Compared with most students in our class, my internet life started quiet late. In 2008, I went to college and was so excited to get my first laptop. I haven’t realized that a small thing happened at that time changed my life dramatically until reading and reflecting upon the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”. One day. I asked my roommate about a problem of my new laptop. she simply told me: “You should Google it. When others ask me a question, I often suggest them to search it online first.” Although I was a little upset because she didn’t offer to help, my subconscious mind adapted to her strategy so quickly. From then on, I seldom asked others a question if its “answer” can be found online. Also, whenever others ask me a question that I don’t know, I tend to suggest them to search on Google like my previous roommate.

Now, I am a third-year PhD student and the nine-year experience of online searching changes my learning habits a lot. I’m so addictive to Google search that whenever I meet a difficult question, the first thing comes to my mind is to search for an answer online. It is admitted that online searching makes our life much more convenient than before. However, information overload and distraction seem to make us stupid. For me, my brain usually prefers to look for an answer rather than solving the problem by itself.

According to the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel, our brain has dual processing systems. System 1 likes a “mindless” processor, which is fast and operates heuristically with little cognitive resources. System 2 uses a slow, analytical and deliberate process but requires more cognitive resources. Usually individuals will try to conserve cognitive resources by switching more processing from system 2 to system 1. I think this is what happened to me as well as many other students regarding online search. Indeed, it is quite convenient at the first glance. However, this habit may deplete cognitive resources and the ability to operate system 2 in the long run, since our system 1 dominates the brain more.

As a researcher on food and health. I wonder why convenient and effortless lifestyle is often not good for health. For example, why most convenient foods are unhealthy, and unhealthy foods are usually tastier than health foods? Why physical exercise is good for health but drains willpower? I think this may due to the fact that human evolution is too slow to keep path with the rapid changing environment. Physically, our body still adapts to live a heavy physical labor lifestyle with very limited foods, so our preferences of the energy-intense foods are written in genes. Likewise, our brain still adapts to the old time of low literacy levels, when information was so scarce. In this sense, the ability of filtering useful information from distractions has not been well-trained. As educators, it is our responsibility to help students adapt to learning from online searching and avoid its negative effects, such as lack of deep reading and thinking.  I believe this situation can change and we will grow from this process.



Nicholas Carr;? Is Google Making Us Stupid.

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan, 2011.


Unfortunately, I grew up in a culture that lacks critical thinking inherently. In the past, many sages told people how to adapt to the society which they don’t like and to be “happy” with a miserable living. Even at recent decade, I got to know the world “critical “after entering college. As a freshman, how I wish I can think independently and not take any information as given like a fool! So I asked one of my favorite professor: “professor, how can I be thoughtful and think independently?” She didn’t answer my question directly, but said:” when freedom of speech is protected by the Law, and when people are not afraid to doubt anything because their thoughts and pursue of truth won’t be punished. There are many wise people in the world, but they are afraid to make a different voice.” At that moment, I realized that critical thinking is much more complicated than I thought before. It not only depends on how we train ourselves and the next generation, but also is affected by culture, power, social status, etc. Let me focus on education in this post. When I read The Banking Concept of Education by Paulo Freire, Freire compares “banking” education with oppressive society. The general idea makes sense to me but I think the problem is over simplified. Based on my understanding, banking education means that the instructors treat students like objectives and fill knowledge into their brains. While Freire’s solution is problem-posing education–through dialogue, teachers and students learn from each other. However, before using this approach to achieve critical pedagogy, a few prerequisites should be carefully considered. Firstly, I don’t believe that simply change teaching method can achieve critical thinking from my learning experience. For example, if the instructor is not very open-minded, he or she tends to seek the answer closest to the “standard” one in his or her mind through dialogue. If the students realize this, they are likely to guess what the instructor wants to hear instead of thinking independently. Secondly, I think dialogue-based approach may be good for a teacher with rich experience, who is highly respected by students and has good control of the classroom and conversation. While a beginner instructor may need to take this approach with caution. Why it can be a problem? Critical thinking is very appreciated in academia. However, in some cases, people criticize other’s work not for the sake of pursuing truth but to show off themselves. For instance, some reviewers make every effort to criticize their assigned papers without providing any constructive comments. In a seminar, some “critical” participants focus on a few limitations of that study to show how smart they are, and make the presentation hard to continue. The same problem may happen in classroom. Therefore, instructors should be careful to develop a collaborative and respectful environment—a safety zone for critical thinking to grow.


