Another dot in the blogosphere?

I am not sure where I am going with this, so I will let the storytelling tell me where to go.

Last Friday was the final day of the school term for mainstream schools here. I was at a mall and walked behind a mother and her son. The boy, about 8 or 9-years-old, started merrily declaring, “I am so happy there’s no more school!”

Then he started walking like the little girl in the now infamous video. There is even a GIF of her and her younger brother.

As he dance-walked, he kept repeating, “Woo-hoo, there’s no school! Woo-hoo, there’s no school!”

I am sure that many teachers are just as thankful for the break. Inside they might feel like the girl in the GIF and secretly they might want to express themselves like the boy at the mall.

Enjoy the break teachers because you deserve it. And if you gave too much holiday homework, you deserve what is coming your way too. 😉

About three years ago, I gave a speech in which I described how technology tools have changed but how some of our pedagogy has remained stagnant. I showed how we remain stuck at the show-and-tell method of teaching and schooling despite advancing technologically [slide].

When our ancestors learnt to draw on cave walls, they were using show-and-tell.

 
When we used blackboards, it was largely about show-and-tell. These days this is referred to derogatively as chalk-and-talk.

 
When the overhead projector invaded halls and rooms, most other strategies flew over our collective heads as we relied on show-and-tell again.

 
When whiteboards replaced blackboards, the strategy remained the same — show-and-tell.

 
Even when “interactive” whiteboards could do much more, teachers did much less and reduced them to smaller whiteboards and reverted to show-and-tell. (And some people had the audacity to call these white elephants “smart”.)

 
Despite the rise of personal mobile devices, vendors, instructional designers, and instructors took the safe bet: Content delivery by show-and-tell.

 by lukew, on Flickr
"" (CC BY 2.0) by lukew

 
Now we can add AR and VR devices to the mix. But the imaginations of some of the people who decide what AR and VR are good for is still stuck at show-and-tell.

 
Is show-and-tell that bad given how persistent it is? No, it is not. But it cannot be the main and only strategy in a teacher’s toolkit. After all, if all you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail.If your only tool is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.
 
Show-and-tell is not good because it has been persistent. It is still around because teachers are stubborn, fearful, or choose to remain ignorant.

Not only do teachers need a mix of strategies, they also need a balance. Right now, the balance is still tilted heavily on show-and-tell simply because that is how teachers were taught and it is what gives them a sense of control.

But teaching by telling does not necessarily lead to learning. We now have so many more tools and strategies that it is irresponsible to teach without skilfully incorporating some of them. We should do this not to pander to the times. We do this because it results in more effective learning.

I love this Wired video series where an expert teaches five learners at very different levels. I highlighted a previous video last month in which a neuroscientist discussed connectomes.


Video source

In the video above, another biologist was challenged to discuss CRISPR at five individuals: Child, teenager, college student, graduate student, and expert.

The previous five-level video inspired me to link it to personalised teaching. This video might remind teachers how they might teach at any and all levels. They should seek to ask questions, not just answers.

At each level, the biologist asked at least one question:

  1. Child: Do you know what a genome is?
  2. Teenager: What do you think about being able to edit genomes?
  3. College student: Do you know how CRISPR works?
  4. Graduate student: (Are there) any unintended consequences?
  5. Expert: How are you using gene editing in your own work?

Despite the different types of questions, they shared the same property. The questions drove to where the learner was likely at and were designed to build knowledge from that point.

If you seek to indoctrinate, provide the answers. If you seek to educate, provide questions.

Too often teaching starts with answers without questions. This only teaches students how NOT to ask questions. This also reinforces in teachers not to ask good questions or to not get students to do the same.

I share below a few image quotes I created in 2015 and 2016 that highlight the importance of leading with questions. These image quotes and many others are available in one of my Google Photos galleries.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see. — Alexandra K. Trenfor

We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself. -- Lord Alexander.

Good GRADES may help you LOOK smart. Good QUESTIONS help you GET smart.

 
You might be reading this because of the clickbait title and image. I hope you read on even though this reflection is not about punishing your child. It is about inculcating discipline.

Earlier this week, my son decided to share what his school mates do for meals outside of school. Some of them have such huge allowances that they drink a Starbucks coffee every day. Others microwave marked up and over-processed food at a 7-11.

Some might argue that the kids are not drinking actual coffee nor are they consuming good food. I choose not to focus on this health issue. Instead I wish to share some strategies of helping kids manage their money, their time, and themselves.

Managing money
Some of my son’s classmates come from rich households and this shows in their allowances. Their weekly expenditure on Starbucks alone exceeds my son’s weekly allowance and public transport fares combined.

Parents want the best for their kids and for me this does not meaning giving them everything they want or more than they need. It means nurturing good values and attitudes with something as basic as managing one’s allowance.

