Tuesday, May 17, 2016

One Year Later - What is the memory/consequence of our discussion group?

It's now the summer session 2016.  Our discussion group concluded at the end of the spring 2015.  Then each of you went on your merry way.  By coincidence I hooked up with Duk Young today and we had a nice chat over coffee.  Part of that was simply to catch up.  Near the end of the conversation, however, I started to ask whether he could see any consequences from our discussion group.  He said he could, but as I'm hoping each of you will respond with a comment to this post, I'll let him elaborate in his comment.

If you could,  in addition to whatever else you write about, I'd like you to give an opinion about the benefit of such a discussion group, with no grades and no credit, versus something of this sort that might arise in a course setting.  If, for example, our group had been done as a 299 course and given 1 hour of course credit, would that have fundamentally changed things?  And if so, how?

I know my behavior is a little different when I don't have to give a grade.  I can joke around more in that instance.  Some years ago I did have a student who was doing an independent study with me, but I was critical of his early performance.  (He didn't understand an article he was writing about.)  So I make some sharp remarks about that and then he dropped the class.  That might not have happened with you had our group been for credit.  But I still believe it was a more relaxed experienced as we did it.

Professor Arvan

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


It has been a month since the semester ended. Now when I look back to something during the semester that was special, the discussion group would come up as an important one for sure. 
At the beginning of the discussion, topics seemed to be a little blurry and novel for me. The idea of “being in flow”, or the word “puttering” didn’t make sense when I first heard of them. Being exposed to those new ideas, I kept feeling surprised during the process. The more I realized that I was ignorant, the more excited I was for the discussion. 

One thing that I became more comfortable with from the discussion is writing. To be honest, before taking Professor Arvan’s class, I was bothered by writing essays. Writing my ideas out in my second language does make me struggle for some time. However, when writing the blog post became a routine for the whole semester, plus it lasted for another semester during the discussion group, I found myself be more comfortable because I don’t need to translate my ideas from Chinese to English. Instead the ideas came out more fluently just in English. It is also a great way to clear my mind and capture some flickering fun ideas.

But more importantly, the discussion group affects the way I look at things and my understanding of college life. In my freshman year, I had this dream to become a student get good grades and perform excellently in all courses, which was the traditional standard for “a good student” back in China. Grades somehow could prove that I learned something instead of wasting my time. Also I was ambitious in taking courses. When I started getting interested in Psychology, I enrolled for it as second major and took many higher-level courses in my sophomore year. After joining the discussion group, I started to ask myself what really matters during college life. Whether I make learning process fun, or whether I was seeking for creativity in any field? These questions haunt me and give me motivation to make reflections to myself from time to time. 

During this summer, as a rising junior, I’ve been wondering what I really learned from two-year college life. What conforms with idea in the group discussion is that there is no relationship between grades and how much I learned from that course. It might be frustrating for not getting a good grade. But it doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn anything from that. It is much more self-fulfilling when I learn a new skill, listen to new ideas, or complete a goal with a team. Because of the discussion group, now I have the ability to step outside of me and have higher self-awareness in why I do things and make certain choices. It becomes more natural for me to have a habit to search for a new way in doing things such as keeping calendar, the way I work out, and also in my job. It is still difficult but fun when I achieve one goal in a different way. Self-reflection, creativity in life, and a wider mind of ideas are crucial things that I could carry on with the rest of my study and working life.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Being Really Bothered

Motivation for learning may come in several distinct ways.  One which we've mentioned in the class last fall and then again in the discussion group this semester is intrinsic motivation stemming from curiosity about a subject.  Another, which we've only considered indirectly, is learning as social obligation, coming out of some form of gift exchange, such as between children and their parents, students and their teachers, or among students as they work on a group project.  Here we want to consider a third motivation, one more negative than the other two, but potentially more powerful, at least in some instances.

And with that we should consider two distinct ways one might be bothered.  The first is where something external has happened that the person considers undesirable.  This sort of being bothered encourages the person to be proactive and do something to change that circumstance for the better.  The other is where the person is bothered by his or her own performance.  The person hasn't lived up to standards that the person has set for himself or herself.  This sort of being bothered encourages the person to raise the person's performance level, dig in one's heels and improve by sitzfleisch.  (Definition 1 gives the literal translation of the word.  Definition 1.1 is the meaning intended here.)  You guys probably don't follow professional golf but one great example of this is Rory McIlroy's meltdown in the last round of Masters back in 2011.  He is now the #1 player in the world.  Both types of being bothered can serve as a spur to creativity.

