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Posts Tagged ‘change

If there is anything that Singaporeans appreciate, it must be our food. If there is something we dislike, it might be our antiquated coupon parking system.

Both remind us of important lessons on systemic change.

TODAY reported the mixed response to an app for ordering meals at a food court.

It was practically an article that wrote itself. Without interviewing anyone, an unscrupulous reporter could have made up a story of customers and store holders who were for and against it.

The same paper reported how coupon parking would be “phased out altogether”, but did not specify exactly when.

What both reports have in common is a new system (a set of tools, expectations, and behaviours) replacing an older one. Perhaps “replacing” is too strong a word. A more accurate phrase might be “working alongside but not yet at the tipping point”.

The older systems prevent mass adoption, further experimentation, and change. In the case of ordering food, there is the unwillingness to learn how to use the app.

Our paper-based coupons are a relic of the 1980s. Based on numbers provided in the TODAY article, 73% of all our public off-street carparks already use the electronic reader system. However, our on-street parking does not have any such infrastructure, so we rely on coupons to pay, and parking uncles and aunties to issue summons.

Almost six years ago, some drivers resorted to using apps like Summon Auntie to alert fellow drivers of parking wardens. This was a sociotechnical system that was not sanctioned by the authorities, but was a ground-up effort instead.

The paper-based parking coupon is also ironic given that Singapore has grand designs on being a Smart Nation. While some of our parking is paper-based, our road tax is not. As of 15th February this year, drivers need not display road tax discs on their windscreens thanks to an online registration system.

The antiquated paper coupon system seems to be tolerated simply because no other system was prepared in order to replace it.

So what are the reminders of opposing forces in systemic change?

There are the new or better possibilities that accompany technology versus the fear of learning new behaviours. The barrier to change is compounded by the lack of foresight and planning, and weighed further by general inertia.

A superficial observation of systems outside schooling provide such insights. The barriers to change in schooling are essentially the same. They are human stubbornness, apathy, and lethargy. They are obvious if we are willing to reflect critically and humbly on ourselves.

Yesterday I learnt something new.

Semmelweis reflex.

Thanks to generously and openly shared Google Slides (and this one in particular) I found a label for a phenomenon that has plagued schooling since the very first classroom: The Semmelweis reflex.

It is unreasoned and unreasonable resistance to change. It is the stubborn defence of “it has always been done this way”. It is the Goliath to my David.

The tendency to maintain the status quo or to throw the might of inertia in the face of progress is probably the biggest barrier to change in schools. That is why I fight it.

I am not necessarily for the Uber-ification or Netflix-ation of education. Some principles and practices do not transfer.

For example, the customer is not always right and the bottomline is not always immediate nor about profit or mindshare.
 

 
However, the changes that Uber and Netflix bring signal the need to adopt and adapt some ideas. I suggest a few less radical but important ones using company slogans.

Burger King’s favorite ditto seems to be “have it your way”. I am all for nurturing independence and critical thinking by getting learners to decide what they need to learn and to determine if they have learnt it.

IKEA says that “you do not have to be rich to be clever”. I am a proponent of open educational resources and open access journals being the norm rather than the exception, particularly if education is to be the great leveller.

McDonald’s would like its patrons to say “I’m loving it”. I would Iike our children to say the same thing about their education and following their passions.

Right now it is the privileged few who hate school but have opportunities to love their personal journeys thanks to family-sponsored rides. If all our children had access to more open resources and were taught to give back, we would have the equitable system that dreamers imagined.

Come early February I can correct a two-year mistake that I tied myself to — my TV subscription.

Two years ago I committed to a contract to my go-to telco for something they called Home Hub. Where home Internet, phone, and TV services were once separate, all three were bundled under that then new scheme.

The promise was that I would get more for less. That was true to some extent because I got a higher Internet speed for less cost per month. The digital home phone line was something we rarely used, but it was a comforting backup.

What was a waste of money was the TV subscription. My family and I do not watch it the way we did when my wife and I did when we were growing up, i.e., based on someone else’s timetable. We watched on demand.

The meant relying on platforms like YouTube and Netflix. This in turn meant that we paid for what we did not use or need — conventional TV delivered through a fibre optic cable.
 

 
Soon we will “cut” that cord and rely solely on data access for everything we need in terms of employment, education, enrichment, entertainment, etc. I will pay even less to get Internet access speeds that I could only dream of when I first went online.

I wish we had done this sooner when the competition was heating up among service providers and prices dropped even as options increased. The telcos had no choice but to listen to their customers and ride the trend of cord-cutting.

Still I wager that I am in the minority. Why else would the other options persist? The telcos create customer lock-in and retard change.

The status quo is comfortable for the telcos and most customers. However, this denies everyone a better experience. If customers take the initiative or are presented with newer options, they get better experiences for less cost. Happier customers mean better retention for telcos.

As I relate almost everything I experience to schooling and education, I see two reminders for educators and change agents.

If your plan is for one year plant rice.  If your plan is for ten years plant trees.  If your plan is for one hundred years educate children. -- Confucius

First, unlike telcos the school system changes very slowly because the impact on its bottom line is seen or felt very late. This is like watching a tree grow.

Second, the telcos respond to their customers because the latter speak loudly with their wallets and credit cards. If they are unhappy, they move to a better provider. The onus is on the telco to be progressive.

Most schools, on the other hand, have captive audiences. Like the telco customers, students have changing needs and wants. Unlike telcos, schools do not respond to these changes because the pressure is less immediate.

As educators, we need to ask ourselves if we can afford to wait. The cost of waiting does not come directly from the wallet. The cost is maintaining mindsets, expectations, and practices of teachers that are quickly losing relevance.

Standardised and fixed-time broadcasts used to be novel and then became the norm. The same could be said for teaching and delivering content. But just as TV viewers found another way with technology — on demand, just-in-time, and just-for-me — the learner of today needs a school embedded in today, not yesterday.

How else is schooling supposed to prepare the learner for tomorrow?

…is the same word every year: Better.

Make the year better by making the place and people around me better. Be a better father, husband, educator, learner, etc. Become better by learning constantly and never being satisfied.

That is why I do not opt for “change” or “different” as my words. I seek not to change for its own sake, nor to be different (which could be better of worse).

Better is better.

December is often a time to think of March. The march of time to be precise.

This photo is a variant of many before it, but I had not yet seen this version.

It could very well have been photoshopped, but the message it clear. Time, tide, and technology wait for no man.

Change matters.

Here is something I shared last year thanks to this CC-licensed photo.

My message then and now is the same: We can use technology to do the same things we have done before or to help us conquer the impossible. If we believe change matters, we will do the latter.

Every now and then a manuscript comes along that describes an actual paradigm shift. Todd Rose’s The End of Average is one such book and it is a must-read for those who think of themselves as progressive leaders, human resource managers, or educators.

On my iPad: OverDrive app and audio book in my account.

Processed with an open and critical mind, a reader might wonder why we trap ourselves with non-existent norms and false averages. A doer might chomp at the bit to enact change or accelerate it.

Rose has a personal story of how he rose from a man so poor that he had to steal toilet paper from public restrooms to being the Director of the Mind, Brain, & Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He attributed this to breaking out from the averages-and-standards paradigm of school and work to one of individualisation and fit.

Compelling as his personal account was, Rose also cited how companies and educational institutions were doing this at scale while focusing on individuals.

The companies were not small rafts. They were large and successful ones like Costco, Zoho, and Morning Star. The universities he cited included Western Governor’s (with its all-you-can-learn approach) and Arizona State University (which partnered EdX).

The fact is that we have already started questioning the status quo, but these efforts are still at the fringes of society. To push towards the centre, Rose suggested that in the arena of education we focus on:

  1. Competencies, not grades
  2. Pathways, not fixed curricula
  3. Credentials, not diplomas

His call to action seemed to be this: “We must create professional, educational, and social institutions that are responsive to individuality.” Why? Fit creates opportunity for all, not just some.

Why change at all?

The current and dominant paradigm is the the Age of Average which has provided equal access to standardised processes that serve the system, but does not cater to individuals in that system.

With enabling technologies and changing expectations, we have taken our first steps into the Age of Individuals that accommodates equal fit (I call this equity). This means that individuals are judged against themselves and not arbitrary averages that do not exist in reality.

I probably do not do the book justice by summarising my takeaways the way I have. Like averaging, details and meaning get lost in such a reflection. The book is an easy read, or in my case, an easy listen (but the app was frustrating). There is much distilled wisdom to benefit from in the chapters.

I recommend The End of Average highly. It was a great way to bring 2016 to a close and look forward to 2017 with renewed clarity.


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