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Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition Part 2

When I shared this idea at a conference in 2013, it was a call to be avoid being totally or blindly reliant on vendor-provided learning management systems (LMS). Right now the principle applies to emergency remote teaching: Do not be reliant on just one platform for video conferencing, e.g., Zoom. Why not? This is my Diigo archive for Zoom-related woes and alternatives.

Today, I would position this thought a bit differently. The closed system would not just be the LMS (which learners lose access to sooner than later), it would be about the closed professional development system.

Progressive schools see the value of mentoring new teachers and continuously developing the professional capacity of all teachers. They do so with events like internal sharing sessions and vendor-conducted workshops. If timely and relevant, these benefit the teachers in that school’s ecosystem.

However, some schools operate as closed systems, i.e., they do not share what they learn openly and regularly so that others outside their school may also learn. If other schools behave the same way, that school does not benefit from the mistakes, lessons, and ideas of the other schools.

It can be difficult to open up tightly closed systems. It might not be worth the trouble to do so given the many other things that teachers already need to do. Fortunately, there is an approximately decade-old solution — social media.

Teachers all over the world have shared their dos and their don’ts in blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. They do this even though school conditions and contexts differ. Why? Teachers and teaching remain constant at their core — how to improve teaching so that students learn better.

If you need evidence, you need only trawl the last month’s edu-Twitter streams. Teachers all over the world freely and openly have shared their ideas on how to design and conduct emergency remote teaching, offered tips on synchronous and asynchronous lessons, outlined stay-at-home plans, and more.

There is still a fear that being so open is risky. But sharing your ideas with other teachers is not a zero-sum game. Giving ten ideas does not mean you lose those ten. In all likelihood you will receive the gratitude of other teachers, suggestions on how to improve your own ideas, and raise your reputational capital.

I say this to administrators, policymakers, or teachers who have Fear 2: You risk nurturing teachers who are risk-averse if you do not encourage them to share openly and responsibly. These teachers then cannot model similar behaviours for their students.

I was looking for an image in my Google Photo archive when I spotted an unrelated one (screenshot below). I revisited the resource of that screenshot and discovered that it was still relevant today.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition

In 2013, I was invited to give a talk about e-learning. The host had one main request: Focus on MOOCs (because they were still the flavour of the moment). MOOCs are passé now, but some overarching reminders about e-learning are pertinent as we head into an intense period home-based learning (HBL).

Our HBL is still largely emergency remote teaching and not quite the quality that e-learning can be. So I reorient the four ideas I shared in 2013 to the circumstances of 2020. In particular, I focus on how we might shape our thoughts before we emerge on the other side of COVID-19 isolations.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition 1

The first fear of e-learning is FOMO. This could include the fear on not having access to tools like Zoom or content repositories. (Side note: Zoom is not a good tool and there are several alternatives).

If actions belie thoughts, then the fear among planners and policymakers seems to be the availability on ready-made tools and resources. While we cannot ignore those, it relegates a more important factor. If there is a better fear, it should be: What if my teachers are not prepared to teach remotely?

Providing all the best tools and resource but not providing timely and relevant professional development is like giving ordinary drivers the best Formula 1 cars and tracks but not teaching them how to drive under those circumstances.

What superficially looks like “just driving” in every-day and Formula 1 surfaces could not be more wrong. The latter person is a high performance athlete with top conditioning, support, and pressure. Likewise, good e-learning is facilitated well only by a relative few who have studied and honed their craft.

We would not expect an ordinary driver to be comfortable with Formula 1 racing. Likewise, we should not expect classroom-bred teachers to take to online facilitation even in an emergency. If we recognise this gap in performance, then we are missing out on preparation on how to design and facilitate online sessions. Worry about that, too!

I continue with fear factor #2 tomorrow.

The tweet above is designed to provoke thought as well as response by retweet or comment. But I had to check it for sources because it did not provide URLs.

The sources were easy enough to verify because they were screenshots of newspaper headlines. The first was: Video game addiction is officially considered a mental disorder, WHO says. The second was: Video games can be a healthy social pastime during coronavirus pandemic.

Interestingly, there was an article in between: Video game addiction is a mental health disorder, WHO says, but some health experts don’t agree. Including it would have weakened the contrast, but it would have also told a more complete story.

So here is the moral of this story: Tweets are rarely about nuance; they are about sensationalising because of the economy of words. But that does not mean that we cannot be succinct. If we make the effort, we can be both concise and precise.

If you had to deliver a COVID-19 message to the masses so that they move in the right direction, how might you do it?

If you were a minister in government, you would take a formal tone and craft something that newspapers would like to publish. For example, keeping kids at home instead of school might be met with: [source]

This is part of our psychological unity – students, teachers, parents all being part of it – and we all rise to the call as one united people in tackling this crisis

If you were a humour-based group with a presence on Twitter, you might leverage on an informal tone and embed a video featuring an angry comic. For example: [source]

The strategies could not contrast more, but they are about the same principle: If we stand together by being physically apart, we have a good chance of beating the coronavirus.

But the second method is more direct and relatable. The fact that is it laced with humour and marinated in Singlish is a bonus.

For me, the second method is like peer teaching. After a high-sounding introduction by a teacher, a concept should be retaught by students in pairs or small groups. This allows them to test their understanding, identify gaps, and learn it twice.

To teach is the learn twice. Whitman, N.A. & Fife, J.D. (1988). Peer Teaching: To Teach Is To Learn Twice. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED305016.pdf

As students try to teach one another, they realise how much they know and how much they do not. They will use language and examples that are familiar to them. They are more likely to internalise something new.

Peer teaching does not ensure learning though. Students might not identify gaps or they might perpetuate misconceptions. The point of peer teaching is to get students to process information immediately, directly, and in a relatable way so that the processes of learning are visible.

Last Friday afternoon, our Prime Minister provided an update on COVID-19 measures. It seemed to be hotly anticipated given how embargoed letters leaked and panic buying reared its ugly head again.


Video source (144-second mark)

You would have to be living under a nicely landscaped rock in Singapore to not know that the response to COVID-19 is circuit breaker. This seems to be our way of not saying social isolation or lock down.

An actual circuit breaker prevents a surge of electricity from destroying anything plugged in at home. A socio-economic circuit breaker restricts human socialisation, and hopefully viral transmission.

Unlike an actual breaker, the switch is not just all or none. Essential services like food providers, water and waste management, utilities, hospitals and clinics, transport, and banking will keep operating. All workers who can telecommute will do so, but those that cannot will have to stop working. We are, in effect, doing what the some of the modern world is already doing.


Video source (292-second mark)

The switch flips off on Tuesday (tomorrow) for gainfully employed workers. Social services like schools and institutes of higher learning (IHLs) will adopt home-based learning (HBL) starting Wednesday for three weeks (8 April to 4 May 2020).

Even though the announcements came at the end of what is the work week for many people, it provided some lead time to prepare. Unfortunately, some chose to participate in our national pastime of queuing, which defeats the purpose of circuit breaking.

Perhaps some folks think that the novel coronavirus has also been schooled to follow the rules and schedules here. It has not and concentrating people like that has led to social commentary like the tweet below.

But as usual, my mind stays with what happens in schools and IHLs. If social distancing is critical now, why make students attend classes today and tomorrow? Why not require them to stay at home and give these two days to teachers to prepare for the onslaught over the next three weeks?

The weekend would have provided time for caregivers to make arrangements for their children. Teachers could still have reported for work for two days and in the absence of lessons could have focused on:

  • Sharing resources, takeaways, and mistakes from the one-day HBL
  • Offering quick tips and ideas on technical how-tos
  • Planning better ways to conduct emergency remote teaching
  • Revising existing plans and schemes-of-work to accommodate emergency remote teaching

Can these procedures be done in just two days? I have facilitated this in less time, so I know this is entirely possible.

Are these explorations necessary? Definitely. Even though emergency remote teaching is not the same as facilitating online learning, it is not as easy as flipping a circuit breaker switch. You cannot simply change the medium and expect the method to remain the same or work as well.

 
Many resources and opinion pieces emerged since schools and education institutes urgently went online in response to COVID-19. But I think this one is the most important.

Edubloggers, teachers, and other experts have shared tips, ideas, and strategies for home-based learning. That is good for the immediate need even though this also creates a lot of noise. However, relatively few rise above and look at the bigger picture, e.g., how is urgent home-based learning different from e-learning or distance education?

Facilitating online learning is not the same as face-to-face instruction. Certainly there are overlaps, but facilitating online learning is much more difficult. There are entire programmes of study that are dedicated in part or in whole to learn how to begin doing this. So the rush to “convert” face-to-face and classroom-based teaching to online and home-based learning is bound to suffer in quality.

The article I highlighted described how emergency remote learning compromises on learning:

“These hurried moves online by so many institutions at once could seal the perception of online learning as a weak option, when in truth nobody making the transition to online teaching under these circumstances will truly be designing to take full advantage of the affordances and possibilities of the online format.”

Why might the quality of courses, instruction, and learning suffer?

Typical planning, preparation, and development time for a fully online university course is six to nine months before the course is delivered. Faculty are usually more comfortable teaching online by the second or third iteration of their online courses.

In his reflection of the same article, A J Juliani said that he was still making errors despite years of experience facilitating online learning. What of teachers forced to do something they have not been prepared to do?

We can rationalise the need to rush teachers towards emergency remote teaching. By the same token, we should also recognise the effects it might have on teachers, e.g., increased stress, lowered morale, poorer impressions of e-learning, all because of the forced circumstance of emergency remote teaching.

So how might we respond logically and prudently when we have time to catch our collective breaths? I say we agree to compromise:

The need to “just get it online” is in direct contradiction to the time and effort normally dedicated to developing a quality course. Online courses created in this way should not be mistaken for long-term solutions but accepted as a temporary solution to an immediate problem.

I anticipate that the collective breath will be accompanied by a sigh of relief and the return to the previous normal. We need that compromise to explain why the temporary solution to an urgent problem did not provide valuable lessons on how to operate outside the timetable, classroom, and curricula.

… of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19.


Video source

Like the coronavirus, such “alternative facts” are insidious and easy to distribute. Unlike the coronavirus, this disease infects the thinking and belief systems of its victims.

Has the story been reported anywhere else? Is it from a reliable source? Has the photo or image been taken out of context?

There is no known cure for either. But we do have treatments for symptoms. They range from simple heuristics like the one presented in the video (screenshot above) to agencies offering frameworks (e.g., NLB’s SURE) to courses on media literacy (e.g., Crash Course YouTube playlist).


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