One simple way to help kids manage finances is to discuss their weekly allowance and to show them how to use it. This means getting down to specifics of what they might eat at breaks and lunch, and how much to spend.

My son also has to save part of his allowance to buy what he wants. This is typically e-wallet gaming money which can take a few months to build up. This teaches him not only the basics of financial literacy, but also how to prioritise and to persevere.

Managing time
Money is tangible in that it can be held or exchanged for some commodity. Time less so.

Kids will spend hours on devices if we let them and if we do not teach them how to walk away. Even adults are guilty of doing this, so who are we to judge? But judge we must because kids need to learn to allocate time to different tasks.

We do two things in our home to help my son manage his computer gaming time. We discuss limits and we use a timer.

When he was younger, we typed up and laminated a contract that stated expectations, limits, and consequences. We stuck the contract on the computer desk where he plays and works.

Now that he is older, we do not rely on the old contract. We have a spoken agreement on how much time he can spend on the computer on weekdays and weekends. He sets the timer, and when it goes off, he has to stop using the computer.

This means that he must decide how much time and effort he can spend with his gaming buddies. His expeditions must be planned instead of leaving everything to chance or emergence.

Managing self
Managing one’s finances and time are part of managing one’s self. But there are other aspects of self management, e.g., social behaviours.

A significant issue growing up is dealing with negative peer pressure. The do’s and don’ts are too numerous to list, so we have opted not to fight that battle. Listing a set of “commandments” does not teach a child to think critically and independently.

Instead I introduced the concept of “spheres of influence” to my son. I told him that when he was younger, my wife and I were the only ones in that sphere. As he grew up more relatives, other adults, friends, and acquaintances stepped in and out of that sphere.

The growing sphere is a natural function of learning in social contexts. However, only his original parental sphere has his best interest in mind. The other spheres may have non-ideal or less altruistic goals.

My son experiences this for himself every day, so the spheres of influence are not just a theoretical concept. If we tell him what and why he needs to do something, he knows we have his well-being in mind.

The spheres shape each person and condense into who they are. The quality of a person manifests itself in self-management and some expressions are more obvious than others.

I look for small evidence of self-management. He clears his food tray without being reminded. He does not abandon his bag in a public place. He greets “uncles” and “aunties” on his own.

Being a mild child, he is shy about the last one and needs constant reminding. But that is why he has parents. We are there to instil that discipline.

After reading a press release and two articles about five Singapore schools experimenting with virtual reality (VR) excursions, I had one question: Remember the mistakes people made with Second Life?

This IMDA press release revealed the five Primary schools involved in the VR trial. An STonline article provided three videos and one photo of one such trial.

While I applaud the effort to incorporate technology into lessons, I worry about the short or non-existent memory of those involved in developing VR for schools.

When Second Life rose to prominence, the bold claim then was that you could create any world and do anything in it. While that was true, many people recreated what they could already see and do in real life. Some of the VR efforts are making the same mistake, i.e., recreating field trips that you can take in reality.

To be fair, another article pointed out a benefit of VR.

The solution allows students in a classroom setting to go through an on-site visit experience. Sites which might not be easily accessible to students due to their remote locations or due to students’ health or safety reasons can be explored.

Sites of interest could include landmarks such as the Central Sikh Temple, Chinese Garden and Geylang Serai market for teaching students about the early settlers in Singapore or it could be an offshore fish farm or an organic vegetable farm for learning about agricultural activities in Singapore.

The VR developers can and have heeded a lesson from Second Life mistakes. Both virtual experiences were valuable when they focused on what was very difficult, costly, or impossible to do in real life. For example:

  • Travelling to the same place set at a different time.
  • Embarking on trips that would be very difficult, dangerous, or impossible, e.g., outer space.
  • Enjoying rare experiences, e.g., endangered locations where foot traffic might damage the ecosystem.

Some might argue that a VR field trip saves on time and effort. This is a poor excuse because if something is really worth experiencing, it is worth physically visiting.

While VR might save on time, it does not necessarily save on effort or money. According to the STonline article:

The VR headset’s retail price is about $150, and the price of the accompanying smartphones used with the headsets can cost between $500 and $1,200.

There was no information about bandwidth, platform and content development, and maintenance costs. Those add up.

As with most technologies, the cost of hardware will invariably go down, thus lowering that cost. However, there is still the cost of software development, content updates, teacher professional development, and swopping the virtual for the real.

Other than various costs, other insidious factors are the consumption-based design of current VR experiences and the show-and-tell approach.

This article described the virtual field trips as:

…lesson packages to ensure that it was aligned to the curriculum and the learning outcomes of the Social Studies primary school syllabus

We need to read in between the lines of this statement. While VR companies might work with experts and teachers on content, it is the companies that keep and control the content. (BTW, this is true with just about any paid published work; the rights transfer to the publisher.)

