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Posts Tagged ‘bad

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.

Patience might be a virtue, but frustration might be your reward.

I am nothing if not patient. When I read the news in November 2015 that my telco provider (StarHub) would lower its fees, I almost did a joyful jig.

As I was still tied to an existing two-year subscription plan, I had to wait to take advantage of this change. In January this year, I visited a StarHub store to find out exactly when and how to make the switch.

I found out that I could do this in late June 2016 for my mobile line and last week for my wife’s line. While the when was easy, the how was less so.

The process seemed to be designed to dissuade those that dislike jumping through hoops. According to a customer service representative (CSR), I had to call 1633, inform them of my wish to change, and then make the change myself online.

I did that, but I wondered: Why call when the process is do-it-yourself? Do some people need help figuring out when they can do this and which web page to visit? Automate the process and put it online!

I already had the URL by trawling the telco’s site, but the CSR on the phone read it out to me one letter at a time anyway.

I managed to make the switch online. The process involved verifying my credentials (logging in), checking my eligibility (a button on screen), and making the switch (clicking on that button). The initial phone call was not necessary.

I thought all was well and merely had to wait two more weeks to repeat the process for my wife’s line. However, hope springs eternal, patience is a virtue, and shit hit the fan.

StarHub messes up.

When I logged in to check my account, the telco had my mobile line under the wrong scheme. As a Hub Club member, I qualified for the SIM-only 4G 3 plan at $21.45 instead of $42.90 per month. My online account information indicated that I was on the more expensive plan, but an email stated that I was on the cheaper plan.

Which piece of information was I supposed to believe?

I emailed and called the helpline again and received email and verbal confirmation that I was on the cheaper plan. But the information online still indicted that I was on the more expensive plan. Which information will the billing department use?

Last week I tried switching my wife’s mobile line to the SIM-only plan. However, the process had changed. The verification process was no longer available online and there was no option to make the switch.

I called and emailed again. I was told to wait because they had to check their backend. If I was not already bummed out by that point, I might have made a cheeky response about them caring only about the bottom line or their service being the butt of jokes.

Instead I tweeted this:

I received a reply to DM my number phone and account number. I did so and also provided the annotated screenshot I shared above. Now I screenshot their DM reply.

StarHubCares?

Apparently when they “escalate” something, it takes three working days. As it was a Friday night by the time they replied, I presume they mean an optimistic Wednesday.

This sounds reasonable since I am not a Member of Parliament or mrbrown. I am just a little person who subscribed to StarHub services since its inception.

Three working days is definitely reasonable when there are still “contact us” pages elsewhere that claim a 14-day wait for a reply.

I can wait. The telco can take its time. During that time the billing cycle will kick in like clockwork to charge me more than it should. To address this, I will have to call, email, or tweet. Again.

Patience is a virtue, but frustration is my reward.

I have had the privilege of meeting lots of interesting people while I travel the world. I hear wondrous stories and am constantly reminded how more alike we are than different.

I have also discovered how bad apples worm their way everywhere, even in the education teams of highly selective mega corporations.
 

Bad Apple by i.hoffman, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  i.hoffman 

 
Actual bad apples are salvageable in that you might make cider out of them. Human bad apples are just a rotten bunch that pretend to do good, but are harmful in the short and long term.

Thankfully I have not met many of these bad apples. Sadly it does not take many to tarnish the barrel they are associated with.

Note: While I used someone’s creative manipulation of Apple’s logo, this is not a statement specifically about the people at Apple I know. It is about educational technology vendors as a whole and Apple is not immune from worms.

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Yesterday I rambled on why too much of a good thing is bad. Today I reflect on why too little of a good thing is also bad.
 

42/365 - feeling low by jypsygen, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  jypsygen 

 
Unlike mine, Steve Wheeler’s blog is always a quality read. That is why it is one of my must-have RSS feeds.

Using RSS is a bit old school. So is taking the trouble to comment on a blog entry.

Wheeler recently shared the number of views and comments his top five blog entries of 2014 generated.

I calculated the percentage of commenters over viewers to illustrate how rarely people bother to comment or reply.

  • No. 1: Learning first, technology second, 22 comments, 8602 views (0.26% comments)
  • No. 2: Flipping the teacher, 16 comments, 6082 views (0.26% comments)
  • No. 3: Education, schooling and the digital age, 07 comments, 5872 views (0.12% comments)
  • No. 4: Watch and learn, 00 comments, 5688 views (0% comments)
  • No. 5: Vygotsky, Piaget and YouTube, 20 comments, 5586 views (0.36% comments)

Perhaps a decade ago, an edublogger might be fortunate to get one out of a hundred readers to say something. Now an edublogger with a large following might settle for one in a thousand.

A few caveats to the numbers.

