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Posts Tagged ‘bad

It has often been said that technology is just a tool. It is not.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan

I do not have argument with “tool”; I take issue with “just”. Tools are not always neutral because they are designed with intent and function. These are part of the affordances of any technology.

What the layperson might not understand is that while some affordances are designed for and expected, others are negotiated or emergent.

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So when Google released its video on Searches in 2018, it chose to focus on the good and not the bad. This does not mean that it and its users did not do any evil.

We live in an era when we seem to have the unprecedented ability to generate and spread both misinformation and disinformation. Our technologies may have enhanced and enabled these, but we are responsible.

A gun may be designed to fire a projectile, but it is a person who choses a target, takes aim, and fires. Or not.

Likewise, Google Search extends our reach for information far beyond our fingertips and borders. But we can choose to reinforce our walls or burst our bubbles. Which we choose to do also depends on Google’s algorithms.

Google Search is a tool, but not just. The demean the description with “just” is to assumes that our searches are pure queries. They are not. We should not ignore that searches can be biased by algorithms and our mindsets.

A reply like “I’ve done my part” sounds innocuous, right?

This is was what an adult learner said to me when I asked him why he was not contributing to his group’s discussion.

I was surprised, angry, and disappointed, roughly in that order. He had not “done his part” despite sharing his views because he did not listen to his peers, offer responses, or raise questions.

He did the bare minimum and expected the rest to carry the weight of the discussion.

Anyone who has done group work or projects for school or work knows at least someone like that. People with bad attitudes is why group work and projects have a bad name.

I did not let “I’ve done my part” get away with it. I gently but firmly reminded him of his other responsibilities to the group.

He was not done. But he might be in a different way. I do not forget a face and I will remember his name. I take my role as watchdog as seriously as I do educator.

As a teacher educator, I was aggressive in making sure that student teachers who had bad attitudes did not go on to affect and infect children in schooling.

As an educator of future faculty, I will not claim “I’ve done my part”. I still have lots to do.

Three is a significant number for me today. It marks my third year as an independent education consultant since leaving my “cushy” role as a university don.

Three years ago, I shared why I was leaving. This year I use the movie title, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, to shed light on the past, present, and future of what I do, though not necessarily in that order.

The Good of being an independent consultant is being able to unpack what I do and only work with who I choose.

As a professor and head of a department, I was pulled many ways (teaching, service, research) and had to take care of teams of people. Now I can focus on what is important , e.g., conducting workshops. Now I need not lose sleep over extended family members who had little idea how much work and love went into taking care of them. I feel no guilt in taking better care of myself even three years down the road.

Oh, and just not attending long, dreary, and unproductive meetings puts a skip in my step. Now I choose who I meet with in order to encourage or be encouraged.

The Bad, if I can call it that, is needing to do EVERYTHING myself. I am my own promoter, administrative assistant, accountant, paralegal, designer, developer, facilitator, speaker, ad nauseum.

The work itself is fun and fulfilling. The administration and bureaucracy is stifling. Sadly, many of the administrative people that I meet who should know what to do range from incompetent to ignorant.

This sounds cruel and insulting, but I do not mean it that way. Mine is a valid critique because it is the job of these folk to enable learning while not doing anything illegal or unethical.

The big Bad is that administration is inherently conservative, often unnecessarily so. It serves its own purpose instead of the people it is supposed to serve. But I take each opportunity to gently educate these administrators.

The Ugly is something I have kept to myself for three years. I left my former work place even though I loved the work and colleagues with progressive mindsets. As an appointment holder, I could not bear with the politics that stood in the way of change.

I had an appointment letter that outlined my role for a number of years. I was also given a new contract offer. Before I signed the contract letter, I was told that my appointment letter was not going to be honoured.

That moment pushed my decision making past the tipping point. I followed the advice and example of ex-colleagues before me and opted not to sign on the dotted line.

I have had no regrets. I choose to ignore The Ugly. I embrace The Bad in order to work for The Good of teachers as learners.

Every day I try to live up to a mentor’s motto: Do the least harm. Except now I have tweaked it to: Do the most good.

Do the least harm. Do the most good.

Earlier this month, @tucksoon tweeted this CNA article about fake news.

I turn the question on teachers and rephrase it slightly. Do teachers know how to spot bad theory and practice?

Do they know why they should question:

  • Learning styles?
  • Homework?
  • Assessment practices?
  • Digital distinctions?

If not, I share what I have written and curated on:

Is there anything worse than Prensky’s false digital natives/immigrants dichotomy? (It is terrible and here is one good critique out of many.)

