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Posts Tagged ‘educational

This tweeted look back into our recent history triggered me. I still hear excuses for why technology should not enable teaching and learning. 

The news article may be 40-years-old, but it shares the same the roots for excuses today — fear and ignorance. There is the fear of change and the lack of reading up and trying new ways.

Nowadays the fear that paralyses seems to come from the bogeymen of screen time, social media, and video games. The ignorance behind these is entrenched by traditional media channels that focus on opinions over research, and loose perception over rigorous data.

Thankfully, I do not encounter as many technology-resistant pre- and in-service teachers as before. But they linger like the anti-vax segments of our population. And like the anti-vaxxers, such teachers hold themselves and their students back from doing and being better.

The more I work in the field of educational technology, the more I realise that technology does not transform as much as it reveals.

Technology does not auto-magically make your teaching better (or worse for that matter). It reveals who you are and what you do. That is what makes your teaching better or worse.

To give technology all the credit or blame is to be technologically deterministic. But technology is not just a tool. Marshall McLuhan said it best:

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. -- Marshall McLuhan

Our reliance on video conferencing tools in the age of COVID-19 reveals if we simply try to recreate the conventional classroom. If we do, we do not let the tools and circumstances reshape us.

But if we first analyse a tool’s affordances, we figure out what is was designed to do and we change our behaviours. As we do so, we learn what the rules of use are, what rules can be bent, and which can be broken. We reshape that tool and the cyclic dance continues.

The most recent measures added to Singapore’s COVID-19 circuit breaker redefined “essential services”.

When the restrictions started two weeks ago, getting your fill of bubble tea and having a haircut were essential. Now they are not.

I am not complaining nor am I worried because I did not buy into the bubble tea fad and I can get a haircut later. But I am worried about some smaller food & beverage (F&B) outlet owners and the possible parallel future of school edtech.

According to this government article, “standalone outlets that only sell beverages, packaged snacks, confectioneries (e.g. sweets, toffees) or desserts will be required to close their outlets” (more detailed list here). These are typically owned by young, gung-ho, and creative types who rent shophouse space in HDB estates and areas that can only be described as outliers.

The large and franchised chains like Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are not affected as much because most outlets operate in malls. They can still sell their wares via takeaways and deliveries. The small and independent outlets have to shut down completely.

Here is a message from Lee’s Confectionary, a patisserie that I visit almost every week:

Message from Lee's Confectionery about the extended circuit breaker.

The independent F&B outlets are the ones who need to most help. They do not have parent bodies that might absorb the impact and share the load. They rely on viral social media marketing, word of mouth, and reputational capital because they carved niches of their own. But they were the first to be dropped.

What is the parallel with edtech in schooling that is currently defined by emergency remote teaching and possibly later by actual online learning? I worry that the established vendors of content and “learning” management systems, or sellers of popular tools like Zoom, will continue to get deference over niche platforms or tools.

Such a move is a “safe” bet from an administrative and policy point of view. Those in charge of purse strings can bargain for the best price of implementing a platform over large systems. In terms of policy, having just one or very few platforms is easier to monitor and control.

But such a mindset is outdated. It counters what open, online, and distance education expert, Martin Weller, described as essentials for moving forward: openness, decentralisation, and distribution.

An oversimplified version of those three principles put into action is: Do not put all your eggs in one basket. CMS and LMS strain when accessed concurrently. These platforms are rarely designed with progressive pedagogy, e.g., they are designed largely for consumption instead of creation/co-creation. None of the standard platforms can assure stakeholders that they can implement tests and evaluations in the way schools currently do.

Yet the incumbents are preferred over the niche and nimble tools or providers that pioneering teachers already rely on. It is not that niche and nimble tools are actively discouraged. It is that they are not prudently encouraged. I wonder when we might see a clear shift in of mindset built on empowerment and trust.

As good as Mashable might be for creating awareness on different aspects of life, I question the wisdom of relying on it for “apps to help you learn something new”.

I am not saying that the ten apps it suggested are not effective. Apps for learning are a dime as dozen, so it might help to get a recommendation on which one to use. However, I question the specificity of this ask.

The apps need to have a very specific focus, e.g., a particular language, playing the guitar, financial investments. There is nothing wrong with that as long as the learner has a clear desire and need to use it.

