World Science Festival 2019 – An Amazing series of Science Show

The World Science Festival is a public science education program that gathers the greatest minds in science and the arts around the world to discuss the latest scientific findings and controversial value issues each year in NYC. As a first timer attending this festival, I enthusiastically signed up 8 sessions (each session is 90-minute long):

Topics I had little background knowledge:
CRISPR in context: the new world of human genetic engineering
We will be Martians
Revealing the mind: the promise of psychedelics
Can we “cure” deafness and blindness? Should we?

Topics I was interested to know more:
Making room for machines: getting ready for AGI
Rethinking thinking: How intelligent are other animals
The reality of reality: a tale of five senses
Cool Jobs

Learning Focus #1: How to deliver science-heavy content effectively to general public

90 minutes is a lot to ask from audience when it comes to panel discussion session, especially when it comes to unfamiliar science topics. However, WSF did an amazing job to plan these panel discussions into “science show”, that provides the perfect intro class for general public. I think there are three factors that qualify these sessions not “lectures” but “shows”. 

Intriguing composition of the panel

We have to admit that scientists are not really like celebrities in general public’s mind. The academic experience and science awards under their belts might be helpful to convey credibilities, but having 4 professors from the same domain might risk to make the discussion intimidating rather than intriguing. To cover both the hard science and the social implications, the panelists represent different but related fields. For example, the session about psychedelics, we had an addiction psychiatrist talking about the latest research findings and application, a neuroscientist talking about the mechanics, a psychologist focusing on children’s learning providing different angel to understand the impact on brain, and an anthropologist sharing the role of psychedelics in the Amazonian culture.

Captivating Opening and Engaging Storyline

Instead of introducing all the panelists at the beginning like most of the formal panel discussion, the WSF sessions use audience-centered openings. The focus is not who the panelists are, but helping the audience frame a couple of compelling anchor questions. As for the storyline, take “We will be Martians” session as an example. The moderator organized the discussion into a three-part story: “Launch – Voyage – Home”, with a mix of technological, physiological, and psychological challenges discussed under each part.

Plain language explanation with to-the-point visual aids

Although it was quite obvious that panelists’ response were scripted, the benefit is they are better at using plain language to explain complex concepts. For example, the Luna Gateway is analogized to a “slingshot” and launching mechanic to “throw a ball”; the distance to Mars was described as “2,000 times of the distance to moon”, because the absolute number is too big to internalize. When a panelist using words like “auditory sensor”, the moderators will rephrase it to “hearing”.  I also loved how the moderator framed her question: “What have we learned about… ?”

On a different note, if you are relatively familiar to the topics, you probably won’t find these discussions very helpful in learning new things. Next year, I will definitely go to more sessions that I am not familiar with.

Learning Focus #2: The relationship between Technology and Society

Although sharing scientific factual information is fun, the discussions struck a chord with the audiences when it talked about how technology isn’t just changing society – it’s changing what it means to be human. Why do we care so much EMOTIONALLY about AI beat human in Go? CRISPR allows human to change the biology process that nature has been taking charge for millions of years – is there a bottom line we should draw as a society? If our senses are not meant to reflect the reality of the world but to help us with survival, how should we interact with the world? It was a humbling experience for the audience to see our limitation as an individual and as a society.

Learning Focus #3: New Concepts For Me


FUN FACT 1: CRISPR is basically a technology that allows people to edit the DNA of any organism in a simple and affordable way. Think it as editing a document with the shortcut of “find – cut – paste”. The Cmd+F is a single-guide RNA, which can accurately locate the part of genome we want to edit; the Cmd+X is a type of enzyme called CAS9, which cuts the DNA strand so that a segment could be add, delete or replaced with a customized DNA sequence.

FUN FACT 2: What makes CRISPR amazing is that it’s so precise: The CAS9 enzyme mostly goes wherever you tell it to. And it’s incredibly cheap and easy: In the past, it might have cost thousands of dollars and weeks or months of fiddling to alter a gene. Now it might cost just $75 and only take a few hours. You can even buy a kit on Amazon to CRISPR a bacterium right at home for $159. And this technique is so versatile that has worked on every organism it’s been tried on.

FUN FACT 3: It is also important to understand that depending on which type of gene cell is edited, somatic or germline, the changes could impact the individual only, or become inheritable. Therefore, the applications could be revolutionary – from editing crops to be more nutritious to fight world hunger, to do a gene drive on mosquitoes to end malaria, to stop genetic diseases like Sickle cell among humans, and to cure cancer and create designer babies. According to Prof. Jennifer Doudna, the co-discoverer of this technology, all these applications could be realized within our lifetime (in the next 20-50 years) except the designer babies part, as currently scientists are still mapping out what function each genes serve.

As scary as it sounds, this is the first time we are changing the biology process, which nature has been taking charge for millions of years. Therefore, the real discussion at this panel is more about how can we as a society take necessary caution considering the intended/unintended potential consequence driven by this technology. Prof. Jennifer Doudna shared a dream she had: Hitler, looking like been CRISPR-ed already, was asking her more questions about this technology. The Chinese physicist JK He’s research on human embryo is at the center of discussion: Why the Chinese researcher took the step and what he could do differently? If he didn’t do this, how long would it take till some else take this step? What is the bottom line we, as a society, should draw?

I am very skeptical about WHO could come up feasible regulation in time and effectively restricting the usage of this new technology on a global scale. There have been plenty of failed examples, from ozone layer protection to nuclear weapon… The economic drivers behind individuals and countries to push the boundaries are as enormous as the other revolutionary technologies, why we think this time we can regulate it better? At the same time, I am very optimistic on the progress the technology could make during the next 20 years. CRISPR is almost like an open-source technology, that is available to all NFP and research institutes. I think this discussion boils down to how we collectively perceive human as a species and whether we believe our value system should remain as it is today. However, is human really that different from other animals? Is it possible we have a universal and lasting value system? With negative answer for both questions, I think all the things we are worry about today would become true, it is just a matter of time.


FUN FACT 1: NASA’s video 7 Minutes of Terror provides a great intro of the technical difficulty of landing on Mars. BTW, 3D printing for spare parts were mentioned a lot – Hey, time to create some fun K12 Maker Spaces curriculum?

FUN FACT 2: There is too little space in the spaceship! (Pun intended) – 6 people cramp within 1,000 square feet cabin for over 10 months. To keep astronaut sane, NASA conducts simulations in Hawaii to study the group living skills and has revealed some desired astronaut psychology: Thick skin, Long fuse, Resilient to conflict, Easily entertained, and Optimistic. Might be a helpful reference when looking for roommates?

FUN FACT 3: Scientists are currently exploring three ways of avoiding excessive radiation on Mars: 1) create “Water aquarium” around cabin; 2) remodel the existing underground lava tube; 3) preserve stem cell.


FUN FACT 1: Psyche means mind and delics means manifest. Psychedelics is not about hallucination, but about dissolving ego and revealing the capacity of our mind. The story about how LSD was discovered and then had today’s cultural connotation was fascinating. Long story short, the banning of psychedelics had no medical or scientific foundation.  

FUN FACT 2: Amazonian shamans use mushroom with Psychedelic effects on themselves rather than patients when they try to provide treatment. 

FUN FACT 3: The current renewal research on psychedelics could be a game-changer for Psychiatry. Depression is a $210 billion/year market in US and Psychedelics have shown amazing result on treating psychological pain from end of life/cancer, addiction/alcohol, PTSD etc.

The Age of Super Sensing 2018 – The role of Empathy in Advanced Sensing Design and Technology

“Super Sensing is about expanding the border of biological sensory us humans essentially possess, by developing the underused and unaware territory of our senses.”

Description from Super Sensing 2018 website

The International Symposium on Advanced Sensing Design and Technology is a half day conference hosted on September 19, 2018 in New York. It presents cutting-edge technology and precedent examples of sensing know-how and design based on the theory of super sensing. A variety of guest speakers from all over the world, including cognitive scientists, designers, technologists and entrepreneurs, shared their latest projects and thoughts with a particular theme – “empathy”.

As a curious product person, I was very excited about this symposium: What is sensing technology really about? What are the directions sensing technologies move towards? How might we incorporate empathy when design with sensing technology?

What is sensing technology really about?

What we are doing is often different from what we think we are doing. Our perception, action, and decision making are products of complex interactions between explicit and implicit processes and between self and others. Sensing technology provides the objective data to help us perceive and behave in a more accurate way.

Professor Katsumi Watanabe in Cognitive Science at Waseda University also introduced a very intriguing concept: based on the Perception-Action Model, changing behaviors lead to changing mind and using sensor to measure the current behavior could serve as a trigger for its change. This is a bit counter-intuitive, because we often think that we need to change our mind before we change our behaviors.  

What are the directions sensing technologies move towards?

The sensor is the media between the environment and human, which could be considered as a 3-nodes-2-links model (illustrated in the first diagram below). The innovation of sensing technology could happen in any component of this model (illustrated in the second diagram below). For example, a new expression between sensor and human could be a muscle movement sensor providing real-time sonic feedback for athletes (a new technology piloting in Japanese 2020 Olympic Team). A sustainable sensing could be sensors using regenerative bioenergy from soil or water.

How might we incorporate empathy when design with sensing technology?

Sensing technology is a new tool for designers to be more inclusive and this symposium gave me a much deeper understanding in universal design. The following short videos are some examples the presenters highlighted, which I found very inspiring.

Experiencing ISTE 2018 – Learning from the Dialogues Between Practitioners and EdTech Vendors

The 4-day ISTE 2018 Conference & Expo attracts 18,000+ attendees from around the world, the majority of whom are leaders and key influencers for EdTech purchases. It was a great crash course for me to keep pace with the latest trends, topics and products/practices in the K12 EdTech space.

Image Source: ISTE website – Audience Profile

Learning Focus #1: Data Interoperability

Interoperability is a challenge for districts and vendors all over the country. Connecting data seamlessly between EdTech platforms and systems is crucial for understanding a student’s journey, personalizing their education, gleaning important insights on a macro and micro scale, and saving teachers time.

In this session organized by Project Unicorn (an advocacy initiative aiming to improve data interoperability within K-12 education), educators, district leaders and vendors had round table discussions regarding the basic concepts about interoperability, the best practices and lessons learned for strategic planning and implementation, and practical tools for the roadmap planning, prioritization and strengthening privacy controls.

This is usually a topic outside the working scope of a product designer. However, wearing my product owner hat, it is part of the system design that should be considered at the beginning of the product development cycle. This is because the decision on data interoperability impacts the conceptualization of user flow and user scenarios, the setup of data structure, and eventually the customer buy-in and implementation. I found the Project Unicorn Interoperability Rubric provides handy guidance to structure the discussion among engineers, designers and product managers.

Image Source: Project Unicorn Interoperability Rubric

Learning Focus #2: Experience Design for Product Demo

After I stumbled across one session hosted by Apple featuring their education product suite (Classroom, Schoolwork, Clips, etc.), I decided to attend three other Apple sessions to learn more about their superb experience design for product demos.

Product Trinity: Hardware + Software + Content

It is true that Chromebooks currently represents about 60 percent of mobile device shipments into U.S. K-12 schools; it is also true that most teachers have already understood and love Google Classroom, in addition to multiple cross-platform classroom management softwares. However, when Apple combined its hardware, software and content, the product demo became so powerful that made me want to be an advocate for their products. This is like when you were only planning to buy a shirt, some fashionable customer next to you effortlessly suggested an entire outfit for you. All of a sudden, you felt you need to buy all the pieces, from the matching blazer to the shoes.

The hardware they provided during the sessions are iPad and Apple pencil; the software they touched upon included newer ones like Classroom, Schoolwork and Clips, as well as long existing ones like Pages, Numbers, Keynotes and Garage Band etc. The content is a newly released free curriculum, Everyone Can Create, which comes handy for teachers to integrate drawing, music, filmmaking or photography into their existing lesson plans for any subject.

For companies/ product teams that only focus on one element of the “product trinity,” I think it is important to think about the affordance of other two elements to create a cohesive experience, even they are not part of our offering. This ties back to our understanding of the persona and use case. After all, we are offering solutions, which is more an experience than product specs.

Show, don’t tell

Often, we tend to walk through our audience the amazing features we have developed. But if we don’t know how to help users to learn about our product, how can we convince them our product is an effective learning tool for the end users? Apple’s approach is a great example of “show, don’t tell.” One of the most powerful moment during the session was when the presenter locked everyone’s iPad to draw our attention back to him. Everyone was impressed by how simple and effective the classroom management tool is, because they experienced what could happen in their own classroom.

Why is more persuasive than What and How

Creating the context of using the products helps potential users to envision how they will use it in their own life. And to do so, we need to have a deep understanding on why users what to perform that task in the first place and communicate this intention explicitly. One example is about the app Clips, a mobile video editing tool. How would you explain why users should use a video editing app in their classroom?

The presenter uses Poetry class as an example. Poems are mostly text-based, which means it is a one-way communication from the writer to the reader. However, when students study a poem, they need to interpret the tone and mood between the lines, based on their own understandings. And what could be the most effective way to let students express their own interpretation? Make their own poem reciting videos! From their reading tone, to their facial expression, to the background music they choose, they can express their interpretations through multi-dimensions. The presenter also set the stage by stating that 1) valuable time should be spent on creating content instead of formatting; 2) A simple creation process encourages iterations; more iterations promotes learning. These two goals are something educators could easily agree upon. With everyone nodding their heads, it becomes much easier to introduce the video editing tool into the classroom learning environment.  

Instead of BYOD, every participant gets pre-configured devices – more control for the presenter, less distraction for the audience.
The  impeccable audience experience is ensured by a team of on-site tech support. This could be a great opportunity for the design/development team to get more insights from the user directly!
All the sessions are delivered by Apple Distinguished Educators – having formal educators as the face for product demo made the session a more convincing sharing experience.
Every session mimics the classroom environment: presenter shows the  teacher’s view and audience see the student view – Providing the right context help communicate the product value.


Learning Focus #3: Develop heuristic through informational interviews at the Expo

To develop heuristic on product design, we need to be a sponge of experiences and apply analogical thinking to practices. I found that having informational interviews with company exhibitors at the Expo is a very effective way to stimulate my brain. Thanks to the problem-driven mentality my program at NYU has instilled in me, I usually start the conversation with “what problem you are trying to solve” instead of “what is your product about”, which made the conversation flow easily. In addition, I asked them about the competition landscape in their sections, the customer feedback they got from the conference participants, and the biggest challenges they are facing etc. Below are some products that solve problems I wasn’t aware of before this conference, which I found very thought provoking and would like to share with you.

Incredibox is a music app for creating your own music with the help of a merry band of beatboxers. Part game, part tool, Incredibox is above all an audio and visual experience that introduces kids and adults to notions of rhythm and melody. Because it makes learning fun and entertaining, Incredibox is now used by teachers at schools all over the world.
Mrs Wordsmith is a research-backed word learning kit. Hilariously illustrated by the Emmy award-winning artists behind Madagascar. It helps young children (aged 3–6) develop deeper social and emotional intelligence with the right vocabulary, as well as provides children aged 7–11 with the building blocks of storytelling, and boost reading and writing age.

Symbaloo is a popular online tool for educators to save, manage and share their online favorites.

Flipgrid is the leading video discussion platform used by millions of students and educators around the world. Create a grid for your classroom or community to spark a discussion.

FieldTripZoom connects educators and homeschoolers with educational experience and service providers through curated live streaming educational events.

FightSong App empowers students to take back their life by anonymously reporting bullying incidents to counselors and administrators using our management platform for mobile and web.

Frontline Education provides web-based solutions for the K-12 education industry, primarily focusing on human capital management. The product they debuted at ISTE is enabled by AWS and Amazon Alexa devices. Education leaders can interact with data to manage day-to-day operations like absences and substitute teacher fill rates.

Experiencing ELDc18 – Insights into the challenges and opportunities in Learning Experience Design

“ Education has changed more in the last 25 years than the 250 before that. Whereas once the norm was teacher-focused, sage-on-the-stage, a shift is still going on that places the learner at the core of the learning experience.  Driven by the wide adoption of design thinking and user experience processes, LX pushes to make sure the learner voice is integrated more purposefully by sharing the experience development and iteration process with those for whom it is designed. ”

Description from ELD Conference 2018 website

The annual Emerging Learning Design (ELD) Conference 2018 was held at Montclair State University on May 31 – June 1. As usual, it brought faculty, researchers, librarians, and instructional designers in Higher Education together to have a vibrant conversation on how pedagogy, research, and scholarship can be enhanced and transformed by technology. Specifically, the featuring topic for this year is “From Learner Centered to Learner Experience (LX)”.

As two passionate Learning Experience designers, we attended the conference this year in hopes of staying informed of the new trends in this field. In this blog post, we’d like to share what we learned from the following three sessions:

How does the Learning Experience Design (LX) differ from User Experience Design (UX)? (Check out Sophia Lu’s section based on Session: Ten Critical Differences Between UX and LX Design)

How might we design immersive experiential online learning experiences? (Check out Sophia Lu’s section based on Session: Developing Fully Online Immersive Experience)

How might we leverage Learning Experience Design to achieve more equity? (Check out Claire Wang’s section based on Keynote: Designing for Equity, Drawing Inspiration for Learning Design from Diverse Perspectives)


Session: “Ten Critical Differences Between UX and LX Design”

Presented by Dr. Jeffrey Bergin, VP of Learning Research and Design at Macmillan Learning, @jeff_bergin

Session Description: The title Learner Experience (LX) Design implies an association with User Experience Design. While the two fields share many approaches and methods, they remain distinct, with different approaches to research, design, and evaluation, many of which make LX design far more challenging than conventional UX design. The presenter shared ten critical differences and offered recommendations for how one can establish a successful LX practice.

Parsing higher-education job postings and descriptions, it’s evident that Learning Experience Design is, as a discipline, among the fastest growing fields in education. But how does LX design actually differ from UX design or curriculum design? To be a better LX designer, we first need to have a deeper understanding of the differences.

If this session was held one year ago before I started working on my capstone project, I probably wouldn’t really understand the unique challenges faced by Learning Experience Designers. But now, after encountering almost all of these challenges, I really appreciate the tips Dr.Bergin shared during the session. I will use my own project as an example to elaborate my learning from this session.

One of my current projects is about helping underserved high school students make more informed college decisions. There are so many constraints I had never thought about: from unsupportive or disengaged families to unstable wifi in their schools (Challenge #2). As I never had the need to apply for FAFSA or to educate my parents about colleges, I realized some of my clarification questions might be too insensitive to ask directly to the students, so I found a teammate who is from a disadvantaged background to conduct the user research together. However, as it was almost 10 years ago when she applied to college (when the Common App was relatively optional), our interpretations of even the same user interview often differ. Thanks to our honest open disagreement with each other, we finally crafted a comprehensive persona of our targeted learners after 50+ interviews (Challenge #1). When conceptualizing the solution, theories in learning science and social science suggest that I should look for ways to extend the learner’s social capital to help them acquire more information. However, my user research suggested that students don’t really feel comfortable asking questions, or don’t know what to ask, even if they have face time with a provided mentor. It took me a couple of iterations to come up with the current text-based crowdsourcing advising solution (Challenge #4). In addition, after interviewing some research agencies when I was developing the Evaluation Plan, I finally realized how challenging it is to obtain and connect all the datasets, from student activity, to college enrollment, to financial aid status (Challenge #5). And now, we have to scramble to set up our summer pilot, because of the coming Regents and Summer break (Challenge #6).

One of the tips Dr.Bergin shared to address Challenge #9 is this learner matrix. I think it could come in super handy when LX designers build understanding of the targeted learners, conceptualize learning solutions, and even develop the communication  strategies. Last week, I was with a room full of college advisors brainstorming how to initially involve students in our summer pilot and how to nudge them to engage throughout the summer. Instead of spending time coming up with three personae by myself, I could simply prompt the advisors using this matrix. To read more of Dr.Bergin’s tips, please check out his latest blog post.

At the end, Dr. Bergin recommended a simple exercise to help every LX designer to have a quick check of their understanding of target learners:


Session: “Developing Fully Online Immersive Experience”

Presented by Emily Brozovic, Designer at Michigan State University, @emilyJBRO

Session Description: Teaching the realities of traumatic experiences requires changing the way we design humanities courses to safely immerse students in their learning. But how would you teach empathy to students towards a population they are not familiar with? In this session you will learn ways in which you can apply user experience and product design principles to create immersive, unique learning opportunities that leave students asking for more.

Combat Veterans: Embracing the Stories of War is a 2-credit, 15-week long fully online course offered by the Michigan State University School of Social Work. As the first course of the Combat Veterans Certificate Program, the goal of this course is to help students build empathy towards combat veterans.

Snippets of the course material of Combat Veterans: Embracing the Stories of War (all credits to Emily Brozovic); Clockwise from the top left: 1. Visuals on the course promo site; 2. Screenshot of the course platform; 3. Artifacts included in the course package; 4. Visuals used in the course material.

Applying Froukje Sleeswijk-Visser’s framework for empathy to both their own design process and the student’s experience during the course, the design team organized the course content with a storyline based on the military deployment cycle. Students follow a group of veterans from enlistment, basic training, the experience of war, and post-war challenges. Focusing on letting student “feel and care”, the course uses no lectures, textbooks or peer-reviewed journal articles. Instead, it leverages a combination of interview recording, historical videos/news clips, mobile messaging platform, interactive quizzes, and physical course immersion package etc. to reconstruct the sights, sounds, feel, smell and taste from the lens of combat veterans.  

The course unfolds its content based on the emotion a combat veteran would experience during his/her military deployment cycle. Surprisingly, listening to the course walkthrough reminds me taking one of the thrilling Disney rides. This emotional arc of this 15-week course could be mapped perfectly to the Interest Curve former Disney Imagineer Jesse Schell mentioned in his book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. 

Mapping the course events to the Emotion Arc/ Interest Curve chart (created by Mi Sophia Lu)

The hook: This is something that really grabs learners and gets them excited about the course experience, which helps sustain their focus over the less interesting part where the experience is beginning to unfold and not much has happened yet. In this case, when students first log onto the course platform, the first thing they will see is a big warning sign states that the course content contains scenes that some viewers may find unpleasant. Also, as part of the course immersion package, students will find an identification tag that they are required to wear for a certain time.

Periods of rest: If the learning experience is well crafted, the learner’s interest will continually rise, temporarily peaking and occasionally dropping down a bit to points, only in anticipation of rising again. The second day after students “re-live” the 9/11 attacks, they will find the platform has a temporary shut down, which offers them an opportunity to reflect on the prior day’s experience. Also, after five weeks of “in the war” section, students will have a week without any assignment, similar to the sudden relief veterans feel after they just come back home from the battlefield.

Grand finale: As show business veterans say “leave them wanting more”, learners also need an emotion climax to leave the course with some interest left over, perhaps even more than when they came in, considering this is the first part of a Certificate Program. To drive home the fact that suicide among combat veterans takes more lives than the war itself, students will be bombard with text messages of fellow veterans during a 24-hour period, end with a gun cock audio file.  

Although this course is still an ongoing project, students from the first cohort had sweeping positive feedback – “the best and most intense course” they have ever taken in their college career. At the end, Emily gave four tips for Learning Experience Designers who aspire to create meaningful immersive online learning experience:

Holistic: emotion design should be part of the course design [this course opens all the five senses for students, and ties all the learning material into a gripping storyline];

Digestible: breakdown the content into small learning moments [the interactive quizzes breakdown the “in the war” section into smaller chunks of reflection] ;

Pace: pay attention to the timing of introducing and pace of unfolding the content [The course delivers its content through the classic emotional arc];

Delight: let the learners feel surprised and delighted [The course leverages dramatic visuals and physical artifacts, and many other creative details to surprise the learners from the beginning to the end].


Keynote: “Designing for Equity, Drawing Inspiration for Learning Design from Diverse Perspectives”

Presented by Dr. June Ahn, Associate Professor of University of California-Irvine, @ahnjune

Session Description: Recent studies have revealed that educational technology solutions often amplify inequality among the learners. Why is this happening? How might we as Learning Experience Designers mitigate this unintended consequence? During this keynote session, Dr. June Ahn introduced an innovative framework to help LX designers and educators rethink the learning experience. He also discussed four of his recent design-based research projects to illustrate the application of this framework in practice.   

The impact of educational technology on student performance is mixed. Often, it amplifies inequality instead of mitigating it. While online courses and new learning products significantly enhance the accessibility of educational resources and the possibility of personalized learning, it also enlarges the performance gap among students. Maybe it’s time for designers and educators to take a step back and rethink what the students really need and how we can design to support them in a more meaningful way.

To better illustrate the learning experience and its connotations on different levels, Dr. Ahn introduced a new framework of understanding LX. The four components – Knowledge, Interest, Identity, and Tools – are the pillars of this framework. Depending on which of the components that learners develop, we might expect to see different performances of their learning and growing expertise. Only when the four components are all included, is there an opportunity for the learner to be equipped with lifelong expertise, which he considers the highest level of learning.

(Adapted from a dataviz created by David McCandless)

This framework provides a guideline for designers and educators to think about how to design the learning experience purposefully to support different students coming from different backgrounds. Combined with four of his previous learning-design projects (SciDentity, P2PU, ScienceEverywhere, FamLab), Dr. Ahn discussed his experiences and lessons learned from these design-based research projects. In these projects, middle and high school learners were given “unusual” tasks like creating science fiction, participating in peer-to-peer online learning, developing science experiments on social media, etc. It’s worth noting that a young learner’s personal identity can be effectively amplified through creative and collaborative learning tasks and social interactions.

Lesson # 1:  We have been blind to certain factors for a long time: we ignored the fact that there are many segments of learners who may lack very different components during their learning journey. “Identity” was missing from the conversation for a long time. If we don’t see the bigger picture, we might not be able to understand that with the same resources and tools, why some learners are learning with passion and seeing themselves becoming an expert in their field, while others are just passively obtaining knowledge. In one of Dr. Ahn’s projects SciDentity, students were assigned to create their own science fiction stories, which proved to be a great way to engage students  to imagine science, their role in the stories, and develop identity toward STEM. As this project provides a great example of designing for identity cultivation, we need more LX designers to put their effort in designing for holistic learning experience, beyond knowledge and skills.

Lesson # 2: It is worth noting that community and social interaction are elements we can design and employ to influence all four components. Dr. Ahn’s project P2PU was an open, peer to peer online learning program for young learners. It turned out that the top performers were those who actively built communities of like-minded friends. Personal identity and trust played critical roles in this successful learning story. Another example is in the project ScienceEverywhere, students were encouraged to share their daily science-related observations on a designated social platform, which allows a broader network of people (from peers to parents to teachers and pastors) to extend the learner’s initial interest to a more educational discussion and learning experience.

Dr. Ahn also shared four heuristics he drew from his own design experience, which I found intriguing:

Experiencing NY EdTech Week 2017 – EdTech Landscape + Pitch Fest

Educators meet investors meet entrepreneurs.

From TED Talk-style presentations, to performances by Broadway stars, to Shark Tank format pitches, NY EDTECH WEEK consistently facilitates some of the most impactful and memorable ed-tech experiences of the year.

Description from NY EDTECH WEEK website

This is my second year attending the NY EDTECH WEEK. After taking a course with Jonathan Harber (thought leader and serial entrepreneur in EdTech, currently Chairman of StartED), I finally felt I can converse in the language of EdTech venture more adequately. 

One of favorite sessions this year is the talk given by Jeff Rosen regarding the project on teaching Americans about Constitution from a non-partisan perspective. 

I was also very inspired by David Coleman’s talk regarding education equity and the recent initiates taken by College Board. 

One of my most exciting takeaways is the amazing market research done by Navitas Ventures. I have spent a couple of days researching the companies listed in the segments I am interested.  

Experiencing FoST Summit 2017 – Turn a conference into a story

The Future of StoryTelling (FoST) community consists of people from the worlds of media, technology, and communications, who are passionately exploring how storytelling is evolving in the digital age. FoST Summit, a two-day invitation-only gathering of 500 leaders from the worlds of business, technology, media, and the arts. Because of its invitation-only nature plus the $2000 ticket price, I went there as a volunteer. Even I didn’t get a chance to attend the round table workshops, I was still very inspired by the rest of my experience.


The mega narrative this year is “FoST university”. From the venue selection to the organization – theme song, uniform, badge, brochure etc., every arrangement contributes to this overarching theme.

What impressed me the most of this year’s Interactive Narrative Expo is the improvement on incorporating social element. 


Produced by WITHIN & ANNAPURNA PICTURES, Life Of Us reminds me the Soarin’ ride at Disney. Even it was made using low-ploy rendering, the transition between two scenes was very smoothing and exciting. The social part is that players can see how their own body looks like through by looking at Player 2. When players talks the each other, the characters will also produce some effects (bubble for marine animal, fire for dragon etc). 


Produced by TWO BIT CIRCUS, Monster’s Bounty is an asymmetrical VR multiplayer game that pits players against a gigantic clawed sea monster in an attempt to steal the world’s finest treasure. One group of players plays as the deep sea divers attempting to steal the treasure, while one VR player takes control of the giant sea monster protecting its bounty. This design made VR game much more for social / family setting.



Forest is a bridge between drawing and virtual reality. At the center is a table where you draw the forest as seen from above. Around the table are VR headsets for everybody to experience the drawn forest as a shared 3D virtual world. The company was at last year’s expo as well, but that version was without VR element at all, only AR through an additional big device (a thing like the X ray reader). Their new iteration now seems to have more potential in education and games. 



Replacing the controller with the gun, the PS4 game is much exciting and easier to maneuver. Produced by Human InterAct, Starship Commander driven by human speech, and uses gaze and body leaning to control. Players are given agency in the middle of a sci-fi story as members of a military embroiled in a dark intergalactic war.