Another dot in the blogosphere?

I take workshops seriously. I have a reputation for making people actually work towards their learning during workshops.

I find it helps to project a timer to keep people on task and to maintain the pace of workshops. It is a visual reminder of a social expectation.

Timers come in many forms: The ones in smartphones, an assortment of online timers, setting a Google timer (e.g., Google “timer for 5 minutes” if you need a 5-minute timer), and even YouTube videos.

YouTube videos of timers are the easiest to embed in web pages and that is what I have started using in a series of workshops I am facilitating this semester.

The only disadvantage I have experienced is that YouTube keeps track of the videos I watch and recommends other timer videos for me. They make for very boring videos to watch at home!

Here is an example of a workshop page in Google Sites. I provide all the resources in plain and sequential view for my learners: Instructions, resources (e.g., links to websites, embedded videos), a timer, and a task to complete.

This not only creates an advance organizer, it also provides a scaffold for me to remember what to do!

According to STonline, this is an example of transformative schooling in Singapore’s Infocomm Media 2025 masterplan.

Imagine a future where each student goes home with a different set of questions for their homework, which are customised to address areas that an individual is weak in. That future could be at our doorstep over the next few years.

Using data analytics technology, teachers can easily sift through their students’ strengths and weaknesses, and assign homework based on areas they need more practice in.

This technology will also be able to generate customised worksheets and practice papers for students, such as generating more problems which students are weak at to practice on, or coming up with more challenging questions in topics they are breezing through.

It is a description of the holy grail of individualized instruction. To some, this might be transformative as we leverage on big data and more advanced analytics.

But just how transformative is the example? It certainly takes a load off teachers and leverages on what technologies can do better than people. However, it is still using words like homework, practice, and worksheets.

What would be transformative is thinking and acting outside that box. It is building on what has already started differently today instead of the all too familiar past.

For example, learners already watch YouTube videos that fuel their passions and actively pursue skills they want to develop. YouTube already has algorithms that suggest what other related videos to watch (like the way library systems might recommend books to you and Amazon recommends what you buy).
 

tall pine by mamaloco, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  mamaloco 

 
What would be transformative is a system that is learner-centric and predicts what each person wants and needs, be it curriculum-based or passion-based. But chasing curricula is going for the relatively low-hanging fruit; enabling the identification and pursuit of one’s passions is more worthwhile.

Now one might argue that ten years is not a long time to develop systems that help us climb higher up that tree. I disagree. With YouTube, we are already at the start of passion-based pursuits.

Building elaborate curriculum engines will tend to focus on content and providing it when the learner needs it. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is not enough. Doing this will not necessarily create context for authentic use and help learners make meaningful connections. However, focusing on what drives learners and learning creates context and connection, and is even fueled by these two elements.

Consider Singapore’s refocus on vocational or skills-based education. Now think about how many instructional videos there are on YouTube, e.g., baking cakes, putting on makeup, playing musical instruments, building your own X, hacking your own Y, fixing your own Z, etc. The desire to learn these skills is driven by the learner. The content is sought out as a result of context and connection, not the other way around.

If we are going to use the word “transform”, then we should be using it properly. Transforming is not just doing more of the same and better. It is doing something different and more worthwhile. In education, transformational edtech should enable passion-based learning, not just more curriculum-based learning.

I had the opportunity to share this quote during workshops I conducted over the last two weeks. It emphasizes the importance on focusing on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching.

That is not to say that the teacher is not important. Teachers are, but not in the traditional delivery-oriented way. There is so much information on the Internet and in the minds and experiences of our learners. Teachers need to learn how to create that smart room and to create group smarts.
 

 
As is my new habit, I used Haiku Deck to create the image quote. I took the precaution of searching for an image in ImageCodr first. When I found it, I shared the URL with Haiku Deck. This allowed me to attribute the photo properly.


Video source

This is a video that warns of the supposed dangers of social media. It has the wrong title. Instead of the danger of social media, this was about child or sexual predators.

The YouTuber did a great service by alerting parents of the dangers of inadequate parenting, the trials of growing up, or gaps in schooling. All these and more could have contributed to the 12 to 14 year-old girls agreeing to meet a strange male who was not who he claimed to be online.

But he did a disservice by perpetuating the message that the problem was social media. Child or sexual predators have and will use any tools they can, so social media is not what causes the problem. Social media does not stop the problem either.

The medium does not write the message just like a car cannot make you a considerate driver or a murderous one.

Such messages are borne of ignorance and fear. It is not too late to be informed and to be brave. Let us not blame the tools when stupid, irresponsible, or depraved people wield them.

It started with a tweet from @hsiao_yun.

I weighed in with this:

Why did we tweet? The original photo was supposed to feature Singapore, but the two men in the foreground were wearing cold weather gear.

Then @RoughGuides tweeted:

I have interacted with many individuals and organizations on Twitter. At least, I have tried. More often than not they do not reply. If they do, they drop canned messages, are ill-equipped, or forget to be social.

@RoughGuides’ tweet had the components of a well-crafted response to critical inputs. Here is a sentence-by-sentence deconstruction.

  • Acknowledgement: Hi there, well spotted on the photo.
  • Admission: This was our mistake!
  • Action: We’re looking into changing it now.
  • Appreciation: Thanks for nudging us!

It changed the main photo of the online resource shortly after tweeting. If only more Twitter entities acted like this.

Being on social media is not about bearing down in silence or ignoring sincere comments or questions. Far too many people and organizations using Twitter do this (@TwitterSG included!). I am ashamed to note that I know teachers and educators who do this too.

