Another dot in the blogosphere?

Yesterday I started sharing how one might assess the unGoogleable.

Today I share another idea. Since it is the weekend, it is time for something light yet serious. Seriously cool and for serious consideration.

It is not about what you claim you can do. It is not just how well you perform on tests.

It is about what you can actually do. It is about how you can combine knowledge and skills that schools still offer in separate silos and make your own sense of them.

It is about making your own connections and putting your own take on things.

Video source

It is about pursuing your passions and working on what you are good at so that you become better. It is about sharing what is special and creative about you to the world around you.

It is about leveraging on current and emerging technologies to tell your parents, teachers, and employers what you are learning and what you can do.

It is about showing the unGoogleable and letting others decide what your wares are worth.

Last week Sugata Mitra suggested this at a leadership conference in Singapore:

This is not new to thought leaders and those that follow them.

For example, in 2012 I tweeted a link on the Danish experiment on allowing Internet use during exams. Here are some other links I have been collecting in Diigo.

While there are many good reasons for allowing the use of the Internet for tests and exams, there is common approach among thought and action leaders. If Google can help answer questions, then we should also (only?) test 1) learners’ ability to search, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize, and 2) the unGoogleable.

I illustrate with two recent examples.

A Singapore Math question went viral locally and has gained traction elsewhere. It claims to be about logic and there is apparently more than one solution [1] [2].

I question the logic of such questions, but that is not what this reflection is about. The fact of the matter is that the solutions, the rationales, and their critiques can all be found online.

You do not need to know how to get the answer traditionally. You need only know how to search online for information and people, and decide which return is best. If that is not a 21st century competency, I do not know what is.

Next example. Last week, my wife, an English teacher, received a message containing an English problem supposedly pitched at the Primary 1 level.

It went something like this:

I am a word of five letters and people eat me. If you remove the first letter I become a form of energy. Remove the first two and I am needed to live. Scramble the last three and you can drink me. What word am I?

There are many other variations of this. There are also several reactions that kids and parents can have.

One is panic, as the messenger did. After he calmed down, he reached out to a teacher (my wife) but not his child’s teacher because the latter caused the panic in the first place.

Another reaction was to learn the “logic” of the artificial problem and use either thought finesse or brute force to crack it open.

As much as I might enjoy a puzzle, I do not appreciate fake ones, particularly ones given late at night and not meaningful to me. My reaction was to Google it.

I had barely typed “I am a word of…” and Google’s suggested search phrases appeared. And links. And answers. And variations. And discussions galore!

Is there a need to test? Certainly.

Is there a need to test what we can Google? I think not.

What does a test for the unGoogleable look like? It is difficult to say for sure, but it is NOT a just test.

As challenging as good tests are to create, they are relatively easy to grade because answers fit into as few categories as possible. Preferably two categories: Right and wrong. If you take into consideration different perspectives, answers, or talents, then tests become inadequate.

A look at what happens in online social spaces gives clues as to what assessing the unGoogleable might look like. There are discussion forums where the best answers float to the top by popular vote. There are blogs with explanations and reflections on such problems.

Expand this natural “testing” island to a broader universe and the possibilities are endless. Twitter debates, Facebook critiques, YouTube video challenges, Instagram or Pinterest collections, Vine impressions.

All these and more are already part of digital databases that capture our identities. The Googles of the world use it for research, marketing, and advertising. I say we tame, manage, and organize these data in an online portfolio to showcase what we learn. Then we might stumble on ways to assess the unGoogleable.

The moderator at this week’s #asiaED slow chat posted this question:

I had to respond with:

I had to because MLEs are not confined to the classroom.

Kids and adults alike learn while they are in the loo, travelling on public transport, or waiting in a queue. They study or even have remedial tuition at McDonald’s and Starbucks.

One way to rethink the design of classrooms is to make them look more like home or cafes.

In 2009, my former workplace, the National Institute of Education, Singapore, took the initiative to convert all the tutorial rooms on the ground floor to “collaborative classrooms”. There were almost 70 of such rooms and several other special rooms on other floors.

I shared a few photos of these places with this message: MLEs can be designed to look like where the learners are already at. If learners are already comfortable in cafes and their living rooms, simulate that.

I also tried to warn that MLEs should not just be about transforming the physical space.

A redesigned classroom can be most impressive to visitors or administrators. But what good is that if teachers teach the same way and students do not learn any differently (e.g., not at all, only in isolation, sans Internet)?

The previous director of NIE provided some anecdotal evidence at a talk about two years ago. As he walked around campus, he could peek through the windows of our collaborative classrooms. He wondered out loud why tutors and professors still seemed to be standing in front. (Background: We had started a professional development programme on using such rooms effectively, but 1) it took time to reach almost 400 instructors), and 2) only the usual suspects and the already converted tended to show up.)

It is easy to paint walls, buy new furniture, and change layouts. These also cost a fair bit of money.

It is more difficult to change teacher mindsets and behaviour. But I rarely see such MLE change initiatives include rigorous professional development. The cost of not doing this is even higher, not because it is expensive but because you spend money to make changes to the outside (the classrooms) without tending to the insides (instructor beliefs and mindsets).

When there is superficial or no pedagogical change, the cost is high because it does little to benefit learners. This can happen when vendors sell only furniture and classroom layouts without considering professional development or student inputs.

Caveat emptor.

Kids only seem to have “short attention spans” when adults give them work that they do not want to do. Such work is boring or not meaningful.

Photo of my son gaming in 2010. I used this photo in a TEDx talk in 2011 to spread the word on game-based learning.

These are probably the same adults who observe the same kids being able to focus on video games or stay engaged in YouTube videos they are watching or creating. Except now the kids are “addicted”.

