Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘change

Indeed. Change is the end result of all true learning.

If there is no change in the belief, attitude, or behaviour of a person, there is no learning, no matter what a score or a diploma might say.

Such change is not only measured on a test. It might even be next to impossible for this to be a result of a test. You need long term observation, reflection, and curation and evaluation of artefacts of learning.

Singapore TV was supposed to go entirely digital at the end of 2017, but there were so many holdouts that the move was pushed to the end of 2018.

So the relevant authorities created an outreach programme to get more households on the digital TV bandwagon.

Mine was one of the 400,000 or so households to benefit from the voucher to either pay for a set top box plus antenna, or to offset the purchase of a digital signal TV.

Letter and voucher for digital TV.

I had no plans to get either. I had cancelled cable TV a while ago as no one in my household watches local broadcast and subscription TV. We only watch Internet-enabled shows — YouTube, Netflix, Prime, etc.

The only broadcast TV I watch is on National Day. Even then, I rely on Toggle or ‘live’ streams.

We are certainly not “digital natives” (ugh, a reference on my pet peeve list) nor are we “millennials” (that would have made my list if it was closely linked to and misused in education).

I am grateful for the voucher. I only wish it arrived earlier. That way I would not have bought my parents a new digital-ready TV and antenna last year. But since they have a second TV that is analogue, this will save me some money.

It is obvious who this move targets and benefits. The letter and voucher arrived by snail mail with offers for free delivery and installation. The target audience would need the help of their adult children to go online to make this arrangement.

The move seems to be piecemeal one. This is like patching the cracks on a wall instead of tearing the wall down and replacing it with something else.

This patch might seem to make sense now. It buys time for broadcast TV to stay relevant. This is like how newspapers and magazines ensure paper survival with pressure tactics applied to various organisations. Walk into most waiting rooms to see what I mean.

This helps the incumbents to stay rooted in the past and change agents to use the excuse that the process needs to be slow and painless.

What happens when we need to go fully digital? Will there be another round of handouts? What does this say about our capacity for change?

If life was a video game, I have an achievement in my belt. Last week I was asked for directions by three sets of people.

In the space of a few days, I was approached by an Indian couple, a Malay family, and a Chinese woman. Was I part of a Singapore tourism ad?

The Indian couple got lost trying to find a mall nearby. The Malay family could not locate the carpark at Basement 1A at the mall — an odd mezzanine level for parking. The Chinese woman was looking for an apartment block near the mall.

Over the weekend, I reflected on how this was similar to problems we have in schooling and education. For example, take the issue of getting teachers to change their mindsets towards technology-mediated pedagogies.

There are many ways to guide such change and I suggest just three based on my simple direction-giving experience:

  1. Using a common language
  2. Having shared understandings
  3. Providing clear expectations

Using a common language
I would not have been able to help the lost sheep if we could not understand one another. Fortunately, we were able to converse in English to describe the problems and suggest solutions.

The language with teachers is not a literal one since English is the lingua franca here (at least it should be). No, I am referring to the words, phrases, and acronyms that teachers use that others do not. If you do not teacher-speak, you are unlikely to teacher-change.

Having shared understandings
The lost sheep were not familiar with the territory they were in. Similarly some teachers do not know how technology might mediate or change their teaching positively.

In all three cases, I had to point to objects that both of us could see from where we stood. These were common frames of references or checkpoints. Such shared understandings allow people to find their way geographically and pedagogically.

Providing clear expectations
I did not physically accompany any of the lost sheep to their intended destinations, not all the way at least. This was in part because these were not where I intended to go, where I had already been, or opposite to where I was going. However, some people might expect me accompany them on their journeys.

Something similar could be said about teachers on their change journeys. After buying in to good ideas, teachers then need to take ownership of their process and progress. This happens when there are clear expectations.

Such expectations might be co-negotiated or self-negotiated. Whatever the case, there must be expectations that serve as milestones and destinations. Without these expectations, teachers wander aimlessly.

The main expectation might be to experience constant change and learn continually. This can be uncomfortable, but this is an expectation that needs to be clearly articulated.

My Twitter QR code.

The link in both sets of people — the lost sheep and the teachers — is me. I was so familiar with the mall and its surroundings that I probably looked like I knew my way about and could help others.

Likewise, I have been an educator for almost 30 years. I know my way about, particularly in the field technology-mediated pedagogy and change. I think I look, speak, and do the part too. I may not have all the answers, but I can point you in the right directions.

One of the replies to my tweet about the parliamentary response to stolen exam papers — electronic scanning and and marking of scripts — was this tweet.

I had to look up the product and service and found a UK-based website and YouTube video.

Apparently SurpassPaper+ allows students who opt to take electronic versions of an exam on their own devices alongside their peers who opt to take the paper version.

There are several advantages of taking the electronic version. The ones that stood out for me were:

  • Students use a platform they are already accustomed to.
  • The submissions are immediate and do not incur physical handling, storage, security, and transport costs.
  • Proctors can monitor student progress with an app and intervene if necessary.
  • Students can continue on an alternate device should their own fail them.

If all this seems innovative compared to the old-school method of high-stakes exams, then we should cast our eyes on how some standardised tests are regularly taken on Chromebooks in US school districts.

The change is also just an incremental one. Evolutionarily speaking, the new test animal is not that different from the generation before. It has not replaced the old one and actually lives alongside the incumbent species as a minority and novelty.

The bottomline is this: The medium has changed, but the method has not. Changing the medium is comparatively less disruptive and easier than changing the method of assessment.

To change the method is to face the usual suspects of barrier statements. I share just three and pose three questions as responses.

The first barrier statement is: We should not abandon what is good about the old or current method. My questions are: What is objectively good about it? From whose perspective is “good” defined?

The second barrier is an excuse: Now is not the time. My response are: If not now, then when? How will you know when the right time is? What if the right time is too late? How can we make it the right time?

The third barrier is a generalisation: Change will take time. My response is:
Of course it does. But when will you start?

The breaking news that refused to die was about the A-level Chemistry papers that were stolen last year. This time ministers in Parliament discussed how to prevent this from happening again.

The suggestion: Scan the papers and mark them electronically.

For me this was braking news — I had to stop to think about what was actually going on.

Superficially, the issue was about the security of high stakes examinations. While student results are important, the larger messages were missed, i.e.,

  • The exams are still handwritten on paper.
  • They are still reliant on factual recall.
  • The assessment is inauthentic — there is no referencing, no cooperating, etc.

This pays lip service to the supposed 21st century competencies that we are supposed to develop in learners. If we are to do this, we need to pull assessment into the same century.

Like it or not, assessment is the tail that wags the dog. Summative forms of assessment like end-of-course examinations are terminal activities — they are the tail. However, they dictate what is taught, how it is taught, and shape how students opt to learn — they wag the dog.

The examination in question was the GCE A-Levels. These are taken by girls whose next destination is likely university, and boys who become men via military service (if they are citizens and permanent residents).

However, these students take paper-based exams much the same way they did ten years before when they were in primary school. Heck, I took my A-levels on dead trees and I am older than some trees!

I now mentor, advice, and teach some future faculty who still clutch at paper as the be-all and end-all technology. They teach and test like a book and by the book. The assessment tail does not just wag the dog; it trains the dog and shapes its psyche as it rewards and punishes the dog.

Am I overreacting? After all, the issue was exam paper security and not assessment redesign. But why was the latter not the issue?

Just consider the logistics and costs. The papers had to be transported to the United Kingdom. They had to be stored and provided with some modicum of security. They also had to be transported securely to graders and then brought back centrally for more processing.

Even if every script was scanned and marked electronically, there is still the cost of scanning every page and retraining the graders.

These exercises help the agencies involved in the processes — question-setting, grading, analysing, transport, storage, security, administration, etc. You might think of this as an assessment mill that is dependent on paper mills.

But what of the current student and future employee who has to rely less and less on paper and paper-led habits? Our duty is not to keep the assessment and paper mills alive. It is to help our learners thrive in their future, not our past.

Take writing for example. We still have to write, but how much on paper and how often?

The medium is part of the message and shapes the way we think and craft those messages. For example, I am drafting this reflection in MacOS Notes, I have a web browser with these tabs open: WordPress (for the blog entry), ImageCodr (for the CC-licensed images), and several online references.

The writing skills might be the same — for example, logical paragraphing — but the need to write shorter paragraphs is the new expectation. This reflection is already too long for most people. TLDR. So I also break the message up into chunks with photos (aww, cute doggies and baby!).

But back to the main topic of changing assessment. I am not suggesting that we throw the baby out with the bath water. I am pointing out that the bath water is still there, getting filthier by the minute, and threatening to drown the baby.

If this analogy is not clear, the paper-based exams are the problem because we do not question their purpose. They solved the problem in the past of how to sort students, and they still do that. But they also create unnecessary stress and entrench old mindsets, neither of which are good for our students.

It is time to throw the bath water out, not build a better receptacle, replace the water, or somehow have self-cleaning water.

It took a few semesters of sensing and planning, but I eventually implemented something that helps future faculty write better.

Every semester I provide feedback and grade electronically-processed assignments. Every semester I am reminded how brilliant graduate students do not necessarily know how to communicate properly in writing.

I have suggested to administrators that a writing course be a prerequisite to the one I am involved in. But this doing this is neither easy nor a priority.

What is a priority is graduate students reading a resource and taking an automated quiz on plagiarism. This is important and it is easy to do in an institutional learning management system (LMS). But an LMS, no matter how advanced, cannot show graduate students how to write better and provide timely feedback on authentic writing.

Knowing that institutional change takes an inordinately long time, I provided a series of tips in my blog. I reminded my classes to refer to them before writing and embedded URLs to the same in my online feedback.

I also made a concerted effort this semester to highlight the resources in class and set aside time to talk about the importance of writing ability.

The ability to write clearly, logically, and critically is vital to future academics. They might not only need to prepare teaching philosophies and curricula, they also need to write reports and apply for grants.

The future faculty I have met seem to forced to play writing gambling game. If they get a supervisor who is nurturing and cares about how they write, they hit the jackpot. If not, they struggle from course to course or they reinforce bad writing habits because no one tells them otherwise.

Studying at the doctoral level requires an immense effort and truly independent work. However, this does not mean that graduate students should do work blindly or without scaffolding.

I have already discovered how effective my simple resources are. I have not torn out as much hair this semester as previously. Many of my learners have followed basic reminders like shaping a premise and writing in paragraphs.

I did this without doing anything contrary or disruptive to the course I facilitate. If anything, the tips add value to it. This could be an example of how not asking for permission first is a good thing.

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

This opinion piece, Not a good idea to start school later, is not about the good of the students. Instead, it is about their parents, the employers of the parents, the transport companies.

Now these other stakeholders also have a say. The problem is that their say is dominant and overwhelms what is important. That is why there is no change. The question of why we do not start school later is perennial and so are the standard answers.

The problem is not just that we keep revisiting this issue and not change anything. It is that we normalise the cycle, and in doing so, lose sight of what is important (the learner) and instead dwell on what is urgent (everything else).

What is important is seldom urgent. And what is urgent is seldom important. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: