Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘edtech

Are classrooms today different from those from a generation ago? Yes and no, depending on what you look at.

If you focus on the superficial, like infrastructure, you might say that classrooms have more modern fixtures. But just about any school-going child can still recognise a 19th century classroom because not much has changed.

On the other hand, classroom practices vary. For example, there are fewer incidences of corporal punishment now. Officially we might like to declare that there is none. So the classroom of today is different from yesteryear’s in that sense.

A recent STonline article, Put away e-devices in class? No way!, tried to show how else classrooms are different.

The article cited one example of “high-tech ways of engaging students”. It was the Swivl. Or in the case of the article, the “Swivl robot”.
 

 
I have used different generations of the Swivl (see older version above) and I would not consider it a robot in the educational context.

The device allows you to place a video-recording phone or slate on it so that it tracks the human presenter as he or she moves about the room.

The Swivl is not a robot in the sense that has been applied in schooling and education. The latter form is often an enhancement, an analogue, or even a replacement of the teacher.

According to the article, the device was used to record presentations and the recordings were put online. Institutions of higher learning that purchased this tool initially used it to create “e-learning lectures”. This was a perfect example of doing the same thing differently or a case of different-tool-same-method.

The important issue should not be the technological enhancement, but what technology enables pedagogically and in terms of learning.

For example, recordings of presentations or teaching enable a learner to see themselves through another’s eyes. They might learn to take more and broader perspectives, and thus develop metacognitive strategies like reflecting and changing approaches.

This sounds like a mouthful, but it is also what is more important than the tool itself. The tool does not just enhance a process; it enables it. This is what makes the classroom different and better than the one in the past.

I pick on just one of the three anecdotes in the article to make that point. The other examples of gamification and virtual reality are worth reading and seem different enough. Managed well they are better practices than classrooms of old.

That said, critical readers (critical, not cynical) should note that standalone anecdotes to not necessarily represent an entire system. Small pockets of experimentation or innovation do not represent the entire suit or wardrobe.

Actual pockets are designed be discrete. Some are even hidden. Both are functional and are arguably essential, but very few people outside the owner of the pockets know what is in them. So I appreciate the article turning this pedagogical pocket inside-out.

But let us not get carried away and think that the pockets make the suit.

 
It is Christmas so here is a spoof of the song, 12 Days of Christmas [source].

Twelve training centers closing
(In the age of tech, who needs classroom training anyway?)
Eleven courses boring
Ten networks crashing
Nine budgets shrinking
Eight SMEs hiding
Seven websites breaking
Six slide decks missing
Five authoring tools
Four LMSs
Three Google Glasses
Two Second Life logins
And some virtual reality.

I enjoyed this humorously sarcastic take on corporate edtech. As with most forms of humour, it is based on some form of reality.

As you ho-ho-ho, know that some places are not enjoying the financial and social costs of maintaining such systems because of misfiring or outdated notions of what it means to learn.

Fintech is short for financial technology. Examples might include digital wallets, apps for funds transfer, and bitcoin.

That is the limit of what I know about fintech. Oh, and that it promises to be a big moneymaker.

What I understand more deeply is educational technology. So when I read TechCrunch’s article Edtech is the next fintech, I shuddered.

I read with dread the dry descriptions of money-making and profit potential from this sector. It was like watching the Greek gods dispassionately play chess with human pieces.
 

 
We already have vendors and providers with little idea telling teachers what they are doing wrong and how to do it right, i.e., their way or the old way packaged in shinier parcels. We do not need more of that.

But we will get more. Many will be led by their pockets. Very few will have their hearts and minds in the right place.

Reading an article like the one recently published by the Straits Times (More schools tap tech tools for learning [archive]) should raise critical questions instead of blind acceptance.

For example:

  • How many of the 360 mainstream schools in Singapore do this?
  • How common are such practices? How special are the lessons?
  • How transparent are the tools?
  • How different are they pedagogically and experientially from outdated practices?
  • How effective are such experiences?

The general public should learn to ask these questions to keep schools accountable. These questions matter because they affect our children and use our tax dollars (see this Hechinger report on the overall ICT masterplans; amounts are in US$).

What are markers that might reveal an article to be making a mountain out of a molehill?
 

 
When examining the health of, say, a freshwater ecosystem, the marker species are amphibians because they are the most sensitive to changes in the environment. A newspaper article can be more complex because the narrative can fool the casual reader. However, there are the equivalent of sick, missing, or dead frogs.

Future Schools

Nearly a decade ago in 2007, the Ministry of Education (MOE) named five pioneering “schools of the future” under its Future Schools project. These schools, picked as test beds for the use of educational technology, are, according to the MOE, “trailblazers” in engaging in information and communications technology (ICT) projects.

In later years, another three schools joined the initiative.

In the Singapore context, the first dead giveaway is the reference to the Future Schools [PDF]. Cosy up to closed circles and you will hear how this is an experiment that is not working. The model is not scalable because the context of each school is different.

Another barrier is poor communication. It is not as if the Future Schools do not share, it is that they do not share quite nearly enough and on a scale necessary for system-wide change. Hosting visits and dialogues is good; creating community is better but sorely missing.

