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. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Be Different from the Crowd

Last time we puttered for some time and I found it really interesting to see one thing in a very deep and different perspective. Puttering is time-consuming and it needs a lot of practice. Human being naturally use shortcuts or rule of thumb to make assumptions to spare the brain. That's why it takes a lot of efforts to putter deeper. But it is definitely beneficial, at least for me, looking at something in a new perspective helps me to have more ideas and understanding.

So this time we might talk about the uniqueness and culture. As everyone's been told, people in individualism culture tend to be more self-awareness and want to be different from the crowd because they highly value the uniqueness of every individual. While people in collectivism are more tend to care relationships with other person and don't have high self-awareness. From my experience as an international students, I do feel domestic students, on average, being more outspoken and active in showing their difference in dressing, ideas, etc. 

One thing that makes me feel confused is, when people talking about uniqueness or difference, what exactly they're referring to? It seems that some differences are encouraged while some other differences are being pushed back. What makes the two different reactions? 

For example, people like unique ideas. They call it creativity. When someone has ideas different from others, it is being appreciated because that opens up people's perspectives. One idea that is unique could create extremely powerful results. The success of Apple is that they make their products unique. Even in the advertising, they tell the "why" first. The "why" is the ultimate reason or mission that Apple has. It is not just producing high quality laptops or computers; instead, it is "Making a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind." By doing this, Apple distinguishes itself from other companies in 1980s because they're not limited to bragging their products and tell people to buy. People are persuaded by why they're doing this. 

However, I realized some uniqueness makes people feel pressure and tend to hide their uniqueness. This is a video of TED talk called "The danger of hiding who you are" by Morgana Bailey. As a lesbian, she was afraid to share this to others and hided the secret for 16 years, mostly because of the social judgment. The sexual difference seems scary for people to talk openly. If people value diversity and individual's uniqueness, why this is so sensitive? One sentence she said was enlightening to me. "I don't want others refer me as the 'gay co-worker', 'gay Morgana', I just want others call me Morgana." When the uniqueness becomes a label of someone, it seems that people are dehumanizing individuals by using these labels. She is still Morgana. She has so many other characteristics that could be unique. While people's behavior of categorizing individuals is the beginning of stopping diversity. 

The best way to encourage individual's uniqueness is not just saying that we love diversity. It is respecting other's differences by being aware of it and putting that characteristic at the position equals to other characteristics, rather than categorizing individual into certain group just by one characteristic. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Actually, last semester, I tried to connect what we've written in the weekly post but obviously, based on your responses in class, I did not do it in the right way. For me, puttering can be the result of concentrating on doing certain things such as trying to win a better chess player. By paying all my attention on the chess game, I could come out with some really smart moves to earn some advantages. Also, puttering could be my purpose of doing certain things, for example, sudoku. I did it not for fun, in stead, I think it could help me concentrate. It is like turning on the concentration mode of my mind and I can keep that mode on for some time. I really like to do some sudoku to help me concentrate before I took my math test in middle school.  Unfortunately, I did not puttering a lot in my university life in Champaign. When I was at my former university in China, I think I puttered a lot for both my courses work and club activities. The reason is quite simple, I do not have that much school work in China and I have time to putter. If I putter on something not related to my school work and career plan for a considerable amount of time, I am fine with that. But during the first year in Champaign, I noticed that most of my friends were working by a very specific plan and they did not like to waste any time irrelevant to their goals. I started to become a follower and studied and worked like that. I made checklist for myself everyday and my life was all about finishing things on the checklist. I think what I get most from our discussion is I should dig deeper on things I find important and useful, not just finishing the checklist and coming out with a resume looks good but not that meaningful. The talk with David confirmed my thinking on puttering as well. What he thought about education is not only about puttering but knowing how to apply what you learnt to the real world situation. That is why I think I enjoyed project more than homework because it provides a quite open question that encourages us to dig deeper and deeper. 

