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This reflection is about making connections.

Someone made a connection between the different attention the Singapore public pays to Zika and dengue. I made a connection between that observation and teaching.

A concerned reader wondered why Zika is getting the attention dengue did not. The public seems more concerned about the Zika outbreak here and the authorities seem to be putting more visible effort in the form of fogging and public education. The press highlights the rising number of cases every day as well as the shortage of anti-mosquito sprays and patches at pharmacies.

To emphasise his point, the reader cited the 11,000 dengue cases compared to the 200+ Zika cases so far this year. There have been dengue-related deaths, but no Zika-connected ones so far.

He did not mention the possibility of microencephaly in babies borne of infected mothers, the relative newness or “unknown-ness” of Zika, and its rapid spread.

But the fear factor was not his issue. Instead it was this:

communication experts could find out why the public is suddenly more concerned with Zika than dengue. Such a study could uncover triggers that sensitise Singaporeans to an outbreak of one disease versus another.

The relevant authorities could use the right triggers in future communications to manage outbreaks such as dengue or even tuberculosis.

In other words, good communication is about first figuring out what connects with the people you are trying to reach. The same could be said about effective teaching.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

I was reminded of this after I met with a conference organiser yesterday. As we discussed details of my keynote address on gamification and game-based learning, I realised that there were deeper issues that needed to be addressed.

It was as if the topics were a way to create a discussion to possibly dig into the key issues, i.e., a lack of empowerment for change and poor course content ownership by associate instructors. Selling game-based learning and gamification might only address symptoms — for example, low student engagement or no pedagogical innovation — instead of dealing with the underlying problems.

The conversation with the conference organiser helped me uncover this and my challenge will be to reach conference participants where they are at, not where I think they need to be. I have to start with what matters to them, not just what I think is important to say.

How often do teachers prepare for teaching like this? Do they consider where their learners are at and what they need? Or do they consult a scheme of work and curriculum plan? If they need to do both, which is more important?

Two days ago, someone I know reached out to me via a private Twitter direct message to ask for some advice. I offered to meet in person and we had a two-hour chat.

I realized that my contact could get better information from two other people I knew, so I offered to make connections while not promising that they would say yes. After all, I had not chatted with one of those people for a few months and the other for over a year.

I contacted one of them by WhatsApp and the other by email. I received replies within minutes while I was walking home. I had just enough time to compose replies to thank them and to make the connections by the time I got back.
 

 
When I reflected on why the two people responded to my request, I remembered that I also had the equivalent of two-hour chats with them previously. The time we invested in making connections built trust. The trust remained even though we did not connect regularly.

Some people, particularly those who charge by the hour, like to say that time is money. I say well-invested time builds trust. No amount of money can replace that.

TPACK

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

Who does not like the TPACK framework for technology integration?

It provides broad considerations for leaders, teachers, instructional designers, and others when thinking about how the pieces of the puzzle — content, pedagogy, technology — fit together.

I am glad that context has been added to the model because it is the backing upon which the puzzle pieces rest. Without it, the puzzle falls apart.

However, no model is complete or perfect. At the moment, I see a missing “Connectedness Knowledge” piece.

Some might argue that such a connection is the nexus of all three pieces or even when two elements overlap. That is the connection a teacher makes with regard to the model.

I am referring to the content, social, real wider world, and possibly other forms of connectedness.

CK refers to knowledge of content. Content connectedness refers to the ability to join the dots between content silos, different disciplines, and even content experts. The last content connection links to social connectedness in that people become resource nodes in a network.

I include real wider world connectedness because the contexts that schools might create are not always authentic. A school context might be an exam, a math homework problem, or even a lesson that has little or no bearing in life in the short or long term. Including real wider world connectedness challenges educators to think about why they are integrating technology.

I hope to test an enhanced TPACK model over workshops that I will be conducting with a range of educators, instructors, and trainers. It will be interesting to hear their thoughts!

A little over a year ago, I reflected on the three dimensions of educational technology: IT, ICT, and IDM. These evolutionary dimensions focused largely on technology affordances.
 

 
This year, I reflect on another three dimensions, this time from the social and pedagogical perspectives.

In the era of IT, teachers and media folks used technology to create content. We leverage on technology to do that to this day. This might be why Bill Gates declared “content is king” when predicting the ascent of the Web in the 90s.

While content is important and will not lose relevance, how policy makers, school leaders, teachers still treat it with reverence is passé. We can comfortably declare that we now live in an information-rich world. We need to question if any content we create is new or if it adds any value (to the next dimension, context).

However, schools now still largely process and reprocess old content. Teachers are evaluated on their ability to recreate such content, get students to practice it, and test how much content students retain temporarily.

What matters more is context. It shapes why we need content and it makes learning meaningful. Context also provides an authentic platform for practice and application. If teachers and lessons are labelled as not being relevant, it is because they are poor or lacking in context.

