Another dot in the blogosphere?

I had to kill some time at Orchard Road yesterday, so I made my way to the Apple store to get out of the heat. I did not know that there was a Today at Apple talk by Chen Zi Yue.

Zi Yue, also known as Angeline on Instagram, is a hearing-impaired illustrator.

I loved her life story so far. She was born deaf and failed in early schooling and speech therapy. But she was encouraged to draw by her mother.

Her illustration to embrace discomfort was inspiring. She quit full time work to freelance and learnt a lot outside the world of art as a result.

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Pleased to share with you this picture book, Enough! that tells the story of twenty protesters who changed America written by Emily Easton. On the cover, it is Tommie Smith and John Carlos who raised their fists in support of human rights on October 16, 1968 at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Delving deeper into the background of each protester and getting to know the full story had me inspired by how they persisted in fighting for what they believed despite of some losing their status, and ultimately making America a better place for the society to live in. I’m grateful to Nicole Heras, my Art Director and her team from Random House Children’s Books for having me on this meaningful project. Published by Crown Books and it was released today! I have ✨5 copies to give away✨ and if you’re keen to have it, please share with me on why you’d like to have it and I might pick you. 😊 *Closing giveaway on 28th Sept 2018* #picturebook #crownbooks #illustration #giveaway

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She is a successful book illustrator now by any measure. Her Instagram feed reveals other life milestones that are worth scrolling through.

My need to get out of the humid heat was serendipitous. Angeline’s story is a reminder on how important it is to embrace discomfort — this is the first step to learning. I will also be using her example in a course (ICT for Inclusion) that I will be facilitating in a few months time.

Trying to incorporate studio-like sessions into traditional structures is challenging, but the evaluative equivalent is worse.

I had to work with and against the expectation of essay-as-evidence. Outside of exam papers, the semestral take home essay is the most common form of assessment in higher education. Even exams have essays.

The next most common form of assessment might be projects, but this is not always possible because these are even more difficult to grade. The further one moves from paper-based assessments, the more difficult it might seem to quantify.

And that is what evidence of learning in most institutes of higher education looks like — graded assessments. Not evaluations, just grades.

I work against assessments and move towards evaluations by designing and implementing mixed experiences. I work within the system of essays but 1) make them challenging, and 2) embrace praxis.

Praxis is theory put into practice and theory-informed practice. So my evaluations of learning are based not just on what my learners claim to do, they are also based on what they can actually do. I get them to perform by sharing, teaching, critiquing, and reflecting.

Reflection is particularly important. In my latest design of one Masters level challenge, I asked learners to look back, look around, and look forward at theri writing and their practice. This was challenging not just because of the three prongs but because most students do not seem to reflect deeply and regularly.

But my students rise to such challenges and impress me with their writing and performance.

I am now near the end of providing feedback and grading a written component that incorporated the three prongs. This has been a challenge for me since each student’s work has required me to take between two to three hours to evaluate. This means I process no more than two students’ work each day.

I shall be working over the weekend to tie up loose ends. This means giving all their work a second look and completing an administrative checklist.

Why bother? Because I care about putting evaluation over assessment, measuring studio-based learning with praxis, and nurturing critical reflection.

I have grabbed every opportunity to run courses or workshop series like studio sessions.

If you need to know what studio teaching and studio-based learning are, I recommend these resources:

My most recent ventures with this approach were a series of academic writing workshops for teachers and a postgraduate course on educational technology.

Both groups enjoyed a small number of participants: Six teachers and seven Masters/Ph.D. students. In terms of content, both were roughly even on theory (knowledge), practice (skills), and praxis (theory informed and authentic practice).

One way to imagine studio-based learning is to picture novice painters. Learners armed with prior knowledge and previous experiences bring those to the studio to learn from a master and their peers. They learn in. They learn information and skills just-in-time and level up by working in groups and individually.

While in groups, they share (peer teach) and provide feedback to one another (critique). Their processes and products are made as open and available to others as much as possible.

A studio also affords individual alone time to be with their thoughts. This allows students to practice or reflect on their own, or to consult the facilitator.

