Meet you at the Crossroad

Dan Edelstein’s article brought me back to a book, that I had last read about a year back and Aristotle. Considered as one of the world’s most influential philosophers, Aristotle’s interest lay across multiple fields. He is also considered as one of the world’s first biologist who used a network of scouts to collect botanical and zoological samples from all over Greece and Asia. Aristotle established a school, the Lyceum (in Athens) where the majority of study focused on mathematics, philosophy and natural sciences. Seems weird?

Fig. 1. Aristotle (Source:

Here’s an excerpt from Durant (1961)

The new School was no mere replica of that which Plato had left behind him. The Academy was devoted above all to mathematics and to speculative and political philosophy; the Lyceum had rather a tendency to biology and the natural sciences. If we may believe Pliny, Alexander instructed his hunters, gamekeepers, gardeners and  fishermen to furnish Aristotle with all the zoological and botanical material he might desire; other ancient writers tell us that at one time he had at his disposal a thousand men scattered throughout Greece and Asia, collecting for him specimens of the fauna and flora of every land. With this wealth of material he was enabled to establish the first great zoological garden that the world had seen. We can hardly exaggerate the influence of this collection upon his science and his philosophy.”  Durant (1961, pg 53)

This is not a one off situation. The majority of early scientists and mathematicians were philosophers (Pythagoras, Rene Descartes among others). However, with the modern times and the advent of the “Division of Labor” as propounded by the famous economist Adam Smith, there has been a tendency for people to specialize in one particular field (in the majority of cases a specific aspect of a field).

I have an undergraduate degree in Economics, a subject considered by some as a science as well as art (Read this blog) and others as neither. To my untrained mind, economics looked like science with concrete demand and supply equations. It blew my mind when I had to take my first class in Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx and other classical economists. Here were people considered the forerunners of the field of economics and their writing turned out to rely heavily on what we now classify as philosophy, sociology and political science etc. (so called humanities). There went my inherent disdain for the humanities. I decided to meet all (or atleast some of the sciences) at the crossroad thereon. From that day on, Economics could not exist independently of philosophy, sociology and psychology.


  1. Edelstein, Dan (2010), “How Is Innovation Taught? On the Humanities and the Knowledge Economy,” Liberal Education96(1), 14-19.
  2. Durant, Will (1961), “Story of philosophy,” Simon and Schuster. Link to the full text here

Who Knows How to Use a Screw Driver?

A not so long time ago.

In a small classroom somewhere near us.

Brandon : How many of you know how to use a screwdriver?

Students thinking: (Refer to the image that follows)

Without peeling it, poke 2 holes into the onion using your screwdriver -- one on the left, and one on the right.

After about 3 people in a class of 30, raised their hands, Brandon realized the enormity of the task at hand. He also out the answer to the question – How many engineers does it take to use a screwdriver? (You would not be incorrect if you said 10%.)


Live scenes of Brandon from his class (not!)

Our group (Which was the Best Group Ever!!) acknowledges the limitations of the banking form of education. Simply trying to transfer our knowledge unto students is an outdated method of instruction.


Teachers as Depositors

The banking form of education assumes instructors and teachers as being the single source of all information. We would like to disagree. We understand that students bring their own experiences and viewpoints to the classroom, and they can also impart valuable information to both their teachers and their peers.

Me when I started teaching

However, at the same time, we realize that teaching is not a one-way street. Learning to think critically requires simultaneous participation of teachers as well as students. One can obviously argue that current incentive structures hinders critical thought. A system  with primary focus on grades is detrimental to critical thinking. Students essentially minimize thought in an effort to maximize grades.


The drawbacks of the prevalent incentive structures

In an effort to wean students away from existing methods of learning, we should focus on incremental learning, like in cooking, where you reuse fundamental skills over and over, occasionally adding trying a new method or step to create something new.

Pedagogy is like cooking

Additionally, forming relationships leads to engagement in the learning process by the students. Educators and students can establish mutual teaching and learning relationships. Active listening as well as active silence are necessary to establish a successful learning environment.

Doing things differently

We as educators, must impress upon students that education is an ongoing pursuit for democracy, freedom, equity, deep critical thinking, and diversity. We should promote ways to overcome barriers that hold some students back from developing their deep potential.


Balancing Lives




Ethan –

Jyotsana :

Miguel Andres (



Source of Gif and Images in the order they appear:

  1. Source:
  2. Source:
  3. Source:
  4. Source: Unknown
  5. Source: Unknown
  7. Source:
  8. Source:
  9. Source:


Whose Fault is it Anyway?

