Another dot in the blogosphere?

Sometimes I leave home without my wallet. In my wallet are various forms of identification, of which the most important is my national identity card.

I wonder if I am asked to prove my identity that what I have on my phone will suffice. After all, I use a biometric to unlock it. Alternatively, I use a code that only I know.

Once the phone is unlocked, I can launch apps with another round of verification with biometrics that show:

  • Scans of my identify card and passport
  • Credit cards in Apple Pay
  • Bank accounts via apps
  • Store accounts via apps
  • Various bills and statements via apps

I also have photos and videos of me and my family on my phone. My social and other media apps are linked to my identity.

Like most people, I would freak out if I lost or damaged my phone. If there was a fire at home, the first thing I would reach for is my phone. If there was an emergency, my phone would be my lifeline.

I am certain most people would relate to this sentiment: You wring my phone only from my cold, dead hands.

Our phones are insidiously and significantly linked to us. So why are some classrooms still so phone-resistant, phone-absent, or phone-ignorant? Why are administrative bodies still so paper-based? Why are both so stuck in the past?

I am not asking you to prepare for the future. I am just asking that you stay relevant to the present.

I am in the middle of a particularly intensive fortnight of providing feedback on written assignments of future faculty. It does not help that this period coincides with the Lunar New Year period — a few assignments have not been submitted and I must work over the break so that the feedback is available this week.

But my gripe is not the fact that the LNY is a distraction or that others around me are celebrating while I work. I am keep getting reminded of three things that worry me about the writing ability of some learners at this level of higher education.

1. Not writing in paragraphs
I still get students who write in one big block of text.

Not only is the visual presentation uninviting to read, it indicates that the writers are not organised, take no care in writing, or have no concern for the reader.

This is my Number One worry because the course I facilitate is about learner-centred pedagogy. My constant refrain is “focus on the learner and learning, not just the teacher and teaching”. To do this, my students (future faculty) need to develop empathy for their own students.

Before they submit their assignments, I tell them to transfer this principle when they write. One piece of advice is not writing the way they speak, i.e., being concise instead of recreating verbal diarrhoea. Another is to write for the reader, i.e., realising that a reader is not in the same head space as the writer.

2. Lazy mistakes
No writing is perfect because people make mistakes. However, some mistakes can be avoided if writers proofread their work several times. If they do, they might detect basic errors like repeated words, e.g., “is is” or “to to”.

A form of laziness that results in mistakes is the refusal to learn grammar. For example, in lesson plan assignments I often come across writers who insist on using “feedbacks” as a noun instead of “feedback”.

If I offer you one or more instances of advice, both are feedback. The singular piece is feedback, the plural piece is also feedback and not feedbacks. It is like sheep: One sheep, two sheep, three sheep. No “sheeps”.

3. Odd turns of phrases
Writers at this level often try to be high-sounding, but they come across bad users of a thesaurus.

Some examples:



I share these examples not to make fun of my learners. I do not share their names and I blur the parts of their writing that are not relevant. I share to illustrate the problem.

The problem is also not just in their use of such odd turns of phrases; it is that their evaluators or even their supervisors turn a blind eye.

I would like to focus on the ideas presented in the assignments. To do that, those submitting assignments need to learn to chunk information logically in paragraphs, stop making lazy grammatical mistakes, and strive to write simply and directly. If they do, they communicate more clearly and then together we can focus on improving their ideas.

In the meantime, I provide mini lessons on the basics of writing by commenting in the assignments. I do this even though doing that it not officially my job. I have no problem being labelled a fussy fuddy-duddy if this means that I am a watchdog for academic quality and values.

Here is another example of why propagators of “learning styles” do schooling and education a disservice.

An NBC correspondent highlighted a quote from a WaPo article:

For some context, here is an excerpt from the article

Trump has opted to rely on an oral briefing of select intelligence issues in the Oval Office rather than getting the full written document delivered to review separately each day, according to three people familiar with his briefings. 

Reading the traditionally dense intelligence book is not Trump’s preferred “style of learning,” according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Say what you want about “learning styles”. If you are a teacher and what you say is not informed by research, then you dig you and your students into a hole. These “learning styles” become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you do not like reading words, here are lots of pictures instead. If you cannot listen attentively to someone, go outside and do something that somehow teaches you the same thing.

“Learning styles” can become an excuse to label yourself or someone else so that you or they do not have to try to learn something else some other way.

Do you and your students a favour and educate yourself on the fallacies of “learning styles”. Read this tweet storm — a response to an uncritical and irresponsible vendor — for a start.

You do not even need to read the research. Just question your conscience and logic — is it right and helpful for any learners to grow up with a limited set of tools and skills?

Video source

The video above highlights how “learning styles”:

  • have no research evidence that show that they improve learning
  • waste the time and effort of teachers who try to cater to different styles
  • label and limit people into believing they learn only or best in certain ways

Admit your bias, take the first difficult step of learning what research tells us, and unlearn “learning styles”. Your first step is any of the resources I have shared in Diigo, the articles mentioned in the tweetstorm, or the TED talk embedded above. Read, watch, or listen; choose your learning preference, but do not call it a learning style.

Learning is often difficult. If it was easy, it probably is not learning. Giving in to your uninformed bias that kids have “learning styles” may be easier, but that does not make it right.

I have a lunar tic at this time of year. I have to resist the urge to point out we just marked the Lunar New Year (LNY), not the Chinese New Year (CNY).

Wishing someone a happy CNY is perfectly fine if you are celebrating in China.

If you are not in China, you are not thinking about the non-Chinese who also celebrate the LNY, e.g., some Thais, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese.

Some do not give a damn and others call this semantics. I call this being inclusive and taking a global perspective. It is about adopting a flexible mindset instead of clinging to a fixed one.

Turnitin’s Feedback Studio (FS) is a useful tool, but it is not perfect. In fact, far from perfect. The developers attitude to feedback is far from desirable.

For two semesters I have experienced error messages while providing feedback and grading online assignments with FS. I use the latest versions of MacOS and the Chrome browser.

Last semester, the errors would start with this popup overlaying the assignment I am grading.

Turnitin Feedback Studio error message 1.

I have to close the window with the assignment to return to the LMS interface from which FS was launched. I cannot get back to the comment I am writing to attempt to salvage it.

The LMS frame which used to contain a list of student names and assignments contains this error message instead.

Turnitin Feedback Studio error message 2.

This happens consistently and almost predictably every 30 minutes. Even though I set a timer for 29min 45sec to try to refresh the LMS windows and reopen the assignment, I sometimes still get caught by this error.

This semester I have also come across a more elaborate error message.

Turnitin Feedback Studio error message 3.

I do not cancel anything or make any request. The FS system creates this popup and the effect is the same — I lose whatever I am working on and need to refresh the LMS window

The usability is poor not just because these errors disrupt the flow of providing feedback by way of comments in each assignment.

FS is also a pain to use because I cannot mouse scroll in an assignment. I have to use the up and down arrows or a scrollbar. Providing feedback and grading requires me to rapidly look at different parts of an assignment. It is not like reading a news article from start to end. The lack of non-mouse scroll slows me down and frustrates me every minute of using it.

If you think that my mouse or track pad are faulty, they are not. I can scroll just fine in the original LMS window. The fault lies with the FS window.

FS is useful because it leverages on Turnitin’s vast database to match for similar content. However, that feature is an anti-plagiarism measure. FS is, as its name implies, for feedback. While I can provide feedback on assignments, I have to put up with lousy usability and constant time-out and error messages.

How is Turnitin going to respond to my feedback? With a non-user-friendly error message perhaps?

I am thankful that LNY reunion dinners take place once a year. Let me qualify that statement: I am thankful they take place ONLY once a year.

I could elaborate on some things not to like about them, e.g., the unsolicited advice, the borderline (or outright) insulting comments, inane conversations that go nowhere, etc. I am sure some people can relate, so I will not say more.

But here is something that only a minority might identify with — thanks to food allergies and being left-handed, I cannot enjoy the food.

When I was younger, I recall battling servers who would move my chopsticks back to the right side after I placed them on the left. I also battled elbows with the right-hander seated to my left as we ate.

I still battle right-handers seated to my left, but servers are not as passive-aggressive today. They are look at me in a funny way… like I was a three-legged puppy, for instance.

Now all this is assuming that I get to eat because I get ill if I consume molluscs or crustaceans. Every year I get reminded how I am such a “poor thing”. Every year I forget to eat my dinner before dinner so that I am not starving after a four-hour meal.

I am reminded at this time of year that I am different. I do not mind being different except that others sometimes have a problem with that. It is as if I chose not to be right-handed and deliberately became allergic to some food.

These yearly reminders are unpleasant because they are put on display. These reminders of being different are not for celebration and not to be celebrated.

But I am happy to be different, as everyone should be. That is what makes each of us special and what provides some value to the rest.

I am happy to provide alternative or even unpopular points of view in the broad field of educational technology. I know that my perspective is valuable and I can back up what I say.

I hit from left field and I am allergic to the ignorant, the inane, and the inertia.

Lessons on critical thinking can come from unexpected places.

One such place is a YouTube video that theorises how the Tide pod challenge was perpetuated by traditional broadcast media and not social media as many presume.

Video source

For the uninitiated, the Tide pod challenge was a plainly stupid one — people bit into detergent pods and some needed medical help as a result.

If nature took its course, the people who did this would have been removed from the gene pool and mankind would be better for it. But instead of predictably blaming social media or calling out the pod eaters, the creator of the video analysed how the broadcast media played up a dying story.

This video provides a key lesson in communication.

One oft quoted lesson is that it is not just WHAT you say, but also HOW you say it. That is a smart thing to learn. A wise thing to learn is that WHO you say it to and WHEN you say it also matter.

But perhaps the most important question to consider is: WHICH story do you choose to tell?

The broadcast media had the opportunity to report accidental overdosing of vitamins by children — something that happened more often than Tide pod eating — but it chose to focus on stupid human behaviour. The bright and shiny stories distracted from what was important.

Deciding which story to propagate is important. It precedes the what, how, who, and when. This decision deals with the WHY of storytelling.

This is why I choose to focus on education instead of schooling or training; flipped learning over the flipped classroom; video games for thinking and value systems instead of just content; empowerment over engagement.

All the latter examples are more current and acceptable. However, they are the lower hanging fruit that distract from the more challenging but also more worthwhile fruit higher up.

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