Another dot in the blogosphere?

Recently I got workshop participants to teach one another the concept and components of SAMR. I then concluded the session with some thoughts and examples of my own.

But I forgot this brilliant tweet I archived in Evernote.

The components of SAMR — substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition — were mapped to the lay language of same-same, not so lame, reframe, and change the game.

SAMR as a framework for technology integration is not step-wise or procedural. There is no requirement to start with substitution and blindly aim for redefinition. The same could be said about Bloom’s Taxonomy (which I why I prefer my revision of the already revised BT).

For example, it is possible to be at death by didactic PowerPoint presentation (S) and to learn how to redefine teaching by getting learners to co-create and teach content (R) by sharing openly editable Google Slides instead. The focus is not the technology alone but also the pedagogy, content, context, and connectedness (TPCK+).

Not every context and content requires a reframing or redefinition, nor is this possible. An expensive or dangerous field trip might be substituted or augmented with a simulation or an annotated Google Map journey, and the learning might still be powerful and meaningful.

SAMR: Easy to understand; even easier to abuse. When you learn something new, do not do the same-same thing as before because that is lame. Reframe your mindset so that you change the game.

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It would be an understatement if I said my last week was a tiring one. I balanced classes in the evening and evaluations of novice facilitators in the day.

I was glad that I had the flexibility to arrange the evening classes early in the week and negotiate evaluations later the same week.

When I was a young faculty member, I was treated like a number on a schedule. I recall having to leave home at 6am to get from one end of the island to the other to set up for early morning classes. Sometimes this was on the back of a class the evening before or I had a string of tutorials throughout the day. It was not that much better with seniority because the timetable was king.

Now I get to choose what to be involved in as a consultant and only because I relate to the causes of those I collaborate with. But this does not mean that the work is any less strenuous.

My evening classes are typically from 6.30-9.30pm in a central location. I leave home at 4.30pm to take into account time for travel, an early dinner, and setting up the classroom. After clearing up and chatting with people who stay behind, I might leave the venue at around 10pm and am lucky if I am home at 11pm.

This is a sacrifice that no amount of renumeration compensates for: This takes away from family time. This week was exceptionally painful because it coincided with a week-long school vacation that I could not enjoy with my wife and son.

I make sure that the sacrifice is worth it. I keep the sessions as lively as possible and refrain from lecturing. The entire three hours of each class is driven by learner-centred activities, technology-mediated strategies, and individual reflection.

Jigsaw method of peer learning and instruction.

The photo above might look static, but it is actually a snapshot of groups hard at work during a jigsaw of peer instruction. It is a joy to see energy levels high and questioning minds active even at the end of the session. Sometimes I feel bad that we cannot do more or because I have to stop discussions in order to move on to other important activities and topics.

The evening classes are particularly draining because the body and mind want rest after a day of work. But my learners and I keep our energies up and I employ active learning strategies to help in this regard.

An equally draining activity is evaluating novice facilitators. I do this as part of a cumulative assignment that future faculty develop over approximately two months. They plan and implement a self-contained 10-minute lesson that showcases their ability to be learner-centred.

Evaluating microteaching at NTU.

I am always encouraged by those who make the effort to teach in ways that they were not taught when they were undergraduates.

The other facilitators and I have the unenviable task of changing or shifting mindsets over a very short period. The reception and abilities of our learners spans the spectrum of the militantly resistant to the devoutly willing. Yet we have to help all of them manage their expectations and coax performances that meet the high standards we set for them.

All this makes for taxing, but fulfilling work. Even though I am technically paid to be with these learners three hours at a time, I do my usual early start and late end. The latter is often a result of staying back to discuss ideas, overcome stumbling blocks, or debate philosophical differences.

A while ago, a contact of mine asked me what I did. I described my teaching and facilitating work in less detail than I did above. However, he was sharp enough to label what I did “unbundling”. I understood what he meant immediately.

I had dropped the unnecessary meetings and the regular interruptions. I was able to offer specific services to my clients and collaborators that I was well-versed in as a professor and was also able to focus on these tasks exclusively instead of being torn in different directions.

I have always made time to read and write (I started this blog when I had less bandwidth than I have now) and the unbundling now affords me more. In hindsight, I wish I knew then what I know now about unbundling. It would have given me something to look forward to.

The adage “practice makes perfect” is an imperfect one. There is no point practising mindlessly nor is there any actual muscle memory. Such unscientific assumptions have, unfortunately, become the basis for homework to keep kids busy or for blind drill.