For over a decade, my answer was no. This year, someone decided to create a “trichotomy” of digital orphans, exiles, and heirs.

The newer distinctions suffer from the same core problem as the previous one: That you are born into the circumstances, and once there, you do not and cannot change.

The trichotomy is even worse in that while Prensky tried to cite a bit of research, the newer scheme is an opinion piece fuelled solely by anecdotal rhetoric.

The best theoretical model with practical realities is probably David White’s visitors and residents. This model is contextual and personal. Each person can be one or both depending on the circumstance.

For example, you can be a Facebook resident and a Snapchat visitor. Both involve forms of social media, but the labels of visitor or resident are not all-or-none. If you abandon Facebook and embrace Snapchat for personal or professional reasons, you might then become a Facebook visitor and a Snapchat resident. Who you are and what you do are not fixed.

So what if there are harmful or helpful models? Are these not just theoretical?

It is important to think critically about these models because they attempt to summarise and describe reality. If we do not point out falsehoods or chip away at inaccuracies, we misrepresent ourselves.

Words become actions. The Prensky dichotomy and the newer trichotomy can be used to craft speeches, shape policies, and dictate budgets. 

These weaker models are easy to digest because they might seem anecdotally close to experience. But anecdotes are not necessarily data and they certainly are not evidence until there are systematic and rigorous ways to collect and analyse them.

When most people speak of “blended learning”, they might actually be thinking about blended instruction. (Here are some considerations of blending that focuses on learning.)

There are many ways to blend instruction. Some might involve the modes (off and online), the content (seamless multidisciplinary content), and the pedagogy (direct instruction with x-based learning).

Most would justify blending based on the best possible outcomes. For example, in the case of blended modes, being face-to-face affords immediacy in social learning while still being able to leverage on timely resources online.

Not many might point out the worst of blending, particularly blended instruction. For example, someone might blend boring didactic teaching with YouTube recordings of irrelevant content.

Blending the teaching or learning processes does not necessarily lead to better outcomes. The contextual design of blending is critical. Online strategies and tools might not work as well in a low bandwidth environment, language might be a barrier in one context, and pedagogical expectations might be different in another. Here are examples of each.

When I lead talks, I find out how comfortable my participants are with going online with their phones. Depending on the country, venue, and people, I might resort to low bandwidth texting-like activities and think-pair-share instead of challenging them to watch and recommend YouTube videos.

I have conducted a variety of workshops for equally varied groups. When English is not the common language, I rely on activities and succinct pitstops to get the messages through. When I am with a group more familiar with training instead of teaching, I need not worry about much pedagogical baggage from my learners.

Bloggers, Pinterest boards, and tweets might declare blended learning to be engaging. They might be referring to blended teaching instead. Such an experience is not automatically engaging, and if blending is left only with the one who is teaching, is certainly not empowering.

Last year I outlined how the poorly designed McCafe app could be used to learn design principles. Missteps and mistakes are often the best sources of learning.

My StarHub is an app that I use to check my data consumption and it is a wellspring of lessons on how NOT to design a mobile app.

The app claims to let users customise what they see. Currently, there are four fixed cards and six selectable ones. The latter are selected by default.

One cannot actually customise as 1) there are fixed selections (including ads), and 2) if deselected, the optional cards return after restarting the app.

The people behind the StarHub app might have forgotten (or do not care) that the customer likes to customise. Perhaps they need to adopt a new custom and repeat it as a mantra.

The app also breaks the old web page three-click rule. This is the rule that states that a user should be able to find what they need within three mouse clicks. In the mobile app universe, this should be a one or two tap rule given the nature of the platform.

Once I open the app, I need to make six taps to know how much data I have consumed in detail. I need to tap on:

  1. My Account.
  2. Mobile usage.
  3. The filter option (I manage and pay for my family’s numbers and mine does not appear by default and I have no option to choose my mobile number as default.)
  4. My number in the filter.
  5. The done button.
  6. Data usage to view current usage.

The app offers a minimalist graphic on main page that looks nice, but 1) it does not always appear, 2) when it does, it sometimes happens after a delay, 3) it is not detailed enough for my needs.

All this puts form over function and the needs of the designers over that of the user. This makes for a terrible app experience and I am reminded of it every time I use it.

Designers of user interfaces should be familiar with the concept of user-centric design. I wish more were passionate about the practice of the same. This is particularly important for designers of educational apps, especially those that provide access to content and learning management systems. No one wants angry, frustrated, or anxious users even before the learning begins.

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