Another dot in the blogosphere?

Recently I shared my thoughts on Turnitin’s latest attempt, Feedback Studio. I gave a lightning review of its iOS app and commented on how form did not meet function in its web app.

A colleague of mine also used the same tool to grade and provide feedback on student essays. He contacted Turnitin directly by email over a form-does-not-meet-function issue: Papers were not arranged in alphabetical order once the tool was launched from an LMS.

He described the problem clearly and provided a simple programming solution. The various tech and other support people he communicated with practised tai-chi, i.e., they deflected and redirected.

I will not share the details of the email exchanges because they were restricted conversations. But I will say this — they were amusing and frustrating to read.

I had a wry smile on my face as I identified immediately with frustration of trying to get someone from tech support to recognise and empathise with a problem.

I actually LOL-ed when I read the standard signature that the Turnitin folk used: “Revolutionizing the experience of writing to learn”. What was revolutionary about bad design, low empathy, and deflective service?

The email exchange and my own experience reminded me of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.

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The Soup Nazi wanted things done a certain way and was closed to feedback. Any suggestion (no matter how good) or complaint (no matter how valid) was ignored and summarily dealt with — no soup for you!

My colleague and I were only thinking of improving the service and helping other users. This would ultimately benefit our learners if Turnitin took our critiques in the spirit they were offered.

Turnitin seemed to behave more like Turnyoudown. Perhaps some revolutions are the dictatorial sort.

A tweet reminded me about the current discourse on how robots are going to take our jobs.

In schooling and education, one side of the debate looks like this:

And the other side looks like this:

My response looks like this:

This is not to say that any job with repetition is ripe for a robot takeover. Instead the point is that dexterity, artistry, and entertainment are difficult for a robot to emulate.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Another human trait in the classroom is empathy for the learners. It is understanding deeply why teaching is neat while learning is messy. It is educating in ways that focus on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching.

I have probably said this so often that I sound like a robot. Just as robotic are statements made by others before me. For example: Anyone and any job that can be replaced with a robot should be.

So ask yourself: What value do you bring to the table? How dextrous and empathetic are you as an educator?


You cannot make this up. There is no need to.

The tweet above aptly illustrates how learners today can be savvy, but neither smart nor wise.

I do not mean to say they are stupid. They are simply ignorant because they have not learnt new ways of seeing and doing things. Over time with smart teaching and wise counsel, our learners might gain new perspectives and habits.

They must be taught or they must have good models to emulate. They are learning machines as we are. But they are not magically or mysteriously digitally native. The “digital native” is a myth.

No educator worth their salt benefits from buying into this myth. Making false assumptions about the learners will be frustrating for both students and teachers. The teachers will have heightened and unrealistic expectations of their students, and the students will not learn optimally with technology-mediated pedagogies.

I have met and tried convincing my fair share of administrators and teachers who do not process Prensky’s claims of the so-called “digital native” more critically. I am quite certain most have not even read this original work in 2001. That is a long time to believe and implement policy blindly.

I urge anyone who has not questioned the use and assumptions of “digital natives” to read this excellent critique, Digital Natives: Ten Years After, by Apostolos Koutropoulos. A friendly debate over lunch is not going to cut through over a decade of hardened myth. Perhaps a slow but deep burning will.

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So this happened at the Apple keynote last week — unlocking your iPhone with FaceID.

So this is what is going to happen. There will be articles:

  • fearing the technology.
  • embracing the technology.
  • suggesting how the technology will be the start of a revolution.
  • proclaiming how education will change as a result of this technology.

All are premature because they are based on assumptions and perceived technological affordances. There is no widespread use or misuse, i.e., social affordances, pedagogical adoption, contextual adaptation.

There will be a lot of creative thinking not balanced by critical reasoning. We will need to push past the nonsense to evaluate and try the makes-sense.

Recently I shared how Mindmeister held years of collaborative mind mapping and some of my personal work hostage.

I also could not find a suitable replacement that was free or at a reasonable cost, and one that would allow me to model various pedagogical strategies.

What was I to do? Mind mapping was the best option to make thinking and learning visible in that learning context, but I no longer had access to a tool I had used for years.

I tried alternatives like Coggle and, but they did not have a free and open option that allowed non-members to edit mind maps.

These companies either like to tout how simple or intuitive their tools are, or how feature-rich they are. Neither matters if people cannot access them more openly. They need to operate more like Google Docs, Slides, or Sheets that allow guest access.

I was able to Coggle mind maps with one group as I had their email addresses and they could sign up beforehand. However, I do not always have this information, or if I do, I am not willing to hand them over to a company with questionable practices.

So how now, brown cow?

I used a hybrid strategy.

I used a mind mapping tool to create a central idea and some main branches. Then I required learners to paste sticky notes on projections of the maps.

My learners could not see archived versions of their notes with this method. However, that was not the point. Once thinking was visible with all groups, I directed each group to view the work of others in a round robin fashion.

I am still sore that I do not have an open and reliable go-to mind map tool. But the circumstances have forced me to do something a bit different for similar learning outcomes.

After the last round of Google Doc feature updates, documents now save versions within a single document. The feature is called Named Versions. This might not seem like a major improvement, but it is if you employ pedagogy that revolves around cooperative writing.

One thing I do during some workshops is get participants to evaluate the writing of others. They edit and comment on writing samples and the documents look like any processed by a teacher with a pen. They look colourfully savage!

I reuse the original writing samples and also archive the edited work because my participants might want to refer to their efforts and to revise concepts later. So I make copies of the documents, revert the originals to an early state, and provide links to the archived copies.

This is simple enough to do, but laborious when you have several documents and many copies to make and link. If you have a time crunch, as I do between concurrent sessions, this does not help matters.

The new Named Versions feature is a time-saver. It allows me to save edited versions in the same document (see items with orange arrows) while reverting to a clean version (item in green capsule).

This allows me to provide links to the original document, and if participants wish to visit their edits, they need only look up their groups in the revision history. I no longer need to create copies of documents which clutter my folders in Google Drive. 

Cake. Eat it. This is a delicious and underrated feature of Google Docs!

The biggest barrier to writing is not inertia. It is procrastination.

Inertia is ignoring the writing process. It is a relatively passive process because all you have to is not write.

Procrastination is actively putting off writing. This might mean looking for alternatives to writing that seem easier or are more pleasurable. This is like cleaning your room instead of studying.

But this is all in your head. When you actually start writing, you might develop a momentum that is hard to stop.

I reflect on at least one thing every day and blog about it. That is the momentum. But I also know how easy it is to put writing off.

I have ideas and notes in Evernote and MacOS Notes that are YEARS old. As I draft this in Evernote, I can scroll down to things I put off sharing when I was head of a centre several years ago. I can click on links in my notes that lead to pages that no longer exist.

So believe me when I say that the biggest barrier to writing is not inertia; it is procrastination.

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