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Hot on the heels of Apple’s recent education event came this tweet from @AppleEDU:

Here was a critical response:

I agree. The equation of fun = engaging = learning is flawed.

Something that is fun might be engaging, but does not mean that the right gears are in play.

For example, a teacher might introduce a mobile or online game to teach a math skill or language concept. A student might play the game — typically a quiz in disguise — to get a high score, but learn little, if anything at all.

This happens when the teacher focuses on the game or content instead of factoring in the learner’s prior knowledge and cognitive schema. Doing the latter activates the right gears in the learner before they start a meaningful learning journey.

Something engaging still does not guarantee learning. When a teacher tries to engage learners with iPads or Chromebooks, this is an external hook or lure. The stimulus comes from without.

Empowerment comes largely from within. It might start with an engaging hook, but the teacher must also provide learner choice and agency. A teacher teaches; only a learner learns.
 

 
Entire school districts might commit to Apple’s new offering. They might also opt for the technical training it offers for teachers. But all these are pointless if there is no socio-technical professional development (PD), i.e., one that focuses on both pedagogy and technology. Such PD is about activating schema and empowering learners with technology. It is not about putting one above the other, i.e., pedagogy over technology, or technology over pedagogy.


Video source

Here is some free PD: The video above and the one embedded in the AppleEDU tweet hint at what empowered students look like. They learn by doing and they create.

However, neither video shows the teacher’s role in all this. Neither video shows what the gaps are, how wide they are, or how to bridge those gaps. This is PD that school administrators and policymakers need to plan and pay for. This is PD that teachers must demand. This is PD that people who live in the nexus of pedagogy and technology — people like me — can provide.

ECG is an acronym for electrocardiogram. I had an ECG earlier this week, but it was not about my heart. I volunteered to share some thoughts at a school’s Education and Career Guidance event.

As with other events which are designed so that I give, I received much in return. Here are a few of my takeaways from the event.

Many thanks to this group for giving me the permission to share this photo.

The students were prepared with some guiding questions, but we found much of this scaffold unnecessary. When we made meaningful connections, questions and answers flowed naturally.

For me this reinforced the importance of being personable and personal as an educator.

Being personable is being approachable, having a smile that comes from deep within, and above all sounding human instead of high-and-mighty. Being personal is sharing meaningful events or stories. This sort of sharing is sincere and connects with heart and mind.

For example, when I introduced myself I mentioned that I was married to one of the teachers in the school. That naturally piqued interest and generated a Q&A game.

I also noticed all members of one group were armed with smartphones. So instead of answering the “What do you do?” and “Why do you do it?” questions the standard way, I asked the students to Google me. It was my way of showing them that:

  1. they should use the tools they already have,
  2. they could teach themselves, and
  3. it was important to be Googleable in a good way.

All three are important in modern work. If that is not career advice and guidance, I do not know what is.

I took the opportunity to ask different groups of students what they thought about the state of technology use in school compared to their personal lives, what games they played, and what social media tools they preferred. I will focus on their social media habits since that was the topic I discussed with all of them.

Almost without exception, the students seemed to favour Instagram. Some were on Twitter, and if they were, they preferred to keep private accounts. YouTube was also popular, but it is not really a social media platform if the behaviour is largely consumptive. Only a few had heard of or used more current tools like Snapchat, Meercat, or Periscope.

The serendipity ship sailed by because a tweep shared this the next day:

Her students were slightly older, but they had a similar evolutionary social media profile.

Take one or two accounts and you have anecdotes; collect more anecdotes in a disciplined way and you have data. Groups like comScore, TheNextWeb, and MindShift provide similar anecdotes and data about how teenagers use social media.

The more important question is whether teachers know and care enough that their students are on such platforms. If they do, the next question is whether teachers use appropriate strategies (read: non-LMS, non-traditional).

Students and teachers have different expectations of social media. For example, teachers seem to forget how they use social media in their own lives and resort to push strategies instead of pull.

Push strategies include making announcements, giving instructions, requiring online discussions of a certain quantity by a certain time, etc. These are pushed towards students and rely on an external locus of control (the teacher).

Pull strategies, on the other hand, originate from the students, a shared event, a common interest, or some other internal locus of control. No one has to tell them to take a photo (like the one above) and share it on Instagram, to talk about Amos Yee or Taylor Swift on Twitter, or to discuss homework on Facebook.

I let some of the students know that one of the things I do now is try to show teachers how to unlearn old habits and pick up new value systems for teaching. The secret sauce is this: Teachers have to use social media in their own lives and transfer what is good and useful to class. It is social first, not content first.

