Another dot in the blogosphere?

This tweet is telling.

You can get information and news from an authoritative source or you can get it secondhand.

As social creatures, we rely on social cues. While cues are important for communication, they are not always ideal for facts.

Earlier this month I learnt about the death of a former director of NIE. The initial report came to me via the grapevine, and while that particular source was reliable, it was not official. Short of hearing directly from a grieving loved one, I waited to hear from the university or a press release.

As much as I dislike Facebook, I am part of several groups for professional and personal enrichment. What all groups have in common are speculation, guesswork, and rumour that pass off as fact. More frightening is opinion that masquerades as expertise. What is terrifying is the general acceptance of hearsay.

Today we have no excuse for not even looking for original sources and authoritative channels. It might take some work, but like any skill, you get better with practice.
 

 
Ignore the saying “do not look a gift horse in the mouth” just because someone gave you juicy news or a shiny nugget. You owe it to yourself and to others to get things right. Get the information straight from the horse’s mouth because the stable is open.

Today I draw a link between a newspaper that calls itself Today and schooling.

Over the last few weeks, I noticed the Today paper experimenting with different web publishing formats.

I had previously been able to read desktop and mobile versions of the same article from Today. Recently, however, some pages seem to only be desktop-only or desktop-like.

Whether the pages were desktop or mobile, I could load them in Reader View in mobile Safari and get only text and images that were relevant to the article. There were no other distractions. Lately, I rarely have the option to toggle Reader View.

I have also noticed that some pages do not load content on the desktop or mobile browsers if ad blockers are on or privacy apps are active, respectively.

The Today paper is doing this despite Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers cracking down on various types of ads and trackers.

The paper needs to stay ahead of the game, not fall and roll backward into the web publishing past. Back then newspapers pushed what they wanted — content, ads, and trackers — with very little consideration for reader experience.

There is a similar parallel in schooling. Some schools restrict technology use (“it is distracting”) and others ban them (“it is harmful”) in favour of ye good olde days. They push content and testing with very little consideration for how students actually learn best.

Both newspapers and schools need to get a broader sense of what is happening today. Readers and students want more say and involvement, have more rights, and feel more empowered.

Modern web browsers already reflect these changes. Users can install blockers of ads and trackers. Content creators can upload and share their thoughts on multiple platforms with only themselves as filters. But the Today paper seems to want to roll back time to yesterday.

Students today might block boring or irrelevant lessons by averting or closing their eyes. They do create content, but this is often heavily filtered, strictly dictated, or otherwise constrained like recipes. Schools still are stuck in the past.

We might think of schooling as teaching the prior generation's knowledge so that youth are prepared to communicate on an equal footing with those they are about to join in the economic and civic spheres. -- Robert Pondiscio

This is not news. I share the quote above as a critique of how many schools prepare students more for the past than the current and much less the future.

The sensing mechanism that newspapers and schools have is the same. What they create as artefacts are mirrors with which to reflect on themselves. What they critically read, watch, or listen to online serve as looking glasses to anticipate tomorrow.

When I am first approached by organisers of speaking events like conferences, seminars, or symposia, the question they want answers to is: What can you contribute to the conference or event?

That is a logical question given that the organisers are looking for a good fit and bang for their buck.

I had a Skype chat yesterday with one organiser who asked me something I have not been asked in almost six years: What would you like to get out of speaking at this conference?

The last time I was asked that was when curators of TEDxSingapore asked me to speak at an event targetting youth.

As an occasional speaker, I am more used to helping out than helping myself. The educator in me is about giving rather than getting. So the question almost stumped me.

Almost. I answered that question over two fronts. I wished to see the impact of what I said immediately and over a logical delay.

I gauge immediate impact not just by how the audience is responding in person. I also monitor my backchannel, respond to questions and comments there, and make social media connections.

After that moment of inspiration, I look for efforts of perspiration. It is easy to be inspired after an event; it is much harder to put ideas into play. I look forward to following up with my new contacts, e.g., visiting sites to observe plans in action, reviewing documents for policy changes, being invited to speak or conduct workshops, etc.

I also look for opportunities for personal and intellectual growth. I do not expect everyone to agree with what I say. Just as I hope audience members gain a new perspective, I wish to learn from disagreement or to dig into a nugget I have not uncovered before.

As a maker of good trouble, I want to know if I have created enough dissonance to spur people into action in terms of how they teach and facilitate.

Don’t trouble Trouble till Trouble troubles you.

The adage is don’t trouble Trouble till Trouble troubles you. I role-play Trouble while most people and organisations are Inertia personified. I want to know if I have moved people enough to do something meaningful.

Baby steps. What you might mean is to try something new cautiously and slowly.
 

 
“Baby steps” is what a baby learning how to walk looks like, but that is not how a baby actually learns. A baby learns by doing, failing, and trying again.

It might get hurt, but that is part of the learning. It might be encouraged to walk by someone else, but a normal and healthy baby often does this naturally.

So if you say “baby steps”, I expect you to be brave and do what is necessary. Doing things too carefully and painfully slow are not necessarily strategies to learn something new. They are ways to stop learning because you are too worried, too cautious, or too slow to change.

Agree to disagree. What you might mean is that everyone has his or her opinions and that is fine.
 

 
No, it is not, particularly if you are just giving up on thinking differently or not trying a new perspective. This is defeatist and dismissive at the same time.

Saying that we should “agree to disagree” is to not come to a resolution or a reasonable compromise. This is the same as standing still like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand. Ignoring issues is not going to make them go away.

You should take brave baby steps to resolve disagreements. Agree?

 
What drives otherwise normal and healthy students to buy pills that claim to help them with “last minute cramming”? The chase for good grades.

That is according to this ST article. The same article provided the names of the pills, how much they cost, and how to get them. If more students and parents did not already know about them, they do now.

What the pill poppers are blind to is the short-term and temporary benefits of the pills and their long-term health risks like “heart problems, severe rashes, headaches, irritability, difficulty in breathing and insomnia”. Furthermore, possessing such pills without a valid condition and prescription of controlled substances is also against the law.

The alternative is not to take shortcuts. As Denise Phua, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, pointed out:

It is smarter to stick to natural strategies such as having enough sleep, healthy food, lots of physical exercise and adopting good study skills – strategies that are all tested and backed by research.

Those strategies smarter in the long run. But as long as we provide conditions for short sprints, some people will take shortcuts.

It was not the fault of Plickers. It was a terrible 0g and SWN connection at a school venue.

Yesterday I planned on using Plickers at a master class to provide a shared experience for 60 teachers. At that point, I wanted them to apply what they had learnt about the SAMR framework for technology use and integration.

In my original plan, I would have just given a mini lecture on SAMR to highlight how one tool could be used at four different levels depending on the mindset, resourcefulness, and pedagogical leanings of the teacher.

What would follow was a Google Forms quiz on the session’s content taken by all participants individually. They would then take the same quiz using Plickers, this time in their assigned groups. The plan was to illustrate how the tool could reinforce old practice or enable new ones due to task design.

My plan and implementation allowed for the mini lecture, but I only had time for one quiz. I opted for the Plickers-based one. Unfortunately, I had to resort to the Google Forms quiz and describing the original plan.

Plickers fail.

The failure was down to two very poor wireless signals. My phone’s signal went from 4G to 3G to almost no bars at the venue, so I could not tether my phone to my laptop. This meant that I could not call up the ‘live’ Plickers page on my laptop’s browser (to show questions) nor use the Plickers app on my phone (to scan code answers).

I bought some time during an activity and managed to get on the school’s wifi — the infamous “segregated wireless network” (SWN) — with the help of a teacher. However, things hardly changed from my run-in with SWN two years ago.

Back then, web pages in my browser were stripped of formatting to look like the web of 1997 instead of 2017. This time around, I kept getting “insecure website” error messages when trying to access Padlet and Plickers. The new Google Sites seemed to work fine though.

Why was Sites secure but Padlet and Plickers insecure? Why were the latter two secure enough minutes ago when I tested them while having lunch offsite? My phone connection, home connection, and Wireless@SG treated Padlet and Plickers as secure. Does the SWN admin know something that every other entity does not?

Infrastructure.

During the initial activity, I asked teachers to suggest key factors for technology integration. That group highlighted “infrastructure” as one important factor. I can see why. There is no point telling them to integrate technology if their hands are going to be tied by wifi.

To be fair most other schools and educational institutions I visit provide excellent wifi. But even as I acknowledge these hotspots, I also need to point out the notspots.

With Bhutanese educators.

It is 2017 and sadly school wifi woes are still somehow a concern here. I had slow but reliable Internet access when I conducted a weeklong series of workshops in Bhutan in 2010. My experience at yesterday’s school venue was one of time travel. I went back to when I had my dialup modem and someone kept picking up the phone. Connectus interruptus.

Thanks to my Twitter PLN, I chanced upon this tweet.

Both my immediate reaction and critical reflection was: Nope, this I don’t like.

I do not have anything against fidget spinners. I do not have anything against practice provided that it is designed based on sound principles, e.g., spaced repetition, interleaving. [1] [2] [3]

It is not enough for teachers to design with just good intent. Their decision-making and implementation must be informed by rigorous research and/or reflective practice.

One design issue discussed in Twitter was that the spinner was meant to be a timer. Spin it, then do as many sums as you can before it stops.

What if the variability of the spinning momentum (some more, some less) an issue?

Is the speed of completion the desired learning outcome?

How is the use of spinners justifiable?

What better alternatives in terms of strategies and tools are there?

I am all for starting with where the learner is at. But my caveat is that the starting point is not to pander. It is to build on prior knowledge or experience and to provide a meaningful challenge.

Teachers may feel the tug of their hearts because they love their students, but they must be led first by their heads. They must first be critically informed or they risk designing in a vacuum and establishing the wrong sort of expectations.

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