Another dot in the blogosphere?

I would expect a headline like Are Touchscreens Melting Your Kid’s Brain? to originate from the local press. But I found this on Wired.

The quote that disturbed me the most was:

the ever-present touchscreens make me incredibly uneasy—probably because they make parenting so easy. There is always one at hand to make restaurants and long drives and air travel much more pleasant. The tablet is the new pacifier.

I think the author and I have different views on what it means to parent.

Leaving a child to play with or watch a video with a mobile device is not parenting. It is not even passive parenting. At best it is nannying.

Parenting is helping the child manage the use of mobile technologies. It is setting and maintaining rules. It is about knowing when to say yes and no as well as articulating why.

The harm is not in the mobile or touchscreen device. It is in parents or adults who do not manage its use.

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Like the Danes, Singapore has a very low birth rate. It has been so low that the government stepped in to offer baby bonuses in 2001 in the form of financial incentives if a couple has children legitimately. However, our birth rate remains low.

Facing a similar decline, the Danes are also incentivizing child-bearing. But they are not throwing money at parents, not directly anyway.

Instead, the strategy is based on data that romantic holidays tend to lead to conception. They also seem to realize that providing aftercare in the form of things like diapers is more important than cold cash. Their solution is amusing and clever.

The decision to have children is a personal one that couples make. It is one that they also make in different contexts. Would you be more inclined to say yes if the situation looked more like a financial transaction? Or would you go ahead with a more human one?

The two government agencies have the same objectives and different means. Both want to win the game and both know why they need to win. But it is how you play to win that also matters.

I hid yesterday’s entry from general view because of some possibly sensitive information. But I share the second, generic half of my reflection here in case it helps someone. It is about getting timely feedback directly from your learners.

… instructors who take things into their own hands can create simple Google Forms to get feedback if they need to quantify things. I also ask for feedback regularly on Edmodo. If you do this, you should be aware that your learners may take many surveys and you will want to keep things simple.

One of my participants remarked: “I always receive instant feedback for my assignment and I appreciate that.” I know they do, which is why I go out of my way to respond as quickly as I humanly can.

Hattie, in his meta study of meta studies, identified feedback as the most important factor of effective instruction. He summarized by saying: The most simple prescription for improving education must be “dollops of feedback.”

I do not think I do dollops, but I try to offer timely feedback.

Just as learners appreciate timely feedback, so do instructors. If you do not get this feedback as an instructor, you can seek it by taking matters into your own hands. If you leverage on technology like Google Forms and Edmodo, you have data that you can use to your advantage.

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It is not that I take pleasure in pointing out how the local press likes to make the worst of online trends, habits, or phenomena. It is that they do it with such regularity and without a balanced view that I have to point these things out.

A recent STonline headline reads Click. Scan. Search. Scroll: Deep reading is hit as our brain adapts to online scanning and skimming. The headlines points less to the fact that we might be adapting and more to deep reading (a newspaper perhaps?) taking a hit.

I do not know anyone who reads a newspaper from the first page to the last. I wonder how many people read an article deeply as a writer or editor might want.

Skimming is also something newspapers are designed to promote. The long columns and single line paragraphs are not accidents!

The sad thing is that our press has wide local reach and a fair share of conservative readers. These are the same readers who, whether they read deeply or skim, are not aware of alternative points of view. Alternatives published elsewhere at other papers like The internet isn’t harming our love of ‘deep reading’, it’s cultivating it.

These days we have no excuse for not being better informed. Not when the information is so readily available. It is human bias that holds us back, not the the technology.

These days we also have no excuse for ensuring our children are better educated when information is so readily available. In this case it is also fear, indifference, or inertia that holds us back.

Mobile Worker by mikecogh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mikecogh 

The move to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work or school is not new. I have reflected on BYOD before.

Whatever the issues it addresses or creates, there is another good reason for it. Armed with devices, workers and learners Bring Your Own Connections (BYOC).

It is a first world problem to be carrying more than one mobile device at any one time. With modern work and play, this is practically a necessity.

It is also a first world problem that the workplace or school might not be able to provide enough bandwidth for you or it might block the resources you need. That is why you bring your own connection: To get work done or to access the learning resources you need.

When Internet access to Google Docs or to my blog slows down at work, I switch over the LTE connection on my iPhone or iPad mini. This happens every work day.

If a work filter blocks a conference site because it thinks it is something illegal, I BYOC.

If a port is blocked so that I cannot use an Apple TV, a Chromecast, or Air Server, I BYOC.

If I am running a workshop and either I or my participants lack Internet access, I provide it because I BYOC.

When my wife attended an iBooks workshop at her school, neither the default SSOE (school standard operating environment) or the SWN (segregated wireless network) provided the access or bandwidth to download iBooks Author. So by sharing her 4G connection, she used up 829MB of her 2GB monthly quota that day to get the job done.

Almost two years ago, a few CeL staff and I were at a conference that was supposed to provide wifi for our demonstration stall. The signal was so weak and intermittent that I had to resort to using my 3G dongle and a mini router.

This is bandwidth and access that I am providing and paying for because someone else cannot meet the demand. This is not for my entertainment or unofficial purposes.

At CeL’s next department meeting, I might purchase a MiFi device and a colleague and I might show the rest how to create our own ad hoc hotspot for work, workshops, or any other circumstances when BYOC is needed.

Some people might say that I am being foolish by providing and paying for what someone else should be doing. But I focus on getting the job done and done well. Doing this does not burn a hole in my pocket. The returns on my reputation and quality of my work are well worth the investment.

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Admiral Ackbar’s famous line from Return the Jedi was “It’s a trap!” when he realized what the rebel forces had walked into.

I wonder how many teachers who attend edu-conferences realize that they sometimes ensnare themselves in mental traps.

One trap is thinking that the examples they see are representative of change or the euphoria they feel immediately after is the same as learning. They are not.

The showcasing of projects is not necessarily representative of the rest of the system. Who in their right mind would want to showcase something mundane? Often it is only the best and the least representative that make it to the stage.

Evidence of learning is a change in mindset that reveals itself in longer term action. It is not a fleeting feeling that can dissipate as easily and suddenly as it was formed.

This trap is obvious when you know the signs: Things look immediate and easy.

Another potential trap is wanting to see a conference topic trend in Twitter.

A trending topic is a measure of quantity, that is, many, frequent, and sudden tweets carrying a particular #hashtag (see Twitter’s FAQ). Such tweets do not guarantee quality even though there are chances that with quantity some quality emerges.

However, the quality and worth of these tweets, typically a result of an event backchannel, can only be gauged with a post hoc content analysis. An overall research question might be: What was the quality of the tweets? Specific questions to answer might include:

  • To what extent were people just shouting out in a large room?
  • To what extent were people agreeing or amplifying by retweeting?
  • What proportion of the tweets were initiating conversations, providing feedback, or reflecting critically?
  • How were participants extending such actions?

Even when critical questions and rigorous methods are applied, the results and interpretation are subject to scrutiny. So feelings, anecdotes, and perceptions should be subject to even greater scrutiny.

The mental traps I mentioned are insidious. The victims do not realize that they are trapped because they feel cocooned by the feel good factor.

People attend conferences for different reasons, e.g., to feed egos, to present, to be more aware, to learn, to network. I think people should attend to open up their minds. Such minds come with filters: Open enough to let the good stuff in, but not so open that a lot of rubbish falls in. Such minds are mindful of traps.

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