Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Open Education Week 2014


Promote and participate in Open Education Week 2014.

"Open Education Week is a celebration of the global Open Education Movement. Its purpose is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide. Participation in all events and use of all resources are free and open to everyone" (excerpt from the website).
Read more...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

MOOCs & The Secret Garden


Prologue


For those who have been following trends in higher education, the term MOOCs (pronunciation: muk) is not foreign anymore but for some people it is still kind of clouded in mystery. A simple google search using ‘MOOC’ as a keyword turned up 2.4 million hits and when searched using the full acronym ‘Massive Open Online Courses’ it gave a massive 24 million hits! Mind-boggling indeed! If the number of hits can be used as a simple measure of popularity then perhaps we can surmise that MOOCs is a phenomenon that have a potential to disrupt the education world and will bring about significant impact on achieving “Education for All” movement of the United Nation. This article is my attempt to deciphering and demystifying MOOCs. Note that this is my personal view on MOOCs (not that of USM or CDAE) and I must say that I’m inclined towards supporting it because I liked its underlying philosophy. That said, I'm not a MOOCs cheerleader or its fan boy — I keep an open mind on this evolving phenomenon — but yes, I'm a MOOC student (albeit a lazy one) and I want MOOCs to stay alive because I'm always hungry to seek new knowledge, freely (or with nominal cost) and at my own pace.

The Trail Blazers — MIT’s OCW and UNESCO’s OERs



Clayton M. Christensen in his book, "The Innovator’s Dilemma" noted that for a long time, innovation-driven transformations have been largely absent or almost non-existent in the education. Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, also echoed the same concern in the interview with Times magazine back in 2006, he said, “In almost every area of human endeavor, the practice improves over time…that hasn't been the case for teaching”. I agree with both of them on the lack of disruptive or mega innovation in education in general and in higher education in particular. However, there is a wind of change (reminds me of the Scorpion’s song) in recent years because we hear more and more buzzwords such as Web 2.0, social media, OCW, OER, and the latest one, MOOCs. These terms have been the focus of mainstream media on education including educational websites and blogs. It’s a clear sign that the landscape of the open education movement is changing everyday and is gaining strong momentum world over.



MOOCs may not be a real ‘disruptive innovation’ as defined originally by Christensen but some of these innovations are real game changer in higher education. It started back in 2001 when MIT introduced their Open Courseware (OCW) project with the aim of widening access to knowledge and information. The initiative is considered a runaway success because over the past 12 years or so, the project has grown by leaps and bounds — from 50 published courses to over 2,000 and it has been reported that to date, there have been 122 million views by 87 million visitors from nearly every country across the globe. Today there are approximately 281 universities around the world that are part of the OCW Consortium. Two Malaysian universities, UTM and UM have already joined as member of the Consortium (congratulations!) and it is expected that more Malaysian universities will join the bandwagon.

On another front, UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning (COL) took the OCW initiative further by introducing Open Educational Resources (OER) and together they spur and expedite an international movement in support of OERs. The term Open Educational Resources (OER) was coined at a 2002 UNESCO Forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education. In 2012, Paris OER Declaration was formally adopted at the World Open Educational Resources (OER) Congress held at the UNESCO. The Declaration marks a historic moment in the growing movement for Open Educational Resources and calls on governments worldwide to openly license publicly funded educational materials for public use.

MOOCs — New kid on the block

Another phenomenon gathering momentum over the past two years or so is Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. MOOCs are simply online courses aimed at large-scale participation and open (free) access via internet. They are similar to university courses, but currently do not tend to offer academic credit. The whole idea of MOOCs is to empower interested learners from around the globe who lack access to higher education.

The term MOOCs has increasingly been very popular that even the Oxford dictionary has included it as an entry — defined as “a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people”. MOOCs actually emerged from OCW and OER initiatives and drew on a long and established history of distance learning. In terms of MOOCs and OER, “open” means free to access and use, whereas “open” in open universities means anyone can be a student. The MOOCs, for the first time, created a widespread public awareness of the possible connections between OER and affordable, high quality education.

MOOCs are now being offered through various providers, the more popular one are Cousera, EdX, Udacity, and more recently FutureLearn.

To MOOCs or not to MOOCs?

Yasser  S. Abu-Mostafa, a professor at Caltec and MOOC instructor on Machine Learning made an excellent analysis on the role of MOOCs (see To MOOC or not to MOOC). He quoted there main and interrelated roles:
  • MOOCs as a mean to reach out global learners, i.e., taking down the physical barrier and open access to the university course beyond the classroom and make it affordable;
  • MOOCs as a mean to change the format of delivery, i.e., using the flipped classroom model. This would mean shifting from the traditional 50 minutes lecture and allow more time for engaging the students in meaningful discussion in the classroom;
  • MOOCs as a tool to collect huge data on learning behavior and pattern. This would complement other emerging areas such as learning analytics and adaptive learning, collecting big data for the purpose of designing more effective and adaptive teaching strategies.
As with other new things, MOOCs have their supporters and their skeptics. Anything at the early stage of implementation is expected to have pitfalls and shortcomings. MOOCs is just like a kid learning to ride a bicycle, still trying to do the balancing act. At the moment MOOCs are ridden by some issues that need to be addressed.

Some people are just taken by surprise at the explosion of MOOCs phenomenon and naturally they prefer to sit still and observe. Why all that buzz about MOOCs all of a sudden? It started just a couple of years ago when Stanford professor, Sebastian Thrun, drew 160,000 students from around the globe to his free online course on artificial intelligence, starting a conversation about the coming wave of free online education. But despite claims that free online courses would revolutionize education, the New York Times reported that initial results for large-scale courses are rather disappointing. It was made even more sensational when recently Thrun himself admitted that his company’s (Udacity) products are lousy.



I think it’s not the fault of the MOOCs provider but rather MOOCs have been hyped a lot by the media. Maybe it is too much too call MOOCs as a revolution or even to talk about the prospect of MOOCs to replace a university. After all, there have been online courses and free lectures available on the internet for quite a while.

One of the main issues of contention about MOOCs is the completion rate is rather low (7 to 10%). To the skeptics this is an obvious failure. Flopped! Is it? Let’s look from the positive perspective. Let say only 10% of 50,000 learners in a course I'm currently following (on critical thinking offered by Duke University) complete the course, that's still 5,000 successful learners! By comparison, I teach 3 courses in one academic session, let say 200 students in total. It will take me approximately 25 years to teach 5,000 students! Those 7 to 10% ‘loyal’ students that successfully completed the MOOCs are those who really wanted to learn. The thing is, people will learn if they are MOTIVATED to learn. They must have reason to learn the subject/topic. Isn’t that the principle of adult learners? Let me quote Eric Jensen, "There's no such thing as unmotivated students, but there are students in unmotivated state".



We should not forget the fact that MOOCs are still very much in its infancy. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day. Likewise, the airplane was not invented overnight, but the Wright brothers persisted in developing the flying machines despite repeated failures.

