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There is an old joke that asks why doctors call what they do “practice”. The punchline might be about how they should stop practising and get on with real work. Or it might be about how terrifying it is that doctors are still just practising on you.

This is a semantic game of course, but not everyone appreciates the nuance.

Teaching and facilitating learning are skillsets that require lots of practice. If you do it right, this practice might not get easier past the novice stage.

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I have long maintained my own course sites. I created these because my partners either did not have LMS, or if they did, would cut access to resources based on administrative needs.

I keep a lists of things to do before, during, and after each semester. For example, I have a list for a short course that is currently 29 items long and keeps growing every semester. These items are not just reminders of what to update, but also of new ideas, new resources, and what strategies to change.

Practice does not always make perfect. Perfection is neither achievable nor desirable in teaching/facilitating. There are far too many variables to manage and most are out of my control. I choose to focus on what I should and can practice.

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Like some educators, I have been facilitating lessons exclusively online for the last two years because of the current pandemic. Unlike my fellows, I have experience during my graduate student years and the last seven consulting years of teaching online. 

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One classroom practice is getting a sense of one’s students. The collective persona they possess can make or break a teaching-learning relationship.

Even though most teachers would prefer going back to face-to-face classrooms, I see the value of online ones. One plus of an online-only class is how more immediately I can get a sense of who my students are even without the social immediacy of meeting face-to-face.

One of my standard practices is sending my students an online poll one or two weeks before our first session. Whatever the course I facilitate, I collect some basic demographics, learner experiences, and learner expectations. This is part of my getting-to-know-you process.

Another part of sensing my learners is how quickly they respond. I am already quite impressed by my incoming batch of students. I sent a poll out in the wee hours of Monday morning. By lunch time of the same day, just over a third of the class had already responded. This is a good sign!

The sensing does not end there. They still need to complete their asynchronous work and respond to my feedback. We still need to video conference during our synchronous sessions. A few will invariably stay back to chat.

But this fact remains: I get a head start in sensing who my learners are before we meet. I get to know them not just in the normal face-to-face way. I gain insights online that I would unlikely get if I relied on the normal way of doing things.

I have been using web-based email applications exclusively for the last seven years as an education consultant. I did not have a choice as I no longer had access to corporate or exchange-based email like MS Outlook.

But I recently moved back to a dedicated email application, Mail on macOS Monterey, because it promised greater privacy and security. For example, one setting allows me to deactivate the tracking dots or images that some senders include in their email.

Another benefit of using a standalone email application is that I can receive and send email from separate accounts in one spot. Most online email apps also support this function, but I have found this to be unreliable at times.

For example, one parter I work with requires me to change my password regularly. Every time I do this, I update the password on my online email app. However, email does not get through and it can take weeks before I notice.

There is one feature I miss from an online email client like Gmail. It is the ability to schedule the sending of emails. I can carefully compose messages in advance and time them for release later. This used to be a Gmail add-on, but it eventually became a core feature.

So every now and then I return to Gmail to schedule emails. Monterey promises to have Mail extensions, but I have yet to see a scheduler. All in good time I suppose.

I was a student of undergraduate biology well over 30 years ago. I still remember some of the things I learnt because they caused such dissonance.

One of the things I learnt was that giant pandas were not bears even if they looked like them. I learnt then that classification is messy and depend not just on how things look. 

I learnt from one of my favourite podcasts, No Such Thing As A Fish, that pandas have since been reclassified as bears. If the podcasters have their facts right, there are actually no pandas, not even red ones. That discussion starts at the 40 min 48 sec mark and might be fascinating even to non-biologists. 

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This reminds me how important it is to stay up to date in one’s field. It is not enough to have studied something and hope that is enough to last a lifetime. It is essential to be currently informed.

One reason I did not know about this reclassification is that I no longer study biology actively even though it was my first academic love. I am now married to the fields of education and educational technology.

By reading, watching, and listening, I unlearnt the myth of learning styles. I learnt that cooperation and collaboration are not synonymous. The same could be said of gamification and game-based learning.

To some, taking in the new and unlearning the old might seem like embracing pandemonium. It is not. It gets easier with practice, you develop a BS radar (critical skepticism), and the world around you is always exciting.   

This tweet triggered a thought, i.e., the importance of intrinsic motivation and empowerment.

The tweet summarised the research on what motivated workers to contribute to free or open source software. It concluded that intrinsic motivation was the “strongest and most pervasive” driver.

We might apply this finding in teaching and learning. To bring intrinsic motivation to the surface, we cannot just engage learners, we must empower them.

It might even be harmful to rely on engagement. This puts all the effort in the teacher’s court and lets the student say “engage me otherwise I do not pay attention and learn”.

If we are to nurture lifelong learners, we need to promote long-term skills and attitudes, e.g., reflection methods, independent thought, lateral reading, informed skepticism. These change the game from one of teaching to that of learning.

Teaching and learning might look the same to a layperson, but an educator should know the differences. It is learning that matters and effective teaching is one way to ensure that happens. The other ways that do not get as much air time are intrinsic motivation and empowerment.

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I love the comedic stylings of Joe Lycett and Lucy Beaumont. So if I was a classroom teacher, I might use this video as a hook for teaching and modelling critical thinking.

The video was about how Beaumont tried to offset her carbon expenditure (travel overseas) with credits (local actions). She wanted to be carbon neutral so that she could enjoy a guilt-free hen-do (a bachelorette party) for a friend.

The video was an opportunity to not just entertain, but to also inform its audiences on being responsible with our shared and natural resources. That said, edutainment errs on the side of a good laugh and low-hanging fruit. It is up to an educator to help learners dig deeper.

I might start by asking my learners to find out how ineffective tree-planting is, much less the six plants that Beaumont bought. We might factor in the unseen vehicle she had to arrange to transport everything she bought.

Beaumont brought in a consultant who told her that the asparagus she had in her fridge was flown in at great environmental cost from Peru. My learners and I would analyse this issue by identifying and calculating the costs in detail.

We might ponder on statements I would make, like: 

  • One person’s effort to stop buying Peruvian asparagus does not count for much.
  • Beaumont’s overall strategy of consumerism was counterproductive.
  • If you are going to change behaviours, do not rely on half measures.

In the process of uncovering answers, we would deconstruct thought processes and reconstruct principles of critical thinking.

If I had any agenda, it would be to end the lesson on the fact that “carbon neutrality” is often an excuse to keep practicing bad behaviours and “balancing” them with good ones. 

We are not the fictional character, Dexter, who kills people by night and solves crimes by day. That TV show was entertaining to watch, but no one in their right minds would condone such behaviour. And yet so many see nothing wrong with carbon neutrality.

The image in the tweet above is amusing, but that is all it is. It reminds me of online quizzes that claim they can tell you your personality type or which Hogwarts house you belong to.

I am none of the options in the image. Someone might think of categories to lump people into, but they cannot be exhaustive.

You might be in more than one or you might jump from one category to another depending on the circumstances. We are fickle and complex that way. 

You might also argue that such quizzes or questions that categorise you are harmless fun. They might be if you are a critical thinker. The problem is that such “fun” is more popular than the work of actually thinking for yourself. You become lazy if you cannot critique something that relies on lazy thinking to propagate itself.

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I picked this comic out of several that Larry Cuban shared in a blog entry

At a superficial level, I get that he comic is supposed to be funny because of the role reversal. The traditional bully is now the bullied because the new bully is savvy enough to manipulate Facebook.

On a deeper level, Facebook? Really? The youth of today are not flocking to Facebook. Their parents and grandparents are. The comic is designed for the older reader and possibly prepared by an older writer.

It is one thing to connect with your audience, it is another to misrepresent a group you have your crosshairs trained on. Doing the latter perpetuates ignorance.

If you cannot REACH them, you cannot TEACH them. 

The lesson in teaching that I draw from this negative example is this: If you cannot REACH them, you cannot TEACH them. 

Being out of touch with your learners is surmountable — you can read, watch, listen, and learn. This takes effort. Staying out of touch with your students is easy — read and laugh at a comic because you do not question its premise.

Over the weekend, I received strange comments on a few of my old WordPress entries.

They were all from other WordPress-hosted blogs written in Cyrillic font. This is probably not new spam, but it is spam all the same. Bloggers beware.

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Shortly after thinking out loud about unpaid principles, I watched the BBC’s streaming of Ophelia. I was reminded of this: 

This above all: to thine own self be true.
Hamlet, Act-1, Scene-III

These was the advice of Polonius to his son, Laertes, as the latter left for Paris.

Like most things, there is more than one way to interpret this quote. The interpretations swing from doing what benefits yourself to doing the right thing. I prefer the latter which is about one’s integrity. 

I risk being unpaid because my principles are not aligned to potential collaborators. I do not wish to fall backward pedagogically nor do I wish to model the wrong values and behaviours as I teach with technology. Is such a value system not valuable?


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