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Posts Tagged ‘device

There is a stock phrase for the slow progress of any change: Taking three steps forward, two steps back. But wonder what it would be like if we did not take steps back.

The Edutopia article above does a disservice to education by signposting how to maintain the status quo or even reverse progress of edtech integration. To justify this, the author cited the harm of screen time and the benefits of taking notes by hand. 

I am not saying that excessive use of a device late into the night is good, nor am I saying we should only take notes with more recent technologies. I would point out that the pen vs device question gets answers that fall on either side depending on the task. 

If you need to take a quick note, draw a diagram, or mindmap, then a pen (actual or electronic) might be both more efficient and effective. But if you needed to submit a legible essay, record an interview, or document phenomena, then a keyboard, microphone, and camera are better options for these forms of writing.

We should also point out the elephant in the debate room. The ultimate form of assessment — paper-based tests — favours handwriting over other forms of writing. In such a room, students cannot cooperate with one another, fact-check their work online, or express themselves beyond basic text and drawing.

Ultimately, the strategy of note-taking also matters more than the tool of note-taking (see video and sources here). In reviewing the video, I summarised:

It does not matter if you prefer to take notes by handwriting or by typing. It is how you attempt to quickly process what you see and hear before you record it. It is about your ability to analyse and summarise.

Rising above, I find articles that try to justify handwriting tiresome and passé. They live in the past in order to divide and conquer. They encourage the large camp of teachers who are wary of technology and thus maintain the status quo. They discourage the other group of teachers that leverages on technology by making them feel like they are doing something wrong.

What is wrong is wearing rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia and taking the short term view. If we are preparing our learners for the present and future, they need to use the tools of today and tomorrow. These tools include pencils and devices. 

We need a better debate. We cannot keep arguing that students should hand-write because exams are on paper. This might help students with a grade, but it avoids the responsibility of preparing them beyond the walls of the classroom. The use of all writing tools should not just be strategic and contextual, they should also be shaped by more progressive and authentic forms of assessment. What such assessment looks like and how to implement it are far more interesting and valuable topics of discussion.

Barely a month (week?) goes by without headlines about the link between using mobile device and some harm, e.g., poor mental health. We do not call those headlines a form of gaslighting because so many of us have bought into them.

Thankfully, this critique, Flawed data led to findings of a connection between time spent on devices and mental health problems, bucks the trend. That article summarised recent research and concluded: 

…simply taking tech away from (young people) may not fix the problem, and some researchers suggest it may actually do more harm than good.

Whether, how and for whom digital tech use is harmful is likely much more complicated than the picture often presented in popular media. However, the reality is likely to remain unclear until more reliable evidence comes in.

The thesis of the article: “The evidence for a link between time spent using technology and mental health is fatally flawed”.

The thrust of the article was that studies in the area of mobile device use and harm relied on self-reporting measures. It then argued how such measures were logically and methodologically flawed.

First, we do not pay attention to what we do habitually. Such activity is background noise, not foreground work. As a result, it is difficult to accurately remember how frequently we use mobile devices or apps.

Next, the author shared how he and his colleagues systematically reviewed actual and self-reported digital media use and discovered discrepancies between the two. He also outlined his own research of using objective measures like Apple’s screen time app to track device use. He concluded:

…when I used these objective measures to track digital technology use among young adults over time, I found that increased use was not associated with increased depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. In fact, those who used their smartphones more frequently reported lower levels of depression and anxiety.

The author revealed that he used to be a believer of what the popular media peddled about the harm of mobile device use. But his research revealed that the popular media were simplifying complex findings: 

The scientific literature was a mess of contradiction: Some studies found harmful effects, others found beneficial effects and still others found no effects. The reasons for this inconsistency are many, but flawed measurement is at the top of the list.

We cannot simply read headlines, form conclusions, and craft far-reaching policies of mobile use, e.g., limit kids of age X to Y minutes of iPad time. Why? The measurements for the evidence of harm are flawed and the results of studies are mixed. 

We need to be critical readers, thinkers, and actors. We could start by reading beyond the headline, i.e., actually read the whole article and not propagating articles without first processing it carefully. This is more difficult to do than casually sharing a link, but it is a vital habit to inculcate if we are to be digitally wise. And with most habits, doing this gets easier with practice.

The details in the article, Application installed on students’ devices does not track personal information, reminded me about some unanswered questions on student data management and learner self-regulation.

First, some background on the device management application (DMA) that will be installed in all student-owned devices. It reportedly does not keep track of “location, identification numbers or passwords”. It should not.

But the DMA will “capture data on students’ online activities such as web search history… and device information such as the operating system”. If forensics can use those to identify a person, is that not “personal information”?

Consider how your typing rhythm can already be used to identify you or how the different sounds of a keyboard can be used to figure out what you are typing. Raw data generated by a person can be identifiable and personal data.

According to the tweeted news article, a petition against the DMA from around 6,000 individuals did not dissuade the powers-that-be. The authorities argued that data collection and remote monitoring is necessary to protect children from undesirable sites and behaviours. Cue scary sounds and imagery of pornography, gambling, predators, and screen time.

For argument‘s sake, let’s assume that the data is absolutely secure from hackers. It is, however, available to “appointed DMA vendors”. What might the vendors do with such data? They could use it to develop more applications that profit them (example: plagiarism detectors use student-papers for free but charge a fee for its service).

If the vendors slide on integrity or if data is hacked, the online preferences and habits of our students becomes a trove of ad targeting, market development, data bundling and reselling, etc. We need only examine our own experiences with entities like Facebook — we are not the customer, we are the product — to see how this might happen.

Declaring that student data will be securely stored, stringently controlled, and lawfully protected does not guarantee that the policies on all three will not loosen over time. Consider a recent lesson on how TraceTogether data was supposed to only be for COVID-19 contact tracing, but now can also be used to investigate seven forms of serious crimes.

The declaration also does not indicate an expiration and/or expunging of user data. Bluetooth data from TraceTogether is deleted every 25 days.

Another question to ask about data use is: What will MOE/vendors do if the monitoring results in red flags? The alerts could be due to truly nefarious activities (example: the youth who recently self-radicalised and wanted to attack Muslims) or legitimate research on terrorism. What systems are in place in terms of algorithms and human monitors? What constitutes are reasonable response?

Perhaps my questions have already been answered but have not been made public. Perhaps my questions might provoke some reflection.

But I certainly want to provoke some thought and action in the area of student self-management. Might using tools like the DMA create a reliance on them? Such tools trigger extrinsic motivations, e.g., fear of detection for visiting unauthorised sites or waiting for pings from the system to meet deadlines.

We need such tools to be scaffolds. Scaffolds are removed from buildings as they are constructed because they stand on their own. What else will be put in place to ensure that our students learn to stand independently and think responsibly on their own?

I know of a few schools that rely on educational and social scaffolds instead of DMA-like tools. Students use their phones and computers like we might at home. These devices are unencumbered as we wish or as locked down as we make them. We decide.

The message that tools like the DMA as all-powerful and monitoring might provide some comfort to the public. This is disingenuous because more nuanced questions have not been addressed about their use. Equally, not enough emphasis has been placed on actually nurturing independent and responsible learners.

The tweet below would like you know that kids (also) read books while adults (also) read from screens.

This is news if you live under a rock or choose not to observe people around you.

The tweet also claims that “the tides have turned”, meaning that adults are doing what kids do and vice versa. No, the tides have not. They ebb and flow, and you see what you see depending where and when you are.

It is not unusual for adults to use their mobile devices as much as, or more than kids. If you live in the modern world, your daily commute on public transport will confirm this. There is also research to back this up.

Kids are still made to complete books lists as part of school or homework, regardless of whether such reading is meaningful or not. They are held to the standards of the past and prepared for their teacher’s history instead of their own futures.

Kids also still go to libraries to borrow books. They do so because they have inculcated good reading habits and do so for pleasure.

So back to the tweet: An anecdote is not data; a snapshot is not representative. It is meant to be funny, but it sends the wrong message. The tides have not turned. Instead they ebb and flow, and dynamic change is what matters.

I shake my head in disbelief sometimes when I think about how inflexible some schools or teachers can be.

I know of some schools who have more liberal mobile device policies. As part of a consulting gig, I visited a primary school whose policy was to allow all students, even the youngest ones, to bring smartphones to school as long as the devices were kept in lockers.

Other schools have Amish-like policies on smartphones. I am very familiar with one that disallows cassettes, CD players, walkmans, VCDs, and pagers amongst other devices (see portion of handbook below).


Even the Amish might remark that they do not use these devices not because they are against them but because they might have to rob a museum to get them!

The first type of school is more progressive in that it recognizes the modern demands of their stakeholders. Both parents are likely to be working and their child might have to find their own way home on arranged or public transport. Phones are critical for such daily updates.

That same school does not yet allow the use of the phones for lessons. However, they will have will not have to fight the battles of resistance among teachers, low buy-in among parents, or early “exploratory” use among students when the time comes for them to make that decision.

The second school will have a tougher time pulling itself out of the educational dark ages.

A rigid, backward, or disconnected policy also has a way of affecting the mindset of teachers. It can breed group think, inflexibility, and a fear of risk-taking.

My wife reminded me of something we experienced in the middle of the year. My son had answered a comprehension question on a passage about Elizabeth Choy being tortured during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore [1][2].

The correct answer to a question was that she was given “electric shocks”. My son did not get the full marks because he answered that she had been “electrocuted”. His teacher did not give him the full marks because he did not write down exactly what was in the passage.

This incensed my wife, an English teacher, who discussed it with my son’s teacher. My wife also asked her colleagues in school for their comments. Everyone except my son’s teacher agreed that getting an electric shock was the same as being electrocuted.

To be fair, there could have been more to the argument. Perhaps there was some comprehension skill that was tested that my son did not perform.

But perhaps the equivalent of copying and pasting was more important than interpretation and exercising vocabulary. Perhaps schooling was more important than education.

And perhaps these are examples of how teachers and schools risk losing relevance. The rest of the world sees the point of change and moves on, but teachers and schools do not.

Video source

This week I share why I like the Asus Pocket Router.

The device is deceptively small and looks like a thumb drive. This USB dongle is an ethernet adaptor, wifi adaptor, and an Internet signal sharing device all rolled into one.

Asus has not sponsored the device or prompted this blog entry. It has proven its utility when I have to travel or give talks at institutes other than my own, so I thought I should share the joy.

I read this opinion in the ST forum a few times to make sure I was not missing anything or misinterpreting it.

Dr William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, attributed the use of mobile phones to people being inconsiderate on public transport.

One might react emotionally by asking when minding one’s own business is being inconsiderate. But the fact of the matter is that not being aware of the people around you can be impolite depending on the context.

That said, why put the blame on the medium? Yes, the e-books, games, videos, and other mobile content are very engaging (a few folks have even tried participating in #edsg chats while on public transport!), but the mobile media are not the only factor.

If you blame that medium then I would also point out that reading paperbacks, playing cards, listening to a Walkman (way back then!), or just chatting intently are just as absorbing. The traditional newspaper is a magnificent wall to place between the reader and someone who needs the space or a seat.

You can take the devices out of the hands of users and they will still be rude or inconsiderate. They can pretend to sleep, take more room than they need, or talk very loudly. (Coincidentally, as I quietly type this draft of my iPhone, a group of four university students does not care if the whole bus can hear their incessant blather.)

If you are going to address a problem, get at its roots. Attacking the symptoms will get you nowhere and you risk alienating the very people you are trying to reach.

So what is the root of the problem? In this case, I agree with Dr Wan that it is the lack of a combination of good upbringing and schooling on the use of mobile devices in public places or face-to-face social contexts.


Usage policy

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