Avoid Distraction from Electric Devices  

One of the readings this week, Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom, reminds one of my experience when I was an undergraduate student. I slept over a little bit for my class that day, so I left my apartment in rush. After my class in the morning, I realized that I forgot to bring my Iphone with me. I was a little bit anxious because I was not sure if someone sent me messages or called me. However, I had classes all day that day and wasn’t able to get my phone in the middle of the day. Then I had a one day’s experience to study without my phone. Surprisingly, I found myself more focused during the class and more efficient doing homework. Usually, I will check my phone when it notices me the emails, messages and all kinds of notifications. But since my phone was not with me anyway, I was able to 100% focus on learning.


Shortly after that, I heard stories that some students in my department don’t bring any electric devices everyday intently because they don’t want to be distracted by phones and laptops when they’re in the classroom and studying. From my personal experience, this practice is really a good way to help keep the students with instructors and get them involved in the class. However, there is a dilemma by doing so especially for class nowadays. A big issue here is computer/laptop has become a tool for teaching. For example, in our GEDI class, we pretty much use laptop every time we meet for group discussion and other practices. Some other classes rely even more heavily on laptops. But when instructors allow laptops in their classrooms, it’s really hard avoid distraction from it. Reading an email in the inbox probably only take one minute, but students can miss an important concept and get lost the rest of the class. Also, many students take notes on laptops nowadays because it’s just more convenient and easier.


So how to balance it out? I had a professor let the students use their laptops only when they are asked to, but close the laptop lid the rest of the class. Some professors also give students couple minutes during the class to check their phones and relax a little bit. These are all practice from professors to help students focus more on the class. But more importantly, the students should be aware of the distraction from electric devices and be willing to avoid that.


The topic this week is discovering your authentic teaching self. To be honest, I have never officially taught a class before. My only experience as a teacher was the summer before I started my study at college. Because I did a quite good job at the College Entrance Exam, some friends of my mom sent their kids to me and asked me to help on their study. I was actually more like a TA than a teacher that summer because I didn’t need to teach the kids new contents. Most of time, I was teaching them how to solve problems that they had trouble with. But I saw that a valuable experience, which made me think about how to become a better teacher in a classroom.


Putting the lesson I learnt from my role as a student over 20 years and my limited teaching experience together, I think there are couple things a good teacher should be clear before getting into the classroom. First of all, knowing what you want the students to get from the class. Students know very little about a discipline before they get into the classroom. The teachers’ responsibility is to introduce what’s out there in this discipline and maybe stimulate students’ interests in some specific topics. However I’ve seen some professors spend a lot of time one specific field in the class, which means they won’t have enough time to cover the rest of contents as they should. So if I am going to teach a class in the future, I will take some time think about what the students should learn from my class.


The other thing that I noticed important and would definitely want to improve is to teach confidently and energetically in classroom. As a student, I always find I learn most efficiently when the teachers are confident and energetic. The passion from the teachers certainly affect students’ attitude in learning. Giving a lecture with exactly same voice and tune just makes students sleepy and easily distracted. As an international student, I sometimes feel not confident in front of native speakers. I don’t want this happen in my class when I am the teacher. With that being said, I wish I could have a clear understanding of what to teach and be confident in classroom when I teach in the future.


Grading, as a major assessment approach in education nowadays, is used to evaluate the students’ performance in classes. Combining the grades for all classes together, each student has a GPA, which is used to evaluate if a student is good at studying. If someone has a GPA of 3.9, he/she is considered studying better than a student has a GPA of 2.9.

It might be true when the difference in GPA between two students is significant. However, when the difference becomes smaller, say 3.9 vs 3.8, can we make the same conclusion? The student with a GPA of 3.8 may take a class offered by a harsh professor, who usually give low grade. The student with a GPA of 3.9 may intently avoid tough classes to keep a high GPA. There are so many factors that can affect students’ GPA.

A question I have been thinking a lot since college is what does a grade tell us. It seems to me that GPA almost always weigh the most in Graduate School admission and fellowship/award application. If someone have a good GPA, his/her chance of being accepted by top schools is high. Does a higher grade indicate a student is more intelligent or what? I am very confused about this.


We have been taught to take notes in the class. Almost everyone does this. But I bet many of us have the experience of not remembering or understanding the notes when checking them after the class. I think that’s because we are just simply copying the notes instead of understanding the contents first and writing it down with our own words.


