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Posts Tagged ‘design

Today I link a pop-culture phenomenon and the importance of nuanced expertise.

Like many other Netflix subscribers, I enjoyed Squid Game. But I was surprised to learn that it was ten years in the making and almost did not happen.

I also appreciated the critique of the show’s english subtitles. Some references just got lost in translation. As a result, those of us that were not fluent in Korean lost social and emotional context.

Video source

The video above featured several examples by a Korean language professor.

For example, I loved the analysis of the use of “hyung” or a social elder brother. The subtitles simply indicated that the character of Ali called his friend’s name. However, the audio clearly indicated that he was also using this term of close kinship. Knowing the meaning of hyung made Ali’s betrayal and death even more impactful.

It took a language professor to explain this nuance. A subtle cannot realistically capture such a cultural reference and so much was lost in translation. But we have the benefit of an expert’s analysis if we seek it out.

I see a parallel in pedagogical design. I might use a strategy like cooperation within heterogeneous groups. An outside observer might simplistically “subtitle” this as a collaborative activity. They could not be more wrong.

My strategy does not go as far as collaboration; it is realistically levelled at brief and task-based cooperation. The student groupings comprise of intentionally different learner skills or abilities. There is more thought and skill in my design than meets the eye.

The designs of my lessons are no where near complexity of Squid Game. But they might be just as subtle. You only have to ask, unpack, and learn.

Disclaimer: My reflection below is not authoritative information about the new health protocols for Singapore’s COVID-19 strategies. The authoritative source is MOH (see points 21 and 22) and the reporting article is from CNA. My focus is the design of a job aid.

Maybe it is the educator who provides feedback or the instructional designer in me, but I look for clarity in any work. So I thought that the protocols presented by CNA could have been better.

I watched the video briefing, read the article, and studied the protocol summaries. The original protocol by CNA was:

The improvements (in blue) might include:

  • For clarity, the numbers refer to protocols, not steps to follow. Each should be labelled “Protocol #”. This sends a message: Do one of the following depending on which category you fall into.
  • I swapped the positions of protocols 1 and 2 because the majority of people (almost 99% according to point 5 of the MOH source) do not have mild or no symptoms. So the first protocol should address the majority.
  • Protocol 2 (formerly the first protocol) lacked the instruction to see a doctor. The CNA article stated that you are “encouraged” to do this; the MOH source has stronger wording (“should see a doctor, point 21). In the video briefing, the doctor’s diagnosis seemed to be a given. This instruction is not clear in the summary. This is remedied with the phrase “After you see a doctor”.
  • Protocol 3 should provide information (or a link) to where ART results should be uploaded. If an ART result is positive, the instruction should be to follow protocol 1 or 2 depending on the person’s health.

In the presence of a lot of information, people tend to refer to summaries, lists, job aids, etc. These are succinct versions of the long form instructions. Short forms tend to lose information and context, but they do not have to lose quality or clarity if we take care to design them carefully for communication or education.

I do not claim to have a perfect job aid. My background of instructional design simply gives me a critical eye for usability and clarity. It is a skill that transfers from the design of materials for teaching and learning to communication to the general public. I leave this critique here should I need it later as a reference for instructional/consultation material.

I could not have said this any better, so I am sharing what a fellow educator said about the pointless dichotomy of in-person vs online lessons.

The misplaced argument misses the larger point — the design of lessons and how they are facilitated. The debate also distracts from an opportunity to rethink what online teaching entails.

Teaching online might not look like you are teaching IN-PERSON, you are still teaching A PERSON. Very likely a lot of persons. And by this I do not mean mass lectures.

No, teaching online is reaching learners where they are and taking advantage of the contexts they are in. This means courses that are not only pedagogically sound, but also driven by empathy. And that starts with learning to teach a person.

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Earlier this week, I stayed back after a Zoom-based lesson so that my students — pre- and in-service teachers — could ask questions or discuss ideas. 

The Q&A session lasted almost as long as our synchronous meeting (1.5h). Near the end of that session, I floated one idea for redesigning the next run of lessons.

My current design divided each 3h class into two parts: A 1.5h asynchronous and scaffolded-independent learning session followed by a 1.5h synchronous meeting. I was toying with the idea of switching to a 1h asynchronous and 2h synchronous design. My rationale: To provide more synchronous time for peer teaching and discussion.

The learners who stayed behind surprised me. They said that they would not mind doing the asynchronous work and follow that up with a full 3h synchronous meeting. 

I was against going beyond the 3h-per-lesson design. Why?

The syllabus is a contract and each class is supposed to last 3h. I am not ignoring the fact that there is much preparation and follow-up for each class for both my learners and me. But if I take liberties to extend class time, be it asynchronous preparation, synchronous interaction, or both, where does it end?

Keeping to agreed upon class durations is a discipline. It might have developed in conventional teaching, but it should also extend online particularly for synchronous sessions.

Extending lesson times beyond what is agreed upon upsets the work-life balance for pre- and in-service teachers. It establishes a wrong habit and expectation, i.e., teachers should just put their heads down and bear with it. This is like how teachers already sacrifice weekends to grade work and plan lessons.

I am also a firm believer that work expands to fit the time given. Within reasonable conditions, I can facilitate the learning of, say, three key practices, within either 1h or 3h. If I can do this in 1h, why do it in 3h?

Finally, I wish to model better expectations and lesson designs. One expectation is that learners need to be more independent and not rely on spoon-feeding or face time. This is why I set tasks to be attempted asynchronously. These tasks are designed to help learners identify knowledge gaps so they can fill them in when we meet synchronously. They must learn to invest in more independent study while managing their time-on-task.

My overall lesson design is particularly relevant to adult learners. This is even more important if the learners are teachers because teachers tend to teach the way they are taught. If they are not exposed to alternative ways of teaching, they will rely on uncritical or outdated approaches. I need to model other viable, relevant, and effective strategies.

The most recent episode of the Build For Tomorrow podcast is for anyone who has bought into the narrative of being “addicted” to technology. 

Podcast host, Jason Feifer, started with the premise that people who have no qualifications, expertise, or study in addiction tend to be the ones who make claims that we are helplessly “addicted” to technology.

Ask the experts and they might point out that such “addiction” is the pathologicalisation of normal behaviour. For an addiction to actually be one, it must interfere with social, familial, occupational commitments.

Another problem with saying that we are “addicted” to technology is that addiction is normally defined chemically (e.g., to drugs, smoking, or alcohol) and not to behaviourally (e.g., gaming, checking social media). Just because something looks like addiction does not mean it is addiction.

An expert interviewed in the podcast described how behavioural addiction had misappropriated chemical addiction in self-reporting surveys (listen from around the 28min 45sec mark). To illustrate how wrong this misappropriation was, he designed an “addicted to friends” study (description starts at the 32min mark).

  • Take the questions from studies about addictive social media use
  • Swap content for friendship measures, e.g., From “How often do you think about social media a day?” to “How often do you think about spending time with friends during the day?”
  • Get a large and representative sample (807 respondents) and ask participants to self report (just like other “addiction” studies)

Long story made short: This study found that 69% of participants were “pathologically addicted to wanting to spend time with other people”. Is this also not a health crisis?

If that sounds ridiculous, know that this followed the design of the alarming social media addiction studies but was more thorough. If we cannot accept the finding that people are addicted to spending time with one another, we should not accept similarly designed studies that claim people are “addicted” to social media.

Other notable notes from the podcast episode:

  • Non-expert addiction “experts” or the press like to cite numbers, e.g., check social media X times a day. This alone does not indicate addiction. After all, we breathe, eat, and go to the loo a certain number of times a day, but that does not mean we are addicted to those things.
  • The heavy use of, say, social media is not necessarily a cause of addiction. It might be a correlation made bare, i.e., a person has an underlying condition and behaviour manifests that way. The behaviour (checking social media) did not cause the addiction; it is the result of something deeper.
  • The increased use of social media and other technological tools are often enablers of social, familial, occupational commitments, not indicators of addiction. Just think about how we have had to work and school from home over the current pandemic. Are we addicted to work or school?

One final and important takeaway. The podcast episode ended with how blindly blaming addiction on technology is a form of learnt helplessness. It is easier for us to say: Something or someone else is to blame, not me. We lose our agency that way. Instead, we should call our habit what it is — overuse, wilful choice — not a pathological condition. 

I enjoyed this podcast episode because it dealt with a common and ongoing message by self-proclaimed gurus and uninformed press. They focus on getting attention and leveraging on fear. Podcasts like Build For Tomorrow and the experts it taps focus on meaning and nuance.

I have been thinking about how instructional (and now learning) design (ID) has been led by models like ADDIE and others.

The problem with ADDIE is that it is not properly taught, understood, and implemented. For example, one quick-and-dirty method is to use it linearly. That is not how ID is supposed to work.

Another problem I have with such ID is how formulaic it can sometimes be. Yes, ID can go through these critical processes and phases,  but that does not mean that the method you use is adequate.

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So I have been wondering if there could be ID that is led by questions — ID by Q. Questions like Is-it, Why, Who, What-How-Where-When, What-if, How-much, How-well, and So-what.

Those thoughts have been rattling in my head and they become loud in quiet moments. They are like the growing number of loose change in my pants pocket. Perhaps the best thing to do is to take them out, count them, and see what they are worth. Hmm?

Added after this reflection went online: Perhaps I will share these thoughts once a week, on Mondays, so that I have a series to ruminate on.

In December 2020, the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced in a press release that it would build on the home-based learning experience — made mandatory due to our COVID-19 lockdown — by “making Blended Learning a key feature of the schooling experience”. 

The MOE defined blended learning (point 4 of the press release) as “a mix of home-based and in-school activities, and leverage both online and offline approaches to learning”. This definition is limited to modality: Outside and inside school, offline and online.

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I have critiqued this approach before because it limits the scope of blending to just one aspect. As my thoughts were scattered over several reflections, I summarise some key ideas in point form. Blended learning: 

  1. requires a clear and shared meaning, otherwise some people will just do the same old thing differently
  2. focuses on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching, i.e., do not confuse blended teaching with blended learning
  3. can be about skilfully mixing different strategies, content, contexts, timeframes, tools, evaluations, etc.
  4. is about providing learners with seamless experiences, i.e., the differences above are not obvious to the learner (like a smoothie)
  5. is about the long tail, not the short game

The rollout of the exact nature of blended learning is left to schools and this is an excellent strategy. The annex to the press release states that the frequency of such blended learning is once a fortnight.

The MOE has mandated that secondary-and-above students experience this by Term 3 of 2021. This means that school personnel have started their planning. So I offer some unsolicited advice on how to approach the design of blended learning.

Address the low bar of continuity 
The blended learning initiatives might absorb the schools’ e-learning days or stand alone from them. Either way, it cannot run away from the fact that we need to keep preparing for the next lockdown, be that due to another pandemic or something short of an apocalypse. 

The key question to answer is: How do we continue with near business-as-usual in terms of curricula and schemes of work without resorting to make up sessions when everyone returns to school?

Address the meaningful bar of context 
The unstated beauty of the mandate is that each school needs to devise its own plan. This means that each school can take into account its overall profile of its students. 

This means that a school with students from lower-income groups who have just received devices and dongles can have a programme that is different from one that competes with the best on the world stage. This should be the case.

The key design question is: What is best for my learners over this period of time?

Design beyond modality and synchronicity 
The idea that blended learning is limited only to mixing the “traditional” with the “technological” is not only passé, it is harmful. It limits what teachers can design for their students.

In my third summary point on blended learning, I mentioned several things that can be seamlessly blended. For example, teachers from different academic departments could co-design a common project for students that addresses different content areas and standards.

Such cross or inter-disciplinary content design not only helps students see how different subjects work together, it also prevents teachers from designing in isolation. The latter design results in multiple tasks that all seem urgent to students. This results in stress and resentment of “blended learning” days.

The guiding design question might be: What else can be blended to create a learning smoothie?

Start simple
One principle I share with teachers and graduate students alike is this: Start simple because things will get complicated.

Do not be over-ambitious with the design of learning tasks. What seems easy and obvious to you as a teacher is not so to a student. Practice empathetic design.

