Friday, March 4, 2011

Book Review - A Kick in the Seat of the Pants

A Kick in the Seat of the Pants by Roger von Oech provides readers with practical advice on what to do during the creative process. It is Oech’s continuing study after A Whack on the Side of the Head, which discusses mental blocks that prevent people from being creative. Kick is full of real-life examples, and thus engaging and easy to read.
Key points
Oech believes that the creative process is not a series of linear steps but an on-going cycle. There’s not just one type of thinking, but a variety. To be successful as a creative thinker, one needs to adopt a different creative thinking role during each stage of the creative process.

These roles are:
  • The explorer role to search for the materials with which to make new ideas
  • The artist role to take the materials the explorer has collected and transform them into original new ideas
  • The judge role to examine what the artist has created and then decide what to do with it: implement it, modify it, or discard it
  • The warrior role to take the ideas then judge has deemed worthy, and do what’s necessary to implement them.
  • This book comes up with plenty of advice for us to stimulate our creativity, by pointing out both possible mental locks and practical guidance.
  • These suggestions not only talk about being mentally creative, but also discuss what should be done and what may the reality be when implementing creative ideas.
People may halt their steps on their way to creativity, because of the fear of failure, routine or dogma that prevents one from innovation, bias from people themselves or from someone resisting the implementation of new ideas, or being misled by the eye looking for perfection.
Oech suggests us to open our mind to all possibilities, whatever big or small, old or new, right or wrong, usual or unusual. Techniques for manipulating ideas include: to adapt, compare, imagine, eliminate, reverse, parody, connect, and incubate. It is better to look for fun all the way through creation: believe it to be fun to motivate oneself; let fun things bring in interesting ideas; disperse what is clouding our thinking by going a little crazy; and get strength from fun to be persistent when moving from “what if” to “what is”. We should tell ourselves to go and do it. Whenever ideas, information or discoveries occurs, write them down. Whatever it is you need to do first, do it.
Keeping these principles in mind, we’ll get spiritually prepared for producing creativity.
  • Most of the findings in this book come from empirical observation, rather than theoretical or experimental research.
  • Some of the findings may have become common sense now, and thus not that striking.
Compared with other books, such as Creative is Forever by Gary A. Davis, Kick doesn’t show much theoretical evidence. It seems talking more from the perspective of corporate settings, due to Oech’s business consulting background. Despite the lack of academic taste, it does have a lot of quotes from prominent people of various backgrounds. And there are many inspiring cases to help understanding. All the arguments are convincing and reliable, though I count this empiricism as a weakness.
This book was published in 1986, more than 20 years ago. I found many ideas having been heard many times. Some of them may become common sense now. Several days ago, I introduced Oech’s four roles model to a friend. After knowing what these four roles do, he told me that this creative process sounded quite similar to the process of writing a paper, even similar to the process of gathering information about restaurants and choose one to have a dinner. This model provides a seemingly general description of creating something, or making decisions. Those ideas may not be very exciting or striking. It is true that creativity is everywhere in our daily life, and everyone has grown up from the creative childhood. Principles for being creative are familiar to all of us, especially when this book has come out for many years and these ideas have been quoted somewhere we have seen. This is not a bad news. It means that more and more people are creative already, no matter at which level.
Future trends
Kick provides good guidance for individual creative process. However, for people like us who are seeking for creative thinking strategies in instruction, Oech hasn’t talked to us in our desired way. Teachers have to interpret these principles into instructional strategies. Some ideas are worthwhile to be integrated into our teaching, to help students cultivate their creativity.
Application and development of ideas
To incorporate these ideas into instructional use, I come up with three aspects:
  • Teachers: get prepared
    • Be open to new ideas.
    • Avoid cultural biases. 
    • Get rid of dogma. 
    • Expect the unexpected. 
    • Don’t be in a hurry to make judgments (This is my thought).
  • Creative environment construction
    • Encourage failure. 
    • Allow imperfection. 
    • Make jokes/ Bring in a sense of humor. 
    • Allow interruptions of the routine/allow breaking rules, even try programming interruptions to the class routine. 
    • Encourage opposite opinions (better with reasoning). 
    • Bring fun things to the classroom. They can be objects, people, events, stories, ideas, etc. 
    • Introduce perspectives from other fields. 
    • Provide plenty of up-to-date resources or sources of information.
  • Instructional strategies of creative thinking
    • Elicit metaphorical thinking. 
    • Elicit visualized thinking. 
    • Making connections of seemingly irrelevant things. 
    • Ask what if.
Overall, this is a great book that has triggered my thoughts and built up my awareness of creativity. I would recommend it to everyone who wants not only to be more creative, but also to have his/her creative ideas progressed into implementation.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Who to blame

“When you point a finger at another person, you are pointing three finders at yourself.”
——Kirkpatrick, 2005

This means in education that when a teacher is blaming a student for not learning, he/she should criticize his/herself at first. There is an old saying that, if the learner hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught.

