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Singapore has a 14-day advisory leave-of-absence for students and teachers returning from trips to China. This is a measure to curb the spread of the 2019-nCoV or Wuhan coronavirus.

My tweet links to a Today article, but this CNA article is more detailed.

Side note 1: It is frustrating to find so many news and “news” returns when Googling for sources and nothing from official sites. The ministries needs to learn about search engine optimisation.

Side note 2: I drafted this reflection yesterday and so my claim is accurate as of the tweeted news release. Official sites may have been updated by now, but then that is still too late.

Back to the 14-day leave-of-absence. While inconvenient, it is a prudent measure given how not containing the disease is worse. So my mind wanders away from the possible social, geographical, or economic impacts of such an advisory.

Instead I recall an educator who shared how he had tried to push for online and e-learning in his school in Thailand. His peers and higher-ups saw little need because schooling was still valued as a face-to-face act.

But when the region he was in suffered severe flooding, his “blue sky” efforts suddenly became a lifesaver for less interrupted schooling. At the time, I think he jokingly called it calamity-based learning.

In Singapore, we now have the Student Learning Spaces (SLS) for home-based learning. But it is still peripheral instead of core; exceptional instead of mundane. The SLS in no way competes with or replaces bread-and-butter classes. If it did, we might question why kids need to go to school (other than to socialise and share disease).

This year marks my 31st as an educator. In the last 14 years I have had the qualifications and work in the area of online and e-learning. It has taken that long to see a small but important blip on the schooling and educational radar.

Viruses spread fast (as do falsehoods about the same) thanks to technology. But people learn and respond much more slowly, if at all. What is 14 days compared to 14 years?

The Pessimists Archive podcasts are few and far between. But when they are released, they are a joy to listen to.

The latest one focused on faces. As in the unwarranted fears of how technologies might affect your visage, e.g., smartphone face, tech neck.

The narrator revisited history to uncover what bicycle face and radio face had in common: The use of those then new technologies supposedly caused people’s faces to get wrinkled or stuck in unpleasant ways.

When the rotary telephone gained popularity, it was phone face that caused worry. But phone face was not about the neck crick or longer jowls caused by cradling the phone. It was about not knowing exactly who was calling.

All this was not just about fear-mongering incumbents putting down their competition. In the case of wrinkly faces, cosmetic companies claimed to have remedies for the affected faces.

Whatever the reason for the putdowns, generating fear of the new was the goal. The narrator had a response at around the 34-minute mark of the podcast:

New, uncontrollable things don’t wholesale replace old, controllable things. Instead new technologies integrate into an existing and ever-growing ecosystem. They create more options and therefore even more control.

Technology laggards need to be made aware of this. Technology evangelists could focus on such a message instead. Even if the laggards do not adopt the newer technologies, they might step out of the way for others to try. We all need to face our fears by replacing unquestioned ignorance with critically negotiated knowledge.

History repeats itself. We just have to be still and reflective enough to notice. For example:

But to actually change, we need to have the courage and persistence to take action.

Here is a phrase uttered and written so much that it has practically become a trope: Beware, robots will take our jobs.


Video source

Technology-enabled automation has always taken away old jobs, e.g., we do not need phone operators to manually connect us. But people conveniently forget how automation also creates new jobs, e.g., maintainers and improvers of phones. To that end, the video featured a truck driver whose duties evolved along with the development of automated truck-driving.

The automated truck-driving segment ended with the test driver stating that AI was not making people redundant. It was doing jobs that people no longer wanted to do.

The next video segment featured an automated sea port that moved the containers that arrived in ships. The repeated theme was that the human responsibility shifted from moving the containers to maintaining the robotic cranes and vehicles that moved the containers.

An important concept from both segments was that current AI might have good specific intelligence, but it has poor general intelligence. If an environment is controlled or if the problem is structured, AI is often safer, more efficient, and more effective than people.

The final video was about a chain’s pizza order prediction, preparation, and delivery. It emphasised how humans and AI work together and countered the popular narrative of AI taking humans entirely out of the equation.

The underlying message was that people fight change that they do not like or do not understand. This is true in AI or practically any other change, e.g., policy, circumstance, practice.

This was an opportunity for me to revisit an oldie but goodie image quote.

I do not doubt that universities do not gauge teaching faculty on lectures alone. If they did, even the best orators would eventually get low scores.

The writer of this article responded to another who assumed that student feedback on teaching was the primary method of appraising teaching staff.

Sadly, the writer of the article still opted to use the “lecture” moniker.

The danger of lectures...

Lectures, even so-called “interactive” ones with clickers or other audience response tools, are by far inferior in terms of critical reflection, authentic application, meaningful collaboration, and empowerment. Why focus on those? Because that is when learning happens.

The author of the first article ended with Great teachers go a step further: They help others to grow. I say that they should help themselves grow first — grow out of teaching/lecturing diapers and move up to big boy pants that focus on learning.

Call me biased, but I like featuring news and research that counters the fear-driven narratives of much of the press.


Video source

In the video above, parents learnt how to play video games to connect with their kids. This is not the only way parents connect, but it is an important one. The strategy not only creates opportunities awareness and involvement, it showcases the kids’ abilities to teach their parents.

Another resource certain to ruffle the feathers of proverbial ostriches with heads in the sand is the NYT review of research revealing that fears about kids mobile phone and social media use are unwarranted.

Though not specially labelled in the article, the reported research sounded like meta analyses of prior research studies on mobile phone and social media use on well-being.

The meta research revealed that the effect size was negligible. On the other hand, studies that spread fear and worry tended to be correlational, e.g, the rise in suicide rates in the USA rose with the common use of mobile phones.

But the NYT reminded us that correlation is not causation. Furthermore, there was no appreciable rise in Europe even though there was a similar rise in use of mobile phones.

One reason the NYT has the reputation it has is because it resists the temptation to be reductionist or simply regurgitate what the rest report. This is not about stand out. It is about being critical and responsible.

That is my short form for Product and Processes, Lunar New Year edition.

This was the product — a short story shot on the iPhone 11 Pro.


Video source

This was some insights into some of the processes that created the product.


Video source

You might cynically point out that this was Apple’s blatant effort to keep advertising the iPhone 11 Pro to the largest market in the world. You would be right.

You might also see how important it is to be aware of the processes behind the product. You might learn to be reflective.

So which would you rather be — right or enlightened — in the Year of the Rat?


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