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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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I wondered if I should illustrate this reflection with a photo of an inconsiderate patron at the library.

I made up my mind when I recalled how she opted to sleep in public and then raised a fuss when approached by a librarian. There is no shaming the shameless.

But this reflection is not about a character attack. If I had such inclinations, I would use Facebook.

No, this my observation of how public servants lose moral authority by compromising on standards.

Inconsiderate patron at a library.

The person in the photo was sleeping in the library. This seems harmless until you realise that she:

  • Was denying a more legitimate user of a seat
  • Set a phone alarm that alerted everyone but her
  • Drew the attention of the same librarian on two occasions
  • Verbally abused the librarian

The librarian had first told the woman not to sleep there. In her second patrol, the librarian responded to the ringing alarm. She asked the woman, “Are you feeling ok?” and this set the woman off. The woman cussed and complained.

Thankfully, inconsiderate patrons are still the minority, but I still do not envy being the librarian. It takes just one to spoil your day.

That said, librarians (and anyone in authority) are gatekeepers of behaviour. If they let one misbehaviour through, others will follow. If they attempt to stem the flow and do not do it well, the flow continues.

The librarian asked an indirect question in an attempt to deal with the problem. She was hoping that the woman would realise her anti-social behaviour and correct herself by leaving. She did not and she was recalcitrant.

A more direct approach might have been to tell the woman that it was library policy not to deny a more legitimate user a seat. If she did not get that message, the librarian could do what the periodic announcements declare — tell her to leave.

It is not always wise to let sleeping dogs lie. They will take over and you will lose moral authority.

This is a principle that applies broadly to other contexts, e.g, classrooms, public transport, parenting. Our authority as educators, public servants, or parents lies not in who we are, but in what we stand on. Lose that ground and we will lose that authority.

In a few weeks, yet another batch of future faculty will pass through my hands. I can only hope that they remember to teach with learning and the learner in mind.

Another related task that they have to do is start a teaching philosophy statement. As this piece of writing is a challenge even for established faculty, I will be providing them links to two resources I shared in this blog:

  1. 10 tips for crafting a teaching philosophy
  2. Writing tips for future faculty

Today, I add one more simple tip: Find a balance between storytelling and citing pedagogical research.

Narratives can be compelling because they are often personal stories. However, one person’s story does not necessarily represent a system nor is it credible.

Citing pedagogical research that has rigour and respect goes a long way to providing some credibility to an approach to teaching. However, it lacks personalisation.

I recommend blending the two. For example, a personal story of a bad learning experience could provide context for a new pedagogical approach.

When the strength of one method compensates for the weakness of another, it makes sense to combine the both in a delicate balance.

One of the initiatives I led when I was a faculty member was using open learning tools and resources.

While administrators of academic institutions lock information down with the help of publishers, I countered with open publishing. While instructors concerned themselves with strict copyright and intellectual property rights, I pushed open source and Creative Commons resources.

I still model this mindset and behaviour by using ImageCodr to embed and attribute CC-licensed images almost every day in this blog. I create and share resources for my talks, workshops, and classes with open and non-expiring tools.

I am not always aware of the reach of these resources because they do not have trackers. However, sometimes I find out via my blog that they are making an impact.

Recently two of my blog reflections received an unusual number of hits. One was Remaking the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy while the other was Dumbfounded (Part 2). Using the WordPress dashboard, I could link the hits to visitors from Cambodia and Egypt respectively.

I was curious as to why, but did not have any answers because the dashboard results were not fine-grained enough.

Thankfully, an educator from Cambodia contacted me to ask for editing rights to my revision of Bloom’s Verb Wheel. She wanted to convert the words to Khmer. As I use that resource actively, I said I could provide a copy as long as the subsequent resources were shared under similar CC licenses.

But I have no idea why so many Egyptians were interested in my critique of a poorly conceived, badly written, and irresponsibly broadcasted programme on Channel News Asia.

The bottomline is this: Those of us in education should share as openly as we can. The people I reached would not have been helped if the resources were not available to them via a quick Google search. We have a responsibility that extends beyond our classrooms and borders.

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