These contexts provide learners with opportunities to connect with knowledgeable others in order to create new content, context, and connections.

The technologies that kids embrace today, e.g., video games and social media, are not just places for learning content. Teachers who think inside their content box and try to create cool lessons are only partially reaching their students.

Video games and social media are also the platforms that provide context and connectedness.

One example: The content behind the skill of being able to make a prediction is learnt in-game as well as practiced and negotiated in that context.

Another example: Fans learn Korean by watching K-pop on YouTube or English as a Second Language learners watch English game play videos; YouTube as a platform is an authentic context for learning, conversing, and connecting.

Technology becomes educational not just when teachers create content with it, but especially when learners can do the same while in context and in connection with each other. To do any less is to provide a disservice to our learners and not do our job as educators.

Ask any well-read person to predict the future of education and they might a) say they have no answer, b) suggest some rough ideas, or c) warn of impending doom. If they do this, they are looking toward the future aimlessly, wishfully, or fearfully.

An alternative strategy is to look forward by focusing on what you can do now.


Video source

In his TED talk, Joi Ito, head of the MIT Media Lab, suggested we be “now-ists” by:

  • Not asking for permission first
  • Relying on the power of pull (finding what/who you need when you need it)
  • Learning constantly and rapidly
  • Knowing which direction (not necessarily which destination) to head for

What does this have to do with predicting the future of education? Not much. But it has everything to do with shaping it.

Changing education is sometimes about moving when you are not quite sure or ready. It is less about having a concrete or traditionally laid-out plan. It is more about having a direction or vision.

For example, visions or directions in assessment might include “not paper”, not just high stakes examinations, or personal portfolios linked to identity. No one, especially vendors, can say they are ready to roll out systemic changes like these.

Instead of large ocean liners of change, change agents are already smaller, agile boats heading in the same general direction. They also learn to operate their boats differently from large ships.

Progressive change agents learn to leverage on these properties:

  1. Personal relevance
  2. Emotional ties, and
  3. Common causes.

Consider the example of the teacher who started the #iwishmyteacherknew trend. Concerned for her students, she asked them to share something she might not know about them.

The answers were very revealing and moving. They ranged from kids not having pencils at home to do homework, coming from broken families, and not having friends to play with.

The responses locally, in the traditional broadcast media, and on social media were disproportionate to the initial effort. Classmates of a girl who had no friends at the playground rallied around her saying “we’ve got your back”. News sites and broadcast media spread the word [example]. The hashtag #iwishmyteacherknew trended on Twitter and is still active with examples from all over the world.

One teacher’s effort went viral because of personal relevance, emotional ties, and a common cause. But viruses come and go. This effort persists because other caring teachers can relate to it (personal relevance), are moved by it (emotional), and share the same vision (common cause).

The same could be said for Ito’s mission to measure the nuclear fallout in 2011 in Japan because of his concern for his family. He reached out online and found like-minded folk and collaborators.

Ito did not wait for a system to be invented. The #iwishmyteacherknew teacher did not ask for permission to collect data on her students. They did not wait for a better future to come; they made it happen.

If you want to spark and sustain a worthwhile future in education, your effort must connect: It must be personal, emotional, and a shared vision.

My cat by Anguskirk, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Anguskirk 

 
I was a very unhappy broadband customer for the last six days. But I did NOT do something I would normally do and that saved me some embarrassment.

When my Internet connection became intermittent earlier this week, I opted not to call the customer help line. Previous experience reminded me how long that would take and how much longer the response would be after being handed from one party after another.

Instead, I tweeted my information to the ISPs customer care. They said they would get back to me by phone but I did not hear from them. That bought me time to investigate.

When the intermittent connection finally became no connection, I was ready to go on a calling rampage. But something stopped me.

All the usual remedy actions (recycling the power to the boxes in proper time and sequence) did not seem to work. My Internet connection kept dropping, but my home phone (connected to the same box) worked fine.

I disconnected the router and reconnected directly to a desktop. After a few restarts, I had a stable connection to that desktop. I realized that the router was in its death throes.

If I had called the customer care folks and screamed down the line, I would have ended up with egg on my face. Sure, they did not respond as promised. Sure, 99 out of a 100 times this has happened before the fault lay in a factor or incident at their end. This one time my router had failed.

The moral of the story: Take the time, observe closely, get information, connect the dots, solve your own problem.

 
The old saying is:

Give a person a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

Figuratively, the saying is about taking the long term course of action. If you take the adage literally, you might wonder how many people fish for a living nowadays. We let other people fish for us.

But how about updating the saying?

The new saying is tongue-in-cheek, but it is also a humorous critique of the modern world. Phrased this way, it becomes less about the long term view and more about effective reach.

With the world changing as rapidly as it does, long term plans are harder to think up much less implement. But in a world where connectedness is key, broad reach over the short term is more effective than just a long term plan.


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