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Posts Tagged ‘difference

I wanted so much to find some way to disagree with this opinion piece, New PSLE scoring, cut-off points for secondary school are stressful for parents all the same. But I could not.

We are going to have arguments like this for as long as we have examinations and scoring systems. This is because we are just doing the same thing differently. Some examples from the article:

Schools will scrap mid-year exams permanently for some levels, but it its place are still “weighted assessments” whose grade still counts to a child’s yearly performance. 

Schools may have done away with many scoring awards, but at the least, at the end of each year, the top quintile of each cohort still gets a merit bursary award from their Community Development Councils (CDC).

With some sort of grade or other still in play, the multi-billion dollar tuition industry is unlikely to change. Parents and students will likely still semi-willingly march behind.

All this speaks of mindset. But can we blame generations shaped by schooling policies? 

Consider this:

Layer on the fact that our O-level examination results is stored even in our Singpass –  it sends a dichotomous message: Please, children of Singapore, know that you are not your grade. But by the way, adults, your grades will haunt you for the rest of your life.

What other country in the world has an identification tool that displays your GCE O levels results? Why should your identity and worth be tied to the student that you were at age 16?

I am now more like the person when I got my Ph.D. 15 years ago. Why can’t that be in my Singpass app? Because some policies are more important than people and those ideas move at a glacial pace. The effective appearance is that we are doing the same thing differently.

Photo by Tomu00e1u0161 Malu00edk on

Teachers do make a difference, but not just in spelling. Teachers are also educators who might nurture talents, shape attitudes, and hone thinking.

The issue is not whether or what teachers teach. It is what and how student learn.

Remote teaching is not the same as online learning or distance learning.

Remote teaching is what many teachers had to resort to doing due to COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines. Those in the more connected world resorted to video conferencing to try to recreate what worked in classrooms.

Teachers complained that such teaching was inferior to teaching face-to-face. They probably do not realise that online teaching is not the same as online learning.

A J Juliani explained the differences as did Hodges et al at EduCause. Lisa Lane reflected on why comparisons are not legitimate and cited a review of literature by Alison Witherspoon on the efficacy of online learning.

I borrow ideas from Lane and elaborate on why complaints about online or remote teaching are misplaced. Classroom teaching is like being a train driver while online facilitation is like piloting a plane.

Moving a few hundred people on a train and a plane are similar in that both have passengers, fuel, refreshments, rules, and destinations. In educational terms, these could be equivalent to the learners, professional development, resources, standards, and outcomes respectively.

Both typically have set paths (instructional strategies), but a train travels in two dimensions while a plane operates in three dimensions. The latter is more complex. While content and pedagogical boundaries are clearer in a classroom, they can be more open online. Consider how learners have greater access to other resources online (Google, YouTube, WhatApp) than in a more regulated classroom. This makes teaching content more challenging online.

Online learners also need operate asynchronously and not see each other as much (or even at all). Navigating this lack of social presence is like flying a plane blind. An online facilitator has to learn how to create social presence or hyper develop other senses to compensate.

Juliani reflected on how much design effort goes into online learning modules. I can relate. Classroom performance might look like 10% preparation and 90% teaching. Online work is often the other way around — 90% preparation and 10% facilitation.

Teaching online is not the same as online learning. As much as teachers might have learnt from making mistakes during remote teaching, they do not have preparation to be online designers and facilitators. They might transfer some ideas and practices as classroom teachers into online environments, but that is like blindly pushing train engineers into plane cockpits and telling them to fly.

In my search for nuance, I distinguish between cooperation and collaboration. One of my favourite references is John Spencer’s handwritten differentiation.

Cooperation vs collaboration.

I only recently discovered one more possible distinction that was not previously part of my mental schema. According to this article:

…cooperative learning focuses on the effects of group interaction on individual learning whereas collaborative learning is more concerned with the cognitive processes at the group unit of analysis such as shared meaning making and the joint problem space.

Cooperative learning for the benefit of the individual; collaborative learning for the benefit of the whole.

I am not convinced yet because I have not been able to establish the agenda of the person who made this claim. It is certainly not a layperson’s semantic distinction between cooperation and collaboration. It might be a research-orientation for observation and data collection. But it creates cognitive dissonance nonetheless.

If life was a video game, I have an achievement in my belt. Last week I was asked for directions by three sets of people.

In the space of a few days, I was approached by an Indian couple, a Malay family, and a Chinese woman. Was I part of a Singapore tourism ad?

The Indian couple got lost trying to find a mall nearby. The Malay family could not locate the carpark at Basement 1A at the mall — an odd mezzanine level for parking. The Chinese woman was looking for an apartment block near the mall.

Over the weekend, I reflected on how this was similar to problems we have in schooling and education. For example, take the issue of getting teachers to change their mindsets towards technology-mediated pedagogies.

There are many ways to guide such change and I suggest just three based on my simple direction-giving experience:

  1. Using a common language
  2. Having shared understandings
  3. Providing clear expectations

Using a common language
I would not have been able to help the lost sheep if we could not understand one another. Fortunately, we were able to converse in English to describe the problems and suggest solutions.

The language with teachers is not a literal one since English is the lingua franca here (at least it should be). No, I am referring to the words, phrases, and acronyms that teachers use that others do not. If you do not teacher-speak, you are unlikely to teacher-change.

Having shared understandings
The lost sheep were not familiar with the territory they were in. Similarly some teachers do not know how technology might mediate or change their teaching positively.

In all three cases, I had to point to objects that both of us could see from where we stood. These were common frames of references or checkpoints. Such shared understandings allow people to find their way geographically and pedagogically.

Providing clear expectations
I did not physically accompany any of the lost sheep to their intended destinations, not all the way at least. This was in part because these were not where I intended to go, where I had already been, or opposite to where I was going. However, some people might expect me accompany them on their journeys.

Something similar could be said about teachers on their change journeys. After buying in to good ideas, teachers then need to take ownership of their process and progress. This happens when there are clear expectations.

Such expectations might be co-negotiated or self-negotiated. Whatever the case, there must be expectations that serve as milestones and destinations. Without these expectations, teachers wander aimlessly.

The main expectation might be to experience constant change and learn continually. This can be uncomfortable, but this is an expectation that needs to be clearly articulated.

My Twitter QR code.

The link in both sets of people — the lost sheep and the teachers — is me. I was so familiar with the mall and its surroundings that I probably looked like I knew my way about and could help others.

Likewise, I have been an educator for almost 30 years. I know my way about, particularly in the field technology-mediated pedagogy and change. I think I look, speak, and do the part too. I may not have all the answers, but I can point you in the right directions.

This WatchMojo video highlighted ten things we did not have ten years ago that are essential now.

Video source

Well, not quite. Some of the items mentioned in the video have been around for more than ten years, e.g., Facebook. Some people do not consider all the items things are what “we can’t live without now”, e.g., Twitter.

However, their Number One item, the smartphone, is worthy of its placing. Apple marked its tenth year in this market with the iPhone X, and while there were other smartphones before, the iPhone was a watershed moment.

Video source

The iPhone was accompanied by a larger ecosystem, the App store, and iCloud. The hardware spawned other industries like case, cable, and accessory makers. Innovation bred innovation.

Despite all this change in technology, people remain constant. Yes, the way we walk and talk with our phones has changed, but many of us remain stubborn at our core. Many websites we create are not mobile-first and the attitudes behind changing online resources and practices lag far behind the technology.

Quick videos highlight the glitz and glamour; everyday practices reveal the dust and inertia. I wager that most adults will feel that ten years is not long ago. I also wager that many of the same adults have the same mindsets today that they had ten years ago.

Reflect on that as we head into 2018. What can you change now so that you make a difference by 2028?

The whole world seems to be talking about the Charlie Hebdo tragedy.

Through their actions, terrorists make spectacular statements that make most sit up and notice. But, for the most part, the terrorists are not making the difference they want. They have got the world’s attention, but if the mass rally against such violence was any indication, they strengthened the resolve against terrorism.

Making a statement is relatively easy. Celebrities donned or carried Je Suis Charlie paraphernalia at the recent Golden Globes ceremony. I wonder how many would actually want to be Charlie. Did any claim a more worthy cause, Je Suis Ahmed?

It might take courage to stand up and make a rhetorical statement, but the hard work is putting your money where your mouth is.

Making a difference is taking action. That applies whether it is on a grand scale or a local one.