Learning on Twitter is about engaging others whether you are right or wrong*. It is about having honest and open conversations. It is about giving back. If we do these consistently, we would learn what it is really like to be social in social media. We would learn something about ourselves and want to be better.

*Addendum: The exception might be responding to trolls.

This is my reflection on the second seminar I conducted on flipping, 3 Mistakes, 3 Dimensions, 3 Wisdoms of Flipped Learning, almost two weeks ago.

I tweeted a few snapshots of the event.

I always wish that I could step out of myself and take more photos and videos of the sessions. Reflections like these might be a way stepping out of myself.

I have also toyed with the idea of using Periscope.tv to ‘live’ stream my sessions. However, I do not think this is fair to the organizations that pay for my services. I might try to wriggle it in should I have a free session that I can share more openly.

This second seminar left me with a greater-than-usual buzz. I could feel the energy before, during, and after the event.

It helped that the event was attended by folks who had an interest and some experience in flipping their classrooms or attempting to flip learning. There were a few who were nominated to attend, but that is par for course.

It makes a big difference when people want to be there or have a stake in the topic. I have been part of events where I cannot change the organizer’s plan of making people sit through a session they have little idea of or desire for.
 

Buzzed by dburka, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  dburka 

 
After my session was over, I decided to decompress at a coffee place on campus. I spent about an hour responding to the queries and comments on the online platforms I used. I also used a new strategy of collating responses in an online community space in my bid to encourage on-going conversations.

While I was doing this, two faculty members who attended my talk asked if they could discuss some ideas and concerns with me. We covered quite a bit of ground and they were appreciative of the insights I provided.

But I was more thankful that they bothered to take time off their schedules to pursue what was important to them. It indicated that the topic mattered.

So this is what I have been reflecting on for a while: It is not enough to focus on content. It must be shared or experienced in context. Manage these two elements well and you might create a connection with your audience.

It has been a year since I left NIE/NTU to be an independent education consultant. Last week I put myself back into an NTU tutorial room for the first of a series of workshops.

Participants in individual learning mode during a segment of the workshop.

The workshops are designed for teaching assistants and graduate students who wish to work on their teaching muscles. However, the overall course design promises to focus not primarily on teaching, but on understanding the learner of today and processes of learning. This design was what drew me in.

At the mass briefing for participants, I tweeted a question that one of them asked:

The question excited me simply because this instructor-to-be was already thinking like his learners.

As is my habit, I opted to break out of the institutional LMS whenever possible and provide resources more openly and logically in a Google Site (GS). The GS also allowed me to embed unsanctioned but simple and powerful tools like YouTube, Padlet, and AnswerGarden.

  • GS was simply a platform for organizing questions, resources, and tools logically.
  • Information was primarily delivered by YouTube videos.
  • Padlet provided spaces for individual and small group reflection.
  • AnswerGarden was useful for rising above and getting a sense of what was important to the group as a whole.

Participants in think-pair-share mode during the workshop.

As usual, I selected tools that were pedagogically neutral. For example, I used Padlet to present questions and resources, and then to collect responses for both individual reflective work and for think-pair-share.

However, a tool like AnswerGarden collects inputs and creates word clouds from them. It was better for rising above and whole-class discussions.

Note 1: I did not emphasize strongly enough to submit each idea individually. Some responses had two or more ideas despite the character limit. But it is quite obvious what the class thought about how student today learn: With Google, YouTube, online videos.

Note 2: AnswerGarden has 20-character responses that you can change to 40 characters. The tool is optimized for the desktop and not yet mobile friendly. I hope that its creators deliver on the promise it made (see tweets below).

I focused on putting my participants in their students’ shoes. For example, when watching a YouTube video together, I played the first eight-minute video at faster and faster speeds. This is what many students do because it saves time. As the video was old, speeding it up also mimicked the shorter, faster paced videos of today.

But I held back on modelling everything. For example, after the first video, I told my participants to watch the remaining two videos on their own and answer some questions. Their notes were to be transferred to a shared Padlet later.

Anyone who has watched videos and tried to take notes at the same time knows that this is not that straightforward. Here are two main strategies I observed. One was splitting the screen up based on function and purpose.

Only a handful did this as they needed systems, typically laptops, with high enough screen resolutions to do this.

The more common strategy was to watch the video in one tool, e.g., a device with a screen, and record notes in another, e.g., another device. Only one or two hand-wrote notes and at least two worked exclusively on their phones. Most of the participants opted to use two devices.

As with most learning opportunities, there are at least three elements that a facilitator can manipulate: Content, context, and connection.

Most instructors focus on content and its delivery. This does not necessarily take into account the readiness of the learner.

The context for the graduate students and teaching assistants is not immediate as they are unlikely to be teaching in a university in a full time position. Then the danger is that the concepts and experiences they had in the workshop seem theoretical.

However, it helps that the physical and social contexts are like the ones they would eventually teach in. A facilitator can toggle them between learner (current context) and instructor (future context) roles while reflecting in each state. The context strategy might be perspective-taking via these main questions:

  • How/When/Where do you learn best?
  • How were you taught?
  • How do students of today learn?
  • How might we teach?

The perspective-taking then helps participants connect with the concepts and principles that they process during the workshop. The thought process might be: This is what I do and how I was taught, but the learner of today is/is not like me. Therefore, this is how I might teach differently.

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http://edublogawards.com/2010awards/best-elearning-corporate-education-edublog-2010/

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