Category Archives: Elearning

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I always believe that one important aspect of future learning/education is that everyone can become a teacher. To be more specific, people who really have rich learning experiences and domain knowledge — usually those accomplished professionals — should be able to teach and guide learners effectively in their spare time. Thus we will really change the profession of teaching, and bring out the true value of “teaching”. We can see now that many websites are making efforts in this direction. Some allow individual teachers to host a class online and teach students like in a classroom. Some connect individual teachers and learners so that the teachers can teach offline face to face. But all these current efforts have serious drawbacks. They didn’t fully leverage the power of internet, and they cannot compete with the current mainstream teaching, e.g. the classroom teaching in schools.

What 3exps.org is trying to bring about is something that is dramatically different. Let’s say, someone who wants to learn something, for example, software programming, photography or management, post his request. People who think they can teach can answer the request by commenting or giving a simple learning/starting plan for the learner. For example, what good books there are, what areas the learner need to learn, what kind of path that he will go through. Or the teacher can share with the learner the learning material he has organized with the notebook. Based on these infos, the learner can decide who can be his teacher. He can have one or several teachers. So the teachers can give out specific areas that the learner can try. The learner has to make notes of what he has learned in the process and questions he has. The teachers need to provide feedbacks and guidelines in time. The teacher can also share his learning materials. The charge of service might be free for the starting period. Then the learner need to pay to get continued service.

This way the teacher knows where the students are in their study and the teacher is able to provide very effective and timely guidance to the students. The teacher can also use 3exps.org to record his own learning experiences and learning materials, and provide them later for the students to study. These learning resources are unlike the traditional ones, which are just knowledge that need to be memorized. These new resources include the teacher’s own experiences and reasoning in his exploration of knowledge. The students are supposed to replicate similar experiences and reasoning in their own various daily activities and construct their own knowledge. So the teaching shifts away from traditional way of filing in students with knowledge and starts to focus on guiding students in their exploring and building their own knowledge. The students also get trained to form the habit and skills of self-reflection, which should be the center of learning. Thus compared to other sites, 3exps.org provides a more complete learning experience. And the research work of knowledge engine, provides the technology backbone of the above process.

In United States, more and more learning centers and schools are starting to bring contemplative skills and methodologies back into learning and teaching, and start to have very powerful impact. I think the future learning won’t be like the current schools, where the students are supposed to grasp (quite often memorize) the knowledge in the book and pass the tests. Learning will not be separated from real life. Learners learn to solve their problems or to live a better life. Teachers are those who are able to guide the students in that process, helping students bring their experiences and reasoning together to reach some systemic knowledge and understanding. With 3exps.org and knowledge engine, we hope we can start to explore a systemic way to do this.

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Teaching based on Significant Experiences

As the article Knowledge Engine says, Significant Experiences are the source of our knowledge. All our knowledge comes from our Significant Experiences. Significant Experiences are experiences that are constructive to your life, they can make your different from the past, can increase your understanding of the world. Knowledge engine based on Significant Experiences will also bring revolutionary changes to teaching. Recently I experimented with a new way of course teaching: open courses based on Significant Experiences. Although this is the first time effort, I feel that this way of course teaching has many advantages, and it reaches the core of learning and teaching.

This is an online course for Xiamen Wuqi School. The format of the class is to discuss a knowledge frame “My growth in the middle school”. We discuss each note in the frame one by one, not spending more than 10 mins on each note. Because the students in Wuqi School are those so called “peasant workers”, most of them only have middle school diplomas, and they are from the countryside. They came to the city to work in the factories. They are very eager to change their lives so that they don’t have to work their whole lives on the production line doing repetitive mechanical work. So I feel it is suitable to choose my growth in my middle school for them. (Of course, we can teach growth in college later)

Because the first few notes in the frame are about mountain climbing, so most of the discussions at the beginning are about experiences in mountain climbing. Because there were so many of them in one class, each of them expressed some of his/her true experiences, and we can get the various aspects of mountain climbing experiences out. So we get a quite full collection of mountain climbing experiences. They even helped me to recollect some of my past experiences. Below are the experiences shared by the students in their own words (original in Chinese, translated by me):

  • in mountains, I think very clearly
  • I like to read, think, and plan things in the crispy fresh air
  • I like to go into the mountains. There is smell of earth and nature there
  • the air in the mountain is the best, so is my mood
  • I feel very relieved and trouble free, feel like flying
  • I like mountain climbing very much. I like the beautiful view when looking down from the very top of the mountain. It opens up your heart and your mind.
  • it is really a different feeling when I first climbed to the mountain top
  • although the mountain climbing is tiring, seeing all the beautiful scenery that you cannot see make you really feel worthwhile
  • I have a feeling that all other mountains are in my view and become smaller
  • I remember when climbing Beichen mountain, it was really tiring, making you want to give up. But when you got to the mountain top, all your exhaustiveness went away
  •  I felt exhausted when climbing to the highest point of the mountain. But when I look down  feeling that all mountains are at my foot, I felt very happy
  • I can see the most beautiful scenery at the mountain top
  • I feel the process of mountain climbing is just like making efforts in our study and work. Although it is tiring, but once you get to the mountain top, you feel very happy, feeling all your efforts got payback
  • I can enjoy quietly all by myself
  • I feel lonely and afraid when climbing alone. I like to go with friends so we can talk along the way
  • life is in the movement. The more friends to go together, the better I feel
  • When I feel down, I like to go climbing alone
  • It is different feelings. Sometimes I want to go alone. Sometimes I go with friends. When you climb alone, you feel purely of yourself. When with friends, we can play together and encourage each other
  • I will try to find lower mountains to preserve my energy because when climbing mountains the thoughts can fly around and it is very good to adjust your mood there

