How can Michelangelo be a sculptor, painter, architect, poet, and engineer?


Everyone knows Michelangelo and a few of us (such as me) realised how multi-talented he was. He was a sculptor, a painter, an architect, a poet and an engineer! How was it possible that he had so many hats? Whereas for our current era, one can either be a sculptor, or be an architect or be an engineer. So to which degree was this multi-identity true and if so,

We won’t be able to test Michelangelo’s qualification as a professional architect or engineer. The reality might well be, he won’t even be allowed to do these works as he did not graduate from proper architect or engineering school. So which school he did go to? How was he educated?

StyleSaveUs-Awkward-Cats-Michelangelo-CatsIn Ibo Van de Poel and David E. Goldberg’s book [Philosophy and Engineering: An Emerging Agenda], we learnt that Michelangelo’s formal education ended before his teens. (It was said that the he spent more time painting his beautiful surroundings than being in school). He picked up his architect knowledge from observing buildings being built in Florence and old buildings in Rome. Overseeing a library in Florence at the age of 50 made his an ‘architect’.

Are we able to produce another Michelangelo with schools and universities teaching modulazed subjects? When we are supposed to be in a compartmentalised field, such as chemistry, engineering, literacture, can we still have some one who transpasses, really well? When universities first started, did they offer a degree of an isolated subject or did they offer a degree of general? In the future, would we have a degree for competency (eg. degree of creativity, degree of problem solving)?

I would not mind being awarded a degree of Michelangelo.


What I found in BETT London


BETT (British Educational Training and Technology Show) takes place in EXCEL London this year again.The event is not only attended by education technology companies but many corporates who are targeting education sector with a more generic service or product. It was a little overwhelming to walk into a huge hall with booth after booth after booth. And I try to draw a few observations from a half day there:

  1. Hardware is getting cheaper and cooler: In terms of low cost entry, a £20 tablet has already appeared.  For hardware innovation, we see a hybrid of tablet/PC from Acer, and a very cool ring type bluetooth device you put on your finger to remote control touch screens.
  2. A strong presence of Maker Culture: There are a lot of ‘robotics’ linked with software such as ‘scratch’ so that people (not only children, people like me) can learn coding in a visual friendly way. The greater news is that one gets to see the result of his/her program in the robot instantly. You are making something while learning how to code. Below is a robot face whose expression, gesture, language can be manipulated by running scratch programming language. (I had my first scratch lesson there).IMG_1095
  3. It is hard to stand out unless you have something distinguishing: Needless to say, a good educational technology product takes many brains and much time to develop, to really innovate. Otherwise, it will be easily overlooked in an ocean like exhibition as BETT, when more than 100 countries send their delegates and troops to present.
  4. What is supposed to happen does not necessarily happen: Even with a really cool technology product, the implementation relies on people, takes time and depends on some luck. Like life, what is supposed to happen does not necessarily do so, at least not immediately.

Still a fun event to visit, gives me some Christmas gift ideas.

The Uighur who sells naan


In my parent’s neighbourhood, there is a Uighur family who sets up a food stall to sell naan. Their 2-year-old kid often runs around the stall, with reddish and dirty face. They live in the community but little people know what are their names, what brought them to leave home, how is life for them. Everyday many people pass-by but few people stop-by.

naan catBeing in an online master’s program as a minority I start to think about this Uighur family. There are a lot in common between their situation and my situation. Being a non Canadian, non K-12 school teacher in my current online master program of educational technology by a Canadian university makes me standout. Like the Uighur family, we are both in an environment whose primary language, dominant culture, majority of participants differ from those of our origin. We will find it challenging to blend in and be part of a participants of a interest group (online or offline).

So what do we do about it? I feel we ourselves have as much responsibility as the environment around us. Make greetings, ask questions, showing curiosity and rapport are ways we ought to try. Would it work? Would our environment have duty to help us blend in as well? If so to which degree?