Like a painter, a student in a studio must have choice in a project for evaluation of learning. The project must meet standards established early on and agreed upon. Like a painter, such a student needs to showcase their thinking (processes) and work (products) during studio sessions.

I have found it easy to conduct studio sessions when the circumstances align — class size, course coordinators who are hands-off or trusting, nature of topic, etc. I can do these even in the most traditional of institutions. However, it is the assessment that is challenging. I will reflect on one or two pragmatic issues next.

In this recent blog post, Lisa Lane reflected on how students wait till the last minute to submit work or participate in online discussions.

Like most instructors, she lamented on how typical this sort of procrastination was and how it affected the lives fellow instructors. She described how she took the opportunity to interact with and teach the procrastinators and wondered:

First, is it safe now that we have many online classes to change deadlines to a more reasonable hour? And is the last hour before the deadline an opportunity to teach that we should be using?

This might sound like an untapped opportunity to facilitate or teach. But I see it as a trap because it does not deal with the underlying tendency to procrastinate.

However you work, there is no denying that waiting to the last minute reduces effort in terms of reading, writing, reflecting, and revising. Ignoring this bad habit only entrenches it.

Breaking this habit is difficult. That is why it is important to address. Instead of falling into the trap of seemingly going with the late flow, I would attempt to change mindsets and behaviours.

I would do this by designing assignments that reward consistency instead of last ditch pitches. I would set up milestones and monitor behaviours. I would model such behaviours and show students how to internalise discipline. I would show evidence that such an approach works and is less painful in the long run.

The more I do this, the more my students and other educators benefit. So I would avoid the trap and create an opportunity to deal with mindsets instead of behaviours.

Anyone not living under a rock will know that the current cultural entertainment phenomena are Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones.

Any educator worth their salt could take advantage of them. Videos that analyze their content are not only seeds, hooks, and drivers of content, they might also be used to teach nuance and critical thinking.

Video source

The video above is one such example. It provides a low entry barrier, a shared experience, and cognitive dissonance among the learners.

An educator might leverage on such a video by highlighting how it models nuanced and critical thinking. By facilitating discussion and reflection the same educator can teach her students to do the same.

I would rather use any platform other than an institutional LMS. Over the years, I have reflected on why. Most recently I mentioned a paradigm shift in edtech.

But here are some simple and pragmatic reasons why I prefer to operate outside an LMS.

Reliability: Platforms likes Google Sites have near-perfect uptime. It would take a catastrophic failure for them to be unavailable over a long stretch of time. They operate over redundant servers so that the end user does not ever see “scheduled maintenance” notices.

Transferability: It is a chore to export courses from one semester to another. Even as LMS providers make this process easier, the fact remains that course resources are not available indefinitely and importing them to a new section can result in accidents. This happens most often when an LMS “upgrades”.

Indefinite access: Nothing lasts forever, but open platforms that stand the test of time have it in their interest to keep users and customers. I have resources from over a decade ago that are still online and occasionally still referred to. How do I know? I get email notifications when this happens.

Mobile responsiveness: Most LMS providers are not mobile responsive. Instead they create feature poor apps for things like notifications, announcements, polling, and attendance-taking. But when I create a course site in Google Sites, content is automatically adjusted for smaller mobile devices.

Flexibility: I can use and embed just about any other edtech tool in an open platform. I do not have to rely on LMS API or be be held back by backward IT policy. The edtech world changes quickly and features come and go, but this also means I learn to be flexible instead of simply relying on LMS inertia or repetitive practice semester over semester.

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Be honest: What is more appealing — ventral temporal context or Pokémon brain region?

Video source

Calling the ventral temporal context the part of the human brain that helps people recognise and remember Pokémon lowers the entry barrier by relying on popular culture. It also helps a learner of neural physiology to link the abstract with something concrete.

That is the trick to using videos, popular culture, or anything that has emotional appeal. It is not getting stuck at ground level with something bright and easy. It is using that object as an anchor or hook to something fuzzier or more difficult.

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