Let me quote Thomas Edison. "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work". In the same breath, MOOCs have not failed but the providers such as Cousera, Edx and others have found 10,000 ways that didn’t work (grossly exaggerated). But if they persevere, just like Thomas Edison did, they might just find the right way to light up the MOOC bulb. Just like the modern civilization benefited from the 10,000 failures of Thomas Edison, the grand children of the sceptics (and the proponents) may one day the beneficiary of MOOC and obtain an accredited degree on, maybe, USMcera platform! I like the idea!

I think the success or failure of MOOCs will very much depend on the application of teaching and learning strategies that are firmly based and anchored on the proven learning theories and practices. This is the area that needs more attention and perhaps very challenging. Many years ago distance learning and online learning were ridiculed as well, and still are in some circles, because of poor instructional design, poor delivery/facilitation and/or poor instructor and learner support not because the technology is bad. Of course it’s easier said than done. One critical area is assessment — how to assess the work of 100,000 online students?

Yes, most of the pedagogy in this first generation of MOOCs is simply the large lecture class delivered online. Well, if only we allow MOOC to grow and learn to walk first… At the moment, we don't really know what the second or third generation of MOOCs might look like, any more than the Wright Brothers or Glenn Curtiss understood how a 747 was going to work. They knew that there was going to be something like that; they just couldn't begin to build it themselves.

Yet sceptics still dismiss MOOC as just another passing trend. They say MOOCs have no sustainable business model, costing lots but earning little. However, I think it's too early to draw definite conclusions. The potential for this model to realize the "education for all" is profound but educators and leaders need to roll up their sleeves and explore more viable formats/structures/programs the enable us to move forward.

I think MOOC is now following Gartner “Hype Cycle” of experimentation, adaptation and adoption. It is now just passing the 'peak of inflated expectations' and going through the 'trough of disillusionment'. MOOC is still traveling on the path of innovation. Maybe what we are seeing now is the end of a beginning.

Time to Reveal the Secret Garden?

For a long time we treat our classroom as our "secret garden". Nobody really knows what's going on in the classroom. Everything that happens in the classroom is between the teacher and the students within the confine of the physical boundary of the classroom. By and large, I can assure you, it is just 50 minutes talk and talk and talk and…Try to follow one course on Cousera and feel the difference! If only we can see MOOC in positive light as a mean to transform our practice, not to replace but to complement the face-to-face, i.e, blended learning. Don't be too quick to jump on the bandwagon of the sceptics if we have not seen and experience the MOOCs — not just jumping at any opportunity to ridicule it!

One great advantage of taking our course out of the secret garden and put it on MOOCs platform is the opportunity to get continuous feedback from students and peers in the same subject matter. If the same process of peer review has long been used for publication in peer-reviewed journal to ensure quality, why can’t we use the same process to gauge the quality of our course? I have personally received hundreds of email (feedback) from people around the world on my YouTube lecture videos although they are scattered and not yet structured into a coherent package (as a course). I have even received a chocolate from someone in Vienna as a token of appreciation! I’m sure the MOOC professors have great stories to share too.

A surprise gift (chocolate) sent to me from Vienna as a token of appreciation.

I salute the MOOC practitioners — they are the trail blazers! They come out from their comfort zone and dare to take the challenge of reaching out global learners beyond the boundary of their classroom rather than just continuing doing business as usual — just another sage on the stage in their own secret garden. MOOCs may not be the unique saviour of the education system but it doesn’t mean the MOOC phenomenon will just die. Failures are to be expected, not celebrated!

MOOCS, ROI and Business Models

Eventually, even with all the good intention of MOOCs, someone will ask, can universities or any MOOCs providers make money out of MOOCs? What is the return of investment (ROI)? This ROI thing is inevitably always a favorite and persistent question especially from administrators and skeptics. That's a fair question, of course.

The original intention of MOOCs is to provide free access to education but if educational organisation or any providers want to generate revenue from MOOCs there may be several business models that can be adopted. Prospective MOOCs providers may opt one of these models:
•    Government funding for developing and running MOOCs
•    Payment for complementary services
•    Certification

Cousera, one of the popular MOOCs provider, uses the certification model. For example, currently I’m taking a course offered by Duke University. If I follow the course until the 8th week, do all the assignments and participate actively in the forum I will be awarded the Certificate of Accomplishment. I have also the option to take the examination by paying a nominal fee of USD39.00 and if I passed I will be awarded the Verified Certificate.

For further exploration of MOOC business models see Money Models for MOOCs by Chrysanthos Dellarocas, Marshall Van Alstyne.

Actually there are many platforms available if we want to make money by conducting academic or vocational courses. One  of my favorites is Udemy — anyone can offer a course on Udemy, for free or for a fee. Last year Udemy reported a few instructors made a few hundred thousand dollars. I conduct one course on this platform for free. Not that many students, only 354. Hardly qualify for MOOCs but who cares, it's all about reaching learners outside the physical boundary of the university. That's what we call the scholarship of teaching and learning in real sense—sharing and disseminating knowledge. Have a look at my course on Udemy.




Money matters aside, let me put the ROI in a different light. I would say the immediate ROI would be learning itself, also the benefit of collaboration and networking. And if we talk about POSITIONING and VISIBILITY, what a better and convenient way to do it by having our courses (preferably our niches) freely accessible by the masses. Is that not enough ROI?

There is another form of ROI — the improvement in the quality of online course in the form of structure and delivery. This can happen in two ways: better course design and continuous students and peer feedback. Professors or instructors who embark on MOOCs will inevitably be more concious of how they would conduct the course because it will be seen by not only a few thousand students enrolled in the course but also educators in the same subject matter. They must ensure they get the facts right, explain the concept clearly and design the course structure in the best possible way to increase clarity and understanding. The reputation of the professor and the institution is at stake. It has been reported, on average, it takes between 6 to 9 months of preparation to design a course suitable for MOOCs format. This include preparation of the video, assignment and learning activities. As for the feedback I have already elaborated above.

Back to positioning and visibility, let me share my own personal experience (note: please don’t misconstrued this as boasting). I have about 80 pieces of recorded video lectures on YouTube. Just search 'karim' and 'usm' on YouTube and you will find some of those videos. The top video (almost 40,000 views from more than 50 countries) was my 20 minutes presentation on the production of palm oil. The total estimated duration watched is 79,401 minutes (approx 1,323 hours). Well, I leave it to your imagination to estimate the ROI in terms of learning!

MOOCs — My Own Personal Experience

My experience with MOOCs is limited to a few courses I enrolled on Cousera platform. Cousera offers 621 courses on its platform. You can find a range of technical and non-technical courses offered by 108 Coursera partners. After signed up, you can search or browse the course offerings categorized by subject matter such as business, agriculture, etc.


I enrolled in my first MOOCs last year (2013), a course entitled ‘Foundation of Teaching for Learning, Part 1’ conducted by Commonwealth Education Trust and offered on Cousera platform. I always yearn to learn more about the proper pedagogical approach because I don’t have a formal training in education and because of my ever burning desire to improve students’ learning. Unfortunately, I didn’t complete the course due to my hectic work schedule (excuses) and unwittingly contributed to the statistics of 90% attrition rate. I missed the second and third part but I enroll again and currently following the fourth part of the course.