I have a personal experience that I wasn’t aware it is actually an example of mindful learning until I start to write this Blog. I was learning Erhu, a Chinese instrument similar with violin, when I was in middle school. To produce different pitches, we were taught to press our fingertips on different places on the strings. One day my Erhu teacher taught us how to play a specific bar in the song. In that bar, there was one note that has a higher pitch than others. We were taught to move our left-hand down first to make that pitch and then move the hand back to play the rest. Our teacher played it well probably he had practiced hundreds of times before. But all my classmates, including me, could not play that note well. So we were asked to practice more when we got home. After several trial, I still can not plat with the way I was taught. But I found that instead of moving my left-hand down and up, I can simply use my little finger to reach that place, which will make the play easier. One week later, we played that bar individually before the class to the teacher and I was the only student that was able to play it with perfect tune.


I was not the most talented student in the Erhu class, but because I was mindful I was able to play it well. Actually all I did is try to understand why we need to move the hand down and up and if there is any alternatives to get the goal if what I was taught does not work. As Ellen Langer mentioned in her book, teachers only teach the basis. To make the knowledge and rational more valuable, students need to be mindful and more actively thinking.

Be Knowledgeable Before Being Creative

Let’s start today’s Blog with an interesting question.

$2 can buy 1 bottle of beer. 4 bottle caps can be exchanged for 1 bottle beer. 2 empty bottles can be exchanged for 1 bottle of beer. How many bottles of beer can you buy with $10?

What’s your answer for this question? 10,15, 18 or more? To be honest, I was quite shocked when I saw people’s answers to it and the way they justify their answers. I tried my best and got 15 bottles of beer for the maximum. But the answer is 20! If you are still wondering how they got this unbelievable number, let me give you some hints. The strategy is to borrow bottles and caps from others and return them back at the end. Now you may say, “Hey, it’s tricky because you didn’t mention we can borrow bottles and caps in the problem!” Yes, I agree with you. But sometimes we need to jump out of our mindsets and be more creative to solve problems.


This is exactly how the students are educated nowadays. Students are encouraged to think more actively and bring out novel ideas, while not receiving enough knowledge to support their imagination. Someone might argue that even Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” I believe there was an assumption lying there, which was you already know a lot about one thing.  When you know a certain field very well, like Einstein, imagination is something that can help you out develop a new theory or establish a new method. However, for most people, we’re knowing too little to say it. In my opinion, it should just be the opposite. Learning knowledge should always come first. Isaac Newton won’t develop the gravity theory from the falling apple from the tree if he does not have strong background in Physics. Friedrich August Kekulé probably will not realize the structure of Benzene from his dream about snake if he hadn’t been researching it for years. So, I would say knowledge is the basic of imagination.



Back to the question in the beginning of the Blog. If you have enough knowledge in mathematic, you probably noticed this is an easy problem to solve by calculation. Each beer you drink can be used to buy ¾ more beers so in general we expect that if you start then you will be able to drink a total of

Picture1.pngwhere B is the number of beer you can buy initially with the money you have, which is 5 in our case. Isn’t this amazing to solve a daily life question with your knowledge?


Networked Learning: A Great Way to Develop Early Career

Hello, welcome to my blog! This is my first time posting writing online. I am very excited about it. Today I’d like to talk something about networked learning and how it helps young scholars to develop their early career.


The theory of networked learning was created back in 1970s by Ivan Illich. Since the last decade, the development of internet makes it way easier for people to connect with another around the world. It also makes the access to learning materials easier. The networked learning itself is evolving rapidly. But one thing does not change is the core of networked learning—connection.


Because of the idea of connection, networked learning is a great way for young scholars to develop their early career. For young scholars, increasing exposure of their work to both public audience and peers in their field is the key to a successful career. Because everyone is involved in networked learning to some degrees nowadays, sharing research ideas and posting work on platforms (blogs, Twitter and Linkedin) is a smart move to “advertise” yourself. In the old time, participating conferences is the main and most effective way to reach out with other researchers in the field. But because social media is almost real-time, zero cost and covering a really wide range of audiences, it is gradually replacing conferences and becomes people’s first choice.  


In my field, people post their new publications, share pictures of the presentation and discuss potential collaboration on Twitter a lot. There are senior professors who are already the big names in the field as well as young scholars who just started their career. Everyone looks so passionate to research and is very willing to share ideas with others. As a PhD student, I think it is the time to build connections with people in the field. Maybe one day I will get a postdoc offer or get funded for a project just because I post my idea or make a comment today. Who knows!