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Posts Tagged ‘fear

There are many ways to avoid change. One way is to vilify the new by fear mongering.

One of the best ways to do that is to make a personal and relatable threat even if there is little or no evidence for it. Consider this headline:

Fear mongering 101

The tweet reminded me of a Pessimists Archive podcast episode I reflected on in January. That episode focused on how bicycles and phones — new technologies in their time — supposedly caused face-related maladies. It is fear-of-technology repeating itself.

It is one thing if the fear is warranted. It is another when the fear mongers have already made up their minds and look for pseudo science data to justify their claims.

If we are to be critical consumers, we need to be able to discern strategies like fear mongering. If we see this happening over a period of time, the skill becomes pattern recognition. Both are learnable skills that distinguish a skeptic from a cynic.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition 4

I challenged my audience in 2013 with a series of slides led by the one above. My intent then was to provide a fourth element in a loose but critical scaffold for thinking about MOOCs.

Back then, I asked them if adopting platforms like Coursera would serve their underserved (they evidence then was that it would not). I challenged them to ask difficult questions like: What might the consequences be if they did not rely on evidence-based planning and approaches?

Today I position this questioning element in the context of emergency remote teaching. How do we respond to the fear of asking and getting answers to the following questions?

  • What mistakes did we make and what did we learn from them?
  • Why were we not better prepared? How might we be better prepared?
  • How do we level up our collective capacity towards seamless learning?

The last question might be informed with this useful framework from Scott McLeod.

The other questions require a brutal and honest look at ourselves. Will we remember enough and be brave enough to do that when we are on the other side of the COVID-19 curve?

The context for this slide: It was 2013 and I was presenting to an audience more used to US English spelling (hence the spelling of “decentralizing”). More importantly, I was on the same mission of advising people to not make the same unnecessary mistakes that others had already made.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition Part 3

The advice I gave was simple. A teaching solution that is often presented before considering the learning problem is a vendor-provided learning management system (LMS). This creates lock-ins of platforms and tools, pedagogy, and finances.

All three lock-ins can have hidden elements. For example, you might already be invested a particular tool but that same tool is not compatible with the LMS. If you wish to get the equivalent tool or a new one, this is likely to come with additional cost. In any case, the likely end result is teaching to the whims of the tool instead of letting good pedagogy lead.

Today, that same advice might be recontextualised to not relying almost solely on a content management system (CMS) like our Student Learning System (SLS) or a video conferencing platform like Zoom.

One fear of having multiple platforms and tools is the loss of administrative and IT systems control. This is the top-down approach which is largely non-consultative and does not create ownership or empowerment among its users.

To be fair, you can rationalise the need for such an approach because users might not know what to use in a situation like COVID-19 lockdowns and home-based learning (or more accurately, emergency remote teaching). Having just one (or very few) tools and platforms also allows for system managers to provide more focused support.

However, this presumes that teachers and student have no idea what to do and use. This is not the case. Practically any system has its technology leaders, laggards, and those somewhere in between. The first group is likely to already be using some technology tools without sanctioned support. This can be a boon or a bane depending on how it is planned and managed.

The recent phenomenon of zoom-bombing — trolls joining and disrupting Zoom-based video conference calls — could be used as evidence of why the command-and-control approach works. If people try different tools and managers know that some tools are better and safer than others, why let those people use inferior and unsafe tools?

However, that question is a flawed premise because a small group of administrators and IT folk do not and cannot know as much as a large group of users trying and testing different tools. If just a small portion of active users manages to identify flaws with a platform like Zoom (and there are many), they are a valuable source of testing and information. They could — and have — advised on NOT using Zoom in the first place.

Why rely on actual users instead of administrators and IT folk for testing, analysis, and critique? They are actual users who will use and “abuse” the tools for teaching, learning, and unanticipated ways. They will not think and operate along the lines of spreadsheets, policy, security, etc. They will use the tools authentically.

So the issue is not the loss of control in decentralising technology initiatives. It is the coordinated planning, evaluation, and sharing of such tools and their practices. The fear of losing control is misplaced and misguided. The energy that is wasted here could be channeled to coordinated decentralisation.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition Part 2

When I shared this idea at a conference in 2013, it was a call to be avoid being totally or blindly reliant on vendor-provided learning management systems (LMS). Right now the principle applies to emergency remote teaching: Do not be reliant on just one platform for video conferencing, e.g., Zoom. Why not? This is my Diigo archive for Zoom-related woes and alternatives.

Today, I would position this thought a bit differently. The closed system would not just be the LMS (which learners lose access to sooner than later), it would be about the closed professional development system.

Progressive schools see the value of mentoring new teachers and continuously developing the professional capacity of all teachers. They do so with events like internal sharing sessions and vendor-conducted workshops. If timely and relevant, these benefit the teachers in that school’s ecosystem.

However, some schools operate as closed systems, i.e., they do not share what they learn openly and regularly so that others outside their school may also learn. If other schools behave the same way, that school does not benefit from the mistakes, lessons, and ideas of the other schools.

It can be difficult to open up tightly closed systems. It might not be worth the trouble to do so given the many other things that teachers already need to do. Fortunately, there is an approximately decade-old solution — social media.

Teachers all over the world have shared their dos and their don’ts in blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. They do this even though school conditions and contexts differ. Why? Teachers and teaching remain constant at their core — how to improve teaching so that students learn better.

If you need evidence, you need only trawl the last month’s edu-Twitter streams. Teachers all over the world freely and openly have shared their ideas on how to design and conduct emergency remote teaching, offered tips on synchronous and asynchronous lessons, outlined stay-at-home plans, and more.

There is still a fear that being so open is risky. But sharing your ideas with other teachers is not a zero-sum game. Giving ten ideas does not mean you lose those ten. In all likelihood you will receive the gratitude of other teachers, suggestions on how to improve your own ideas, and raise your reputational capital.

I say this to administrators, policymakers, or teachers who have Fear 2: You risk nurturing teachers who are risk-averse if you do not encourage them to share openly and responsibly. These teachers then cannot model similar behaviours for their students.

I was looking for an image in my Google Photo archive when I spotted an unrelated one (screenshot below). I revisited the resource of that screenshot and discovered that it was still relevant today.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition

In 2013, I was invited to give a talk about e-learning. The host had one main request: Focus on MOOCs (because they were still the flavour of the moment). MOOCs are passé now, but some overarching reminders about e-learning are pertinent as we head into an intense period home-based learning (HBL).

Our HBL is still largely emergency remote teaching and not quite the quality that e-learning can be. So I reorient the four ideas I shared in 2013 to the circumstances of 2020. In particular, I focus on how we might shape our thoughts before we emerge on the other side of COVID-19 isolations.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition 1

The first fear of e-learning is FOMO. This could include the fear on not having access to tools like Zoom or content repositories. (Side note: Zoom is not a good tool and there are several alternatives).

If actions belie thoughts, then the fear among planners and policymakers seems to be the availability on ready-made tools and resources. While we cannot ignore those, it relegates a more important factor. If there is a better fear, it should be: What if my teachers are not prepared to teach remotely?

Providing all the best tools and resource but not providing timely and relevant professional development is like giving ordinary drivers the best Formula 1 cars and tracks but not teaching them how to drive under those circumstances.

What superficially looks like “just driving” in every-day and Formula 1 surfaces could not be more wrong. The latter person is a high performance athlete with top conditioning, support, and pressure. Likewise, good e-learning is facilitated well only by a relative few who have studied and honed their craft.

We would not expect an ordinary driver to be comfortable with Formula 1 racing. Likewise, we should not expect classroom-bred teachers to take to online facilitation even in an emergency. If we recognise this gap in performance, then we are missing out on preparation on how to design and facilitate online sessions. Worry about that, too!

I continue with fear factor #2 tomorrow.

I look forward to every podcast episode of Pessimists Archive, rare and irregular as it is. I wish the latest episode came out before my course finale.
 

 
The latest podcast started with a “heroic” dog and ended with the war between natural ice and artificial refrigeration. Yes, the episodes are weird but connected like that. But they all share a common theme.

Take this quote from the 23min 47sec mark:

When people face new technologies… they end up wanting… a simple heuristic to cut through complexity and allow them to make decisions that would otherwise be ambiguous or overwhelming.

Technology represents change and some people react with fear. To manage that change and fear, these people seek simple heuristics e.g., tell me what to do, what is a formula I can follow, how might I dumb it down and essentially do the same thing.

But such short-term thinking does us no good. Shortcuts avoid the critical and creative thinking that is necessary for problem-solving and embracing nuance. Given that my course was about new educational technologies, the quote and the thinking behind it would have made a timely and wise course conclusion.

Ah, well. This is something else to add to the 30-plus reminders I already have in my Notes app…

What could be cuter than a teddy bear? Not much.
 

 
Yet there was an anti-teddy bear movement. The most recent Pessimists Archive podcast provides all the details.

In hindsight, such a fear seems unreasonable and even impossible. But back then, it was fuelled by irrational fear and the need to maintain the status quo.

There is still much fear of educational technologies current, cutting edge, and future. The fears are based on the same unwillingness to see possibilities, mitigate risks, and embrace change.

So while edtech evangelists might feel the burden to be unbearable now, this too shall pass. I say we grin and bear with it.

A few days ago, I had more questions than answers on the latest round of PISA results.

In reference to Singapore dropping to number 2 in the overall ranking, I wondered: How about being number 10 in academics? How about striving for measures that actually mean something? How about not playing the game of rankings and comparison?

I found some indirect answers from narratives of our students’ fear of failure. We are still number 1 in that respect — 78% of our students saw failure negatively impacting their futures compared to 54% of OECD member country average.

The same article hinted at why we needed to “become less allergic to failure” but did not say how. If we collectively work on how, we might answer all three of my questions. A drop in academic rankings would not matter if we focus on curing our crippling national condition.

I also chanced upon an unexpected source of answers from a researcher in Australia.

She reasoned how PISA is not a predictive tool, so we should not have knee jerk reactions (like crafting policy) to PISA results.

She also reminded me that the tests are simply that. Even though the PISA questions have evolved, they remain a very specific set of knowledge and skills. We need to ask ourselves if we want excellent test-takers or wise risk-takers.

I love the Pessimist Archive podcast. I hate that there are so few episodes. But I appreciate how much work it takes to create each one.

I have not been listening to the podcasts in the order they were made because I jumped on whatever interested me first. A standout phrase in episode 1 from host Jason Feifer was this: The best antidote to fear of the new is looking back at fear of the old.

So I made an image quote of it.

The best antidote to fear of the new is looking back at fear of the old. -- Jason Feifer

We cannot claim to be teachers or educators unless we have been, and continue to be, students first. What seems like new problems the students experience or bring into the classroom often has old roots.

We can deal with the symptoms or we can tackle the causes. The key to understanding our new fears is having a mind open enough to learn from history.

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The press peddles this because it is easier to focus on dangers and fear.

Such clickbait might work in terms of getting attention. But it does not necessarily work to accurately and factually inform, to educate, and to change minds.

This does not mean there are no dangers or that we ignore what is negative. It does mean that we also highlight what is useful and positive as well as how to mitigate what is not.

Technologies push and pull us forward, often to places with new possibilities, no rules, and unseen consequences. We can paint such movement as dangerous — demonic as the graphic in the tweet illustrates — or try to provide more balance.


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