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What's all the fuss about SSCI?: The Pros and Cons of Using SSCI as a Benchmark of Productivity in Taiwan.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Any "I" Monsters Hiding Under Your Bed?
When I was in Taiwan last month, I gave a talk to folks at a seminar for the National Science Council (NRC) Research. My talk was titled, “A Mixed Methods Look at Self-Directed Online Learning: MOOCs, Open Education, and Beyond” (Note: I gave 13 talks when in Taiwan over a 2 week span.) The event was held at National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei. NTU is the top university in Taiwan. It was my second time speaking there; the first was in July 2005. It is a very lovely university to visit and on my recommended list of places to visit when in Taiwan.
My good friend, Dr. Hsiu-Ping Yueh invited me to speak at this event. She wanted me to talk about my research on MOOCs and open education. She noted that many in attendance would also be interested in hearing my views about SSCI (Social Science Citation Index). I said sure and remembered that people in Taiwan (as well as China and Korea) tend to use SSCI for promotion and tenure as well as bonuses and other academic distinctions. It seems that universities in East Asia increasingly utilize SSCI as a means of denoting status and success. They seek to increase their university rankings and see SSCI publications as a key means for accomplishing it. So I decided to allocate part of my talk to: “The Pros and Cons of Using SSCI (Social Science Citation Index) in Taiwan.” There definitely was much interest in this talk and topic. Still, I had to remind myself that I had only an hour scheduled for my keynote talk on “MOOCs and open education” and Q&A and other my notes on SSCI. One hour…that was it. When I was done with my keynote, there were about 5-10 minutes that remained for me to discuss my ideas about SSCI.
I did the best that I could. Before arriving at NTU, I interviewed people whom I met during the previous week in Taipei, Kaohsiung, and Hsinchu for their views on the intense focus on SSCI in Taiwan and East Asia. I talked to graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, faculty members (both new professors as well as senior ones), researchers, academic staff, faculty spouses, and others. Quite a few people were quite willing to tell me what was on their mind. I took notes and read from a summary of those notes for those final 5 or 10 minutes of my talk when at NTU.
This was not as easy as it sounds. Most of my notes were chicken scratch since my handwriting is terrible. Fortunately, I had 90 minutes on the bullet train that morning when coming up from Kaohsiung in the south to read and reread through these notes. During this time, I rewrote some of these ideas and reorganized my list. (Note that I brought these notes back home with me and they sat on my desk at home for over a month now. In fact, I am using them for this blog post and pro and con lists below.)

I should also mention that the talk was well received. Many people in the audience came up after it to agree with or add to several points I made. Some wanted to simply chat about SSCI in general. Several others sent me positive email comments later that day or week. One person later pointed out that the "I" monster in Taiwan not only includes SSCI but also SCI (Science Citation Index) and A&HCI (i.e., Arts & Humanities Citation Index). This individual thought that there were huge losses from playing the "I" game. In particular, this person stated that this three-headed "I" monster or beast "has totally slayed Taiwan's merit and value system for Taiwanese scholars and professors." He/she also argued that the higher education system in Taiwan has definitely not benefitted one ounce from such a system. In fact, just the opposite has happened from his/her perspective. As this person put it:

“Some universities even have adopted an “I” point system, i.e., the promotion and merit of a professor are based on the number of points accumulated by publishing a certain number of “I” articles. One very “strange” requirement in Taiwan’s academia is that a doctoral student is not able to graduate without accumulating enough “I” points. Some public universities even set a certain number of “I” publications or points as their main Ph.D. candidacy requirement. In this way, the doctoral students in Taiwan, in effect, become “I” slaves, working for their “I” professors. Similarly, there are some public universities which accordingly entitle “distinguished” or “chair” professors with salary raises using the tax payer’s money based on “I” points.”

By the way, when I was in Taiwan last month, I was told by several senior professors who were not participating in the “I” club that the higher education system in Taiwan has become an “I” system. This “I” system has been breeding more and more “I” monsters that need to be slaughtered. Instead, it is the 160 or so universities located on that small “I”sland that are being strangled. Remember those scare tactics in “Monster University.” That was funny…but, as I found out, this situation is not.
I am willing to bet that my colleagues in Korea and China might have similar remarks about all their "I" (SSCI, SCI, and A&HCI) monsters hiding under their beds and in their closets.

As you will see, during my brief talk, I mentioned 12 pros and 27 cons of the use of SSCI publications (and SCI and A&HCI ones) as a measure of researcher productivity in Taiwan. Keep in mind as you peruse the list below that I am not an SSCI expert nor do I ever plan to be. Nevertheless, many of my current and former students like to publish in SSCI journals in my field (e.g., The Internet and Higher Education, Educational Technology Research and Development (ETR&D), Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Computers and Education: An International Journal, Journal of Educational Technology and Society, the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET), Interactive Learning Environments, etc.). I am sure that I am forgetting a few really popular ones. The SSCI list is searchable. So is my list of educational technology and e-learning journals and magazines.

As I mentioned, the points listed below come from a short speech made at the end of a keynote talk to researchers attending a special event at NTU. They are not intended to be the final word on this topic. Also remember that I was speaking in Taiwan. Hence, the pros and cons listed below are filled with context based on being in Taiwan. Along those same lines, many of these points will relate solely to Taiwan and may not pertain to your country, institution, or situation. Finally, I should point out that I have many SSCI publications but do not target such journals. Typically, my co-authors or colleagues want or seek out such journals, not me.

First I will list the Pros:
1.      Goals/Target: Using SSCI as the ultimate goal for publications provides a focus or a target on which to strive.
2.      Common Lingo: SSCI is a recognized and commonly understood criterion or measure of excellence.
3.      Measure/Benchmark: Using SSCI journals as a measure of excellence provides a benchmark of performance for monthly, quarterly, or annual performance reports and other reviews.
4.      Accomplishments: With measurement comes high and low scores or ratings. Once established, scholarly accomplishments can be analyzed, compared, and celebrated.
5.      International Comparisons: The research in Taiwan can be compared to that in other countries or locales. There might be annual comparison reports by region, province, state, or country.
6.      Sense of Pride or Identity: Individual researchers as well as specific organizations and institutions or entire countries can take pride in being at or near the top in SSCI rankings within a specific field or discipline or across fields and disciplines. Many or most individuals who are recognized will undoubtedly feel an emotional uplift or sense of pride from some posted accomplishments and recognitions from others.
7.      Boost Journal Quality: The stiff competition from the emphasis on SSCI publications will likely reduce the published acceptance rates of higher ranked journals, and, hence, most likely have a positive impact on journal quality (albeit as determined by those doing the SSCI rankings and ratings).
8.      Higher Level Articles: Related to the point above, in general, researchers will be forced (or encouraged) to write higher level articles. This point will not hold for all journals or articles, but overall, there should be a noticeable difference in journal article quality as a result of stiff competition to get published in an SSCI journal.
9.      Community of Scholars: Using SSCI as a standard or benchmark encourages a community of scholars to form who focus on such journals. They will discuss publication options, guidelines, experiences, changes, and perceived future trends. In effect, a group of people will bond together as a means of helping each other reach such goals (especially for oneself or one’s research team or department).
10.  Research Status or Prominence: Taiwan (and any other country which successfully increases its rankings in SSCI or similar journals) will elevate its international status, at least from a scholarly or academic perspective.
11.  Impact Factor: With the focus and reporting of SSCI publications will come increasing interest in impact reports and other impact measures or factors. As such, researchers and scholars as well as their respective institutions and organizations will more quickly become cognizant of the impact of individual articles as well as average impact rankings of their departments and programs.
12.  Stricter Review Process: Articles will be subjected to more rigorous standards than many journals now employ. Such firmer or more stringent review processes may not be observed across all journals, but overall there will be stronger standards in place.

Now I list the Cons:
1.      Research Publication takes Priority over Value Creation: Several people mentioned that with the focus on SSCI, researchers and scholars will be pushing out publications without much reflection on the true impact of each article or whether they are making a difference in the real world.
2.      Research-Practice Gap: Similar to the first point above, many people whom I spoke with noted that the gap between research and practice widens with this concentration on SSCI publications. Researchers must try to conduct research and publish as much as possible in such journals. As a result, there is a sense that they care little for the implementation of their research findings and ideas. And the gap continues to widen between researchers and practitioners with each passing day, month, and year. Is there any hope Obi Wan Kenobe?

3.      Publications Skewed toward those with Technology Backgrounds: Some people will publish in journals that they never considered before simply because they can. For instance, those with computer science backgrounds will find some of the educational technology journals are ideal research outlets to describe their newly designed cool tool, simulation, online resource, or similar, even though they are not committed to the field of educational technology or have any previous interests in it. 

4.      Greed Factor: Some researchers and scholars will attempt to publish in SSCI journals primarily with the goal of a pay-off such as a bonus check at the end of the year or a salary increase. In places like Korea, I heard that faculty can received a bonus of $4,000 or $5,000 or more for each SSCI publication. I had four such SSCI publications one year and received no such bonus. Hey man, what gives?
5.      Values Messed Up: People covet the journal publication process and celebrate it, rather than the research that led to it or the actual results or the ways in which such research is actually used.
6.      Easy Journal Syndrome: People seek out the easiest SSCI journals to publish in. Several people in Taiwan told me to notice that there is a educational technology journal from Turkey that is no longer SSCI or acceptable in the "I" lists maintained in Taiwan (I think they meant the Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology (TOJET), not the Turkish Journal of Online Distance Education (TOJDE)). Apparently, people caught wind of how a particular journal had accepted more articles than some of the other SSCI journals in the field of educational technology and it was removed from the list. Before its removal, many people from Taiwan had targeted it. 

7.      Distinguished Title Goals: Some people attempt to publish as many articles in SSCI journals as they can in hopes of more pay, better titles, internal promotion, a different job, higher status, respect, etc., rather than genuinely attempting to make a contribution to a field or push it ahead. In effect, many people wind up scamming the system for personal goals.

8.      Limited Journal Selection: Many up-and-coming journals are not on the SSCI list. To make matters worse, it is increasingly difficult for new journals to get listed when everyone is concentrating on a select few journals. I mention this as a problem since many high quality journals are not found in SSCI lists.

9.      Traditions Lead to More Traditions: As related to the previous point, the older and traditional journals in the field tend to dominate the submission process and ultimately the rankings. Yet, the narrow or established publication topics accepted by traditional journals may stagnate the field and limit creativity.

10.  Narrow Focus: If most researchers focus on publishing in a few highly select journals or dissemination outlets, the entire field may become narrowly focused on what is acceptable in those select journals. Research on the edges or periphery of a field may get shortchanged or not noticed at all.

11.  Editorial Board Dominance: As a result of such SSCI journal targeting, certain journals end up with editorial boards with heavy representation from East Asia, and, in particular, Taiwan. One of the people I interviewed specifically mentioned the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET) as a case in point. (Sidenote: I reviewed the editor and reviewer list for BJET and saw some representation from Taiwan but not dominance. Nevertheless, I think the person who mentioned this issue has a point worth mentioning here.) 

12.  English Dominance: SSCI journals tend to be published in English. Some people whom I interviewed in Taiwan told me that they felt that Chinese people (and others who do not speak English) were being slighted by such practices. 

13.  Narrow-minded Recruitment Practices: Some people noted that there are limited job opportunities for those who do not play the SSCI game as well as for those who do and are not successful at it.
14.  SSCI is Corporate: A couple of people pointed out that SSCI is created by an institute made up of library science people. It is now a corporation. It is made available from Thompson Reuters through a subscription service from the Web of Science (see also this video on Intellectual Property  and Science at Thompson Reuters). Why are people in academia bowing to statistics created by a corporate entity which makes money from such homage?

15.  Impact Factor Ranking Manipulations: I am on the board of a couple of journals which are currently on the approved SSCI list. I have heard through the grapevine that SSCI rankings can be manipulated by the publisher. They can use marketing tactics to bring attention (eyeballs) to their journals, and, hence, increase their deemed value. I am not sure if this is true, but I would not doubt it either.
16.  Creativity and Spontaneity Limited: Innovation and insight often occur at the far edges of a field or at the intersections of two or more fields or topics. When researchers become enamored with publications in particular journals that have a long-standing reputation in the field, creative bursts of insight are less likely to occur. Less zeal. And, as noted below, there tends to be far less passion and true volition than if there weren’t such targets.

17.  Lack of Passion and Interest: As noted in the point above, with the emphasis on SSCI or other similar indexes of achievement, there is less sense of true passion for the field or topic. One may really lack true interest in or concern for the topic being researched. When that happens, what is one living or working for? What is their true aim in life? Just who are they benefitting?

18.  Elitism Reigns: Not on the list? Well, now, that makes you unimportant and inferior. You do not deserve a second look. We will not discuss you, approach you, review for you, celebrate you, or recommend you. We will also not embrace or hug you when you publish a slew of articles in non-SSCI journals. No one will care whether you live or die. Go away for all we care. Yes, we’d be better off if you simply died a quick death. Nothing slow, mind you. Be gone!

19.  Rats in a Cage: We are just rats in a cage seeking the next pellet. You must do this. And then you should do this. And this and this and this! And then you have to do “that” while you’re at it. We will give you the target or targets. Do not fret about them; they are out of your control anyway. We will decide if you made it to the Promised Land or not. Oh my…all this sounds like the TV show “The Outer Limits") controlling the horizontal and vertical on your TV set in the 1960s (more specifically from September 16, 1963 to January 16, 1965).

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to – The Outer Limits.
We will throw all of you rats in the same cage and see which one of you spins the fastest or can coerce enough reviewers to accept your articles. Those that do, will win. Plain and simple.

As I told people at NTU, it is highly unfortunate that after spending decades in primary, secondary, and post-secondary education, that many scholars remain treated as rats in a cage. People are controlling us. They would control all that we do if we let. Perhaps we have truly hit “the Outer Limits” of what we should expect scholars and researchers to do. Perhaps it is time to rebel against those who impose these (“silly”?) SSCI systems upon us. Do not allow others to control your horizontal or vertical image. Please do not sit quietly and let others control what you see and hear and do. 

20.  Industrial or Factory Model: The emphasis on SSCI as the benchmark for decision making about one’s productivity or overall worth is reminiscent of a factory model of education. Someone outside the discipline decides on the end state (i.e., publications in SSCI journals). The government and administrators are favoring one form of scholarship over others. And, as a result, people continue to work for an external or extrinsic goal instead of something that meets their true inner passions or volitions. When will there be freedom to learn, as Carl Rogers once implored? Freedom to explore new areas of interest. Freedom to venture into the unknown. Freedom to choose what to research and where to publish our findings. Freedom to free from the constraints placed on us from those in positions above. Freedom to be human.

21.  I feel strange”: During my first few days in Taiwan, I asked a former Indiana University student who recently received a researcher position in Taiwan what he thought about the emphasis on SSCI and the overall merit system in place in Taiwan. His response was the following, “I feel strange.” Why does he feel strange? Well, I guess he just finished years working on his Ph.D. in pure mathematics. There were many hoops and hurdles to climb or jump through. There indeed was much celebration and fanfare in the end. There was so much to be proud of. But now there are many more hoops. Vastly more hurdles than he ever dreamed of. It is another game that has been established. His identity will come from publications in a few select journals and perhaps his grant writing, but not much more. Undoubtedly, such a situation would feel strange to me too.
22.  Journal Editors Feel Strange: Of course, researchers and scholars are not the only ones feeling this sense of strangeness. According to a couple people who I talked to, there are others besides the professors and researchers attempting to publish in SSCI journals who feel strange too. The people that I talked to thought that journal editors who are being sent a never-ending supply of manuscripts from researchers in Taiwan, Korea, and China must feel that it is at least a tad odd or weird when they scan their manuscript in-box. Do they attempt to balance publications in their journal by country or region of the world in which the authors are from? Or do they simply select the highest ranked papers for the next issue? Might they try to use some combination of both? Or do they have a different approach?
23.  Productivity Slaves: Some researchers and scholars find ways to take advantage of having graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and others around them or in their research teams. These knowledge workers might play a significant role in collecting research data as well as writing up or editing papers for SSCI journals. In effect, some scholars have extra money from grants that others do not have access to and can take advantage of it for a never-ending cycle of SSCI publications and rewards.

(By the way, according to one of my sources, “The NSC announced last year that they would not use “I” as the main indicator for reviewing research proposals. They are working on a more balanced review process, not solely relying on RPI (Research Performance Index), also based on “I” points. Even so, this is something that Taiwan government always does – “give you a pain killer when you have a pain.” They always prescribe medicine without looking into the root of the pain. Even worse, their prescriptions often aggregate the pain without curing the root cause of it…As a result, the government has lost its credibility. This is partially due to the fact that the raging “I” monsters have spread on this small “I”sland wildly. I really doubt what they can do to rectify the “I” system so deeply rooted in academia.”
Well said, my friend. During the next few years, we will see if this monster is truly going away or not. It may take time. Much time!
24.  Student Issues: Given the massive attention paid to SSCI journal publications, to what degree does this focus shortchange students? Are learner needs being met? Does research take more precedence over teaching high quality courses or internal and external service? Just what is ignored or attended to less frequently with the massive infatuation with SSCI?
25.  Limited Teaching Exposure and Experience: Some people noted that due to the enamoration with on SSCI journal publications, graduate students are often conducting and writing up research. There are less and less graduate students who are obtaining teaching experience prior to completing their doctorates.

26.  SSCI Preparedness Training Programs: According to some of my sources, there are summer workshops on how to succeed in publishing in SSCI journals. Question abound. Who are these people providing such workshops? If one can get training for such publications, why don’t universities provide such workshops for all of their faculty members and researchers? Someone I talked to asked whether there was a money back guarantee if one does not succeed. Good question. I will add the following to her question: If one can be trained in a few days to publish in such journals, should we continue to hold such journals in high esteem? I think not.
27.  Personal Growth and Development: When external targets are created, one’s sense of self is inherently devalued. There is less focus on personal growth and self-development. But what is more important: personal growth and self-actualization or meeting some externally contrived goal or outcome? I would hope it is the former. No one is going to write on one’s gravestone that this person got so many SSCI publications or grants during his or her lifetime. However, they may record the original or unique pieces of work actually produced by that person.
Ok, that concludes my 12 pros and 27 cons of the special weight placed on SSCI in East Asia; especially in Taiwan. See what you think and remember that I am not an SSCI expert. There are likely thousands of other people around the planet (especially in East Asia) who are much more prepared to discuss this topic than me. And also remember that I have had many SSCI publications in the past as a result of people I am working targeting such journals.
I personally do not care if my articles find their way in SSCI journals. I get no bonuses or rewards for such. Though I would not turn down a bonus check or two if one were to come my way. Let’s see, 4 SSCI publications in 2009 worth $5,000 each in Korea. That would be…hum…$20,000 for spending money during Christmas holidays. I’ll take it! Na, I will let someone from Taiwan have a crack at it instead.
Are you going to bed now? I am. If you are, remember to check for those "I" monsters hiding under your bed or in your closet. Also remember to list those SSCI, A&HCI, and SCI journal publications in your Christmas wish list. Will they be better than visions of sugar-plums dancing in your heads? I think not. Now, dash away! Dash away! Dash away all you who create these fictional goals for us!

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  posted by Curt Bonk @ 11:19 PM   4 comments
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Ten "F"antastic Takeaways from TravelinEdMan's Taiwan Trip
Monday, December 09, 2013
After going to Japan in September and early October for slightly over two weeks, I had a little over a month back in the USA before taking off for Asia again. This time the destination was Taiwan. It was my third trip there but first time in nearly seven years. In between trips, I was at conferences in Las Vegas (E-Learn 2013), San Antonio (a safety and health conference), and Anaheim (AECT 2013).

I departed for Taiwan on Wednesday November 6th and returned on Wednesday November 20th. During my time there, I visited with dozens of friends and former students. First I was in Hsinchu for a couple of days, then Taipei for a night and two days, followed by Kaohsiung for about a week, and then back to Taipei again at the end of the trip for 4 nights. A recent graduate of my program, Dr. Feng-Ru Sheu, organized the Kaohsiung segment as well as the entire trip. She is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at National Sun Yat-Sen University (NSYSU) in Kaohsiung. Much of her research at NSYSU, which I discuss at the bottom of this post, is on gesture-based learning.
Feng-ru is not the only one who helped plan my trip. Many others like Feng-kwei Wang (Chinese Cultural University), John Li (University of Taipei), and Chun-Yi Lin and Chien-han Chen (the latter two are from Tamkang University) did much to make my Taipei experiences highly eventful and fun. Hsiu-Ping Yueh from National Taiwan University (NTU) also provided a ton of support at the end of my trip when I was a visiting scholar at NTU. And former IU language education doctoral students of mine, Mei-Ya Liang and Ching-Fen Chang, came through in the clutch when visiting the HERO center (Research Center of Higher Educational Resources for Openness) at National Chiao Tung University (NCTU). Former IU doctoral student, Professor Chien Chou was also quite helpful. At the time, the center director of HERO was in China on site visits and his assistant had just contacted the mumps and was being quarantined. Thanks to Mei-Ya and Ching-Fen, I had a great time in Hsinchu. Not sure if I was a HERO or not but they made me feel like one. Some pics from NCTU are below. You can see all the IU alums who showed up for my talk. So great to see them. it gave me energy after my long flight the night before.

(A few pictures above and below from the National Chiao Tung University (NCTU) in Hsinchu.)

(Six former IST and Language Education students from IU came to the opening talks; plus one former visiting scholar at IU who I first met in graduate school, oh so long ago.)

It was so great to have all of the support from the people above and dozens of others along the way. I think I paid for only one or two meals during the 2 weeks that I was there. And Feng-Ru made sure that many other expenses were taken care of along the way. Thanks Feng-Ru!

Here are ten things that I learned when in Taiwan. Note that they that all start with the letter “F.”

1.       Fine Food and Fabulous Views: The food in Taiwan is exquisite. Given that the country was previously occupied by the Dutch, Japanese, and Chinese, the extensive selection of restaurants to choose from is not too surprising. I ate a never-ending assortment of Chinese food my second night in Hsinshu (the food kept coming and coming), delicious Italian food as well as scrumptious Catanese dim sum in Kaohsiung for two of my lunches, and exquisite traditional Japanese food in Taipei my last night before heading home. My first night in Taipei I had a lovely buffet style dinner with more than a dozen former students of mine and some of their families at the Howard Hotel inTaipei. Breakfast later in the trip at the Howard was also quite tasty. I love staying at the Howard! I also stayed at Just Sleep on the edge of the NTU campus and in the "bustling Gongguan business district" for a night and would recommend that place as well. Sorta funky. it is affiliated with NTU.
(We heard many great stories about IU and the IST department back in the old days (1980s and 1990s) from Professor Chi-Syan Lin from National University of Tainan and later from Professor Albert Wang of National Taiwan Normal University.)


(It was splendid to start the trip off seeing so many friends and former students the first few days and nights.)

And then there were the fabulous views while eating. In Kaohsiung, I had a lovely panoramic view of the city at night from a restaurant near the top of the 85 Sky Tower Hotel building (as the name implies, this building has 85 floors). Actually, I was on the 77th floor eating at the Chao-Jiang Cuisine restaurant. Later in the week, I had a view of the harbor from the former British Consulate built in 1865 atop of a small mountain when on an early morning jog not far from my hotel. My new friends, Ken and Johnny from NSYSU took me back there for lunch that day. However, we did not stay long since the menu did not have a good seafood or vegetarian selection at this historic site. So onward we Ken drove us to the dim sum place mentioned above. The dim sum restaurant was the top floor of an upscale shopping complex also near downtown in Kaohsiung. The daytime view was spectacular. After lunch, the display of wooden Buddha’s for sale on the floor below caught my attention. Some of it was carved from wood thousands of years old. Oh my, I did not want to leave! The price (around $30,000 for a single piece) would not matter since I would not be buying any. But I kept looking and apparently people are buying it.

(View from the dim sum restaurant in Kaohsiung is above.)

Kaohsiung is not the only place for a view. In Taipei, my former student Yi-Fei Chen and I had yummy scoops of ice cream near the top of Taipei 101 (formerly the world’s tallest building; now #2). While not Häagen-Dazs, as with Japan back in September, there was plenty of Häagen-Dazs ice and other cream to be found between meals at other places. But if you go to Taiwan, definitely go to the observation deck at Taipei 101. It is worth the small price of admission. It looks like a giant green pagoda from the outside.The record setting speedy elevator ride is worth the experience alone. Wikipedia has more details.

(Views from the observation level of Taipei 101. I must see!)

(This Italian restaurant is so good we ate there twice in the same day. And not just because Yi-Fei knows the really is that good. Now what was the name? Here it is: Trattoria Italiana.)

(Yep, we came back a second time. The cook was surprised to see us. Yi-Fei was a master's student in my program back in the mid 1990s. Has it been that long? Yep. Her most recent job was translating Buddhist books to Chinese. She had just returned from a stay at a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal.)

2.       Fast Trains: The bullet train from Kaohsiung in the south to Taipei in the north takes about 90 minutes. It is fast and smooth at 345 km/h (214 miles/hour). Good thing. I had to go to a wedding reception of a former student on Friday night November 15th in Kaohsiung and then give a keynote speech the following morning (November 16th) at a conference for members of the National Science Council (NSC) held at National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei. I got up at 4:45 am to make it happen. But it was a highly enjoyable train ride. I love riding the train. Get a ticket on the high speed rail in Taiwan and you will not be disappointed, other than the event goes by too quickly. (A couple of pictures from the wedding reception of Theresa  Chen and Henry Lui are below.)

(All three people with me are IU graduates. Two are former students of mine--Theresa and Maggie. I think Henry got his degree in economics. He and Theresa met on the IU campus at Tulip Tree apartments. We are making the IU sign.)

(Thanks to high-speed rail in Taiwan, I made it from that Friday night Wedding reception in Kaohsiung to the National Research Council (NRC) seminar keynote the following morning in Taipei.)


(Speaking at the NRC meeting was easier since a few of my former students were in attendance including Jia-ling Lee and Wan-shiu Hsu. Wan-shiu's husband helped arrange my talks at Tamkang University. I spoke at Jia-ling's university last time--Shih-Hsin University.)


3.       Familiar Faces of Friends and Former Students: It was a blast to see my former students from the 1990s, 2000s, and more recent times. Even a couple of graduates of my program whom I had never met before, such as Professor Clarence Chu from NTU; Professor Albert C. (Chien-Hua) Wang, National Taiwan Normal University, and Professor Chi-Syan Lin, Department of Information and Learning Technology, National University of Tainan. I should point out that my program had many more master’s and doctoral students from Taiwan in the early 1990s when I started than it does today. Today, many stay in Taiwan for their graduate educations. Fortunately, the old timers remember me. Many of them shuffled me off from place-to-place. They made sure that I was fed, got on trains at the right times, and that my days were not only filled with speaking but also included time to see various temples, museums, and exhibits. They also booked me into some great hotels and resorts. (Pictures with Clarence Chu at my final dinner in Taiwan with people from NTU are below.)

(Dr. Clarence Chu from NTU, a graduate of my program before I arrived, is above and below. We ate a traditional Japanese restaurant in a very unique part of Taipei with heavy Japanese influence.)

(My old friend Dr. Hsiu-Ping Yueh (below) from NTU helped organize much of my final days in Taiwan. She is in charge of much that is happening with e-learning on that campus or at least in one key building.)

(Go IU!...with Clarence and my old friend and former student, Dr. John Li.)

Many other friends and colleagues appeared during the two weeks that I was in Taiwan. In fact, a colleague of mine from grad school days at Wisconsin in the 1980s, Dr. Tina Huang, was there. If I start to name names, I will be leaving someone out…so I better not. Am I right, Chun-Yi, Feng-Ru, Maggie (Hsiao-chi), Meilun Shih, Kwan-Jun, Theresa (Tzu-Su) ) and her new husband Henry, Feng-Kwei, Hui-chen (Vicky) and her husband, Ching-Fen, Yi-Fei,  John (Kun-han) and his wife and brother, Jia-ling, Jalin, Chien Chou, Shu Ching Yang, Mei-Ya and her husband Kevin and daughter Michelle, Chien-han and his wife Wan-shui (both former students of mine from language education), Wan-lin, Chin Chi, Tina, Hsiu-ping, and Victor and his wife Naoko? Who did I forget? I also saw my friend Lucifer Chu and his wife Fay a couple of times. Everyone needs a Lucifer on his/her side. About a decade ago, Lucifer translated Lords of the Rings to Chinese and made a cool million. He used half of that money to translate MIT OpenCourseWare to traditional and simplified Chinese. He recently translated the Hobbit and is now is a celebrity in Taiwan with a weekly online show and a online t-shirt business.

(Former IST doctoral students who I had in class are below--Dr. John (Kun-han) Lee, Jalin Huang, and Kwan-Jun Tyan (Kyun-Jun has his own consulting business now. Above is a picture of the 4 of us plus John Li's friends and family including his wife and brother and sister-in-law who is a clinical psychiatrist.).

Of course, I made new friends like Johnny, Ken, Pei-Chen (Prof. Sun), Tracy, Sunny, Nian-Shing (NS; Prof. Chen), Wei-I (Prof Lee), Henry, Simon, and Chiao-Ling. So many people. Such great times with each of them. Thanks so much to all of you! I only missed seeing a couple of people; unfortunately, one of them was my old friend Ken Carroll, formerly of ChinesePod. Next time, Ken…next time. (A picture at the Howard Hotel Taipei with Lucifer Chu and his wife Fay is below. They joined me for the all-you-can-eat Sunday buffet.)

(Former IST doctoral student Dr. Feng-Kwei Wang and his colleague (boss I guess) Simon Lu welcomed me to Chinese Cultural University in downtown Taipei. Their main campus is north of Taipei on a mountain. I promise to go next time. I enjoyed my time immensely at this place and with these people.)

(I miss my dear friend Feng-Kwei. He took over a week or two of a high level doctoral seminar class I was teaching in the 1990s when I was at a conference. He was the former president of the Chinese student association here at Indiana University.)

(Below is only a portion of the room to the right. I had up to 5 screens behind me on which they could project my talk. I had two translators doing simultaneous translation. The room was 3 times the size shown here. And it was packed. Great questions asked to.)

(Simultaneously translation took place my talk at Chinese Cultural University using the equipment in this room. So cool!)

4.       Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center: If you get to Kaohsiung, it is near mandatory to see Fo Guang Shan Buddha Memorial Center built on 100 hectares of land. It houses the Buddha tooth relic that was presented to the Venerable Master Hsing Yun. Construction of the Buddha Memorial Center began in 2003 and was completed nine years later. In addition to the Front Hall entrance, there are eight Pagodas (4 on each side as you walk through) and a Main Hall followed by the humongous Fo Guang Big Buddha. And my, they do mean big! Some important items are locked away for 100 years. Believe it or not, there is a timer on the entrance to one of the vaults counting down the years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds until they plan to open it. I am not sure what is inside. Could it be the tooth relic? Who knows? None of us will be alive to see it open 97 years and 1 month from now. Still you can travel to Fo Guang Shan just to feel this magnificent place. The Fo Guang Shan Monastery next door to the memorial center is pretty spectacular as well. So many Buddha's, so little time.

(Blue skies come out of no where. Amazing.)

(Our tour guide Annie is above.)

(Johnny or I must have told a joke since Ken was laughing.)


(The clouds were dissipating in front of our eyes.)


(Time to go next door to the Fo Guang Shan monastery which is equally awesome! See pics below.)

(I am dreaming smiling Buddha's in my sleep. I had to stop and take a few pictures with my blue shirt juxtaposed against the white holy men.)


(As I stated above, they are counting down the years, months, days, minutes, and seconds before they open this vault. I only have to stand here for 97+ years. Humm, must be important. The first picture below is back in the Fo Guang Shan Memorial Center; most of the others are from the Fo Guang Shan Monastery next door.)

(So many Buddha's, so little time...)

(Unfortunately, it is time to leave this super-fantastic place.)

5.       Fun, Fun, Fun: Between the Maokong Gondola ride in Taipei to beautiful tea centers, listening to music at night at the Love River in Kaohsiung, visiting Taoist and Confucian temples and Hindu shrines, and going to the night markets in Kaohsiung or Taipei there is much to see and do. I also got to the famed Star Trek exhibition which is current in Kaohsiung. That was awesome.

(yes a crystal bottom you can see through...)

(Stunning views, even in cloudy days. The tea houses await...)

(Ken and Johnny took me to the Pier 2 Art Center when in Kaohsiung. First we had to find a bathroom. Pictures from the Star Trek exhibition are below; I got a few on the main deck of the Enterprise before I was warned not to use my camera there. Oops!)

(Scotty, I sure hope the transporter is working.)

(Warp 9, Mr. Sulu. Warp 9.)

(Battle stations...full alert. Full alert.)

(We walk out the Star Trek exhibit and see these guys below. Interesting place Kaohsiung.)

(See below for the Love River at night. The current mayor has cleaned it up.)

(I could listen to her voice and his saxophone playing all night.)

(These guys were pretty good too. It was happening down by the Love River that night.)

(Johnny and Ken, research assistants at NSYSU were assigned to be my tour guides for two days. Ken had to go to class the first night and my former student Feng-Ru joined us at the end of the day.)

(A couple days later, I was back up in Taipei and staying the first night at Just Sleep at the edge of the NTU campus. We ate that night at the Just Italian restaurant which served buffet style. Many of the staff from NTU joined as well as dear friends Victor Tao and Naoko Kihara, Hui-chin (Vicky) Yeh (a former student from Language Ed at IU) and her husband, and Hsiu-Ping Yueh from NTU.

(It's been 7 years since I saw my old friends Victor and Naoko. See great to catch up a bit. Naoko is almost done with her doctorate from a university in Japan.)

(Vicky and her husband took the train up to Taipei from Yunlin and left the kids with a babysitter. She teaches at
National Yunlin University of Science & Technology.)

(Time for us to head to a small night market near the NTU campus and my hotel..Just Sleep. See below for pics.)

6.       Faith in Taxis: There were several times when I was in a taxi or in a car with a former student and I just closed my eyes and trusted them. There were many narrow quarters to circumvent but people in Taiwan simply seem to be used to it. There were a couple of times wherein I was amazed that we made it through. But we did. Perhaps visiting so many religious temples helped. A few pictures from the Taoist and Confucian temples which I mentioned earlier are below.

(First the Taoist temple. So lovely.)

(For many people this might be a daily ritual.)


(Time to go to the Confucian temple (see above 3 pics and the pics below).

 (Below my tour guide from NTU, Tracy Wu, points the way to go when at the Confucian temple.)

(All the bright colors in these buildings. Wow!)

(Ah, pretty blue skies!)

7.       Freedom and Free Courses: There was definitely much interest in Taiwan in massive open online courses (MOOCs) and open educational resources (OER). People wanted to hear about my research on open education and free stuff. Well, my data shows that people want freedom to learn what they want to learn. People at my talks on MOOCs also asked many questions about my experiences teaching a MOOC. I should point out that this keen interest in MOOCs and Open Education was also quite apparent when in Japan at the end of September. Someone should do some research on why there is so much interest in MOOCs and Open Education in Asia. I am sure that there are plenty of dissertation questions and perhaps a free trip or two to some distant part of Asia to help answer them. Question: What would Confucius say about free and open classes? I decided to ask him--see pics below.

(Note: Color PDFs of all my 13 talks in Taiwan are posted to my Website.)

(Let's see, what would Confucius say? Time to read his bio on the wall and watch the adjacent video about his life.)

(After reading his bio and watching the video, I definitely think that Confucius would take a liking to this more open educational world. It certainly would be fascinating to talk to him today about it.)

(Gosh this place is gorgeous...!)

(I bought CDs from the guy below. Very melodic music. The flute that he has is over 100 years old and worth a ton of money. He was just sitting on the side at the Confucian temple playing away to another old man that was listening. Imagine spending your life playing music for people in such a place. Wow!)

(Tracy Wu reminds me that we have to go soon so that I can speak at NTU.)

(Tracy gives a thumbs-up and then points to the way out. We really have to  run to lunch now so I can get back to NTU to give my final two talks. I was very fortunate that my friend, Dr. Hsiu-Ping Yueh assigned her to me as my guide my final days in Taiwan.)

(Pictures below are from the classes at NTU that I presented to on my final day in Taiwan.)

(NTU students make out the NTU sign below.)

(NTU students make the Indiana University (IU) sign and did not know it till we took the picture. LOL.)

8.       Future Studies: I gave a couple of talks at Tamkang University (TKU) in the Taipei area; perhaps the largest private university in Taiwan. Their president, Dr. Fora C. I. Chang, introduced me before I spoke at TKU. She definitely was interested in MOOCs and Open Education when we chatted at breakfast before it my session. People at TKU are also wanting to know about the future of all this open education stuff. In fact, I was handed a couple of copies of their latest issue of the Journal of Future Studies: Epistemology,Methods, Applied and Alternative Futures. Several of their faculty were editors of this journal. Their questions at the end of my two talks indicated that they were thinking ahead about the future impact of MOOCs and open education.

      Some pictures from the lovely Tamkang University campus are below with former students, Chun-Yi Lin and Chien-han Cheng. The first pictures are of the subway (or MRT) system that I took with Chien-han to get there as the TKU campus is the final stop about an hour's ride northwest of my hotel in Taipei. And it is situated on a mountain overlooking the bay. Lovely!

(Students below wait in line in the early morning to take their midterm exams at TKU.)

(Chinese and Japanese gardens are beautiful at TKU.)

(You can see the bay from the TKU campus.) 

9.       First Sit and Chat, Talk later: Whether I was speaking at a university or a high school, the first thing that I was required to do upon entering the campus was to speak to the principal, president, or someone high up in authority. At the start of such meetings, I had to sign paperwork and turn my passport over to someone for copying. Then it was time for the requisite cup of tea and a chat. Only after that transpired could I go speak. It did not matter that my scheduled start time had already passed by 10 or 15 minutes earlier. It did not matter that I needed an additional 15 or 20 more minutes just to set up. First one must sign, copy, chat, and sip. Add to that a photo opportunity or a short tour of a facility and you would see me starting to stress out. “I’m not ready. I’m not ready,” I would mutter. But to no avail. One high school principal had a photographer take a picture of us before I left his office and it was framed and handed to me at the end of my talk. No foolin! It is proudly on display in my office. A picture with this principle and two of my former students, Dr. John (Kun-han) Li and Dr. Jalin Huang, is below. (Note that this also happened in Japan in September and is quite common in Asia. See pictures below for an example.)

(The kids at Chi Jen Senior High School in Taipei sure had many questions for me. They are extremely bright. I wish we had more time. Great school. I do not speak to high school kids that often. It was a fun challenge.)
(As I said, within an hour a picture taken with the principle of Chi Jen Senior High School, Taipei, Taiwan was framed and given to me at the end of my talk "Living in Tech City: 50 Emerging Learning Technologies.")

(Before speaking at Chi Jen Senior High School in Taipei, I spoke to John Li's students and others at the University of Taipei. See below. Note, as per post item #8, that I also spoke at Tamkang University that day. Being at three places in one day made for an adventure! )


10.   Formosa, the Beautiful, the Fourth-Highest Island: Taiwan has had many names over the centuries. When Portuguese sailors first saw this island in 1544, they named it “Ilha Formosa” which apparently means “Beautiful Island.” I got this information from Wikipedia, of course. It certainly is a beautiful place. As I mentioned, this trip was my third time to Taiwan and each time I find something new of beauty to see. Want another “F” word? Well, Wikipedia also says that Taiwan has four peaks over 11,500 feet which makes it the fourth-highest island (behind New Guinea, Hawaii, and Borneo).

Ok, that is it for the ten things that I learned in Taiwan. All start with the letter F. I hope that you learned something too. I will add an 11th item. I found out that, frankly speaking, there is much interest in Taiwan in gesture-based learning. After a couple of my talks in Kaohsiung, a team of researchers at National Sun Yat-Sen University (NSYSU) presented nine different gesture-based learning projects that they were in the midst of. Fascinating stuff related to travel, health and wellness, and various other specific competencies or skills. A picture of Dr. Nian-Shing Chen and his research team is below. Als1o pictured at the front table is Dr. Feng-Ru Sheu who, as I mentioned earlier, arranged the trip for me.

(It was also great to that Wan-Lin Yang could take the train to come to my talk. She is now an Assistant Professor at National Cheng Kung University, Center of Teacher Education, Institute of Education. Wan-lin is a Wisconsin graduate like me and she studied with a former student of mine, Dr. Michael Thomas.)

(It was wonderful to finally meet Feng-Ru's supervisor, the famous Dr. Nian-Shing Chen.)

When at NSYSU, I stayed at a lovely resort overlooking the ocean with a few green mountains to the right. What a gorgeous view to wake up to each day! Soft waves from the ocean put me to sleep each night. The NSTSU campus was a short 2 minute walk to the right of my hotel. It was situated in the midst of luscious green mountains that housed monkeys (more than 800 Formosan Macaques live in the mountain there). I was told that these monkeys like to steal people’s food. Fortunately, I never ran into any of them when I was running on campus, though there are several YouTube videos showing them roaming on campus as well as in the dorms. I only ran into a bunch of stray dogs. I think I would have rather seen the monkeys.

(This is the view from my hotel room in Kaohsiung.)

Ok, so ends my last trip to Asia until mid-March when I go to Hue, Vietnam and Bangkok, Thailand. Till then…perhaps I will share some “G” words. Some final pictures from Taiwan are below including a final toast with my friend Lucifer at the Howard Hotel Taipei and a couple from the Taipei airport. I miss Taiwan already! I have hundreds more pics to share sometime.

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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