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Posts Tagged ‘change

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.

Larry Cuban highlighted a segment of a report on ACOT (Apple Classroom of Tomorrow, a 1:1 computing project launched in 1985.)

I focus on a specific part of that segment. Cuban’s friend and researcher of that piece stated in May 1986: 

A number of ingrained characteristics of the existing system seem to run counter to a vision of students using computers as vehicles for exploration, independent learning, and individual pursuits.

If we cast a critical lens on ourselves today, the same thing could be said about how we still resist changing schooling methods despite having different media. This is how possibilities and potential die before they cry.

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A generation of Singaporeans will be familiar with the call to chase the five Cs: Cash, Car, Condo, Credit card, Country club membership.

It seems to have fallen out of fashion. But I do not think this is because we have abandoned the relentless pursuit of extrinsic rewards. Judging from the equally relentless money-making ads I get on YouTube, we are still a mercenary lot.

Video source

This is why I like what I heard recently in a Trevor Noah interview. His guest, Richard Antoine White, suggested that life would be more fulfilling if we pursued three Cs (2min 5sec mark):

  • Choice
  • Chance
  • Change

White combined all three when he summarised his life story so far. He was given “a chance to make the right choices to see the changes that would better (his) life“.

Educators who really care for their learners might offer any or all of the three Cs. How might student choice lead to the same ends? What sorts of chances do you give students when they make honest mistakes? What changes can you make in your collective lives?

Video source 

There is a reason why they are called The Economist — they are not educationists! I would not venture into the world of economics and make claims based on what I Google or even what hear from someone I respect.

I wish that they (and others like them) would refrain from reinforcing these mythic buzzwords.

Within the first 20 seconds of the video, 2020 was called the year of disruption. Disruption is overused. If we are inconvenienced for a while and return to normal after that, that “disruption” was not one.

At the 2 minute 11 second mark, was the much vaunted “year of loss” because of school shutdowns. These are losses as measured only by tests and curriculum time. Already disenfranchised kids were disadvantaged further. But were there absolutely no gains, e.g., in resilience, independence, savvy? 

Roughly 4 minutes and 15 seconds into the video, the narrator claimed that edtech companies responded with apps and service. As few kind words as I have for mercenary vendors, it is unfair to say that they responded as if they reacted. No, many were already prepared and took advantage of emergency-based learning.

OMG, the video at 4 minutes and 25 seconds sees the mention of the “teacher had to suddenly become virtual”. Virtual is not the same as going online. Virtual means not real, e.g., a virtual world simulation like Second Life. Virtual reality, as oxymoronic as that sounds, refers to a simulated representation of the real world. Teachers are real and had real problems going fully online because they were not professionally developed to operate this way.

OK, take a deep breath… cleanse.

Thankfully, the video was not entirely misinformed. 

At the 7 minute 46 second mark, it introduced how some student teachers experience classroom  interactions with simulations. Unfortunately, this example was technological overkill — a person still had to take a microphone and role play student avatars. The avatars were not yet AI-driven. The simulation was a mere substitution of what teacher preparation programmes already do with role plays.

I wish that the segment was about preparing new teachers on how to do design and facilitate lessons with Zoom. At least this would start nurturing a generation of teachers who know how to operate in lockdowns or teach fully online.

And speaking of being fully online, you had to be 9 minutes and 10 seconds into the video to be asked: Do you need a classroom at all?

Maybe The Economist sought to placate the viewer with easy-to-swallow factoids first. The problem is this does not fit the title of the video (transform your kids’ education). There is nothing transformational about repeating disruption, year of less, or virtual teaching. 

A real transformation is less palatable. It is about challenging the status quo with better ways of doing things. It is about asking and answering difficult questions like: How do we address divides? What mindsets to we need to address? How do we sustain change?

I read this tweet with interest.

I share my observations and offer a call for positive change.

What is new? The masks.

What is normal? The lecture.

What is better? Nothing.

We do not need to return to normal. We need to do better.

I am not immune to revelations or striking memories when I am in the middle of showering or about to sleep. Neurologically, I know that my mind relaxes and starts to make connections. 

My mind wandered back to when I was first exposed to an Apple II computer in school. There were just two so we had to take turns to type and try our BASIC programs on them. 

I had to have one of my own, so I begged and harassed my parents into getting me one. After months of wearing them down, I finally got one and I taught myself with books that I bought or borrowed.  

It did not take long for my father to want to see returns on his investment. He brought home a large stack of papers, dumped them in front of me and my computers, and said: “Get the computer to mark this!”

This was in the 1980s. Now computers can recognise handwriting very well now, process quizzes quickly, and even judge essays. They still cannot pick up each essay, gauge nuance, and mark up the script with an old-school red pen. They do not need to all of that because we have gone past the need for paper and pen.

But back then, my father’s demand was as good as science fiction to me. It was also an example of contempt that was fuelled by a lack of interest and knowledge of what computers could and could not do.

Fast forward to today and we still have that human condition. It is not the domain of the old making ignorant judgements of the young. There are still teachers and parents who shun technology in the hands of learners. Though they are fewer in number than when I was teacher, they ignore the calls of those older and younger than them to focus on the learner and learning.

They romanticise the past. They are mired in comfortable habits. They are not models of learning because that requires discomfort and change. And if it is not enough that they wilfully remain ignorant of possibilities and opportunities, they also express contempt for those that try. To them I say:

There is a stock phrase for the slow progress of any change: Taking three steps forward, two steps back. But wonder what it would be like if we did not take steps back.

The Edutopia article above does a disservice to education by signposting how to maintain the status quo or even reverse progress of edtech integration. To justify this, the author cited the harm of screen time and the benefits of taking notes by hand. 

I am not saying that excessive use of a device late into the night is good, nor am I saying we should only take notes with more recent technologies. I would point out that the pen vs device question gets answers that fall on either side depending on the task. 

If you need to take a quick note, draw a diagram, or mindmap, then a pen (actual or electronic) might be both more efficient and effective. But if you needed to submit a legible essay, record an interview, or document phenomena, then a keyboard, microphone, and camera are better options for these forms of writing.

We should also point out the elephant in the debate room. The ultimate form of assessment — paper-based tests — favours handwriting over other forms of writing. In such a room, students cannot cooperate with one another, fact-check their work online, or express themselves beyond basic text and drawing.

Ultimately, the strategy of note-taking also matters more than the tool of note-taking (see video and sources here). In reviewing the video, I summarised:

It does not matter if you prefer to take notes by handwriting or by typing. It is how you attempt to quickly process what you see and hear before you record it. It is about your ability to analyse and summarise.

Rising above, I find articles that try to justify handwriting tiresome and passé. They live in the past in order to divide and conquer. They encourage the large camp of teachers who are wary of technology and thus maintain the status quo. They discourage the other group of teachers that leverages on technology by making them feel like they are doing something wrong.

What is wrong is wearing rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia and taking the short term view. If we are preparing our learners for the present and future, they need to use the tools of today and tomorrow. These tools include pencils and devices. 

We need a better debate. We cannot keep arguing that students should hand-write because exams are on paper. This might help students with a grade, but it avoids the responsibility of preparing them beyond the walls of the classroom. The use of all writing tools should not just be strategic and contextual, they should also be shaped by more progressive and authentic forms of assessment. What such assessment looks like and how to implement it are far more interesting and valuable topics of discussion.

This tweet time-travelled over a century to report someone predicted that high-speed racing would affect the brain and cause insanity.

Back in the present, there a parallel: How time on social media, gaming, or screens will cause anti-social behaviour, violence, or some other evil.

The similarity of the two is that they are a) attempts at fear mongering, and b) based on no rigorous evidence. 

Our technologies evolve and change rapidly. Our incapacity to reimagine or change is almost constant. Thank goodness some of us change just enough to move forward.

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This press piece began with this question.

Why is the question not: Why are some people less productive than others when working at work? It is not as if working outside of home automatically makes work better for everyone.

A similar and equally uncritical question could be asked of schooling and education: Why is home-based learning so difficult? We should instead pivot to the question about the difficulties of learning in the classroom.

One direct answer for avoiding the pivot is that refocusing on work and school highlights what we fail to do well and somehow keep ignoring. For example, it is easier to ignore how administrative needs at work or school might be placed higher than working or learning needs.

Another simple answer is that the home is not made for work or school. Often it is a place to get away from both, i.e., to rest, pursue an interest, spend time with family, etc. We can make adjustments to home just like a scuba diver dons a suit and air tank, but such adjustments are temporary. 

So, no, the tweeted question is not a good one. It is an attempt at clickbait. It is not an attempt to actually challenge or develop creative and critical thinking. 

A question that might actually create some dissonance might be: What can we learn from the online pivot at work/school and apply to the workplace/classroom when we return?

Martin Weller recently critiqued how we tend to do the same thing differently:

We decry the tendency to simply replicate lectures online, but then do the same with meetings. We call for educators to use technology to its advantage to realise new pedagogies, and then recreate face to face conferences in Zoom. We stress the need to rethink your teaching approach to ensure learners are not adversely affected and then conduct line management via Teams.

In short, we think almost exclusively inside the work/school box even when circumstances (pandemic) throw us firmly outside it.

Now that we have enforced experiments with telecommuting and remote teaching/learning, why not use these experiences to address the weaknesses of the office and classroom?

Photo by spiropics on Pexels.com

I was a bit disappointed that respected educator, Larry Cuban, decided to air the concerns of a scholar, Rick Hess, who is from the American Enterprise Institute and director of Education Policy Studies.

My disappointment aside, the piece is worth the read.

Hess had opinions that probably carry some weight for a likeminded readership. For instance: 

Tech isn’t a replacement for the human face of schooling; at its best, it augments and supplements it. The goal is to give teachers more time and energy to get to know their students, to put a hand on a shoulder, to ask the right question, to engage a disengaged learner. It’s hard to do all that in the best of circumstances—it’s that much tougher when schools are using tech to normalize remote learning, asynchronous days, or eyeballs glued to devices.

Hess considered these to be a bitter pandemic legacy for schooling. To be fair, Hess seemed to be concerned about technology being used for its own sake and driving change that does not change teaching and learning for the better. I share that concern.

But I worry about the dichotomy of thought. The split is that technology is only for enhancing and not for enabling. Why can’t edtech be used to engage, encourage, and help create cognitive dissonance?

Taking a step back, the desperate push to use edtech during the pandemic might have created some semblance of continuity in schools. With this push came quick answers like adopting current technologies, shortening school days/weeks, and redesigning curricula.

But what are the important questions we should have asked and should still be asking? For example, why is the use of technology a second-best option or even a last resort? How might edtech be integrated into everyday schooling so that it enables learning rather than just enhancing teaching? What is not right about returning to normal? How might we change for the better?

The pandemic is an opportunity to rethink what it means to school, educate, teach, and learn. It would a bitter legacy if we keep relegating technology-mediated teaching and learning to second class.


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