We now have neurological and cognitive research that helps us understand what practice does and which kinds of practice actually help.


Video source

This TED-Ed video briefly explains how our psychomotor functions refine with practice. I fill in a few blanks based on basic biology and educational psychology.

Neurologically speaking, effective practice is due to the increased myelination of our motor neurones. This strengthens neural transmission, i.e., the signals from the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to the peripheral nervous system (nerves connected to muscles).

Cognitive science has also unlocked secrets on what makes for effective practice. Such practice is consistent and focused to target at weakness or what is “at the edge” of current abilities.

While drills might focus on what you are already competent at, cognitive science suggests that we concentrate on what is just outside our zone of proximal development.

The video focused largely on psychomotor skills and did not dwell on social aspects of cognition or construction. These are just as important, and arguably more so, in the contexts of learning languages, negotiating cultures, or establishing schema and mindsets.

We have much to learn about how and why we learn. The worst thing we can do is ignore good research and listen only to unquestioned tradition.

Warning: If you are an old-school academic or have aspirations to be one, or if you have an irrational love for books, read no further. Your feelings may get hurt or your ego might take a hit.

If you do not appreciate irony or do not have a modicum of humour, do not scroll down. Your frown will not turn upside down.

I tweeted this last month. I elaborated on the tweet.

The book (as in printed on dead trees) arrived by mail (as in snail).

Book cover.

Do I appreciate getting a copy of the book three years after I left the organisation? Definitely.

Do I also appreciate the irony that the topic was plastered on a dead medium and took so long to produce? Even more so.

Had I completely forgotten about it? Of course. Three years might be on par for writing, editing, and publishing a book. It is also long enough for some content to be out of date.

The book might be titled “Teacher Education in the 21st Century”, but it is cocooned in a decidedly 15th century process.

The need to publish in this form and manner is also a university relic because people with doctorates living in ivory towers are still outdone by people with eyes for opportunity and tongues of silver.

The book has a hardcover that makes a hollow sound when you knock on it. It is the same hollow sound your audience hears when your message is empty because it does not quite connect with the times.

Lest I be accused of biting the hand that feeds me, I remind my curious readers that I bit off the leash in 2014. It does not take me three years to share even older information. I can do it in three minutes. Or less.

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If you live under a rock, watch this video first.


Video source

If you do not, you know that everyone and their grandmother watched it and had something to say about it.

This is what I saw and say from an educational technology perspective.

Technology integration
This was an example of technology integration, not just technology use. While the effort was just a recreation of a face-to-face interview, it would not have been possible without the video conferencing software.

One alternative would have been to find some other expert nearby. But the BBC either did not have one or know one.

Yet another alternative would have been to fly the expert over, but this would have been costly and probably would have lost its impact by air time.

Technology integration makes the edtech indispensable, not just good to have. It is necessary, transparent, and practically indistinguishable from the strategy.

Managing the environment
Good technology integration is just as much about managing the environment. In hindsight, most people might have wondered why he did not lock the door.

In a subsequent interview, the expert revealed that he normally locks the door. The day he forgot, his kids took advantage.


Video source

Technology integration looks effortless only if it is planned meticulously, rehearsed diligently, and when the environments are managed skillfully.

The environment might include the physical (e.g., lighting, temperature, noise), infrastructural (e.g., availability of tools, access to electrical points, reliability of wifi), social (e.g., individual space, group space, reflection space), pedagogical (e.g., instructional tools and platforms, strategies intertwined with the previous elements) and so much more. All must be considered, balanced, and managed in when contexts change.

Keep on keeping on
When novices try and fail, it is easy to give up due to the unwanted outcomes like embarrassment, poor participation, or negative feedback.

It is critical not to give up during and after something like this happens. The professor in the video soldiered on and he had the timely support and intervention from his wife.

He behaved professionally. He shared his burden with someone else. He reflected on the experience. He showed he was human.

No matter WHAT you teach, it is ultimately about WHO you are trying to teach it to. Making that human connection — in this case, it was family and kids — is what learners remember. Those are arguably more important lessons than what is in the official syllabus.

Gathering around an iPad to edit a Popplet.

Whenever I facilitate learning at workshops or course modules, I try something new or tweak a time-tested process.

Here is some context first.

Last year, I facilitated ICT-focused classes for special needs/inclusive education teachers. The sessions were conducted in the evening and I did not change the active learning design this year. However, I made the effort to jump at the deep end, tried a different swim stroke, and dealt with an unexpected current.

Chrome Incognito
What was the deep end jump?

I opted not to bring my Chromebook or Macbook Pro to the first session, and used the ageing desktop at the venue instead.

I used Chrome in Incognito mode to sign into various accounts, and with two-factor authentication via the Google app on my iPhone, was able to verify the log-in. When I was done with the session, I cleared the browser cache.

In between, I rediscovered the bane of YouTube ads because the Chrome browser on the desktop was not protected like my extension-enabled ones on my laptops. I wanted to show a small segment of a video but had to click away layered ads and two video ads that played before the actual video.

On hindsight, I could have relied on one of the many online services that let me download offline versions of entire videos or video segments.

As I neared the end of the session, the browser crashed. Ordinarily, this would mean having to log in to various services all over again. Thankfully, we were almost done and I did not have to do this. I also had my iPad on standby, but did not have to use it.

The interruptions due to the ads and crash were a reminder why facilitators should always bring their own devices. If you prepare and practice on that device, it is best to bring it along unless you like living dangerously.
 
Panoramic shot of 32 learners in five focus groups.

Google Forms to form groups
What did I do a bit differently with folks that I had not met before?

I usually ask participants to complete a Google Form questionnaire before we meet. In one question, I ask participants to choose a focus area or issue. Instead of trying to deliver a one-size-fits-all experience, I want to shape a custom one.

I normally follow this up by showing the results of the questionnaire at the start of our meeting to remind them of their selections. This time round, I predefined groups based on their responses and indicated what these were in a Google Site page.

About a quarter of the class did not respond by the deadline, so I met these learners during a break to sort them out before the group-based activities. This was a necessary step since it is rare for everyone to complete tasks beforehand. I also had two last-minute additions who probably did not get the instructions.

Such a preemptive design prevents groups from self-selecting. In this context, however, I wanted groups to be as diverse but as focused as possible. Knowing how people tend to stay in their comfort zones both social and cognitive, my decision to do this turned out to be a good one. The discussions were rich and there was a lot of productive noise in the room.

Jumping Padlet notes
I like getting participants to use Padlets for reflective pitstops and exit tickets.

However, a recent change to the platform seems to have made the online stickies refresh and rearrange themselves more often. This meant that some of my learners could not compose their thoughts because the notes kept “jumping away” from them.

This did not seem to affect all of them equally. Anecdotally, I have found that this happens to owners of small screens and slower devices with older Android builds.

One alternative might be to provide Google Forms and share the resulting Google Sheet with my learners. However, this limits my participants to text instead of other media like audio, photos, or video in Padlet.

I also like my participants to take ownership of their notes and to revisit them at different stages of learning. They could co-edit the Google Sheet resulting from Forms, but this is not as natural as the simulated writing or drawing on an online sticky note.

No space for Google Space
Last year I used the then brand new Google Spaces and reflected on the pros and cons of using it versus Google Sites [1] [2]. This year, Spaces will be shut down on 17 April in a failed Google experiment, whiles Sites, a mainstay for about a decade, lives on.

This meant transferring many resources, instructions, and activities to Sites from Spaces. This was no mean task as the two are not interoperable.

I also had to restructure the Site and this meant URLs changed. This affected the shortened URLs and QR codes I had created, so I had to make new ones, print them out as cards, and laminate them myself.
 
Scanning a QR code in class.

Bonus experiment
I was about to end this reflection when I remembered another step I took.

I normally send participants instructions to download and install a QR code reader. This makes it easy for them to access online resources instead of having to type URLs.

This time round I left this instruction out to see how adept my participants would be.

I was pleased to notes how several were game to use the QR codes on their own. Those that did not still had the benefit of using my shortened bit.ly URLs.

Overall takeaway
It is easy to be complacent and to coast with strategies that seem to work over different contexts and content. I choose not to do this.

I tell my learners that one of the best ways to learn is by cognitive dissonance. Better to live by this mantra than to come across as a hypocrite. If the situation does not provide these challenges, I create my own.

The unstated theme for this tweet is foresight.

Foresight is the difference between a good lesson plan and a bad one.

Foresight might also distinguish a good leader from a bad one.

The good news about foresight is that it does not have to be something you are born with. You can develop it by sharpening your mind almost like you would sharpen pencils. It stems from the practice of trying to see something interesting in the mundane.

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