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Posts Tagged ‘covid-19

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This video is timely given the misleading way some people use the efficacy numbers of different COVID-19 vaccines.

The efficacy of the a vaccine is not the same as its effectiveness. I recommend this NYT article for an explanation of how something like “95%” efficacy is derived.

Vaccine trial efficacy is not the same as real use effectiveness. A trial use of the vaccine includes a placebo for one sampled group of people and the vaccine for another group. Actual use only includes the vaccine and is applied across a much larger group of people.

The J&J vaccine trials were also conducted in South Africa and Brazil. Vox video ( on why the vaccine efficacy numbers cannot be compared.

The J&J trials were also conducted outside the USA — in South Africa and Brazil.

The J&J vaccine trial was conducted over a more severe infection period. Vox video ( on why the vaccine efficacy numbers cannot be compared.

The J&J vaccine trial was conducted over a more severe infection period.

Back to the video — it explains why efficacy numbers cannot be compared. For example, the Moderna trial was only in the USA. The Johnson & Johnson (J&J) trial also included countries outside the USA (Brazil and South Africa) where variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerged. It was also conducted over a more severe infection period compared to the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna trials.

Here is something the video did not point out. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have high efficacies after two doses. The J&J vaccine is a single-dose shot.

Screenshot of the range of outcomes after vaccination. From Vox video ( on why the vaccine efficacy numbers cannot be compared.

The range of outcomes after vaccination.

The video also highlighted that all the vaccines are not designed to absolutely prevent COVID-19 symptoms. If after vaccination people got mild to moderate symptoms, the vaccine is considered effective.

During the trials, all the vaccines mentioned in the video prevented hospitalisation and death among sampled participants. By that measure, all the vaccines were just as good. If we focus only on trial efficacy numbers, we lose sight of this more important outcome.

One general takeaway that applies in any problem-solving and policy-making is this: Numbers are a start, but they are not the end. The explanations and narratives that accompany them provide depth, nuance, and exceptions. If we do not go beyond the numbers, we risk misinforming ourselves and others.

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.

Better edubloggers than me have reminded us why schools should not return to normal post-pandemic.

In a moment of serendipity, Seth Godin just blogged this:

…we learn in ways that have little to do with how mass education is structured…

…The educational regimes of the last century have distracted us. It turns out that the obvious and easy approaches aren’t actually the ones that we need to focus on.

How likely is meaningful change to happen? Not very, but we can hope while pushing from whatever edge and corner we are at.

If nothing substantial happens this time round, perhaps the next pandemic will bring a more forceful reminder.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

Today I reflect on a COVID-19 poll and compare it to end-of-course surveys.

Evaluating the above-mentioned poll result at face value, would you consider 6 out of 10 a good outcome?

Compared to pre-COVID-19, such a finding could be a good thing. But given how polls and surveys are not always designed and conducted scientifically, you might pause for thought.

That is not where I stop unless I was conducting a course on descriptive statistics and survey design. Instead, I focus on the purpose of a poll or survey — to take a snapshot of self-reported behaviours in this case.

A critically-minded person might ask if self-reporting is sufficient. After all, it is one thing to make a claim (e.g., I will keep sanitising my hands in future) and actually doing it. Other points of triangulating data like observation of behaviours and measuring sanitiser use would help determine the latter.

End-of-course surveys suffer the same weaknesses. They are about perception and self-reporting behaviours of students. If we are to really get a bead on learning, we need to pursue its longer tail, e.g., if and how students actually apply knowledge and skills in context.

This is not to say that end-of-course surveys have no use. Like the post-COVID-19 behaviour poll, they are quick snapshots of user perceptions. But they must be recognised as such. Like the quality of information from a single photo compared to that in a video clip, it is important to recognise the limitations of such a survey.

Today I try to link habits of an app use to a change in teaching.

Like many Singaporeans, I have had months of practice using the location aware app, SafeEntry, to check in and out of venues. We do this in a collective contract tracing effort during the current pandemic.

You cannot forget to check in because you need to show the confirmation screen to someone at the entrance. However, you can easily forget to check out* because, well, you might mentally checked out or have other things on your mind.

Therein lies a flaw with the design and implementation of the app. Instead of making both processes manual, the app could be semi-automatic. It could have a required manual check in at entrances, but offer automated exits.

How so? The mobile app is location-aware. It has a rough idea where you are and can suggest where to check in. This is why the manual check in is better — the human choice is more granular.

However, when people leave a venue, the app could be programmed to automatically check them out if the app detects that they are no longer there over a period of, say, 10 minutes. I say give the option to user for a manual check out or an automated one.

*The video below reported that checking out is not compulsory. But not checking out creates errors in contact tracing, i.e., we do not know exactly where a person has been and for how long. This not only affects the usability of the data but also inculcates blind user habits.

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For me, this is a lesson on rethinking teaching during the pandemic by using awareness as key design feature. It is easy to just try to recreate the classroom room and maintain normal habits when going online or adopting some form of hybrid lessons.

But this does not take advantage of what being away from the classroom or being online offers. The key principle is being aware of what the new issues, opportunities, and affordances are, e.g., isolation, independence, customisation.

Making everyone to check in and out with SafeEntry is an attempt to create a new habit with an old principle (the onus is all on you). This does not take advantage of what the mobile app is designed to do (be location aware).

Likewise subjecting learners to old expectations and habits (e.g., the need to be physically present and taking attendance) does not take advantage of the fact that learning does not need to be strictly bound by curricula and time tables.

The key to breaking out of both bad habits is learning to be aware of what the app user and learner thinks and how they experience the reshaped world. This design comes from a place of empathy, not a position of authority.

This is Singapore — if we are not eating our food, we are talking about it. This CNA Insider video, Belly of a Nation, explored the impact of the pandemic lockdown on hawkers.

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It was nicely done, but I wish that the information about the hawkers (e.g., their stall locations, social media links) were included in context. That way I could offer support by visiting a stall or three.

This is one critical difference between traditional media productions and social media efforts. The former do it for themselves. They profit from the time and effort of the hawkers, and we do not know if the hawkers are paid appearance fees.

The least CNA could do is provide the addresses of the hawker stalls as overlays or chyrons on screen. A few savvy hawkers might also be on social media or have their own websites, so including that information would also be helpful.

CNA did list the hawkers’ names in the scrolling credits at the end of the video, but that is what they already have to do in other contexts. They need to keep up with what a YouTuber would do if the video is also shared on YouTube.

A typical YouTuber does not have the clout of a media company. So they will offer to not just provide hawker stall details in the video when that hawker appears (i.e., provide contextual information) they will also list that information in the video description for the convenience of the viewer.

A YouTuber does this because they see what their collaborators and what their viewers need. They find ways to connect the two as a means of payback. Everyone benefits that way.

I reflect on this not as a media critic, but as an educator. Those of us in schooling and education need to also keep up, not just with relevant technologies, but more critically with habits of use.

One habit is the collective practice of creating, commenting, critiquing, and collaborating. These are shaped or redefined by the new tools we use. For example, the reach of an artefact or idea can go far beyond one’s classroom walls. That should be the expectation and consequence. One might need to learn how to act local and think global.

If there is a flaw in most teacher professional development (PD) sessions, it is their design. The PD does not address in equal measure the following:

  • Knowledge (the what)
  • Skills (the how)
  • Attitudes, beliefs, teaching philosophies (the whys and so whats)

If we do not adequately address this trifecta of PD, we entrench behaviours in the same or the past. We do what CNA did — not change essential behaviours — when moving to a different context. We do not push and pull for change that stems from changes in attitudes, beliefs, and teaching philosophies.

I have reflected on how we should not return to “normal” post COVID-19. Others have expressed the same thoughts in different and better ways than me.

Earlier this month, Lisa Lane introduced a recent reflection like this:

I hear people say things like “when things go back to normal” or “after the pandemic” or just “afterwards”.

That might have worked for something that lasted a few weeks. Or for a hurricane or fire that destroys your home, then you have to rebuild. We can’t do that yet — this is the classic slow-motion train wreck. And anyone who’s rebuilt, had tragedy strike, knows that nothing is ever the same again.

Because we cannot go backward. Trust me on this — I’m a historian. I know backward. We only go forward.

Returning to normal can be backward if you retain the ignorance and stupidity in the normal that was.

So what happens if we do move forward? Tim Stahmer tweeted this as a reaction to claims of the “new normal”.

The new normal can reek of empty rhetoric or policy speak, particularly when it is the old disguised as new.

So what really is daring, different, and desperately needed? I offer Alfie Kohn’s take on testing and grading.

He offered evidence for the normal failing the less privileged and better alternatives like pass/fail and ungrading, and no grading that served everyone.

If those ideas sound foreign, that is sadly normal. We need to move forward without the baggage of catchphrases and millstones of legacy. As Kohn put it, this is our “chance to turn a(n) epidemiological crisis into an educational opportunity”.

Video source

The first five minutes of this news video was a critique of Trump’s attempt to mislead with disinformation.

Twitter and Facebook blocked Trump’s attempt to share a clip in which he reportedly said that “children are almost – and I would almost say definitely – almost immune from this disease”. The news folk pushed back with corrections, but slipped as they did so.

The news anchor said that Twitter and Facebook had blocked Trump’s misinformation. The claim that children are “almost immune from the disease” is disinformation, not misinformation. It was a deliberate attempt to convince parents that it is safe to send their kids to school so that the parents can get back to work.

Misinformation might be a result of early and incomplete fact-finding. It could also be a result of unclear or ambiguous phrasing. Disinformation flies in the face of facts. Being immune to the SARS-CoV-2 virus means your body can fight it off. It does not mean that you cannot transmit it. Immune persons can still transmit the virus they are not hygienic and do not maintain physical distance.