Image result for whose fault is it anyways


The current week’s reading made me think critically about critical thinking (Citation: anyone in the class who used this line in their blogs. I will find your blog and cite you). Well not that critically to be perfectly honest. I cannot hold a thought together for more than five minutes. But here are my two cents anyways.

Critical thinking is a pretty rare commodity nowadays. This is “disciplined” out of us early on in school. The majority of my school years were spent mugging up anything and everything that was placed in front of me. I blame the incentive structure. The only thing that mattered at the end of a school year was how much I had scored overall and where my ranking relative to others. I did what I had to do. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Fast forward to my college days where I spent countless hours (mostly the hours on deadline days), working on projects and assignments. Nobody told me the purpose of these. Although I must admit that I learned more through the projects, yet the primary purpose of it went largely unnoticed. I had assignments to submit and grades to get and people to compare myself to (To those who are completely bewildered: Final grades of a class are publicly available to all the students in India).

Image result for I'm better than you


Fast forward a few more years and I end up taking classes at Virginia Tech. I learn the hard way that Problem Based Learning (PBL) doesn’t seem to always work (Also a shoutout to Alex: It couldn’t be my fault, could it? Had the blamer really become the blame-ee (I know! I know! it not a word. Cut me some slack)?

Hooks (2010, Chp 2) address various pre-requisites that are essential in order to encourage critical thinking. Firstly, students must learn how to enjoy thinking. A thing easier said than done thanks to the rigid schooling system and the incentive structures in place. Can we not destroy people’s critical thinking in school? That’d be great. Thanks ya’ll (Did you think I’ll stop blaming others? You were wrong). In colleges, there has to be a conscious effort on our (graduate students and faculties) part to focus more on the journey (how much students learn along the way) rather than the the solution (aka: Final project submission). This is somewhat similar to what Dr. Fowler’s recommendation of  “Using PBL that encourages not just problem-solving, but problem-posing”.

The need of the day is for all of us to change. However the onus lies on us, the educators, to bring about changes in the current systems in order for students to change for the better.

Image links and citations (in the order they appear):

  3. Bell Hooks. (2010). Teaching critical thinking: Practical wisdom. Routledge.

Suppressing Heuristics

The idea of human beings using heuristics isn’t a new concept. Our brain processes information either analytically or affectively (Refer to Epstein 19931). While the former is deliberate and slow, the latter is faster and relies on heuristics. The same heuristics that Shankar Vedantam refers to in the excerpt from the Hidden Brain. I actually want to get this off my chest early on. The excerpt from the Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam and was darker than my previous post about students with suicide plans. That was depressing. Geez!

Coming back to the topic at hand, heuristics help us respond faster in unfamiliar circumstances. Can’t decide on something? Let’s pick the middle most option available (Saini and Monga 20082 ). Human beings are prone to use heuristics in a variety of situations. Except when it is used on them. I am from India (read: I am brown) and am growing a beard (Abe Lincoln’s excuse: I have a weak chin). Many a times have I been told in restaurants that they serve halal meat. On the outside, I thank the host and the hostess, while I actually want to tell them to stop trying to use heuristics. This is when one realizes that heuristics are not all good.

An episode from my class further showed me that heuristics are not always correct. My early experiences with students from University sports teams have shown me that I need to spend more time with them on all aspects of the class. Talking about class, exams and keeping them on track with their final projects. And so in my last class I was pleasantly surprised when a student from the sports team turned out to be the best student in class. The student received the best grades in the midterms and finals and ended up having the best final project. That was when I decided to throw that heuristic out of the window. The thing about heuristics that people do not realize is that it is born out of experiences. It undergoes modifications throughout one’s life. In my case, I opted for the extreme case of totally over ruling my heuristic. And I intend for it to stay that way.


  1. Epstein, S. (1993). Implications of cognitive-experiential self-theory for personality and developmental psychology.
  2. Saini, R., & Monga, A. (2008). How I decide depends on what I spend: use of heuristics is greater for time than for money. Journal of Consumer Research34(6), 914-922.

P.S. For those of you wondering, I do know that Wladimir Klitschko has a doctorate and he could knock me and my heuristic, out, in the blink of an eye.




Disincentivizing Lives

This week’s readings along with the two Dan Pink videos made me think about the role of incentives in human life. It is widely accepted in Economics literature that incentives leads to a positive impact of performance (See Note 1). The authors show that the impact of monetary incentives lead to a positive impact on performance. Recent research has, however shown that this does not hold in all cases. The negative impact of incentives has been demonstrated in pro-social behavior (Note 2), online communities (Note 3) among others. A variety of explanations have been forwarded to explain the negative impacts of incentives including signaling, types of markets, driving out of intrinsic motivations etc. In light of this evidence, Dan Pink revisits a study conducted by Ariely et. al. (2009) (Note 4 for anyone who wants to take a look at the study). Participants of the field experiments conducted in India were assigned to tasks that involved creativity, memory or motor and skills. Participants in the low and mid incentives were found to perform better than those in the high incentive condition. The authors also established that a propensity to choke was not the causal factor behind this phenomenon (Shout out to Carlos Mantilla who brought this up in class).

At this point I want to point out the two key takeaways from this study. Firstly, the authors show that there is a non-monotonic relationship between performance and reward (specifically very high rewards leads to diminished performance). Secondly, for tasks involving cognitive skills, high levels of incentive decreased performance.

Although taking the lessons of this study and applying it directly to assessments in classrooms is a bit of a stretch but I’ll try anyways. My personal experience with grades is that they have to be used appropriately. I do not like to be told and reminded daily about my grades and my rank in class (a system prevalent in most Asian countries). On the other hand in classes where grading scheme is simple, I have found that I tend to work less and take away fewer things from the course. A case of no incentives and very high incentives (or at least sensitivity to incentives), in my opinion, are equally bad. Being an ex-student of economics, I cannot argue for doing away with all forms of incentives. However what I would argue for is to make people and organizations less dependent on numbers generated through tests as a measure of quality. A quality of a student cannot be gauged simply through a number assigned to him/her. The scores assigned to us stay with us throughout our lives and in many cases have a larger impact than we realize. In India, student suicide claimed the life of over 48,000 individuals between 2010-2015 (Note 5). Academic failure was one of the primary reasons. Data collected from American students suggest that, about one-third suffered from depression (the study does not specifically point to grades as a causal factor) (Note 6).

All I am saying is we should not disincentivize people’s lives in order to provide incentives in their academic ones.


  1. Ehrenberg, R. G., & Bognanno, M. L. (1990). Do tournaments have incentive effects? Journal of Political Economy, 98(6), 1307-1324. doi:10.1086/261736
  2. Ariely, D., Bracha, A., & Meier, S. (2009). Doing good or doing well? Image motivation and monetary incentives in behaving prosocially. The American economic review99(1), 544-555.
  3. Sun, Y., Dong, X., & McIntyre, S. (2017). Motivation of User-Generated Content: Social Connectedness Moderates the Effects of Monetary Rewards. Marketing Science.
  4. Ariely, D., Gneezy, U., Loewenstein, G., & Mazar, N. (2009). Large stakes and big mistakes. The Review of Economic Studies76(2), 451-469.


P.S. This was a late post worthy of a red card.


Automaton or Autonomous?

Those days. Those good old days in elementary school. Sometime during the late 1990s when the rat race was well and truly alive. The objective of learning to me, just like everyone else in class, was to get better grades. My grades did improve over time. I had become the perfect little automaton (not the type that could think for itself). Solving arithmetic problems and spouting out solutions just like I was taught. Never really thinking for myself. Hephaestus would have been proud.

The years passed. I tried to mug up regression equations and likelihood functions but to no avail. Being a machine would not help me anymore I would have to unlearn years of education. I was expected  to function autonomously from now on. To think and learn for myself. I was expected to be able to extend the regression analyses beyond the silly assumptions of normality and homoscedasticity. I realized that years of stagnancy had not dulled the human ability to learn and adapt. I got better at it over time. However to some this was another system, another system that they would try to game. For grades.



P.S. Tune in to the next episode when we talk about grades, to find out who succeeded.

Dragon Ball Z, Time, and How: HOW MANY SUPERSAIYANS DOES


Digital Badges – A Tumbleweed, Scholar and Guru ?

        One of my favorite class in elementary school, involved a teacher whose grading system involved the use of smiley faces and stars on our homework. I fail to recollect the subject, however, I do remember the personalized smiley that I earned on one of my assignments (representation below).


Fig. 1. A close approximation of my personalized badge earned in elementary school.

        You should have seen me working on the assignments after that. And this was not limited to me. The entire class of students put in more effort in her class and worked harder on her assignments in an effort to earn their own unique badges. This was the first time when my parents did not have to drag me away from the television to complete assignments or study for exams. Come to think of it, this was the first time I was exposed to the positive effect of gamification in learning, specifically the use of badge.

