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Posts Tagged ‘app

Samantha Bee is a comedienne and talkshow host. In the video below, she was interviewed by another talkshow host, Seth Meyers, on various topics.

The topic that pricked my ears was Bee’s app for promoting the midterm elections in the USA.

Video source

After watching the video, I had to ask: Does it take a comedian to plainly state the goal of gamification? Here is the segment where she made this point.

Bee conflated games with gamification — after all, she is not an expert in the field — but she also made a point that designers, developers, and users sometimes do not openly admit.

Gamification relies largely on extrinsic motivation to trick the user into doing things. This principle is also often applied in gamified teaching. The questions that instructional designers, teachers, and learners need to ask themselves might include: Is this good in the long run? How does this distract from nurturing independent and critical learners?

Here is some background information:

I received a surprise email from MyRepublic on 16 May 2018 that it was offering mobile plans as Singapore’s latest telco. I put in my order for the Uno plan on ($8 per month) on 19 May.

I received the SIM card by courier on 6 June. That was a two-week wait from order to receipt. It is not a good sign for a new entry to be so slow to respond to demand.

Delivery notes
However, I experienced the best courier service I have encountered so far. I received SMS notification a few hours before delivery. The URL in the message provided a wealth of information, e.g., what the courier’s name was, what he looked like, how to contact him, and his progress. The courier called when he was in the neighbourhood and was polite throughout.

Courier for MyRepublic SIM card.

MyRepublic does not have a brick-and-motar store for its mobile offerings, so its only human face is its choice of courier. It made a great choice.

I have actually stopped supporting a few electronic and mobile accessory brands because the couriers were so rude or impatient. I know that they are not the product company, but I believe you are also a function of the company you keep.

Setting up the SIM
The physical installation was straightforward — pop out the old SIM and insert the new one.

MyRepublic provided TWO printed copies of the same instructions. One was a fold out that was with the usual credit card-sized SIM package. The other was a postcard-sized card with exactly the same information.

MyRepublic SIM card APN instructions.

Perhaps they were thinking of users with failing eyesight. But they were also wasting resources. The clientele they are targetting are likely savvy enough to just need APN information and online instructions. Speaking of which…

A few minutes after inserting the new SIM, I received two SMS: One was to a website to set up a phone profile while connected to wifi and the other was just plain text on how to set the APN.

MyRepublic SMS for set up new SIM card.

Neither was ideal.

If I was not already on an active Internet connection, I could not use the website to automate the process. Both also did not inform me that I needed to remove the previous telco’s profile and replace it with the new profile.

The SMS and printed instructions were essentially the same, the exception being the case of the letters used — MyRepublic vs myrepublic. This was disconcerting given how the case matters in some services.

I actually followed the printed instructions first because there was a delay in the SMS. After setting the APN, restarting my phone, and switching off wifi access, I tested the 4G connection.

I saw full bars on screen, but was unable to access a simple website. I launched Pokémon Go and it could not log in and start.

The SMS arrived just as I was about to get frustrated and the new profile did the trick. However, I noticed that my choice of VPN could not work. I restarted the phone one more time and this time I could get the VPN to automatically connect.

MyRepublic app
I had installed the MyRepublic app on the phone before I received the SIM. Once I had a data connection, I launched the app.

However, I got stuck at the very first screen because I had no “log in” information. I was not required to create an account at the point of signing up nor did the system have my records.

I checked my confirmation email and my password manager to be sure that I did not have an account. Assuming that the account was tied to the email I provided MyRepublic, I tapped on the link to retrieve a password, but got this error message instead.

MyRepublic App makes no sense.

My order was complete. I asked for a new SIM and it was delivered. Must the first month elapse and payment happen before an order is complete?

When I tried to create a new account to use the app, I was redirected to the mobile sign up site to get a new SIM plan, not to get an online account to use the app.

I resorted to using a desktop browser, Chrome, to try to get a MyRepublic account. The closest thing to creating this account was to “sign up for MyRepublic Support”. I got stuck in a loop of providing details, clicking on the sign up button, getting a blank page, and refreshing the page only to be invited to sign up again.

All this simply meant that I could not use the app to check the details of my account or monitor data use.

This was disappointing given my experience using Maxis Hotlink in Malaysia two years ago. The installation, set up, and app use were practically flawless. The SIM was recognised immediately and the app account was tied to the phone number. I did not have to wait unnecessarily or jump through hoops.

Some thoughts
The gap between order and delivery for a SIM is too long when you consider how you can walk into a store at peak traffic and walk out an hour or two later with a new SIM.

The technical setting up, while not complicated, is not as smooth as could be. The Malaysian telco I mentioned could get users to do this easily and seamlessly in 2016, so what is holding us back?

All this reminds me of how many organisations tend to repeat the mistakes already made by others instead of learning from them, avoiding those mistakes, and making good and new mistakes. The old and unnecessary mistakes burden would-be customers and this creates mistrust.

One key approach to avoiding such mistakes and problems is user-centredness: What would a user need and do? How might you facilitate that and get out of the way? It is not just about efficiency; it is also about effectiveness. It is not just about reeling people in with low-cost; it is also about creating a relationship with your users.

My anecdote illustrates how this is not a good start for Singapore’s latest telco. But this was just Day 1. I will need to test the robustness of the data access as well as MyRepublic’s promise to keep the data flowing even past one’s allotted plan.

Update (13 Jun 2018)
Almost a week later, I received an email with my username and password for the MyRepublic app.

MyRepublic app account information.

Yesterday my wife and i sat through a series of cinema ads that screened before the latest Hollywood blockbuster. One ad made our stomachs turn and churn.

The ad was from a regional publishing and edtech company. It claimed to have a cool new app that gamified math. Their solution was a problem: It combined slick-looking graphics of a town and data “analytics” with conventional worksheets.

I have described this type of “gamification” as chocolate-covered broccoli. It is an attempt to get kids to consume something good for them (broccoli/math) by disguising it with something they would actually eat (chocolate/game).

Doing this spoils the taste of good chocolate and healthy broccoli. It also sends the wrong message and expectation that games are for incentivising the unpleasant work that is math.

Consider another way to picture the app in the hands of a young learner. Imagine sending a child on a mission to collect recyclables from her apartment block. Every time the door opens at each household, she is given a math worksheet to complete. As she walks up each floor, the math gets more difficult and she receives stickers for each completed worksheet. Oh, and chocolate to fuel her climb.

Was the point of the exercise the collection of recyclables or the completion of math worksheets?

The point of math is logical thinking and problem-solving. There are aspects that need memorisation and even drilling, e.g., multiplication tables. But math should not be extrinsically driven by game mechanics.

Case in point — consider the approach of Eddie Woo, a math teacher who was a finalist in the Global Teacher Prize 2018 and winner of Australia’s Local Hero award.

Video source

Woo leverages not on games or gamification but on the wonder, utility, and authenticity of math.

To the developers of gaming or gamified math apps that say “it just works”, I ask WHY.

You cannot be a-theoretical with your answer. If you are, you have not done your research. If your answer is that it works in the short-term, consider what it does in the longer-term with learners who rely on incentivisation over actualisation.

After reading the article below, I appreciated how the app makers thought just outside the box to deal with those operating stubbornly inside it.

The creators of SnapType responded to how some teachers gave pen-and-paper homework to kids with special needs. The teachers did this even though the kids could not write due to their disabilities.

This teaching behaviour is a classic case of favouring equality over equity. Equality is treating all the kids the same regardless of ability or context. Equity is giving those that need a leg up more help so they can operate at more equal footing with their peers.

The app creators realised they needed to create a more equitable situation for kids with special needs. While the kids could not write, they could type.

Their solution was simple: Snap a photo of the homework and Type the answers. The completed homework could be submitted online to a shared platform or via email attachment.

The snap, type, and send strategy helps students with special needs in more ways than one. Not only are they able to complete their homework, they are also using enabling technologies.

The moral of this story does not end with the app or kids with special needs. Teachers in mainstream classrooms need to ask themselves if they are disabling able kids by not taking advantage of enabling technologies.

Last week the press claimed that a virtual reality (VR) application was “making pre-school spaces safe”.

While I applaud the attempt, I question its wisdom.

I am all for experimenting with technology and exploring possibilities, hence the applause. But with practical realities, limited budgets, and finite energies, I wonder if the creators of the VR application learnt from similar attempts in Second Life a decade ago.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

Just because the technology has evolved does not mean that human imagination, critical thinking, and research and reflective practice in the field have followed suit.

Just because you can do something does not mean you should. It could create wrong expectations. For one, the application is a simulation, but it is perceived as a game, at least to one interviewed student who said as much. For another, the simulation is designed to engage. That is the rhetoric in much of schooling now. Effective technology integration goes beyond mere engagement.

The simulation is rudimentary now, but it can improve. One clear improvement is how learners might be empowered to create by authoring environments. This is the more important application of VR, but the press relegated this to the end in a single sentence.

