Did socially engaged students make more cognitive contribution?

I and my colleague Yu‐Hui Chang (University of Minnesota, LT media lab)’s original article in the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET), ‘The relationships between social participatory roles and cognitive engagement levels in online discussions’, can now be read freely online until 31 August on Wiley Online. This is one of my three-dissertation. 

We examined students’ social interaction and cognitive engagement in a graduate-level online course, ‘Online Learning Communities’, offered at a research university in the midwestern United States. There were two types of online discussions in this course: the instructor-designed/facilitated discussion, and the student-designed/facilitated discussion. The instructor and student teams designed discussions and learning activities, provided readings and resources, and proposed prompting questions in discussions to drive student thinking, inquiry, and reflection. The data for this study were content from online discussion posts and comments.

Applying a validated social network analysis method (Ouyang and Scharber 2017), this study identified six student participatory roles (leader, starter, influencer, mediator, regular and peripheral) in terms of their levels of participation, influence and mediation. Adapted from the ‘speaking variables’ coding scheme (Wise et al 2014), students’ cognitive engagement was classified according to three levels of knowledge inquiry (superficial, medium and deep levels) and three levels of knowledge construction (superficial, medium and deep levels).

Results indicated that students’ social participatory role was a critical indicator of their cognitive engagement level. Compared to inactive students, socially active students made more contributions to knowledge inquiry and knowledge construction. Furthermore, students had a tendency to keep social-cognitive engagement patterns. This result echoed with an undesired learning phenomenon called a ‘rich club’: active students who built rich peer-connections from the beginning were more likely to build capacities to spread and receive ideas. In contrast, inactive students who failed to build up connections from the beginning would find it difficult to build reciprocity in the interactions, and to make cognitive contributions, later.

However, there were exceptions. While several students were normally ‘peripheral students’ throughout discussions, they also, as designers and facilitators of some discussions, demonstrated leader roles to actively engage in discussions. Therefore, empowering students to take leadership roles could help them break down ‘rich club’ phenomena, build peer connections and enhance cognitive engagement. Instructors can encourage student to engage in top-level planning, decision-making and learning coordination.

A blog was published by British Educational Research Association (BERA), check it out at https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/did-socially-engaged-students-make-more-cognitive-contribution


Building up writing routine – Checked

I have tried to build up my writing routine since last summer. Here is a summary of my reading/writing hours from 06012015-04172016: 46 weeks in total, about 320 days, I have worked on my writing projects (coursework hours are not included) for around 650 hours. Average hours is 2 hrs/day. This is my goal for building up my writing routine after reading the book How to Write a Lot by Paul J. Silvia.

A visualization can show my ups and downs, struggles and uplifts :

(In this viz, I include all working hours on reading/writing/planning for coursework and writing projects.)


As I read this viz, I have learned two things:

First, in last year, during the routine building up process, after a peak working week, it always followed with a couple inefficient weeks. Then I took a couple other weeks to build it up again.

Second, I have built a more steady writing routine in this year, although I have never hit the peak as I did in 2015. But the steady hours is the evidence of the formation of routine. I have more time for myself, like reading for pleasure, playing harp, going to gym, socializing.

The next step is simply to keep going, going, and going.

I am updating my writing routine track now, on Sep 11 2016. It has been over one year since I started my writing routine. Here is a graph from the very beginning, which shows that my routine is more stable in the second year, and the hour I spent on writing gradually increased. Regardless of the writing outcome, I am pretty happy with this progress. I just enjoy it. I will keep going for sure 🙂


writing group

some suggestions regarding writing group model from Dr. Silvia:

  1. set proximal concrete, short-term goals in the group: write down each person’s goal and keep them in a folder; should meet every week or every other week, otherwise, goals are not considered as concrete enough
  2. stick to writing goals, not other professional goals: meetings are short, break out the prior goals and check off met and unmet goals
  3. social rewards, for example, buying coffee for people who meet their goals every time, intervene people who consistently fails goals
  4. have different groups for faculty and students

content from the book: how to write a lot


writing suggestions from Miles & Huberman

Suggestions of writing up dissertation from chapter 12 in

Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (2014).  Qualitative data analysis: A Methods Sourcebook (3rd ed.) 


