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Posts Tagged ‘context

One of my least favourite sayings is “content is king”. This might be uttered in the context of media sales pitches.

However, it still is an insidious idea that providers of content and learning management systems (CMS and LMS) and educational portals sell to administrators and decision makers. Not only do the latter groups not realise that co-creating content is a powerful learning experience, they might ignore how content is nothing without context.

Take this example: Singapore mathematics books were sold as superior solutions in some US schools. But our names, examples, spelling, and metric measurement system are contextual barriers to learning. They had to be recontextualised for them to make sense.

Spotify source

Here is another example about the importance of context. I listened to a Daily Show With Trevor Noah: Ears Edition podcast. In the episode, Chris Hayes, an MSNBC news host, illustrated how context matters when establishing facts.

He cited two examples (starting at the 30min 44sec mark).

The first was an open repository on the after effects of COVID-19 vaccines. Reporters who wished to say that many people died after getting vaccinated could cite that content source. They misled their followers about vaccine effectiveness by excluding context, i.e., when you have millions of vaccinated people, thousands will die anyway of various causes. The context helps you question the content — you cannot claim that vaccinations result in all those deaths.

Hayes’ second example was how a racist website might feature cases on how black men — and only black men — caused crimes. That these men were guilty and charged for these crimes is factual content from official databases. However, this ignores the larger context that men of other races also committed the same crimes. Ignoring context and selling selective content is one way of stoking hate and fear.

Those examples were societal and systemic. But the principle that you cannot teach content without context should also apply in schooling and education. After all, content is drawn from context. And yet some of us in this arena still seek to decontextualise content. 

Why? My guess is that it makes teaching easier. But this also means that learning is superficial and driven by absolutes. This does not gel with a world that is nuanced and subjective. The sooner we teach students to embrace complexity, the better prepared they will be. We might start by teaching content that is anchored in meaningful and original context.

The tweet and report above are fodder for anti-vaccination Facebook groups and taxi uncles alike. The headline is irresponsible because it implies causality. However, no other factors for the death were explored or considered in the tweeted article.

Contrast the lack of context and information to the tweet thread below.

If I had to fault the tweet, I would point out that it did not immediately provide sources for the numbers. However, a Guardian article in the second part of Dr Clarke’s thread reported:

The MHRA, which collects reports of side-effects on drugs and vaccines in the UK through its “yellow card” scheme, told the Guardian it had received more notifications up until 28 February of blood clots on the Pfizer/BioNTech than the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – 38 versus 30 – although neither exceed the level expected in the population.

The MHRA is the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in the UK.

The actual numbers of blood clot cases will vary over time, but the fact remains that the incidents are so low as to be below actual chance. What does that mean?

In an actual population, a certain number of people would naturally get blood clots. Take this thought experiment: We inject the entire population with saline that mimics blood plasma that has no drugs or vaccines in it. The result: More people will get blood clots with that saline jab than the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine.

The AZ vaccine use is new and the blood clot cases might rise. But for now the data indicate what Dr Clarke and others in the Guardian article have said — it is safe to use, not using it is dangerous.

Thankfully some good sense has prevailed since I started drafting this reflection. The BBC news report below revealed how the EU has declared the vaccine to be safe for continued use.

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I have two takeaways from reading both news reports. The first is the image quote below.

It's easy to lie with statistics, but it's hard to tell the truth without them. -- Andrejs Dunkels

My second is a parallel in teaching. Just as CNA was irresponsible for its misleading article, it is just as bad to teach content without context. While the use of vaccines has regulatory bodies that will correct wayward action, everyday teaching does not.

The AZ vaccine might see a quick comeback with investigation and regulation. But teaching that focuses primarily on content and teaching to the test has a long term detriment — it nurtures students who cannot think for themselves.

Today I reflect on the importance of appreciating context.

I probably watched more than my fair share of streaming video programmes during lockdown. I watched several shows that were not in English, e.g., Dark (German), Kingdom (Korean), Money Heist (Spanish), various Miyazaki animations (Japanese), and more.

I listened to the soundtrack of those non-English shows in their original language and had the benefit of English subtitles. I could have activated the English soundtracks, but I found them oddly disconcerting — they did not seem to suit the context.

It was more difficult to watch while reading subtitles, but I was experiencing the narratives in context. The voiceovers seemed to remove expressions and nuance. Think of it this way: Imagine watching the Singaporean comedy series Phua Chu Kang as voiced by British voice actors!

Not appreciating shows in the language they were originally spoken is like like travelling overseas but not taking in the local customs and food. You can insist on having your own way, but what then is the point of travelling?

How is this relevant to learning? Just about anything worth teaching and learning has context. Such context should precede content. But in our rush to cover curriculum (whose root word means “to race”) we focus on content at the expense of context. Context focuses on narratives and the reasons for learning that context.

Since teachers often do not bother with context (or perhaps do not even know the context), I wonder if there might be a way to subtitle teaching as it happens online and electronically. I am not just talking about hyperlinking interesting talking points. I am thinking about subtitles that run like chyrons so that context enriches content as it is delivered and discovered.

The latest installment from the Pessimists Archive podcast was What Will We Fear Next?

At first face value, the title seemed to be about predicting a new technology with which we will likely place old fears on. But if you listen till at least the 38-minute mark, you will hear the podcast host say this:

Even if we can predict the technology, we can’t predict the context in which it will be experienced or the needs it will fulfil or the expectations that it will meet or shift.

This is a reminder to anyone who makes or reads predictions about the future — making projections about tools is relatively easy, doing the same about contextual use is not. This is why most predictions fail to materialise on time.

The episode might also have been the first to visit the concept of technological determinism. Shortly before the quote, the host described technological determinism as a one-way street upon which technologies change us. Since people fear change, they fear technologies because they are threats to established ways of doing things.

But I am reminded of one of my favourite quotations:

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan

We designed our tools and they are used in expected and unexpected ways. The outcomes of use are socio-technologically determined. This is why one successful classroom use of a technology does not guarantee equal success elsewhere. Context matters and that context is determined by many factors, e.g., students, teachers, support, environments, professional development, etc.

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Yellow + blue = green thumbs #tiongbahru

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Today I reflect on a photo I took during a short jaunt to the Tiong Bahru area.

I spotted this eye-catching exterior near a bakery and took a few snapshots. The closeup provides less detail, but more focus. The wider shot provides more context, but it is busier.

The same could be said about implementing change or learning something new. Diving deep provides focus, but we might ignore other important details. However, trying to take everything in might leave you paralysed on what to start with.

The trick is to skilfully and strategically use both. How and when to do this takes experience honed by failed attempts and reflective practice.

Like many things, written and spoken language evolves. The video below highlights a few changing standards and “standards” in written language.

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The thing it hints at is context. We speak and write differently in different contexts. What some students are not taught (or not taught sufficiently) is when and how to switch.

If students are not taught to identify contexts first, they might see the different rules and standards as a burden. They might opt to use the form of language they are most comfortable with regardless of context.

Like it or not, this is a failure of teaching and learning.

Context matters.

So does spelling.

To determine what matters, you have to be observant. To change what matters, you have to care enough to do something about it.

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In the video, John Green shared the general rules on using the prepositions on, in, and at.

This was useful to me partly because I was just asked that question last week during my research writing consultation. Now I have an answer for the next session.

The video was also useful in a broader sense. With just about every rule comes exceptions, and grammar is no exception.

I would challenge anyone attempting to standardise “pedagogy” or “learning” in schooling and education. When implemented, they will find exceptions to the model answer, ideal formula, or prescribed standard.

So are standards or definitions pointless then? No, they are baselines from which variations sprout. We just need to be critical enough to recognise what is valuable or erroneous, helpful or harmful, and relevant or not, depending on the context.

If you know what the Maori haka is and you know how unoriginal Singaporeans can be, did the video in the tweet make you cringe?

Some might say the performance by Keppel Corp was a cultural appropriation of the haka. I call it a cultural misappropriation because it ignored context.

The haka is a war dance performed by the Maori. The modern version was popularised by the All Blacks, the New Zealand rugby team.

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Some might applaud the Keppel group for their effort and time. It surely took that and a healthy dose of daring to record and share their performance.

Others might say the attempt was laughable or embarrassing. The performance, utterances, and location were so out-of-place as to create cringe in over-supply.

Was their effort creative? If copying someone else’s template but using your own content is creative, then Melania Trump delivered an original speech two years ago.

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The speech was analysed and parodied then. The Keppel haka is an unintended parody. It is also a poorly conceived cultural insult.

As with most things, I link this to schooling and education.

Sometimes the attempts to transplant ideas from a conference talk or a school visit to one’s own environment fall flat. This happens because the cultural and contextual factors elsewhere are complex and not transparent to the visitor. This is why we cannot replicate Finland’s education system and why others cannot replicate ours.

We would not expect a frequent diner of restaurants to be able to run a restaurant. We might not expect people unfamiliar with Maori culture to devise their own haka. We cannot expect a visitor to believe and do what a resident does.

Cultural and context matter. Both take a considerable amount of time to establish. If someone is offering you a quick fix, then they are likely selling you snake oil by ignoring both.

If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years educate children. -- Confucius

Image quote I created in 2015.

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.


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