It is the adults who need to take a critical look at themselves. It does not take long, but it can be painful to admit and change.

That is why I am keeping this entry short. For the adult who cannot pay attention or chooses not to.

Plus Cathy Davidson has already written more articulately what I also know:

we measure our kids’ deficits by our glowing and often inflated idea of how much better “we” (our entire generation, of course) were. This is not really a discussion about the biology of attention; it is about the sociology of change.

It is not a long read and well worth your attention.


Today I share some tweets that begin a story on whether academic papers are read and I end the story with questions on teaching practice.

Last week I shared this STonline article.

It received quite a lot of attention judging from the Twitter conversations I had with people I had never met before.

One short conversation with one academic focused on an important aspect that the article brought up. If university faculty are appraised in ways that do not promote more open sharing or public discourse, then little will change.

For example, if more appraisal points are not awarded for getting grants that require data and publications to be more openly shared [example], faculty will maintain the status quo.

Several others focused on people not reading the articles they cite or not reading deeply enough.

It led me to tweet about the need to read pragmatically.

Given the disproportionately large volume of readings compared to the time for academic writing, it is pragmatic for academics to read selectively.

For the layperson and other academics reading outside their specializations, selective reading becomes the default method because they do not have the same depth of knowledge.

It is not as if you need to read everything; it is whether or not you read enough to make good sense or to raise a valid counterpoint.

I used my Twitter dashboard statistics to see if these academics walked the talk. Big assumption: People pause to read and click on what they are interested in. Since this was about academic papers not being read and since the people who responded (Twitter engagements) were academics, I am making an assumption that most were academics.

As of Mon, 13 Apr, 4pm Singapore time, my tweet had received 1,546 casual views and 99 engagements.

Almost a third of the engagements (32) were clicks on the screenshot, presumably to read the snippet more carefully. Only 11% (9 clicks) of the engagements were to open the actual article.

There is no guarantee that those who opened the article actually read it or read it all the way through. Whether they read it is partly a function of their persistence and whether the article was behind a paywall. If they read the article in its entirety, there is no guarantee that they understood it or got what was intended.

This is not an attack on academics. As a former academic, I understand what the stresses are and I also know how fragile egos can be.

This is a statement about how teachers handle readings. Teachers might assign readings as homework or use readings to flip their classrooms. Such efforts are likely to suffer from the same low returns and similar problems as the example I described above.

Instead of providing closed answers, I ask open questions.

  • Are the readings you want your learners to consume available to them unconditionally?
  • Why do you want your learners to read something before class? Do they understand why they need to read before class?
  • What scaffolds are you providing or what prior knowledge have you activated prior to the reading?
  • Must they read everything or is it enough that they read just enough?
  • What provisions have you made for those that cannot do the readings, do not wish to read, or do not benefit optimally from readings?
  • What assumptions are you making when requiring only readings?

On an almost daily basis, I get notified by Twitter that something I wrote or a tweet I shared is part of someone else’s curated e-paper. For example, I get tweets like “The [name] Daily is out! Stories via @ashley…”.

These tweets become spammy when others listed with me retweet or favourite the tweet and I get notified repeatedly. The notifications are easy enough to ignore, but some of the malpractices of digital curation is not.

There are at least two types curation tools, auto curation tools like, and manual curation tools like It is the auto tools left in fire-and-forget mode that concern me.

An owner of something like a space defines content by including Twitter handles and hashtags, amongst other parameters. The tool harvests information daily and spits out pretty decent-looking papers based on algorithms.

The original authors or creators of content are assured that they can opt out or stand to gain increased traffic.

Let me address the first issue short and sweet: How about first being asked if we would like to opt in? Even if I share content openly, what happened to “Please may I use…” and “Thank you for sharing…”?

On to the next issue. Does algorithmically-determined curation really benefit the original creator with more traffic or credit? I think not, particularly if the 1) collection is not focused in terms of topic and audience, and 2) attribution goes to someone else.

I share and create mostly educational technology ideas. But I have seen my tweets and content shared under categories like art, sports, and science in the right sorts of education-flavoured papers. My content has also been included in totally unrelated papers.

In an attention economy, a “curated” paper is likely to only attract specific target audiences with specific needs. If my tweets and blog entries are categorized by basic algorithms that do not factor context and nuance, then they will not be read.

I share my own resources by amplifying them on Twitter or might be the first to tweet something. However, auto curation tools may not be smart enough to detect that. I have seen my content attributed to someone else in platforms like

Auto curating platforms like also remove comments in favour of links to content. This can lead to a misrepresentation of who I am or what I stand for. For example, I might tweet a resource with a comment about it being a negative example. However, will share the headline and URL while removing my comment and thus the context in which it was shared.

I ask those that think they are curating to learn how to curate with Diigo or with For example, here is what I curate on flipped learning.

Digital curation, like museum curation, takes work. You must want to tell a story or provide a custom set of resources for those who request it. For example, when people in my PLN ask for resources, I would create bundles for them (unfortunately these are being “sunsetted” soon).

If you wish to call yourself a digital curator, I ask that you also create your own content and share it openly. Imagine if no one created any; what would there be to curate? I also warn that auto curation breeds laziness, especially if you do not manage by manually taking control from time to time or monitoring for accuracy and quality.

5981-DB-sm by alee_04, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  alee_04 

I invested the last week in revisiting reflections on flipped learning (flipping). Here is why I did it.

Here are the links in case you missed them.

I had initially planned on six reflections, but I decided to rise above. Yesterday I reflected on the differences between flipped learning and flipping a classroom as well as being a flipping change agent.

Click to see all the nominees!

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