One student asked me if I could come back to her school and tell her teachers how to do that. I would love to. I can, but will the school leadership or staff developer even bother?

I was recently part of an edtech event and the organizers were prompt enough to share event photos by the next day. I appreciate this because it shows a sense of urgency and pride.

However, one of the photos made me pause for thought. The organizing committee posed with a sign that said “IT’S OVER”. (I am using a different image below to illustrate.)
 

 
On one hand I can relate to the relief of a job well done. I have planned and organized events like these after all.

On the other, I wonder if it revealed a mindset. I view events like the one I attended to be the start of conversations or journeys, so declaring that “IT’S OVER” seemed premature.

Another latent mindset could be that running such an event was unpleasant, hence the relief that “IT’S OVER”. This is like a child coming home at the end of the school day and heaving relief that “IT’S OVER”.
 
I say this not to slight the organizers of the event. The hard work and thoughtfulness was evident as were the sacrifices all participants made to attend during the school vacation.
 

 
But we should all be aware that lessons and messages are not just TAUGHT, they are also CAUGHT. Learning is not over even if the fat lady sings and you do not want to send that message at the end of an event.

I tried watching the Apple event ‘live’ stream on Sep 9 (it was 1am on Sep 10 here in Singapore), but it did not go smoothly.

I could only watch the video using the Safari browser. The video would freeze ever so often. When it played, I could hear three voices at once as there were least two simultaneous audio translations of what was being said on stage. The brief text and photo updates at Gizmodo and TechCrunch were less media rich but clearer.

The last time the video stream froze, I tried reloading the page. I received a cryptic message informing me that I had done something illegal. I did not realize that watching an Apple event broadcast by Apple on my iMac using Apple’s Safari browser was illegal. Perhaps it was illegal to expect the quality and reliability of YouTube.

Some folks who experienced the same problems watching the event online took to Twitter and their blogs to vent [example]. I am not using this blog to vent. This is not because I am an Apple fanboy (I own Android devices and a PC in addition to my iOS devices and Macs).

I just sighed and thought how much the experience was like using most learning management systems (LMS).

The ‘live’ stream only worked on Safari. Most LMS rely on proprietary systems that often do not play well with others. This helps LMS companies control their processes and products, and create lock-in among their clients. They might tell you are are compliant to SCORM or some other standard, but the fact is that it is very difficult to move from one system or platform to another.

If you used some other browser like Chrome, you received text updates and no video of the Apple event. The updates were much slower than the ‘live’ pages or tweets from tech blogs. LMS tend to be inflexible that way. Most providers have little choice but to open themselves up to social media and Google Drive in order to stay relevant, but their core is based on giving IT folks and conservative policy makers a false sense of control.

It is very reassuring to the people who are not actually designing and/or teaching courses to hear how “feature-rich” or “secure” the LMS is. Those who need to design and/or teach are forced to learn the LMS ropes instead of relying on good instinct, educational research, and reflective practice. Learners just go with the flow because their grades ultimately depend on compliance and they might not know any better.

But more and more educators and learners do know better. They are fed on diets on cloud computing, social media interaction, YouTube videos, and Google Doc editing. The sands are shifting, but LMS providers will have you believe that their castles will stand.

They will not. Most LMS providers will refuse to admit they are wrong (has Apple apologized for their streaming gaffes?). Just like Apple is unlikely to admit that the other more open, more social streams were also more reliable and just as accurate.

LMS are unlikely to admit that providing feature-rich options (like Apple’s simulcast translations) are actually distracting, noisy, and harmful. They dissuade risk-taking, good pedagogy, and deep learning.

Let us not kid ourselves into thinking that LMS are about learning, much less managing it. Take e-portfolios for example. They could be about alternative and progressive forms of assessment, platforms for reflection and career-long learning, and students taking ownership of their own processes and products of learning. An LMS provider can tell you that because someone else has done the research or critical pedagogy or distilled that wisdom at a keynote. There are some LMS providers who will incorporate e-portfolio tools because it means more accounts, storage space, training, and maintenance.

Apple and LMS providers are entitled to make money off of you. They do not force you to buy-in and buy outright. Instead, they skillfully convince you what value they bring.

The difference is that when you buy an Apple consumer product, it is typically for your own or your loved ones’ use. When you buy an LMS, you are affecting hundreds or thousands of people. Can you claim to know what they all struggle with, need, or wish to be? If you cannot, you should go where they already are. They are using solutions that are social, open, and mobile.


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