  • Write at least one page a day, in a year (I would say work on any writing projects you have for 2 hours/day, 5 days a week)
  • Write on whatever can be written about when you sit in front of your computer, laptop. Don’t assume that you have to write chapter 1, then 2,3,4.
  • Create the template of the document in finished form or format
  • Have a separate meeting with supervisors or mentors on writing itself rather than the research
  • Stick to deadlines, think about how to deal with “personal drama” (I would say how to keep a balanced life)

something I have learned from an unbalanced semester

Last semester, I experienced my most overwhelming semester in my life, even more overwhelming than the first year in US. I took a VP position in a university-wide graduate student association; I took three courses; I taught one course; I wrote two papers; I worked on two research projects; I served on several committees. My initial thought was that I have got accustomed with my life, work, and school in the United States, it was the right time for me to put more challenges and responsibilities, to get myself improved in different ways.

But I was wrong. I overrated my capability of taking all these things simultaneously. I could not complete all these things perfectly; and then, as a “recovering” perfectionist, I stressed myself out.

It was also the “stress-out” taught me: it is OK to feel overwhelmed, it is OK to not complete everything, it is OK to say no to things that may add more stress, and it is OK to take a break when we stress out. More importantly, it is critical for us to search for help and support, and at the same time, to build connections with people around us.

I hope myself find more mentally balanced, relaxed, and peaceful moments in my life.


My meditation diary

My meditation starts at this Tuesday, Sep 29, 2015. I take a class from center of spirituality and healing, with Dr. Erik Storlie in this semester. He has studied meditation with Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and Dainin Katagiri Roshi.

He suggests us, as meditation beginners, begin the meditation by visualizing a safe place in our mind’s eye and imagination.  Dwell in that refuge for a time. In the formal sitting meditation practice, let the focus of the attention rest on the flow of the breath.  Notice the rising and falling of the chest and belly, the feel of the air moving in the throat and the nostrils.  Allow thoughts to rise and fall, neither encouraging nor discouraging them.  When we find ourselves caught up in thoughts, just gently bring the mind back to awareness of the breath flowing.

We meditate in this beautiful room:


My experiences in the first week:

In this first meditation week, he suggests us start with an additional informal practice: “For five minutes every day in the first week, please connect with the natural world.   Sit down under a tree or on a bench on campus or in a park or in your yard.  Close books, put away devices.  See the sun and clouds; feel the air and breezes; settle on the bench or ground or whatever.  Hear birds and insects.  Breathe.  Enjoy.  No expectations.  Just do it and see what happens.”

Sep, 29, 3:30 pm, I meditate in the meditation room for 15-20 minutes in the class with other classmates with the instructor’s lead.

Oct 2, 6 pm, I stand in front of my apartment, looking at a big tree and trying to meditate. I don’t set timer so I don’t know how long it takes. I guess I only spend 3-4 minutes. I find it very easy to be distracted. I think a lot about when my friend will come to pick me up for dinner.

Oct 4, 5 pm,  I sit in the Como lake dock, facing the lake. I try to focus on my breath this time. I hear many different sounds, like kids and parents’ conversation, a band’s song playing, the sound of a dog’s leash, etc. Then I gently bring my focus back to my breath. I don’t set timer either at this time, but I remember the time when I start. And I meditate for 5 minute this time.

Difficulties in the first week:

The most difficult part is to be mentally prepared of meditation. I have a lot on my plate this semester; I am involved in two research projects, I take two academic courses, I teach one course, and I serve on several committees and associations. Sometimes, I feel I don’t have time to take all these stuffs off my plate; I don’t have time to do meditation other than these “important” things. I need to intentionally tell myself I have to take care of my physical body and my spiritual mind. Only when I take care of my whole self, then I can do my work, research, and study better. I also think that for beginners, we can start with easier and shorter meditations, like several deep breaths. Count one breath in, one breath out, and continue through 10 breaths, then return to one again.