I also enrolled in another course on Cousera, ‘Think Again: How to Reason and Argue’, offered by Duke University. This course is very well designed and structured.


What’s more interesting is this course is part of 3-course package namely, reasoning, data analysis and writing. For a nominal fee, Cousera offers the students to earn the Specialization Certificate by completing the so-called Signature Track for all 3 courses and the Capstone project. (Note: Learn more about Signature Track).

Basically students are required to watch a series of recorded lectures and take quizzes or similar activities to demonstrate their understanding of the material. Students may also be encouraged to participate in discussion forums or engage in interactive online activities, depending on the subject matter, but these activities are not compulsory. There is very little or almost no direct interaction with the instructor or professor. It is essentially self-paced, independent study but with opportunity to get help and feedback from fellow students.




So is it effective to learn this way? Well, as I have said earlier, people will learn if they are MOTIVATED to learn. Of course, good course design and delivery would help to motivate students and keep their interest in the course to wanting to learn more. There is a nice feeling in MOOCs that you are part of the big learning community. Imagine in the course ‘Think again…’ there are 50,000 students and even if just a quarter of them actively participate in the forum you can imagine the amount of exchanges and flow of ideas that sometimes can make you feel overwhelmed. The main reason I’m still following the course is simply my strong interest in the topic, and perhaps the only reason I’m compelled and determined to complete this course. The rest — the course design, the dynamic delivery, etc., are just the icing on the cake.

I would advise those new to MOOCs to read experiences of other MOOC students or alumni. This article (http://bit.ly/MkQmov), aptly titled “How to Survive MOOC in 5 Easy Steps” is a good place to start.

Closing Remarks

I don’t believe MOOCs have failed. They may not satisfy the ambitious and exaggerated claims of their pioneers, but they are already enhancing education for thousands of students around the globe. My limited MOOCs experience is sufficient to convince me that we should support it despite its pitfalls in the current form of implementation. Educators should grab the opportunity to open the secret garden and step out from their classroom for the benefit of the learning society.

Learn More about OER and MOOCs

My friend, Zaid Ali Alsagoff (see 'Top e-Learning Mover & Shaker' in the World!) has published excellent presentations on MOOCs on Slideshare. Have a look.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

STORIFY - BUILD YOUR ONLINE LEARNING CONTENT IN NO TIME!

In no time? Well, that's exaggeration...but really, there are so many tools now available to educators to do useful things with very little learning curve. Currently there are several web-based tools that allow anyone to build any topic of interest -- Scoop.it!, Pinterest, etc. These tools can be use for aggregating or curating content. The new kids-on-the block are Edcanvas & Storify.

I particularly like Storify. It's so easy to use -- no brainer! Storify has two parts -- the blank canvas on the left hand side and the search tools on the right hand side. There is Google search to search the web, You Tube, Flickr, or other social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud, etc. Basically you start with a blank canvas. Just search using the various built-in search tools, pick the relevant item, and drag it to the main area on the left. As its name implies, Storify allows you to build a 'story', basically a compilation of articles from the huge internet repository and arrange them in a logical sequence to make up...a story.

As I was exploring Storify, I begin to realize the huge potential of this tool for teaching & learning. Also, if you are seriously into content curation, this is one tool, amongst the crowd out there that I would highly recommend you to explore. I can't say more here but to illustrate perhaps I can share with you my Storify for your perusal.

The first one is one of the actual topic in the course I'll be teaching next coming semester (start in September). Here I aggregate the content from various sources, including my own, and arrange them in a logical sequence. Then, you will notice that in between the content I inserted an activity or task for the reader (in this case, mainly for my students). You can build the content as a modular unit, perhaps equivalent to 1 hour lecture or one specific part in a big topic. The activity/task can be arranged in such a way to follow certain pedagogical model, such as Gagne's 9 Events of Instruction. You can use this as a platform for the Flipped Classroom -- i.e., you can ask the students to read the material prior to the lecture but do the activity together in the classroom.

Here's sharing...
Notice that in my Weebly website I embed all the relevant stories (topics) that make up the whole course.

I hope my sharing here will give you some idea if you want to implement this for your course, or simply sharing with the public at large.

Your feedback is appreciated and most welcome!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Building Online Learning Content Using Flowboard & Storify



Hi folks! Here's an exciting FREE new iPad app, Flowboard -- similar to Tactilize but the biggest advantage is you can have multiple 'screens' (or slides in PPT lingo, cards in Tactilize). Screen can be linked non-linearly. The same can be done for any object on the screen. You can use Flowboard to prepare a presentation on the iPad. Just flip to move to the next screen. With creativity you can use this app in many ways. For example, I use Flowboard to prepare a Glossary. This is then linked to my Storify. A unique combination of tools to produce learning content. Have a look. 

--First the Flowboard: http://flowboard.com/s/1fwn/SUPERSATURATION
--This is linked to my topic on 'Crystallization in Foods' in Storify. Look for the hyperlink word 'supersaturation'.https://storify.com/ProfKarim/crystallization-in-foods
-- The same content in my Flowboard prepared in Tactilize.http://tactilize.com/profkarim/cards/51032

I hope you'll find this useful.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

10 Valuable Hindsights by Guy Kawasaki

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Presenting online with free screencasting program

Example 1: Screencast using Movenote



Example 2: Screencast using Screen_O-Matic



Example 3: Screencast using Present.me



I have benefited a lot from following people on Twitter. Recently I spotted a twit by Robin Good on using Movenote and present.me to produce a quick and simple screencasting. I followed the link to his Scoop.it! page. I watched his sample presentation and I thought, ah...I can try this! Both Movenote and present.me are free, very easy to use and the quality is reasonably good (but judge for yourself). Both programs have limited features compared to the more established Screen-O-Matic but I guess it's quite sufficient. I would add these to my selection of free screencasting program to present my PowerPoint or Keynote.

I have been using mostly Screenr for screencasting and recently I use Screen-O-Matic (for longer screencast up to 15 min). Unlike Screenr, though, Screen-O-Matic and Movenote allow you to capture your face using a webcam. I'm not particularly camera shy, so I thought maybe better to include a talking head in my presentation. Movenote tagline is “Presentation with emotion”. The website is neat and simple with very minimum information. For some reasons even the sign up link is not very evident. Movenote approach in screencasting is different from Screenr and Screen-O-Matic in that you have to upload the file to be presented in the screencast to the cloud (Movenote server). In this respect Movenote is not very flexible in terms of capturing anything on the screen.

