In one last interview with an old college peer, this episode sees another in-depth discussion about the educational experiences of one student growing up in Korea and Laos. Comparing various cultural encounters and expectations, we talk about competitiveness, Confucius, and communication modes. To finish off, we reflect on teaching and learning styles, and mention the themes and guests featured in the upcoming episodes.
Note: interview transcripts are AI-generated and may contain errors.
Hello, welcome back to the show. And as you may have seen, we've had some changes this passport. So instead of taking off on an edtech tangent, Today, I'll be putting on my white coat goggles and stepping into the learning experience lab. Hopefully this new title will capture more accurately what we're trying to do, which once again, is to bring together the stories and insights in education, and do some laboratory analysis of the common themes and takeaways. For those tuning in for the first time. My name is Dan Hasan and, and for the past year now I've been doing teacher Relations at feedback fruits who are making this podcast possible. In that one year, I've talked to hundreds of teachers, students and instructional designers around the world. This has meant collecting and showcasing the best practices of different course setups, giving workshops about integrating technology in the online classroom. And now with this podcast, gathering and sharing those stories in one place for anyone and everyone interested in teaching, learning and education. Over the past couple of weeks, I've spoken to guests in Vietnam, Bahrain, and Laos, continuing the theme of feedback cultures, which is to say, trying to find the similarities, differences and middle ground for the increasingly international classroom in higher education. It's important to stress that I'm expressing my own opinions in these conversations. And especially with these topics about culture and society, I sometimes make big generalizations. There's a lot I have to learn about the world. So sometimes my ignorance will show through. But after all, this podcast and life in general, it's a learning experience. So thanks for joining me as I grow and learn. And remember, your feedback is always more than welcome.
To get things underway, some details about today's featured guest and interview. I spoke with an old college pal Kevin, who studied with me in the Netherlands some years back. I asked Kevin if he wanted to come and share his experiences growing up in different educational environments. So I'll let him fill in the details and let you listen to our conversation, which follows now.
[Dan] So Kevin, could you tell me a little bit about yourself? First, your background: where you grew up? Where you went to school, these kinds of things? Let's get the broad strokes.
[Kevin] Yep. Hi. So my name is Kevin. I'm from Korea. I lived in Korea until I was nine years old. And then I moved to Laos, which is another country in Southeast Asia. And from there, I went to an international school until I graduated high school when I was 18. So for about nine years I spent in international education. And before that I was at a Korean primary school.
[Dan] And these kids in your International School, where were they mainly from?
[Kevin] Well, there was a whole, you know, variety, of course, but one of the biggest groups of foreigners in my school were Americans, Australians. And actually Koreans. Yeah, for quite a prominent group as well. But we also had some local, local students like law students. We also, you know, we had students from all over the world, the program that they have implemented, is the International Baccalaureate program. Very similar. Yeah. Which is very similar to the European baccalaureate. I think it stems from the same, same like organization, basically.
[Dan] Yeah. And before that, what was your schooling experience? Actually?
[Kevin] My schooling experience was quite normal. You know, very, it was the same as any other kid in Korea, I guess. I went to a public school near my house. And at that time, before I was into, before I went abroad, and all that, yeah, I was, I was in a very typical situation, as you know, as you might know, in Korea, the education, the education competition, and like the, the stakes are very high for education in Korea, where high school students are studying until 12 o'clock, and is quite a normal thing.
I guess for me, I did feel a little bit of that, because I guess it does start from an early age. I mean, I know that I was a student who wanted to excel. I wanted to do good, whether it was because of my parents or because I was the environment that I was in. But actually, to be honest, my parents were very, very open and very liberal about, about their, about what they thought about education.
[Dan] So they were actually what did they think actually?
[Kevin] Yeah, so actually, the interesting thing is my mom was never really on board with the whole Korean style of education, which is actually one of the reasons why we left because she was not happy with the way that education was happening in Korea. She wanted to deviate away from that more towards like international standards, I guess. Like, for example, most students like elementary, secondary high school students in Korea, they take extra courses in things such as math or English science, etc. My mom was quite against that she was against this, this whole idea of trying to learn ahead to gain this competitive edge. She felt it was unnatural to force your, you know, your children to, to learn these excess amounts from what the government has said, you know? And yeah, and they all it's I think it stems from this whole idea of over competitiveness, and she was not really on board.