Thoughts from the discussion in the second class:

  • take deep breaths for several times every day, breath in and breath out
  • try not to worry about what I am thinking, stop change, stay at the present
  • being non-judgmental about thoughts, thoughts come and go, just be curious and interested in all my thoughts
  • come back when mind wanders
  • allow myself as who I am, allow things as what they are in the moment
  • try to keep a space between self and the stresses, thoughts, ideas about the past or the future

My experiences in the second week:

Oct 6, 2:30 pm, I meditate in the meditation room for 15-20 minutes in the class with other classmates with the instructor’s lead.

Oct 7, 2:20 pm, I sit in the bench in front of the sociology building and meditate for 3 minutes before I go to SNA class. I am distracted by my thoughts on my current project for a couple of times, and then I gently take my attention back to my breath.

Oct 8, 11:45 am, I sit at the bench in the grass ground before LES building and meditate for 9 mins before I go to work in my lab. It is a beautiful weather outside, and I enjoy the sunshine during my meditation. I count my deep breath and try to focus on my breaths. It works. I am still distracted by some thoughts, but I just gently bring my attention back to my count.

Oct 11, 4:00 pm, meditated when I walked in the wood in mille lacs kathio state park with two of my friends. I enjoyed my walk and the beautiful weather.

Reflections on the second week:

In this week, I started to try breath in and out exercise. Every time, when I meditated, I counted one breathe in, one breathe out, and continued it through 10 breathes, then I returned to one again. It takes 3-4 rounds in ten minutes. When I focus on counting, the time goes fast. This morning, when I did my dishes, I was thinking about my schedule, papers, meetings of today. I was a little stressful about all these things I have to finish today. Then I realized there is always something going on my brain, about the past or about the future. Generally, I focus a lot on the future, like things I have to do today or this week. I always have a to-do-list on my brain. After trying the breath-in-out exercise, I feel it’s helpful to just focus on my breath for a few minutes, or just a few seconds when I stress out or worry too much on the future. Even now, I am typing, I am thinking about the paper I have to write after this reflection. So, before I write this very sentence, I counted three deep breathe and then I finished this sentence after the deep breaths. In this way, I feel I can more focus on the present, I feel more engaged in this moment, and I feel less worried about the future.

2015 summer productivity

It was a productive and creative summer. I finished 20,000 words on two papers; finished 3 toastmaster speeches; read several books. I listened to podcast, blinkist, TED talks, and online lectures. I have gradually built my writing, speaking, reading, listening routines. AND AND I am finally able to swim YAY!

I also see this summer as a writing experiment, I recorded what I have written and how many time I have spent on writing everyday. I have spent 270 hours on writing in June, July, and August, 3 hours per day. Reflecting on the whole process, I have found that the writing environment is so important for me, to write creatively and productively in different phases. I prefer to write the initial draft and to revise papers in a coffee shop with loud music;  and for the core writing part, I prefer to write in a quiet environment without any distractions. For trivial or casual writing, like emails, blogs, toastmaster speeches, I don’t really care about the environment; but it’s much fun to write these in a coffee shop than a library.

In addition, as an introverted person, I have(unsurprisingly) found that I prefer to write by myself, although I initiated a writing group (hugs to my writing group friends, Cassie and Lauren). We still meet and write/eat/drink/gossip at least once a week. Keep each other updated and in track. When I am not in my writing mood and feel boring or anxious, social group writing works.

some places for my writing in this summer:

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Ramsey county library Roseville, Keller hall east bank UMN, Magrath library St Paul campus UMN

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Chatime Dinkytown, Caribou larpenteur, Caribou Moos tower

My experiences have resonated a lot with Nate’s thoughts on Writing environment .