The hardest part of learning something new is not embracing new ideas, but letting go of old ones. -- Todd Rose (In “The End of Average”)

There is always some harm in trying to do good. Sometimes the harm is unanticipated and other times it is unseen.

The harm of overkill VR is that we will keep doing the same things differently and thus add very little value with the technology. This will add fuel to the fire started and maintained by naysayers. Then when better applications of VR (or any other technology) come along, the change agents face a fire wall.

Turnitin’s Feedback Studio needs some serious feedback.

Yesterday I shared how its web application, integrated into an institutional LMS, kept logging me out and had UI controls reminiscent of the 80s.

If its web application was unstable and finicky, then its iOS app was bare-bones and underwhelming.

Turnitin’s Feedback Studio

I was hoping that I could do on the iOS app much of what I could already do with the web application. I was disappointed early on.

As I accessed Turnitin from an institutional LMS (BlackBoard), I had to log in with an “activation code”.

According to the instructions (as of 10 September 2017), I had to first log in to the institutional LMS on my iPad, pick any assignment, and click on an information (i) icon to reveal a “Generate Code” button.

When I tapped on the button, nothing happened. I could not get a code with the iOS app.

Hoping that the code was not tied to a device, I decided to try this on my laptop. Clicking on the button using my laptop gave me the code I needed. I had to use this workaround because Turnitin’s instructions did not work.

The UI of the app is simple. At first I was disappointed that what I did not use was plain to see and what I really needed to use did not seem available.

UI of Turnitin’s Feedback Studio

What was clearly visible were tappable areas for a rubric, summary comment, voice comment, and similarity (matching scores to other artefacts in the database) at the top of the page. I did not rely on any of these.

I do not even use the scoring element because 1) I keep the marks elsewhere, and 2) the point of this assignment is for students to respond to feedback via a reflection and to incorporate changes in the next assignment. Provide a score and the learning stops (and the badgering for marks begins)!

The actual tools for providing specific formative feedback, i.e., highlighting, commenting, selecting canned responses, etc., were not obvious. There was no initial-use help on screen. Such a job aid is practically a standard feature from app creators who practice user-centric design.

Thankfully tapping on the screen a few times revealed the highlighting, commenting, and type-over functions. I managed to markup and comment on a student’s work. In the screen capture above, I pixellated the work (grey) as well as my comments, canned comments, and highlights (all in blue).

Highlighting was somewhat laborious as the app selected an entire line when I wanted to focus on one word. It was also not easy to select several sentences in a paragraph, but I suspect that this problem is common to apps that display PDFs.

As I was trying this at home where the wifi was fast and stable, the markups in the app synchronised with the web version almost immediately. A better test might be at a public hotspot or transport where the signal is less reliable. This would test Turnitin’s claim that any app edits would update the web versions when a reliable connection was established.

I am not sure I would recommend the app for processing class upon class of scripts. The typing of comments alone would be a pain. An external keyboard might alleviate this issue, but not everyone has one. There is also the option of audio feedback, but this does not highlight specific parts of an assignment.

I would not recommend this app to the paper and pencil generation. I would hesitate to do the same even to those who consider themselves mobile savvy. I would not want my recommendations to be soured by association with an app that feels like it is in perpetual beta.

I LOL’d when I saw this tweet. It was a moment of truth and connection. Ask adults around you and you might get similar anecdotes of this shared experience.

But however humorous, the observation is superficial. It is probably what drove people like Prensky to create the concept of the digital native, i.e., kids born with technology are savvy with it because they are wired differently.

What proponents of the digital native narrative ignore is that we are first wired to play and explore. Our instinct is to learn.

If the available technology was a stick and mud, a child as a curious learning machine would use it. Some mud and even the stick might end up in their face or mouth.

Today the technology might be the computer or phone. A child is the same curious learning machine and the computers or phones stick as well. That child is no more a digital native than the previous one was an analogue native.

I often tell adult participants of my seminars or workshops that they are sometimes more native with some technologies than their students and children.

Take the use of Facebook for instance. Most adults and parents my age started using Facebook before they had kids or before their kids started using it. The adults are more aware of the usage, nuances, and changes in Facebook than younger learners. They might also be wiser about what to share and what not to. The adults are the digital natives in that context.

That is one of the key weaknesses in the false dichotomy that is the digital native-immigrant divide. It does not take into account context of use. A better but less well known theory is the digital visitor and resident continuum by David White.

Whether it takes a comic or some critical reflection, I hope more people read about how the concept of digital natives does more harm than good. After all, we learn not when we reinforce something we already believe in; we learn when we experience dissonance as we play and explore.

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