In the second paragraph, I want to talk about an interesting article I read. It is in Chinese, so I will try to write down its idea with my words. This article compares studying with playing video games and explains why video games can attract so many people. First of all is that video games are designed to make you feel that it is controllable. In other words, video games will give immediate feedback to all your instructions in numbers or pictures. For example, every time you kill an enemy in the game, the golden coins will jump out, the experiences you earned will show in numbers. I noticed that the close button in the elevator of US does not work at all since every time I press it, I have to wait exact the same time if I did not press it. But the engineer decided to include it in the elevator to make people feel it controllable. Second feature is that video games give you the motivation to keep playing every ten minutes. You can always find next task available when you finish a task. You can always notice there are so many things to do to improve your weapon or get to the next level. You can always find your friend log on when you decided to log off and get some sleep. I think this article interesting because as human beings, we may want to putter in this way. There is a real world example of puttering to science journal Nature.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Resistance to Averageness

Before reading the article, I actually believe that technology is the determinant of healthcare quality. Healthcare is something that we have no ability to improve dramatically unless we have access to higher level of technology or  medicines. But the truth turns out to be the opposite. And I started wondering, for patients with Cystic Fibrosis, what exactly makes the difference between 80 percent of normal breath level and 100 percent, or even better.

I guess the key is the resistance to averageness. In the last paragraph the author writes, "When the stakes are our lives and the lives of our children, we expect averageness to be resisted. And so I push to make myself the best." When everyone is satisfied with 80 per cent of normal level for patients, Don Berwick pushed the patients in an "aggressive" way in order to keep their lungs as open as possible. That's why he cares about the difference between 99.95 percent and 99.5 percent at the circumstances with or without one-day treatment, which would lead to a huge difference in a long term. 

It reminds me of something called "illusory superiority", which represents a common cognitive fallacy people have -- I am above average people. For example, in the survey made by College Board, they asked students who take SAT to rate their own performance, 70% of students rate themselves above median. This applies to every aspect of skills or performance such as health, driving skills, memory or IQ. The fallacy that people are above average makes people feel good when they actually perform average, or maybe they're really better than average. However, few people would look up to see how much higher they could reach rather than comparing themselves to the "majority" to get the satisfaction and feeling of superiority. This is what Berwick is doing and what makes him unique.

So it raises the question that we might ask ourselves. Perfection is not easy to get. And sometimes we don't know about our limitations. As we've discussed before, it would be better if we could set a reachable goal to an extent that we can possibly reach by doing some efforts, instead of setting a ridiculously high one to discourage ourselves. But sometimes it needs the enthusiasm to pursue perfection in order to accomplish something others have never thought of. How could we find out our limitations? How could we define perfection? How could we avoid being prey to illusory superiority?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Procrastination and Deferred Gratification - Reading or Writing

On Friday Nicole and I had a good talk.  I thought we got a little bit further into ideas that I wanted to see us discuss.  I will review some of that conversation below.  But first I want to note that I know this is a busy time for you, about 1/3 of the way into the semester.  In addition, last Thursday was the Chinese New Year, a time for celebration.  Even with that, however, I was a bit surprised that it was only Nicole and me, so I wondered about the following.  Were some of the previous conversations not quite working for you?  You are all so polite, I wonder if you'll gave an honest response to that question.  Please do.  Also, if you have thoughts on how we should proceed in the future when you miss the discussion from the prior week, please include that in your comment.  I'm not sure how to get you caught up.  But I will try here.  I told Nicole I'd write the post this week because I didn't think it was fair to ask her to connect our discussion with what we should talk about next and I didn't see how David or Yuchen could write this post after not being there on Friday.

After some chit chat we began by trying to identify time when the learning seemed to be working well and what the mood was when that happened.  I think we got a little further on the identifying when things worked, part of which was about identifying times where the stress is too much and makes things unpleasant.  Nicole does not like to feel rushed.  So she likes to begin on assignments quite early and give herself plenty of time to do research online to get enough background on the subject she is studying.   If she is forced to do things at the last moment, that is uncomfortable for her.
We were able to talk about good stress and bad stress.  And example of bad stress was a team project where some of the team members skipped the team meeting, as it happened this was the guys on the team, the girls were more diligent about doing the work.  So their share of the work was allocated to the guys in their absence and it was unclear whether they'd complete the work or not (and if they did it whether they would do it well).  That, as I said is bad stress.  It is uncertainty about which you can't exercise very much control.  You just have to hope for the best.