The control of the rights to the content as well as to its revisions and releases helps companies create consumer dependence in order to make money. They are the source of the hardware, software, stories, and experiences, and they want customers to keep coming back for those things.

The same article also described the lessons.

During each one-hour lesson, students experienced 4-5 VR experiences, lasting no more than 5 minutes each.

There is a dashboard through which teachers can control (play, pause and stop) and guide students through the VR experience. Teachers know what the students are looking at through indicators on the teacher’s screen and point out interesting spots in the video.

The message is that students are not free to explore. The system is designed for teacher control only. The pedagogy relies on the show-and-tell model.

If the rhetoric is to have more self-directed learners and nurture independent thinkers, where is the design for exploration, uncovering, analysis, and evaluation? Surely not in worksheets!

Besides using VR headsets, the pupils also completed worksheets and discussed in groups to reinforce what they learnt.

Oh, joy… worksheets!

So I return to the premise of my argument: This VR “initiative” is a new way of making old mistakes.

  1. Some of the experiences may not be necessary if they replicate what is readily experienced in real life more conveniently or meaningfully.
  2. The costs are not just financial. There are also mindset and pedagogical costs (teach the same way, show-and-tell).

If I sound like a squeaky wheel, I remind you of this observation distilled from wry wisdom.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

 
Earlier this month, @tucksoon tweeted this CNA article about fake news.

I turn the question on teachers and rephrase it slightly. Do teachers know how to spot bad theory and practice?

Do they know why they should question:

  • Learning styles?
  • Homework?
  • Assessment practices?
  • Digital distinctions?

If not, I share what I have written and curated on:

Some self-serving proclamations from “edtech” vendors make me do my version of gymnastics — my eyes roll and my stomach turns.

Recently I read how one claimed that it could “make learning more engaging, personalised and accessible”. I did my flips and then I felt nauseous.
 

 
Why should something that seems positive be so repulsive to me? Let’s break the claim down element by element.

First, the rhetoric of engagement. The premise for this rhetoric might read: I need to stimulate you, and if I do not, you do not learn. There is some merit to this based on what we know about cognition. If you do not get first attention, then subsequent stimuli are not likely to register.

However, the assumption here is that the stimulus is external. Students are taught to expect to be entertained or switched on instead of nurtured to be independent and self-driving.

Leaders in education and edtech have already started writing and speaking about learner agency and empowerment. This means that learners should not be treated only as consumers, but also as creators of content.

“Engaging” learners with extrinsic motivations is old school and futile in the long run. Empowering them to make, teach, and share is the new order of the day.

Vendors know that policymakers and teachers like to hear about engagement. It feels powerful to be able to engage. However, this does not guarantee students learn powerfully and meaningfully.

Vendors also know that the students must remain consumers and teachers or policymakers must remain buyers. If students and teachers learn to DIY and share openly, then vendors go out of business.

Second, personalised learning is not when it focuses on instruction. Teaching is not the same act as learning. Teaching does not guarantee learning in the same way that talking is not the same as listening.

Let’s assume that the personalisation of learning has three main requirements:

  1. Meeting students where they are.
  2. Letting students progress at their own rate.
  3. Offering students rich and relevant learning experiences.

The reality of “personalised learning” by vendors is often the opposite. Students to go where the vendor is (platforms, logins, access policies, etc.) Students may also need to meet prerequisites to earn the right to “personalise” their learning the vendor’s way.

Resources expire or are locked away if someone else decides the learners do not need them or should not see them. The same entity also dictates an access duration and period.

Sometimes what vendors actually mean by “rich and relevant learning” is actually individualised or customised instruction. They would like you to believe that they can provide choices for your students. For reasons pragmatic and financial, these choices are finite, predetermined, and locked behind a paywall.

Meanwhile learners young and old are already “personalising their learning” by a) not calling it that, b) Googling, c) using YouTube, and d) relying on social connections.

In other words, learners of today are already taking agency and empowering themselves to make their own decisions.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Teaching is neat while learning is messy. Personalisation is also messy, and no vendor can or should promise neat packages.

Third, “accessible” is not as broad as it should be. The vendor might mean online and reachable 24×7 (barring maintenance, which coincidentally, will always mess with your schedule). It could also refer to online resources being available on desktop, laptop, slate, or phone.

Such a claim of being accessible is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. Consider if the resource is available if the learner is at level 5 but needs to access level 4 or 6 work. In most cases, the learner will not have such access.

Now consider if the learners are disabled is some way (mentally, physically, socially) or disenfranchised (financially, culturally). How more broadly accessible are the resources to these learners?

The vendors might call me fussy. I might call them dishonest. You decide whose interests I have in mind and heart.

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