Another dot in the blogosphere?

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Talk about a double-whammy — incompetent people who think that they are amazing do not know they are incompetent nor do they have the mindset or aptitude to change.

This observation is based on psychological research and is called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

How do we not overestimate our own abilities as teachers and educators? I suggest each of us reflects critically and strategically. Mine is to do so at least daily and this has become a habit.

How might we not overestimate our collective abilities as a system or country famed for its schooling and education system as measured by tests? I say we ignore PISA results and university rankings. These external validations count for little if we do not first critique ourselves and seek to continuously improve.

Martin Weller recently wondered out loud if more personalised learning, greater flexibility in schooling, and increased feedback was better.

His thoughts were provocative as they usually are and well worth the read. He shared them because he felt that:

we shouldn’t let these unspoken assumptions pass unchallenged, because huge industries and major university strategies which will affect thousands of learners are based on them.

I agree.

However, I disagree with what seemed to be a focus on quantity. I do not think this was Weller’s intent, but he did use phrases like “more feedback” and “more flexibility”.

Imagine if adult learning institutes focused instead on strategic personalisation, meaningful flexibility, and timely feedback. These are about the quality of learning experiences.

More is not the issue. Better is.

This is a sincere enough tweet.

And so is the question in this one.

So why bring them up? Both share the word “ready”.

Readiness implies a state of being. Ready to fight for something. Ready to embrace a change. So what is wrong with that?

We cannot and should not be ready in education. Assuming that you should be ready sets you up for the impossible.

If you ask some teachers why they do not change their practice, they might mention they are not ready for what is next. Readiness is a barrier.

Being ready also presumes there are standards or guidelines to meet. You might think that you are ready for them, but the goalposts will shift. Nowadays they seem to move so quickly you cannot claim to be ready.

Saying you are ready could mean that you have reached a certain level of knowledge, expertise, or skill. What is to challenge you to keep learning?

Readiness is a state of being. Can you really be ready to do actual CPR when a situation calls for it? You will not know until it happens in real life. (BTW, I have done actual CPR in emergencies just twice in my life — in one case the person died and in the other the person survived.)

So if we cannot be “ready”, what might we be instead?

I use my CPR example to suggest that we can do our best to be prepared. This means adopting growth mindsets, constantly learning new skills, and being humble enough to know that we do not know enough.

Goal! by tee.kay, on Flickr
Goal!” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by tee.kay

Preparing and being prepared means being in a constant state of flux and motion. It is realising that while the goalposts shift, you still have goals to score.

All this starts with the rejection that we can actually be ready. We should stop normalising readiness in tweets, slogans, or calls to action. I say we prepare to change instead.

This is a continuation of yesterday’s rant on a poorly conceived video by Channel News Asia (CNA), “Can e-learning make you dumb?”.

The presenter (and his writers, if he had any) equated educational apps with e-learning. Any apps might be used for e-learning, but they do not represent e-learning. Furthermore, labelling an app “educational” does not make it so. It is about HOW any app is used that makes it useful for schooling, education, or learning. This principle seemed to be lost on the makers of the video.

Today I critique the video in the order in which its ideas were presented.

The video started with the now iconic dragon playground as a representation of how kids used to play in the past. Its message was clear — nostalgic thinking was better even if it did not consider changing contexts and fallible memories.
Nostalgia quote.
The presenter then interviewed three sets of researchers and clinicians.

The first was a researcher from the National Institute of Education, Singapore. There was nothing new from this segment if you keep up with educator blogs or current papers on screen time.

The strategy was the same — highlight unwarranted fears and conveniently leave out the importance of supervised and strategic use of apps by children.

The most alarming segment of the video started with this question from the presenter:

These apps are just bad at teaching our children. What if they could also be messing our children’s brains in the long run?

The presenter started with a tiny sample of non-identical twins (n=2) to test executive function after one twin played with app and other sat and drew. He then showed how the app-using child seemed to have problems following instructions compared to his non-app kin.

The presenter claimed that his illustration was a “ripoff” of an actual study. So was the original study just as poorly designed and implemented? Any critical thinker or researcher worth their salt would ask questions like:

  • Were there no confounding variables that could have affected the results?
  • How can anyone control for all contributing factors?
  • Were the treatments switched after a sufficiently long rest period?

The only statement from the presenter that I agree with was his admission that “this is far from a scientific experiment”. His pantomime attempt to put the app-using child in bad light was neither valid nor reliable.
Texting Congress 1 by afagen, on Flickr
Texting Congress 1” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by afagen
The presenter then interviewed two clinicians. “Interview” might be too generous; it was more like selectively confirming bias.

The first item on the interview list was the fabled harmful screen time. In doing so, they conveniently lumped all devices with screens to harmful screen time and ignored more nuanced definitions and revised guidelines from authorities like the American Pediatric Association (see this curated list of resources).

For example, one of the two clinicians pointed out the harm of passive screen time from watching too much TV. However, this did not discount active screen time.

If you do not know what active screen time looks like, I share a snapshot of future instructors I teach and mentor. This group was using apps with their learners.
Active screen time.
The other clinician said active use involved two-way communication or interaction with the environment. However, the video producers opted not to balance their bias with examples of such active screen time. They seemed to focus on children only as passive consumers and not active producers of content.

