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Posts Tagged ‘change

My rant yesterday was about how the legacy system of physical business cards prevented access to a shared space for remote working. Today I explore another legacy issue — paper-based bank statements — and link such inertia to assessment. 

Every utility, insurance, and banking statement I receive is electronic except for one. The exception is Maybank Singapore.

I receive a monthly statement of the joint account I maintain with my son. We started that account when we returned to Singapore from the USA about 16 years ago. For most of that time, practically all my transactions and records were electronic. 

Several months ago, a paper Maybank statement appeared in my mailbox. Not only did I not ask for this, they kept on coming. Those same statements come with an extra page of service advertisements, tips, and advice. One tip was to “Go green! Switch to eStatements”.

The tip also stated that I could use the mobile banking app to apply for “eStatements”, so I tried. However, the app told me that my accounts (I only have one) “are not eligible for eStatement”. So why tell me to switch?

I would like the switch so that I do not get unnecessary paper in my mailbox. This is not just a “green” thing to do. Being responsible with all our resources is not a fad; it is our duty as stewards of our planet.

I provided feedback via the app because that is what I can do for now. If I need to brave a queue at a local bank branch, I will do that.

My complaint is that the legacy system of paper-based statements is enabled and entrenched by people who do not know or care about a broader mission. They might be aware of a corporate effort to “go green”, but they might not know why and how.

I am quite certain that this is a worker mindset issue because the same bank issued me a bank card with my surname as my first name and the wrong first name. Someone messed up with the database.

What does this have to do with schooling and education? People and assessment. Curriculum planners and teachers know that they need to evaluate learning more progressively. However, they remain anchored to legacy systems because it is the safe thing to do.

Take, for example, what a batch of future special needs teachers told me almost a year ago. Some of their courses were examinable and they were required to use Zoom to monitor their test-taking when all of us were learning/working from home.

The assessment did not change to suit the times. The circumstances should have dictated that since we could not meet in person, policies and procedures should change. However, one or more decision makers chose not to operate outside the box, so they forced a communication/learning tool (Zoom) to be a monitoring/proctoring one.  

On one hand, I am thankful they did not have access to cruel online proctoring tools. On the other, I am disappointed that they resorted to repurposing Zoom to do what it cannot and should not, i.e., monitor behaviour. All this stems from the inability to think and operate outside the traditional proctored examination.

As current and future practitioners, teachers should be able to work on projects, interview other teachers or school leaders, collect and analyse data, write proposals for grants, suggest curricular changes, design lessons, etc. 

None of those require Zoom-based proctoring. All of these are relevant to a teacher. None of them take the form of a traditional examination. All of them model possibilities to these teachers.

The bank statement and forced proctoring illustrate inconsistent messaging. There are the ideals of going green and progressive education. But there is the louder and opposite message of doing things the old and ineffective way.

Even worse, the user and teacher might learn to hate the technology that enabled legacy behaviour, i.e., the banking app did not allow the switch to e-statements and the Zoom-based exam was more unpleasant than a normal one.

My reflection reminds me about why change agents need to keep working. When change happens, it sometimes feels like taking three steps forward and then two steps back. At least there is progress. But what can also happen is three steps forward and four steps back — a regression. We need to keep pushing forward.

Today and tomorrow I reflect on simple legacy systems that persist but are no longer relevant now. I link these to what is happening in schooling and education.

Several months ago, I noticed an electronic flyer that promoted the use of a shared space for those who needed to work from home (WFH). This was when WFH was at 50% and the scheme was good for workers who might prefer a place that felt more like an office.

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However, the notice stipulated you needed to show your business cards to enter the shared space. This might work for those who work for companies and the civil service, but this might not be true of those who freelance.

I dispensed with business cards almost eight years ago when I went independent. I would simply share my email address or Twitter handle with those asked for a business card. The point of the card, after all, was to provide contact information.