Good stress is when you face a challenge that is a little beyond your current capabilities.  Nicole said this happens regularly in her psychology class.  Her assignments push her to learn things that she didn't know before.  She doesn't rush to do this.  Rather she develops a plan of what to read to get the requisite background and she spends as much time as she needs to feel she is understand the research in this area.  It seemed that this time when Nicole was gaining understanding was a time of joy for Nicole.  I observed that she must be a confident learner, because not everyone knows that they can master something they don't understand.  Many other students, with less confidence, put off the task till the deadline.  The result from this delay is that they learn less, and perhaps they don't learn at all.

The discussion triggered thought of this essay by James Surowiecki called Later, which I encourage you to read.  It is a very well written piece and has many ideas that should be useful to us.  One of those is the planning fallacy and that we humans tend to underestimate how long a task will take to complete.  Another is the divided self and that each of us is not of one mind in what we should be doing with our time.  There are several related ideas also articulated that I think are relevant to our discussion.

A notion that is somewhat opposite of procrastination, not mentioned in the piece, is deferred gratification.  It means something like not caving into temptation now but doing the responsible thing instead.  The article then talks about various ways of achieving deferred gratification.  One way is called binding, where constraints are imposed up front to prevent the temptation from materializing.  It occurs to me that you over program yourselves (here I'm talking about how many credit hours you are taking plus your commitments to extra curricular activities) as a form of binding.  Free time, which is unconstrained, then might challenge you too much and temptation would win out then.

The thing is being busy is not the same as being in flow.  You can be working hard yet still be very self-aware.  The higher state of flow may only be reached if you allow yourself to discover things that you didn't anticipate ahead of time.  The process of discovery, however, is open ended.  It is unclear when or if it will happen.  It is also unclear, once it begins, how long it will take to follow till its conclusion.

Finally, let me bring in this other idea of reading or writing. What I mean here is whether somebody else is directing your learning (reading) or if you are directing it (writing).  In what I said about about how Nicole goes about her research plan, the instructor is giving direction on the topic, but she subsequently gives direction by planning the research to read to give her understanding.  Yet she is content with making that plan once and sticking with it.  We talked briefly about a concept called rolling plans, where after a period of time when proceeding according to the plan, the plan is then revised to reflect what has been learned in the interim and then current realities.  I suspect the three of you plan quite a bit about the work you will do.

While I do plan too, I'm much more into serendipity in my reading when I'm writing a piece, say for my regular blog.  I will have an initial idea and start writing, then a thought occurs that I didn't have at the beginning so I will research it and begin to read what that search provides.  Then that becomes the universe for a bit and the writing moves into the background.  When I return to the writing I now have a different plan for it based on what I've learned in the process.  The piece I end up with is rarely anticipated at the outset except in the most broad stroke terms.

You may recall that at the beginning of our class in the fall I argued for a dual path approach to the learning - as both a reader and a writer.  I don't know that the message sunk it at all at the time I articulated it.  Perhaps it is a little more meaningful now.  Anyway, I wonder if you see yourself that way or not.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Flow and hyperfocus.

During our conversation on Friday, we continued to talk about flows, and try to get a further grip of when would we call a situation a flow. We were to talk about our experiences doing certain tasks, such as my machine problems (MPs) for Computer Engineering or Nicole's psychology research papers. During the conversation, I explained my process of solving the MPs, mainly coding and debugging a certain script that I have to write down in a certain language. I described the process to take 3~16 hours long, varying on how smoothly I can script the MPs. When I told people (except Yuchen) that I stayed on the computer for 16 hours straight for the task, professor asked me if I was in a flow while I was on it. My answer was 'no'. I certainly did not have flow while I was on the MPs (for the fact that I do not like Computer Engineering too much..), but I explained it to be a part of my nature that I had to end a certain thing when I have started it. Professor was quite surprised by the fact that I was staying in front of the computer debugging the script for 16 hours without flow. 

