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Posts Tagged ‘dichotomy

I liked George Couros’ distinction between school and learning. I would label the headers schooling and education, but that is just me.

I would also take pains to explain why this is a false dichotomy because each side has their values and we need both.

For example, an education focuses on generating meaningful questions, but it also requires the critical collecting, analysing, and evaluating of answers. Such question asking might lead to the challenging of norms, but schooling serves an important social function of enculturating. This means learning when to be compliant.
 

 
The dichotomy is not wrong. It is just not nuanced at face value. This is like how I say that a coin does not just have two sides. There is a side that goes all around and gives it depth. Exploring that side makes it real.

A blogger with a political agenda might take the opportunity to highlight this video and wonder if elements of such an expression might fall under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).


Video source

But I use it to highlight how it is easier to set up false dichotomies if we assume our learners or audiences are stupid.

The video began with this question: How willing are we to give up civil liberties for security/safety?

The video is worth a watch even if the interviewees might not be representative of our population. After all, there was just one journalist, four Chinese-by-descent university students (all with Christian names), and one gay local comedian. Despite this, all answered the question differently.

The takeaway at the end of the video was that the question presented a false dichotomy. We do not always have to trade civil liberty (e.g., free speech) for something else (e.g., orderly behaviour) — the two can co-exist and even create conditions for the other.

It is much easier to state this balance than to do it. But this is where and how the conversation should start: Multiple perspectives, informed nuance, and logical compromise. If we are not modelling and teaching these to our students, then what are we doing?

Steve Wheeler illustrated his view on the difference between personalised and personal learning:

Personal learning, I explained, is walking across the road and doing an ad hoc tour of the buildings and artefacts to see what I could learn about the history and culture of Jerónimos. Hiring a personal guide who knows a lot more about the history and culture of the place, and touring it with him/her would be personalised learning.

Others have also contrasted the two (e.g., Will Richardson and George Couros) because they wished to push back on the type of “personalised” learning solutions from various vendors.

I, too, am skeptical of standardised approaches to truly personalised learning. But I also wonder about the false dichotomy that the debate creates.

What if someone (like a content provider or instructor) customises lessons for you? You did not initiate this, so it is neither personal nor personalised.

What if you curate your own YouTube videos, podcasts, and readings? The content is someone else’s like the guide in the story, but you made the effort to search, evaluate, and consume.

Educators seem to focus on — and have an intrinsic understanding of — personal or personalisation of learning. They often do this when they coach or tutor individual students.

But vendors claim they can personalise en masse, and this should be welcomed with a healthy dose of skepticism instead of open wallets.

Sometimes there are pearls of wisdom shared by other educators that are so succinct that I need not elaborate.

Here is one example from Alfie Kohn about the false dichotomy of progressive educators vs traditionalist teachers.





It took a while, but now I might have some answers to the questions I raised when I reflected on passion points.

A newspaper summarised a study by declaring that spotting passions too early may limit students. I could not read the article because the newspaper put it behind a recently created premium paywall.

I just discovered another article citing the same study by researchers from Stanford and Yale-NUS college in Singapore. However, it is by Quartz, whose own research and writing I have questioned.

Taking the Quartz report of the research at face value, I wonder if the writers and/or researchers are creating a false dichotomy about one’s passion.

the directive to “find your passion” suggests a passive process. Telling people to develop their passion, however, suggests an active one that depends on us—and allows that it can be challenging to pursue.

The article states that “a growth mindset, rather than a fixed sense that there’s one interest you should pursue single-mindedly, improves the chances of finding your passion”. It seems to conflate a fixed mindset with finding passion and growth mindset with developing passion.

Are passions only just innate and not developed (nature, not nurture), or purely a product of development and not intrinsic (nurture, not nature)?

Predictably, the article cited Dweck, the author of the 2007 book Mindset, the New Psychology of Success, to strengthen the false equivalency of growth mindset and developing passion.

I call this a false equivalency because in a 2016 Atlantic interview, Dweck stated:

Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait.

If we are chimeras of mindsets, then passions are borne and bred in a mixture of ways.

  • As with my previous reflection, I have more questions than answers:
  • Are we entitled to have only one passion? Can our passions not change?
  • Why assume that pursuing one’s passion leads to narrow development and skills?
  • Conversely, how valid is it to suggest that a growth mindset and generalist education will lead to broader thinking and skillsets?

Our children are built differently from one another (nature) and respond differently to upbringing, schooling, and education (collectively, nurture). Some kids seem to “have a clue” and are razor-focused, others seem perpetually lost in space, while the rest lie in a huge continuum between.

Just how helpful is it to suggest that passion is a false dichotomy?
 

Here is an example of a dichotomy that could fool you into thinking that you are changing for the better.

On one hand, the tweet has a point. It is a warning to teachers who might do “the cool thing” with technology and cite “engagement” without thinking about its pedagogy, applying research, or citing educational psychology.

The kids “do” with technology, but do they learn anything worthwhile?

On the other hand, the thinking behind the tweet might artificially separate two (and actually more) complex and intertwined practices. A passion for technology does not have to be separate from a passion for learning.
 

 
Some liken passion to a fire, so let’s use fire as an analogy. A normal fire needs three components — fuel, oxygen, and heat source. Separate one from the rest and the fire stops.

Learning is like a fire, but with many more components. Remove the core ingredients and it also stops. Technology is one such element, be it lines drawn with a stick in the sand, letters on paper, or videos on screen.

We know what keeps a fire burning. How, when, or why people learn is more complicated. It cannot be reduced to dichotomous thinking in a tweet.

In conversations I participated in #asiaED last week, I detected some confusion about “formal” and “informal” learning.

If I talk and write about “formal learning” or “informal learning”, I am not thinking about different thought processes. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal. Instead I am thinking about formal or informal contexts for learning. These might include places, spaces, and circumstances.

Places might include the school (typically but not always formal) or the home (typically but not always informal).

Spaces might include a classroom in school (where a teacher instructs formally) or a bathroom in school (where kids share information informally). An online space like Edmodo can be used formally (e.g., teacher sets a curriculum-defined task for students) or informally (e.g., kids talk about hobbies, ask for homework help).

Places and spaces do not define formality or informality.

If Person A (teacher or student) shows Person B (another teacher or student) how to troubleshoot a technical problem while in school but not during class or professional development time, is that formal or informal? If a parent arranges home-based remedial tuition using school textbooks and worksheets, is that formal or informal?

It is the circumstances that might define formality or informality. The place and space alone do not. Learning can happen in any context. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal.

Teachers might equate formal contexts with formal learning. Teachers might also like to think that formal teaching leads to learning, but there is no guarantee of this because such teaching is not always meaningful, just-in-time, or just-for-learners.

Learning does not need a formal invitation to learn, a defined set of objectives, clearly delivered content, or even well constructed tests.

Learning happens when the learner is ready. Learners are most ready when there is a need to learn or when there is cognitive dissonance. This then affects motivation and curiosity.

Simply consider how people learn from YouTube when they are driven to learn a new dance move to show off, to play the guitar to impress someone, to try a new recipe to improve their repertoire, or to try a new gaming strategy to outwit an opponent.

A skillful and caring teacher can create this same drive in class. A group of boys exchanging tips in a school bathroom on how to bring and hide cigarettes creates the same conditions.

When I shared the tweet above in response to a question about designing “modern learning environments”, I was not being flippant. I was trying to send a message.

Focusing only on classrooms or schools so that they become “modern learning environments” is misguided practice. It might not recognize that learning happens everywhere and anywhere.

Students can and do learn while they are on public transport, waiting in a queue, or seated on a “throne” at home. They typically do this with a smartphone in their hands.

Google knows how important mobile access and resources are so much so that it is changing search returns to favour mobile-enabled sites. Do schools recognize the importance of mobile access and contexts? Or are schools still concerned about the physical classroom instead of enabling learning with mobile devices?

School authorities and vendors can do all they can to make schools and classrooms safe for learning and to simulate “informal” spaces, and they should for the good of learners and learning. But they should not do this under the guise of the false dichotomy of formal or informal learning.

I would rather time and resources be spent helping teachers reconnect with what learning is like and how learning takes place than creating “special rooms” for teaching. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal.

If I have been stuck on a theme of reflection so far this week, it must be avoiding unnecessary dichotomies.

It is less about being pro-Mac or pro-PC. It is somewhat pointless to argue for or against Android or iOS. There is something to learn from or appreciate on each side.

More recently, I discovered another “us” and “them” debate in one of my rare forays into Facebook. (I find more value in Twitter because I can choose what to tune in to whereas there is less fine tuning in Facebook.)

An old friend of mine had shared how he had encountered a reckless and aggressive cyclist while he was driving. He added that the cyclist was a foreigner. His friends let loose on cyclists in general and specifically on cyclists they assumed to be of foreign origin.

Rather than point the finger and blanket blame all cyclists, we should be looking at our own behaviour, our own people, our own cyclists. There are reckless, aggressive, or inconsiderate people everywhere. They might be seem to be more common, but they are still a minority at the moment.

Another bugbear of mine is how some folks like to put face-to-face (FTF) instruction on a pedestal in a brightly lit room. It is opposite online learning which might be dumped in the basement or rubbish heap. Never mind that a possible permutation is FTF instruction that is a boring one-way lecture and online learning that is high in meaningful social interaction.

Such unnecessary dichotomy of thinking (FTF good and online bad, us vs them, PC vs Mac, Android vs iOS) is more harmful than good. It can reflect the smallness of our thinking, unjustified bias, and an unwillingness to change.

Thinking in dichotomies might help some make sense of complex issues. But that does not make the understanding of those issues better.

That is why when folks ask me to choose a side of a coin, I like to point out a third side. That is the one that goes all round and gives the coin depth.


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