This actually brings me a controversy...

I believe that learners are the subject of learning. Learning is the change happens within learner's mind. Learners take the initiative. So learning largely depends on learner's inner activity. This tells us as instructors to be learner-centered, to pay strong attention to learner's feature, style, condition of the time, etc. 
In this respect, instructor plays a less important role. The instructor is to motivate, facilitate, and mentor learner's learning, never can he/she control the learning process.
However, I also agree with Kirkpatrick's words. Whenever learning is not successful, there should be some problem with the instruction, either inappropriate presentation of materials, or inadequate motivation, or something else. (Here must be some hypothesis, for example, instruction should have an effect on learning. But I don't want to test it...) 
Then here comes the question. Now that learners take initiative in learning, why can't we blame learners for not learning? What if the teacher has made every effort to motivate, provide facilities, and provide help but still no learning occurs? If the instructor takes all the responsibility, what about the learner?


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Humanistic consideration of instruction

When we talk about the value/effectiveness of a certain instructional strategy/method/approach, usually we measure the measurable outcomes, for example, the knowledge students have acquired, or the degree to which instructional objectives are achieved. But, think about students' personal development, the change/inspiration they get in their process of mental maturity. Won't instruction provide an underlying influence which will show its "outcome" in the long run?

Today the 3rd candidate Dr. Glazewski talked about her research in PBL. Let's take PBL as an example, won't it lead to some change in students' attitude toward many other things (the world, other people, ...)/the way of thinking/or something else? Such kind of influence is never taken into account in effectiveness study, also seldom considered in ISD evaluation phase.

Yes, I'd like to admit that this humanistic domain is hard to be measured, and no one can clearly predict what the actual, exact effect instruction has made on human development, even the learner him/herself. Here I want to mention my own experience in R685. I'm really highly motivated in this class. I learn with great enthusiam. The learning outcome is satisfactory. But maybe without the teaching methods of Dr. Bonk, I can still achieve that level of outcome. (No one can assert. Traditional instructional methods sometimes is quite efficient.) Let's assume that apart from the high motivation, nothing is different from traditional class, including what I have learned. But I can tell that the experience of having a class with creativity, explosure to numerous information, frequent interaction, etc., does bring me a new, surprising, inspiring view toward my understanding of instruction and my own learningm, and especially in my way of thinking. And that's something outside of the course objectives.

This may sound somewhat idealistic and romanistic. But learning and education is never limited to the specific knowledge, right?
BTW, I feel this blog is a good place for me to reflect on my professional learning and progress. Blogging motives me to contemplate a bit. It will be a pity if I quit this place right after the end of R685.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Our cool video!

Final project does not mean the final for learning or the final for fun. Yue and I want to extend our enjoyment in this course, and thus collaborate on creating a video.

We are trying to reflect what web 2.0 and participatory learning mean to us, and express our personal feelings. Learning with technology and in a participatory way brings a lot of convenience, a lot of fun, and a lot of harvest. As we're international students in our first semester, adapting is painful. Culture shocks, language non-proficiency, new technologies and heavy load of work, all these pour to us. The swamp obstructed our steps. I'm so grateful to the support from friends and encouragement from professors, which helps maintain my conviction and confidence.

Anyway, it is painful but rather fruitful and full of joys, to produce this video, and to have actually learned something after such a busy semester. The sense of achievement works a bit for that joy, and every tiny pieces of implication/ enlightenment. As a student majoring in education, all the classes that I have taken are precious treasure for me to learn (Like a large amount of case studies~).

Blogging is really an effective method of reflecting our learning, and a great way to practice English writing for our international students. I don't feel as nervous as writing a formal paper. Instead, I know that some critical friends are going to read my blogs and I expect their comments (Eric Baumer, Mark Sueyoshi, & Bill Tomlinson. Exploring the Role of the Reader in the Activity of Blogging). So I write in a way of narration, like talking with those friends. I also consider my reflection blog as an ideal place to keep notes from articles, lectures and some other resources that I learned.