According to The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vendantam, children start to realize face colors when they are three years old and assign specific attributes and stereotypes to different groups of people. It is admitted that this tendency comes from our nature of lazy brains that turn on autopilot mode frequently. As an international female. I would like to share my experience with two children.

Two years ago, I went to the Disney World in Florida, and was playing merry-go-roung. Suddenly I realized a little girl was looking at me curiously.  She was about two years old and was accompanied with her mother on a wooden horse by my side. From her smiling eyes. I felt the pure love that I never experience before. Somehow, there was a deep connection between us at that moment. We were looking at each other’s eyes and smiling until the end of that playing song. She was still smiling at me on her mother’s shoulder and finally disappeared in the crowd. However, I could tell her mother was not so friendly. She did not say anything or smile, even though she observed the friendship between her daughter and me. From her eyes. I realized that I didn’t belong to their group and definitely was not treated as a friend. However, in my heart, her little daughter liked an angel who cannot tell the differences of skin colors or any stereotype assigned to that.

The second thing happened in three weeks ago. I went to the gym and there was a small girl playing with some young white ladies at the locker room. She was about four years old and looked very pretty. I smiled at her and sat down to change my shoes. However, when she walked to me, her face changed dramatically—from smiling to angry. She beat me and scolded me by some words such as “pig!” At that moment, I was so angry not only because of her offensive behaviors but also because nobody she played with there said anything her until her mother came back and simply apologized to me. Then she said nothing to her daughter. I really hesitated to forgive her but had to say “It is Ok.” in order to be polite. I think there is something wrong in that girl’s education.  I’m afraid that when she grows up, that bias and hatred will not disappear but hide deeply in her unconscious mind. She might be as superficially polite as her mother, but treat people differently based on their races, religions, cultures and background.

These two things make me think that whether my small angel in the Disney World will turn into a girl like the unfriendly girl in the gym when she grows up to the year of four, due to the influence of her parents, teachers or the public media in the very early stage of education. If this happens, I will feel so sad.



Shankar Vedantam. How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us


This week’s post “Setting Students’ Minds on Fire” reminds me of a Ted talk called “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life”. In this Ted talk, Jane McGonigal introduced a set of real-life games called “SuperBetter” which can help people to adopt a new habit, to overcome depression,  and a life challenge. She said that SuperBetter is a gameful way of living to be stronger and happier. I was fascinated by her idea and purchased this app from app store.

In this app, it has several “powerpacks” such as “Being Awesome”, “Absurdly Grateful” and “Fun Days”. In each “powerpack”, there are several “quests” (daily and weekly goals), “power-up” (things that can trigger positive emotions) and “bad guy” (obstacles to overcome). “SuperBetter” asked me to do three “quests”, activate three “power-ups” and battle one “bad guy” every day. You can either play it alone or with friends if they also install this app. This program tracks your progress by what you have done and provides scores of resilience in physical, mental, emotional and social aspects. I played this game for one semester and enjoyed the self-development.  Finally, I stopped to play “SuperBetter” because it took me too much time, but I like the idea that game is not only for entertainment, but also can be used to adopt a new habit or skill and overcome life challenges.

This idea is more commonly used in nature. For example, lion cubs learn how to hunt by playing with their mothers and peers. Although what we are learning is much more complicated than that of lion cubs, I hope a gameful way of learning can be adopted into our life. Could someone design the multiple choice questions like a brain training game in the app store? Could teachers guide students to play with 3-D graphs to improve their understanding of abstract mathematical equations?

Many game companies are investing a lot of money to develop attractive games on our digital devices, because people would purchase. Our students spend a lot of money on tuition, but there is little incentive for teachers to develop games beyond primary school education. I think this may because most teachers do not have enough time, money or energy to do this like a company. Also, some of them might think that it is impossible to teach their materials through games, and others may doubt the learning outcomes of games. I was wondering under what situation games provide favorable learning outcomes compared with traditional methods. In that situation, how to provide educators enough incentives to develop and adopt games into their classrooms remains to be a big challenge.



Sometimes when I grade assignments,  I really struggle with grading open-ended questions. In order to keep consistency and fairness, I often refer back to the instructor manual to decide the scores and put them into the rubric. In general, the closer the answer to that in the manual, the higher score I give. However, I feel this way to of grading discourages creative thinking.  It is a tragedy if 130 students have the same idea or similar answers for a question, even though the answer may be a common sense to most people. Therefore, I also try to be open to alternative answers and give students some encouragements on doing this. But another problem occurring is that the assessment becomes kind of subjective and depends on my personal preference. For example, how to decide this one is a creative answer, and that one is wrong or irrelevant to the question? Since my judgment cannot be correct all the time, I think grading can be a big challenge in this case.