Figure 2. A(n) (inaccurate) representation of my father before exams

       Digital badges and their use in online communities is a well documented phenomenon.2 In online communities, users earn digital badges by completing various pre-specified requirements. For example on Stack Overflow, users can earn the Guru or the student badge by answering and asking questions respectively (I managed to get the Tumbleweed Badge. But Shhh! we will not talk about that here). Digital badges serve as status symbols and allows users to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Additionally, earning digital badges increases “positive group identification through the perception of similarity between an individual and the group.”3


Fig 3. My Question Badges on Stack Overflow

    Applied to the context of education, digital badges may be utilized to encourage co-operation and self improvement. Students may be assigned badges for helping others as well as improving themselves. Additionally students with specializations in various subject areas may be assigned specific badges reflecting the same. Think of an end of term group paper. A student who specializes in a topic may match with students with other specializations thus increasing the knowledge base of the entire group. In the field of education, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) such as Coursera, edX etc. award users badges for completing various badges for completing online courses. Other benefits include linking your badge to your LinkedIn profile which aids employers to learn more about their potential hires. Granted that such a system comes with its limitations (Cough! FERPA), yet, in my opinion, it will make learning more engaging.

Fig 4. Linking Coursera achievements to a LinkedIn profile4


  1. Sources for Fig 2. in the order they appear: a)                   b)                                                     c)–indian-funny-humor-indian-memes.jpg
  2. Please refer to “Show Me Your Badge” at:
  3. Antin, J., and E. F. Churchill, (2011). Badges in social media: A social psychological perspective. In CHI 2011 Gamification workshop proceedings (pp. 1-4). New York, NY: ACM.
  4. Source for Fig 4. –

Networked Learning in a Digital world – Or Prisoner’s Dilemma in Disguise?

The emergence of Web 2.0 has accelerated the growth of human networks, both in a social as well as a professional context. The growth of human networks has aided learning both in formal settings (universities and colleges) as well as informal settings in the form of community learning websites (For ex. Stack Overflow, Github, etc.).1

     Being a graduate student, I have lost count of the number of times I have visited Stack Overflow exchange to obtain solutions to tricky coding challenges in research from other netizens.  Similarly, I have provided solutions to problems posted by other (no I have never obtained help for class assignments if you were wondering). This is one of the easiest examples of networked learning whereby individuals all over the globe come together and provides solutions to each other’s problems. The popular phenomenon of Crowdsourcing, first coined by Jeff Howe in 20062, whereby organizations and governments seek to utilize the power of the crowd in solving issues both at a local and a global level also falls under the umbrella of networked learning. The only difference, in this instance, being that knowledge flows from individuals to organizations and governments.3


Fig 1. An example of a crowd-sourcing fail or brilliance depending on how we see it4

        Having successfully diverted my reader away from the current week’s reading, I will now undertake a feeble attempt at doing justice to the role of networked learning in institutions of formal learning. Campbell (2016)5 in his article argues in the favor of online collaboration as a form of experiential learning. This he argues goes above and beyond the class room learning as it forces students to tackle multiple challenges and instead of simply collaborating with one another, to co-create knowledge. In my opinion, his arguments will go uncontested.

         However, I would like to draw your attention to the blog by Tim Hitchcock6, who argues in favor of researchers using their online presence to further their respective fields of knowledge. The author highlights various success stories associated with the use of networking tools in research. The validity of his arguments are however, diminished by a very simple phenomenon in economics known as the Prisoners’ Dilemma.As the game goes two individuals acting simultaneously and bereft of the benefit of  communication with one another, always selects an action which hurts them both due to the nature of payoffs (See fig. 2).


Fig 2. An illustration of the prisoner’s dilemma game. Defect is the dominating strategy for all individuals8

         Research materials when shared online may be prone to plagiarism. Research ideas are be prone to be stolen (Hitchcock himself admits this being a major concern). Have we as individuals, who are part of a larger society, evolved enough to control our needs for immediate gratification? Can we curb ourselves from stealing our neighbor’s (not in the literal sense) well thought out research ideas? The presence of websites such as Github where contributors share codes and real time data with others is a step towards the right direction. However in my opinion, we, as part of a larger society of researchers, must do more in order to prevent us from going down the route of the two dear prisoners. Else we risk falling into a vicious cycle from which academia might not be able to extricate itself.

P.S. I decided to keep my views about the remedies required to help academia get out of the vicious cycle of non-cooperation private. I would however gladly discuss this offline. Also Go Hokies!!


  1. For a detailed exposition on Learning Networks, refer to Sloep, P., & Berlanga, A. (2010). Learning networks, networked learning.
  2. Please refer to “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” here
  3. For crowdsourcing challenges hosted by the United States Government please visits –
  5. Campbell, Gardner (2016). Networked Learning as Experiential Learning.
  6. Refer to
  7. For a quick insight on Prisoner’s Dilemma game, refer to the Wikipedia article on the same at:
  8. Source: