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Posts Tagged ‘change

When people I have not previously met ask me what I do, I sometimes joke that I am a professional troublemaker. It is my way of saying that I think and operate differently.

I have not done this for a long time since I choose who I work with and they value “different”. However, I recently precipitated an uncomfortable conversation with work partners about designing for online learning.

What happened? In a nutshell, a group of administrators made executive decisions without consulting a partner I work with. One fundamental issue was that courses designed as face-to-face sessions would be delivered online instead.

What is the problem with that? For a start, the environments, conditions, and expectations for teaching and learning are different in each mode. There are overlaps, of course, but they are different enough to warrant the redesign of face-to-face modules to suit online spaces.

When I sighed yesterday, this was largely because our systems have had years of “e-learning” days and months-long runways to redesign courses, but nothing happens until there is an e-for-emergency learning crisis. What looks like change during desperate times dissipates and things return to normal.

Not wanting history to repeat itself, I contacted my work partner to state my plans and share the cost for redesign. My partner saw the logic of my argument and pushed it up the food chain. This precipitated an on-going discussion between two sides which have wildly differing opinions. I give credit to my work partner for sticking to its principles and supporting my stance.

I made trouble not to be a pain. These conversations might be uncomfortable, but at the same time are essential. I stand by doing what is best for our learners, not what is best for the status quo, policy, or budget.

If you are not part of the solution, you might be part of the problem.

I am offering what I know to be a better way forward. What we design for online learning can inform and improve face-to-face instruction. I am offering a solution, not creating a problem.

I sigh not with relief but with disappointment. Why? I see bad history repeating itself.

When schools or universities do not change their efforts to provide better learning experiences in the COVID-19 era, I sigh because I know we can do better. And I mean better experiences with online learning, not just equivalent-to-classroom experiences.

I am talking about redesigned and better facilitated experiences for students that go beyond engagement to empowerment. See the second column of the tweet below for what these might look like.

These better experiences work face-to-face or online, but are particularly important online given this is a prime opportunity for individualisation, more flexible timelines, and independent work.

How do I know that we can do better? We are supposed to have been preparing with sanctioned e-learning days in schools and institutes of higher learning (IHLs). We have had years to prepare by tinkering, making mistakes, and emerging stronger.

Instead it took a worldwide disaster to slam the brakes on most processes. Then when told to go, most schools and IHLs struggled to restart. When they did, they did the equivalent of abandoning their cars, donning spacesuits, and piloting cardboard rockets.
 

 
That is my way of saying that most resorted to emergency remote teaching, mislabelled that as online learning, and wished only to return to old ways of doing things.

Why? There are many factors, but this reluctance to change ultimately boils down to a lack of leadership and unimaginative administration. If leaders see no other way, they will propose journeys that take old paths. Administrative bodies gladly reinforce these ruts because fixed pathways are easy.

The problem with that mindset is the practice that results. Educators are not challenged to facilitate learning, and students are not nurtured to learning more independently, reflectively, and contextually.
 

 
I sigh because I saw all this when I was within the system and now again when I am outside it. But I do not sigh as long or as deep because I do see almost imperceptible changes. These are like plants that somehow find footholds on buildings.

COVID-19 is creating conditions e-learning. Initially this looks like emergency learning. With good planning and management, this might become everyone, everytime, and everywhere learning.

To get there, I would ask the same questions I used to ask: What are we doing differently? Why is this difference better? How do we know this is better? How do we sustain our efforts?

Now I sigh sadly because I know there will be leaders and administrators who will not choose to ask such questions. I hope to sigh with relief because a few enlightened ones realise they need to gain a foothold in a landscape reshaped by the coronavirus.

The local TODAY paper co-opted a NYT article titled Don’t kid yourself: Online lectures are here to stay. It was written by an economist from Cornell. He had this to say:

Quote from NYT article.

His point was that all things being equal (including the cost of both options), most students would probably choose the first option.

He also went on to state that “the average instructor reading from yellowed notes” is more common and dominant. Citing his own book, he argued that the player with the foot first in the door had the advantage.

But I would argue that he presented a false dichotomy. There is not just a choice of different content delivery packages, i.e., by shiny or old-fashioned lectures.

Progressive educators are realising that they cannot rely only on remote instruction. They are creating more choices like cooperative learning, peer teaching, portfolio-based learning, and project-based learning. These are not the work of “Pixar-class animators” and “award-winning documentary film makers”. They are pedagogues whose practice and research is teaching and learning.

So let us not kid ourselves and declare that online lectures are here to stay. They might be mainstay now, but if the disruptions of COVID-19 shut downs have taught us anything, it is that bit players (like Zoom) can become major ones. I hope that bit pedagogues with progressive strategies provide some healthy competition.


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They might be few and far between, but these teens are not waiting for permission to enact change.

If we wonder why kids seem to be passive or indifferent, we only have ourselves to blame for holding them back instead of enabling and empowering them.

While out on a grocery run yesterday, a van belonging to an IT company caught my eye. It had a slogan on its side: Challenging Future Changes.

My mind raced faster than my hands when the van sped by, so I did not get a photo. I got caught up in how ambiguous the slogan was.

Its intended meaning probably was that the company could face any IT challenge that would come its way. But the way it was phrased left other interpretations.

If “challenging” was read as an adjective, the company was simply saying that the future would be demanding or gruelling. So it was stating the obvious.

If “challenging” was read as a verb, then the company was effectively saying it would maintain the status quo. It would stand up to change and help you do the same thing regardless of circumstance.

The second interpretation tickled me because that is what many IT departments do. They interpret policies their own way and create more layers of policy. This red tape acts like armour to protect the soft belly of old practices.

This is ironic since IT groups are supposed to support and enable change. They often challenge future change instead.

Change!

What is a person to do but watch YouTube videos for a laugh during a COVID-19 lockdown?

I rediscovered videos from Georgia Caney, a Brit living in Singapore, who shares her trials and tributes of living here as an expatriate.


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This might be a sweeping statement to make, but here is my claim: No one living here for at least a year is immune to picking up some Singlish.

As I laughed through the video, I was also impressed with with how Georgia and her now husband, Justin, have adopted the language and mannerisms. This is likely a result of being immersed in our environment.

A few of the couple’s Singlish expressions might seem awkward to a more practiced person. But that same person might also appreciate their effort to explore and learn.


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Occasionally the Singlish padawan surprises a master. Take how Georgia corrected a Singaporean about how we lazily say “very” as an example [jump to that video segment].

These two videos illustrate lessons about change. The conditions for such change are that the experience is immersive and the learning is authentic (principles are applied immediately and regularly), insidious (you do not know or care that change is happening), and sustained (it erodes old mindsets and behaviours).

If we think that home-based learning (currently our version of emergency remote teaching) will persist as long as SARS-CoV-2, then we might consider what changes we make to shift norms.

If we insist on recreating classroom practices online instead of embracing different opportunities, we stick to a language and practice that is out of place. We need to embrace the circumstances or at least get used to them. We need to immerse ourselves in that change before we change ourselves.


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This video is not the first resource to outline how air and water pollution have dropped since the implementation of COVID-19 measures like home-based learning, work from home, and travel restrictions.

The interviewees in the video emphasised that the pandemic was not a good way to check our harm on the environment. But they also wondered how we might change our collective behaviours when we resume normalcy.

Might we learn to manage with less? Might employers and employees opt to telecommute more? Might schools and education institutes learn the value of going online?

The answers to these and other related questions present opportunities for us to show what we have learnt and to change our ways. So will we?

I share perspectives from two authors, one from higher education and another who focused on K-12 schooling.

In his Inside Higher Ed piece, John Warner (appropriate surname) warned us:

… all this is happening midyear against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

The idea that we are running any kind of systematic experiment is, to use a nonscientific term, bonkers. We are in a period of emergency distance instruction, not online learning.

Warner suggested that we take the opportunity to reflect on and to reshape our values. We might start this process by asking ourselves WHO we teach and WHY we teach in certain ways.

In his two-part series [1] [2], Larry Cuban suggested that in the immediate aftermath of COVID-19, parents of school children would most likely appreciate the “custodial function of schools”. I agree. In Singapore, we like school so much that we send our kids to school after school, i.e., tuition.

Cuban also posited that the efficiency of e-learning might tempt a cash-strapped or downsizing systems to consider e-learning over face-to-face classes. However, he expected such initiatives to “remain peripheral to the core work of teachers meeting their students daily”. In other words, let the “e” in e-learning go back to being emergency or extra.

Cuban was not optimistic that an intense period of e-learning would move the needle on changing the duration of school days, terms, or semesters. People who argue that competency-based learning should supercede time-based instruction will keep shouting themselves hoarse because a) school hours are childcare hours, and b) maintaining e-learning systems is expensive.

What do I think?

I think that if the duration of our response to pandemic extended to critical examination periods, we will be forced to rely on project work, cumulative continual assessments, and daily work.

Exams might be disrupted and even cancelled, but they are likely to return because we focus on what is easy to measure (short-term retention, grades) instead of what is difficult to pursue (long term learning, portfolios).

In short, I expect most people to heave a collective sigh of relief and revert to old habits. But I hold out hope that enough of us will change the rules that little bit more so that we are that little bit better.

History repeats itself. We just have to be still and reflective enough to notice. For example:

But to actually change, we need to have the courage and persistence to take action.

As I start another teaching semester, I draw inspiration from someone whose blog I added to my RSS feed a long time ago.

In a recent post, Lisa Lane shared how she helped her students keep the cost of higher education down by offering a free textbook.

She lamented how policies stood in the way of progressive change. She could not tap an Open Educational Resources (OER) fund as compensation because the grant was for those adopting OERs, not for those creating them.

Furthermore, the grants were for those who could prove cost-savings over the previous semester. Lane relied on the free model the previous semester, so she could not justify how free was better than free.

Such policies punish progressive faculty who move ahead of policies written by those who do not teach or have forgotten how to.

But there is a silver lining. Lane’s students valued the gifts of free books that they were treated gingerly. Some were good enough to be used another semester. She inadvertently developed a method to sustain the good will.

I take inspiration from the fact that Lane shares her trials, tribulations, and triumphs. I know full well how moving ahead quickly means taking difficult paths that few initially follow. But I take comfort in that more eventually will.

What could be cuter than a teddy bear? Not much.
 

 
Yet there was an anti-teddy bear movement. The most recent Pessimists Archive podcast provides all the details.

In hindsight, such a fear seems unreasonable and even impossible. But back then, it was fuelled by irrational fear and the need to maintain the status quo.

There is still much fear of educational technologies current, cutting edge, and future. The fears are based on the same unwillingness to see possibilities, mitigate risks, and embrace change.

So while edtech evangelists might feel the burden to be unbearable now, this too shall pass. I say we grin and bear with it.


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