I am aware of one teacher grassroots effort, a Google Educators Group, that meets regularly. All involved stand to benefit from the community because this strategy relies on buy-in and ownership, not policy and good PR.

Buzzwords

The MOE has since observed that more schools – beyond the eight schools selected for the programme – have experimented with technology for learning and teaching. But it did not reveal the number of schools that do so.

Ignore the words like “trailblazers” and take note of phrases like “but it (MOE) did not reveal the number of schools that do so”.

Buzzword: Digital native

Educators told The Straits Times that students, being digital natives, are more involved when technology is used in their learning.

Another phrase that should set off alarm bells is the labelling of students as “digital natives” by any interviewee. This term has been roundly critiqued and criticised for more than 10 years (sample of criticisms). Even the originator of “digital natives”, Marc Prensky, has backed down somewhat and moved on to digital wisdom.

“Digital natives” is artificially divisive (us and them), not entirely based on critical research, populist, and ultimately a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is often used in articles and speeches by people who do not know the history of the phrase nor why it has been rejected by thought leaders and progressive educators.

Buzzword: Engagement

“Many of our students are comfortable with the use of technology even from an early age,” said Dr Victor Lim, deputy director of technologies for learning at the MOE. “Technology can be used not just to increase students’ engagement, but also to… help them learn better.”

“Digital natives” is often used beside phrases like “Many of our students are comfortable with the use of technology even from an early age” and “Technology can be used… to increase students’ engagement”.

Any practitioner worth their salt will know that “comfortable use” of technology is not the same as responsible or effective use of technology. For example, being able to Google something on a mobile phone does not guarantee critical thought.

The use of “engagement” indicates a peripheral and non-critical use of technology. If a teacher needs technology to switch students on, the technology is likely a novelty. It could be bait for a lesson that is not meaningful to the learner.

Stanford don Larry Cuban has come out against the use of “engagement” [article]:

… he says engagement is a “fluffy term” that can slide past critical analysis. And Professor Cuban at Stanford argues that keeping children engaged requires an environment of constant novelty, which cannot be sustained.

“There is very little valid and reliable research that shows the engagement causes or leads to higher academic achievement,” he said.

Here is a list of readings and musings on why engagement is fluffy.

Technology merely to enhance
I am against simple engagement because it is typically used alongside “enhancing” a lesson instead of “enabling” it. A tool that enhances is optional; a tool that enables is essential. Your phone can be optional or essential for your life and work. Guess how the modern worker and current student will describe their mobile devices.

If a tool is essential, a lesson cannot proceed and learning cannot happen without it. When the tools are essential, they are also transparent. No one bats an eyelid about using pens and books in the classroom because they are part of the environment and shape practices. The same should be said about current technologies in the classroom. The must enable, not merely enhance.

Buzzword: Future-ready

He added that the tools help students to achieve “future-ready” competencies, such as thinking critically as well as communicating and collaborating with others.

Another marker is the uncritical use of buzzwords like “future-ready”. What is this really?

Words are important because they hold meaning and are verbal contracts. Can you guarantee this state of being when the future is uncertain?

I have reflected before on why future-ready is a misnomer. Do not take my word for it, take Seymour Papert’s.

Sneak preview of my blog entry on a quote by #seymourpapert.

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

Papert did not use the term future-ready. If anything, skills like critical thinking, clear communication, and effective collaboration are needed now. They are meaningful now. They are necessary now. The ability to keep learning variants of such skills starts now. There is no need to qualify them as future-ready.

The usual suspects

 
If you do not get this reference, you need to watch this movie.

I have nothing against the schools listed in the article. They are doing good work. However, the press does them and MOE a disfavour by citing the same schools over and over again.

To its credit, the press sometimes does include a new school among the usual suspects, preferably a neighbourhood school.

Buzzphrase: Technology is just a tool

“Technology is just a tool,” Dr Lim said. “It is the educators who make the difference.”

There is also harm in perpetuating old narratives like technology is “just a tool”. Technology is not just a tool; they are more like instruments. Instruments require care and constant practice to perform well with them. Technological instruments show the joy, art, and love of learning.

To use “just” is to say they do not have impact on their own and to not recognise that tool use is a socio-technical phenomenon. Marshall McLuhan put it best when he said, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” One need only pay closer attention to how we walk, talk, and read with our mobile devices to see how our tools shape us.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

Very few will deny that it is a good teacher that makes the difference. There is no need to placate the fearful by reminding people, teachers included, that teachers are important. What should be said though is this: Any teacher who can be replaced by technology, should.

 
I return to my pond analogy to point out the markers.

  • The sick frogs are the Future Schools and using phrases like digital natives.
  • The missing frogs are the schools whose educational technology examples and strategies that remain unreported.
  • The dead or dying frogs are the old narrative of buzzwords that attract flies.

It is easier to just accept the news article as is. It is just as easy to ignore the article and this critique. It is more difficult to question the article for the good of the system.

Which have you been taught to do? Which would you rather do? What should you be doing?

There are so many things to consider when trying to make decisions about educational technology. Be it for a class, a school, a district, or an entire country, decision makers consider cost, sustainability, adaptability, and a host of other important considerations.

However, most complexities can be whittled down a simple core. Whether you marry someone or not might boil down to love or circumstance. Whether you adopt an ICT tool, platform, or strategy could boil down to three types of questions.
 

 
Most of the time it is edtech vendors that make pitches. Are they using marketing speak (that you do not understand) or education speak (that you do)? If it is the latter, are they using buzzwords or meaningful terms? This will help you distinguish the ones who are out to make money and those who actually care and deserve to get paid.

Is the technology primarily in the hands of the teacher (like “interactive” white boards) or do they belong to the learners (like mobile or wearable devices)? If your agenda is to promote learning that is authentic, lifelong, and lifewide, consider what students have in their bedrooms. Do they have IWBs or mobile phones? How much ownership do they have of a learning management system (LMS or LMess or hellMS) versus their YouTube channel or Instagram feed?

Do you and the vendor use words like “aid” and “enhance”? Or do you make the case for “empower” and “enable”? Are you investing in technology that relies on old strategies so that the ICTs are mere add-ons or options? Or do you have a clear direction towards technology-mediated pedagogies that nurture technology-enabled learning?
 

 
Any reflective decision maker worth their salt will realise that there is a lot of noise in the search for signal. Tune in to what is important. In the area of educational technology, the right frequency is the learner and learning. Everything else is secondary and noise.

Netflix dropped a happy bomb at the start of 2016. Almost the whole world can now enjoy the golden age of online-streamed television.

Apparently the response in hyperconnected Singapore has been mixed. This should come as no surprise as segments of the press, bloggers, and online forums have long provided how-tos on accessing Netflix US via VPN services*.

People go for the US offering because some shows are not available here. This article provides a comparison.

What are some reminders or lessons from this for school leaders and teachers who are integrating technology?

Technology is rarely the rate determining step. Instead it is what pushes, pulls, and leads. Technology creates possibilities, but not opportunities, because it is held back by policies, regulations, or rights.

With Netflix, each country will have different policies on viewer age ratings, adhere to varying censorship regulations, and have separate access rights to television programming. VPN services provide an access workaround*.

Likewise the context of each school, classroom, or learning environment is different from the one next door. All are drawn to the promises and potential of technology, but only a few individuals within each system will keep pace with the technology and resist being held back by policies, regulations, or rights.

These people find workarounds when there are no clear paths. They forge ahead to problem-seek and problem-solve. These are the rebels, the creatives, and the innovators.

Sadly, most systems ignore and even punish this group of people instead of supporting and rewarding them. This is not entirely the systems fault. Teachers tend to be nurturers who do not wish to promote themselves or what they do. If they do not stand out and share, others cannot be faulted for not recognising them.

So if you are a leader, look beyond the surface for innovation and create conditions for hidden talent to show itself. If you are a teacher, show off not for yourself but for the good of your students and your profession.

Above all, do not let the status quo hold you back. Change happens on the backs of those willing to push forward.

*Update: We will wait and see what develops as Netflix tries to block VPNs.

Netflix has transformed from bit player to a major one. It has challenged the practices of what is means to broadcast. It will now be challenged.

A little over a year ago, I reflected on the three dimensions of educational technology: IT, ICT, and IDM. These evolutionary dimensions focused largely on technology affordances.
 

 
This year, I reflect on another three dimensions, this time from the social and pedagogical perspectives.

In the era of IT, teachers and media folks used technology to create content. We leverage on technology to do that to this day. This might be why Bill Gates declared “content is king” when predicting the ascent of the Web in the 90s.

While content is important and will not lose relevance, how policy makers, school leaders, teachers still treat it with reverence is passé. We can comfortably declare that we now live in an information-rich world. We need to question if any content we create is new or if it adds any value (to the next dimension, context).

However, schools now still largely process and reprocess old content. Teachers are evaluated on their ability to recreate such content, get students to practice it, and test how much content students retain temporarily.

What matters more is context. It shapes why we need content and it makes learning meaningful. Context also provides an authentic platform for practice and application. If teachers and lessons are labelled as not being relevant, it is because they are poor or lacking in context.

These contexts provide learners with opportunities to connect with knowledgeable others in order to create new content, context, and connections.

The technologies that kids embrace today, e.g., video games and social media, are not just places for learning content. Teachers who think inside their content box and try to create cool lessons are only partially reaching their students.

Video games and social media are also the platforms that provide context and connectedness.

One example: The content behind the skill of being able to make a prediction is learnt in-game as well as practiced and negotiated in that context.

Another example: Fans learn Korean by watching K-pop on YouTube or English as a Second Language learners watch English game play videos; YouTube as a platform is an authentic context for learning, conversing, and connecting.

Technology becomes educational not just when teachers create content with it, but especially when learners can do the same while in context and in connection with each other. To do any less is to provide a disservice to our learners and not do our job as educators.


http://edublogawards.com/files/2012/11/finalistlifetime-1lds82x.png
http://edublogawards.com/2010awards/best-elearning-corporate-education-edublog-2010/

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code


Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets

Archives

Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: