Another dot in the blogosphere?

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.
 

While editing a Google Site last week, I was pleasantly surprised with this on-screen notification.

Add scripted embeds in Google Sites.

I had not been paying attention to when the new Google Sites was going to bring non-Google domain embeds back, so I was keen to try it out.

So I tried the embed tool with a Padlet and it works like it used to in the old version of Google Sites.

Example of embedded content in new Google Site.

I do not know yet what limitations Google Site has on non-Google domain or owned resources. There will probably be some embed codes and scripts that will not work.

But for now, I am happy that this critical function that made the older version of Google Sites so good is now available in the new Google Sites!

 

This semester I had to resort to something I might have done as a classroom teacher 21 years ago. I had to manage expectations with a warning prior to a cooperative learning activity.

Some context: I model and teach assorted pedagogical strategies to future faculty. One of these strategies is a variant of the jigsaw method. This is a cooperative learning activity that replaces a long and boring lecture on even more pedagogical strategies and theories.
 

 
I have done this for many semesters, but I something changed last year. During the jigsaw, a few individuals would resort to selfish behaviours. I vividly recall three individuals at separate sessions: One shopped online, another used social media to chat with people outside class, and another played a mobile game.

An outsider might baulk at the actions of these three. They are Ph.D. students who are privileged to attend a well-respected university. Most students at this level are also sponsored for their studies, so this raises the privilege ante further.

I confronted these individuals to let them know they had responsibilities to their group — in a jigsaw cooperation, they were individually accountable and yet dependent on one another.

I realised I was reacting to this instead of preventing it. So this semester I set expectations like I used to as a classroom teacher. I told my learners that I would give them a verbal warning if they engaged in selfish behaviour, and if they persisted, I would ask them to leave the class.

No one crossed that line this semester even though a few were tempted. But I do not think that it was the threat of being confronted that led to positive behaviours. I also emphasised the rationales managing one’s self for the good of a group. The social pressure to conform and cooperate did the rest.

I saw this notice outside a room yesterday.

Session on peer and self-assessmet cancelled.

It informed me and anyone who bothered to read it that a session on peer and self-assessment was cancelled.

I have no stake in the workshop, but I was left wondering why it was cancelled. Were tutors not interested in the topic? Did the organisers not hit a quota?

As the experience was embedded in an LMS, was the use of the platform so poor to warrant cancellation? Or were the tools so self-explanatory that people did not need workshops on how to use them? Given the nature of LMS and co-opted tools, I suspect the former.

Might these collectively be an indicator of what matters to instructors at this institution?

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Journalists who write for papers are fond of backing up their claims with “research says” or “according to research”, but not actually citing, linking, and listing it.

Claiming that “research says” or “according to research” sounds authoritative, but it is not. Readers should not have to take your word for it; they should be able to access the original spruce material and decide for themselves.

Even academics who have been brought in to write opinion or expert pieces seem guilty of doing this. However, I suspect that the academic style of using and citing references gets edited out to suit newspaper style.

All that said, even if references sneak in, they are no guarantee of accuracy or authority. A writer typically has an agenda or has to follow someone else’s agenda, so the references might be biased.

Even if a writer remains as objective as possible, the returns on what research says is often mixed. This is particularly true of the social sciences, of which educational research is firmly part of.

Consider video-based learning. In the age of YouTube, there is research on the effects of videos on learning.

There are generic and summary-oriented articles like Research On Using Video for Learning or How Students Learn From Video.

Then there are articles that claim that videos are key to learning, like Why Flipped Learning Is Still Going Strong 10 Years Later. But there are also articles like Why Videos May Not Be the Best Medium for Knowledge Retention whose title is self-explanatory. Interestingly, the contrasting articles are from the same publishing source.

Asking what “research says” is no guarantee of finding the answers you expect, need, or want. Quite the opposite. You might end up more undecided than before.

But that is the partly point of research. It is not to provide clear or definite answers. It is to roughly point the way with the help of more questions.

If you seek to indoctrinate, provide the answers. If you seek to educate, provide questions.

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