Owning a business card does not mean that you are part of a company or gainfully employed. Anyone can make their own business cards. If a business card was proof for entry to that shared space, then I should also be able to sketch myself on notepaper when asked to verify my identity.

If we claim to live in an information age (or even post-information age), then we should act that way. Reliable, flexible, and meaningful information is electronic now. For example, CNA recently reported how birth and death certificates will be electronic from the end of May. We have been able to use electronic versions of our our NRICs (in Singpass) for most identity verifications

This is just one example of how legacy systems hold back those who operate fully in the present. There are so many legacies in schooling and education, and the worst are linked to assessment. Such assessment is so significant that it has been called the tail that wags the dog. More on this tomorrow.

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I read this commentary on digital identity cards and had already sharpened my knives to slice away at a digital stagnation. Thankfully good sense prevailed.

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But not at first. The author made a false equivalence of SMS phishing scams with showing your digital identity card. The former is motivation initiated by someone else while the latter is yours.

For example, scammers have “masqueraded as staff from reputable organisations and recruited victims to participate in surveys, promising monetary rewards”. On the other hand, you initiate identity verification because you want to access government services online.

Then the author of the piece highlighted how our digital ID system, Singpass, provided higher security than our plastic cards.

Singpass… requires an extra round of passcode or biometric authentication (such as a fingerprint or facial recognition) whenever users attempt to log in. 

And soon after: 

But all these cybersecurity measures cannot completely remove the risks of user complacency and human error, when all it takes is a moment when we let our guard down and click on a malicious link.

There lies the takeaway: You cannot have new technology without also establishing new expectations and effective public education on its use. This is true for anything digital, be it Singpass or stay-at-home online learning. Without expectations and education, you run the risk of stagnation.

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I enjoy reading the reflections of Larry Cuban, former teacher, professor, and educator supreme.

His two-part series (so far) on Open Space Schools (part 1) (part 2) are critical examinations of what some might consider novel when they are not. In Cuban’s own words, he considers “how ‘new’ ideas, innovations, popular policies, and classroom practices have a history that often goes unnoted”.

In part 1, Cuban shared a “new” idea of an open classroom in the Kyrene district of Phoenix, Arizona. It was one where the walls of six classrooms were removed to create a shared space. He pointed out that this was based on an idea in the 1960s and 1970s in a few schools in the US that challenged the practice of age-based classrooms.

In part 2, Cuban predicted that there could be a “slow reverting to the familiar age-graded school and fading of team-teaching, collaboration, and ambitious teaching”. He cited a USD163 million experiment in the 1970s in a Washington, D.C., district that built 17 open space schools only to return to form.

A key difference between the two districts’ efforts was that the older effort was top-down while the recent one was teacher-led. The implication: This might lead to better buy-in and ownership of the change.

All that said, Cuban’s wisdom was condensed in the final paragraph of part 1:

Reforms never die. They often get incorporated into the on-going system of schooling and become the old wall paper that another generation of reformers discovers and strips away. Or reuses with new paste.

My takeaway is the reminder that it is important to study the recent history of educational change. This is not just so we avoid claiming something old as something new. There are invaluable lessons to draw from efforts past if we are humble enough to dig for them.

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If I was still facilitating the change management course I designed more that a decade ago, I would require this reflection by Martin Weller as a reading.

I take nothing away from how well Weller stated the problem: 

…the university seems to operate a rather split personality approach. At a senior level it promotes and encourages these initiatives, but at a more day to day, governance and operational level it often actively works against them, providing blockages, delays and endless compromises, that feel as though they seek to undermine the initiative.

So what is a change agent to do? Weller had two broad strategies: Meaningfulness and inclusion. 

His first was stated simply: 

…change is best couched in terms that are meaningful and recognisable to those within the organisation.

He reasoned that changes were often perceived as foreign threats. The counter to that was to connect the change to something the people also believe, know, or do. 

I have a new workshop that I might be contracted to conduct in several months time. Its activities will be designed to challenge the pedagogical learnings and workings of teachers. But rather than make the challenges insurmountable, my approach will be to help them see how they are already doing some of these things and what they might do to stretch that much further.

