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Singapore TV was supposed to go entirely digital at the end of 2017, but there were so many holdouts that the move was pushed to the end of 2018.

So the relevant authorities created an outreach programme to get more households on the digital TV bandwagon.

Mine was one of the 400,000 or so households to benefit from the voucher to either pay for a set top box plus antenna, or to offset the purchase of a digital signal TV.

Letter and voucher for digital TV.

I had no plans to get either. I had cancelled cable TV a while ago as no one in my household watches local broadcast and subscription TV. We only watch Internet-enabled shows — YouTube, Netflix, Prime, etc.

The only broadcast TV I watch is on National Day. Even then, I rely on Toggle or ‘live’ streams.

We are certainly not “digital natives” (ugh, a reference on my pet peeve list) nor are we “millennials” (that would have made my list if it was closely linked to and misused in education).

I am grateful for the voucher. I only wish it arrived earlier. That way I would not have bought my parents a new digital-ready TV and antenna last year. But since they have a second TV that is analogue, this will save me some money.

It is obvious who this move targets and benefits. The letter and voucher arrived by snail mail with offers for free delivery and installation. The target audience would need the help of their adult children to go online to make this arrangement.

The move seems to be piecemeal one. This is like patching the cracks on a wall instead of tearing the wall down and replacing it with something else.

This patch might seem to make sense now. It buys time for broadcast TV to stay relevant. This is like how newspapers and magazines ensure paper survival with pressure tactics applied to various organisations. Walk into most waiting rooms to see what I mean.

This helps the incumbents to stay rooted in the past and change agents to use the excuse that the process needs to be slow and painless.

What happens when we need to go fully digital? Will there be another round of handouts? What does this say about our capacity for change?

It might seem strange to remind teachers about the “e” in e-portfolios. Some resort to scanning or otherwise digitising analogue artefacts and putting them online on behalf of their learners.

Doing this denies students the learning opportunities and processes that revolve around creating digital artefacts and knowing how best to share them online.

Put the digital back in e-portfolios!

After watching this CNN video, I distilled some thoughts on what modern literacy — digital and media — might build on.

Some background: A news “anchor”, Laura Ingraham, used Twitter to attack a school shooting survivor and spokesperson, David Hogg. Ingraham mocked Hogg for not being rejected by four universities so far despite having a 4.2 GPA. Hogg went on the offensive on Twitter and several companies withdrew their advertisements from Ingraham’s show.

Video source

Some modern literacy foundations from this case might include:

  • Learning current skills and emergent practices from the learner.
  • Being “savvy” as defined by what you KNOW and DO, not just who you ARE or WHO you know.
  • Freedom of speech is not freedom from responsibility.
  • We are entitled to your own opinions, but not our own facts.

I have no doubt that such foundations are part of some digital and media literacies programmes. But this case is a compelling one because it involves the two people that need it most — the student/child and the teacher/adult.

I did not mean to eavesdrop on a group of undergraduates last week. These were students that many still call “digital natives”.

I had my noise-cancelling headphones on, but I could still hear them even though they were a few tables away from me. They were discussing their professor and the work he gave them.

They seemed confused by their assignment. I quickly took note of some of the things they said:

  • What is “multimedia”?
  • I have no idea what that means!
  • I do not know what to do!
  • I do not know where to start!

So much for being “digital natives”.

Those statements might add to the argument against blindly believing that kids magically know how to use the technology they grow up with.

If you are a teacher, making assumptions that students are somehow natively digital says more about you than about them. You might not be:

  • listening to and observing them as closely as you should
  • aware of the critiques and the research about such “natives”
  • aware how this belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy
  • staying relevant with current trends and tools

Watch and learn more about your students. Empathise with their circumstances and challenges. Strive to be a model of why and how to learn.

I hardly watch any local broadcast TV. I have TV sets at home, but they are used to project videos from online sources like YouTube, Netflix, and others.

What I do is probably not that usual now. Some consumers might not even need TVs because they rely on the smaller screens of their phones, slates, and laptops.

But I had to take some action recently to revisit broadcast TV. Why?

The news earlier this year was that that free-to-air (FTA) TV via analogue broadcasting would cease at the end of 2017. TV signals would digitally broadcasted over the air and cable thereafter. One in four consumers has yet to jump on board the digital bandwagon, so the authorities moved the deadline to the end of 2018.

I am in the not-on-board set because I have alternatives. My elderly parents are not on the digital TV wagon because they do not know what to do or how to do it.

So I took advantage of SITEX 2017 to buy a new digital-ready TV and external antenna for my parents. I experienced different approaches by two sales representatives and this reminded me of how some teachers approach learners.

I told both sales representatives that I wanted to buy a TV for my elderly parents. I thought that should have established some expectations, but I was wrong.

The first salesperson kept recommending bigger TVs, and when I rejected them, moved on to sets with more features. For example, he highlighted a “smart” TV (Internet-capable) even though my parents do not have an Internet connection at home and cannot use that feature set.

The second was much quicker on the uptake. He tried to figure out what I needed and asked more focused questions or provided more precise answers. For example:

  • he asked me which floor my parents lived on as that would determine the type of antenna to buy
  • when I asked where the service centre was, he could not remember so he looked up the information on his phone and showed it to me
  • when he realised the boxed set did not include a warranty card, he provided me with a digital version

So I bought the new TV from the second sales representative. This was despite the fact that I was able to bargain the price down with the first person while the second was adamant about his prices. The second guy knew his stuff, knew what else to do when he lacked information, and most importantly, put the customer first.

Do you see what this might have to do with schooling and education?

Some teachers are like the first sales representative. They know their content, but do not meet the needs of their learners. They might teach in ways that students do not want or need.

Better teachers are like the second sales representative. They also know their content, but they observe and listen to their learners more closely first. They do this to meet the learners where they are, and to suit their needs and contexts.

All students need to process new information and overcome challenges just like all TV-watching consumers here need a digital-ready TV. However, they can be taught differently.

The first group of learners are led blindly by their teachers and are unlikely to take ownership of their learning. The students must buy in only to what the teacher sells.

The second group has to define problems and suggest solutions. The teacher is there to learn first about his/her students before helping students take even greater ownership of their learning. Such a teacher offers choices and leaves informed decision-making to the learners.

As analogies go, this one is not perfect. Learning is much more complex than buying a new TV. Teaching is more difficult than selling a TV. However, both sets of experiences can and should be led by similar principles: Putting the student and customer first.

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There is much we can learn from newspapers. Perhaps not so much from the news but from the mistakes they make.

STonline tweeted these two videos of an interview with our Prime Minister. The tweets are a teachable moment on the need for digital skills, literacy, and fluency.

Poor optics.

Optics is everything in politics and policymaking. If you take a look at the original screenshot, our PM does not look his best in both thumbnails.

Had the ST folk(s) the skills to select a better thumbnail in the video? Did they know they could do this or upload a better image to represent the video? This is a basic digital skill that one must have to share embedded videos on behalf of an organisation.

Did the tweeter or social media team have the digital literacy to consider how the current screen grabs send a different message from the ones in text? Do they know the importance of optics? Do they possess the ability to recognise when and why to apply their digital skills?

Can the people behind the tweets strategise and apply their skills without being told? Have they practically forgotten that they possess these skills and apply sound strategies automatically? This is digital fluency.

I have shared a teachable moment. Is this a learnable moment for the ST team? How about teachers who are responsible for far more prosumers (producer-consumers)?

You cannot make this up. There is no need to.

The tweet above aptly illustrates how learners today can be savvy, but neither smart nor wise.

I do not mean to say they are stupid. They are simply ignorant because they have not learnt new ways of seeing and doing things. Over time with smart teaching and wise counsel, our learners might gain new perspectives and habits.

They must be taught or they must have good models to emulate. They are learning machines as we are. But they are not magically or mysteriously digitally native. The “digital native” is a myth.

No educator worth their salt benefits from buying into this myth. Making false assumptions about the learners will be frustrating for both students and teachers. The teachers will have heightened and unrealistic expectations of their students, and the students will not learn optimally with technology-mediated pedagogies.

I have met and tried convincing my fair share of administrators and teachers who do not process Prensky’s claims of the so-called “digital native” more critically. I am quite certain most have not even read this original work in 2001. That is a long time to believe and implement policy blindly.

I urge anyone who has not questioned the use and assumptions of “digital natives” to read this excellent critique, Digital Natives: Ten Years After, by Apostolos Koutropoulos. A friendly debate over lunch is not going to cut through over a decade of hardened myth. Perhaps a slow but deep burning will.

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