Experts vs. non-experts/pseudo-experts

When people saw MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) reshaping the landscape of higher education, they mainly talked about technology. Cathy Davidson, a scholar and author of The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux, on the other hand, saw human interactions in MOOC.

When people were talking about Airbnb and Uber, they said these companies are leading a sharing economy. Rachel Botsman, a scholar and author of Who Can You Trust, recognized they change something more fundamental—how we trust each other.

This is what experts do. When non-experts or pseudo-experts see what’s presented on the surface, experts lift up the cover and look for the crux of the matter.


(Image credit: CC0)



“Learning is social”


Cathy Davidson, who was invited to the campus to talk about higher education, said it was a great experience to run a MOOC course with the enrollment of ~18,000 students from all over the world. She also mentioned that her teaching assistants were exhausted from communicating with students 24/7. “Learning is social and interactive,” she added.

Acquisition of information could happen in solitary, but learning requires interactions for two reasons. First, in order to explain something to somebody, the speaker needs to break the information into bite-size pieces, fill any missing links between concepts, come up with analogies, make a story line, etc. These active mental engagement, largely overlooked in education for a long time, is what converts information to knowledge. Second, having a listener means that somebody cares about you—your understanding, thoughts or opinions on something. It’s an implicit, simple but warm gesture that makes your learning relevant and, more importantly, fun.

An effective teacher evokes an image of an eloquent speaker whose clear explanation, charisma and charm overflow from the stage and grab students’ attention. Nonetheless, in light of the importance of human interaction in learning, I wonder if that image may not be correct. As a professor, I should perhaps strive to be an active listener—someone who finds holes in students’ logic and/or asks smart questions that challenge the student to look at the information from different angles.


Image credit: “Listen” by Steven Shorrock is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Where to get honest answers


To a young poet who asked Rilke to evaluate his poems, Rilke responded:

“No one can advise or help you—no one… Ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? … Keep growing, silently and earnestly, through your whole development; you couldn’t disrupt it any more violently than by looking outside and waiting for outside answers to questions that only your innermost feeling, in your quietest hour, can perhaps answer” (11).

Letters to a Young Poet written by Rainer Maria Rilke and translated by Stephen Mitchell

Solitude is not the absence of the crowd, but the presence of yourself filling in the space left by the crowd.


(Image: CC0, credit Carlyn1982)


The magical power of old friends

Old friends have a magical power. When they are together, no matter how far they were apart in time and space before, they stretch out the ephemeral present moment to the point that now it can be loaded with years of past and future. Their past years had little overlap. So will their coming years. However, their separate paths enrich their friendship, rather than eroding it.

Maybe a good friendship is more like buttons than zippers. We don’t need to be together all the time to maintain a lifelong friendship; we just need to spend some time together here and there. While a missing tooth breaks a zipper, separate paths are inherent in a good friendship and they allow two friends to complement each other.

My middle school friend Haneul came to DC to visit me on October 10, 2017. I don’t even remember when we saw each other last time. Was it 2010? or 2011? I spent the whole Sunday with her and she transformed my ordinary Sunday into a very special day.

We often judge the quality of time by how much we accomplished during the time. Sometimes (or more often than you think), what matters is whom you spent that time with.


What a 20-hour-long flight entails

Having a 20-hour-long flight from Korea to DC means more than just changing the time zone and the language that I will use most of the time. It means changing my identity from a daughter to a professor. From the one who can be indecisive and whining to someone who should be on the top of her things and will be always on the alert for any mistakes/errors as they could affect the whole class and other colleagues.

Entering my office that had been dark for the past three months while I was having a once-in-a-life break in Korea, I stepped on a thank-you card left by one of my previous students.

“Professor Choi”

I picked up the card, read it and made a full transition with heightened self-confidence.

Yes, I’m back.



근자열 원자래

“공자는 인이란 ‘근자열 원자래’라고 합니다. 가까이 있는 사람이 기뻐하고 멀리 있는 사람이 찾아오는 것이 인이라고 했습니다” (p92, “담론” 신영복저).

