What does Educational Technology Mean to Me When I Approach Educational Content Design?

I’m passionate about designing an experience for students to tell their stories, enhance their confidence, and see the value of what they’re learning. Because I’m passionate about letting the students feel like experts, I’m conscious of a problem in using educational technology wherein students do not feel confident or expert in certain tools. I solve this problem by focusing on the learning goals of the project beyond the technology.

I have been trying to understand the relationship between education and technology. On Wikipedia, I see that educational technology is "the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources". What does it mean to me when I approach educational content design?

In the case of a recent photography workshop, I was able to inhabit both roles, subject matter expert and a content designer. I learned a few things about how these two roles could interact and benefit from each other.

Before the workshop, I knew I had the technologies: I have a projector for powerpoint slides, I have several DSLR cameras, I have indoor and outdoor spaces with a cluster of computers in a lab, and the students have their own cell phones. But what type of education do I engage in? How can I make the experience tech-savvy, rich in practicing, and meaningful experience that they can’t get elsewhere?

I decided to pull out a collection of guiding principles I created to guide my work, through referencing research in education and how students learn. Below are five of the “Big Ideas” I use to guide my educational design projects.

1. Use a good question to drive learning
2. Help students understand that they are capable of becoming an expert
3. Engage students in natural learning environments
4. Use feedback from instructors and peers to enhance learning
5. Help students become self-directed learners

To be more detailed, for example, regarding the 2nd item on my list, “Help students understand that they are capable of becoming an expert,” I referred to educational theories that when teaching photography operations, contrast cases and visualization techniques (The ABC of How We Learn) are good ways to scaffold concepts, organize information, and enhance photography literacy. Also, presentation opportunities can give students a good sense of owning their expertise, and it is important that before students prepare for their presentations, instructors should use rubrics to scaffold expectations to their students (How Learning Works).

From this experience, I see how my passion for solving this problem developed:

  • People knew that I had some expertise in photography and that I’ve facilitated workshops before that I am studying educational technology
  • I’ve been developing both technical skills and pedagogical skills because of these opportunities
  • I’ve developed a passion for making sure technological tools and their status or level of accessibility do not impede learning outcomes or goals

What I learned from this experience of mine is ultimately what I’d like to bring to my future teams at work:

  • To bridge disconnection between the two roles (subject matter expert & learning scientists) by referring to education research and practices, rather than trying to rely on one specific tool (camera or laptop) to solve a problem
  • To use feedback from the students to enhance learning (exhaustion from photographing, students needed a break, it got sunny, students expressed a desire to work on their photos)
  • To incorporate different natural and technological environments
  • To stay adaptive about learning goals and outcomes when they benefit student-centered learning

Let’s do this!

Here is a link to my 10-hour photography workshop lesson plan design. If you are interested in my photography work, please kindly visit my Flickr page (recently acquired by SmugMug). I am happy to chat about anything that intrigues you! 


Two things happened lately. 

As someone with the minimum sense of direction that you could ever imagine in a person, I follow the same path from one classroom to another. On my Tuesdays and Thursdays of this semester at 10:20 am, after my Application of Cognitive Science class, I'd go downstairs to the ground floor of Baker Hall, exit the building, walk to the fifth floor (ground floor) of Wean hall, take the stairway to go down to its fourth floor, and take the bridge to Newell-Simon Hall.

The stairway from fifth to the fourth floor has been good, where I find interesting posters about plays and events that I found intriguing. Until last week, that it has become fantastic

The photos I grabbed with my phones were not able to do the experience justice. So here is a link to a documentation of the installation.

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From One-Button Simplicity to Infinite Doubts

Last semester, I was working with several classmates on a design project that aimed to foster the documentation process for a group of high school students. These students were working in teams designing games or apps while did not have an existing documentation process. 

When we were researching on the scope and context of the high school students' projects to better understand their needs, we got the chance to interview their mentor, John. In our discussion, he discussed some current practices of students documenting and the challenges that came along with it. For example, how can students document moments, such as taking photos or videos, without "breaking the creative flow?" 

Sometimes certain technologies sound easy. Like a simple one-button that takes a photo of the room when anyone presses on it. However, John proposed a question:

Then who is supposed to be in control of it? 