This week I travel to London to deliver a short talk at the Bett conference. I am going to make statements on what I think is wrong with some mindsets of flipping classrooms. I have asked myself if I am going to make a difference.

I am making the effort to fly to another country to spend a message. Some people will agree with what I say and a few will take action. But is that difference enough?

I remind myself that I left a very cushy job as a university faculty member last year to try the VUCA world of educational consulting. I wanted to say yes to the individuals and agencies that asked me, “Can you help us to…?”

It is still way too early to tell, but I am going to keep trying to make a difference.

Ask ten people to define “innovation” and you will likely get ten different definitions. Like creativity, innovation is difficult to define. But you know it when you see it.

I like to define innovation as “creativity in action”, but that does not make the definition any clearer.

Before I gave an interactive talk on educational innovation two days ago, the organizers mentioned how innovation could be defined as “doing different things” or “doing the same things differently”. They preferred the latter stance.

I get what they mean by doing the same things differently if by different they mean better, more efficient, or more effective.

But I wonder if they have considered how doing the same thing, however different, eventually leads back to the same thing.

Take flipped classrooms for example. Most teachers have the impression that flipping their classrooms is different because they must prepare videos (instead of teaching ‘live’) and that their students learn outside class. How exactly is this different?

What if the teachers are still teaching didactically? What if the videos are as long and boring as ‘live’ teaching? What if the videos are worse due to lack of interactivity?

In other words, what if teachers are merely changing the medium, but not the mindset and method?

Kids are already learning outside classrooms when they ask their parents at home, tuition teachers at a centre, or their peers on social media.

Doing things differently is a matter of degree. Just how different is your difference from the status quo? Is it a marginal shift or a paradigm shift? The latter, or doing very different things, are more likely to be attempts at being innovative.


Imagine a satellite orbiting a planet and how it is kept on its path due to the planet’s gravitational pull. As long as it orbits, it is maintaining its path and the status quo. Updating the satellite, adding new bits to it, or even replacing it are not really changing or innovating. There is no change to its purpose.

But imagine how this craft might break from orbit and be sent to intercept an asteroid or to explore space. It has a very different purpose and must be redesigned on the run, refitted to do this, or ideally be redesigned from the ground up.

It is a lot tougher to do the latter, just as it is a lot tougher to really innovate instead of just making marginal improvements. Innovation is a commitment to do something different, not just to do the same thing differently.

Some weeks ago, the New York Times wrote a piece on David Karp, founder of Tumblr. The company had been acquired by Yahoo for US$1.1 billion.

Karp did not complete high school. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs walked similar paths (they did not graduate from college), but they were hugely successful. Their successes seemed to be a confluence of innate talent, daring-do, and good timing and circumstance.

Consider what actions Karp’s mother took early on:

When David Karp was 14, he was clearly a bright teenager. Quiet, somewhat reclusive, bored with his classes at the Bronx High School of Science. He spent most of his free time in his bedroom, glued to his computer.

But instead of trying to pry him away from his machine or coaxing him outside to get some fresh air, his mother, Barbara Ackerman, had another solution: she suggested that he drop out of high school to be home-schooled.

“I saw him at school all day and absorbed all night into his computer,” said Ms. Ackerman, reached by phone Monday afternoon. “It became very clear that David needed the space to live his passion. Which was computers. All things computers.”

Why do we struggle to nurture our own Jobs, Gates, and Karps?

First consider how any parent with more than one child will tell you that one child is very different from the other. But we try to treat them all the same in schools. We even go to the extent of putting them in uniforms.

Same clothes, same books, same speed, same treatment. I am referring to rank-and-file mindsets and procedures, fear of meaningful change, and paying lip service to calls for change.

Yes, we have different paths in our schooling system. But learners are treated the same in the name of efficiency and tests. They are subject to the same differences.

The promise of individualized learning tend to happen outside the classroom. Unfortunately, in our context this refers to “extra” tuition and “enrichment” classes. Those who can afford these are subject to the same differences again.

If we watch and learn from our kids and the MOOC movement, we can learn a thing or two. Like how they are learning languages, dance moves, or gaming strategies on their own from YouTube. Like how learners can pursue their interests and nurture their talents by reaching out on social media and taking courses that matter to them.

They are all doing the same thing. But for them it makes a difference because they can be different and do different.


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