This led me to something that I was thinking about for the past few days after our discussion, and as a result, I conclude that there is a term which could explain this straight 16 hour MP. It is not flow, but I found the term to be 'hyperfocus.' To introduce the terms and to see the difference, I will link 'flow' and 'hyperfocus' here. If you go into the link and compare the definitions, flow is similar to hyperfocus, but the word 'flow' has somewhat more glowing meaning to it. 

"In some circumstances both flow and hyperfocus can be an aid to achievement, but in other circumstance or situations, the same focus and behavior could be a liability, distracting from the task at hand."
- from 'hyperfocus', Wikipedia.

So, even though both terms have almost the same concept, flow makes people feel joy, and even rapture on a certain level, while the hyperfocus makes people focus on a more narrow vision, making people to be 'stereotypical'. 

I would like to share my working conditions for the MPs, which I believe I become  'hyperfocused' for most of the times during the tasks. As I have introduced to you already, Computer Engineering is not my greatest fields that I can perform. I learned this by taking the early ECE courses, which I had to prepare more than others to follow up the courses. After learning that I was not really exceptional at this field and discovering that I also did not have special interests, the things I learned in the engineering courses became mind numbing. Of course, it does not mean that I do not learn anything. However, it's just that I am not as much interested on doing the tasks for engineering courses as other subjects that I am interested in, such as econ. Although, I had to get them done before the deadline to get the grades that I needed to graduate. 

I find, in conclusion, the type of task to be important for the flow/hyperfocus to occur during the task. If one has sincere interest in the task, it would be easier for him to find the flow, or the joy of doing the task while being absorbed in it. However, like my MPs, if the task is a must which does not inspire you, continued 16 hours in front of the task would not cause the flow, but instead would get you into a hyperfocused situation.

I would like to hear your opinion about the concept of hyperflow, and would like to see if there might be some other things that would be the cause the distinction of the flow/hyperfocus upon the tasks that one has to do.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Inquiry Loop

Last week, we talked about the idea about inquiry based on John Dewey's philosophy: learning always starts with the question of the learner, then we investigate solutions; create new knowledge as we gather information,discuss our experiences and reflect our new-found knowledge. Based on the previous process, we will come up with a new question and we will enter another inquiry loop. After that discussion, Professor Arvan asked us where this loop happens in our study or in which course we have this loop.
I would say that this loop does not happen in most of my classes and I think just like creativity, we do not spend all of our time doing things with creativity. However, it does happen to us once in a while and we should  grasp it.
Then it leads to the question: what leads us to the loop . For me, I want to use my example of taking a statistics class called survival test last semester. At first, I did not know anything about that class and I chose it since it is the only advanced statistic class that fits my schedule to graduate in May. So my original question for this class was what survival test is? Because I did not want to spend my time on this class and learnt nothing. My professor's teaching style did help me a lot in this class. At the first class he told us the three most important topics will be covered is Kaplan-Maeier estimator, log-rank test and Cox regression. Also, he told us why we need these three methods at the first class. So during the further study, I was like the man with a map and whenever I got lost, what I needed to do is to look at the map: the original questions, to find my direction.  In my opinion, these questions are the entrance to the loop and whenever I got lost, I could go back to where we began instead of jumping out of the loop.
The next question will be how do we know we are in the loop. In my experience, my loop does not work in a perfect circle, usually when I am on the second step: investigate the solution, I may go to different directions. First is memorizing and it happens a lot in my education experiences. When I get bored with the question or I could not feel the desire to look into the question deeply, I would choose the easier solution: memorizing. Compared with understanding, memorizing is always a easier choice but it will not help us continue the loop, instead memorizing does not require us to create new knowledge. We will end up jumping out of the loop, not to say repeating the loop. The second is to create the new knowledge but the definition of the new knowledge here is not for the human beings but for ourselves. In other words, we can master the knowledge we do not know before and for me, that  is the sign of getting into the loop.
Yes, someone may argue that understanding the new knowledge happens almost in every class in every semester. However, first, I would say that knowing new things does not mean that we understand the knowledge, especially in the college level. Second, the final question is how to repeat the loop rather than finishing a circle that means the original question during our discussion: be in the flow.I am not the person that can force myself into the repeating loop, so according to my experience, it is closely related to the professor's teaching style. My survival test professor, Dave Zhao treats teaching as building houses. He does not speed up the class unless he is sure that at least 50% of students in class understand the content, which does build a solid foundation for us in the further study. In addition, he also likes to give us a little bit challenging question for us, so we always have questions in hand to go on the loop.
If there is one more question for this topic, I think it would be how to continue the loop when the class is over. In the the survival test class, I did finish a personal project with what I learnt to solve a problem my friend had in his intern: how to quantitatively analyze the credit risk of P2P lending in China. So, for me, I guess when I can apply what I learnt to realize my career goal, I tend to continue the loop. We may have a further discussion on this question this week.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Different Candies

