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A tweeted question to #edsg prompted this reflection.

This question has been asked since Facebook appeared on our collective radars. Such a question is not unusual because adventurous educators always seem to ask it of any new technology.

I recall tackling this question with preservice teachers almost nine years ago. Back then the responses included 1) leveraging on the popularity of Facebook, 2) wanting to keep one’s different lives separate, and 3) maintaining different profiles for different purposes.

Quite a bit has changed since then and some things have not.

What has not is that most people do not like having multiple accounts because it takes effort. Just try asking a group of learners to create another account on a platform they are already in or a new one on a platform they are not familiar with. A few might react like you are demanding their first born child.

What has changed is the popularity of Facebook among the younger set. Facebook is where their parents and even their grandparents hang out, so it is less cool. Facebook is not yet a teen or young adult wasteland. A quick Google search on Facebook usage statistics will reveal that (examples [1] [2] [3]) . But there have been migrations to Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter.

Another thing that might have changed is the need to “separate lives”. Teachers might assume that their students have the same mindset or concerns as they do, but learner notions of privacy could be different. That is not the same as saying that kids are not concerned about privacy. They are and about different aspects of privacy.

But back to the question.

The tweeted question is a reflection of dated thinking. Such thinking is based on at least two wobbly foundations: 1) false dichotomies, and 2) limited learning opportunities.

Dichotomies (two-way categorizations) occur because of the human need to classify complex phenomena. Male or female. Good or bad. Married or not. Your side or my side. But giving in to this need to simplify ignores the grey nuances that are more representative of life and learning.

A problem with categorical thinking is that people feel that they must separate where they live, love, or learn. We might be conditioned to think this way because schools put academic subjects in separate silos, students in separate classes, and lessons that happen at one pace and place.

Whether a teacher, school leader, or policy maker thinks Facebook is GOOD or NOT for e-learning is not important. That is an attempt at categorizing the platform as suitable or not.

What is important is how students and teachers have already started using it as a learning tool or not. For example, students might use Facebook as an informal communication platform for homework help. Teachers might use it for persona-based lessons (e.g., Fakebook). Edmodo created the Facebook equivalent in education to leverage on social learning.

Learning does not just happen in the classroom or when the teacher says start. It can happen at any time and in any place as long as the learner has access and a question that needs answering.

Asking if Facebook (or any other tool for that matter) is suitable for teaching and learning is too late and the wrong question to ask. It has already been used by learners and educators who do not ask for permission, and in ways that might not be expected of the creators of the tool.

Tuition means different things to different people.

Mention tuition in the USA and people might think about university tuition fees and classes in the lecture-tutorial system.

Mention tuition in Singapore you might get an assortment of answers.

A minority might suggest that tuition is the shadow schooling system that contributes to high test scores. I know of at least one international testing group that has started asking survey questions about the extent of tuition. If that group shares what they find, we might have some evidence to back up that claim.

Ask parents and they might say that tuition is a lifeline for their kids to catch up, stay at the top, or fulfill some other academic agenda.

Ask our politicians about tuition, and as of last week, you have this collective response.

That headline hints at the dependence on and mindset towards tuition, not tuition per se.

So what is tuition? It means different things to different people even in our context.

In that tuition continuum, there is tuition that is:

  • nannying (keeping kids occupied, possibly with just busy work)
  • remediation (coaching for learners who cannot keep up with the curricular race or the demands of schooling)
  • extra (kiasu type: repeating what happens in school and even providing content in advance)
  • ensuring As (kiasi type: for kids who are already ahead but what to keep up with the best in the chase for grades)

There are probably other categories and the ones I listed above are not mutually exclusive. For example, a parent might desire tuition to nanny and ensure As.

The last two categories are part of enrichment tuition that blights our social landscape as tuition centres in malls all over Singapore.

Enrichment tuition is probably what is being addressed at the highest levels of our country. After all, this is the type of tuition that emphasizes the academic chase largely for grades and glory instead of the pursuit of meaningful learning.

Meaningful learning that focuses on the individual talents and pitfalls. This is learning that stresses long term mindsets, values, and skills. It is learning that makes a better person and one that contributes meaningfully to community.

Contrary to what enrichment tuition agencies say on their brochures and websites, I have not come across any evidence that enrichment tuition contributes to meaningful learning. However, not all tuition is bad. In its original form, tuition once stood for personalized coaching and testing that supplemented school effort.

Why is remedial tuition necessary?

Schools tend to rely on one-size-fits-all approaches because they follow the industrial model. Kids that do not fit fall through the gaps. The more fortunate ones have parents who pay for remedial tuition as a safety net.

In theory there should not be a safety net. We would like to think that schools should be able to meet the needs of every learner. That ideal is not what happens in practice. Kids are different; school wants to treat them all the same. Learning is messy; teachers are not taught to embrace it.

If you study systems as I do, you can attribute schooling problems to tests that do not evolve with the times. If school is a factory, then tests are quality control (QC). QC determines everything else: What the inputs or raw materials are, who the staff and machine cogs are, what the overall process are, what the supporting processes are. If QC bleeps because it detects something wrong, every other component in the system jumps and changes to diffuse that alarm.

Our tests and QC are not going away or going to be redesigned any time soon. We lack the moral courage to make the changes.

In the meantime, a few ex-teachers and non-teachers coach, individualize, and even innovate because of they love their academic subject and/or the learner. This is the sort of tuition that should not go away because it is learner-focused and may also teach schools a thing or two if schools decide to redesign themselves.

One of the key intiatives of the CeL will be mobile learning or m-learning. A working framework of the possible categories of mobile apps emerged from my discussion my m-learning project leads: Core, peripheral and parallel eduapps.

Core eduapps: These are apps that are designed to promote formal learning opportunities. So one or more LMS-linked apps could notify learners that someone has responded to a discussion thread and allow the user to respond in kind.

Peripheral eduapps: These are peripherally relevant to learning but could provide learning opportunities. Examples might include a directory app for contacting tutors by email or phone, a libary app that notifies a user of available resources or book pick-ups, and location aware apps that help you find places, people or resources.

Parallel eduapps: These are existing apps that may or may not be designed with education in mind. Examples might include Dropbox (for file distribution and sharing), Evernote (for note-taking) and the WordPress app (for reflective edublogging).

I do not think that these categories are mutually exclusive. For example, the WordPress app could be used to maintain a blog which serves as user’s e-portfolio. Depending on how you look at it, the app would be a parallel, peripheral and core app. But I think that this framework will help us decide which apps to prioritize for development.

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