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Posts Tagged ‘education

Most educators worth their salt have heard of Sir Ken Robinson. His TED talks have made him famous.

I wonder how many have viewed the videos of Yong Zhao or read his work. To say that Yong Zhao rarely fails to provoke is to make an understatement.

I am an admirer of his and respect his work. I have referenced some key moments over the last few years.

One of the more recent articles by Yong Zhao builds on yesterday’s theme: What seems to work might be an illusion. Yong Zhao argued that what seems to work in schooling can hurt because of side effects.

His article is an introduction to a longer one published in the Journal of Educational Change. He has a link to download the full article and you will have to visit his site to get it.

Yong Zhao started with this premise:

Educational research has typically focused exclusively on the benefits, intended effects of products, programs, policies, and practices, as if there were no adverse side effects. But side effects exist the same way in education as in medicine.

He suggested that the side effects in schooling and education might occur because:

  1. Time spent on a new intervention results in time lost in something else.
  2. Resources like people power are also redirected to newer initiatives that might distract from important core tasks.
  3. The desired outcomes of schooling and education are often contradictory. You cannot have an obedient and pliable workforce and one embraces diversity and risk-taking.
  4. Different people respond differently to the same treatments. What works with one group in one context can change with the group, the context, or both.

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

All these seem like common sense or obvious points to make in hindsight. Yet we make the mistakes again because we do not learn from others and recent history.

Once again, we need to pull the wool off our eyes. This time it is the wool that we put on and we have ourselves to blame for being so blind.

I am not necessarily for the Uber-ification or Netflix-ation of education. Some principles and practices do not transfer.

For example, the customer is not always right and the bottomline is not always immediate nor about profit or mindshare.
 

 
However, the changes that Uber and Netflix bring signal the need to adopt and adapt some ideas. I suggest a few less radical but important ones using company slogans.

Burger King’s favorite ditto seems to be “have it your way”. I am all for nurturing independence and critical thinking by getting learners to decide what they need to learn and to determine if they have learnt it.

IKEA says that “you do not have to be rich to be clever”. I am a proponent of open educational resources and open access journals being the norm rather than the exception, particularly if education is to be the great leveller.

McDonald’s would like its patrons to say “I’m loving it”. I would Iike our children to say the same thing about their education and following their passions.

Right now it is the privileged few who hate school but have opportunities to love their personal journeys thanks to family-sponsored rides. If all our children had access to more open resources and were taught to give back, we would have the equitable system that dreamers imagined.

I have a thought that is more question than statement. Why do countries with modern economies implement bracketed education?

By brackets I mean this: Open parenthesis, something in the middle, close parenthesis.
 

 
This thought was spurred by an article I read a short while ago about an Italian approach to early childhood education here in Singapore. Approaches like these focus on the learner and natural ways of learning, e.g., questioning, play, just-in-time and contextual information, unfettered curiosity.

Even the first two years of Primary school education have been affected by newer kindergarten approaches. Fewer worksheets, no exams for promotion, let kids be kids. The prototyping for this move started in 2010 and it is the norm now.

Skip past the middle block to higher education in a polytechnic and university. These institutes serve simultaneous purposes of preparing a workforce and helping young adults to find their purpose. As lecture-driven as these places may still be, the variety of learning opportunities astounds with field and overseas trips, lab work, internships, longer term projects, portfolios, and more.

The middle schooling group might also do these things, but the learners are younger and perhaps less ready for them. The relevance of these experiences might not be yet real to them.

The between-the-brackets education is more accurately labelled schooling. Comply to instructions, complete curricula, concede to tests and exams as measures of worth.

The brackets seem to embrace authenticity. The bracketed seems to be a bubble that has yet to burst.

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.

Every now and then I get requests to be interviewed, to write an article, or to have something I wrote be part of someone else’s site.

I say no almost all the time and I explain why based on the context of the request. But there is one reason that is common to all requests: I do not want to be manipulated into pushing someone else’s agenda.

