August 21st, 2011

Going beyond the truth

It is necessary for innovators to examine and investigate all views and claims thoroughly before accepting them as facts.

I HAVE something exciting to tell you. Do you know if you eat a few melon seeds before going to the gym, your stamina and endurance level will increase by almost 50%?

You can get 50% more exercise done just by munching away on melon seeds. A handful can give you a 70% booster. Now isn’t this something to shout about?

I have offered this tip to almost 20 gym-going friends and relatives so far, and they say that their visits to the gym have become more enjoyable and fulfilling.

My wife says that she returns feeling better and more energetic than she did previously despite working our for longer periods. So far, no one has told me that the melon seed miracle does not work.

I find this very amusing because I made up the claim. The whole idea is a hoax that I have been propagating to see if people will believe claims without any further investigation. Melon seeds do not have any property that magically increases your endurance level, yet not one of the 20 people ever questioned the source of my claim.

I have neither been asked the theory behind the claim nor its source. It has been accepted at face value, as if I have the credentials to make such a claim.

Psychologists will tell you that this is not really surprising. Humans have a habit of asking for advice or opinion from others, who themselves, may need professional advice in the first place.

Would you ask for financial advice from a person who cannot manage her own finances and runs into difficulties before the end of every month? Would you ask for your colleague’s opinion on your career progress when his own career is in the doldrums?

If you have a relationship problem, would you ask the advice of someone who has not been able to hold on to any relationship himself? When trying to create a new product or service, would you rely on the opinions of others who have never innovated anything in their lives?

Let’s get something clear – there are two completely different issues here. The first issue is that opinions and advice must be separated from claims and statements.

While opinions and advice do matter, they must not be confused with claims or statements of fact.

When Marconi commercialised the radio, he believed that it would be used for personal communications. Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, thought that his invention would be used to listen to music. Both were opinions – not statements of fact.

As history shows, both men were terribly wrong as the telephone has been a great device for personal communication while the radio, an ideal tool for listening to music broadcasts.

In the 90s, the telecommunications industry introduced SMS as a communications medium for the corporate sector. The entire industry’s opinion was wrong — the biggest success of the SMS technology has been in the teenage market.

The lesson for the innovator is that opinions, beliefs or views cannot be substituted for facts and have to be treated with some level of disbelief — even when they are expressed by experts.

The second issue is one of reliability and credibility — how reliable and credible are the claims or statements that have been made?

Picture an advertisement of a beautiful movie star saying that her looks are due to a particular brand of cosmetics. How many people question the reliability of her statement or claim? How about the advert of a certain brand of rice, depicting a famous TV personality, showing the universal “thumbs up” sign?

If the majority of us questioned such claims, the advertising industry would be in jeopardy and may cease to exist. Advertising works best when the lines between opinions, perceptions and reliability of statements are blurred to such an extent that getting to the truth of the matter becomes impossible.

I recently attended a workshop conducted by one of the top motivation gurus in the world – an acknowledged authority on the subject. He described in great detail and with moving passion how a prisoner escaped death during the holocaust, by burying himself beneath dead bodies that were being transported to a mass grave.

This victim, renowned psychologist Viktor Frankl, lived to tell the tale by crawling out of the grave while the guards were taking a break, or so said the guru.

I decided to check the reliability of the guru’s claim and discovered that Viktor Frankl had written a book that related his escape.

In his book Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl described his experiences in the Nazi detention camps, and had said that he was liberated by the Allied troops.

The entire claim of being buried underneath dead bodies was made up by this “world-class” motivation guru who charged his participants US$2,000 (RM5,970), to attend the workshop. So much for relying on expert claims.

Perhaps it is a cultural phenomenon – most Asians do not make a habit of questioning the reliability of another’s claim or statement.

This is especially so when the person is an elder or an “expert”. Innovators cannot adopt the approach of accepting claims at face value.

They have to question the reliability and credibility of the claims. They cannot rely solely on industry reports or market research – they have to go to the ground to determine the truth themselves.

No amount of web research, spreadsheet analysis or boardroom discussion, can substitute hearing the message from the horse’s mouth.

Critical thinking is about getting to the heart of the truth, or in the innovator’s context, correctly identifying an opportunity. Very often, it is also about accurately isolating the cause of a problem.

To be successful, an innovator must become a sceptic. He must question the evidence before his eyes. Pictures do lie and dead men can tell tales.

Datuk Dr Kamal Jit Singh is the CEO of Agensi Inovasi Malaysia (AIM). It is the vanguard for innovation in Malaysia. Established by the Government through an Act of Parliament, AIM will be the driving force behind Malaysia’s push towards establishing an innovation economy.

Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday August 21, 2011

Questions in the classroom

There are many ways to engage with your students, and asking them questions may be the most underrated one.

TO BE an effective teacher, one must master a range of skills relating to the delivery and assessment of information. Coupled with this requirement is the need to also be cognisant of how different individuals may acquire their knowledge and understanding.

