Another dot in the blogosphere?

Today’s reflection is courtesy of a tweet and a Pokémon Go (PoGo) auntie.

I do not know how much more research and how many more articles like this need to be shared before the “digital native” myth is dispelled.

I anticipate “never” because some people will cling on to what they believe in despite the evidence and compelling arguments against the myth [some curated resources].

But here is a different critical look at the article. Are the old skills — word processing and using spreadsheets — good measures of digital ability?

They might still be relevant in the cubicle age. But this age overlaps with the shared work space, home office, coffee place, remote work, part-timer, and startup ages.

The latter work spaces and job scopes hint at a different set of skills, e.g., the ability to keep on learning and to learn on the run. Being tech-savvy is more about wise use, not just skill-based or even skilful use.

Being tech-dependent does not mean being tech-savvy.

A PoGo auntie I met yesterday personified this sort of digital savvy or nativeness.

The PoGo auntie straddled her bicycle at a raid venue. She waited for players to arrive so that we could battle a Pokémon boss together. The auntie not only found out how many were intending to battle, she also advised others around her.

More impressively, she was armed with more than one phone and account. You can do PoGo raids just once at each venue. Having more devices and accounts allowed the PoGo auntie to participate more than once over the 60 minutes that the raid was available.

The auntie was quite adept at choosing suitable battlers. She had obviously learnt from experience, exchanging info nuggets, and possibly watching YouTube videos.

I call her an auntie, but I qualify as an uncle myself. She was on her bicycle and I was on my e-scooter. We were both successful with the raid and we both caught the boss Pokémon in the end despite just having three battlers and rumours that Niantic had strengthened the bosses.

That auntie and this uncle are technically more savvy and native than the tertiary students in the study even if we do not word process or spreadsheet as much. We learn because of Pokémon Go. We embrace technology because it enables us to learn on the go.

I shared the photo montage below previously without the quote. I made another one with the text after reading an article about oBike’s shared bicycle service extending to London.

A system that relies on people to be thoughtful, courteous and responsible is doomed to fail.

One person commented on the article: A system that relies on people to be thoughtful, courteous and responsible is doomed to fail.

I agree. From a systems perspective, you cannot expect a group of individuals to behave formulaically by assuming good behaviour will override bad behaviour for a net positive.

Groups of people become meta-organisms like a hive of bees or a colony of ants. They become a different creature, not a collection of animals.

So this got me thinking about how leaders and administrators think about implementing change in school systems.

The tongue-in-cheek and in-your-face collection above bares some truths. But reality is more nuanced than assuming all leaders are dimwits.

Some do not know they are uninformed, some do not want to know, and some acknowledge the gaps. They are the optimists, pessimists, and realists of systemic change.

The optimists have good intentions, theories, and ideals. Policies are shaped in their mould, but they fail to translate on the ground because of practical and cruel realities.

The pessimists plan and implement incremental or piecemeal change because they view their efforts as fighting the tide. Whatever they do, they go with the flow because that is what wins in the short term.

The realists rely on praxis — the combination of theories and practices, or theory-informed practices. They know that people understand the need for change, but do not necessarily want to be change agents.

Comic on change.

Realists do not just plan and act on theories. They also collect meaningful and timely data to inform policy. They do not simply work on a hunch, they work on something with punch.

Realists know they must address mindsets before they can change attitudes and behaviours. They include incentives and disincentives to shape mindsets.

Realists do not simply charge ahead and say “Follow me!” without monitoring the followers. They pull from the front, push from the back, and mess with the middle.

Realists know that they cannot lead alone. They must mentor or identify change agents and informal leaders. These are individuals that are not appointed from above, but emerge from the ground instead. They lead not because of position, but because of reputation.

A system designed for people to not have buy-in, ownership, and direction is doomed to fail.

Leaders of change do not neatly fit into the categories. They form a continuum instead. The best ones are centred in reality and learn from the successes and failures of other systems.

You know what this tweet means. I understand its sentiment. It is about learning and growing as a result of challenge or change.

But I also challenge that “nothing ever grows” in the comfort zone. If we are are thinking literally, I can think of algae, fungus, and moss. Metaphorically I can think of inertia as something that grows in the comfort zone.
 

 
Not everything is bad in the comfort zone. A green patch on a rock soon becomes a mini ecosystem for other organisms to thrive. I need a comfort zone to think and write.

So I challenge the notion that nothing ever grows in the comfort zone. The issue is knowing which part of the zone you are in: The part that keeps you stubbornly still or the part that keeps you actively thinking and doing.

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For the second time in as many years, my son asked for a printout of our latest home utility bill. It was for a geography topic.

I have no objections to sharing how energy and water efficient we are, but I took care to block out personal information like our account number and address.

Perhaps teachers or designers of curricula think that an example from real life will connect with learners. It might. Then again, it might not. Kids do not normally worry about utility bills.
 

 
There is a more serious disconnect — the hardcopy. I asked my son why he could not share a digital copy on his phone. He replied that the instructions were to bring a printout.

A printout. This means that someone realised that we rely on e-bills now. The utility companies offer this as a cost-saving and timely measure, and customers are already on the bandwagon.

Why is a class disconnected from the new normal? Students will learn from teachers how not to question, to stick blindly with tradition, and to be prepared for the past.

Students will learn to play the game that is school. They will be schooled, but they may not be educated.

This is my response to newspaper articles [Today] [STonline] on a study by Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). I also respond in longer form to tweets about the articles or study.

First some background, disclosures, and caveats.

According to one article, the study was “a quantitative look at the views of 1,500 citizen or permanent resident (PR) parents with children in local primary schools on their perceptions about Singapore’s education system at that level”.

I am not linked to the IPS nor do I have a stake in what it does. As an educator, I have a stake in how people process reports of such studies because it reflects our collective capacity to think critically.

My intent is to provide some insights based on my experiences as a teacher educator and researcher. In the latter capacity, I have had to design and conduct research, supervise it, and be consulted on designs, strategies, and methodologies.

However, without full and immediate access to the actual IPS report and data, I have to take the newspaper articles at face value. I also have to assume that the research group implemented the survey-based study rigorously and ethically.

The headline by the Today paper was click(bait)-worthy. It was not the only finding, but the paper thought it would grab eyeballs.

At least two people tweeted and wanted to know if other stakeholders like parents and the students themselves were asked about the impact of the PSLE.


I understand their concerns, but this was probably not on the research agenda. I say this not to dismiss the importance of their questions.

Good research is focused in order to be practical, to manage limited time and resources, and to shed a spotlight on a fuzzy issue. The questions about teachers and students could be addressed in another study.

It might help to view the study as a snapshot of early stage policy implementation. MOE has passed policy of “every school, a good school” and shared upcoming changes to the PSLE. The big question is: What is the buy in?

MOE can more easily manage the buy in among teachers and students. Parents are a different matter, so the study rightfully focused on that group.

The study was not about making any comparison. It was about taking a snapshot of public opinion.

This is also not a question that the IPS could seek answers to in mainstream schools here. Except for international, private, and most special needs schools, all mainstream Primary schools subscribe to the PSLE and do not have alternatives like e-portfolios. Some home-schooled children even take the PSLE.

This is actually a critical question that needs to be asked.

Our Prime Minister hinted at it in his National Day Rally speech in 2013 and MOE responded with some changes — IMO superficial changes — in late 2016.

If enough stakeholders question the timing or value of PSLE, then the followup questions revolve around the WHEN and HOW of change.

According to the ST article, “the sample of parents… had a proportionate number of children in almost all the 180 or so primary schools here.”

Now this could mean that there was less than ten parents representing each school on average. We cannot be sure if some schools were over or under-represented, nor can we be absolutely certain that the respondents were representative of parents in general. This is why national surveys rely on large returns.

That said, surveys, whether voluntary or solicited, tend to be taken by those who want to have their say. You can never be absolutely certain if you have are missing a silent majority or have a data from a vocal minority. However, a large return tends to balance things out.

The survey study seemed to rely on descriptive statistics. At least, that is what the papers focused on. If that is the case, a statistical analysis was not in the design. If it was, there would be specific research questions based on hypotheses.

Not every study needs a statistical analysis. If this was a snapshot or preliminary study, the descriptive statistics paint a picture that highlight more questions or help policymakers suggest future strategies.

Overall, I do not fault a study for attempting to paint a broad picture that no one else seemed to have a clear view of. It sets the stage for more query and critical analysis.

But I do have one more potshot to take and it is directed at the newspapers.

The contrast of what was highlighted by each paper of the same study could not be more stark.

To be fair, both papers had a few articles on the same study to highlight different topics. But what the newspapers choose to tweet is an indication of what they value. This is no different from what any of us chooses to tweet.

I chose to call out the subjectivity of any press that thinks of itself as objective or impartial. Any study and press article has bias, some have more and some less.

As content creators, we should make our bias transparently obvious. As critical thinkers and doers, we should try to figure out what the biases are first.

It is easy to tell people what to do, especially if you think the advice is for their own good. But your perspective may not be a shared one.

This is because people often cannot see themselves from someone else’s perspective.

So why don’t we show them instead of just telling them?

The show does not have to rely only on shock value because an initial overload easily becomes the norm with enough repetition. Then your target becomes numb.


Video source

Better to strike the funny bone first and then the thoughtful one, just like the video PSA above on not texting while driving.

One application of this idea in education is that videos should not just replicate what a textbook or teacher should do. Substituting one medium for another is rarely effective.

In this case, the medium alone is not the message nor is it the strategy. The video should not be used just to enthral or to mix things up. It should deliver a message in a way that neither textbook nor teacher can. After that, the teacher can get learners to tell after the show.

So show, don’t just tell. Then tell, don’t just show.

I LOL’d when I saw this tweet. It was a moment of truth and connection. Ask adults around you and you might get similar anecdotes of this shared experience.

But however humorous, the observation is superficial. It is probably what drove people like Prensky to create the concept of the digital native, i.e., kids born with technology are savvy with it because they are wired differently.

What proponents of the digital native narrative ignore is that we are first wired to play and explore. Our instinct is to learn.

If the available technology was a stick and mud, a child as a curious learning machine would use it. Some mud and even the stick might end up in their face or mouth.

Today the technology might be the computer or phone. A child is the same curious learning machine and the computers or phones stick as well. That child is no more a digital native than the previous one was an analogue native.

I often tell adult participants of my seminars or workshops that they are sometimes more native with some technologies than their students and children.

Take the use of Facebook for instance. Most adults and parents my age started using Facebook before they had kids or before their kids started using it. The adults are more aware of the usage, nuances, and changes in Facebook than younger learners. They might also be wiser about what to share and what not to. The adults are the digital natives in that context.

That is one of the key weaknesses in the false dichotomy that is the digital native-immigrant divide. It does not take into account context of use. A better but less well known theory is the digital visitor and resident continuum by David White.

Whether it takes a comic or some critical reflection, I hope more people read about how the concept of digital natives does more harm than good. After all, we learn not when we reinforce something we already believe in; we learn when we experience dissonance as we play and explore.

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