  • The number of comments might include Wheeler’s own replies, so the number of commenters might actually be lower.
  • The low percentages are also exacerbated by the high number of views. If the top post garnered 860 views (one-tenth of the actual readership), the percentage would shoot up to 2.6%.
  • Comments and conversations on the blog entries on other channels (Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.) might not have been included.

This illustration is with just one anecdotal case. But I think I have selected a good example of the phenomenon I am highlighting.

This is not a slight on Wheeler not drawing comments because most edubloggers do not write specifically for views or comments. They share because they care.

This is about readers and lurkers who do not give back by critiquing ideas. This is about taking ideas and running away with them without saying thank you. This is about a culture of mute consumerism.

Too little of good things like online civility, connections, and content co-creation are bad. So here is another thought: How well do cyber “wellness” programmes address that?

If you buy five small items from a pastry shop in a local mall or heartlands shop, you are likely to carry them off in six plastic bags. Each item will be in its own bag and all five will be in a larger one.
 

 
This example sounded familiar to me because I wrote about this in 1999 when I used to maintain my own website. Back then I asked myself, tongue firmly in cheek:

Why did each pastry need its own plastic bag? Were they “psychologically insecure” so that they need their own space? Was there some “racial” hatred among buns?

I noticed our insecure bun phenomenon almost 16 years ago. Why is our wasteful plastic bag legacy so hard to get rid of? The simple answer is that we have collectively enabled it.

Take another example.

In a letter to the ST forum, the co-founder of the Keep Singapore Clean Movement described how appalled he was with the state of littering post New Year’s Day parties despite the provision of 400 rubbish bins. Hundreds of workers had to clean up after party revellers. It reinforced the fact that we are not a naturally clean city but a cleaned one.

He compared Taipei with us:

  • Taipei: Three million residents, 5,000 cleaners
  • Singapore: Five million residents, 70,000 cleaners

A Singapore task force visiting Taipei found the Taiwanese city to be cleaner than ours. Why? In Taipei, people learn to pick up after themselves. In Singapore, we learn that someone else will clean up after us.

Back to bagging things.

According to this ST article, a cotton-based recyclable bag must be used at least 11 times to have a lower carbon footprint than the normal plastic bags liberally provided at grocery stores. The problem was that we receive too many recyclable bags. We do not use them as often as they should be used, or worse, dispose of them.

Providing so many rubbish bins or recyclable bags so that it is convenient for us has made us lazy. What should be a scaffold to promote good behaviour has become a crutch.

Look at how the authorities here encourage mixed recycling because they have statistics that show that if they insist on separated recycling, they do not meet KPIs. But they forget that doing this enables laziness: People do not learn to take the trouble to clean and then separate recyclables.

Recycling is as much an attitude as it is a habit. There is no point encouraging the habit by making it convenient, but forgetting about the long term value system of recycling and an equally long term education programme.

Such a programme may take more time and effort. It is also more painful to all stakeholders, but it can be very effective.

The world marvelled when Japanese fans cleaned up after themselves during the World Cup in Brazil. More recently, the Myanmar football fans did the same after a match in Singapore. Such behaviour is learnt and eventually embedded.

When I lived in Arizona, I had to pay for a rubbish collection fee and a recycling bin fee. If I did not recycle, I still had to pay for the latter fee. I was more conscious of what I threw away and what I recycled as a result.

Too much of a good thing is bad when a scaffold, no matter how well-intentioned, becomes a crutch. The better thing to do is to educate and change mindsets even though this is more painful and takes a long time.

The best thing to do is not wait for someone else to run a change programme. I teach my son how to recycle. I refuse multiple bags at pastry shops even though this confuses the aunties who bag the buns. I do these things because enduring processes start one person at a time.

I was a judge at a recent three-day educational startup event in Singapore. This was my first experience with startups of this nature.

Here are some of my observations.

The most wonderful thing about the event was how it brought passionate people with interesting ideas out of the educational woodwork. There is much potential good in a ground-up effort for people to spot gaps and suggest solutions to address problems they take ownership of.

A possibly bad thing is people who participate for the wrong reasons, e.g., self-promotion, sole goal of financial gain, perpetuating irrelevant ideas.

An ugly thing is people who promise one thing only to switch course and deliver something else.

The bad and ugly aspects are a result of “gut feels” and projections. I could see these things happening from a judge’s the point of view.

As the only representative from education on the judging panel, I was not terribly surprised, but still alarmed, by how much importance teams and the other judges placed on the business side of plans.

Such things are important for startups, but these are just the brick and mortar of a building. These buildings need to be built on a foundation of long term social improvement in the areas of schooling and education.

If the business aspects are the alphabet and words, then the guiding philosophy and underpinning pedagogy are the rules and themes of the overall story.

When I listened to the stories each group told, I did not look for the good, the bad, and the ugly. They announced themselves quite loudly.

The inaugural educational startup event was a wonderful first step forward. I hope that the organizers and participants reflect on the stories that played out so that they can plan for the next chapter.

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