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Posts Tagged ‘day

Primary 1 to 5 students stayed at home because of the PSLE oral exams for Primary 6 students late last week. When the first group of students needed to access e-learning resources from MCOnline, the service provider’s website crashed.

Parents complained, e.g., “the website is not available for public access” and “it took us 10 hours to finish a one-hour task”.

Even when the service was available in the past, one parent said, “The website is often very slow during peak hours to the point that it kicks you out”. Another parent, who also happened to be an educator, was resigned to saying, “I’m so used to this”.

I could point out tongue-in-cheek that MCOnline servers went on MC (medical certificate, the excuse slip for missing school, duty, or work). Instead, I shall point out the excuses and non-answers.

An unnamed MC Education representative said that a third-party arrangement to increase capacity “was not activated”. Why not? There was no reason given in the article for this oversight.

Will the service provider be held accountable for this outage just like the telco providers are? The article did not mention this either.

As information about the Student Learning System (SLS) was released last week, the attention turned there. Unfortunately, the focus was on access during emergencies. That might be why e-learning in Singapore actually stands for emergency learning.

An unnamed spokesperson from MOE said that the SLS would take advantage of cloud technologies. She also mentioned how the SLS would be compatible with most devices.

The first answer was vague. Just what are cloud technologies to the layperson? Which CMS or LMS provider does not depend on cloud technologies today? Since they do, why did a crash happen anyway? What is to prevent the SLS from suffering the same fate?

The secondary mention was a redundant non-answer. What is the point of multi-device compatibility if none can access the resources when servers are down?

We do not need redundant answers. We need more “redundant” servers to share the load. This is the sort of cloud technology the spokesperson probably meant. But this answer is still vague.

A better example might be to draw on what online users already experience with YouTube or Amazon. The uptime of these services is about as reliable as our power and water supply because they rely on “cloud technologies”.

Can MCOnline and the SLS promise the same reliability? These are services that we pay for with our tax money. Compare that with free and open services like YouTube. These are paid for by advertising that might be linked to our personal data, but that is not the point.

The point is that access and reliability of online learning resources come at a price. Neither cost is transparent to the average user. However, freely available services like YouTube are subject to scrutiny. Google, the parent company of YouTube, was recently fined 2.4 billion euros by the EU for anti-trust issues.

So I ask again: Will our online learning service providers be held accountable for outages like the telco providers are? Or is learning at home not as important as learning in school?

Let’s see if we put our money where our mouth is…

It would be an understatement if I said my last week was a tiring one. I balanced classes in the evening and evaluations of novice facilitators in the day.

I was glad that I had the flexibility to arrange the evening classes early in the week and negotiate evaluations later the same week.

When I was a young faculty member, I was treated like a number on a schedule. I recall having to leave home at 6am to get from one end of the island to the other to set up for early morning classes. Sometimes this was on the back of a class the evening before or I had a string of tutorials throughout the day. It was not that much better with seniority because the timetable was king.

Now I get to choose what to be involved in as a consultant and only because I relate to the causes of those I collaborate with. But this does not mean that the work is any less strenuous.

My evening classes are typically from 6.30-9.30pm in a central location. I leave home at 4.30pm to take into account time for travel, an early dinner, and setting up the classroom. After clearing up and chatting with people who stay behind, I might leave the venue at around 10pm and am lucky if I am home at 11pm.

This is a sacrifice that no amount of renumeration compensates for: This takes away from family time. This week was exceptionally painful because it coincided with a week-long school vacation that I could not enjoy with my wife and son.

I make sure that the sacrifice is worth it. I keep the sessions as lively as possible and refrain from lecturing. The entire three hours of each class is driven by learner-centred activities, technology-mediated strategies, and individual reflection.

Jigsaw method of peer learning and instruction.

The photo above might look static, but it is actually a snapshot of groups hard at work during a jigsaw of peer instruction. It is a joy to see energy levels high and questioning minds active even at the end of the session. Sometimes I feel bad that we cannot do more or because I have to stop discussions in order to move on to other important activities and topics.

