Face-to-Face with Jude & Serene (social academics)

Jude and me wearing the same Threadless tee!
Yep, nothing beats face-to-face… yet.

The threadless t-shirt gig was totally unplanned. I had told Jude and Serene (see her here) how I saw three other guys at various hawker centers with the same tee. As a testament to the popularity of threadless tees in Singapore, after we split at Marina Square, I bumped into yet another chap wearing the same shirt! We waved like we knew each other from long before (though we were complete strangers) and naturally whipped out our cameras then. Forget eHarmony, this Threadless tee keeps it real! Obviously lots of us are upset about this so-called future, so perhaps we should have a “theyliedtous” t-shirt meme in Singapore

I got to meet Jude and Serene in person this week at the modern “durian-shaped art house” otherwise known as the Esplanade. While we were suppose to try the coffee at the Library @ Esplanade (which Jude raved about), the cafe was closed for some reason. We ended up chatting about our interests at a nearby Japanese restaurant overlooking the harbor.

As proof of how blogs connect people, Jude first contacted me last year after realizing we had similar academic interests. Via their blog, you’ll see that both of them are situated at the University of Michigan (Umich). While they are pursuing their doctoral degrees, Jude is at the School of Information studying social media and collaborative forms of learning, while Serene is at the School of Education studying the sociology of education. I think it’s the perfect marriage, not just in real life, but of academic interests.

On Education
As we pondered about the indistinguishable consumables moving on the conveyor belt, I had to ask them how they first met up. They explained that they first met in the school they taught in, where Serene taught literature and GP, while Jude taught drama. Like my parents who are teachers, they found that the local education system didn’t work for them. Apparently they were not alone… I have friends who left the teaching profession for similar reasons and I’ve seen plenty who have blogged about this. For instance, see “Why I Hate Teaching” and “Why Do Teachers Stop Wanting To Be Teachers?” These two Singaporean blog posts have since disappeared probably due to unwanted attention, but you might find a cached copy somewhere (Please tell me if you do!). As if teaching weren’t a tedious art in itself, I see that the local education system seems to focus excessively on both the present economical (think Return Of Investment) and political (think human embryonic stem cell research) climate, unlike in the States where education has independence and is more diverse (i.e. eggs definitely in more baskets). It seems to me that if I were to teach locally, it would have to be at an international university setting where I’d have the freedom to get creative with what and how I teach. Speaking of which, Jude and I agree that Singapore’s research agenda tends to focus on anything that the rest of the first worlds won’t engage in… like selling upgraded arms and cloning . If this were Star Wars, Singapore would be the Evil Empire!

On Consumerism
On a lighter note, we also lamented on the level of consumerism in Singapore. Serene recent wrote about how our visual landscape is now riddled with shopping malls and what possible trade-off this could mean to Singapore. I mentioned how in my walkabouts around town, I was fascinated by how Singaporeans seem seem to defy spatial physics since they apparently have an infinite amount of closet space, given the amount of things they seem to buy. There were lines of people everywhere, from the clothing boutiques to the hawker at your favorite makan place. It doesn’t matter if we need it, we already want it as long as it’s on sale. I know this for a fact because seeing the same products offered in both the States and in Asia, the packaging is tell-tale of how we want more for less, even though we don’t really need it. While products in the States tend to marketed using facts and humor, products in Asia are sold using adjectives such as “Now With Extra 20%” or “Buy One Get One Free!”. My favorite one is “Limited Edition” even though you know it’s machine-made and demand is artificially created. Variations such as colors and patterns are also highly valued here as seen in the greater need for personalization, from the GMask-covered cellphones to the Blue, Silver and Pink PSPs.

On Jude’s Work
After getting our fill of rice-encrusted seafood, we transitioned to Marina Square which recently saw a transformation which somewhat resembled the new Vivocity mall from the inside. We stopped at one of the infinite Kaya toast franchises to talk about our academic work. While I talked about my teaching plan this semester at SIM (WTH… they went k10k on me!), I focused on my plan to engage students in “collaborative competition” with one another, by meaning of blogging, exposure to one another’s work and exposing themselves to the world (aka blogosphere). Jude then share with me his upgraded thesis which was really about that. Check out his “Learning by Tagging: The Role of Social Tagging in Group Knowledge Formation” paper via JOLT (open access / HTML) or via ACM Digital Library (subscription required)! He also has a relevant paper on JCMC entitled “From Shared Databases to Communities of Practice: A Taxonomy of Collaboratories“. They say great minds think alike, but dull ones also barely differ, so it’s debatable (hah!). Anyway he’s looked at the social network of his students’ blogs and watched how they comment and rate one another’s work through a class aggregator. In his latest paper, he look at how students tag their class posts, by looking at tag frequencies. From there you can determine the amount of consensus and cooperation among them, and what how they formulate meanings in their research.

On Gaming the Class
In about a week’s time, it’ll be my turn to put some of these ideas into practice. I can certainly add on to Jude’s collaborative education research. One common problem us instructors face is the lack of connectivity between students in class. Even when we have them blog their assignments, few take the initiative to comment on one another’s work, nor to link to one another’s posts (i.e. trackbacks). Jude said he experienced the opposite effect, where competition was high and his students were writing between one another. Perhaps his secret was that these were graduate students (my side worked with undergrads), and that he made his students blog five times a week (vs. our students made to blog just weekly), making it logical for them to gain postings by making meta-blog posts, ones that are reflexive to one another. I might try to institute some rule like that, and to script all this as part of a game they play with one another and with the blogosphere. By setting up the syllabus in th form of game rules, I can have students compete for various awards (e.g. exceptional posts get special web badges for their blogs), and to score extra points when they get mentioned in the blogosphere according to Technorati authority (which gets reflected on a leaderboard, realized on the class aggregator and as a blog widget). Man, I wonder if I can pull this all on my own…

To get a better idea of what I’m trying to achieve with students, take a look at Johnath’s blog post entitled “The Aeroplan Game: An ethnography“. In it, he talks about how reward programs (e.g. flyer miles) is almost like a game, since it has rules, a scoring system and prizes. Using the framework laid out by Amy Jo Kim, online community building guru, there are some patterns we can follow, including: Collecting, Points, Feedback, Exchanges and Customization. Here’s a quick Google persistent search using these five terms to show you how it’s been applied in regular social networks such as MySpace, Youtube and so on. I’m currently done with my syllabus, and will be throwing them on a new wiki I called Theorywiki. I’ll let you know when it’s ready and do contribute if all this makes your cup of tea.

UPDATE: Jude has blogged about his meetups while in Singapore. Though he’ll be flying back this Thursday, distance will be no matter when we’ve got the Net.

17 thoughts on “Face-to-Face with Jude & Serene (social academics)

  1. Pingback: University Update
  2. Oh yeah, and good luck with the teaching this term. I’d love to trade notes with you about your experience with the students 🙂

  3. Hi Kevin, it was great meeting you, Jude and Benjamin on Saturday at New York, New York. I believe that there is a lot of potential in some of the things which you guys are discussing and talking about. Would try to participate in the next get together whether online or offline.

    BTW, do check out my blog too. Its a mix between personal and professional viewpoints as you would realise. 😉

  4. Hey Kevin,
    Since we’re talking about six degrees of separation, my cousin, Jean Loh (Wan Shien) just read our blog and recognized you as her classmate from Ngee Ann Mass Comm days!! This world continues to get smaller and smaller! 🙂

  5. Serene: Does she have a blog or some online presence? I’d love to connect her with my tiny number of friends from Poly days. 🙂

  6. Ha! I have been seeing loads of threadless tees around too!
    I cannot really believe it at first because I thought not many Singaporeans would buy online…
    I was thinking if there was a vendor or someone who brings them in to sell…?

  7. Dickson: Has V-Post been the reason behind the surge in online international purchases in Singapore? We should find out if it’s just some mama shop reselling threadless tees. 😛

  8. Yep! After my exams in February, I should be going to Bugis Street to look for Lunar New Year clothes… Perhaps I will see if some shops have brought them in…

    Maybe next time we see someone in threadless, we should ask if they got theirs online or local.

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