We mix many technologies for communications in the video, for they do provide us convenience. Whatever synchronous or asynchronous, they bring us together on the Internet, without the limitation of time and space. We use them to collaborate on academic work, and to know each other in daily life as well. Life is not all about study, and peers are not only co-workers. When living and working in an friendly environment, we will hopefully be more productive.

"Gift culture" is a notion that I love greatly. So we talk about OER, in an emotional way. It feels like many people are offering help to each other. Everyone can be accessible to the world talent. But informed by Jason's words, OER is not always perfect. It's like buying things: we have to accept the flaws of free things; but we will get equivalent services when paying for it. Anyway, OER movement is beneficial to many learners and institutions. And I'm one of them~

I tend to use elaborations or metaphors/analogies to help understanding. It's way of grasping distinguishing features of our learning object through comparison and analysis. And can be fun~ Hope those metaphors in our video can work for explanation, and create a little bit fun~

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What's learning like in people's eyes

All the way through learning in R685, I have heard about different scholars talking about their unique understanding of WHAT IS LEARNING LIKE, such as "I participate, therefore I am". It is such an engaging topic for us to think about!
Except explanations from those dominant learning theories, the following are vivid,fresh and meaningful.

As I have written about, John Seely Brown represents the idea of LEARNING BY PLAYING. "We can make learning fundamentally fun."  He suggests an extension as what shows in the picture above. In the homo sapiens' world, tools are instruments in order to get something done; while the homo faber world begins to think of tools as a device to engage productive inquiry. A new notion is homo ludens, man as player. When learning like playing, learners are encouraged of being in freedom to fail, fail and fail again and then get it right, with their passion all the way. It's a play of imagination. They are also encouraged of learning as "riddles", leading to a reframing or re-registering of the world. The epiphany occurring in that process often maintains in the long-term memory.
Learning by playing indicates high motivation, full engagement, great freedom, lasting interest and concentration. I have been playing online games for a period of time. I was always thinking what makes games so attractive that players seldom get bored. There are stimuli from different dimensions: sense of achievements from every incentive, competition with other players, encouragement from peers, enjoyment of game contexts, etc, etc. All that I can come up with seems applicable to our learning as well. But very often it's not the case for us. Why can' t we learn like playing games? As long as touching the deep joy of learning, we cannot stop going on.

Another is Dr. Paul Kim, the researcher of mobile learning. He talks a little bit about his view of learning and teaching in the week 13 video chatting session. I'm not sure whether those pieces of words compose his entire opinion, or whether it is different from "learning by playing". But I think that is his deep-seated belief, which guides his research and his method to help those kids in the developing world. Let me introduce a little separately, as it is from a different but the same wise person. ^^
Call it LEARNING BY EXPLORING for a moment. Paul believes the ability of every child. He believes kids can explore and discover knowledge by themselves or by communication and collaboration among peers, without much help from the teacher. As to teaching, giving everything does not equal to learning everything; telling is not the true teaching. Teaching can somewhat shift to coaching, which provides students with adequate freedom to explore, to try and finally to learn.
We, as promising instructors, talk about individual difference from the very beginning of learning educational theories, but sometimes end up concentrating on our strategies, technologies, system models, etc, while the concept of learners almost throwing away. Maybe the role of teaching is not only coaching, but also tutoring or mentoring. Maybe education is not that powerful. What's truly powerful is men's ability to learn. Maybe teacher is not that important. What facilitates learning is the context and a desire to learn. Teachers facilitate those facilitators.

Ha, my thoughts are rambling...

Relevant Articles: 
John Seely Brown (2010, June). Closing Keynote at the New Media Consortium 2010
      in Anaheim, CA. A Culture of Learning. Gardner Campbell’s reflective blog post:; Video of keynote:


(For week 14.)
I have been holding a bias that the content of podcast is always audios. A correct definition for a podcast can be "a digital media file (or series of files) that is distributed over the Internet." We have podcast, as well as vodcast which adds video to the podcast. 
Audios add a different way to learn or layer of understanding for students. It's like the use of video, in line with the effect of dual coding theory. Cognition involves the activity of two distinct subsystems, verbal system and non-verbal system. Podcast extends learning beyond text to visual or aural memory, thereby fostering students dual coding of information (Paivio, 1986 from Lin, 2010).
Teachers can podcast to record lectures, summarize key points, show additional resources, etc. Students can use it to reflect their learning (as some of classmates have done), do projects, also show additional resources, etc.
In this respect, videos on YouTube can be called podcast. Blogs that contain videos or audios can also be called podcast. Podcast is a kind of broadcast. Then what's its difference from other resource sharing formats such as YouTube uploading and sharing activities in social networks? or is it a different dimension from them? I am slightly confused about this...

