Another dot in the blogosphere?

Today is my last day as a faculty member of NIE. I will no longer be able to use my business cards other than as an image for this blog entry or a building material for a house of cards.

I get asked the same questions about my departure, so I present them along with my answers. If I am short of time or do not want to talk to someone, I can refer them to my blog or ask them to Google it.

Actually, no. The frequently asked questions and my repeated answers are more concise here. It will take you all of one minute to read (or zero time to ignore) as opposed to having an hour-long conversations with me.

Why are you leaving NIE?
You must be new to my blog. I outlined the push and pull factors in May.

What are you going to do next?
I am giving myself a well-earned break first. I have been working full tilt over the last few years without a real and proper break, so I need to remind myself what the smell of roses is like.

I meant: What work are you going to do next?
Answer 1: Not much. I take my rest seriously.

Answer 2: My rest involves binge learning, home repairs, and focusing on what is important, e.g., my family. It is quite a bit of work really.

Will you just answer the question?
I never just answer a question. Good questions drive learning, not answers.

That said, I will pique your curiosity further by saying that I plan on being an ETC (Education and Technology Consultant) till around the end of the year. I have already started working with schools, polytechnics, private institutions, and other organizations.

So you have not looked for another job as a lecturer, professor, or director of some group?
No, I really have not.

But I have been headhunted and courted by a few groups. It is flattering, but I have said no or concluded that the fit was not good.

Are you crazy?
A little bit.

Are you crazy?

I am not crazy. Why do you think that?
You seem to have an over-fascination with conventional work. There is more to life than that.

So you will still do something in education then?
Yes. I also want to do something TO education in whatever small way I can. If people want to pay me to do this, all the better.

Are you really leaving?
Yes. Pay attention!

I am at a loss for words. I do not know what to say.
How about you stop asking me these questions?

I just thought of one final question. Do you have any advice for me?
Yes. Change: Embrace it, ride it, manage it.

And I will see you around. I might be back to bug you sooner than you know it.

July 31st is my last day as a faculty member of NIE. Before I leave, I have some parting words for members of my work family, the Centre for e-Learning.

You have started experiencing the changes that typically happen with the change in leadership. The pains are normal. Here are three tips to deal with it.

  1. Do not complain. Do something productive about it. Complaining gets you nowhere and demoralizes you and those around you.
  2. Help yourself by helping others. By this I mean two things: Take the perspective of others when you need their help. Then work towards a purpose larger than yourself.
  3. If you must (eventually) leave, do so with no regrets. Do not stay and implement half measures. Know that you have done your best so that you never have to say “I wish I had…”.

P. S. This is not goodbye. I am quite sure that it is more like see you later. ;)

Recently I read about the Uber controversy in Korea.

Uber is an app and service that connects people who need rides to people willing to offer rides for a fee. However, it is illegal in most countries for cars and drivers not designated as taxis and cabbies to get money for their transport service. The authorities would cite safety, regulation, and other issues for opposing the service.

Uber has safety measures, a driver vetting process, and anonymous feedback. How many regular cab companies have such tight feedback loops?

The service takes advantage of human behaviour and solves a problem. How many times have you offered to contribute to the petrol bill of your ad hoc or regular driver? There are also never enough cabs where and when you need them. There is a ready solution of drivers with empty seats and passengers willing to pay for a ride.

Even though Uber lists its service here, I do not know anyone who uses it or if there is enough critical mass in Singapore. But I do know that this is how change happens. Often without permission.

Some people like to think of change as orderly and top-down. But this is a false perception and misplaced comfort. If you look into significant social, political, and policy changes, you will find ground-up, messy, and even unlawful processes. Think about the changes behind things that range from the everydayness of Facebook to women’s right to vote in various countries.

Over time the unusual becomes acceptable. Given more time it becomes the norm. But change always seems to start with discomfort or dissonance.

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Last week I conducted a focus group interview of a group of seven higher education instructors who were not familiar with the flipped classroom or flipped learning. I did this to get to know them before I facilitate workshops for them and their colleagues in a few weeks time. I picked up some useful information that will help me prepare for the workshops. I was also very impressed by their responses.

One of my questions was: What do you think “flipped learning” means?

The responses I received were:

  • The student tells teacher concepts
  • Learning on the job instead of just in class
  • Learner decides what to learn and is self-directed
  • On demand learning
  • Ownership of learning

There was no hint or mention of the consumption of content out of class and the practice or discussion in class, i.e., the usual definition of flipping.

I was impressed because they were focusing on the right things about flipping. They may have been more descriptive (what it is) instead of being prescriptive (how to do it), but that was fine. After all, they had not tried flipping before.

If after I am done with my primer on flipping with them they still keep these concepts central to their practice, they will go very far in changing their pedagogy for the better!

I like that we are different. I celebrate it and design for it and I wish more would do the same.

But sometimes we are more alike than different. I have made a point of pointing this out when I hosted visitors in NIE or when I have extended conversations with people when I am overseas.

In education, we all want the best contextual solutions for our children. We all face the same types of political, administrative, policy and other problems. We all have the same passionate problem-solvers.

So why do we tend to focus on our differences? For example, when visitors come here, they want to find out what we do “differently” in Math or assessment or ICT. Perhaps our visitors think that they will find something of value or out of their box.

It makes sense that if we seem to be doing better at international tests, then what we do differently is likely to be a contributing factor. If we are doing the same thing but the results are different, then the same thing seems unlikely to be the cause.

I think there is a more insidious reason for why we look for differences instead of similarities. I realized this thanks to a seemingly unrelated tweet for help.

I was piqued by the issue and Googled for leads. I found something promising.

I tweeted a link to a library article about an event where the speaker mentioned how authors and publishers were pressured into selling books that emphasized differences instead similarities.

If you were going to read about another culture or travel to another country, you would want to find out about the different food, practices, weather, scenery, etc. You would not want to bore yourself with finding out more about the same or wasting your money to experience what you already have at home.

But the fact of the matter is that when you make that jump and spend a significant enough amount of time in a place, the more likely you are to find out how similar the problems and solutions are.

I think that only focusing on how we are different is a mistake. We are more likely to bring home a different solution without fully understanding its context. If we focus on how we are the same, we are more likely to gain an understanding of that context first. We then understand our differences better and we avoid repeating the same mistakes.

I like collecting quotes. When I was an undergraduate and later on a student teacher, I used to write them down in a book of thoughts. Now I collect them in Evernote.

Recently I watched an episode of House of Cards where a protagonist read out an inscription on the back of a watch:

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

I Googled the phrase and found that it was attributed to Winston Churchill.

How apt. And since we can never be perfect, we have to keep on changing for the better.

Momentum by mrjorgen, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  mrjorgen 

I felt a little empty yesterday.

If I was still facilitating, I would have started another round of MLS125 (Planning, Articulating, Leading, and Sustaining Change with ICT) yesterday at NIE. If I had, it would have been the eighth semester doing this.

Then I reminded myself that I am doing the same, this time directly with schools, polytechnics, and private institutes this and next month. And this time round I can follow up directly with the institutes and see them through the journey instead of seeing the momentum slow after the course is over.

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