어질다는 의미를 이렇게 간략하게, 마음에 와닿게 정의하다니. 신영복 선생님의 책 “담론”을 읽다가 내 눈이 위 문장의 끝에 머무는 순간, 그 감동은 입안에 들어온 사탕의 민트향이 몸에 사아~ 퍼지고 내 몸 밖으로 잔잔하게 번지는 그런 느낌이랄까?

“인(仁)”이라는 내면의 향기라는게 이런것인가보다. 강하지 않고 은은해서 곁에 더 있고 싶게 만들고, 강하지는 않아도 오래 남아 다시 찾아오게 하는. 처음엔 민트향처럼 느껴진 그 감동에 갑자기 무게가 실려 나를 짓누른다. 아… 너무나도 어려운, 도달하기 어려운 것이 인(仁)이구나.

좀 가벼워 지자 하는 마음에 목표를 수정해 본다. 근자열 원자래를 실천하지는 못해도, 이 은은한 향을 띈 사람을 알아보는 사람이 되자. 멀리 있는 사람을 찾아오게 하지는 못해도 내가 마음 준, 하지만 지금은 멀리 있는 이를 찾아가는 사람이 되자. 가까이 있는 이들이 맘 편하게 내 곁에서 쉴 수 있게 하지는 못해도, 타인이 보낸 배려에 밝게 웃으며 고마운 마음을 꼭 표현하는 사람이 되자.

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북 리뷰: 잠실동 사람들

“소설은 현실을 반영하는 것이 아니라 현실을 먹는다. 이를테면 거울이 아니라 위장이다. 이 점을 간과할 때 오해가 발생한다. 어떤 음식을 먹었는지 충실히 보여주는 위장이 좋은 위장이 아닌 것처럼, 당대적 현실의 세목들을 충실히 반영하고 있는 소설이 꼭 좋은 소설인 것은 아니다… 좋은 소설은 늘 현실보다 더 과잉이거나 결핍이고 더 느리거나 빠르다. 좋은 소설에는 ‘현실 자체’가 있는 것이 아니라 ‘현실과의 긴장’이 있다. 그래서 현실을 설명하는 2차 담론으로 완전히 환원되어 탕진되지 않는다. 그것이 소설의 깊이고, 그것이 소설의 ‘현실성’을 구성한다” (p24, “몰락의 에티카,” 신형철저).

IMG_2615“현실과의 긴장”을 기다렸는데 끝까지 “현실 자체”를 고수한 책, 잠실동 사람들. 너무 많이 들어 이제는 특별할 것 하나 없는 과열된 사교육과 학벌주의가 이 소설의 중심에 있다. 소설 안에는 감정이 고조되는 소용돌이도, 소설을 관통하는 큰 이야기 줄기도 없다. 없는 것은 그 뿐만이 아니다. 서로 얽혀있는, 아는 듯 알지 못하는 여러 캐릭터들이 등장해서 자기의 이야기를 늘어놓지만 그 중 어느 하나도 내가 마음을 주고 싶은 사람이 없다.

소설 마지막 챕터에 초등학생 지환이가 다친 비둘기를 집으로 데려온다. “겁에 질린 표정으로 자신을 쳐다보고 있는 한 어른 [과외 선생] 의 얼굴”을 쳐다보며 지환이는 “마치 자신이 커다란 어른이 되고 선생님이 작고 작은 어린아이가 된 느낌 (p438)”을 받는다. 지환이는 하나도 무서울 것 없는 것에 잔뜩 겁을 먹은 것이 어린아이라고 정의하나보다. 그래서 두려운게 없어지는게 어른이 되는 것이라 믿을지도 모른다. 그러나 지환이의 주변에는 하나같이 자신의 욕망을 채우지 못할까봐 안절부절 겁을 내는, 타인에게 보내는 따스한 한마디조차 자기방어에서 나오는 겁쟁이 어른들만 있다. 어쩌면 이 소설에서 다친 비둘기를 안았을 때 그 따스함에 우와!하고 탄성을 지른 지환이가 제일 어른일지도 모르겠다.