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Posts Tagged ‘change

I watched this two-part video report how mandarin is taught now. It featured a journalist who revisited a classroom and immersed herself in the student experience.

Video source

Video source

The intended message seemed to be that the methods were more progressive now compared to, say, the time of the kids’ parents. Given the examples and strategies, you might agree.

But I wonder about how the narrative was crafted.

Was three days enough to gauge how the teaching of mandarin had changed? Pragmatically speaking, a journalist is not a researcher and it is tough to get permission and time to record the classroom. That said, three days was not representative compared to three months or three terms.

The class comprised a group of a Secondary 2 Higher Chinese students. These were the minority of students and they enjoyed a smaller class size. How was the class representative of the larger population of students?

That said, the teaching of mandarin, like most other content areas, has changed with the incorporation of various technologies and curricular interventions. Perhaps both were too difficult to show.

I am not referring to the journalist’s toting an iPad. It could have been her own and it did not feature prominently. White boards dominated and this could indicate more a change of medium (from blackboards) and of methods (peer instruction).

An example of a curricular change is the different levels of mandarin in Primary school — foundation, standard, and higher — for students with different abilities. Instead of one size curriculum fits all, it was three sizes fits all.

Perhaps even more insidious is how the type of teachers of mandarin has changed. They are younger, more open to different strategies, and effectively bilingual. If mindset and cultural circumstance have any influence, the way these teachers practice their craft is different from their teachers.

The changes on how content is taught is more nuanced than two videos can reveal. Perhaps a focus on the type of teacher might have been a better narrative.

After I took this snapshot, I thought: Change does not mean the past goes away.

The past often fades into the background. It comes back into focus when someone notices it or waxes nostalgia.

The past is not irrelevant. It might serve as a backdrop or foundation for what we do or believe in.

But the past should not dominate or dictate. A backdrop without actors is not a play; a foundation without infrastructure above is not a building.

In edtech, the history of technology in schooling and education provides many warnings. One is that the tools change while the techniques do not. This means that the tools are not used optimally.

If the medium changes without the method, we see only the veneer of change. To see what change really looks like, we need to dig into mindset. This takes immersion, not a drive-by visit.

I would like to critique this move fairly, but I cannot as the rest of the article is behind a paywall.

However, the SEAB has a track record of siding with caution. It moves so slowly, if at all, that molasses in a jar looks like speed demon.

Article screenshot: More trials before switch to electronic marking of exam scripts.

The SEAB seems to favour changing the medium and not the method, and as a result, not change at all.

This example of electronic marking would presume electronic test-taking were simple transitions from paper to screens. This is what happened with early e-books. Going electronic in this manner did (and does) not take advantage of hyperlinking, searching, and collaborating.

To push the boundaries where they need to be, the method must also change. The test should not just be about individual accountability, but also about the ability to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate. The challenge should not just be about low level thinking, but about contextual application, evaluation, and creation.

The superficial change in medium and not the method reveals this: The SEAB is neither prepared (state of mind) nor ready (state of being) to design and implement meaningful change. It is about jogging on the same spot to create the impression of work, but not move in any particular direction.

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?

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