Not content to fearmonger about short-term effects of using apps, the interviewer also asked how the apps affect the career prospects of children. Read that again: Career prospects of children. This tangent then led to children leading lives of crime. I kid you not.

Reasonably logical and critical people do not need research or “research” to realise that the interviewer was over reaching here.

As if to appease the interviewer’s agenda, one researcher gave an example of a distracted child in a classroom. Really? This could be any child, app user or not, or to a child with ADHD.

There is no research that says that children sitting still are ultimately successful. Nor should there be. Not only are such studies unethical, they are illogical. No one can claim that a single factor (like app use) determines a child’s career prospects.

That same researcher suggested that a distracted child could suffer from bad grades, have poor health, and end up committing crimes. How can anyone draw a single, clear, and unbroken line that links a child’s app use to an adult’s job prospects or likelihood to commit crimes?

If the researcher was prone to exaggeration, then the interviewer was prone to oversimplification. He declared on camera:

I didn’t realise that just more screen time can develop to more crimes in society.

The real crime was that Channel News Asia pushed such drivel on screen.

The final expert interviewed by the presenter did what most people do with the delayed gratification study — misinterpret it.  The emphasis of the study was not IF a child delayed gratification, but HOW they did so.

The expert used the misinterpretation to highlight how apps provide instant gratification. Both the expert and the video producers conveniently ignored that both rewards and app use can be about the decision-making processes and the choices a child makes.

The CNA video was an attempt to pander to base fears instead of challenging viewers to look beyond the obvious. The question (“Can e-learning make you dumb?”) was designed as click bait and was a misdirect.

The answers were like a poorly written General Paper by a scatter-brained junior college (JC) student. That JC student was not a distracted app user. She was not supervised by her parents nor guided by teachers. She was not taught to question critically or research thoroughly.

An app alone cannot teach; an adult needs to be involved to monitor, moderate, and mediate. An app alone cannot make you dumb. Uninformed use, uncritical processing of the CNA video, or misguided beliefs in misinformation make you or your children dumb.

Apps do not make you dumb or keep you ignorant. Only dumb people who choose to be wilfully ignorant do.

I discovered this piece on Channel News Asia, “Can e-learning make you dumb?” (Note: To view the video, you must reduce your browser security by unblocking all insecure elements. If you see the video on loading the page, your need to lock your browser down!)

I take exception to this question, so I will make an exception. I am going to react to it at face value first.

I could cite the maxim that is the Betteridge law of headlines (see link here or the excerpt below). The answer to the question “Can e-learning make you dumb?” is no.

Betteridge law of headlines

To be fair, the law also applies if the question was phrased “Can e-learning make you smart?” The answer is also no. The questions are oversimplifications; e-learning alone does not make you dumb or smart.

That aside, the video focused on gaming apps that vendors and providers classify as “educational”. This is not the same thing as e-learning. So the question was an intentional misdirection and this raises another question: How might click bait get you views?

I was dumbfounded by the original question. No, I was not speechless. I found a new level of dumb instead. The question reeked of confirmation bias, luddite thinking, and wilful ignorance.

How do I know this? The blurb for the video was that the apps were “highly addictive and they can mess with the brain”.

To provide some balance, consider how skilled educators and informed parents might turn the negative “addictive” to the positive “addicted to learning”. And “mess with your brain” is fear mongering for what is a fundamental cognitive process called dissonance; it is integral to learning.

The headline, blurb, and accompanying video were an effort to spout the tired and uninformed rhetoric instead of actually making a difference. If there is anything dumb, it is the messages it tries to propagate. I outline and critique those signals tomorrow.

There is much we can learn from newspapers. Perhaps not so much from the news but from the mistakes they make.

STonline tweeted these two videos of an interview with our Prime Minister. The tweets are a teachable moment on the need for digital skills, literacy, and fluency.

Poor optics.

Optics is everything in politics and policymaking. If you take a look at the original screenshot, our PM does not look his best in both thumbnails.

Had the ST folk(s) the skills to select a better thumbnail in the video? Did they know they could do this or upload a better image to represent the video? This is a basic digital skill that one must have to share embedded videos on behalf of an organisation.

Did the tweeter or social media team have the digital literacy to consider how the current screen grabs send a different message from the ones in text? Do they know the importance of optics? Do they possess the ability to recognise when and why to apply their digital skills?

Can the people behind the tweets strategise and apply their skills without being told? Have they practically forgotten that they possess these skills and apply sound strategies automatically? This is digital fluency.

I have shared a teachable moment. Is this a learnable moment for the ST team? How about teachers who are responsible for far more prosumers (producer-consumers)?

I paraphrase a saying: You cannot drive forward while constantly looking in the rearview mirror. Actually you can, but you will probably cause an accident.

The point of that saying is that if we want to progress, we should not obsess on the past. However, that does not mean we should not look back in order to move forward, particularly if there were people ahead of their time.

Two such people — prophets shouting in the desert if you will — were John Dewey and Seymour Papert. They were famous for distilling many wisdoms, and here are just two of them.

From Papert: Technology alone will not change classroom teaching.

From Dewey: Question those who tout being “future ready”.

If we are to look back, it should be to reflect on timely reminders such as Papert’s and Dewey’s.

We do not learn from experiences. We learn from reflecting on experiences. -- John Dewey.

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