Last discussion we talked a lot about extrinsic motivations, especially for students in Korea and China. From what I observed back to China, there are students motivated by these high expectations from teachers and parents and study really hard. Without enough sleep and enough relaxation, students are extremely nervous about their grades. And the state of keeping working hard collapses when they go to college. While some might just want to give up and quit this game. One of my friends in China started learning painting when she was little and achieved a lot of rewards. Despite her desire of studying art-related major, her parents still sent her to the U.K. to study accounting, which she really hates. The reason is that many people tend to consider one specific way as the only way to have a good life in the future. Not everyone likes M&Ms. Others may prefer peanut butter cups or snickers as their snacks. And in terms of students, not everyone likes doing Maths. With different talents and interests, people really shouldn’t try to find the “best” choice because that can never work for every individual. So maybe this time we could talk about different choices and “different candies”.

People can always find things they enjoy doing alone. For me, I actually sing a lot when I’m alone, not only in the shower. For this interest I don't need any audience or partner with me. Actually if there’s someone besides me I don’t sing like I do when I’m alone. Singing makes me relaxed, especially when I play guitar, I could sing along with it. Or I can just sing without any instrumental. All of those come from intrinsic interest, rather than any motivation given by others. Besides that, I actually do some song recordings every week and share it online because I’m a host for a radio show. However, when I listen to the recordings, it sounds a little bit strange to me because I feel like listening to other’s voices, not mine. And later on, I found that when I record as I sing, it’s more difficult for me to get in flow to really enjoyed singing itself. I become nervous and make mistakes. Because I know there will be audiences listening to my recordings so that I try harder to sing perfectly but that never happens. In fact, my voice becomes tense and dry when I’m worried about my performance. The only way for me to do better is pretending there’s no recording at all. I keep working on it and now I feel pretty comfortable when I click the recording bottom and sing.

From this experience, I realized the difference between two. When I sing just because I want to, that is not something I need to practice or develop skills. No matter how bad singer I am I could still enjoy the moment. While when there’s  audience, some extrinsic motivations require me to practice more, to memorize the lyrics, and take it seriously. At first it only turned singing into a hard work. But later, I tried to improve my skills more and make myself relaxed, it became better and easier for me. Singing would still be my interest in the future. But I definitely enjoy singing alone without any pressure. Of course I have a better understanding about myself, such as the deficit in performing in front of others. But I know It is not just for singing, also like making presentation for a big audience.