Questions are a vital part of the classroom, especially when used as tools for testing, revision, reinforcement and for connecting what has been taught to future lesson planning.

Asking questions in the classroom can serve multiple purposes, such as to focus initial attention on a specific aspect at the beginning of a course or lesson, or to encourage learners to think about particular issues or related concepts.

Questioning your students also acts as revision or reinforcement on what has been taught, and enables teachers to then plan future lessons if there are seen to be some gaps in the students’ knowledge.

The challenge faced by the teacher is to ask the appropriate question that will draw the desired response, reaction and information. Achieving this objective requires planning, purpose and precision as well as practice.

There are six traditional types of questions that are categorised by their purpose and function.

(a) The direct question is one that is directly aimed at an individual learner, e.g. “Thomas, how many syllables does the word Edinburgh have?” Direct questions can be open or closed and are used to check an individual’s understanding of a topic.

(b) The indirect question is used in with groups. It is posed as a general question, e.g. “Who can think of a ‘double o’ word that rhymes with ‘flood’?”

(c) The specific or closed question is one that seeks a specific, accurate answer and is generally used to check the progress of individuals. e.g. “Which is the odd word? Chop, cheese, chef, or chance?”

(d) The open question seeks a multi-word answer, not just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response, e.g. “How many words can you think of that begin with “war”?

(e) The attitude or explanatory question is one that endeavours to elicit a personal opinion or belief, e.g. “Why do you think some people can speak well but can’t write well?”

(f) The reflective or revisiting question is also “personal” but seeks an explanation to an individual’s past action or comment, e.g. “So why did you decide to study French instead of Spanish?”

Different learning styles

It is important in a teaching environment to remember that course participants can differ in the way they acquire knowledge and understanding.

There are three main methods that all learners engage in their personal learning process with different and varying levels of emphasis, priority and combination: auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic.

Auditory learners prefer to listen and talk about what they are learning. They enjoy discussion and like things explained to them. They can be very easily distracted especially by external noises. They also often find it difficult to work quietly for long periods of time.

Meanwhile, visual learners learn best using visual tools, e.g. graphics, diagrams, written material, illustrations, examples, real objects, graphs and charts.

They like to take notes and prefer written instructions on handouts or on over-head transparencies, and they tend to be more observant.

Finally, kinaesthetic learners learn best by “doing”. They like to perform their tasks and enjoy role-plays and personal participation. They tend to be more physically active and can find it difficult to “sit still” for long periods.

They prefer to be “shown” rather than to be “told” and enjoy making things and handling their learning tools. Kinaesthetic is also closely linked to Tactile Learning in that it emphasises “doing”.

Keith Wright is the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S).

The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Programme (AEP) mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English proficiency of people with different competency levels.

E-mail for a free copy of the 4S-AEP Chart on Vowel Sound Variations.

Source: The STAR Home Education Sunday August 21, 2011

Recognising outstanding staff

TO appreciate their staff’s efforts and commitment to the institution, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) recently held its ninth annual award ceremony to recognise 883 deserving employees.

In his speech, UPM vice-chancellor Datuk Dr Radin Umar Radin Sohadi said: “The number of staff members who qualified for the excellent service awards exceeded the quota, which shows that many of you have demonstrated an excellent work performance.

“However, just like in any competition, only the best of the best would be selected for the award.”

The fellowship award recipients sharing a light moment after the ceremony.
Five academic staff members were also awarded the vice-chancellor’s fellowship award, receiving an academic grant of RM10,000 each.

Although the fellowship award is usually awarded to academicians and researchers, one of the five recipients this year was science assistant officer Shamsudin Bojang, from the Faculty of Agriculture, who received the award under the Support Services category.

His in-depth knowledge in the field of nematodes allowed him to present his research at an international level, and he has since made a name for himself as the “worm doctor”.

Shamsudin said, “Although I come from a social science background, my research on agricultural science is purely based on interest, and I really look forward to pursuing a PhD in this field at either Universitas Gadjah Mada in Indonesia, or the Imperial College London, because they have a very strong focus in agricultural sciences.”

Another recipient, Assoc Prof Dr Rozanah Rahman from the Economics and Management faculty, who received the award in the excellent teaching category, is known for her interesting lesson plans.

“A subject like Law can be quite dry. However, if we use innovative ideas to make the teaching and learning process fun, students would be more interested and motivated to learn.”

Dr Rozanah’s teaching and learning methods has since been documented as a teaching module and used as an example for effective teaching techniques.

The other three recipients of the fellowship award were Prof Datuk Dr Mohamed Shariff Mohamed Din from the Veterinary Sciences Faculty, Prof Dr Md Nordin Lajis from the Science Faculty, and Assoc Prof Dr Mohammad Shatar Sabra from the Human Ecology Faculty. —

The STAR Home Education SUnday August 21, 2011