Weller’s second strategy was to make:

…administrators more involved and part of a team, and giving them more freedom to be creative can alleviate many of the barriers.

I could not agree more. Unfortunately, I can probably count on just one hand the number of workshops where I have convinced the organisers to include sessions for managerial and administrative staff.

I need to remember to ask the organiser of the workshop I mentioned previously if any middle managers or school leaders might also attend. If they do not see first hand what specifics their teachers are challenged with, they cannot support them effectively. 

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After listening to the latest Build For Tomorrow podcast episode, The Climate Problem We Can Solve Now, I learnt about two systemic effects — cohort and period.

The cohort effect might be more commonly understood as generational differences. It is borne of the human need to categorise people into groups like “millennial” and “baby boomer”. But such thinking gets superficial when labels or traits get associated with each group. 

For example, some self-fulfilling labels might be that millennials are entitled or that older people do not care about the climate crisis. Such labels are neither fair nor accurate if you hear the data that the interviewed experts shared.

A period effect is a shared experience. A good example is how all of us have been impacted by the current pandemic. 

One important difference between the effects is that cohort effects tend to be cited by people who highlight differences, while those who recognise period effects focus on what we all share. IMO, it is the latter group that will overcome inertia and get things done.

I have seen this for myself. When I conduct workshops, I ask my partners to avoid one-off sessions because these are about as effective as TED talks — inspiring for the moment, but not necessarily leading to anything worth doing.

I recall one institute that took my recommendation to have sessions for their educators as well as their administrators and managers. I reasoned with the organisers that the latter group sometimes stood in the way of the former because they did not have shared experiences and values. 

That institute went on to quickly implement change and share ideas at a conference. It was such a fulfilling experience for me to play a small but pivotal role in the design and implementation of change. 

Sadly, I can name more flops than successes. This makes me wish more people understood systemic thinking.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the latest Build for Tomorrow podcast episode Why People Can’t Write, and How to Fix That.

The host, Jason Feifer, started with the hook of how teachers complain that kids today cannot write properly thanks to their texting habits. Regular listeners like me might guess that Feifer would unpack this as an argument of correlation and not causation, i.e., texting is not the cause of poor writing; it is one of many possible contributing factors.

Feifer went on to interview a few language and writing experts. One in particular, Elizabeth Wardle, a professor of written communication at Miami University in Ohio, attributed the root of the rot to university writing classes in 1875 (see transcript).

Wardle went on to critique how writing was reduced to the five-paragraph structure because, as Feifer put it, this was “easy to teach, easy to grade“. Here is how Wardle phrased her argument (24 minute mark of the podcast): 

There’s well-structured problems, and there’s ill-structured problems. Well-structured problems have one right answer… Ill-structured problems do not have a right answer. Every writing problem is ill-structured. There’s a bunch of ways you can do it… But school really likes well-structured problems because they’re so much easier to assess.

This is a reminder whether we are teachers of writing or change agents: It is a mistake to oversimplify what is inherently complex.

Our real world problems tend to be ill-structured. Providing overly or well-structured crutches for our learners will not prepare them for what comes next. Such structures are also inauthentic and unmotivating. 

Embracing complexity is hard work. Anything worth doing takes hard work. Do the hard work.

Today I link a conversation I overheard about COVID-19 vaccines with a blog entry about learning loss.

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The conversation was between two mothers who were discussing the merits and side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine boosters. One remarked how the booster knocked her out over the weekend while another said that one vaccine was better than another.

Both failed to recognise that the possible after effects of the booster, e.g., tiredness, soreness, fever, are normal and evidence that the body was responding to the vaccine. And whichever the rigorously researched and properly approved vaccine you got, it boosted your immunity. 

They conveniently forgot the impact of not getting vaccinated, i.e., running the risk of carrying and spreading COVID, helping viral variants emerge, getting severe COVID in the short term, possibly suffering from the effects of long COVID, or dying in isolation.

In other words, while discussing the effects of COVID vaccines, they focused on the wrong things. They did this perhaps because those things were immediate and personal.

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How is this linked to the worry about learning loss among students who miss out on school because of pandemic closures?

I borrow from John Spencer’s recent blog entry

I see bigger concerns than learning loss. Often, the biggest issue seems to be the lack of soft skills or the absence of student self-direction in their learning. In this article, we… examine how factors like soft skills, stickiness, play, and self-direction might help students prepare for an unpredictable world.

To be clear, Spencer was not saying that there was no loss in curriculum time, assessment measures, and content gains. He was pointing out that there were other factors that were just as important. These factors are not quite addressed in school and tend to be long-term or hard-to-pin-down.

His thoughts on slow thinking/deep work, leveraging on the natural inclination to play, and so-called soft skills might provoke influential educators or ambitious policymakers with fuel for a pedagogical fire.

Here is my takeaway. I was triggered by his thoughts on content knowledge and how sticky it is. For example: 

When we think about learning loss, it’s easy to imagine a place where students are supposed to be and contrast that with their current content knowledge at the moment. But learning loss also occurs when students learn a topic in a shallow way and then forget it later.

I mentally clapped and cheered when I read this. There has been a learning pandemic that started before COVID and it has lasted decades. Learning loss occurs even in good or normal times.

Learning loss happens when “learning” is shallow and for the sake of test. I call this garbage-in-garbage-out (GIGO) learning. Learning loss happens when students learn content from working a project but fail to learn how to better communicate or manage themselves.

Learning loss is real and evident when teachers of the next level need to reteach something students should have learnt in the previous level. This started well before the current pandemic and there is no vaccine for it.

Stakeholders, especially parents, are aware of it now because their children stay home from school. They bemoan learning loss and demand that something be done about it. They are concerned because the issue is now immediate and personal.

Teachers and educators should take the opportunity to not just remind them how normal this is, they could also point out the opportunities to fuel changes in focus. Yes, knowing facts is important, but so is being able to determine if those facts are correct or not. Getting good grades is a stepping stone to university education, but this does not necessarily make you a good team player or a desirable worker.

It is time to leverage on the conversation about learning loss and point out what stakeholders are not focusing on — sticky learning, life skills, and long term outcomes.

Today I reflect on my work with two education groups and how they react to change. 

I suggested to one group that we needed to teach pandemic strategies in our course for future educators. There has been no change ever since the course went fully online.

In another course, I included a new learning outcome: Suggest strategies for integrating ICT into [area of education] during a pandemic. I did this outside our regular course document review/revision.

The latter move is a timely one and already appreciated by my learners (pre- and in-service teachers) as one of several optional focus areas. It is timely and I do not see significant objections to it during official review.

Change is not asking for permission first. It is about asking for forgiveness later.

There is a saying among change agents who dare: Better to ask for forgiveness later than to ask for permission first. Anyone who is serious about change knows that going through proper channels regardless of circumstance will result in no change, or worse, regression.

Change sometimes means colouring outside the lines. If I am advised to remove that optional learning outcome, I will apologise for including it without consultation. But I will also have tinkered with that change element and have data on how that went. This will inform me and my client, and we will be better for it.

This tweeted look back into our recent history triggered me. I still hear excuses for why technology should not enable teaching and learning. 

The news article may be 40-years-old, but it shares the same the roots for excuses today — fear and ignorance. There is the fear of change and the lack of reading up and trying new ways.

Nowadays the fear that paralyses seems to come from the bogeymen of screen time, social media, and video games. The ignorance behind these is entrenched by traditional media channels that focus on opinions over research, and loose perception over rigorous data.

Thankfully, I do not encounter as many technology-resistant pre- and in-service teachers as before. But they linger like the anti-vax segments of our population. And like the anti-vaxxers, such teachers hold themselves and their students back from doing and being better.


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