Next time when I go to my parents’ neighbourhood, I would very much like to say hi to the Uighur family that sells naan bread.

Scarcity and abundance


I was born in the era when people needed coupon to get basics such as milk and flour. Later on I spend most of my time in Hong Kong where every inch of land worths a piece of gold. Therefore it is a change to live in a house of abundant space whose living room and lounge is hardly used and I am still getting used to it.

For someone who went from scarcity to abundance, I ask myself a question – whether it is good in which aspect? The question emerged itself clearer when I watched  Dr. Sugata Mitra (“Hole in the Wall” experiment), Kids Can Teach Themselves.

In this TED talk, Sugata mentions a project he did in India – install a PC screen in a wall  hole, either in urban slum or in rural areas. Some interesting things happened – kids go to browse and play by themselves in groups. They taught themselves the necessary skills and language in order to operate the machine in the hole. Since they had to share one PC, they had to advise each other and therefore gained similar skillsets altogether.

Sugata needs to provide more substantial data to prove that his approach does improve the computer literacy level of children. But I found the practice of playing together with a shared toy (computer) interesting. If they are left with abundance, saying one kid one PC, what would happen? Would they acquire the same level of knowledge faster, better? In this particular case, the scarcity of PC hardware forces the children to share and is this a good thing or a bad thing?

When I need a button to talk


Talking always feels so natural to me. I have an opinion, a question, then I speak and get responses. It is a game of table tennis, ball bouncing back and forth, until it is dropped. Talking in a virtual environment, however, is not the same when I need to press a button to talk.

First of all, the system is designed that I will not be able to see others’ threads until I post my own. So I was in a world of dumbness until I wrote something. The first assignment is easy, a self-introduction. But how long shall I write, which style I shall use? Would I write too little? Would I write too much? Would people find me interesting (based on what I write?) I had a butterfly in my stomach.

Secondly, I have to talk to each one individually and most times I don’t get instant feedback or any feedback. In a classroom, some one speaks and we all hear him/her. However in this virtual classroom, I have to click into each thread of self-introduction to read about each person. After reading ten of them, I was defeated. I really cannot remember who has two kids and who likes diving with his wife. Some of us are really nice and respond to each thread. But all of us have a daytime job and personal life to take care of (plus Facebook takes our time too), it is hard to continue to log in, click into each thread, respond and wait to see response of the response? funny-cat-picture-are-you-still-talking

Thirdly, when I talk, I use short sentences. When I write, it feels more formal and inevitably, my threads are long. (but believe me, others beat me on length of threads). So after dedicate my afternoon browsing people’s threads and commenting back, I was exhausted.

This is not a blog to complain a conversation in online environment. Rather I am putting out challenges I face in trying to forge online relationship with fellow students. Difficulties I have when I would like to learn and interact with my online peers. Those I won’t be able to meet in person in near future. It is difficult but is it impossible?

Oh, the discussion board shall have ‘Like’ button, definitely!

When most of my classmates like hockey


I have been silent for a while. There are various things keeping me busy, such as starting an online master program of educational technology. This, for the record, is my first time to do a master program purely online.

Needless to say, the first time I got onto the discussion board, I just felt like being back to school, day one. People are introducing themselves by posting photos, videos and texts. As this is an online part time program, students are of all ages, doing different roles at school (teachers, instructors, administrators). Having said that, since it is a program from one university in Canada,  most students are Canadian and they like to play hockey!

Hockey Cat

I have never played or watched hockey in my life. For the last decade, I had been living in places with little snow or ice.

In a real classroom situation, I can probably switch topics to talk about the teacher, weather, furnitures of the classroom and overall program. However, in this online community, my classmates may well take different courses than I do, we don’t know the instructor yet, my weather is different from theirs. And to talk about the virtual classroom furniture might not be that exciting.

When most of my online classmates like Hockey, what do I do to meet my buddy?