Suprisingly, I read from a survey in 2007 that 86.2% of the podcasters are males. Similiar phenomenon to contributions to Wiki. More than 90% pocasters have at least high school education. Similar to uploaders of YouTube. More than 80% are working full or half time and more than 60% are not single. Maybe work and love provide people with more experiences that worth sharing? 
Podcast is not that money-consuming, but there's a conclusion that "North American podcasters tend to spend more money on podcasting than European podcasters". I'm just curious about how to spend money on podcasting...
Podcasters tend to target their audience to a small group and they interact well with their audience, via email or blogpage. Almost every podcast comes with a blogpage, but podcasters distinguish themselves from bloggers (How about classmates who do podcasting?^^). 
People do podcasting mostly to share information or express their opinions.
In my eyes, podcasting is almost the same as blogging. The only difference is their formats of presenting information. One is in video or audio while the other is in texts.

Relevant articles: 
Mocigemba, Dennis, & Riechmann, Gerald (2007, July). International Podcastersurvey: 
       Podcasters - who they are. How and why they do it. Retrieved on June 25, 2010, 
Bonk, C. J. (2008, March). YouTube anchors and enders: The use of shared online 
      video content as a macrocontext for learning. Paper presented at the American
      Educational Research Association (AERA) 2008 Annual Meeting, New York, NY.
Jason Lin. (2010). The Open Source and Open Education Movement. Web 2.0 and 
      Emerging Learning Technologies from Wikibooks

Learning with mobile

(For week 13.)
This week we had a great guest speaker Paul Kim, from Stanford University. He has been doing abundant studies in mobile learning.

Most of his research is conducted in developing countries where children have few accesses to education, even fewer accesses to life of average standard. Paul developed a kind of mobile device with his group and sponsoring companies, and handed out these devices to each child. Kids were allowed to explore them without teacher's guidance, and in all cases they successfully got familiar with the use of devices through discussion and collaboration. Children can play different games in the mobile device, which involves the knowledge of math, language, etc. There are hundreds of levels in these games. Children can advance to next level by some efforts, but there is always another next level waiting to be achieved. Even Paul himself cannot achieve the highest level. It is such a great motivation for children to challenge, so as to keep learning.
These places for experiments are often poor areas. In some of them, electricity is available for only two hours a day. However, mobile devices need to be charged, and children have to connect their devices to a computer for updating of game programs inside. Paul talked to some univesity, residents and so forth in that area, to establish simple charging stations and computer service centers for all the kids. There are even some cute bicycles on which children can ride to charge their devices. The problem of sustainability seems almost solved.

This is really an amazing work that does help provide education to less developed regions, and gets satisfactory results. We may ask why it is mobile learning method that has been chosen, rather than popularizing computers or some other technologies. Paul considered that people in those areas do not have steady access to the Internet, electricity or even schools. Consequently, the benefits of Internet-based programs cannot reach these populations. Mobile technologies, on the other hand, are more economical, portable and flexible than traditional conputers.
I agree on its protability and flexibility, but cannot help doubting whether mobile technology is economical enough. Paul said each of these devices costed $50. Much less than a computer. However, although those children picked as Paul's experimental subjects have got access to mobile learning devices, many other children do not have the chance. If we think of generalizing mobile learning to all the developing world, who will take the charge of providing those devices and services? Obviously Paul cannot afford the large amount. $50 is not very much to US citizens and many other populations, but it can mean a lot to most of people who are still struggling on the poverty line. So, I really want to ask that in what circumstances can this mobile learning method be able to generalize?

Relevant articles:
Elizabeth Buckner & Paul Kim. (May 15, 2010). Storytelling among Israeli and
       Palestinian children in the era of mobile innovation. (to be pulished in) AECT 
       2011 Educational Media and Technology Yearbook. Volume 36.