They have so many rich experiences. This really makes my feel happy for them. But when they are facing human life and society, they are not that clear in their minds. There are a lot of confusion. If the students can bring their experiences when climbing the mountains into their thinking of their life and society, reflect and analyze, identify their important experiences, and find their real interests, it will really help them to establish their value system when facing society. (This actually should be a natural process when a person grows up. But school occupies too much of their time, and makes them unable to focus on their growth when they are transitioning from the childhood time to adult life. If they can focus on what they are really growing on, I think most of them can draw their childhood experiences in nature to think of how they should face adult life and human society. But after a long time of school study, they kind of got used to live an adult life without really thinking of anything, and their memory of those great childhood fun when playing in the nature and with friends becomes vague.)

This is the summary of this class. In the attachment is the class discussion. (It is all in Chinese now.)

This is the very first teaching of open course based on Significant Experiences. From this first class, my feelings on this format are:

  • teaching based on Significant Experiences is easy to operate, and it is also easy to conduct online
  • open courses based on Significant Experiences make the teachers have to return to what really means to be a teacher, e.g. the teacher has to have rich experience in the subject s/he teaches
  • the kind of class requires the teacher to dig the students’ experiences from various angles. For example, I ask students to compare which is more fun, to go by yourself, or to go with friends. The teacher should be those that have rich experience in this field, so s/he can easily help the students dig their experiences from many different angles and depth levels, and make the students’ experiences collide together. Without rich experience in the domain, if the teacher only has textbook knowledge, it will be very difficult for the teacher to teach courses based on Significant Experiences.
  • going back to experiences makes discussion having a better foundation. Discussion based on experiences recognizes the equality of each participant, and acknowledge that everyone is equal in his/her experiences of life. If we can fully appreciate the experiences behind the other person’s views, there won’t be so many quarrels and fights. Maybe the other person expressed his view in an extremely exaggerating way, but he must have some experiences behind his arguments. The root of many quarrels and fights is that people ignore others’ experiences and why they say so, or that they draw a conclusion too quickly, forgetting where  their knowledge comes from and wanting to force other people to accept their opinions.
  • the discussion is open instead of conclusive. It is inspiring and exploratory. Learning is a cycle of “explore, experience, and express”. Knowledge Frame is also a format of knowledge. It is more open and closer to the source of knowledge. This is quite different from document-centered knowledge format such as blog and wiki. Blog is more conclusive expression of knowledge. Knowledge Frame is more open and closer to the source representation of knowledge. So Knowledge Frame based on Significant Experiences is more suited to teach this kind of class.
  • by recollecting your own experiences and knowing other people experiences in a relatively focused domain such as mountain climbing, students get the chance to practice on self-reflection. When students learned the skills and formed the habit of self-reflection, it will help them dealing with problems that come up in their real lives and find their own value system
  • the current mainstream class teaches things that are just textbook knowledge, which you pretty much can read by yourself. And such mainstream classes are not able to teach things that are deeper. Open courses based on Significant Experiences can teach things that are hard to teach in the traditional classroom, the kind of knowledge that doesn’t exist in the books. This is the core area of learning and it is not covered by modern education.

The open courses based on Significant Experiences is still in experimentation. We need to do more experiments. And we welcome you to join this experiment.

Knowledge Frames included in this blog:

  • My growth in the middle school
  • Teaching in Wuqi school class 1 (in Chinese)
  • The advantages of Open courses based on Significant Experiences (in Chinese)

p.s. It takes too much time writing an article. If all knowledge can only be shared when they are published as blogs or books, we don’t know how long we can have all the knowledge expressed, not to mention that knowledge itself is under constantly restructuring. Making it into blogs or books, you don’t see the process in the middle. Knowledge sharing by the Knowledge Frame, can share knowledge earlier and easier, and we can have many discussions from time to time on this Knowledge Frame (through online courses, or salons). It is a little like writing books online by cooperation, such as the book Thinking in Java. What Knowledge Frame lacks is that it is abstract and personal. But by attaching course/salon discussion, related frames and external links behind each frame, we can make abstract knowledge vivid and fun again.

This way knowledge can be abstracted out from real life, and go back to to its concrete and vivid form again.

This is all online courses I taught at Wuqi. (in Chinese)

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PyCon speech text version: Real life learning and design of Knowledge Engine

We have been calling for the coming of Knowledge Based Economy for years. But in my view, Knowledge Based Economy hasn’t really come yet. Among many reasons, one key reason is that we need a technology breakthrough here. The current way knowledge is represented, such as books, blogs, wikis, or other knowledge management systems, are all fundamentally document-based. With document-based representation of knowledge, it is hard to achieve continuous learning and knowledge management.

In the industrialization age, we invented engine to transform energy from gas into mechanical power, thus we can build airplanes, boats, cars or other products of the industrial age. In the Knowledge Based Economy age, we also need an engine, which I call Knowledge Engine, to transform people’s daily experiences and gathered important infos into well-structured knowledge, so we can build various products in the Knowledge Based Economy age, to help us better learn or do project management.