After reading Making the Grade: The Role of Assessment in Authentic Learning, I understand that “students consider what is important as what is being assessed”. My challenge also affects their learning process, so I have to think about how to improve the assessment procedure. According to this article, a good strategy may be combining peer assessment with my assessment, and the total score can be a weighted average of these two parts.

A reflection on my experience and the reading suggests that educators should be more willing to think about “what if” cases in teaching, writing the learning materials and grading. As maintained in Imagination First, our adults have too much to defense and often prefer consistency instead of surprise. To improve students’ creativity, we should first work on creativity of educators, because their judgments in the assessment affect student behaviors. Another thing comes to my mind is the fact that current assessment often provides little incentive for creative solutions. Suppose a student knows the standard answer and also thinks of an alternative, she might be more likely to use the standard one in an exam because it is safer. As time goes by, this tendency of risk aversion may kills that student’s creativity.  To improve imagination and innovation, we should add bonus points to their creative minds and “risk-taking” behavior in the assessment.




  1. Lombardi, Marilyn M. “Making the grade: The role of assessment in authentic learning.” EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (2008).
  2. Liu, Eric, and Scott Noppe-Brandon. Imagination first: Unlocking the power of possibility. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.



When I saw the word “mindfulness”, I thought of something spiritual, such as yoga and meditation. “How mindfulness can be used in study? Does it mean that we need to be very concentrated on the learning process and ignore everything else?” With these questions, I started to read the papers about mindful learning. According to Ellen Langer (2016),

 “A mindful approach to any activity has three characteristics: the continous creation of new categories, openness to new information and an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.”


A reflection of my learning habits makes me realize how a mindless learner I am. For example, when I plan to learn a new skill, such as how to create a poster. I often look for some detailed instructions or templates and try to follow the listed steps carefully. In a class, I often take notes of what the instructor says without thinking, and do the same when I read a book or literature. Why this happens? I think although mindless learning is a universal problem in the world, it becomes even worse due to the education system in China. Since good education resources are very scare there, given its large population, standardized tests dominate students’ life after kindergarten. Learning becomes a tool to pass the tests, which only have one or a few sets of “correct” answers. Although I may be a successor in that education system, my mindless learning habits limits the further development.



As a future instructor, I wonder how my students can avoid the same experience I had and how to get rid of this habit. I hear about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule—it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.  However, only a few people can achieve this because most of our students get bored soon before the first 100 hours. What needed in addition to the 10000 hour,  in my opinion, are continuous changes of approaches and thinking about the alternative ways. This requires the instructor to be a life-long learner, who is brave enough to try something new and face the risk of failure. Also, the assessment in education system should change in order to encourage mindful teaching and learning. If there is a lack of creative questions in the tests, student may still prefer instructions written in absolute terms and memorize materials. In a general sense, a key of mindfulness is realizing what you are doing, just like you do this as the first time.  This is true as Heraclitus said “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. To improve mindfulness, we also need to realize the subtle differences between situations and people, and to become a good perpetrator of mindlessness.



  1. Langer, Ellen J. The power of mindful learning. Da Capo Press, 2016.


Before I learned about networked learning, I tended to have negative feelings about the internet like this:

Source: Accessed Jan 26, 2017

Usually, I prefer to close the laptop and put my cellphone into another room before focusing on studying and working, except for the moment when searching online is necessary. Here is my old thought:

“we believe internet could increase our productivity and help to obtain knowledge in seconds. However, it also wastes us a lot of time by overloading too much information. Since human brain is quite limited to select and process information.”

Also, I feel that I’m easy to be distracted when work on the web. for example, I planned to search how to geocode points in ArcGIS, but often ended up with reading news or shopping in Amazon. Because my subconscious mind always wants to find something interesting and easy to do than sticking with the difficult learning problems. So I really doubt how web could help regarding learning, although it may be a good way to engage students.

Source: Accessed Jan 26, 2017

However, the article” Twitter and Blogs are not just add-on to academic research” somehow changed my mind by some good points. First, writing blogs and twitter is a good practice of writing and getting feedback from your audience. Second, as you try to explain your research to someone who may not have advanced knowledge as your peers or advisor, you have to first convince yourself that this research is interesting and contributes to the public knowledge, instead of playing with methodology or increasing publications just for promotion. This article opens a door and let me see a new world about the next generation of researchers.  It shows how to find a wider audience for your current research, and know what others are doing in your field. As a young researcher, I would like to explore networked learning and take advantages of the internet instead of letting it control me.