Every individual has some particular candy they like. I don’t think there is a “best” one for everyone. In contrast, whether something is right for me seems more important to me and I’m willing to work hard for it. That’s why sometimes I feel confused about why there are so many students over program themselves too much and think about jobs and interns from the moment they enter the college. It feels like there is a prototype for an excellent student: He or she should be involved in professional RSOs’s executive board, get three or four interns during college and keep a high GPA. While many students over program themselves and give up the chances for them to learn or experience something they’re really interested in. And some students just can’t handle all of these and struggle for a long time. Finding a personal plan rather than following the prototype might be better for students to learn, explore and take risks. College life shouldn’t be the same for everyone.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What do you have in mind?: The question of how to stir up the interest inside you.

Our main topic for this discussion is "How to achieve maximum efficiency during education." We have got into several things related to the topic, such as 'Flow', or breaching a little bit further while you know your limits. (Sorry, I forgot the specific term..) However, there was something different in my mind for where to start for our discussion on this topic. I was rather interested in how things would start us to achieve the efficient outcome, not only for education, but for anything that we might get into. I believe that getting absorbed into something requires a spark of interest at the beginning of the thing. Of course, the spark of interest doesn't always lead to getting the flow running inside one, but the flow itself cannot exist without the initial spark remaining in the heart of that person. I want to discuss a little bit about how this interest gets inside you, and how it leads to the 'motivation' process which gets us into the flows.

Unfortunately, the way I think about getting the spark of the interest in something is rather very personal: everybody has different personalities, and in my opinion, the unique personality of people influences how people get their interest in various things. To make it a little bit more simple, there is no one straight method that can be applied on anyone in this world to generalize the factor of people getting interested in something. However, that does not simply mean that the trait of getting the interest cannot be generalized. Although specifics might differ between individuals, I think there would be some ways that would be similar among people about how they get their first interest on something. I wish to discuss with our group some general characteristics or traits of how people get interested in things.

One of the things I have spent a lot of my time during my short, 25 years of life is playing games. I know, it sounds a little bit childish and immature. To be honest, I did not have too much time during last semester to get the 'flow' running through my veins for gaming, and I don't think I would have too much time for this semester either. However, I certainly think that gaming was one of the few things that really got me into flow when I was absorbed in it (and I mean like 1~2 years constantly while I was actually aiming for international tournaments, not for like a 1 hour game.) I started playing game casually when I was around 12 years old. I guess it was because not only all other friends around me played, but also most of the kids in Korea played it. (I believe the game was named Starcraft: Brood War. The trend was sensational in Korea since most of the male teenagers, and even university students at that time played the game.) However, the playing was casual. I was just average among my friends, and did not show any special talents. However, things changed when I got into the end of my high school years. Pro leagues in Korea were getting tremendous attention from people. Playing game was considered a waste of time (it still is in Korea among adults.) to the 'authorities' before, and that mattered for me. However, after the internet easing the access of the materials of pro players who actually escalated the level of the games into a 'state-of-the-art' level, it pulled me strongly into the rhythm of flow. I would say I was interested in games for many reasons, but if I have to choose the main reason that I played games just like others, it would be peer-pressure to get along with friends. However, the reason that got me into a flow was viewing other talented players showing their insane skills of the game itself.

Just like my example, there would be a lot of reasons for many people who get their interest in something, and if lucky enough, getting into the flow for their own reasons. I would like to hear from others some reasons of how they got their interest in something, and how that interest (under what circumstance) got into 'the flow' itself. Your personal experience, as well as other examples you have heard would all be nice to talk about.

P.S. 1) I initially wanted to introduce the 'content theory', especially from 'Herzberg'. However, the amount of this blog post would get too big, and I gave up the idea to introduce the whole thing inside this post. I personally think it's worth reading at least once to get the grasp of how scholars view this type of topic in an academic way. The works are limited into workplace situations, but nonetheless I think it can be applied in various situations with a little twist of the contents. (Yes, that work will be more troublesome than your graduate thesis.)

P.S. 2) The 'chicken or egg' problem that Professor Arvan mentioned on 01232015, I am still thinking about it. I should have mentioned it on this post, but I'm having some serious thoughts about it. If I can come up to a conclusion of my own before the next meeting, I will be sure to share my thoughts with all of us.