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Posts Tagged ‘dumb

This is a continuation of yesterday’s rant on a poorly conceived video by Channel News Asia (CNA), “Can e-learning make you dumb?”.

The presenter (and his writers, if he had any) equated educational apps with e-learning. Any apps might be used for e-learning, but they do not represent e-learning. Furthermore, labelling an app “educational” does not make it so. It is about HOW any app is used that makes it useful for schooling, education, or learning. This principle seemed to be lost on the makers of the video.

Today I critique the video in the order in which its ideas were presented.
 

 
The video started with the now iconic dragon playground as a representation of how kids used to play in the past. Its message was clear — nostalgic thinking was better even if it did not consider changing contexts and fallible memories.
 
Nostalgia quote.
 
The presenter then interviewed three sets of researchers and clinicians.

The first was a researcher from the National Institute of Education, Singapore. There was nothing new from this segment if you keep up with educator blogs or current papers on screen time.

The strategy was the same — highlight unwarranted fears and conveniently leave out the importance of supervised and strategic use of apps by children.

The most alarming segment of the video started with this question from the presenter:

These apps are just bad at teaching our children. What if they could also be messing our children’s brains in the long run?

The presenter started with a tiny sample of non-identical twins (n=2) to test executive function after one twin played with app and other sat and drew. He then showed how the app-using child seemed to have problems following instructions compared to his non-app kin.

The presenter claimed that his illustration was a “ripoff” of an actual study. So was the original study just as poorly designed and implemented? Any critical thinker or researcher worth their salt would ask questions like:

  • Were there no confounding variables that could have affected the results?
  • How can anyone control for all contributing factors?
  • Were the treatments switched after a sufficiently long rest period?

The only statement from the presenter that I agree with was his admission that “this is far from a scientific experiment”. His pantomime attempt to put the app-using child in bad light was neither valid nor reliable.
 
Texting Congress 1 by afagen, on Flickr
Texting Congress 1” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by afagen
 
The presenter then interviewed two clinicians. “Interview” might be too generous; it was more like selectively confirming bias.

The first item on the interview list was the fabled harmful screen time. In doing so, they conveniently lumped all devices with screens to harmful screen time and ignored more nuanced definitions and revised guidelines from authorities like the American Pediatric Association (see this curated list of resources).

For example, one of the two clinicians pointed out the harm of passive screen time from watching too much TV. However, this did not discount active screen time.

If you do not know what active screen time looks like, I share a snapshot of future instructors I teach and mentor. This group was using apps with their learners.
 
Active screen time.
 
The other clinician said active use involved two-way communication or interaction with the environment. However, the video producers opted not to balance their bias with examples of such active screen time. They seemed to focus on children only as passive consumers and not active producers of content.
 

 
Not content to fearmonger about short-term effects of using apps, the interviewer also asked how the apps affect the career prospects of children. Read that again: Career prospects of children. This tangent then led to children leading lives of crime. I kid you not.

Reasonably logical and critical people do not need research or “research” to realise that the interviewer was over reaching here.

As if to appease the interviewer’s agenda, one researcher gave an example of a distracted child in a classroom. Really? This could be any child, app user or not, or to a child with ADHD.

There is no research that says that children sitting still are ultimately successful. Nor should there be. Not only are such studies unethical, they are illogical. No one can claim that a single factor (like app use) determines a child’s career prospects.

That same researcher suggested that a distracted child could suffer from bad grades, have poor health, and end up committing crimes. How can anyone draw a single, clear, and unbroken line that links a child’s app use to an adult’s job prospects or likelihood to commit crimes?

If the researcher was prone to exaggeration, then the interviewer was prone to oversimplification. He declared on camera:

I didn’t realise that just more screen time can develop to more crimes in society.

The real crime was that Channel News Asia pushed such drivel on screen.
 

 
The final expert interviewed by the presenter did what most people do with the delayed gratification study — misinterpret it.  The emphasis of the study was not IF a child delayed gratification, but HOW they did so.

The expert used the misinterpretation to highlight how apps provide instant gratification. Both the expert and the video producers conveniently ignored that both rewards and app use can be about the decision-making processes and the choices a child makes.

The CNA video was an attempt to pander to base fears instead of challenging viewers to look beyond the obvious. The question (“Can e-learning make you dumb?”) was designed as click bait and was a misdirect.

The answers were like a poorly written General Paper by a scatter-brained junior college (JC) student. That JC student was not a distracted app user. She was not supervised by her parents nor guided by teachers. She was not taught to question critically or research thoroughly.

An app alone cannot teach; an adult needs to be involved to monitor, moderate, and mediate. An app alone cannot make you dumb. Uninformed use, uncritical processing of the CNA video, or misguided beliefs in misinformation make you or your children dumb.

Apps do not make you dumb or keep you ignorant. Only dumb people who choose to be wilfully ignorant do.

 
I discovered this piece on Channel News Asia, “Can e-learning make you dumb?” (Note: To view the video, you must reduce your browser security by unblocking all insecure elements. If you see the video on loading the page, your need to lock your browser down!)

I take exception to this question, so I will make an exception. I am going to react to it at face value first.

I could cite the maxim that is the Betteridge law of headlines (see link here or the excerpt below). The answer to the question “Can e-learning make you dumb?” is no.

Betteridge law of headlines

To be fair, the law also applies if the question was phrased “Can e-learning make you smart?” The answer is also no. The questions are oversimplifications; e-learning alone does not make you dumb or smart.

That aside, the video focused on gaming apps that vendors and providers classify as “educational”. This is not the same thing as e-learning. So the question was an intentional misdirection and this raises another question: How might click bait get you views?

I was dumbfounded by the original question. No, I was not speechless. I found a new level of dumb instead. The question reeked of confirmation bias, luddite thinking, and wilful ignorance.

How do I know this? The blurb for the video was that the apps were “highly addictive and they can mess with the brain”.

To provide some balance, consider how skilled educators and informed parents might turn the negative “addictive” to the positive “addicted to learning”. And “mess with your brain” is fear mongering for what is a fundamental cognitive process called dissonance; it is integral to learning.

The headline, blurb, and accompanying video were an effort to spout the tired and uninformed rhetoric instead of actually making a difference. If there is anything dumb, it is the messages it tries to propagate. I outline and critique those signals tomorrow.

 
What drives otherwise normal and healthy students to buy pills that claim to help them with “last minute cramming”? The chase for good grades.

That is according to this ST article. The same article provided the names of the pills, how much they cost, and how to get them. If more students and parents did not already know about them, they do now.

What the pill poppers are blind to is the short-term and temporary benefits of the pills and their long-term health risks like “heart problems, severe rashes, headaches, irritability, difficulty in breathing and insomnia”. Furthermore, possessing such pills without a valid condition and prescription of controlled substances is also against the law.

The alternative is not to take shortcuts. As Denise Phua, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, pointed out:

It is smarter to stick to natural strategies such as having enough sleep, healthy food, lots of physical exercise and adopting good study skills – strategies that are all tested and backed by research.

Those strategies smarter in the long run. But as long as we provide conditions for short sprints, some people will take shortcuts.

My rant today began with the first world problem of setting up a GIRO link (automatic deduction) from my bank account to my son’s new ez-link (public transport) card.

Why establish this payment link? It is the smart thing to do: I do not have to remember when to top up the card’s cash value because the process is automated.

The instructions on how to do this are critical because a) they probably change over time (they did), and b) a user cannot be expected to remember what to do (it is a few years between needing to do this).

When I tried following the instructions at the ez-link website to set up a GIRO-linked travel card, I discovered that the instructions were outdated.

The main steps were to first get an authorisation number from an AXS machine and then look for a general ticketing machine to activate the travel card with the authorisation number.

The AXS instructions were not only inaccurate, the reader refused to read the card and reported that the card was faulty. I moved to another AXS machine and got the same message. The card worked just fine when I was at a customer service counter to deactivate the old card and activate the new one.

This begs the question of why everything — deactivation of old card, activation of new card, GIRO application — could not be performed at the customer service counter. It is as if some agency wanted people to walk from a counter to a machine to yet another machine so I got some exercise. The only thing I exercised was my patience.

The overall process is one main step too many. The authorities realised this and removed the AXS steps. However, the instructions persist online.

How are we to be a Smart Nation if we have dumb processes (the irrelevant instructions) that persist?

I do not blame the technology. I blame people.

The technology evolved to be more secure so that the AXS authorisation process was no longer a necessity. There is now one less step to play in this administrative scavenger hunt. But people in charge did not update the instructions and the links to them.

You could attribute this to laziness, oversight, or carelessness. Whatever the root cause, it would be stupid to push for a Smart Nation while retaining dumb habits.

The push is a sociotechnical system and efforts that forget the human element are doomed to fail. The failures do not have to be the headlining sort. They are the simple things that are supposed to make everyday life more convenient and seamless, like automating the payment of a travel card. If you cannot succeed with the little things, do not expect to do well with the big ones.

The thread that runs through my rant yesterday and today is how people talk smart talk but walk dumb.

Several weeks ago, I had an unpleasant dining experience. It gave me food for thought on why technology-led change in school flows slower than molasses.

I revisited an eatery that made some changes. One such change was a subtle one. There were QR code stickers on the tables which linked patrons to an online menu and ordering system.

The process was straightforward: Scan, select, order, pay, wait.

While waiting for our food to be served, I dealt with a technical issue on my son’s phone. It took a while to deal with because the problem was quite serious. I spent almost 20 minutes trying to troubleshoot the problem. I know this because my food order did not arrive and I checked to see why.

Online order.

I walked to the counter staff and asked if there was a problem with my order. They replied that I not ordered because I was “just sitting there as if I was waiting for someone”. Forgive me for doing what customers do, i.e., order and wait.

They also said that they tended to rely on online orders at lunch when things got busy. Apparently I was supposed to know this. Forgive me for not being a mind-reader.

A staff member then reluctantly pulled out a previously hidden iPad and saw the order. Almost as soon as she tapped on her screen did a confirmation appear on my screen. Forgive me for not reminding you to check your ordering system.

I am sorry. I apologise for the portion of the human race that holds the rest back because they cannot overcome their inertia and bias. They do what is good and comfortable for them instead of focusing on others.

I am not sorry. I make it a point to create dissonance. I tell and show people — teachers in particular — why and how to teach better with technology. The process is sometimes painful and difficult, but we do this because we focus on our learners.

Most of us would not put up with shoddy service at an eatery. I cannot put up with schooling that pretends to be education. I see through the lip service and push or pull people along if necessary. If this makes them feel uncomfortable, then so be it. Better to be honest than a hypocrite.

Last week I received email from GeBIZ to complete a survey (PDF file) and then either email the file or fax it.

Gebiz email requesting for survey returns.

The message and instructions begged these questions:

Perhaps someone conspired to rile GeBIZ users up so much that they would provide feedback to demand for more efficient and effective practices.

An online version of the form is both more efficient and effective.

  • Its submission is immediate as is a confirmation of receipt.
  • There is no need for people to compile data from two different sources into one.
  • The data can be automatically collated and analysed without first being inputted manually from the emailed PDFs or faxes, thereby reducing human error.

If this is what happens to a survey, I dare not imagine how other processes might be compromised.

As an educator, I cannot help but wonder what messages actions like these send to the larger system. Are these indicators of push-backs on progress?

I do not think that my concern is unwarranted. While mainstream school teachers are not quite affected Internet restrictions, there are already restrictions on services like Dropbox and mobile services.

If plans are only as good as their implementation, why does “smart talk, dumb walk” persist?

Policies crafted by leaders shape the work environment and culture. If higher-ups associate the Internet, social media, or anything “e” as dangerous or wasting time, they will enact policies that reinforce such hang-ups and nurture a culture based on fear.

Consider this scenario. Imagine I propose that school personnel decide on whether they spend money only on a textbook collection or Chromebooks. The books do not raise an eyebrow, but the response to Chromebooks is “Yes, but…”.

As different as schools are now compared to a generation ago, values and practices today are arguably still entrenched in the past. Ask teachers if they integrate technology and it is still common to hear phrases like “technology to enhance”, “the basics are more important”, “we don’t want the kids to be distracted”, or “the exams are handwritten”.

Technology should not just enhance, it should enable learning. The basics have changed and are more complex and kids need to be empowered. Very little outside of conventional exams and schools is handwritten. Even GeBIZ asked for email replies.

Despite the smart talk and inspiring rhetoric, what actually makes a difference is the walk. It easy to say you want innovation in schools. It is more difficult to create conditions for change.

My head hurts from reading the online vitriol in the aftermath of the Sabah earthquake.

Lives were lost in Mt Kinabalu. That so many were young and from one primary school leaves me at a loss for words. I am as dumbfounded as I was 21 years ago when I shook the hand of a man whose wife I could not help save.

What can you say to a parent who has just lost a child?

I am thankful that our leaders and people on the ground have managed the crisis respectfully and professionally. Before the rabid press jumped on loose leads, parents were flown in and asked to identify their children, and then only was information released.

But there were other distractors and many idiotic responses.

Distractions like the climbers who allegedly took off their clothes on the mountain prior to the earthquake and penalties for the offenders by way of buffalo heads. As ridiculous as most people might find these events, they are just distractions. They offer no help, but they also do little harm.

Contrast that with the idiots who rely on fear and ignorance to spread even more fear and ignorance. The link I tweeted above will provide a small but concentrated sample. If you do not have the time, process this one critically and immediately read this one based on reason.

The armchair critics seek to blame the education minister, the school authorities, the teachers, the parents for allowing such trips to happen, ad nauseum. They refuse to see this as an accident over which we had little or no control.

To these trolls I say: Stop doing dumb things (inspired by this tweet).

To be clear, the dumb things are not the trips or expeditions. It takes a lot of planning, preparation, risk mitigation, and all round effort to ensure that these are meaningful events.

I am referring to critics who have other agendas and take potshots from the comfort of their armchairs or toilet seats. These trolls remind me of rocking chairs: Lots of motion but going nowhere.

If anything, the online aftermath is a perfect example of why teachers and parents need to model digital citizenship for kids (and hopefully soon, just citizenship because what is digital and analogue are not so clear anymore). And while we are at it, let us not use “cyberwellness” because that is an oxymoron.

The dumb and wrong thing to stop is playing the blame game. Nobody wins because there is no one really to blame. Instead we might learn from this tragic event just like the kiwis did from a canyoning accident in 2008.

We must learn from it. We owe at least that much to those who gave their lives.


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