I couldn't forget about the discussion on this button for the longest time.

   "Will you press the buttons?" 

"Will you press the buttons?" 

As a photography fanatic, I realized that I have this same one-button on my camera too: the shutter that takes one click to take one more photo. Being so effortless to take a photo, it also brings complexities: for one, by having more photos taken, it brings the challenge of managing a larger photo storage, spending longer time to saving photos (and potentially deleting some), and a lot more file management work. The questions, in this case, has become

How should I control the power of controling it? 

Let's Talk about Rejection Letters Like We Talk about...

Seven years ago before I came to the US, as an ambitious high schooler in Southern China, I applied for 12+ undergraduate college programs in the United States. Rejected by most of them, I was surprised to have spent some good amount of time studying the language of rejection letters. I quickly drafted a piece where I quote statements in the rejection letters and interpreted each statement in the form of a relationship rejection. It then went rogue in the college application BBS. Seven years later, I wonder if it is still relevant to me. Absolutely. I am applying for jobs, no? 

I hope you find some joy & peace in my writing below. 


The admissions selection committee has reviewed your application for admission for the fall of 2011.

I received your love letters the other day.



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"Your Next One Is On Us"

Your drink should be perfect, every time. If not, let us know and we'll make it right.

In 2008, Starbucks posted the above promise in stores. However, it wasn't until last week that took a minute and thought about what it means. 

Last Thursday, I was at a Starbucks near campus. Because I planned to customize my drink extensively, I decided to make an order through the app. When my order was ready, I asked to confirm: "this is decaf, right?" The barista said no. I checked my order again and realized that the customization wasn't added to the order.

It's my own fault then, I thought.

The barista saw my hesitation and offered this card to me. 

photo of card.jpg

Though I felt a little guilty for accepting the card at first, I came around and appreciated Starbucks more. (After all, with this strategy, Starbucks potentially makes more profit considering that the customer might make a purchase over the $4 amount on the card).

No matter whose fault it is, a better drink is on them. And maybe I could help Starbucks improve their mobile app sometime soon. 

Hispanic or Latino? —Yes, No, and None of-the-above.

When I was filling out a job application on Workday, I came across the following question and was profoundly confused. I normally just quickly select no between the yes-and-no, but this time...I wonder what the survey collector will learn about the applicant from the third option: "None of the above.

hispanic or latino.jpg

Always curious of topics on diversity and cultures as such, I didn't want to assume anything before learning more about it. 

According to Wikipedia (entry: "Hispanic-Latino naming dispute), 

The usage of both terms has changed to adapt to a wide range of geographical and historical influences. The term "Hispanic" was used first; later, some Hispanics in the western United States came to prefer the term "Latino".

Why do job applications ask for this though? I found some responses on reference.com and discussions on Quora

These memes also educated me on understanding the differences between the terms "Hispanic", "Latin@," "Spanish," and more.

Well, back to UX design: the following examples is not user-friendly in terms of how they apply buttons for different purposes. In Q15, (compared to Q16,) if they want survey takers to select only one answer, it implicates that the two answers are mutually exclusive: they should use a Radio Button. In Q16, the current use of Checkboxes is justified. 


To learn more about the use of Radio Buttons and Checkboxes, see https://www.nngroup.com/articles/checkboxes-vs-radio-buttons/

Is There a Mirror Here in the Store?

When I was trying on an iWatch, I wanted to see how it looked on me. But I couldn't find a mirror in the store. 

When I was trying to decide which iPhone case worked best with my look and outfit, I wanted a mirror to help me choose. But I couldn't find a mirror in the store.

Why don't Apple Stores install mirrors? First I googled the question trying to see if anybody else had asked the question, but I didn't find it.

Now I am going to reach out to my contacts on LinkedIn and see what they think. 

 Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

When Google Calendar Didn't React to My Cancelled Flight

Stage 1 - Exposition
As an individual who plans everything on Google Calendar, I have been its most needy fan. At the moment, I am about to check in for my flight to my dear friend Olina's for Thanksgiving. 

Stage 2 - Rising Action
The self-check-in machine says that my confirmation code does not exist. I check my email again — yes, there is a confirmation email, with a confirmation code. I am not happy. I have a confirmation code. My flight is marked on my Google Calendar, showing instant updates about its delay too. 

Stage 3 - Climax
After an agent from the airline company approaches me and takes some time looking my information up, he decides to call their company backend to check my situation for me. It turns out that I changed my flight unintentionally to another date. I don't have a flight to my friend's anymore, one day before the Thanksgiving day. I tell the agent that I can pay the difference, as long as there is still a seat. 

Stage 4 - Falling Action
Yes, they do have a seat. I paid. But all I can think about is to get on that plane and call the airline company later to argue my money back. It's not the agent's fault, he is just being helpful and wants me to get to my friend's for Thanksgiving. There must be some bug in the backend. 

Stage 5 - Resolution
I pass the security check, flip on my Mac, get connected to the Pittsburgh Airport free wifi (sponsored by Duolingo), and log onto my Chrome (Google Calendar being my homepage). Google Calendar has invited me to see its update, a major interface update -- flat designed, colorful, app-assimilated. Nicely done

google calendar screenshot

I decide to check my email threads again before I call the airline company as an innocent customer to argue for her money. And then...I find out that there is a second confirmation email, which indicates my flight to be on another day. But I have missed this second email all this time. And plus, since Google Calendar still shows the original flight on my calendar, based on the first confirmation email I received, and I thought I was still bound to leave. 

It is my mistake then, not the airline company's.

Or is it Google Calendar's? 



"You know you can mute your phone, right?"

Keywords: inquiry | empathy

 A graph I found relevant to this personal story of mine.

A graph I found relevant to this personal story of mine.

Observation: in class, students tend to take photos of the powerpoint slides when necessary. Instructors don't usually show that they'd have a problem with it. I do that too. There was this one lady friend, however, takes pictures with the shutter clicking sound. 

Hypothesis: I was wondering why she wouldn't mute her phone. Maybe she forgot...or maybe she didn't know she could change the settings? Well. ANNOYING. 

More Observation: I started to pay extra attention to this classmate of mine when she lifted her arm to snap. Still. Shutter. Noise. Sound. 

Validation: I am weird enough to just approach her and ask that question.

Me: "Um, Asuka, you know that you can mute your phone when you take a picture during class right? I am just worried if the professor's gonna think you forgot to do it.  

Asuka: "Oh thanks. Unfortunately I bought this phone from Japan, and the sound cannot be muted at all. For privacy-protecting purposes."

Me:  (internally) Glad that I asked. I think I can be friends with her again... 

P.S.: Here is a Quora discussion on how one might turn off the shutter sound on an iPhone bought in Japan. Turns out it's not quite possible yet? 

Rating Inconsistencies on Google Maps

When I search for places of interest to visit, I pull out Google maps. This view (I'd call it "column view" here) helps me compare the ratings and overview information of recommended locations easily. However, I have noticed some inconsistencies in ratings in different columns (highlighted in pink).

stanley park.png

Any thoughts?

When A Real Genius Helped Me at the Genius Bar > iPhone Battery, Restoring, Firmware, and More

Not long ago, my less-than-one-year-old iPhone 6 suddenly started to die within several hours after being fully charged. This exact 10-month old iPhone 6 of mine, was actually a kindly-offered replacement from an Apple Genius Bar when the support team wasn't able to relieve the battery problem in my previous less-than-one-year-old iPhone 6. 

Concerned about this reoccurring battery breakdown, I headed over to the Apple Store located in Shadyside, Pittsburgh to seek help (and potentially get a new iPhone, but what if it breaks down again, well). 


The first technician ran a routine check on my battery hardware -- well, no problems found. He than just kindly advised that I restore my phone. (I went home, did it, battery still kept dying within a few hours.)

I went back hoping to get one more chance to save my young iPhone. A second technician, Gabriel, came to rescue. He told me how the battery would only recover if I restore my phone CONNECTED TO iTUNES instead of just restoring it on my phone like I did before. He said that this is the only way that the battery can be fixed through the problem in its firmware.

He helped me connect to an Air and restored it for me at the Genius Bar. Afterwards, my phone has been performing well in terms of battery. 


