We talked about interesting cases – children wanting to do good in school in order to please their parents, to get material rewards, to avoid penalty. ‘I want to study well otherwise my dad will take away my smart phone.’ Some kids say. One tutor said ‘I was fired by the mom as the student I tutored scored 89 in her exam, 1 point less than 90, the expectation of the mom’.

tiger mom

Tiger moms are every where. I have no doubt they only want the best of their children. They put their ambitions of the world onto their children . They make big sacrifice to ensure their children’s exam success from early on.

Some one once said that long time ago women used to marry in order to be someone: if a woman wanted to be a doctor, she married one, if a woman wanted to be an architect, she married one. Nowadays, if a woman wants to be some one, she gives birth to and trains one. The process is much longer but more under her control, I assume.

Don’t get me wrong, I have respect for tiger moms but I just would not want one myself, I guess.

To borrow or to steal

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I went to a forum today by graduate and Phd students of education technology major. What I realized is how influential US is in the space. Students talked about bringing products such as Scratch or Y-Plan to this part of the world.

I am very aware of how far US has travelled in this space. But my constant thoughts are if we can just take these plans and concepts to another market and be sure they will work.

travel catIn my opinion, a lot of localization or customization work needs to be done. The social environment, family and school support network differ in so many ways that we need to consider very carefully what will work and what needs to be changed in order to ensure the effectiveness of just taking something from a foreign context. Like KFC or McD who tweaked their product offerings globally, for education products I very much see the same action needed.

It is something I would encourage students to think about and act upon.

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Yesterday was a public holiday so I decided to move my work to a KFC nearby, for a change of environment. So that I would feel less of work.

I sat by a study deck in KFC, starting to read the work documents. A boy with big eyes came along quietly. Curious to see what I was doing, he tiptoed towards my desk. At the same time he was putting on a face of pretending not interested in whatever a stranger like me was reading. The contrast between his pretended coolness and sincere curiosity made it almost amusing.

Peeping catHe took a few seconds to look at the Kindle file I was reading from iPad. His eyes became even bigger as he realized it is written in another language he is not familiar with. I smiled and said hello to him.

Shyly he walked away, still with a coolness he would like to put on his face.

Casteller

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While traveling in Barcelona several years ago, I encountered a Spanish who passed me a note with an address and insisted me checking out that place on any Tuesday night at 20 pm. I took a leap of faith and went (with a lot of debate with myself of course). What I found was a community rehearsal for Casteller, an annual human tower competition, a Catalan tradition. I was pleasantly surprised. human tower

Last term I was introduced to a university campus course called The Way to Success. It is an optional course for a number of premium universities, to teach the students certain leadership skills. What is particularly interesting is the structure of the course. The course is taught by various lecturers on a variety of topics such as project management, team building, time management, etc. Every class (usually of 120 students), at the same time, has 1 assigned class mentor and 4 teaching assistants. The 120 students are divided into 12 groups, 2 group leaders for each. Every 3 groups are put into 1 tribe, administrated by 1 teaching assistant. Class mentor helps 4 teaching assistants. 4 teaching assistants support 24 group leaders and the 24 group leaders lead 120 students.

Aha, the magic use of Casteller in classroom teaching.