[Dan] Can you talk about over-competitiveness, I recognize or I'm a little bit more familiar with. Yeah, East Asian style of working very hard is, of course, a cultural stereotype. But there's some truth to it. Where does it come from? What's it based on? Is it? Yeah, you've seen both ways. You've lived over here in the Netherlands for a bit. And seeing Yeah, you know, haven't had a comparison to the work ethic of people. I see Dutch people as very hard working, but it's impossible for me to picture them from a young age studying up every night every night for competition.
[Kevin] Yeah, exactly. I guess. Well, actually, the over competition, I feel it comes from a lot of factors. For example, the kind of social historical context of Korea is that Korea has always been a very densely populated place. It is. Yeah, it is somewhere where competition for you know, resources for the top places has always been high. And I think there's also this sense of the importance that people put as a society on education is very high. And I think that's also a cultural kind of, it stemmed from a cultural source, because, for example, in the in the teachings of Confucianism before Korea was a modern country. Yeah. Confucianism really puts value on education, it is one of the highest virtues that that a person can have. And I feel like that.
[Dan] Sorry, to interrupt how I say that. Yeah, with digital communication, that education is highly valued, but specifically, formal, institutional education. Because nowadays, kids can learn from YouTube videos from all kinds of TV from films, all kinds of things out, there's pop science. Yeah. It's not really the kind of education that's traditionally valued, didn't maybe even exist so much science and things in the times of contrived.
[Kevin] maybe not quite yet. But I think the other Yeah, the the other things that that, that these, that the importance of formal education comes into, is because those things are quite related to the types of jobs that you can get, if you get a good formal education. Okay. So for example, in the past when they say pre, pre industrial Korea, right, before the 1950s in Yeah, in those times, if you were, if you were a dedicated scholar, if you studied hard, you could be in the court of the king, for example. Yeah, that's like one of the highest status you can get as someone with a relatively normal, but high background, right. So I think it's just it does a transfer of that kind of idea into modern sense, which is, if you do good in school, you can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, or an engineer.
[Dan] Yeah, it is the same thing in Pakistan as well.
[Kevin] Well, I mean, in the in the case of Korea, for example, I feel that the Korea welfare system is is quite on par with Western countries, although that is, you know, still talking about relatively recent times, like the past 40 years or so. And, you know, so, so before that, and like, the, the, the context of that is a bit hard to tell for me, but I, but I do feel like if people, because traditionally in in Europe, there has been a better, you know, social welfare system in place, and people have fought hard for that. And, um, you know, one of the results of that, is that that people are given these visa free, or like guaranteed at least a certain standard of living and of education, things like that. Whereas in other countries, yeah, where I think Korea might not have been, yeah, I don't think people counted on the government to give their children the education. I think with a very personal, emotional kind of thing which come which stem from cultural kind of sentiments such as like the, the importance of education in Confucianism.
[Dan] Yeah, maybe we can talk a little bit more about your international school experience. Did it feel very, markedly noticeably different from what you're experiencing it? I mean, yes. Lower education. Or a world apart?
[Kevin] No, no, no. But like, Yeah, no, I mean, yeah. The, the, the switch from what out? You know, what, I, when I first came from Korea, to Laos, that was a completely different experience. You know, the, the classrooms were set up different. The, the, the, the subjects were, were not the same. The subjects were taught differently, of course. And, I mean, I do remember as a child, you know, as a child, I was thinking that when I got here, that I was finding the mathematics a bit easy, for example, and then, you know, I would have I would have that sense of pride to myself saying, Oh, yeah, look at me, I'm, I'm like, a head of like, my peers, you know, because clearly, the Asians are good at the math. You know, right. So, I mean, there are definitely so and, you know, this is def, obviously a personal experience. And you know, I can't I can't make a general generalization at that. Yeah. That that in Asia that the the study standards are higher, but there was definitely the sense of more relaxed, easygoing. Yeah, kind of sense. Whereas the teacher was not someone to be feared. It was someone who was like, just a bigger person who teaches you.
[Dan] Yeah, well, yeah, it's not especially in a little bit.