Talking about learning, the current mainstream learning is school learning. School learning is isolated from real life. One isolation is its learning “content”. The textbook in school is too outdated and cannot meet the rich needs of real life, which is in various aspects and on various levels. With Knowledge Engine, however, everyone becomes a knowledge explorer, and knowledge can be shared more timely. We will have more varieties of knowledge to be shared and they will be shared on a much more massive scale. Sharing by book publishing, blogs and so on is still too slow for knowledge propagation. Knowledge Engine will greatly lower the threshold of knowledge sharing. Through learning in a domain, the learner can accumulate his experiences in various aspects of this domain, important infos or facts, together with rich learning materials. He can work on his collections, form a good structure of knowledge and share with others while he is making progress in his learning. Actually, this is what we do in our real life learning. When we ask someone for his learning experiences in a domain, usually the knowledge sharer will list 1,2,3,4,5… key points quickly and give a brief explanation for each. In Knowledge Engine, we want to make that summarizing work happening on the go and can be done very quickly.

The second isolation of school learning from real life is that people who teach in the school have no learning experiences and thus true knowledge of the domain that they are teaching. With Knowledge Engine, however, learners collect and form a good structure of knowledge while they are learning and doing knowledge exploration. When the accumulation of knowledge is rich, complete and mature enough, the learner can try teaching it as a subject. So this way, excellent professionals in all walks can start teaching in their spare time, and become a high quality of resource of teachers. This will change the profession of teaching. Furthermore, students’ learning states can be well reflected by the Knowledge Engine, so the teachers can offer very effective instructions to the students. The teachers can build knowledge frames very timely according to the students’ learning needs.

The school learning mostly fills students with dry knowledge. People staying in school for more than 10 or 20 years still haven’t learned how to learn. With Knowledge Engine, however, the future learning will be chiefly learning by oneself. The teachers (or the early learners) have built up knowledge with good structure and accumulated rich learning material(books, blogs, videos, examples, projects, questions, and so on) through their own learning. So the students (or the future learners) can use these as their rich learning resources. With a good overview of all the knowledge to learn and with rich learning resources, the learner can decide for himself how to learn in the fastest and best way, as Knowledge Engine also helps the learner knows clearly his current knowledge structure. The essence of learning is self-learning. In the future, learners will learn mostly by themselves or through peer learning. The teacher only gives guidance to help learners learn, besides providing a good knowledge structure and learning materials.

Because of school, people have very misled concepts of learning and knowledge. But through Knowledge Engine, people will get to know quickly what is learning and what is knowledge. Only by editing operations and through some predefined workflows, the learners can learn quickly how to learn effectively. I think this is where the power of software is.

Last but not the least, students’ knowledge is visible in their exploration of knowledge. Also when they build up open space knowledge with their teachers together, they are participating in very meaningful social works, and their contribution is visible to the public. These will be an important part of their portfolios. (Just like what happened in open source software) Future employers will use these to pick competent candidates instead of relying too much on test scores, which can not really evaluate how much the person really understand the knowledge. Furthermore, through Knowledge Engine, the learner’s capability to learn and to explore knowledge can be demonstrated. Especially if the learner is able to open a course and teach others what he has learned, it certainly reflects that he has mastered the knowledge pretty well.

So the real life learning is not very difficult. We don’t need to be locked away from real life for more than 10 or 20 years to learn. Life is the primary. Learning is only secondary. Learning is to make out life better, instead of replacing it. Otherwise, there would be no learning, just like our current schools.

I hope the work of Knowledge Engine, can help make real life learning the mainstream learning of the future, and really start the Knowledge Based Economy.

This is a conference of Python. Starting from 2002, Python has been my favorite programming language. But I only got chances to write Python scrips for years. Finally in my job, my boss allowed me to prototype in Python, but required me to translating into Java after each iteration. That was a very painful experience. Finally in the research work on Knowledge Engine, I am able to do this exploratory work with Python. When Guido was designing Python, there was a clear goal in his mind: to make everyone being able to program, to express their ideas through programming and to do exploratory works. I cannot imagine how I can do the mast work on Knowledge Engine without Python. It would be hard to imagine with Java. So this is the first huge contribution that Python makes to this project.

The second comes from the idea of Pythonic. For me, it can be simplified as Principle of Playing. The design of Python has greatly inspired me in software design and my understanding of learning. This is the second huge contribution of Python to this project.

This experimental work of Knowledge Engine has passed two stages of experimentation. The first stage is me using the software to help myself learn, to see if it can be really helpful for my own learning. It turns out an incredible tool for my daily learning, and I need to use it daily for my learning. The second stage of experiment is to have a few other people use it to see if it can help other people as well. The result of this has been quite satisfactory to me. People who have no skills of reflection earlier can learn how to reflect quickly and thus open up the space of real life learning. The result proved my hypothesis when starting this project, and made me more confident on this project. Now I want to expand the experiment to a broader group of people, but still focus on people who already are strong self-learners, and are already using various internet tools for their learning. I hope to explore and find a mature practice of learning with this Knowledge Engine. Thus we can demonstrate to the world the possibilities and the power of real life learning.

For projects similar to this internationally, I found the following: wisdomclouds. The founder of wisdomclouds shares similar or exactly the same understanding of this kind of things. He didn’t use the word Knowledge Engine. But he used this phrase “All problems, one solution”. His software is used for project management only.

Trello, Joel claims that it will be able to manage all human consciousness. This means he already sees the potential of this kind of things. Trello is also used for project management currently.

Bagtheweb, is mainly for content curation.

This is a quite new field. I hope more people can join the work.

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waiting for a wrong superman

Normally I don’t comment on things happening in a country I don’t live in. But this time I will make an exception.

Waiting for Superman pointed out the crisis in education. But the solution it offered is plainly wrong.

