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Posts Tagged ‘context

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.

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Right message, wrong context #mural #hdb #heartland

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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 Far better to find out as much as possible about the context first than to deliver a consistent but blind or outdated message.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!

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.

The Joys Of Homework by Cayusa, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  Cayusa 

Yesterday I read this ST article, Have at least two homework-free days a week, and shook my head. I did this not in disagreement, but because of what I predict could happen if such an idea was implemented.

A member of parliament suggested that MOE require schools to mandate two homework-free days a week and reduce curricula by 20-30%. Most Singaporeans can predict what the official response is going to be: It is up to schools to decide homework policies and there have been curricula reductions in the past. But any suggestions will be reviewed and implemented on merit.

Two homework-free days a week. Does that mean the whole week or the school week? If you include the weekend, most schools already have two days teachers do not meet students in person to dish out homework.

If the week refers to the five-day schooling week, then consider one response. The same amount of homework gets spread over three days instead of five. If you play the numbers game, others will find workarounds also based on numbers.

Doing this does not deal with the issues of homework: What is homework, why have we come to expect it, and is it even necessary?

Some people might suggest that flipped classrooms become policy. I would ask them if they are just changing the nature of homework instead of dealing with the problems that homework creates (no support at home, more tuition, less quality family time, more unnecessary stress, etc.).

I am not sure that content reduction will help. I recall being involved in curricular reduction more than 15 years ago when I was a teacher. Now there only seems to be more to do. Why? Instead of filling the time with exploratory or creative ventures, teachers filled the time with anything linked to test preparation.

In an effort to develop kids holistically, curriculum time was also filled with other activities. In theory, this is a wonderful idea. In reality, this breaks down when things like zoo visits become administrative, logistical, and legal challenges instead of pedagogical ones. Kids then spend their time following orders and rushing from one station to another instead of learning deeply.

I do not think that a good solution lies in homework or curriculum reduction. I believe that there should be no homework (the type we understand now) and there should be a curricular redesign.

I say there should be no homework not to keep the home and school life silos separate. That is an impossibly difficult game to win. The silos were created simply because school was created for a different context, the Industrial Age, and because schools do not bring in enough real world context.

For example, in current social studies about tourism, much of the content is just about that. Content. Delivered in a book. Possibly practised with homework and then tested with exams. How about bringing in real world context?

As some families here prepare to go on June holidays, consider the amount of logistical and financial planning it takes. Why not give kids some virtual money to spend on a trip. Let them use current technologies to plan itineraries, do price comparisons, suggest travel and accommodations, debate and document their processes, etc. Make this the curricular default instead of an enrichment activity done only after exams are over.

These are activities that might start and end in class. If not, they spill over naturally at home or in the social lives of learners because the activities are fun, meaningful, or seamless.

This is homework of a different kind. It can be very difficult, but engages naturally. To do this would not require so much a content revamp but a contextual one. The change in context is from a theoretical one created in schools to a more realistic one that already exists outside of it.

Recently I had to remind my son how to clear and rinse a dirty dish instead of just dumping it in the kitchen sink. That incident spawned lessons on values, Science, a brief the history on language, and perspective taking.

When my son left an uncleared dish in the sink, I realized that he should not only learn WHAT to do but WHY he should do it. The why was not limited to “because I said so”.

The lesson in values was obvious. He had to help out around the home because we do not have a maid. It was the responsible thing to do.

But I decided that he also needed a Science lesson to know why dishes are harder to clean if you leave them unrinsed in a sink. I had to teach him why gunk is hard to remove or starts to smell. I had to teach him about oxidation.

I had to link oxidation with something he was familiar with, our need to breathe. He understood how oxygen was necessary to burn fuel. The good thing about this type of oxidation was that it gave us energy.

But oxidation could also be a bad thing when you consider things like rust. Which was the common name for iron oxide otherwise known as ferrous oxide. Which was the link to the Latin roots for some of our English words.

I pulled us back to why oxidation was bad not just because it could cause rust, but also how it caused fats in food to turn rancid and smell.

In the end, it was an opportunity to look at something from different perspectives. Oxidation could be helpful or harmful. My son thought he was helping by putting the dish in the sink, but my perspective was that a job half done was one not done at all.

Later on I reflected on how contexts create moments for meaningful learning. Teachers need to think and operate outside their content silos to take advantage of such learning moments.

My son remarked that this was the best Science lesson he had, especially when compared to the ones he was getting at school. Flattering words.

I will only know that he has learnt something if he consistently rinses his dishes when he puts them in the sink. And if he can tell me why.

Video source

This video was featured in LifeHacker and soon ended up on the popular list in YouTube. It provides arguments on why one should run instead of walk in the rain.

But the lessons here are not just in the video. They are in the comments in the LifeHacker page.

If you watched the video for a Science or Math lesson, then you are missing a more important point. Critical thinking is not just logical math or science. It is about thinking in context.

Look at it this way. If your context is the classroom or the textbook, then the argument is just an academic exercise.

In the real world, other contexts (like the ones highlighted in the LifeHacker comments area) present themselves. In the real world, some academic answers are not answers at all.

One might argue that some theoretical knowledge is important. But the ultimate test (not just the paper test) is whether the strategy works in context in real life.

I argue that there is no point having head knowledge without heart and soul knowledge. There is no point touting one’s test scores if they do not translate to real world use.


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