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Posts Tagged ‘education

This press piece began with this question.

Why is the question not: Why are some people less productive than others when working at work? It is not as if working outside of home automatically makes work better for everyone.

A similar and equally uncritical question could be asked of schooling and education: Why is home-based learning so difficult? We should instead pivot to the question about the difficulties of learning in the classroom.

One direct answer for avoiding the pivot is that refocusing on work and school highlights what we fail to do well and somehow keep ignoring. For example, it is easier to ignore how administrative needs at work or school might be placed higher than working or learning needs.

Another simple answer is that the home is not made for work or school. Often it is a place to get away from both, i.e., to rest, pursue an interest, spend time with family, etc. We can make adjustments to home just like a scuba diver dons a suit and air tank, but such adjustments are temporary. 

So, no, the tweeted question is not a good one. It is an attempt at clickbait. It is not an attempt to actually challenge or develop creative and critical thinking. 

A question that might actually create some dissonance might be: What can we learn from the online pivot at work/school and apply to the workplace/classroom when we return?

Martin Weller recently critiqued how we tend to do the same thing differently:

We decry the tendency to simply replicate lectures online, but then do the same with meetings. We call for educators to use technology to its advantage to realise new pedagogies, and then recreate face to face conferences in Zoom. We stress the need to rethink your teaching approach to ensure learners are not adversely affected and then conduct line management via Teams.

In short, we think almost exclusively inside the work/school box even when circumstances (pandemic) throw us firmly outside it.

Now that we have enforced experiments with telecommuting and remote teaching/learning, why not use these experiences to address the weaknesses of the office and classroom?

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.

Better edubloggers than me have reminded us why schools should not return to normal post-pandemic.

In a moment of serendipity, Seth Godin just blogged this:

…we learn in ways that have little to do with how mass education is structured…

…The educational regimes of the last century have distracted us. It turns out that the obvious and easy approaches aren’t actually the ones that we need to focus on.

How likely is meaningful change to happen? Not very, but we can hope while pushing from whatever edge and corner we are at.

If nothing substantial happens this time round, perhaps the next pandemic will bring a more forceful reminder.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

Here is something I said to a health insurance representative that should resonate with educators: The individual matters.

I made an appointment with a representative of my health insurance provider to resolve set of issues that lasted a month. One of them was the company’s communication. On that alone, I had two main concerns.

First, I was supposed to receive only electronic updates. However, I have been receiving a mix of email and snail mail. With regard to the latter, I received policy documents for each member of my family in separate envelopes even though they were all addressed to me and sent to one address.

The whole point of going electronic is to avoid wastage. The mixed media method and the multiple mailings goes against this principle. Separate policies look separate on a system, but they are linked to one individual when you create the process to look.

Second, I received confirmation snail mail dated 17 October before receiving more snail mail dated 14 October a few days after. The second set of mail was contrary to the first as it had outdated information.

Going electronic would have provided automated and more timely updates. They would remove the need to send messages with irreverent information. Even if an electronic system sent all messages, they would likely arrive in the correct order (and thus make more sense).

Yesterday I received a text message reminding me to pay for a portion of my annual premium even though I had already paid for it. I had showed the evidence to the insurance representative and she confirmed that everything was in place in every system they had. She even used a Singaporean term — double confirmed. And yet an automated system told me that I had to pay for something I had already paid for.

One thing I took pains to ask the representative to push to higher-ups was this: Walk through policies and processes to see how they affect individuals. The mismanagement of communication had given me sleepless nights for a month.
 

 
What does this have to do with education? The individual matters.

We might get caught up with policies and administrative tasks. But what really matters is whether we treat students as people with hopes and worries, goals and barriers, talents and inabilities.

It is very easy to switch to a closed or defensive mode with facing a group of students. Efficiency becomes the name of the game instead of effectiveness. The clock on the classroom wall or the computer tray matters more than what ticks in the minds of students.

So what is an educator to do?

Something both simple and difficult — return to first principles. Try to remember what it is like to be a learner. Remember the uncertainty, the struggles, the frustration. Empathise first. Reach before you teach.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

 
I have learnt not to place too much hope in hopeful headlines. Headlines like Universities, polytechnics, ITEs reviewing curriculum for a ‘new way’ of teaching, learning: Lawrence Wong.

I will say this first: Journalists parse what they read and/or hear from sources (in this case, the new Education Minister, Mr Lawrence Wong) and in doing so simplify in an attempt to connect to the reader. However, this not always a wise move because nuance can get lost.

I react to the article paragraph by paragraph.

Delivered
Consider a claim in the first paragraph that the authorities will “rethink how education can be better delivered”. A person’s education is not something you can package and pay for like a Grab Food order. It is certainly not something that can be delivered.

To be educated is to be challenged with meaningful problems, subject to failure, and be empowered to find solutions. It is not just about consuming new content or having new experiences from textbooks, courseware, or professors. The latter are somewhat packable and therefore deliverable, but the former are not.

Interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary
The article also uses the terms interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary interchangeably. A byline uses interdisciplinary while a quote from the minister uses multidisciplinary. They are not the same thing.

Most current degrees require students to take many subjects to get a diploma. Their courses are multidisciplinary. But their implementation is unlikely to be interdisciplinary, i.e., integration of subjects that is a result of combined planning, implementation, and assessment from faculty in different silos.

Disrupt
Then there is the uncritical use of “disrupt”: “…the closure of schools during the circuit breaker in April and May to restrict activities and curb the spread of Covid-19 may have disrupted learning”. University teaching might have been interrupted, stopped, or shaken, but learning continues regardless.

Teaching is not learning. Teaching does not guarantee learning even though the latter is desired. Learning happens regardless of official or recognised teaching figures. You need only look back a few months to recall what and how people learnt while in lockdown.

Analytics, automation, AI
Here is a claim that worries me more than it gives me hope:

The Ministry of Education (MOE) now has a “renewed interest” in the role of technology in education, he said.

“And it goes beyond just putting some content online and having remote learning. There is a lot of potential, for example, in using data analytics and artificial intelligence to allow for automated grading.

Yes, there is a much potential… for misuse! One need only read about and learn from the IB and GCSE/GCE fiascos to see what I mean.

What also worries me is the oft cited “automated grading”. This seems to be a focus on efficiency instead of effectiveness. It is not wrong to be as efficient as possible since timely feedback to students on their performance is key to learning. But such quick grading is currently formulaic and simplistic (e.g., answers to multiple-choice questions). This is no where near the complexity of evaluating essays, projects, portfolios, or performances.

Blended learning
I did not find anything new about blended learning in the article. The article tried to make it sound new: “It also requires teachers and instructors to come alongside and be trained in this new way of teaching”.

Blended teaching and learning are not new. They are also not just about combining what happens face-to-face with online activities. Blending has far more dimensions than the mode of instruction and learning. Content, teaching strategies, resource, assessment, and other elements can be blended.

Screen time and addiction
Then there was the usual but unjustified reference to “excessive screen time, digital addiction”. The critiques against the uncritical use of screen time and addiction are numerous and elaborate, but here is a condensed version: 1) The quantity of screen time is not the issue, the quality of the activity is more important, and 2) Addiction is a very specific psychological condition and should not be bandied about to fear monger.

The private sector
The minister mentioned that the private sector could provide industry-relevant contexts and checks. I agree.

He also said that they could be training providers. University faculty can and should learn from industrial partners. But not all trainers are pedagogues. They might not have the background, experience, and research literacy to teach or offer advice on teaching in university contexts.

For goodness sake
The minister’s concluding remarks included this:

…learning can be for good. We also want to learn to be better human beings, to be better husbands and wives, to be better fathers and mothers to our children…

I say we focus primarily on that. It is the most noble, important, and complex to do. The rest are red lines we might not need to cross. But education for the sake of goodness needs to be underlined in red several times.

I watched Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Finance Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat, deliver the Fortitude Budget in Parliament yesterday. It was the fourth budget speech for the Singapore government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I also monitored my Twitter stream for takeaways by the major english language newspapers. None of them mentioned the schooling and education related headlines from DPM’s speech.
 

 
With regard to home-based learning (HBL), DPM announced a greater role for artificial intelligence (AI) and learning sciences. As there were scant details, I presume that AI will play a role in learning analytics while researchers in the learning sciences will be consulted on e-pedagogy.
 

 
DPM also announced an “accelerated timeline” for all secondary school students to receive digital devices. This was initially announced in March and the device could take the form of a tablet, laptop, or Chromebook. The goal then was for all secondary 1 students to own a device by 2024 and all secondary school students to have one by 2028.

There was no firm timeline in the budget speech for both announcements. We do not yet know what an accelerated timeline means for the ownership of devices, nor do we know how long the changes to HBL will take.

All the changes are urgent and important. They are needed immediately and over the long haul. While these changes might not be as tweet-worthy to the newspapers, I aim to read and summarise what I learn in the weeks to come.

 
Every now and then I say, “Ah, serendipity!” because I discover something that is relevant to my learning and teaching.

A resource that was delivered to me almost a month ago was the preview list of journal articles from the British Journal of Educational Technology.

I like BJET because it has thematic releases. The March series focuses on technology for inclusive and special needs education.

The content is wide-ranging and might be slightly beyond the reach of one group of leaners I meet every year. However, I find these two articles to be particularly relevant:

The rest of the articles are listed here.

I had a conversation with some students after class yesterday. These were graduate students who are learning to be instructors and facilitators.

After I made a point about just-in-time instruction, one students shared this quote from the movie, The Wolf of Wall Street:

The Wolf of Wall Street: Sell me this pen!

He got my point. Given a problem first, a learner then seeks information and solutions. A facilitator of learning then provides scaffolds and information just-in-time and based-on-need. This contrasts with much of current teaching, which is solutions first and just-in-case.

But there is also a slow and subtle change in university education. It is about focusing on the need to learn something instead of the need to teach it. This is about first creating the need to buy instead relying only on selling strategies.

An educator needs to both, of course. But we might do far too much selling and force-feeding instead of creating conditions for curiosity and hunger.

One of the artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives slated for Singapore schooling is “adaptive learning systems”. I take issue with calling them that.

One one hand, I understand why they are simple learning systems — they monitor what each student does and offer resources based on need or performance.

On the other hand, this is actually a content delivery system. The “learning” moniker is marketing speak. Vendors know that they are not going to get their feet in the front door if they do not use more progressive terms while mostly maintaining the status quo.

You can tie a bow on it, paint it gold, and call it an alternative-looking shovel. I call a spade a spade.
 

It is easy to play the blame game. For example, some might attribute the lack of deep writing to what seems like shallow sharing on social media. Case in point, this tweet.

The first part of the tweet that houses this assumption is itself not nuanced. Many things contribute to the inability to write more deeply, meaningfully, or reflectively. “Impatient” writing could be due to the maturity of the writer, the time they have left to write, the relevance of the task, etc.

The educator was open enough to acknowledge the feedback from her students — the low-hanging fruit sort of writing was a product of the low-hanging fruit sort of testing. If tests value and reward short-term thinking and convenient answers instead of more nuanced thought, then why do we blame students for thinking that way?

We are buffeted and conditioned by our environments. We adapt to those conditions and adopt mindsets and behaviours that help us survive or thrive. Then we bring those mindsets and behaviours to other environments and see what works.

If students learn superficial writing from superficial media, then might they learn about nuanced writing by being exposed to more thoughtfully-crafted social media postings? Maybe. Nuanced writing takes time, discipline, and effort. Pursuing and nurturing such value systems is, in part, what education is for.

I was schooled. I became educated.

The learning of any subject might seem like a goal and an end unto itself. This might be true when the learner is a novice and being schooled. But as learners mature, they might realise that it is more important to learn-to-be (a writer), not just to learn-about (writing). They become more educated when they realise that it is far more important to learn HOW to think that to be taught WHAT to think.


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