Here's my first testing with Movenote (Example 1 above). I uploaded only one PowerPoint (2010) slide for this test. The slide contain 2 animations. Movenote convert it to image but somehow the animated objects (picture) messed up. In the second test, I converted the PPT slide to pdf and that solved the problem. For this test, I used my Samson COU3 USB microphone and MacBook Pro. Movenote placed the 'talking head' on the left hand side of the slide. No option to re-position it. On the other hand, Screen-O-Matic overlay the 'talking head' on the slide itself, thus cover part of the slide. I wish there was an option to re-position it. The bottom line is, for a simple and quick screencast of your lecture Movenote is quite useful. The output is also looks quite good

Present.me is also very simple to use but I think need some improvement. The quality of the 'talking head' is not as good as Movenote. As of this writing (November 2011) present.me is still in beta stage. Like Movenote, present.me is designed mainly for presenting documents such as pdf or PowerPoint presentation. The free basic account allows up to 15 minutes recording and up to 10 recordings/month (50 MB per upload). If you want to capture animation and transition in your PowerPoint presentation you have to sign up for the Plus account (not free). You can capture the presenter with the webcam. I notice, however, the quality of the talking head is not as good as Movenote or Screen-O-Matic.

What do you think of the result?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Haven't Published Yet?

For those aspiring to publish their first research paper or article in the journal, watch this video to get some inspiration. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Reviewers and Editors Want?


This morning I gave a talk, "Getting Your Manuscript Published: What Reviewers and Editors Want?" to a group of 40 graduate students. The talk was organized by the Institute of Postgraduate Studies (IPS), Universiti Sains Malaysia as part of the Professional and Personal Development Programme. The programme aims to increase students’ knowledge, soft skills, ability and credibility in order to develop them to compete and progress both academically and in the future workplace. This talk is actually the fourth one this month on a theme of writing scientific publication (my previous talks can be found in my previous article).

Briefly, I covered these topics:
  • Duties of editors, reviewers, and authors
  • What is “peer review” and its brief history
  • Objectives & process of peer review
  • What editors & reviewers are looking for?
  • Surviving the peer review process
The presentation can be viewed and download from Slideshare (link below).

Getting Your Manuscript Published: What Reviewers and Editors Want

Monday, August 22, 2011

How to Write a World Class Paper


As promised, I have uploaded the second part of my presentation on the theme of publishing scientific paper. The first was posted in my earlier article (here). The title of the second presentation is "How to Write a World Class Paper". Yes, writing a paper that reports novel idea that would advance the frontier of knowledge. A well written article cannot make up for poor research whereas a badly written article can diminish good research! The rule of thumb is actually quite simple: clarity and brevity. Watch the presentation to learn more...

Choose one of the links below:

How to Write a World Class Paper (on Vimeo)
How to Write a World Class Paper (on YouTube)

Note of acknowledgement: The content of this presentation was modified and ‘repackaged’ from the original presentation by Wendy Hurp (Elsevier). I would like to acknowledge and thank Wendy for giving the permission to share the material with the world.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Publish or Perish?


Publish or perish OR publish and flourish? Getting your paper published especially in the premier/reputable journals is not an easy task. Most of the so-called high ranking international journals have more than 50% rejection rate. There's always something new to learn everyday about scientific writing. Resources to help authors to write and communicate their research in a presentable or publishable from are always available. For example, American Chemical Society (ACS) Publications has launched the Publishing Your Research 101 video series to assist authors and reviewers in understanding and improving their experience with the processes of writing, submitting, editing, and reviewing manuscripts.

The first episode in the series is an interview with Professor George M. Whitesides from Harvard University who has published nearly 600 papers with ACS Publications, and over 1100 articles overall, and has served on the advisory boards of numerous peer-reviewed journals. When asked how many drafts each paper undergo before submission, he said typically 15 drafts!

I enjoyed watching all the videos (ehem...on my beloved iPad). The videos are very informative and especially useful for budding researcher. Even experienced researchers would benefit and can learn one or two things. Supervisors should encourage their students to watch all the videos. Check out also another website on English Communication for Scientists.

Here's the link to all episodes:
Publishing Your Research 101 video series
English Communication for Scientists.

The Road to Successful Publishing


I was invited recently by the School of Physics (Universiti Sains Malaysia) to give a talk on strategies to publish scientific paper in peer-reviewed journals (the focus was on indexed international journals). It was well attended by graduate students and a number of academic staff. The talk was given in two parts—in the first part I emphasized on the reasons why scientists or researchers must publish their work in indexed journals to disseminate their findings to a wider audience. I hope I have managed to convince the audience (particularly graduate students) the importance of writing and publishing good, quality paper. The second part of the talk focused on strategies, tips, and 'tricks of the trade' of getting the paper (manuscript) accepted by the Chief Editor.

If I may summarize very briefly, writing a scientific paper is always very challenging—it's not an easy task, even for experienced scientist. However, I have made it very clear (hopefully) that writing a paper is part and parcel of a research process. Therefore, we can only write a good, publishable paper if we begin with good research. What constitute 'good research'? This is a topic that need further elaboration itself, but in a nutshell — novelty, well-designed with proper sampling and control (control sample or controlled environment), well-executed and validated. There's much more but perhaps I will give another talk just on this topic.

I would like to thank the audience again (if you are reading this article) for listening intently to my presentation and for actively taking part in the discussion.

You will find below the link to the first part of the talk. The second part will be uploaded soon. I have uploaded the presentation to YouTube, Vimeo, Slideshare, and Screenr. See which you is faster to access.

The Road to Successful Publishing (YouTube)
The Road to Successful Publishing (Vimeo)
The Road to Successful Publishing (Slideshare)
The Road to Successful Publishing (Screenr)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hone Your Scientific Presentation Skill

This is the first article I write on my beloved iPad 2. I hope in the next article I can write about iPad 2 and how educators can leverage on its awesome features. I bought this amazing thingy on the day it was launched but I had to wait for another 2 weeks because it was out of stock (I came in the afternoon). Although Apple would not pay me any commission or offer any discount, I have to confess that this is simply the best buy of the year, worth every single penny! This iPad 2 has exceeded my expectation and now I can say that its value is worth more than what I have paid. Well, I hope to share with you soon 10 reasons why educators should get an iPad 2. Watch out!

For now, I would like to share what I was reading (of course, on my iPad) recently. Here I would like to share a page on Science website about scientific presentation skill. On this webpage you will find many useful links on various topics on presentation skill. This is one area where all educators and scientists should try to improve because communicating science requires not only deep knowledge of the subject (content knowledge) but also the skill to deliver it in a clear and engaging manner.

The link: Scientific Presentation

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Education in the Era of Knowledge Economy


 Recently I was invited by Universiti Tenaga Nasional (UNITEN) as a panelist in a forum that discussed about the impact of curriculum on graduate employability. One participant (a student) raised the issue about the relevance of curriculum with the actual demand of the job market, i.e., whether what they learn in three or four years curriculum is adequate to prepare them for the real job. Another participant (a teacher counselor) also echoed the same concern of their students, especially at a point when the students are deciding which programme to take at the degree level. For example, if a student take a programme in Forensic Science, would he/she end up working as a forensic personnel?

I think in some professional courses such as medicine, pharmacy, law and perhaps engineering, it is reasonable to expect that the graduates would end up as medical doctors, pharmacists, lawyers and engineers because there is always a great demand for them in the government (public) and private sectors. Unfortunately the situation is different for other disciplines. So if a student has a degree in Chemistry, he/she might not end up working as a chemist but perhaps as an officer in public administration. What's wrong with this? Well, they might say that they are not trained to do administration because they were trained to become a chemist -- so what they have learned is wasted. I think this is a challenge for educators to make our students understand and appreciate the fact that whatever they have learned in their degree will become part of their knowledge, perhaps in this case, a specialized knowledge in chemistry. We have to educate our students to have a larger sense of purpose when come to education, that is to think of the tertiary education as a platform, or as a stepping stone, or as a launchpad for them to explore the 'real world' outside the comfort boundary of the ivory tower.

According to Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. In this regard, curriculum in any degree programme should be designed in such a manner that our graduate is equipped with various learning and thinking skills to make them more VERSATILE, FLEXIBLE, RESOURCEFUL, and ADAPTABLE. When our graduates posses these skills then they will be able to learn new skills and adapt readily to new environment. I cannot emphasize more the need that the innovative teaching approaches be integrated with appropriate student-centered learning environment so that the skill of "learn how to learn" can be imparted more effectively. Cognitive research on learning suggests that "how people learn is more important than what people learn in the achievement of successful learning" (OECD 2001, page 20).

We should take cognizant that we are living through a period of dynamic transformation in all aspects of our lives and this transformation is catalyzed by a profound change of economic model and rapid advancement in technology. We have seen the world moving from a resource-based (agricultural) economy to industrial economy (much dependent on labour and natural resources such as coal) and now rapidly into a so-called knowledge-based economy, in which knowledge is the key resource.

Knowledge economy has been defined as:
...one in which the generation and the exploitation of knowledge has come to play the predominant part in the creation of wealth. It is not simply about pushing back the frontiers of knowledge; it is also about the more effective use of  all types of knowledge in all manner of economic activity.
The knowledge economy increasing relies on the diffusion and the use of knowledge, as well as its creation. Hence the success of enterprises, and of national economies as a whole, will become more reliant upon their effectiveness in gathering, absorbing and utilizing knowledge, as well as in its creation (Houghton and Sheehan, 2000).

It is obvious that the emergence of the global knowledge economy present new challenges and inevitably will bring about a great impact on our education system. Furthermore, the application of knowledge is all aspects of the economy is being greatly facilitated by the rapid advancement in information, computing and communication (ICT) technologies. Therefore, it is imperative that the transformation in economic model and unprecedented pace in knowledge generation/dissemination be aligned to a similar transformation in education...but how do we go about it? What does our national education system need to do in response to knowledge-based growth? What can educators do to meet the challenge. Do we have to wait for some new policies in place or can we start something on our own initiative to bring transformation into our own practices in teaching and learning environment?

To deal with the new demands and challenges of knowledge economy, lifelong learning has been suggested as a new model to prepare human capital (in most literature the term 'skilled workers' is commonly used) to compete in the global economy.
"A lifelong learning framework encompasses learning throughout the lifecycle, from early childhood through retirement. It encompasses formal learning (schools, training institutions, universities); nonformal learning (structured on-the-job training); and informal learning (skills learned from family members or people in the community). It allows people to access learning opportunities as they need them rather than because they have reached a certain age. (The World Bank Report, 2003).
The next question is, how do we incorporate lifelong learning model into our existing educational framework? It is obvious that our educational systems can no longer emphasis task-specific skills but must focus instead on developing learners' decision-making and problem-solving skills and teaching them how to learn on their own and with others (The World Bank Report, 2003). Achieving these goals requires a fundamental change in the way learning takes place and the relationship between learner and teacher. Our graduates need to be equipped with the essential skills and competencies they need to succeed in knowledge economy era. These skills include mastery of technical, interpersonal, and methodological skills. Technical skills include literacy, foreign language, math, science, problem-solving, and analytical skills. Interpersonal skills include teamwork, leadership, and communication skills. Methodological skills include ability to learn on one's own, to pursue lifelong learning, and to cope with risk and change.

I believe that a systemic (thorough) reform of our education system is urgently needed. Education reform or transformation actually has been a recurrent theme not only in Malaysia but globally. So what are we doing about it and where are we heading? Yes, we have a seemingly comprehensive National Higher Education Action Plan (2007-2010). Here I cite some statements (verbatim) from the document with respect to teaching and learning:
"We must produce confident students with a sense of balance and proportion. While an individual may specialize in a certain area, his or her perspective should be enriched by other experiences as well. The Ministry of Higher Education will thus introduce a holistic programme that will cut across all disciplines and focus on communication and entrepreneurial skills. The programme, which is intended to build a balanced perspective in all students, will expose them to subjects beyond their area of specialisation. For example, students reading for degrees in the sciences such as medicine, engineering and chemistry will be exposed to courses covering literature and philosophy. Likewise, students in the humanities will be exposed to the rudiments of science and technology, and certainly, ICT."

"Dynamic and relevant curriculum and pedagogy are needed to ensure the health and strength of an institution. Inter-disciplinary approaches to the design of higher education curricula will build and stimulate creativity, innovation, leadership and entrepreneurship. Curricula must also equip undergraduates with appropriate skills to enable them to compete in an ever-changing market. Curricula must be reviewed, and courses that are no longer relevant must be removed. Peer review and industry collaboration must be enhanced in curricula development and evaluation".
Reading through the whole document giving me the impression that our educational reform is very much in line with the lifelong learning model proposed in the World Bank Report. In fact, lifelong learning was specifically mentioned (National Higher Education Action Plan [2007-2010], page 39) and has been identified as one of the Critical Agenda Projects (CAP). Other CAPs directly related to teaching and learning are "Teaching and Learning" and "E-learning". I want to be optimistic about the successful implementation of the Action Plan but having seen the detail of how the various CAPs are being managed and executed...I have my doubt. But again, I always believe that we don't really have to wait for the policy or strategic plan to come in place. The initiative can be taken by parties at different levels -- institution, faculty/department, and individual (educators).

Further readings:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Teaching or Research?


This topic on teaching-research nexus has always been at the back of my mind for some time. I wanted to blog about this topic, so I started some research to find out whether teaching and research are intertwined or otherwise. Wow, what did I find? I didn't realize that hundreds of researches have been carried out on the research-teaching nexus and how it relates to ways in which research supports teaching and vice versa. The verdict? Hmmm...interesting...but I will try to summarize the research findings in my future article. Anyway, Thomas Cech, president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Chemistry Nobel laureate, remarks: “Why do today’s university faculty so rarely apply the same innovation and energy to their teaching that they invest in their research? There is no mystery here. Good teaching may be appreciated, even applauded, but good research is at the heart of the reward structure” (Science 299, 165, 2003).

So is this about monetary or material reward? Can we get more great teachers and educate more lifelong long learners by giving material incentives to teachers? Hmm...Everything seems to be driven by money. Ah, well...reality of life. But wait...read the latest research on the impact of giving incentives to teachers. Daniel H. Pink (author of the book 'Drive') has written an article "Does giving teachers bonuses improve student performance?" based on the latest research finding. Go ahead and read the gist of the finding - you can download the original research article as well.

To start the ball rolling, I have interviewed two of my colleagues, Professor Fong Soon Fook and Associate Professor Mahamad Hakimi Ibrahim. Fong is a Professor of Multimedia Education at the School of Educational Studies and Hakimi is a lecturer with Chemical Engineering background from the School of Industrial Technology.

1. What is your idea about “transforming higher education”? Is it really necessary?

PROF FONG: Quality of Public Higher Education in Malaysia is dynamically being redefined again and again based upon the changes in the top-down policies of the Government and The Ministry of Higher Education.  I am of the opinion that the players in the Public and Private Higher Education are compartmentalized and playing their own local R&D game. Such an “inbreeding” might sporadically bring in some surprises once in a while by some individuals. Such a pattern has been going on and will continue with poor return-of-investment.

Is transforming higher education necessary? YES! We need an aggressive and dynamic transformation. The talents in the Malaysian higher education institutes are plenty. Let us tear down the “territorial” fences & slogans and be governed by a corporate-consensus of one vision and one goal to bring this small but dynamic nation forward. As we blend and cross-breed academically, I strongly believed that the “hybrids” and synergy generated by like-minded researchers and academics will result in a “tipping-point” to suddenly transform the landscape of higher education in Malaysia. 

DR HAKIMI: Yes, current higher education seems to serve the market forces/hegemony, where our students are basically ‘manufactured’ for a conveyor belted society. Some called it academic capitalism.(By the way do you think people are on the same wave length as to what constitutes education, higher education and hence transforming higher education?).

2. Do you think there is a conflict between teaching and research at a research-intensive university like Universiti Sains Malaysia?

PROF FONG: Research ought to complement teaching. There are plenty of researches conducted in the Public Universities. The findings and implications of the studies are more often than not, resting on the shelves in the libraries and resource-rooms.  USM as a research-intensive university should take the initiative to conduct an annual “review and upgrading” of the course curriculum.  Such current curriculum with added values from research findings will be a great advantage to our main key stakeholders – our graduates.

DR HAKIMI: No. Both are complementary.

3. In the context of USM, do you think research has been given special attention at the expense on teaching?

PROF FONG: As long as the promotion criteria give more emphasis to publications and conference presentations related to research, it will be more than natural that academics will be inclined towards spending more time and efforts in research at the expense on teaching.  At this point, I suggest that the administrators of higher education help academics balance their management of time and efforts. To this effect, the paper chase for KPIs needs to be reviewed. Let us be reminded that our core-business is indeed “teaching and learning” and raising a breed of 21st century skilled graduates to help realized the growth and vision of our nation.  Alvin Toffler phrased it very well – “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”.  May we be willing to learn, unlearn and relearn the art of balancing teaching with research.

DR HAKIMI: Not quite. In fact the so called attention has arrived rather late. The acceleration in research activities goes together with the greater accessibility to internet based research materials and better staff global networking. We are responding to the changes happening globally.

4. Do you think research can enhance the quality of faculty’s teaching and students’ learning?

PROF FONG: On one hand, university graduates must be grounded with basic foundations of various disciplines.  On the other hand, our undergraduates should be kept in pace with the latest in research-findings related to their core disciplines. For all you know, such graduates will stand above the crowd and is “market-ready” to lead with the latest findings from the faculty’s research. I am always reminded a quote come from John Dewey “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow”.

DR HAKIMI: Of course.

5. Do you think we should have a separate track for teaching and research? I mean a staff can opt to focus only on teaching OR on research.

PROF FONG: In the university, teaching and research ought to be in the same track. Having been a  school teacher for 20 years before joining the university,  my first love and passion have been teaching. Since joining USM as a lecturer-cum-researcher, my teaching contents have been frequently upgraded with current findings which in turn help upgrade the competency of my students in various aspects. Teaching and research should indeed go hand in hand.

DR HAKIMI: Possible. But the choice is up to the lecturers – to do singly or both.However we should allow the lecturers to ‘discover themselves’ and not to force a track to ‘manufacture’ an automaton in teaching or research or both. Part of research is the staff ‘researching’ into themselves. To discover their raison d'ĂȘtre. It is to answer the quranic question ‘fa-aina tazhabun’ – where are you going? Part of teaching is to know that we have to learn for knowledge and wisdom. All these should bring us to the One with knowledge and wisdom – AlAleem and AlHakeem. This is where the transformation of higher education should bring us to. Bringing us back to the realization that Allah is The Lord and we are His servants and caliphs.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Learning – from cradle to grave


"Knowledge does not narrow, knowledge only adds...and without knowledge many experiences in life remain very narrow and very shallow..." - Professor Walter Lewin, Professor of Physics, MIT.

While browsing the internet recently, I came across a picture of the giant mainframe computer of the early '80s. While staring at the picture, I was reminiscing the time back in 1988 during my time as a master's student at the University of Reading, England. For the first time in my life, I had to use a computer to prepare a linear regression plot using a software called Lotus 123. That was still the early days of computer and it marks the beginning of my exploration into the wonderful creation of modern time  computer. It was indeed an exciting and thrilling experience for me to be able to plot a graph and derive the equation so easily. I remember using a software called 'Chi-Square' (if I'm not mistaken) as word processor as well as for drawing a simple flow chart. To draw a simple rectangle or square, I had to press the keyboard key several times horizontally and vertically  just to get a simple box shape! Then Word Perfect came to the fore and later became a very popular word processor (apart from Word Star). It has very basic features, just enough to get your work done. It doesn't have What You See is What You Get (WYSWYG) interface but rather what you see is totally different from what you actually get when printed. So on the screen you see yellow text to represent underlined text, green text to represent bold text, etc.  and you have to memorize a few key commands (so rote learning has its role!).

I became very interested and fascinated with computer, partly because I had to use it to analyze data from my research work. So my acquaintance with computer was partly by default but it was also by choice because somehow I could sense the potential of the technology and how I could leverage it for my work. I started to 'indulge' in computer and tried to get my hand on any form of learning materials (mainly book and magazine which are very scarce). My other learning resources include a few very helpful technical staff from the computer centre. There's no formal training  it's mainly learning by reading, asking and DOING!

What's the point of telling this story? Well, there are a few points relevant to knowledge and learning...

First, all of us are learners  and lifelong learners. We learn new things every day. In a publication of the World Bank entitled, "Lifelong Learning in the Global Knowledge Economy: Challenges for Developing Countries", lifelong learning is defined as follows: "A lifelong learning framework encompasses learning throughout the lifecycle, from early childhood to retirement. It encompasses formal learning (schools, training institutions, universities); nonformal learning (structured on-the-job training); and informal learning (skills learned from family members or people in the community).  It allows people to access learning opportunities as they need them rather than because they have reached a certain age".

According to Hargreaves (2004), "Lifelong learning should mean what the term plainly says: learning lasts for life – cradle to grave – and so begins when we are born and embark on the adventure we are well programmed to pursue: learning. The principal function of formal education, therefore, should be to help people to learn, embracing both content (knowledge, skill and understanding of various kinds) and process (the motivation and ability to learn successfully)".

My experience of learning about computer fits in the definition of lifelong learning. I didn't learn computer as a subject in the curriculum but rather it was through informal learning. I constructed my knowledge and skills on using computer practically from zero and build up or accumulate the knowledge over time. I applied my computer skills in my work (as a research student at that time), so I have the opportunity to hone the skills. Soon I became quite good and knowledgable and I spent many hours to help (basically teach) fellow students using computer. All educators would agree, 'the best way to learn is to teach'. Every time when we teach, the knowledge become deeper and deeper and the knowledge expanded. As Professor Walter Lewin said, "Knowledge does not narrow, knowledge only adds...". The learning process continues because now I have to learn not only about computer but also new development in various forms of educational technology.

In the context of teaching, teachers have the advantage over their students because they are more experienced learners. Teachers are supposed to have the skills of searching for the right information in the large pool of knowledge in various domains and constructing that knowledge for meaningful learning. It is important that we pass on the skills to our students. The students of the 21st century are going to need the skills of inquiry  of research  if they are to be able to investigate and to learn and hence be employable in the future. The greatest challenge would be to make our students understand that learning new knowledge is not for the sake of getting good grade in the examination. It's easier said than done especially in the examination oriented systems that are prevailing in most institutions but I guess we have to try very hard to change their mind set. We have to convince our students that they need to have a larger sense of purpose beyond personal achievement in examination. Students have to understand that it is the learning skills that they have to develop to prepare them for a future in which learning will occur in a greater range of contexts.

I believe our role as educators goes beyond transmitting knowledge  our role is to nurture our students to become lifelong learners  to teach them the skills of 'learn how to learn' and to teach them the appreciation and the love for knowledge. This is the essence that would enable our students to become successful lifelong learners. Before we can do this, however, we have to be honest and truthful with ourselves  are we a real lifelong learner? Educators must set examples for students by becoming lifelong learners themselves. They have to keep up-to-date with new knowledge, pedagogical ideas, and technology. If students are to become better learners, it is essential for teachers to become better at what they do. As teachers, we should not sit in our comfort zone but we should continue to grow by challenging ourselves to new skills and new knowledge. This can be achieved through a continuous professional development programme or through own initiative to learn through reading, attending short courses and workshops, etc.

Further readings:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Waiting for 'Superman'



"In almost every area of human endeavor, the practice improves over time," says Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. "That hasn't been the case for teaching." This is an excerpt of his interview by PARADE – read the full interview on the Parade website. In the interview, Gates shares his insight about the crisis of American Education system and the movie Waiting for ‘Superman’, a documentary from An Inconvenient Truth's Davis Guggenheim. I have not watched the movie yet but I would surely try to get the DVD and hopefully learn a few things. In the meantime, have a look at the trailer and reviews.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Climbing Bloom’s Ladder of Learning


A Google search on “Bloom’s taxonomy” recently returned an impressive 1.63 million results! Apparently the literature available on the internet is replete with resources about the famous Bloom’s taxonomy of learning. I don’t intend to repeat what Bloom taxonomy is about and how it evolves because I believe you can find wealth of information on various aspects on the topic among the 1.63 million results in the internet. I have selected a few articles (link at the end of this article) for those interested to know more about the various domains (cognitive, affective, and psychomotor) in the original and the revised Bloom’s taxonomy. What I’m interested to talk about in this article is the issue of implementing and infusing the various domains in the curriculum. I’m aware that certain facets of Bloom’s taxonomy have been challenged (for example the hierarchical cognitive domain) but to me this is more of intellectual academic arguments that do not reduce the overall value of the concept. For educators, to teach and not be aware of the value of Bloom’s taxonomy (original or modified from) will do injustice to our students because the taxonomy provides important perspectives that could improve the quality of teaching and learning at all levels.

So what’s the fuss about Bloom’s taxonomy? In a nutshell, Bloom’s taxonomy of learning focused teachers on the educational (learning) outcomes – what students should know and be able to do. How does the taxonomy relates learning outcomes to teaching? For any given curriculum, knowing the intended learning outcomes determine the what, how, and when of teaching. The focus of this article is on the cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy although affective and psychomotor domains are equally important. The six components in the original cognitive domain are arranged in hierarchical manner that form ‘a ladder of learning’ that moves stepwise upwards in terms of levels of complexity, i.e., from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. In this hierarchy form, it is assumed that abilities or competencies needed at the lower levels are also needed as prerequisite to the mastery of skills at higher levels. 


Each step in cognitive domain involves a specific kind of competence that supposedly can be tested with appropriate questions, each of which requires some “action” to demonstrate mastery of the material. The six-tiered steps are:
  1. Knowledge – recall of information, remembering facts and information; tested by questions asking that a student list, define, tabulate, name or identify who, what, when, where, and so on;
  2. Comprehension – understanding of information (considered as the lowest level of understanding), tested by questions with verbs such as summarize, contrast, interpret, estimate, discuss, predict and the like;
  3. Application – use of information to solve problems, ability to apply information or concepts in a new situation; tested by requiring students to demonstrate, calculate, illustrate, examine, show, modify and classify;
  4. Analysis – recognition of patterns, components, organization, both manifest and latent meanings and functions, with verbal cues such as explain, connect, compare, separate and classify; 
  5. Synthesis – generalization and integration of knowledge including generation of new ideas from old ones, relating knowledge across disciplines, drawing conclusions and predicting, according to instructions such as combine, integrate, modify, plan, create, design, generalize and rewrite;
  6. Evaluation – assessment and decision making in response to demands to discriminate among ideas, test hypotheses, appraise theories, construct arguments in support of, or in opposition to, various propositions, verify evidence and recognize bias and subjectivity.
The first three components constitute ‘lower order thinking’ and the last three constitute ‘higher order thinking’ abilities. The original Bloom’s taxonomy has undergone various modifications to reflect new development in cognitive research. The new (modified) Bloom’s Taxonomy was based on the work of Anderson and Krathwohl who incorporates knowledge from contemporary research on learning and human cognition into its model. The components in revised taxonomy are: Remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, and create. The major differences are the revised taxonomy modifies the original vocabulary to make each word more consistent with how it should be used; the new levels are now listed as verbs. For example, the term ‘synthesis’ was changed to ‘create’ because in order to demonstrate synthesis then there need to be a new creation. 


