Another dot in the blogosphere?

This is my take on MOE’s call to teachers to lead, care, and inspire.

Some might interpret my bleed, scare, and perspire to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to:

  • have the lifeblood sucked out of you
  • scare your students into submission
  • make parents and students sweat for test results

I am not that cynical. Instead, what I mean is:

  • bleed: making sacrifices for your the good of your charges (putting learners first)
  • scare yourself: being afraid of becoming complacent (always learning)
  • perspire: change is hard work, so educators must work hard at it (being change agents)

I first reflected on what an unGoogleable question might be in December 2009.

I recall mentioning unGoogleable questions at a talk or two.

To make a long story short, this practice is about promoting higher order thinking with challenging questions. These type of questions could be discussed daily in class or used in high stakes online exams.

But here is is different type of unGoogleable question.

At the moment, you cannot find a definite answer if you Googled “What should you do if a dinosaur was about to eat you?” So technically, it is a question with an unGoogleable answer. However, short of conducting a thought experiment, it is a pointless question.

The boy’s answer is also not Googleable, nor can it be taught easily. But the critical and creative thinking behind that answer can be caught by learners who observe, adopt, and adapt the behaviours of educators who model such thinking.

So here is my unGoogleable question: How do we get more teachers who know how to ask and deal with unGoogleable questions of the non-dinosaur kind?

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These videos helped me time-travel.

To explain how, I need to mention “new economy” and a memory from my time as a graduate student.

The “new economy” has been bandied about for as long as I can remember. When I was a graduate student over 10 years ago, I recall a professor saying that the phrase was rubbish. He claimed that despite the influence and advances of the Internet, there was no real “new” economy despite the dotcom boom and bust. Companies either made money and survived or they lost money and went away.

His point was that money talked the same way it did in the “old” economy. I recall how the class laughed because we understood where he was coming from.

But the new economy is more than making money (or not) in order to survive (or not). It is about newer approaches to things like fund-raising, how you make a living, and getting work done.

The two videos show how crowdsourcing is one way of raising funds. This seems not much different from asking for donations until you realize how anyone in the world can participate. If people do not offer money, they can also offer their services, talents, locations, resources, etc.

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For example, a typical blockbuster movie is a multi-million dollar hard sell that you do not have any say in. The Wongfu guys are asking for money, resources, and even ideas. The ordinary person is not just a cinema patron, s/he is a donor, writer, web designer, marketer, talent, manager, etc.

If the old economy is typified by centralized control, the new economy seems to be exemplified by distributed reach and involvement. What used to be 9 to 5 is now 24 x 7. What used to just be about numbers is now about doing something meaningful.

We live in interesting times because they are not about just the old economy or the new one. Both exist as do combinations in the continuum between.

But we also live in troubling times because schooling still focuses largely on preparing kids for the old economy. The good thing is that some kids with the means are teaching themselves the skills they also need for the new economy. Skills like building digital identity or building online community.

The bad thing is that many school systems run on the model of the old economy. The worse thing is that some of these skills are not encouraged or viewed with fear in schools. The worst thing is that kids are not ready for either economy when schooled this way.

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After almost four years of leading the efforts of CeL, I have learnt that there are at least three ways of influencing faculty to integrate technology into instruction.

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The first is seeding. I do not mean sowing or planting seeds (that is the second way). I am referring to providing a nucleus akin to the process of chemical seeding. This is like seeding crystals or rain.

Seeding happens when an instructor needs is an idea, resource, or process that sparks the rest of the reaction. The conditions for seeding this technology integration might have been created by you or more likely already be present.

The second method of influencing technology integration is planting. This could be the planting of seeds or seedlings into soil that may support growth. There is a greater effort in preparing the soil and knowing what kinds of plants are more likely to grow in which soils.

This method manifests itself in professional development sessions, establishing policies, and managing initiatives.

The third main method of integrating technology is nurturing. This could mean some hand-holding (guidance) or it could also mean pruning. I think most folk would focus on the former; I tend to emphasize the latter.

By pruning I mean removing bad habits, dissuading undesirable practices, and removing redundant tools or resources. It is a painful and long term process not unlike the shaping of a bonsai tree.

It is important to recognize which strategies to use in different contexts. For example, it is better to seed innovators than to prune them. It is also better to plant and manage initiatives among faculty who have little idea or motivation than to attempt to seed or prune first.

I would expect a headline like Are Touchscreens Melting Your Kid’s Brain? to originate from the local press. But I found this on Wired.

The quote that disturbed me the most was:

the ever-present touchscreens make me incredibly uneasy—probably because they make parenting so easy. There is always one at hand to make restaurants and long drives and air travel much more pleasant. The tablet is the new pacifier.

I think the author and I have different views on what it means to parent.

Leaving a child to play with or watch a video with a mobile device is not parenting. It is not even passive parenting. At best it is nannying.

Parenting is helping the child manage the use of mobile technologies. It is setting and maintaining rules. It is about knowing when to say yes and no as well as articulating why.

The harm is not in the mobile or touchscreen device. It is in parents or adults who do not manage its use.

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Like the Danes, Singapore has a very low birth rate. It has been so low that the government stepped in to offer baby bonuses in 2001 in the form of financial incentives if a couple has children legitimately. However, our birth rate remains low.

Facing a similar decline, the Danes are also incentivizing child-bearing. But they are not throwing money at parents, not directly anyway.

Instead, the strategy is based on data that romantic holidays tend to lead to conception. They also seem to realize that providing aftercare in the form of things like diapers is more important than cold cash. Their solution is amusing and clever.

The decision to have children is a personal one that couples make. It is one that they also make in different contexts. Would you be more inclined to say yes if the situation looked more like a financial transaction? Or would you go ahead with a more human one?

The two government agencies have the same objectives and different means. Both want to win the game and both know why they need to win. But it is how you play to win that also matters.

I hid yesterday’s entry from general view because of some possibly sensitive information. But I share the second, generic half of my reflection here in case it helps someone. It is about getting timely feedback directly from your learners.

… instructors who take things into their own hands can create simple Google Forms to get feedback if they need to quantify things. I also ask for feedback regularly on Edmodo. If you do this, you should be aware that your learners may take many surveys and you will want to keep things simple.

One of my participants remarked: “I always receive instant feedback for my assignment and I appreciate that.” I know they do, which is why I go out of my way to respond as quickly as I humanly can.

Hattie, in his meta study of meta studies, identified feedback as the most important factor of effective instruction. He summarized by saying: The most simple prescription for improving education must be “dollops of feedback.”

I do not think I do dollops, but I try to offer timely feedback.

Just as learners appreciate timely feedback, so do instructors. If you do not get this feedback as an instructor, you can seek it by taking matters into your own hands. If you leverage on technology like Google Forms and Edmodo, you have data that you can use to your advantage.

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