Where does my coffee cup go? (I mean it's good to have a recycle bin but...

  1. trash
  2. newspaper & magazines
  3. mixed office paper
  4. aluminum & steel cans; glass & plastic bottles

The above are four categories in the large recycle bin right out side of Sorrells Library @ Wean Hall of Carnegie Mellon University. It looks very considerate and comprehensive, but where should my coffee cup go? 

  Having the cup sitting there and pondering. 

Having the cup sitting there and pondering. 

I still wasn't able to decide after 20 seconds of looking and checking, thinking what I must have missed. As an advocate of recycling, I hope this could me a little more encouraging.

I - I - I Can Do This

A lovely moment that I paused for after downloading the Origami Studios. The settings prompted:



"OFF By Default"

Every time I hear people clicking on a Mac, I would gently approach and ask: "I suppose that you prefer clicking over tapping?"

If they say "yeah I just don't like tapping," I'd drop it and say thanks.

However, if they respond: "what tapping?" -- I'd be thrilled to introduce how to set up the "tap to click" for them. Maybe it's just me (who prefers tapping over clicking just a little too much) -- but after one time I learned how a user didn't realize that this thing existed for years using a Mac, I decided to advocate for this function whenever possible. 

Every time I go visit an apple store and play around with the Macs, I feel lost without being able to click on tap. So it has been a reflex for me to go to settings, click on "tap to click" (and +++++++ the Tracking speed to its maximum." 

But why? Why is the default OFF for "tap to click?" Earlier today I asked someone working at an Apple Store after having him helped me on lots of questions about the new Mac. He said that he thought some people might just be confused by the tapping. 

For future discussions, some key terms that popped out of my mind: 

  • Control
  • Choice
  • Preference
  • Awareness
  • Habit

What do you think?

How to submit a rating

During the second year of my time in New York, a new carpooling service came out, "Via." Carpooling at a low rate within the New York City Manhattan area (now expanded to some more areas), at fixed rates between $4 to $7, despite the distance you travel as a long as it's within Manhattan. 


Lately, I have been having troubles submitting a rating (and comment). Similar to Uber, when I open the app, it would prompt me to rate for the previous ride experience. 

The problem is, as soon as I click on the star on the far right (to give it a five-star rating), my keyboard pops up and lays over the SUBMIT button. I tried to click the white space to write a comment an see if the submit button would show, but it didn't work. 

I then wrote a message to the via team and hope they could work on it soon.

Designing the Record Button

A few days earlier, Erik, one of my students at the 2nd year Chinese course at Columbia University, invited me to do an interview for his final class project. Before and after the interview, we had several comments about making sure the record button is pressed. This anecdote reminded me of an episode of The Big Bang Theory. I decided to mix our interview clips with The Big Bang Theory moments into this following short clip. 


Later, I decided to look into literature about designing a record button. I found a paper by McKnight and Read on using children's understanding of icons in designing an interface. 

Any insights? 

Napkins in A Box: Where should the fold go

Napkins seems to have two sides that appear different, one with the fold and the other without. The side of napkins put into the napkin box actually matters to the experience! 

Let me know which side you'd like the napkins to be facing when you want to pull one (or more) out.

Good Time with the Tech Support Team

I enjoy communicating with support teams. During the communication, I practice communication skills: asking a question, explaining a question, testing solves, and more.

If we can't fix something on the spot, I'll keep exploring the problem, and then RETURN to the support team and tell them about what I found out. 

The support team at Squarespace is the best!

Text Color vs. Highlight Color on Google Docs

I spend a lot of time on Google Docs everyday. One thing that I stumble upon a lot is that when I am I on the color-editing panel, I constantly hesitate and spend time thinking about if I am on the text color mode or the highlight mode. A lot of times, I still did the opposite things after serious thinking.

E.g., I ended up turning texts into something like


I started to wonder if this happen to other users too. I tested with several friends with this picture, but they seem to respond ok with this indicating that they are on the text editing mode. ( <-- maybe I should conduct better user-testing here, by observation, not through a survey).

So here is the current view:



Below is a quick prototype from me:

first prototype

Also, how about INSTANT FEEDBACK ? Something like, as the mouse hovers over the color palette, maybe the screen could show the change?