Interview with Prof Dr Mohamed Yusoff Ismail
Dean of The Faculty of Applied Social Sciences
by Dr Thirumeni T Subramaniam (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
Thiru: Is thinking about thinking considered a learning
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
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
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).