[Kevin] Yeah. I mean, you know, like, in, in, in Korea, I, I knew I, I didn't, yeah, I feared my teacher. I didn't, you know, there was not someone that I liked or could possibly consider other friend. Whereas when I came to, to Laos, and I had Western teachers, even though they were not my friends, but like, they were definitely more approachable. As an odd person. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
[Dan] And remarked recently, how shocking it was when I came to the Netherlands and discovered that you addressed your professors by their first name. I guess you also grew up in school saying, Mr. This Mrs. is that the other sorry, yeah, even an extra layer of passing ability, and being able to approach the professor on like a person to person basis here. And yeah, to come back to that thing, the relationship between you as a learner as a student, and the teacher or instructor, it really kind of resonates to me this, and I'm going to say, traditional East Asian education system where you have, like, the respect and the honor and the the admiration, admiration or whatever, like this unilateral distribution of power, it's coming down from the top, yes, the teacher is disseminating knowledge, you are learning, you are below the teacher in terms of knowing things. Here, it's really not necessarily the same. The modern educational approaches put the teacher less as an expert, and more as a coach, as the terminology we use is they're not there to tell you what to learn. They tell you that they'll tell you how to learn and where to look for resources, but you're doing the project, you're addressing the problem, problem based learning, and you're going through that path yourself that just add to kind of, you know, frequently asked questions. Ah yeah, in your international school, then like, what was the kind of teacher It was a more of an expert, more of a coach? What kind of differences Did you see?
[Kevin] I think they I think they really did fit the those kind of descriptions of like a modern western style teaching. They were very, yeah. They were always the kind of people who, who would support me, they were never the disciplinary type. Yeah. And I think are the school management really put an effort to do find like good teachers as well, which I really respect? Yeah, I think I think a coach is a is a really good way to put it because I forgot to discuss this a bit earlier, one of the biggest difference in in the in the method of teaching and learning between like east and west, is also this whole idea that in the east is more about acquiring the knowledge or just gaining the knowledge maybe in a more direct way. So there's a lot of memorisation had to walk.
[Dan] So you're talking about remembering and maybe understanding things do you mean compared to applying analyzing, evaluating things? Well, compared to like what you said, you know.
[Kevin] Maybe in the West, the teacher is someone who can tell you where the resources are for you to find the problem bias or moderate a discussion or or guide, you know, one of these sessions, I guess, I guess you could say that it's more student based is trying to incline the students to solve the problem at hand by themselves. Whereas in traditional Eastern style is more the teacher is giving almost inputting information into the students. And the fastest way is, or the most direct way is memorization, for example. And in those ways, you really see the difference in the methods.
[Dan] So there's two interesting models that we can refer to here. And one is related to the levels of learning, because there's something called the Bloom's taxonomy, which is kind of like a hierarchical way of looking at learning, where for learning anything about any knowledge domain, first, you've got to remember things, memorize things, then you start to understand them, then you'd be able to apply them to analyze them to evaluate them. And then finally, you can design and create your own knowledge within that domain. But it's based on fast remembering, which sounds like memorizing and wondering, yeah, do these different focuses on different parts of the taxonomy, do they translate to different outcomes, that's one thing. And the other is very much about models of communication. There's the transmission idea, and there's the transaction idea, and a million other ones, but transmission is, I'm telling you something, the information is coming from me to you, you're receiving it, I think, this communication model was developed in the post World War Two era in the US by the people who invented the telephone, or who manufacture telephones, because they were interested in how a signal gets from one device to another.
So a signal from a transceiver or what's it called? A transmitter, they keep transmitting the signal from the transmitter that does make sense to your recipient. And, you know, when we were all simple folks back in the 1950s, that was a very workable model for communication, it worked for the telephones, it worked for how we generally did things in all kinds of institutions. Now, however, we have a transaction model of communication, being more gaining more weight, and that's where I'm communicating with you. But your feedback to me is very important. Because that's telling me how you've received the message, what kind of noise and influences and psycho affective cognitive, personal, emotional things might get in the way, both from me how I'm how I'm encoding this message, and from you how you're interpreting this message.
And so your feedback, whether that's body language, whether that's you nodding like “Yes, I understand you understand this message”, or whether that's you kind of giving a very formal written response to an email or something. That feedback is now coming a bit more into emphasis. And the company I'm working at FeedbackFruits, is, of course, very interested in feedback in all kinds of ways. And that's definitely something that I want to talk to you about. How have you encountered feedback as part of your learning process in school?
[Dan] Yeah, so that's a very boring question. Please go ahead.
[Kevin] No, yeah, yeah, actually, you know, I did my homework, I prepared a little bit. You know, I was thinking about it last night.
[Dan] Typical Asia ha ha.
[Kevin] I know, I still keep it to the students. But yeah, so I think I have been very fortunate in that, in that I have been given great feedback. And in that way, I've also learned the importance of feedback. Yeah, I mean, in the hole in the, in the IB system, there, they're very all encompassing, you know, all encompassing and, and like they did, they do really put a lot of emphasis on things that are a bit outside the direct learning, such as reflecting, you know, after you have done something, you know, you think about what it what it did, and how you felt about it, etc. And also, the feedback when you when you do something, yeah. For someone else to, to tell, to give you. Yeah, to give your feedback, right. And, I mean, for me, my experience with feedback has been very positive. And it really taught me the importance of it, of critical feedback and not to take feedback as personally because that is also something that that really could happen. When you're at or when you're at, when you're younger, for example, especially if you're doing it among peers, it could get a little bit, you know, emotional or, you know, it could hurt you personally, if someone says, your essay is this and that, and then those are not positive things, then, you know, you could be heard. But I think there is definitely a learning process. And I've been fortunate enough to go through that learning process to really appreciate feedback.
[Dan] So I was gonna say, feedback cultures, the feedback you've had, growing up in society as well, on an institutional level, have you felt like you've been able to give feedback back to your instructors back to the institutions, or back back to your parents even? Let's talk about other aspects of it?
[Kevin] Well, actually, now that you say it, I don't know. I mean, I've always been given feedback. And you know, of course, I would give it to my peers. But outside of that kind of, you know, institution like education, being totally outside of the educational context. I'm not really sure if if I have that much experience with feedback, like, for example, if you say to with like institutions, do you mean like, voicing your concerns or goals, companies, officers, governments even now, what I mean here is that life is learning and learning is making mistakes.
[Dan] And if we have the opportunity to let people know what mistakes they've made, you know, in our opinions, or in our experiences at any one time, that helps us grow, that helps us realise the multitude of perspectives that go towards making a holistic and widely applicable learning experience. Or, or policy or, or rule, depending on what institution we're talking about.
[Kevin] Yeah, for sure. I guess. Yeah. feedback that, yeah, the whole activity of giving and getting feedback, I think, is a really critical aspect of critical thinking. You know, yeah. So yeah, in order for you to think critically, the thing is, yeah, the the other thing is to come back to this whole, taking feedback, personally, I think it is a it is also the the job of the the the person giving the feedback, that they are not attacking the other person, but that they are, you know, thinking critically and objectively about their work, trying to improve that person. So I think that's also a really important factor when it comes to giving feedback.
[Dan] And there's a nice way to frame this as well, that Yeah, Rowan was telling me when I interviewed him. And this is something he learned in a soft skills course, at his work. They said, when giving feedback to your employees, use the hamburger model, you have the meat of what you want to say - the criticism, but you got to “sandwich” it between two more parts. How I interpreted it, sandwich that criticism between two framing devices, which showed the person that you're conscious of the whole of their work, and not just a tiny piece, show them that you've understood the whole work, show them that you're not just trying to condescend or disparage them as a person or their work. And yeah, a framing and structuring. I think in learning activities, it's really crucial that we give some attention as to how we put that feedback, right?
[Kevin] Yeah, definitely. So that's a good way to put it - the hamburger method.
[Dan] Yeah. And it wasn't half an hour after it told me about this. When we were discussing someone else, having a casual conversation. And I told him something. Like I said, I understand what you're saying, and you need to phrase it differently. And I realized I just gone straight in with the meat and I hadn't put any bread on either side. There was no bar. And he responded to it great. Like, okay, sure. But there was this little moment where like, he felt, I felt like it was a bit taken aback with something. I thought, yeah, this is because I haven't used the hamburger bottle. I've just went straight in with the criticism. And it takes two milliseconds to say, I really liked what you just said. However, yeah, it's really interesting. Yeah, but exactly about this, you know, like, we're very sensitive creatures and etc. I know, right?
[Kevin] Yeah. It's just a little effort. But I do feel like a lot of people miss out on it. You know, it's, it's like these little things. Yes. It's also just, you know, something that that I can just notice in my, in personal life, you know, just just like, this whole, the whole idea of how do you say, taking concern for other people, you have phrasing your your, your words, you know, I mean, I feel. Look at it in a negative way, you could say is beating around the bush, but it's not just beating around the bush, it has a purpose. Yeah, there is, you know, there's intent to, to the extra to the layering to the hamburgers to the banana. Right. So, no. Yeah, I mean, definitely, it's just like, it's these little things that that, that people really should take. Think about more little things.
[Dan] On a similar note, do you know about mindfulness?
[Dan] Uh huh. In? Yeah, I don't know, in what context, it's not something that I know too much about. But I think that's, that's a form of self reflection and consciousness, understanding what's going on with your thoughts. But that's, I'm framing it now. Because I've become obsessed with the idea. But I'm framing it in terms of giving feedback to yourself self reflection. And mindfulness is something used by coaches, psychologists, people who are trying to coach growth. And I think that internal feedback process is also something that's coaching your own growth. This isn't like peer to peer or peer to instructor feedback. This is self to self feedback. Right? Yeah, that's, that's actually a really interesting point. But like you, you hear about these cases, where people like perfectionist, you know, people who are too hard of themselves. I just wonder what those like, those cases show about ourselves, our like, our capacity to self reflect and to self analyse, and to give feedback to oneself. Like, where does it work? Like for those perfectionists? Where do those high standards come from? And for people who don't have it, what, what are they lacking?
[Kevin] Hmm, again, I think, is very much down to the environment, professionals, who are very hard on themselves, maybe they've grown up without much with a lot of critical feedback in their life. Or maybe they haven't grown up with many other people's perspectives. So they've been having to set their own boundaries, and for some reason, for whatever reason that I will never understand. They've set them very high. And they're very self motivated, disciplined people. But it brings us to another point about the value of feedback that it gives you other perspectives, allows you to say, Okay, I thought I was doing great. I thought I was doing terribly. But five other people have said this thing. So maybe the wisdom of the crowd, the collective knowledge is telling us that it's another case than I thought. Yeah, that's also really yeah, definitely having more voices, definitely creates more power in it, and hearing it from someone else. I think like sometimes it's even nice to have like that detachment, that if you have someone from your personal circle, or like someone close to you, then you can always imagine that there could be some personal kind of bias. And getting rid of the bias is also a really important factor in giving feedback, giving good feedback.
Well, deepest thanks to Kevin for sharing his time and insights. I'm always interested in how I can bring these new perspectives and things I've learned over to the next guests and experiences in the show. And in the meantime, I'm going to try to find more precise terminology than Eastern versus Western traditional versus modern, because it seems that indeed, there is such a huge diversity of backgrounds and approaches within each culture. And these homogenous classifications can obscure more of the picture than they reveal sometimes. I'm particularly interested to learn more about the intersection between Confucianism ideals and post industrial societies as related to learning. And I hope some of our listeners might be able to point me to some materials on that form.
A quick overview of what's on the menu for the coming weeks. I also spoke to Dr. Hasan Kadhem, computer science professor of the American University of Bahrain, and Ms.Thanh Phung, a postdoctoral research fellow and lecturer of languages. Stay tuned for the next episode for those interviews. And with these conversations, we're going to broach the teacher's perspective on the role of feedback in course design, and in general, the sorts of outcomes of different classroom assignments, and what makes a good teacher after all. in upcoming episodes, we're also going to look more at the technology side of learning and education, discussing the potential benefits and concerns regarding AI in the classroom, the role of technology in online learning, the implications of good user interface design in digital learning environments, and some suggestions for how teachers and students can get the most out of those online classes. Thanks for listening. And don't forget, you can find more about these topics by looking up FeedbackFruits on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I'm also excited to tell you that the learning experience lab is now on Spotify, Google podcasts, Anchor, Breaker, pocket casts and radio public and of course, SoundCloud, who will continue to host the show. Find the links below and don't hesitate.
To get in touch with any comments, queries or questions. After all, the Learning Experience Lab is also a learning experience for us. Until next time!
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Dan is an (almost) graduate of science communication and education who lives for learning. For a year he has been investigating course design case studies around the world and is now trying his hand at this new format of gathering and sharing insights and ideas.
Guest - Kevin Nam
Kevin is a sociology graduate and junior consultant. He has been schooled in his home country of Korea, as well as in Laos and the Netherlands. He currently works for a development firm, researching and reporting, in Laos.