Such apps take a long time to develop and need constant updating. When educators first learn about mobile apps, they tend to approach them from content fields: Is there an app for ABC? How might we develop an app for XYZ? They do not realise the amount of time, effort, talent, and money it takes to get one such app off the ground, much less maintaining it.

For educators who do not code or have their own startups, I suggest switching from this narrow and content-specific view to a broader one. Look at what generic apps like YouTube, Instagram, or Twitter might offer. These involve content curation and creation by them and/or their students. They also require blended approaches of using these apps with existing environments, methods, and resources. This is a lower entry barrier to app-enabled or app-assisted learning.

I wonder if the use of the pencil to illustrate technology leaders and laggards was ironic or intended.

If technology is anything new that you did not have when you were growing up, then using a pencil makes sense — everyone in the audience used one.

But its use is somewhat ironic. The speaker had to rely on an older form of technology that no longer had laggards. Who objects to pencils?

The point was to encourage better use and integration of current educational technologies. These are things that teachers did not have when they were growing up but what students have in abundance now, i.e., mobile phones and laptops.

The metaphors we use are powerful. They reveal our mindsets which in turn shape our behaviours. You might start with a pencil because everyone can relate to it. But that could reveal a mindset entrenched in the past.

Tomorrow's educational progress cannot be determined by yesterday's successful performance.

This is the same quote on the new background (above) and the old one (below).

Tomorrow's educational progress cannot be determined by yesterday's successful performance.

If the message holds true, why change the background (other than to update it with CC information)?

The old image juxtaposed a typewriter with what is now a really old iPhone. We would not judge mobile-ness with a ten-year-old phone, so why should we evaluate the outcomes of education any differently?

If your reply is that schooling and education change much more slowly, then you might be part of the problem.

The video below explains the differences between modern music videos and educational ones. In doing so, it works less as a how-to and more as a warning not to blindly ape popular methods.

Video source

Fortunately, those of us who live and work in the realms of schooling and education do not have the time or inclination to make educational videos more like music videos.

Unfortunately, this has not stopped leaders and administrators from adopting concepts and practices from other fields, e.g., return on investment, best practices, being like Uber or AirBnB or Amazon of education.

I am all for learning about how others operate. I am not for trying to transfer or apply those ideas devoid of history or context.

Video source

Why do some technologies, including educational technologies, fail to integrate meaningfully into our lives?

Viewed optimistically, one might suggest that the technology was “before its time”. The technology was ready, but the people were not.

Viewed more critically, one might argue that the technology was a solution seeking a problem. The core issue is whether the problem even exists or needs to be invented first. If you put the proverbial cart before the horse, do not expect any movement.

Viewed more realistically, technology co-evolves with our use so rapidly that it is hard to predict what people want, expect, or will do with technology. If the proverbial posts keep moving, do not expect to score goals.

Steven Anderson described five reasons why educational research is not commonly used in schools. He then suggested four things teachers could consider about reading, applying, or conducting research.

I could not agree more. In fact, I am guiding and mentoring a group of teachers as they write research papers about their shared experiences. I enjoy the clinic-like sessions as we write, reflect, and revise our work.

But back to the importance of practice-based research. I sum it up with this image quote I made in 2015.

Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.

I reserved this read, Why We Must Embrace Benevolent Friction in Education Technology, for the new year.

A few concepts from the article jumped out at me, but the one that stood out was DRIP — Data Rich, Information Poor. What does this have to do with edtech?

DRIP is a criticism of edtech companies and providers that tout data analytics as a means of controlling, feeding, manipulating, or enabling learners. Data is just that, data. It is not organised information that might become internalised as knowledge and then externalised as intervention.

What edtech providers, particularly LMS and CMS companies, have yet to do is help their clients and partners make sense of the data. This is in part because programmer or provider speak is not the same as teacher and educator speak. There are relatively few people — like me — who can bridge that gap.

So what these providers do is reach out to administrators and policymakers because they all deal with numbers and data. They do so in a way that makes sense to them. It does not help that these discussions are not transparent and also make little sense to teachers and educators.

A while ago I heard about an interrogative torture technique that involved slowly dripping water onto a victim’s head. The slow drips quickly wear down psychological resistance and the interrogators get what they want.

That method does not transfer via DRIP in edtech. It will only drown clients and partners in meaningless data that does not actually help teachers or their learners.

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