One question to keep asking during planning: How can this be further simplified without compromising on quality or challenge? 

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Again, this is unsolicited advice and limited only to overall approaches, not specific strategies. I have called on my previous experience of providing consultations with teacher educators and university faculty on all manner of blended designs. You can take it or leave it.

 
I have had the privilege and misfortune of experiencing how student feedback on teaching (SFT) is done in different universities.

When I was a full-time professor, the institute I worked at specialised in teacher education and had experts in survey metrics. So no surprises — the SFTs were better designed and constantly improved upon.

One of the best improvements was the recognition that different instructors had different approaches. Each instructor had a set of fixed questions, but could also choose and suggest another set of questions.

As an adjunct instructor now and roving workshop facilitator, I have been subject to feedback processes that would not have passed the face validity test at my previous workplace.

One practice is administration using only positive feedback to market their courses. Feedback, if validly measured, should be used to improve the next semester’s offering, not be a shiny star in a pamphlet.

Another bad practice is sampling a fraction of a class. If there is a sampling strategy, it must be clear and representative. Feedback is not valid if only some participants provide it.

Yet another SFT foible is not sharing the feedback with the facilitator or instructor. One institute that operated this way had multiple sections of a course taught by different instructors. However, the feedback did not collect the name of their primary instructor because classes were shared.

All the examples I described attempted to conduct SFT. None do it perfectly. But some are better informed than others. Might they not share their practices with one another? If they do, will institutional pride or the status quo stand in the way?

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.


Video source

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.
 

I recently concluded online-only lessons for teachers who had to learn how to infuse ICT.

Today I share design elements to make an online lesson a blended one. Note: Blending is NOT just about combining online and face-to-face activities. It is also about seamlessly mixing different teaching strategies, tools, content, evaluations, etc.

Each of my three-hour sessions was a blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences. Instead of requiring a three-hour Zoom session, I designed for 1.5 hours of asynchronous work followed by 1.5 hours of synchronous work.

Asynchronous and synchronous elements of my lesson.

The asynchronous tasks were scaffolded with questions, tasks, and resources in Google Site pages, and recorded with individual and group Google Docs for each student. One example of an asynchronous task was to first choose a scenario they could most relate to and then share their thoughts in a group Doc (scenario-based focus area).

The synchronous Zoom-based lesson followed up on their focus area. This was a topic that they identified with and provided answers based on what they already knew. Design rationale: This was a way of providing ownership to learners and to determine their prior knowledge (PK). Gauging PK could highlight gaps in knowledge to learners.

My students’ answers were varied but superficial. This provided an opportunity to introduce theoretical frameworks that could be used for planning and/or evaluating ICT-based lessons. DR: Linking PK or gaps to new information was a way to motivate learning. This design helped student answer the question: Why do I need to learn this?

Throughout the online lesson, I leveraged on a new Zoom tool, student-selected Breakout Rooms, which simulated station-based learning (my critique of the tool). DR: While not ideal, the tool allowed students choice of topics and provided opportunities for cooperative learning.

I also relied on the random breakout rooms so that students did not get too comfortable with their group mates. DR: There is a tendency to get complacent if you get too familiar.

I limited latter groups to three students each so that there was enough time for students to peer teach and listen to one another. DR: Some students choose not to speak in groups larger than this while others do not get enough air time because someone else dominates.

I provided opportunities for groups to read and evaluate one another’s work, to reflect on their group’s work, and to reflect on their own learning. DR: We do not learn much from experiences because they are new and messy; we learn from slowing down and reflecting on those experiences.

Addendum: The scenario-based focus area depended on homogenous grouping, i.e., students in each group had a common interest. The second strategy relied on heterogenous grouping, i.e., students had different topics to peer teach and different perspectives to share.

For individual learning, I refrained from asking students the generic “What did you learn?” question. Instead, I asked them to complete an exit ticket by completing two statements: 1) I used to think that… and 2) Now I think that… DR: Learning is about change. It is important to try to capture that change.

Reflecting on course design is my way of planning for the next semester. Looking back informs my look forward because remembering potholes in the past reminds me to be careful of them in the future.


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