The reporter on the ground said that “precision is so important when you are talking about peoples’ health”. Being precise is not the same as being accurate.

Accuracy is about hitting the target, i.e., getting the facts right. Precision is about being consistent. It is important to be accurate first and then precise with explanations and elaborations. If you are not accurate first, it is still possible to be precisely wrong.

This is not a game of semantics. This is about being scientifically literate. This means getting information from reputable and reliable sources, and using accurate and precise language to communicate these findings.

News agencies can be a good source of information, but they are not necessarily halls of information and scientific literacy. It is up to teachers and educators to first develop these skill and mind sets, and then model and teach these to students.

This STonline article claimed that we have five things to learn from our enforced home-based learning (HBL) — our version of emergency remote teaching. They were:

  1. Crossover lessons
Recorded lessons
  3. Homework by video
  4. Parents as teacher aides
  5. Gamification

I call them claims because these are arguments based on anecdotes, not rigorous studies or critical reflections on practice. To be fair, a newspaper is not an educational journal or teaching website. To be balanced, I provide some critique.

Crossover lessons are what the author said were those conducted at home that could be replicated in the classroom. The lesson on building models at home to illustrate concepts in physics was not quite that. It seemed more like a transfer of a classroom activity to the home. It was a crossover, but not in the direction the author intended.

How about recorded lessons? The author did not say anything about the quality of such lessons, just that they are useful for whenever-whatever learning emergency. The latter is still the conversation piece, but we need to move on to lessons worth recording.

A good point raised about homework by video was that students who might not write well might find such homework to their advantage — they can record video and/or audio of themselves. A takeaway could have been about reaching learners, not homework per se. After all, video homework can still be busy work or it can hold back learners who are more reticent.

How about parents as teacher aides? This should have been about the home environment supporting what happens in the classroom. Instead, it was reduced learning styles (note the reference to “kinaesthetic learner”). This was a step backward in educational progress as it ignored research that debunks learning styles.

Gamification. Ugh. This is overused, misunderstood, and overhyped. There was nothing in the article that broke the mould of “gamification” be it in the classroom or online. If there is no change, there is no learning.

For some strange reason, the author or editor of the piece decided that the last anecdote about the “compassion and empathy” of teachers was left for last and put under the header of gamification. These traits have little to do with gamification and could have been the focus on an article. But who wants to read about teachers learning more about their students and connecting better with them, right?

The opinion piece below highlighted a loophole in our bid to return to normalcy during our battle with COVID-19. I could not help but see a parallel with what we call home-based learning.

The article highlighted how people will be physically distanced and required to wear a mask in cinema halls. However, since audiences are allowed to eat and drink, they can remove said mask. Therein lies the loophole through which policies fail.

Whether at cinemas or at eateries, it makes sense to allow people to remove their masks in order to eat or drink. But the problem is people following the rules without knowing or caring why.

They take advantage of the loophole to not wear a mask. Consider what already happens at reopened eateries: People stay longer than they should and talk to each other without masks on (often very loudly).

While folks in a cinema hall will not talk as much, they are in an enclosed space. Being in the dark might embolden some to leave their masks off. If reprimanded, they might use the consumption of food and drink as excuses.

This goes against collective and public safety because the point of wearing a mask is to prevent projectiles from leaving one’s mouth. If people do not know why they must wear a mask and why this matters, no amount of policy setting and policing will do any good.

How might this apply to teaching and learning, particularly as they are conducted online?

There was an initial urgency due to sudden policy changes, i.e., close schools and conduct home-based learning (actually emergency remote teaching). Teachers resorted to recreating classrooms when online. Any instructional designer or online facilitator worth their salt would have told them this was not a good idea.

But they did that anyway by telling students what to do, how to do it, and when to do things by. There was a time-table in school so the instinct was to simply move it online.

I liken this practice to assuming that we can transfer building practices on Earth directly to the Space Station. Some ideas will work, others will not. Teachers who have not taken online-only courses or taught online before will not anticipate what does not work.

Students at home do not face the same social contexts and pressures they do in school. For example, a teacher cannot use simple physical proximity to discretely prevent misbehaviour. The face-to-face mode relies much on social cues and extrinsic motivations.

Agency is giving learners the opportunities to make decisions. Empowerment is enabling them to take meaningful and self-driven action.

Online learning needs to be designed with agency and empowerment. This needs to be taught to learners young and old. More importantly, they need to be taught why they need to operate differently and why they should care.

Such a model of instruction and learning is built on the foundation of more independent learning. Such design is less teach-by-pushing and more pull-to-learning. This requires teachers to tap into the intrinsic motivations of learners and their individual needs.

It is easier to stick with disseminating policies, policing students, and operating by don’t-ask-why-just-do-it. But just like mask-wearing, students will find loopholes (see the tweet for an example) if they do not learn to change. And they learn to do this only if we first change the way we teach.


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