Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘critique

A few weeks into 2020 is still too early to hear someone utter “best practices”. Worse still, the phrase preceded “in teaching”.

There can be good practices and they are all contextual. What works in one classroom can flop in another — there are no “best” methods or ideas that work in all circumstances.
 

 
Consider how background music seems to be the norm in restaurants now. I recently had a family dinner in one that sounded like a noisy food court because patrons had to shout to be heard.

Someone thought that music was a good idea and might have looked into the how music could affect mood. One place did it and then everyone else followed suit whether or not they understood why.

When adopted by many, the strategy might be labelled a “best practice”. However, this ignores the fact that it may not be at all good.

In the context of the restaurant I was in, the music was loud enough that people had to talk above it. As more patrons came in, the din built up.

In the context of classrooms, one teacher’s personality, experience, or competence is not the same as another. You cannot blindly apply a “best” method or tool without first considering what is good for that teacher, the students, and the learning environments.

To cite “best practices” is to be lazy and uncritical. It is not a good way to start 2020. I do not just hope that users of such phrases learn to see more clearly. I will help point these things out.

Sometimes I do not have to share my thoughts about social media. Others have articulated their thoughts more clearly than I could.

In March, Andrea Howard unpacked a magazine article about limiting screen time to counter social media use [full thread].

The TLDR version of this 12-part thread: Blaming social media is a convenient but misleading smoking gun.

Last month, Martin Weller critiqued social media detoxes.

Weller’s message: Take control or lose control. You decide.

Media outlets [WaPo] [ST] were quick to report that a study found that the use of mobile phones resulted in horn-like growths at the base of kids’ skulls.


Video source

The claim was proven false due to lapses in the research and journal review process, and shoddy newspaper reporting.

How many are aware of this? More importantly, how many were literate enough to greet the initial news article with skepticism?

Hank Green did a great job to unpack and critique the research and the news article. His brother John Green narrated a ten-part digital literacies series.

Newspapers and popular media outlets are not going to help readers develop this skillset. We must help ourselves. The devil is in the details and being digitally literate is a key component in the self-help programme.

This seems to be the favourite type of opinion piece in the press.

How do I know? The title provides clues: Teachers should enrich life, not worship the machine.

Both the title and the ensuing article says everything and nothing at the same time. Take this excerpt:

We are already in danger of creating “industrial” school systems, the authors note, in which teachers are reduced to near-automatons, implementing a prescriptive model of education and ticking boxes.

It makes a claim (we are in danger) without backing or evidence.

The second claim about inhuman robo-teachers not only suffers the same problem as the first claim, it is also reductionist. The statement claims to be about everything (“we” and “teachers”), but since it provides no evidence, is also saying nothing.

Consider another segment:

Instead, there is a danger that educational technology, or edtech, may only worsen the industrialisation of the system as governments resort to new ways of measuring student output and teacher productivity.

The writer seems to have only one perception of edtech — one disowned by teachers and students that dispassionately quantifies everything. Such an edtech is a bean-counting LMS provider’s wet dream.

Again this is a claim about all edtech when it is not. Just think about technology owned by and in the creative hands and critical minds of learners. The possibilities defy convention and measurement and that is the beauty of such edtech.

Even when the writer tried to provide balance, his attempt was not an informed one:

…technology can undoubtedly help democratise learning and improve knowledge transmission, but cannot replace the human skills taught by teachers. “Technology can uplift and amplify good teaching but it can never improve poor teaching,” he says. “Learning seems to be a social process.

Knowledge is not just transmitted, it is also negotiated. We are not programmable robots.

Edtech is not an either-or choice. With edtech, we do not have a false dichotomy of wide-reaching access or the human touch. We can have both. Consider how online and blended courses have communication tools to help learners connect. If these courses do not, learners find their own, e.g., WhatsApp groups.

All that said, learning is not always a social process. If the social process is defined by interaction between two or more people, then what is learning by observation (e.g., watching a video), experimentation (e.g., individually tinkering with different methods), repetition (e.g., practising a skill alone), or reflection (e.g., writing a journal or consolidating an e-portfolio)?

No teacher worth their salt should read such an article without questioning every other sentence. The questions should stem not from empty opinion but from knowledge of educational theories and years of critical practice. These questions, theories, and practice test everything and leave nothing unturned.

Today I link at behind-the-scenes (BTS) documentary about Game of Thrones (GoT) with the blog entry of an educator I follow via RSS.

George Couros reflected:

I am a big believer that challenge is necessary for growth and development, but I also know how criticism is delivered and where it is delivered from matter tremendously.

I agree, but I would also focus on who a critique (not just criticism) came from and why it was offered.

A criticism is negative; a critique can be positive, negative, or both.

Who a critique comes from and why matters. I would rather hear from a fellow educator or an authority from my field about my practice or my evidence than even the most observant outsider.

That is not to say that outsiders cannot provide unexpected or serendipitous perspective. They can. But they also do not have shared language and values, and in Couros’ context of reflecting on education, who offers feedback and why they do so matters.


Video source

The video above is a trailer for the GoT BTS documentary. It is a one-minute teaser for an almost two-hour insight into how the final season was prepared and delivered.

If social media feedback is taken at face value, then the final season of GoT was a disappointment. I say that the people who complained about the season should watch this documentary first. You cannot provide feedback on the product if you are not aware of the processes.

No show is perfect just as no teaching practice is perfect. Both are open for feedback in the form of criticism and critique. But the negative feedback on the final season of GoT seemed to come largely from armchair pundits. Many of their reasons were selfish: Self-promotion of self-proclaimed expertise, bandwagon likes on social media, calls for better entertainment.

That is the type of feedback that does not come from the right place for the right reasons. It demoralised and destroys. I have reflected before on how I believe in providing tough feedback as long as it is deserved and comes from a good place.

Who the feedback comes from and why it is offered matters.

This MindShift article was one of the better written critiques on “personalised” learning.

Most current vendor offerings and institutional implementations of “personalised learning” tend to focus on individual pacing. These tools and platforms might allow learners to go at their own pace and explore a walled garden.

If I had to summarise the critiques from the article of such “personalisation”, I would say that:

  • those implementations might forget that learning is also cooperative and collaborative
  • the tools and platforms are based on biased algorithms that do not learn and adjust
  • self-pacing with outdated material is still learning outdated material

The bottomline? Pacing as personalisation is only good for low-level procedural learning. It is the low-hanging fruit, and since it is easier to reach, it is sold and implemented.

At the higher and opposite end of the spectrum of personalised learning is individualisation. Will Richardson and Stephen Downes might call it “personal learning.”

At the minimum, personal learning involves the learner and helping them to set goals and then to follow up on them. It necessitates the provision of choice and agency. Both these stem from empowerment.



If you think that this seems like a tall order and is drastically different from a conventional school, then you are right. But while doing this is more difficult, it is not impossible. The article also described examples of personal learning in action as well as research revealing its effectiveness and ineffectiveness.

The resource in this tweet reminded me why some “infographics” rub me the wrong way.

Some people put words and images together (or make posters out of words) and then call these things “infographics”. They are not.

Words sometimes change in meaning over time and “infographics” is losing its meaning because people do not know or appreciate its history.

Infographics are a method of visualising complex data so that they are more understandable. They are not just for presenting timelines or collating random factoids.

Minard's Napoleon March.

One of the best infographics is also one of the oldest. Minard’s visualisation of Napoleon’s march was created in 1861.

According to this article:

The Minard diagram shows the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the 1812-1813 period. Six variables are plotted: the size of the army, its location on a two-dimensional surface (x and y), time, direction of movement, and temperature. This multivariate display on a two dimensional surface tells a story that can be grasped immediately while identifying the source data to build credibility.

It tells a long and complex story visually without resorting to gimmicks or comics (not that there is anything wrong with comics). It combines scientific thinking and artistic expression. It takes time and effort to make. It is complex, urges contemplation, and prompts discussion.

The Minard diagram is an infographic. Most others are misinformation graphics because they are cheap imitations that dilute the meaning and purpose of actual infographics.


http://edublogawards.com/files/2012/11/finalistlifetime-1lds82x.png
http://edublogawards.com/2010awards/best-elearning-corporate-education-edublog-2010/

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code


Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets

Archives

Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: