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Posts Tagged ‘context

I am sitting at a cafe and reflecting on the aftermath of another Pokémon Go Community Day (PGCD) and my fifth exclusive raid (Ex Raid) of Mewtwo. The two happened to coincide.

I managed to catch six shiny Mareep and created this “family”portrait to remember the event.

Shiny Mareep family from Pokémon Go Community Day (15 Apr 2018).

I relied on my previous experiences of wandering around in a park versus positioning myself strategically at a mall. Doing the latter taught me that the concentration of Poké stops at the mall was more efficient and comfortable.

Concentration of Poké stops at Jurong Point Mall.

The PGCD event lasted three hours (11.00am-2.00pm locally) and my Ex Raid invitation started soon after (2.00-2.45pm).

Despite the raid being my fifth one this year, I still felt some butterflies. This is because I take the responsibility to coordinate the efforts of small teams and to help others catch Mewtwo. The social pressure to do both creates the Butterfrees.

Five Mewtwos and counting...

There always seems to be something different to experience at each Ex Raid even though I see familiar faces. This is where I reflect on the importance of context and expertise.

The context changed when a mother and daughter asked me to help them with a challenge. It was not for Mewtwo but for Mew instead.

There is a new feature in PoGo called Special Research. This is a series of increasingly difficult challenges that culminates in the invitation to catch the elusive Mew. The hurdle that the mother and daughter could not clear was to each make a successful curved excellent throw.

Making successful curved excellent throws is not easy and that is why it is one of the last few tasks. The challenge was made even more difficult when the daughter had only three Poké balls left in her inventory. Her mother’s inventory was not much better.

I caught a Pokémon with a curved excellent throw with the very last ball in the daughter’s inventory. It took a while before I could do the same on her mother’s phone.

The change in context was not catching different Pokémon; it was the different phones. There are different screen textures, video responsiveness, and screen sizes.

My experience was developed on my phone. Applying exactly the same expert strategies to different contexts did not work immediately. I eventually had to use a right-hand method on one phone and a left-hand strategy on the other.

My experience using other phones was limited. I had to learn the context-of-use quickly and modify my expertise as the context demanded.

Reflecting on this experience, I realise that I transferred a work-related strategy to a play-related one. When consulted, I am relied upon for my expertise and because of my experience. However, I make clear to my potential collaborators that I need to learn their contexts first. It is the logical and responsible thing to do.

Playing Pokémon Go makes me discover new places. The things I find are not always gems, but they often provoke thought. Take this mural for instance.

Right message, wrong context #mural #hdb #heartland

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

The message in text form, while dated, was about taking personal responsibility for the environment. Hence the recommendations to set air-conditioners to no lower than 25 degrees Celsius, to use fans, or energy-saving lightbulbs.

However, there are at least two problems with the mural.

  1. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) are not as efficient as LEDs. CFLs also contain mercury, which makes their disposal problematic.
  2. The characters in the mural are using the air-conditioner, fan, and light outdoors.

Giving the mural creator(s) the benefit of creative license, the message was probably that we enact the foreground message for the sake of the background environment.

However, doing that gives the mural creator(s) too much credit. Creative thought needs to be balanced with critical analysis — it does not make sense use those tools outdoors.

You can share exactly the same message of change in different contexts. It will make sense and be welcome in some, but not in others. Far better to find out as much as possible about the context first than to deliver a consistent but blind or outdated message.

At the risk of sounding obvious, I will say that vacuums suck.

I am not referring to the cleaning devices that we call vacuum cleaners. I am talking about a lack of background information or context.

It is not wise to work in such a vacuum, much less implement long-reaching, long-term policy. This is why we have the adage: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Planning should take into account context and background.

I am particular about finding out the context and background of the people and agencies I work with. Sometimes the people that first approach me wonder why I persist with finding these things out.

From their perspective, they already understand their context, but they might make the mistake of assuming that I also do. Alternatively, they might presume that I can provide so much generic advice and strategies that a few will stick.

This is like firing a shotgun in the dark in the hope that a few pellets hit the target. For me, this is not only a waste of time and effort, it is also dangerous. Someone might get injured in the process.

I prefer to know what the context and background of any endeavour are so that I can focus our collective efforts on meaningful effort and change. Surely that does not suck.

Only the disconnected and disinterested will not know what is happening in US politics now.

Only the uninspired will not be able to design lessons based on what the Trump administration seems to spew every day.

Video source

This video was of Trump railing on what he considered to be “fake news” media.

The clip (27s to 1min 57s mark) of Trump’s claim and its rebuttal by MSNBC is a lesson on the importance of context. Specifically, how NOT to cite a quote selectively and out context.

The same could be said when teaching. Any content should not be taught without context. If it is, the content is not meaningful. Any strategy should not be employed without context. If it is, this would be like walking around blind and rudderless.