Everyone has an agenda, even if they say they do not. Having an agenda is fine if you are honest about it and if you have your heart in the right place.

Quotes taken from what I say or write might get decontextualised. An opinion piece that I write might get edited until its original message gets diluted or warped.

These are probably why some politicians who are interviewed by the press also post their speeches or thoughts on platforms like Facebook. Better to hear from the horse’s mouth.
 

 
The sad thing is that not all do this. Instead of allowing people to thinking critically and make their own decisions based on source material, the sources and the press conspire to leave it up to the press to publish selectively.

What is our excuse in the realms of schooling and education?

Is the source material unavailable?

Is the source material available, but not accessible?

Is the source material available and accessible, but not understandable?

If we say yes to any of these questions, why is this the case and what are we doing about it?

In the wider world, people can take control of the information they generate. They create, share, and discuss, largely on social media.

If the goal of schooling and education is to prepare kids for the wider world, then why are we not allowing and insisting that students create, share, and discuss more openly?

Today I continue my journey as a consultant by revisiting experiences I used to facilitate almost ten years ago. I have designed ICT-focused modules for a group of allied educators whose work revolves around children with special learning needs.

As a teacher educator in NIE, I used to facilitate a core classroom management and special needs awareness course. Back then I relied on PBwiki (which became PBworks) and Google Sites to provide rich learning experiences.

Back then, the content of the course was centrally planned by a committee and content was stuffed awkwardly into an LMS. Once student-teachers graduated, they could not access the resources. I decided to use open wikis to provide continued and timely access.

The wikis are open to this day. Google is good at leaving things as is; PBworks annoys me at least once a year by asking me if they can claim the space.

This time round I am experimenting with the newly minted Google Spaces to provide a springboard for accessing numerous other online resource, tools, and platforms.

Google Space for CAE/SEED course on ICT for Inclusion.

Some things have changed in the area of ICT for special needs and others have stubbornly remain entrenched.

The ICT-enabled learning possibilities for individuals with special needs is immense. I have been collecting online references for a few months and the possibilities are mind-boggling and heart-warming.

Like most socio-technical phenomena, the problems lie in human ignorance, indifference, and inertia. One word encompasses all three: Administration. The group that should support and enable instead enforces and blocks.

Administration is typically multilayered, and while bureaucracy is generally a pain, I have been fortunate to work with a layer that has given me some freedom. I will use that leeway to design learning experiences that are active instead of archaic and meaningful instead of mundane.

Why do I do this? I believe that every one has “special needs” when it comes to learning. Each of us lies somewhere along a continuum of preferences and abilities. A course designed by an administrator ticks boxes and reaches for the low-hanging fruit. A course designed by a learner tickles and challenges.

If you asked me what the biggest technology news was so far in 2016, I would point to Netflix planting its flag in almost every country in the world.

In case you live under a rock or are indifferent to Netflix, here is a Wired article on Netflix’s conquest.

What Netflix did was no small feat if you recall that it started out as a video disc distribution company. People who wanted to watch movies in the comfort of their homes rented movies online and the discs were sent to them via the post.

The post. Video discs. Imagine that!
 

 
The company reinvented itself by streaming videos over the Internet. In the process, Netflix streaming accounts for more than a third of all Internet traffic in the USA.

This corporate entity has achieved in a decade what educational institutions have struggled with for millennia, e.g., access to resources free from old restrictions like geography, gender, and age.

Admittedly Netflix cannot solve the problem of socio-economic divide. Its library of videos is also not available equally to all due to international laws (e.g., intellectual property) and local policies (e.g., censorship).

However, those flaws are actually evidence of a strength. Netflix did not wait for systems to be ready nor did they try to make everyone happy. Quite the opposite.

Netflix did this because survival & profit were at stake. Those of us who think of ourselves as educators do not necessarily think like that.

Maybe we should. How long will the old school stay relevant when today’s learners can teach themselves? How might teachers reinvent for survival and salary? How long will the system provide conditions for teachers to not change?


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