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Posts Tagged ‘education

Email spam is a fact of modern life. But I did not expect so much spam from local education institutes.

I get spam from different institutes about once a fortnight. Depending on how it is formatted, my email filters relegate most to a spam folder. But a few always get through. 

When I spoke at their venue or conducted a workshop for them, I did not ask to be included in a mailing list or give permission for my email to be used in any other context.

Cannot unsubscribe from spammy edu provider because the link they provide is broken.

The local spammy edus also have patterns of operation. One is not being able to unsubscribe because there is no option. Another is that a link to unsubscribe is included but it does not work (see screenshot above). 

I detest inconsiderate and unempathetic marketers. But spammy edu marketers are in a league of their own. They set a bad example of how to behave as educators or as representatives of education institutes.

A Singapore member of parliament (MP) has been roundly criticised online for his “radical idea” of local degrees that expire.

mrbrown chose to focus on the cost of getting a degree. I look elsewhere. For example:

  • If you get a degree in one field but are now operating in another field without that degree, what then?
  • If Singapore IHL degrees lapse, should the same thing happen to overseas degrees?
  • What do we do with governmental, workplace, and other efforts to retrain, upskill, or otherwise provide professional development for workers?
  • What about other paper qualifications like polytechnic diplomas and ITE certificates, or postgraduate degrees like Masters and doctorates?

To be fair, the news report seemed to suggest that the MP did recognise the importance of “skill sets and real-world experiences” and “continuous and lifelong learning”. But his argument was couched on the wrong premise — continuous accreditation — instead of continuous education. 

Unpack the two tweets below. The original tweet is below the response.

The original tweet highlights how selective hearing and reading can result in deafness to logic and blindness to perspective.

That tweeter started with a conclusion (our conditions are irrationally restrictive) and selectively cited policies in order to reverse engineer disgust with authorities.

The replier applied a dose of rare common sense to explain how enacted policies follow logic. For example, people who opt to travel now are subject to even stricter conditions and practices to ensure the safety of all.

We should not envy other countries that seem to have opened up despite not having as high a vaccination rate and/or having people that actively resisted masking and vaccines. Those places paid with disproportionately more lives than we have.

Emerging from a pandemic is not a race to be first. Singapore’s strategy has been to flatten the curve during endemic phase of COVID-19 so as not to overburden medical care or kill our vulnerable. This is a long game and some do not have the patience or the foresight to do this.

So they take to platforms like Twitter and Facebook to vent unhappiness or even spew hatred. This attracts likes because people can be stupid that way.

Consider another scenario that played out in the USA.

Video source

An unvaccinated woman was denied a kidney transplant and her supporters want to play up the narrative that she was being unfairly punished.

This simple explanation was designed to create outrage (just like the original tweet was). It also stemmed from being deaf to logic and blind to perspective.

A medical professional explained that organ recipients must take immunosuppressive drugs to reduce the risk of organ rejection. This leaves the patient vulnerable to disease.

The woman claimed to have SARS-CoV2 antibodies. But we do not know if she has antibodies to the delta variant or if she has enough to fight off infection.

The less simple explanations may not be as easy to understand, but they provide the rationale for effective COVID-19 responses.

Being open to such explanations starts with the decision to stop being wilfully deaf and blind to logic and perspective. If schooling has not open your eyes and ears, then you have not been educated.

A contact of mine asked me if I had resources on blockchain for education. I found this paper in my archive.

But buyer of ideas beware, the paper offers dangerous ideas like this:

…blockchain can be used to motivate students by implementing “learning is earning” (Sharples and Domingue 2016). The smart contract between teachers and students can be applied to the educational scenario. Real-time awards can be given to students through some simple clicks by the instructors. Students will get a certain number of digital currency according to smart contract as rewards.

The authors of that paper seem to think that blockchain should make learning transactional in a monetary sense. I do not know if any of the authors are educators, but this idea should sound alarm bells.

The context for that suggestion was higher education. Enabling such an idea for young adult learners sends the wrong message that students should learn for extrinsic rewards. Learners at that age are self-actualising; they should not be treated like Pavlovian pups.

I have seen how the reliance on extrinsic rewards plays out without blockchain. When I was a professor, I had the privilege of travelling to different countries for consults and collaborations. In one country where was social support was strong, student teacher attendance was tied to their living allowance.

These students figured out the quota of classes they had to attend to get their money and did not attend sessions outside the quota. They were not learning because of the need to get prepared as future teachers; they attended classes to get paid. Would you want teachers with that kind of mindset teaching your children?

Photo by Moose Photos on

Another idea presented in the paper was that blockchain could be used in the evaluation of collaborative learning. It posited that freeloaders in groups were a problem and vaguely suggested how blockchain could record student behaviours.

This is overkill because educators can already evaluate collaborative group work, i.e., self, group-based, and peer evaluations. An educator might leverage on current technologies like online journals and feedback forms.

Not all the ideas in the paper were about nurturing mercenaries or monitoring student behaviours. Most were about distributing the registry and ensuring the integrity of things like degree awards and skills certification. These administrative ideas seem fine.

The blockhead suggestion for educators to reward students with the equivalent of bitcoin breaks a tenet in education. The other suggestion for evaluating student collaboration reeks of technological solutionism.

I could question how that article passed review. Instead I will offer a fundamental principle of educational technology: We should problem-seek before we problem-solve. We do not offer solutions in search for problems.

This tweet and its embedded article gave me reason to revisit my pivot.

It offered some reasons why schools should reopen for kids to resume in person classes. Among them were:

  • School closures had “significant” impact on “skills attainment and earning prospects…  physical and mental health” (no evidence, just statement of presumed fact)
  • Access to online learning is uneven (true in many SE Asian contexts, less so here)
  • There were “increases in anxiety, depression and self-harm” and “increased loneliness, difficulty concentrating” and “poor eating habits and disrupted sleep patterns” and “increased the risk of domestic violence” and “more screen time has exacerbated the risks of online harm” (again all stated as evidence without giving any)

In short, this was a list that the Pessimists Archive would have a field day with. It included tired reasons for reopening in-person schools and vilifying online education.

There is just one thing I fully agree with about this tweeted headline. Online learning is no substitute, but not for the reasons spelt out in the op piece.

Online education is not yet a common substitute because it is: 

  • called upon mostly in emergencies like a fire extinguisher would
  • relegated to the exception instead of integrated as part of a norm
  • held to the standards of what is possible or desirable in-person instead of evaluated on its own merits

I am not saying that schools should not reopen when they can. They should because they serve critical societal and economic functions. And since I work mostly from home, I would like my wife (a teacher) and my son to give me my work space back. 😉

I am saying that we should not vilify online education when you have not given it a chance to bloom, cross fertilise, and create newer and better versions of itself. This is, after all, what we did with schooling. 

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.

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.

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.


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