Certain idioms in English point to issues about being really bothered.  One of those is:

Don't make a mountain out of a molehill.  

Another is:

You've got to roll with the punches.

Both of these are good pieces of advice, most of the time.  Most of the time you should not be really bothered, for if you were you'd be chronically unhappy and not somebody others want to be with.  Being bothered is the exception, but an important one.  A quote I like a lot about being really bothered follows.  Perhaps I've shared this one with you before.  I can't remember whether I have or haven't.

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?
Ray Bradbury (1920 - ), Fahrenheit 451, 1953

So a big part of the issue is: what is an acceptable trigger to then get really bothered?  You have to develop a sense of taste about it.  What makes for "something important?"  The other part of it is developing a sense of agency that you can do something about it once you get really bothered.  If you get bothered but remain inert because you can't see any way to make matters better, then it doesn't help your creativity at all.   All it does it make you depressed.  I believe there is some interplay between the two parts and as you learn about yourself you find you get bothered about things that you can influence and care less about those things you can't really affect.

At the end of our last session I mentioned that the discussion group itself is a consequence of me being bothered with how students seemingly go about their learning.  I don't know if the discussion group has been successful insofar as your processes have changed as a consequence.  But I do believe you are more aware of the issues as a result of our conversations.

Let me close by noting that I don't want to generate examples on your behalf as to when you've been bothered.  Nor do I want to tell you what to do about if, either individually or in a group with other like minded people, if there currently is something you find that really bothers you..  But it did occur to me that the University of China at Illinois piece we discussed near the beginning has a bunch of elements to it that one might be bothered about.  So if you're stuck on finding other examples, you might look there.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Shtick and Humor

Last time we talked about daydreaming. As from the story of Walter Mitty, we discussed different reasons for daydreaming. It might because it is fun to tell a story in one's head, or maybe it is a great way for people to spend their leisure time when there are not many recreation ways like nowadays. As professor Arvan mentioned about the song "Daydreaming", the reason is romantic feeling for a girl, which is quite different from Walter Mitty's daydreaming. Also, we talked about the relationship between daydreaming and creativity but it is pretty unclear. Personally I feel that daydreaming sometimes could intrigue creativity. But it's not necessarily the way to improve creativity.

Shtick, is the word Professor Arvan mentioned at the last of the discussion. It is a "comic theme or gimmick", according to Wikipedia. Actually, when I think of humorous piece in comedy, I feel a strong sense of culture. It is not necessarily a culture between western or eastern. Rather, it is a smaller range of culture that a specific group could understand. For example, an inside joke may makes the group members laugh while does not seem funny at all for people who are not in the group because they don't know the story behind it. I remember one time during a calculus class, the professor told a joke about "integrals". After he finished the joke, only a couple of students laughed and he was so disappointed and said "I thought it was the best joke I've ever heard of..." The reason can be that some students don't understand the calculus behind it so they don't understand the joke. Or it could be that even they understand the calculus, it doesn't seem funny to them at all. So it's very interesting to observe the different reactions to a same joke.

However, there is a kind of joke that can make majority laugh, which happens a lot in comedy. The comedy series such as Friends, Big Bang, Modern Family, have shticks which could transmit the humor to a lot of people, even across the culture differences. At least in China, these comedy series are extremely popular among young people. So what makes a humor? And why do we love humor?

For me a good humor should be relevant. A really smart person would choose the right, or the relevant humor at the right time. Maybe they're working in a team for group project, the right humor at the right time could refresh people and even increase the efficiency. Just from my own experience, I have two two-hour lecture this semester. One is for language and brain and one is for Cognitive Psychology. While the professor in cognitive psychology course is so humorous that even he's talking about the statistics methods for data analysis I don't feel bored at all. While for another course, I feel so tired and can't pay attention to the content from time to time. When I work in groups, humor could bring the same effect. This Ted Talk about "Humor at Work" by Andrew Tarvin is pretty inspiring about how humor could improve people's happiness as well as working satisfaction at the same time.

In terms of no humor sense, or being solemn all the time. There are actually a lot of possible reasons. First, the person might focus on something else and value jokes as a waste of time. When people is too stressed about the work project, homework or exams, the only thing they care about is how to increase productivity and waste no time. Under that pressure, high attention to the work would decrease people's ability to accept humor. In addition, people may just don't understand the humor and feel bored about it. This might due to the difference culture, understanding and backgrounds. While I believe there is always commons between people that could triggers humor senses. We could definitely talk more about the reasons behind it on Friday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Walter Mitty and me; daydreaming and the creativity and the society.

I was thinking about the term that I used often which made professor Arvan confused while I was enjoying 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'. It was the term 'efficiency'. I abruptly found the reason why I was using it in such a manner which he was quite confused to understand. In South Korea, we broadly use the term 'efficiency' or 'efficient' describing some kind of process which has no waste in terms of time. In other words, it's the fastest, and possibly the most effective way to handle something. It has similar meanings with the economic term 'efficiency', but I was trying to describe things in such a manner, just like I used the term 'efficiency' in Korean. No wonder he was unclear with the term with an abbreviated meaning.

That was just a small thing that I wanted to mention, and now, allow me to go on to my thoughts about daydreaming, fit into a social context, which is related to our last discussion.

First of all, I was quite interested that professor showed such a huge interest in the Korean/Chinese high school system. I knew how it was in the states in high schools although I've never attended one myself, thanks to some friends that I've met after I came here. I usually brought the Korean high school life into the conversation when my American friends were whining about how difficult their high school life was. Although it sounds quite harsh for students to be so pressured for their high school years studying for the single goal, the college entrance exam, the students in those Asian countries actually have no other choice but to follow the peer pressure that is created by the atmosphere of the society's over-competing nature.

It was slightly different from daydreaming, but I frequently looked up on the bright, sky-blue sky in May while I was memorizing the words for the June/July SAT tests. My teacher would come to me and slap the back of my head while saying "Stop idling around and memorize the vocabularies. You really can just look at the sky when your SAT score is like that?" However, when I read the part where Walter Mitty was saying "'I'm thinking.' said Walter Mitty. 'Does it ever occur to you that I am sometimes thinking?'", I felt the situational difference between me and Walter.

It's quite depressing when I see in retrospect while comparing it with the Walter Mitty story. I would justify my past situation with the idea that 'I was forced' to give up my freedom for daydreaming, which was an open window to my creativity, by the authority (which would be teachers in this case). However, I am still here, fitting in the society quite well. It almost makes me feel like it's all good even though I do not think creatively, since I have no problems living on without it plus the fact that other great minds who are able to think creatively do those thoughts for me (and the society overall). This is the point where I think the social structure fits in as one of the most important conditions for being creative. Not personal mindsets nor personal endeavors, but social structure. If the authorities push the laypeople with certain amount of force, the mindsets will bend over time. As a result, cultivation will take place in the society and will mark itself as an important trend or concept, until a major social change takes place going against that trend (e.g. technological change which replaces studying with some other social substitute. I really can't think of anything specific at this moment, hard to imagine anything like that.) Maybe someday, daydreaming like Walter Mitty would be a social trend if the authorities softly, but genuinely forces those things as a desirable aspect in the society.

I actually try to force myself to have some moment of idleness these days more than the usual days, looking out the vividly sky-blue sky as spring came. My room has a beautiful view of the Champaign area toward the campus, with the building being constructed at the junction of Green and fourth. I hardly come up with a ground-breaking idea or something even minutely close, but really enjoy the time of looking up the sky without thinking about anything else during lunch while I listen to a cello piece of Bach inventions. I definitely would have been more happy if I started these things earlier in my life.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

When did I forget trying to be creative ?

Before writing this article, I tried to get lost as I did in my Art350 class for half an hour. In that 30 minutes, I did not open any electronic devises, meaning my phone and my computer was turned off. The only thing I had was a pen and my notebook. I want to write down what I thought in that 30 minutes in an organized way ( I drew a flow chart on my notebook).

When did I forget trying to be creative ? It was the first question coming to me. The reason why I do not use 'stop' but 'forget' here is because that happens gradually and unconsciously. When I look back I know it happened sometime in my life. Then I tried to answer this question by analyzing the two common excuses we used to answer the question 'why not be creative ? 'during our discussion. 

The first one is simple: I do not have enough time to do that. Not enough time ? What did I do with my time ? The answer would be taking more than 20 credits. Why did you take so many credits ? Because things I learnt in that class could be useful when I am looking for a job. How did you know that ? Because there are examples of my classmates and friends taking the same class and get a job. I stopped at here and looked backwards to find if there is anything wrong. The initial motivation is trying to follow other's successful path and hope to get the same successful result. Nothing wrong here since most people want to learn from others by mocking and those great names are among them as well. Taking more than 20 credits ? Anything wrong here? I think it will be fine as long as you can understand and make the most of the course contents. But here comes the problem: most students judge the 'understand and make the most of course content' as getting an A for the course. Even worse, judge 'The knowledge learnt in all classes' how many As they get in total'. Without doubt, getting an A for a class is highly correlated with 'understanding and making the most of the class'. If I want to build a model for that, getting an A or not probably will be the variable I will choose and the model will probably have a pretty high R^2. However, that does not mean it is a good model without looking at the diagnostics. There could be some confounding factors that correlates with both our dependent and independent variables. Trying to be creative or being in flow could be the confounding variables here. A spurious relationship between 'Understanding and making the most of your classes' and 'How many As students can get in total' would occur if the estimate fails to account for a confounding factor. In other words, the same thing could happen between 'getting a job' and 'getting a lot of As'. So we can see the problem of mocking other's successful path, There are always variables you can not observe or you won't observe unless you look close enough. But these variables are crucial. 

The second one is that there is no immediate reward of being creative and sometimes it is even not encouraged. I still remember at the first year of my high school, I like to spend time on reading articles and books  not related to my coursework. Arguing on an interesting topic in the book with my friends between classes is very enjoyable. But after the first year, we are not allowed to read books  other than text books. My teachers even punish us for doing that and all the books will  be confiscated. They want us to focus on the college entrance exam rather than spending time on meaningless things. Gradually, I  agree with them on their opinions and think it bad to break those rules. Just like what we discussed before, if people have no experience of being creative and do not know why creativity could be beneficial for a long time, they will tend to think being creative will be inefficient. In that case, copying others' successful path seems to be an alluring option.

This article is about analyzing my personal experience and may not be the case for other people. But I think it answers the question for me 'When did I forget trying to be creative'. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Why can't we be creative? The question of how our society forms our behavior.

The breakthrough of technology gave us many things that led to our convenient life nowadays. From cars to ground-breaking economic theories, they exist anywhere and anytime these days. One might say we owe the creative minds about these things that they've came up with, and we are actually promoting the creativeness in out society. I think that's not the case for the most of the time, and therefore, I decided to write my personal thoughts about our culture these days, and how much hard it is to have one's own time for the creative thoughts. 

My advertisement class mainly discusses the topics related on these things, and the class gave me a lot of thoughts about our discussion mixed as one. So, the current society is running towards a society where consumption is the key. The market develops things like consumer cultures and effective methods for selling their products. In order for a consumer culture to be sustained, some conditions have to be met in the society, and one of them is 'there should be abundance of production.' This is a mainstream concept in the market after the President Franklin. D. Roosevelt performed the New Deal. Initially, the concept was to stimulate the production of the companies by government intervention. However, nowadays, the profit is the main goal, and the people eventually found out ways to sell the produced goods in a timely manner.

I believe the 'obligated consumption' of the people and the companies trying to make the consumption 'obligated' in order to increase their profit is affecting the people to be less creative and more like a good fit that can function in the society the companies have defined. I have no intention to criticize the current education system, but from my sincere thoughts, the university now looks like a prep-school for companies to pick their parts for their assembly line. There are exceptions of course, but most of the companies would make the GPA the baseline of their criteria, while the extra curricular activities which might seem creative be the sidekick of the show. Nowadays, instead of really thinking about creative things that could make oneself unique, the students try to find already made-and-used images to make a brand of themselves. Even classes teach you to make a brand that the company would be interested in you.

The consumption aspect converges with the people's nature of avoiding the change. When people settle down to something, they have a tendency to just stay down and play safe. I felt this with my heart when we tried to discuss about what would the children first do in order to start things that could lead them to creative activities. I wasn't even able to think about trying new foods as something that you could start an adventure with (I'm pretty sure that wasn't the expression, but I was trying to refer to Prof. Arvan's point on that day). People's thoughts are getting fixed up due to the environment that others have created, and if one lives busy enough to earn the money and pay for tomorrow, they don't have time for creative thoughts. At least that's the situation for most of the middle class people and below. Unless you have materialistic abundance, the time, and more specifically, the free time that the society gives you wouldn't let you think about those things.

The Nobel prize winners, at least for the creative breakthroughs, weren't really from a third world country. Instead, they were the people who could actually afford to spend their time to be creative. 

One could say that if you make the time for it, there wouldn't be any problem. However, creative thoughts, as we have discussed so far, isn't really a thing that would come in a snap nor a short-to-moderate time span. If our social conditions wouldn't allow us to actually ponder and appreciate the thoughts, we would have a hard time to actually be creative in the first place.