The evening classes are particularly draining because the body and mind want rest after a day of work. But my learners and I keep our energies up and I employ active learning strategies to help in this regard.

An equally draining activity is evaluating novice facilitators. I do this as part of a cumulative assignment that future faculty develop over approximately two months. They plan and implement a self-contained 10-minute lesson that showcases their ability to be learner-centred.

Evaluating microteaching at NTU.

I am always encouraged by those who make the effort to teach in ways that they were not taught when they were undergraduates.

The other facilitators and I have the unenviable task of changing or shifting mindsets over a very short period. The reception and abilities of our learners spans the spectrum of the militantly resistant to the devoutly willing. Yet we have to help all of them manage their expectations and coax performances that meet the high standards we set for them.

All this makes for taxing, but fulfilling work. Even though I am technically paid to be with these learners three hours at a time, I do my usual early start and late end. The latter is often a result of staying back to discuss ideas, overcome stumbling blocks, or debate philosophical differences.

A while ago, a contact of mine asked me what I did. I described my teaching and facilitating work in less detail than I did above. However, he was sharp enough to label what I did “unbundling”. I understood what he meant immediately.

I had dropped the unnecessary meetings and the regular interruptions. I was able to offer specific services to my clients and collaborators that I was well-versed in as a professor and was also able to focus on these tasks exclusively instead of being torn in different directions.

I have always made time to read and write (I started this blog when I had less bandwidth than I have now) and the unbundling now affords me more. In hindsight, I wish I knew then what I know now about unbundling. It would have given me something to look forward to.

Youth Day fell on a Sunday. This made Monday a school holiday, the roads less congested at peak travel, and everywhere else youthfully crowded.

TODAYonline featured Youth Day wishes by our Prime Minister to not be afraid of making mistakes. This is a good message, but one that is difficult to live up to.


Unlike our evolution-selected fears of snakes and spiders, the fear of making mistakes and failing is learnt.

The most natural way we learn as higher mammals is play. When you unpack play, it has elements of hypothesising or risk-taking, deciding on choice of action, taking action, getting immediate feedback, and dealing with consequence.

Making mistakes is essential to play. Whether joyous in victory or abject in failure, the event is linked to emotions and these cement the lesson in memory. Play might be the quickest and most effective way to learn.

However, the adult human animal devalues play. Play a word association game with “video games” and most adults will say “waste of time” and “fun and games” as if games have no value or are not serious work. The adult learns to fear play as childish, a process to outgrow, or something to not mention if one is to be taken seriously.

This adult way of thinking is taught or caught. Consider a few examples.

A child picks up an insect and a care-giver shrieks and tells the child to let go. There is little or no explanation why and the child learns that discovering, exploring, and making mistakes is dangerous.

Another child travels with a parent in public transport and her parent tells her to avoid certain races of people because of the way they behave, look, or smell. There is no option to find out for herself whether those things are true, but why would she question someone she trusts? The child learns not to question or critique.

Yet another child goes to school and learns processes of enculturation. Some of these processes are good because he learns to socialise. Other processes are bad because they create over-reliance. With the latter, the child learns to not try and to wait for someone else to take action instead.

These lessons entrench themselves in our social norms. Action contrary to social norms is rarely rewarded and is often punished instead. But there will always be a few who will persist and try.

The article concluded with this:

In a more humourous vein, Lionel Chick urged Mr Lee against jumping: “I’m afraid you might sprain your ankle (because you’re) so old already … Do take care.”

That earned the following rebuttal from Mandy Lim Beitler: “That’s the mentality that makes people old long before their time. Thankfully, our PM has a young heart.”

A call to not be afraid to make mistakes is a call to trust our instincts, to take calculated risks, and to try.

Who are you, Lionel (the cowardly lion) or Mandy (who manned up and disagreed)? Will you only talk the talk or also walk that talk by encouraging and even rewarding mistakes?

Is it Opposite Day? That was one of my reactions when I read and reread this tweet.

There might be some context lost in a 140-character tweet. I read the tweets around it, but found none.

If this is “food” for thought, I am not swallowing uncritically.

Should one lead learners by teaching them their duty, but not their rights? Can we even consider teaching them responsibility without freedom?

To do this means to school students into obeying and following. This is about enculturation and indoctrination, period.

Education has a function greater than schooling. It is about liberating people from ignorance and fear. It is about letting people know they have a right to consume and create, collaborate and critique, communicate and change. It is about giving them the freedom to explore, question, and grow.

Educating for the future is the same as educating in the past and educating now. It is about teaching rights as much as duty. It is about teaching freedom as much as responsibility. It is about focusing on the individual so that the collective benefits.

You can lead learners by the nose or you can lead them by their hearts. The first way is unquestioning; the second relies on questions.

And since we are on the topic of leadership, here is a poignant thought from a fictional president.

True leadership is not running away from those who disagree with you, but about embracing them.

Where the tweeted line of thought goes, I dare not follow. My mind and heart do not allow it because I am educated, not just schooled. It is my right to point out a wrong because it is also my duty. It is my responsibility to free critical thought.

It is Teachers’ Day in Singapore today. All mainstream school teachers here are thankful they end the work week and start the one-week break a day early.

Most would no doubt receive presents and cards wishing them a Happy Teachers’ Day. Store owners who sell these gifts and paraphernalia are definitely happy.

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What might make some teachers really happy? I am betting on the opportunity to vent.

But since most teachers will not go public with their thoughts (hey, most do not even tweet!) the video might speak for them. Enjoy!

It is Mother’s Day, a day set aside for the women who brought us to life, nurtured us, and/or comforted us.

As commercial companies take advantage of this day, it might be worthwhile to get free lessons and insights on what and how some mothers think.

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Last, but certainly not least, a local effort courtesy of @artistivanchew and company:

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In any way you celebrate it, may you make your mother or mother figure happy!

Singapore celebrates its 49th birthday today.

I wonder how many governments in other countries have songs for their independence, national, or constitution days. That might be like asking for a new birthday song every year instead of being happy with the Happy Birthday song.

Singapore seemed to hit the sweet spot in the 80s (and maybe the early 90s) when songs which were penned then not only rhymed, they also persist to this day. They are so much better that they are remixed and updated today. But like some Hollywood rehashes of older movies, the songs end up sounding awful or their music videos look like soulless monsters.

We do not have a unique national day song this year. We have a “chimera” of two songs that is part human and part crippled horse. When you listen to it, you can tell which part is which.

Our national day songs are meant to bring people together and/or to mark some achievement. But I think we use an outdated approach.

The old approach was to keep going back to the same small pool of talent to churn out those songs. These days we have a wider range of talent and they have different perspectives and agendas. There is nothing wrong with that; that is just how the world is now. I say we take advantage of that diversity.

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This year, mrbrown decided to focus on food, something that is close to the heart (and stomach) of true blue (red and white) Singaporeans. His music video is affectionately titled Jiak Simi (translated: What Are You Eating).

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In 2011, a group shot Run Through Singapore. It was not done by one of the usual suspects with the usual strategy. It featured a runner going past some popular spots in Singapore, and not just the usual tourist hangouts but the heartlands as well.

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That same year we laughed at ourselves with this video. It was not conceived as a national day video, but it was based on one of our most revered national songs. We are turning 49 as a country and we still take ourselves too seriously.

I would like to see the day where we really celebrate what it means to be older and wiser. This means accepting and getting the best from our differences. We already have the economic success story drilled into our heads (small fishing village to thriving metropolis). We do not need to be reminded of that during our birthday.

There are so many things to celebrate. A louder voice, a greater choice. Our own way of struggling with diversity in a VUCA world. These are things that are fuzzy and best left to creative people and a decentralized approach.

Perhaps we will start to see this when we turn 50…

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