Thoughtful application of Bloom’s taxonomy could serves as a useful structure for writing measurable learning objectives and learning outcomes (LOs). The taxonomy helped to establish a shared, common language for academic assessment and the construction of clear and consistent learning objectives. In fact, detailed schemes and impressive schematic diagrams are available to help educators to write the LOs using specific verbs for each domain. (Fellow blogger, Zaid, has written an impressive and comprehensive article on his blog here). The LOs of the course with all the glory details (matrices, etc.) look nice and impressive on paper but the BIG QUESTION is whether teachers/lecturers are well guided and trained to implement teaching strategies that will help students to achieve the highest cognitive skills. From my discussion with colleagues and educators the general feeling is that the process of writing LOs now has become very mechanistic and to some extent trivialized because now almost anyone can do it without understanding the underlying philosophy that Bloom and others originally intended to achieve in terms of students’ learning. My main concern is that when any process becomes too mechanistic and standardized, there’s a tendency for ‘automation’ and the attitude of ‘just follow the template’, a practice that add little value to either instructional design or the assessment of learning.

I believe that most educators would like their students to function at the highest cognitive levels (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) because these would make them successful lifelong learners (successful beyond the examination hall, hopefully). However, in practice and in reality we have to honestly examine whether our students have enough opportunity to develop these cognitive skills or we (educators) have provided the environment that help to promote the skills. We have to examine and reflect on the way our curriculum is designed and how it is structured and delivered – can we really achieve the higher order learning/thinking or is it barely rising above the comprehension level? I don’t have a definite answer and I’m just throwing this question here for the sake of discussion – if the answer to this question is YES then obviously there is a disconnection between teachers’ sincere hopes and the actual expectations and we need to address this issue.

Let me paraphrase the question to ponder upon: How do we help students to climb the ladder of Bloom’s taxonomy to reach the high order cognitive skills? How do we design/approach the teaching and learning process to create an environment that would go beyond the comprehension (understand) and ‘apply’ levels? How do we operationalize the different learning stages into at curriculum and course level? 

I think a good point to start is to change the mind-set of educators that learning involves a simple acquisition of knowledge. Mayer (2002) argued that when taking a knowledge acquisition view of learning, teachers sometimes emphasize one kind of cognitive processing in instruction and assessment—what we call ‘Remembering’. This is basically the lowest level in the cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy. He asserted that any education system should be based on a broader vision of learning that includes not only acquiring knowledge but also being able to use knowledge in a variety of new situations. 

If I could offer my humble opinion on the issue of ‘climbing the Bloom’s taxonomy ladder’, I would suggest that we take a close look at suggestion by Paulsen (2001) and Shulman (1986) that teachers should master three types of knowledge and competencies: (1) content knowledge—knowledge of the facts, principles and methods in the discipline that is being taught, (2) pedagogical knowledge—understanding of the learning process and the conditions that facilitate and hinder it, independent of the discipline in which the learning takes place, and (3) pedagogical content knowledge—a term coined by Shulman (1986) to denote knowledge and understanding of the learning process in the context of a particular discipline. I believe that any teacher equipped with these three elements would be able to help students climbing to the top of cognitive domain of Bloom’s taxonomy. 

Specific examples on strategies to incorporate and infuse high order cognitive skills can be found from the work of educators from various disciplines. I didn’t do exhaustive search but a few that I found are listed in the reading list at the end of this article. One interesting article that I read with interest was “Teaching Introductory Organic Chemistry: ‘Blooming’ beyond a Simple Taxonomy” by Pungente & Badger (2003). This article provides detailed approach that other educators can take as an example of best practices that can be adopted and adapted in their own classroom. Let me quote two paragraphs (verbatim) from this article:
Our primary goal when teaching introductory organic chemistry is to take students beyond the simple cognitive levels of knowledge and comprehension. We take a mechanistic approach to teaching organic chemistry. This is reinforced by connections to fundamental chemical principles emphasizing a unification of knowledge. Once students begin to appreciate the explanation of organic reaction mechanisms, they start to see these fundamental principles reappear regularly throughout the study of organic chemistry. True connections emerge and students begin to view organic reactions and interactions from a basis of understanding—using skills of synthesis and analysis—rather than rote memory. This ability to understand the connections between general principles and how they unlock the seemingly complex and confusing reactions in organic chemistry is an empowering experience for students. As empowerment replaces the fear, student confidence grows”. 
Like learning a new language, introductory organic chemistry typically begins with the grammar or taxonomy of organic chemistry. This introduction allows the instructor to speak the language of organic chemistry, re-examine principles, and lay the groundwork for advancement into reactions and mechanisms (applications and analysis). However, too often when the instructor kicks into “higher-level cognitive gear”, and begins delving into applications, the students are still functioning at the lower knowledge and comprehension cognitive levels, memorizing seemingly unrelated facts. This discrepancy between the instructor’s expectations and student performance becomes painfully obvious at exam time. Often, unintentionally or unknowingly, the instructor teaches at the lower knowledge and comprehension cognitive levels but examines at the higher analysis and synthesis levels while the students’ exam expectations remain at the lower knowledge and comprehension cognitive levels. The results: students complain that the exams are too hard; the instructor concludes while marking the papers that the students don’t “understand” basic concepts”.
I believe there are more things we can do to help students to achieve meaningful learning in align with Bloom’s taxonomy educational objectives. As I have written in my previous article in this blog, we need to facilitate a paradigm shift from teacher-centered teaching to student-centered learning throughout the curriculum, such that students obtain a deeper learning experience, improve their understanding and ability to apply learning to new situations, enhance their critical thinking and experimental skills, and increase their enthusiasm for lifelong learning.

Comments, views, and suggestions from fellow educators on the questions/issues raised in this article are most welcome.

References and further readings:
  • Use of Bloom’s taxonomy wheel for writing learning outcomes 
  • Bloom Taxonomy (A nice introduction to Bloom Taxonomy; Slideshare presentation) 
  • Kinetic connections: Bloom's taxonomy in action 
  • A picture is worth a thousand thoughts: inquiry with Bloom's taxonomy – nice demonstration of Bloom’s taxonomy in action. It takes you step-by-step through the analysis of a photograph at progressively higher levels of thinking.
  • Green, K.H. (2010). Matching Functions and Graphs at Multiple Levels of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy. Problems, Resources, and Issues in Mathematics Undergraduate Studies – PRIMUS, 20(3), 204–216  (Note: you need a subscription).
  • Mayer, R.E. (2002). Rote Versus Meaningful Learning. Theory into Practice, 41(4), 226-232  (Note: you need a subscription).
  • Nentl, N. and Zietlow, R. (2008). Using Bloom's Taxonomy to Teach Critical Thinking Skills to Business Students. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 15(1),159-172  (Note: you need a subscription).
  • Paulsen, M.B., “The Relation Between Research and the Scholarship of Teaching,” New Directions for Teaching and Learning, Vol. 86, 2001, pp. 19–29  (Note: you need a subscription).
  • Pungente, M.D. and Badger, R.A. (2003). Teaching Introductory Organic Chemistry: ‘Blooming’ beyond a Simple Taxonomy. Journal of Chemical Education, 8(7), 779-784 (Note: you need a subscription).
  • Spencer, J.N. (1999). New Directions in Teaching Chemistry: A Philosophical and Pedagogical Basis. Journal of Chemical Education, 76(4), 566-569  (Note: you need a subscription).