From the Dean's Office

Interview with Prof Dr Mohamed Yusoff Ismail
Dean of The Faculty of Applied Social Sciences
by Dr Thirumeni T Subramaniam (

Thiru: Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Prof Yusoff: I studied anthropology in Australia during my undergraduate and postgraduate years. My field of specialization is Buddhism, in particular Theravada Buddhism in Malaysia. My PhD thesis was on the social organization of a Buddhist temple in Kelantan.

I started my academic career in 1974 when I joined the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. My last post at UKM before retirement after 33 years of service was as Dean of the Faculty.

Thiru: Is thinking about thinking considered a learning strategy?

Prof Yusoff: Thinking is not merely a strategy, but it is a natural process that is fundamental to learning. If you fail to think, you will fail to learn. We can say that first and foremost university education is about thinking.

Regardless of your discipline, a graduate will learn three things: (1) you will learn how to assess a situation or recognise a problem, (2) you will learn how to analyze that problem using whatever theoretical knowledge that you have been taught, and (3) you are expected to come up with suggestions on how to solve that problem using whatever limited resources that you have at your disposal. All these involve thinking.

Thiru: Should a student try to capture his or her thinking process while learning?

Prof Yusoff: Yes, otherwise real learning will not occur. However, one must remember that learning does not only involve textbooks. You must go beyond that. Thoughtful and wise decisions arise not only from wide exposure to knowledge, but from the ability to integrate experience gained from everyday situations.

Likewise, ODL learners cannot learn by merely reading their modules. They must think beyond the module. They must also rekindle their curiosity. If you are curious you will automatically start to think. There is truth in the saying “Laziness is the mother of all invention.” Out of their laziness, some people are motivated to think, to focus and to tap into their creativity and ability to innovate.

Thiru: Can “thinking about thinking” help students to improve their learning skills?

Prof Yusoff: Definitely. Thinking is not a linear process because the human brain is a very complex machine.

Thiru: Do you think that the activity of “thinking about thinking” has different effects on students engaged in a technical course compared to students who are engaged in a non-technical course?

Prof Yusoff: Yes, to a certain extent. However, since thinking about thinking is actually based on previous experience, it would be wise to widen that experience. Hence, educational curriculum must be designed to encourage development of both technical and non-technical abilities in an individual. The cause and effect is still the same.

Thiru: In your opinion, what are the necessary steps in encouraging students to think about their thinking process?

Prof Yusoff: Academic tasks (such as essays and assignments) must be structured so as to encourage students to think, rather than to mechanically reproduce the work of others. However, it is rather unfortunate that quite often students resort to plagiarism and other unethical means to get their assignments done. The will to learn is an intrinsic desire that must drive a learner to make the right choices.

Thiru: What are the challenges and issues in encouraging students to think about their thinking while they are learning?

Prof Yusoff: There seems to be a lack of interactive discussion despite the existence of various facilities (both face-to-face and online).

Thiru: Many ODL institutions encourage the use of thinking about thinking as a self-directed learning strategy. Why is it so?

Prof Yusoff: Because learning is a thinking process. And this should be encouraged not only in ODL institutions, but at all educational institutions including schools. Learning should not be seen as rote-learning. That is what happens in most learning institutions when students memorise facts rather than understanding, analysing and applying the facts in their learning process.

Thiru: There are many thinking strategies that are promoted such as “Thinking out of the box” and others. What is your plan in encouraging students to develop such methods in their thinking process?

Prof Yusoff: One of these methods is to make the teaching and learning experience as interactive as possible, to encourage learners to be more critical about their learning materials, and to be as open as possible in their interaction with lecturers and tutors.

Thiru: Do you have any advice for tutors in helping students to use the above strategy?

Prof Yusoff: Tutors are the best people to break the ice and encourage learners to engage in interactive discussions (both in class and in online forums).

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If I want my learners to succeed in their studies, I should guide them to:

Think outside the box by being more open-minded about new knowledge
Apply their knowledge and experience to solve problems in the classroom
Understand the art of learning and memorise the relevant facts
Think for themselves on what suits them best in their studies
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