Bonus lesson: When trying to make a point, there is no need to make it about your birthday.

My earliest recollection of an article that mentioned “the age of context” was this 2015 piece describing the music service, Spotify.

If Web 1.0 was the age of expert-created content and Web 2.0 was and still is the age of user-generated content, then Web 3.0 is the age of context.

These ages are not discrete periods. They overlap and all three are present in our lives today. If you are interested in a medical condition, you might get information from an official health service, Wikipedia, and an RSS feed or an IFTTT applet.

Web 3.0 is sometimes called the semantic web because meaning is made in context. Applied in learning, it is context that defines content that learners need. However, instead of requiring learners to seek it, the content finds its way to learners in their situations.

For example, a pharmacist filling in new forms in the office gets information from a performance support system that is different from the strategies s/he needs while promoting a new drug to doctors in a hospital.

A student might work on a community project in different contexts: School, a neighbourhood library, at home, and the venue of the project. A project management system (uh, PMS?) driven by Web 3.0 would provide different scaffolds and information to guide and suit the context.

For example, that student might need help on interviewing and recording while meeting someone at the community project venue. When the context changes to group work in school, the information and scaffolding might be about planning and conflict resolution.

How might students and teachers change in the age of context?

Learners will adopt and adapt quickly. They will also shape the technology as it shapes them.

However, some teachers will likely go kicking and screaming into the future because they already do that now.

  • Allow phones in class? No!
  • Or optimise phone use in class? How?
  • Operate outside a walled garden? It’s not safe!
  • Share openly? Why should I?

For teaching to change in the age of context, teachers must figuratively make the classroom walls transparent. Content should be learnt not for an assignment’s or curriculum’s sake, but for usefulness in context. They need to recognise that context is not limited to exams or the school environment.

One way for teachers to think outside the schooling context is to learn what happens in other jobs. They do not have to abandon their careers to do this. They need only remind themselves that they should be lead learners first and be driven by curiosity to find out what their non-teacher family members and friends do.

Another way teachers can think outside the box while operating inside one is to link what they already see and do in their lives outside of their classrooms. How do they leverage on social media? Why do they pursue hobbies or passions? What do they use to keep learning after they get their teaching qualifications?

These are things they can transfer from one context to the other. It is called the age of context after all.

Today and tomorrow I link my Wireless@SGx experiences with the educational technology anecdotes of Singapore schools and institutions.

For the uninitiated, Wireless@SG is a wifi-hotspot network in Singapore. In theory, anyone — resident or visitor — can register to access the Internet for free with their own mobile device at malls, libraries, cafes, train stations, etc.

Wireless@SGx is a variant that is supposed to be more secure and can be tied to your mobile phone number so that you do not have to login at hotspots. This is very convenient in principle. For the regular user, however, the practice can be a mixed bag.

I frequent a neighbourhood library to get work done. I have found that I can connect quite reliably to Wireless@SGx on my phone, iPad, Chromebook, or MacBook when I am in the third floor study area.

I prefer the study area on the first level because it is more convenient and beside a cafe. However, my devices struggle to connect to the same network and I resort to tethering my laptop to my phone when I am there. My guess is the clinic next door and one the same level has another Wireless@SGx hotspot that somehow interferes with the library signal.

In short, I can travel just two floors in the same building, but have very different connectivity experiences.

Occasionally I travel to a larger library just a few train stops away. This library seems to be a good wifi signal on every floor. However, when I walk across the road for coffee at a cafe that also has Wireless@SGx, my access seems to depend on a flip of the coin. Heads, I have access; tails, I do not.

What does this have to do with the educational technology scene here in Singapore schools and institutions?

I am not referring to the infrastructure or the woes that schools have with official networks, segregated wifi, and alternative access.

I am referring to grand plans and standards that, in theory, are very different from the way they are interpreted and implemented in different contexts.

Like it or not, schools cannot share “best” practices because what works in one is not likely to work in another. The contexts are different. Some ideas might transfer where the differences are small. They certainly do not when the differences are large.

Like it or not, schools need to find their own way by making mistakes and learning from them.

Like it or not, the stories that are told by the press or official communiques that are released are often sugar-coated. They do not reveal what is most important about the educational technology implementations — the mistakes — because this looks bad.

We need to read accounts of visitors to our system, as well as official pieces and articles by local papers, about technology enhancements in classrooms with a shaker of salt.

This is not to say that the today’s classrooms are not different from one a generation ago. They are in terms of expectations, mindsets, and some behaviours.

The computing technology that might be in them is also different, but they are likely:

  • used and not integrated
  • used to do the same tasks as before
  • largely in the hands of the teacher
  • not leveraged on as often you might hope
  • shiny instead of being transparent

Anecdotes do not a system make. In the best case, they enlighten. In the worst case, they misinform. I elaborate on one such anecdote tomorrow.


Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

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!

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