Standard test is not the solution. The test score cannot tell you much about a person. If I am an employer interviewing a job applicant, his high test score only tells me that he is able to control himself and is able to budget his time well and follow a plan through. Can a poor test score imply the person is unable to control himself? It is very debatable, however. I have childhood friends who are not good with school tests, but later proved themselves very able to concentrate on things that really interested them once they got into society. And a person with high testing score is also quite likely a person who has lost the flexibility and richness of mind, the curiosity and most importantly the ability to learn and analyze. If I have a factory that is mass producing something like toys and I need a lot of workers and team leaders to carry out the production, only looking at the applicants’ test score might be enough for me. But if I run an Internet company that is providing some service in this ever-changing environment, I need to find out a lot more about the candidates. Self-control is important. But I also need to know whether they are able to think independently faced with an unknown world, know how to analyze, and how to untangle the myth, and offer solutions in steps. I need to know if the candidate has a sound judgment of people and whether he has a good understanding of the world. School test scores tell me too little of these qualities.

Mass production area needs a lot of people who can be disciplined and follow existing commands in a confined environment. So modern schools come into being. But what the mass production needs and what you need are two different things. Your education is totally a different thing from schooling. You don’t have to turn yourselves into a dumb command follower to find a job in the factory. You can have your own factory if you can really “educate” yourself. Or your kid can own his own factory if he can get real education. That is how parents should tell their kids instead of instructing them to get good test scores so they can be workers in factories and lose their happiness of life.

But luckily computer software and internet are changing everything. Because of software and internet, the production becomes easier. The barrier of production is much lower. And because it is much easier to find market through internet, there is less need for mass market and mass production. Especially software and internet ushered a new age in the space of social product, causing an explosion of self-production of social product. In this new age of social product production, knowledge become the uppermost important thing. And here I mean the real knowledge, not the dead knowledge in the text book. Real knowledge is live knowledge that you form and shape and reconstruct daily with you your daily experiences and practices. Modern schooling is too outdated for this.

If Alvin Toffler  (the author of The Third Wave) is to comment on this movie, I guess he will say this is the thought of second wave pushing back. In his book, he said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”   The movie still talks about reading and math. How stupid is that?! And how stupid are American politicians trying to “fix” education by standardized tests?! According to Toffler, in the 50s, America already has more people working in knowledge based jobs instead of labor-intensive jobs. Now although America is still the No. 1 country in industrial production, the percentage of population working in this field drops to less than 20% (This is from Toffler’s book Revolutionary Wealth, which is written in 2006). So I guess it is still from the old idea that math is so important and Americans are losing that kids are not good at math. My experiences tell me that math is a difficult and dry subject for most people, and for most people, they will avoid it if they can. For most people, they like arts, management, and other jobs that are related to human beings. For a minority of people, they do have a strong passion for math and the physical world. So I just think that American people have a choice not to learn math if they don’t feel a strong passion for it. And there are plenty of other kinds of jobs for them. But for people in developing countries such as China, there is still no such option. So I don’t know what the director is complaining about. Is he very good at math himself? Why doesn’t he become an engineer?

Furthermore, kids have different interests at different ages. Some kids just are ready for math earlier. Some will wait until very late to develop the interest in math. Why can’t the kids have the freedom in what they want to learn and not to learn? Why we have to kill their ability to learn in order for them to learn some math?  I already talked quite a lot about this in my previous posts. So I will not go into details here.

In the internet age, in the age of knowledge, the schooling model that was set up in the industrial age for the purpose of mass production will have to be changed. Otherwise the crisis will just get more serious. We cannot fail so many kids. Still holding the ideas of the second wave and trying to strengthen the current school model is not the solution. Education/learning is a deep and broad issue. To provide the real solution you need deep and broad knowledge and a long time of focus.  So although this movie does draw a grim picture of current education system, the solution it claims it finds is very backwards and stupid.

A second wave establishment needs to be replaced by new third wave constructs. It cannot be fixed by second wave thoughts.

p.s. as for the solution that I think will work, read the previous post.

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How will Internet change education?

How will Internet change education? 1. helps self-learners and makes self-learning easier; 2. transforms professionals in various walks into a high quality teacher resource by spending just their spare time; 3. helps individuals build up comprehensive portfolios online, which reflect their learning and skills. All three hinge on one core tech breakthrough: the knowledge engine, which transforms daily experiences into knowledge. And this knowledge engine will be used to build cars, ships, and airplanes in the knowledge age.

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Open response to Tim O’reilly

Open response to Tim O’reilly’s keynote speech at Web2.0 Expo New York.

The keynote speaking today given by Tim O’reilly is very inspiring. Thank him for giving that kind of speech. In response to him, I want to talk about my thinking on these issues. I don’t have all the answers. I have some, which hopefully can get us to the next step.

I’ve been thinking about these since my childhood. So even I am still young, I have a lot of experiences of this. I can think about those since my childhood because I had a very wonderful childhood and I think life is precious. Thus I think everyone should have the opportunity to best pursue his life. Seeing many adults around me not able to do that promoted me to think about it.

Since then I have tried all my life to expand my knowledge and improve my understanding of the world. I have tried to learn many different things. They open myself up to various worlds of knowledge and help me understand the world we are living in.

O’reilly talked about all the one line slogans of MS and google. Those are what they are fighting for. What is my one line slogan? Two things. Bring out the true face of learning. Build a better playground.

Clay Shirky talked about a very good story of a student getting into trouble after starting a study group on the facebook. But in this story, I want to ask why people have to be forced to learn. Should they just participate in learning what they want to learn? What are all these energy wasted in trying to take a free ride and steal the answers. Obviously something is very worng with our education system.

Below is an assembly of links to my essays that you can read to get to know more of what I mean by “Bring out the true face of learning. Build a better playground.


Against Compulsory Schooling: from mass production to empowering individual professionals

https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/03/25/against-compulsory-schooling/

Peace: what is peace and how to build peace in our world

https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/09/16/peace-what-is-peace-and-how-to-build-peace/

Build a better playground

https://freestone.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/build-a-better-playground/

Featured Essays:
https://freestone.wordpress.com/category/featured-essays/

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The Art of My Life

I am going to talk about the art of my life and how I came to it. It is going to be a long article since it spans my whole life. I cut many things off, but it is still quite long. So please bear with me.

As a kid, I enjoyed playing very much (https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/03/14/the-meaning-of-life/). Seeing that adults often get bored of life, I thought about it. My conclusion was that they forgot playing because their ability didn’t grow as they grew older and thus they could not play as much fun as they were kids. As you grow older, your ability is supposed to grow so you can open a new world, keep encountering fresh and exciting things, the curiosity keep going. And you enjoy on a higher level. So I decided that I have to keep improving myself so that I can keep playing and enjoying the same kind of fun as I have enjoyed when I was flying a kite, swimming, catching the dragonflies, hiking, and playing games with other kids (https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/03/24/where-i-grew-up-a-tribute-to-gatto/).

In my high school, I was fascinated by knowledge. I was exposed to the beautiful literature world by a great Chinese teacher (I always have a tendency to write. But my primary school Chinese teacher sucks.) I also enjoyed all the thinking in mathematics and physics. I was determined that my life is to learn and enjoy all the fruits of human civilizations throughout the history, e.g. to learn human being’s experience in history. I was also highly interested in business then. China was undergoing a rapid economic reform at that time and it was very exciting. I also saw that fighting in the business world is like a general in the wartime. I want to be a very good general. Doing business seems to be a way to be a general in peace time.

So pursuing my dream, I tried not to waste too much time on my engineering coursework while in college. During my freshmen, I felt I knew nothing about society. I was very eager to know about society. I didn’t want to get occupied by my engineering classes. I divided my classes into three categories: classed that I won’t miss a single class, such as the computer and electronic related classes; classes that I will attend once in a while; classes that I will only go to final exams (some classes are just totally stupid, but you have to take them in China). Fortunately, Chinese higher education system makes it easy for me to do so. I often do reading or work on my computer until 3 or 4 am in the morning, then got up close to 8am, ran to classroom, sat straight and listened carefully. When the bell rang, I immediately slept on the desk. After the bell rang again, I sprang up from the desk and kept listening. For the homework, during the first year, other students copied my answers (I did pretty well for my freshmen year. Then I found out getting No. 1 in college is too easy and I got more important things to do). But after the freshmen year, it was quite often me copying other people’s answers. I normally just thought it through, wrote the steps down, skipped the calculation, copied the answer from other people estimating it should be roughly the same result from my steps. Sometimes, I read novels in class. Some novels are so funny that I almost laugh out loud in class. Every morning, I used to stand 20mins before the newspaper window, scanning through all the newspapers. Later, I found there is no news to read. Then I only read the entertainment sections and sports sections in the newspapers. I often stood in the bookstore scanning books (I bought a lot of books too. I just cannot buy all the books I read.). During the first summer of college, I stayed one month in school trying to read all the books in the library (later felt too lonely and bored and thus ran back home). In my senior year, when I walked into bookstores again, I found all the books are just copying each other. There were too few great original writings in China. I took quite a lot of liberal arts courses in my undergraduate. Almost all of my optional classes are liberal arts courses, with subjects in ancient Chinese poetry, novel reading and writing, photography, calligraphy, classic musics, western arts appreciation and so on. I went to various guest lectures and speeches on campus. I learned a lot more from those speakers than from my classroom.

I was also exposed to Rock and Roll at that time, and totally subscribed to its rebellious and ideal spirits. China’s rock and roll in the 80s and early 90s are very much the same kind of music and spirits as America in the 60s and 70s. Coming out of culture revolution, a lot of emotion and reflection went into rock and roll. It is the arena that individuals can get expressed. I got a lot of nutritions from those musics. Damn it, they don’t teach these at all in school. I also enjoyed western classic music later in my college years.

I did quite intensive study of culture revolution in my freshmen year. I read almost all the books in the library related to culture revolution. It was one of two darkest time I had in college. (The other one is the mandatory military training in the second summer, which makes me see the utter pervert of the military and set my opinion on military as something totally unnecessary and not doing any good, although personally I liked many of those low rank soldiers coming to train us.) It was all very horrible things. I was never exposed to those personal accounts of those horrible stories in the culture revolution. So many people jumped into the lakes just because they lost the hope of seeing the end of the dark time. Some survived only because they endured a little long enough and saw the light at end of the tunnel. Life was reduced to merely endurance and survival. There was no dignity at all. Ugly personalities were on full display. Why people lost mind and did all those crazy horrible things? This happened in my culture, which I had always been very proud of. It was conducted by people who still live around me, and of whom I am part of. Naturally I asked if I lived in that era, would I also be crazy like them? How can I know which are lies? What are the real truth? What are more reliable things in life? How do I go beyond the historical time period I am in? We are always proud of the long history of our culture. But if a culture having that long history was still not mature enough and still made such a horrible mistake, then there was something deeply wrong with our culture. All the reflections in public(still quite restricted and had to stay in a certain boundary, and the real question still not answered) of culture revolution allowed me look deeply into my culture. Any modern Chinese has to study culture revolution. That is the great resource to understand our culture. The school doesn’t teach that.

Since China’s door was opened by the opium war, Chinese intellects didn’t stop questioning our culture. Their reflection is our greatest treasure in my culture. The school only teaches very reduced and filtered version of that treasure. My extensive reading got me exposed to this treasure, knowing what had been thought of. Living in Chinese society I was trying to provide my own answers. Without self-initiated learning, this great treasure passed down through generations won’t be inherited by me. Knowing their struggles and what they had sacrificed generation after generation, naturally I became part of the story. Many Chinese are very proud of being Chinese. But if they learned nothing of our greatest treasure, in a sense are they really Chinese? It is ironic that school teaches patriotism but doesn’t want you to be a real Chinese.
It was a crazy time then. I was mad in learning all kinds of things. Whatever I didn’t know I wanted to read it and understand the experience behind it. My mind got very messy. 🙂 And I was full of all kinds of emotions.

During my second summer in college, I didn’t go back home. I tried to find various jobs to do in the city of my university. So in the year of 1997, when China just started Internet networks, I was promoting Internet in China, trying to get companies to go online. Later I sold toothpaste, spring water to the grocery stores on the streets via direct sales. Also worked for a restaurant for a while. These experiences are very vital in my life. With reading, ideas and thoughts are just scattered. With business activities, thoughts can be filtered, channeled into tunnels, flow and have impacts. Through sales, I learned how to make judgment. You don’t learn good judgment through reading. You learn that through action, through interaction with various kinds of people in various kinds of situation. When promoting Internet or selling stuff on the streets, many people tried to humiliate me. It was hard not to be angry. Then I learned that no one can hurt my dignity except myself. I learned to make friends with various kinds of people, even very difficult people, and actually enjoyed it a lot. When doing sales job, I had to challenge myself a lot. I had to change myself. I learned that I should change myself bravely. If something that is good in me and really me, it cannot be changed. So by trying hard to change myself is actually a way to find out my real self. For example, while some people did whatever means they could to get profits, I always had the bottom line. That bottom line is not conventional morals such as no cheating. It is a principle I developed myself: don’t harm other people. I just cannot do whatever including harming other people to get profits. I also learned that I have to improve my performance by improving my ability. That lesson is very important for me in Chinese society. There are too many moral dilemmas. The only way to deal with them is to improve your ability and play on a higher level. This is the way I see how I can make friends with various kinds of people and still keep my principles. So you see, doing sales job had very profound meaning to my life. School or reading will never teach me that. There are also many other thinking skills and abilities I learned when doing business activities. After going back to school, this ability diminished very fast. School is just such an isolated environment, and reading is so different from action. I went to listen to business classes in the business school. When I saw that the teachers teaching pricing had never bargained on the streets, I laughed at it. It is just totally another dimension of knowledge that they were never exposed to. When in the real world, in business, people’s minds are very flexible. No one plays by the artificial rules. It is all about breaking the rules, bending around the rules, achieving the end more directly. What the hell are they teaching in the business school?

Through my experiences in business activities and my liberal arts reading, I learned how to know if things are lies and what is more reliable information that I need to base my decisions and actions on, which is a very important living in China. Later I found that skill also helps me to know lies in America.

When I was junior, I went to work as a volunteer in the Chinese Tea Museum, and started learning of Chinese tea culture. I did quite a lot of reading, thinking and some practice. Learning Chinese tea culture opened my eye to ancient Chinese history. Although we always were taught of Chinese history and ancient literature in our classrooms, learning Chinese tea culture intensively by myself provided me a very personal and deep experience with ancient Chinese and understanding of them. It is through this that I was able to see the great fruits of my culture and the serious scaffold that was put on it and how the culture was shaped accordingly. Studying Chinese tea culture also opened my eyes to the art of smell and taste, and thus understanding of arts in a deeper sense .

Also in my junior, I finally encountered a great novelist. He just died that year before his novels finally got published. Having read many novels in China, I think he is the only true novelist of modern novels in China. He said that during his stay as a foreign student in the states, he read all the interesting books that he wants to read in the west. I got the greatest fun reading his novels (also learned a lot from his view on Chinese culture and history). I learned enjoying the fun of life and being creative with the language. He found the way of how to write beautiful Chinese. His novels read like poetry. BTW, I need to mention that he was very good at mathematics and he wrote his software to help him rearrange various sections of a novel.

At the end of my junior, I got very bored of school. I also got bored of reading. Different from my freshmen year, I already saw and understood a lot of Chinese society. In my view, it is very difficult for individuals to make themselves in China. Thus I want to go to another place, the western world, to take a look, to see my chances. I also knew that I cannot totally understand China without really in touch with western culture. Thus I started my preparation of going abroad.

During that time, I met a girl. I have to mention this because she really changed me. Although I had been fighting very hard in my life trying to change myself, some change would be too hard through my own efforts. Just a sentence or a simple action from her can teach me in a very unexpected way. She told me Life is Colorful, and showed me various levels and aspects of the meaning of that through her very natural flow of personality. Before with her, I always need to reason: why I need to do this, what I need to do and so on. But when with her, there is no need to reason those anymore. It is direct experience. She is beauty. She is nature. She is the whole reason. I am not anxious, always wanting to go somewhere else anymore. That is the base of our experience. Without that experience, any thinking is useless.

With all these experiences, I came to prepare for my graduate school entrance exam in China. Having a very short time to prepare (since I also need to look for jobs and apply for schools abroad), I told myself that I had to study the most efficiently. I called it the third brain revolution (the previous two were in my middle school. I will talk about that later). It was a huge success. I finally put everything I learned together. I figured out the best way to learn (here is my summary of learning after that time https://freestone.wordpress.com/2006/12/08/a-summary-of-learning/). Because my liberal arts and business experience, my mind is very flexible. Thus I was able to learn tech very freely and apply various ways of thinking (Flexible mind and life experience are very important in learning software. Actually it is important in learning anything because you have to be able to FIGURE OUT things.). Furthermore, going through the engineering and science training again, it stimulated my endless creation. I became very creative in my words and the ways I handle things. I was able to look into every situation, and apply my thinking patterns and skills I learned in liberal arts or business accordingly. Actually when it comes to using brain to solve various subtle complex things in life, liberal arts, business and science ways of thinking are all needed depending on the nature and stage of the problem. People only skillful in one way of thinking will find it difficult dealing with many real life issues (a big reason why people feel powerless coming out of a long time of compulsory schooling). This is indeed power.

From my liberal arts study, I came to the conclusion that everyone needs to pursue a kind of art in his/her life that s/he can be the best person in the whole world doing it. Thus I was seeking my kind of art. I had tried various things at that point of my life, pursuing various parts of my interests. It seemed to be a time that I think about the art I want to pursue for my whole life.

I was very interested in novels. I was able to write very good novels. I felt if I invest enough time, I could be one of the best novelists in China. But I don’t feel my life is just to become a novelist. Although a great novelist can have a great impact, I feel that is not my total life and I can do more. I am more interested in action itself, and writing novels is something I can do after I retire (also playing musics). From my liberal arts learning, I learned of our history and culture. Especially I learned of stories going on in my culture, the threads of that big novel in my culture, and I put myself into that struggle, which in the larger context is human being’s struggle. My interest in business of course came from my interest in action. So being able to really change that space is important to me. My training in engineering and science, especially my strong interest in software (I loved software at the first sight. It is fascinating to see that ideas get converted into concrete forms (Bill Joy), and can be executed.), provides me the tool to really solve the problem fundamentally. My interest in tech and software gives me endless possibility of what I can do to solve the problems. So it came to me that the art of my life should be social software. It nicely combines my interests in arts (Software is art. Writing software is actually like writing a novel. It is about making stories. ), business (Software is very much about actions. Software is ideas in action.) and technology together. It is very creative and quite challenging. It is something that I feel is worth me working hard on for my life. It is also the tool that I feel I can use to really improve the space I live in. From my liberal arts learning, people thousands of years ago had very good ideas and they had fought very hard for those causes. But they couldn’t make it. The uniqueness of software made me realize that it is the way to change the world peacefully and fundamentally. (See my blog Web2.0 is Grassroots: https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/03/28/web20-is-grassroots/)

Within social software, my strong focus will be learning. As I see through various revolutions in China, they changed the system, but they didn’t change the soil. That is why we have the culture revolution. If you don’t change the soil, what come out of it will be essentially the same as before. I also came to believe in non-violent way of improving the space. Only non-violent way can bring about real changes, however small it might be. I saw serious problems in the education system, which is not to make people learn, but to make people unable to learn. I think that is the root of all sorts of social problems.

Personally, I felt what I had experienced in my life suited me to the task.

As I reflect on my schooling experience, I did well at school. Except for some short periods of time, generally I kept to be always No. 1 in school, and did well at almost all subjects. My parents was willing to save on food in order to send us to the best school available. There was no reason I shouldn’t study hard. Although my parents’ personalities are quite different, they are both very honest and hardworking. I guess these are the most important things that we three brothers inherited from our parents. Although we three are very different in personality, we share the same integrity and hardworking with our parents. Also my big brother set up a very good example in school for us. Although very young, I also knew intuitively that I had to do well at school otherwise my whole life would be unimaginable, so there was always that kind of force that could endure the pain and hardworking at school. My parents also knew the importance to make us cultivate good habits. So at the beginning of our schooling, my parents emphasized some scheduling for us and watched closely. After we got on the track, they almost didn’t bother with our school work at all. Since my parents work in a small scientific institution and we went to the school in that institution, we had the fortune to be taught by teachers who were generally competent and caring. Since everyone knows each other in that institution, the school doesn’t lose the sense of being in a community and serving the community. Growing up in an institution located in a beautiful scenery, with diverse talented people coming from all over the country, we just had the chance to learn a lot outside of school and got exposed to various kinds of things. Not until the middle school, we always had quite a lot of time to play after finishing our coursework. I guess all these just made me fortunate enough to survive schooling. Nevertheless I suffered a lot from schools and those mandatory exams. Although I always did pretty well at exams, those exams still created anxiety in me and to a degree some mental problems because the school was so unreal and especially after middle school, the coursework became a lot more intensive. Even so, I always tried very hard to make sense of all the education in school and tried to really learn something from it. For example, when in primary school, I went through the biology and geography textbooks in the summer and found that I almost forgot everything, and there were so many things that were just fun and I should remember. Realizing that, when starting a subject each semester, I asked myself what I want to learn in this subject then I only learn to that degree of details. I wasn’t going to memorize things that I was not going to remember anyway. So in the beginning of each semester, I usually go through the whole book to see what the subject is about and what I should learn. I realized that there are a lot of things that I learned in school cannot be applied to my real life, especially mathematics. I knew that was not real knowledge and always wanted to have a real chance to really integrate those knowledge little by little into my real life. But it was not until my college that I really had a chance to devote a large amount of time to just learn what I feel I need to learn at the time and really start my learning. After my college entrance exam, I was determined to strive hard for my whole life. I was also determined that I wanted to learn all the wisdoms collected in the previous human generations. Furthermore I set my heart on doing business. This gave me a very strong drive to learn about society, which I knew nothing about coming out of high school. It also made me realize the importance of learning liberal arts and other arts. I was crazy in college trying to learn a lot of things every day. I tried a lot of ways, scheduled my life in many different ways. It was a very long process. There were a lot of struggles in that process. A lot of times very confused about many things. A lot of emotions. In Chinese universities, to a large degree you can ignore those exams. Thus I had quite a lot of time to engage in my own learning. It was after all those different kinds of learning I was able to wrap it up and finally felt myself different As Mr. Gatto said, people have to spend a lot of time engaging in various kinds of activities. By learning many different things, what is developed is a flexible mind that is very skillful in grasping the truth in each moment under various conditions. For a human being living in this world, in each moment, the truth for me is to grow, to play and to create. I enjoyed learning very different things: arts, business and tech, and was able to put them together in a very creative way. The mind was flying.

(TODO: revise the following.)

When in the middle school, I attended many mathematics and physics contests. They greatly challenged my thinking ability. Up to now, I haven’t encountered anything else that is as mentally challenging as that. That is what I call my first brain revolution. I never need to make notes for mathematics classes. I always think notes are for other classes such as history or geography. But my high school math teacher demanded everyone to make notes in class and submit our notes to him for review. It was just stupid. I think if you need to make notes in math classes, that just mean you don’t understand it, and you are memorizing the examples for exams. If there is anything I don’t understand, I always do some exercise and think it through. There is never need for me to memorize examples from class and then try to imitate it in exams. So my math notes in that class always started with a title of the chapter and then nothing followed.

Starting high school, somehow I didn’t want to control myself anymore. I played soccer a lot and read a lot of novels. When I didn’t want to study, I just didn’t study it at all. So my score went straight to near the bottom. So I had the full experience being a low score student in the schooling system. It was just awful. Then I had to climb back. It was hard. On the flip side, I got the chance to experience how to learn by myself. I was then back to No.1. Then during my last year of high school, I did it again. I played too much soccer and read a lot of novels. Just half a year before the college entrance exam, I dropped to the bottom again. And I had to climb back again within a very short amount of time. I guess it trained me to think independently. This is my second brain revolution.

The college is really the chance that started my fully self-initiated learning. I was able to focus on what I really want to learn at the time. Having those experiences in high school, I learned how to just get by with those exams, and it was a lot easier to do that in college. Finally I was able to put tremendous amount of time into learning other things. In my undergraduate, 90% of my knowledge were learned outside of classroom. Some were inside the classroom when I was reading novels there. I learned all these various things by myself. Most of them are vital for me as a human being, or even as a Chinese, but are never taught by school.

I guess I can say I have quite rich learning experiences. With all those experiences, I felt I was equipped to tackle the issue of learning, through software in elearning (not the sense of elearning as messed up by those academic and corporate people, but real grassroots oriented learning). So I then decided that the art of my life should be social software, with emphasis in elearning.

My mind was flying at that time. After so many years of learning, I felt finally it was the adult world. I was enjoying the fun in the adult world, and it was the same kind of fun that I enjoyed when I was a kid.

Although doing social software is a quite big undertaking since it requires knowledge in arts, business and tech, which can be very different skills if you haven’t learned enough. I felt I was able to do it and it was just big enough for me to work on for my whole life. Coming to US added another magnitude to the whole matter, making it almost impossible to accomplish. If I want to stay here, I have to encompass both cultures (which is a huge challenge but also of very great fun). Being a foreigner here also puts a lot of restriction on me (I don’t think there should be a border. And I don’t think that border will exist forever.). I am bounded by time. I don’t know if I am making my pie too big (I will be satisfied with a smaller pie if that is what I can get only 🙂 ). I cannot spend forever time in learning English and culture. My current age is the age that I should be fighting in the battle field, not learning the language as a kid. (Hopefully playing soccer can keep my young age a little longer. 🙂 ) My mind is crawling and it wants to fly.

But I am grateful for the opportunity I already had during my years in US. I was always looking for a teacher for my life. Here I found my teacher. This alone makes the whole journey to the west worthwhile. Coming to New York seems to provide another opportunity. 🙂

There is of course a lot of pains in the pursuit of arts. But the spirit of playing is to ignore all of them and just play. In a sense, life is about pushing your limits. Only when you meet your limits, can you have a better sense of who you are. Life is then pushing the boundary outwards, and growing bigger.

So this is my art. This is how I came to it (now you see why I am very much against compulsory schooling: https://freestone.wordpress.com/2007/03/25/against-compulsory-schooling/ ) and how I am doing it now. I enjoy the greatest fun playing in it, exactly the same kind of fun I played as a kid when flying kites or catching the dragonflies. What is your art?

Note: This article turns out to be much longer than I have expected. I had to explain many things since I haven’t written about them in my other articles. This is why I feel it is a good idea to write many short ones then I can just reference to them or you can read them and put them together to make the whole story. I was not very good at writing long English articles. My English is quite insufficient to write a good long article. If you read this far, I hope you enjoyed the content at least. 🙂

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Filed under Chan/Zen, Elearning, Essay, Featured Essays, Social Software, unschooling, What is Learning