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Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), a publishing-radio-property conglomerate, is “restructuring“ because of “unprecedented disruption”. 

Our circuit breaker (lockdown) was a response to the current pandemic and this helped with the conglomerate’s narrative of Unprecedented Disruption 2: More Unprecedented, More Disruption. But audiences are not watching that show, particularly when one of their efforts was to recreate the tablet

These tweeter-observers’ critiques about the media conglomerate’s inability to adapt and thrive are probably valid. I can only agree superficially by nodding my head. Where I might prompt some reflection is in the business of education. 

The publisher of newspapers and seller of advertisements saw change and felt the pain due to falling profits. In a way it was more fortunate because it could sense and plan for what was relatively immediate.

Those of us in schooling and education deal with such a long tail that we do not see or feel the consequences. I am not referring to summative and high stakes exams like the PSLE or GCEs. These are grading and sorting exercises, not indicators of learning.

No, our efforts are sometimes felt a generation or more later. One only need think about the impact of how languages were/are taught, shifts in technology use, curriculum changes, values-based education, etc. 

These have unclear objectives and outcomes, and indefinite finish lines. Financial profits can be measured in quarters and goals determined as hits or misses. Whether a person is learned or a people are educated is subjective and complex.

It is easy to play the blame game when a newspaper fails. The usual suspects are trotted out for finger pointing. If we do poorly in education (however poorly is measured), we have only ourselves to blame — it is our priorities, planning, pedagogy. Perhaps those outside the sphere of education can take a leaf from our e-book. 

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What exactly does 1,320km of cycling paths mean? How does that compare with what we have as roads?

This photo was the second image accompanying this tweet from the LTA.

While I look forward to people depending less on cars and more pedal power, I wonder what exactly 1,320km of cycling paths means.

How does that compare with what we have as roads? What does that mean to commuters who might actually want to cycle? How connected and convenient will these paths be?

If cyclists, pedestrians, and other non-car commuters still have to contend with a car-dominant mentality, all the cycling paths in the world will not make a difference.

Numbers are easy to tout. They tend to be the first thing that administrators, policymakers, and leaders start with. But impressive as the numbers might be, we need to ask what those numbers mean.

By the same token, reporting that MOE lent 12,500 devices to students for home-based learning describes an effort. It was an important effort, but that does not answer or address the issue of WHY the conditions made that effort necessary.

As with most things, the important question is not about how much or how many. It is about finding out why.

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I get to conduct workshops on game-based learning every now and then. I firmly believe in a pure application this approach and am against its bastardisation via gamification [1] [2].

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All that said, I have not consumed a resource quite like the video above. It focused on the art of video gaming. It gave me a new appreciation of the beauty of this learning environment.

The local press is fond of highlighting the number of new COVID-19 cases each day. According to this data visualisation tool [desktop] [mobile], Singapore had 110 cases as of yesterday. Note: The data is from official sources in each country.

What the press conveniently leaves out from its headlines is the number of recoveries. According to the data, 78 people in Singapore have recovered and none have died as of yesterday. This makes our known pool of COVID-19 patients 32.

Focusing on the number of infections without also emphasising the recoveries feeds the fear. While this does not contravene any POFMA rule, it is still irresponsible behaviour.

POFMA might deal with misinformation and disinformation, but it can do nothing about partial information. We need to be better and do better. We might do this by uncovering the processes behind each product.

Screenshot of graph showing COVID-19 infections and recoveries worldwide.

When I first visited the data visualisation site almost a month ago, I did not notice this other visualisation of COVID-19 cases. The new cases (orange and yellow lines) are plateauing at the moment. The recoveries (in green) are on the rise.

The graphs might change if there are new cycles of infections, but the more complete use of numbers tells a more complete story.

As I view this again from the perspective of an educator, I return to product and process. Headlines and graphs are products. But these have underlying processes that need to be examined and critiqued. We remain ignorant if we take products at face value without demanding better processes that create them.

Insist on seeing the processes. Demand to shape them.

Call me biased, but I like featuring news and research that counters the fear-driven narratives of much of the press.

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In the video above, parents learnt how to play video games to connect with their kids. This is not the only way parents connect, but it is an important one. The strategy not only creates opportunities awareness and involvement, it showcases the kids’ abilities to teach their parents.

Another resource certain to ruffle the feathers of proverbial ostriches with heads in the sand is the NYT review of research revealing that fears about kids mobile phone and social media use are unwarranted.

Though not specially labelled in the article, the reported research sounded like meta analyses of prior research studies on mobile phone and social media use on well-being.

The meta research revealed that the effect size was negligible. On the other hand, studies that spread fear and worry tended to be correlational, e.g, the rise in suicide rates in the USA rose with the common use of mobile phones.

But the NYT reminded us that correlation is not causation. Furthermore, there was no appreciable rise in Europe even though there was a similar rise in use of mobile phones.

One reason the NYT has the reputation it has is because it resists the temptation to be reductionist or simply regurgitate what the rest report. This is not about stand out. It is about being critical and responsible.

I like watching clips of QI because what the panel discusses often straddles the line of entertainment and education. The clip below was an example of game theory.

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If you were in a “truel” — a duel with a total three people, each with a gun loaded with one bullet — which person would you shoot first? The conditions were that you had a 10% chance of hitting your target, the second person was good shot with a 60% chance, and the third person was an excellent shot with 90%.

If you followed the numbers, you might play by the rules and take your chance. Even if you hit either one successfully by slim chance, the remaining shooter is even more likely gun you down.

The seemingly illogical option would be to miss on purpose and make it obvious. You would likely be ignored because you are not perceived as a threat and the other two would take each other out. You remain alive as a result.

It can be tempting to follow the numbers and the rules that seem to accompany it. However, the numbers should only guide what should be logical and forward thinking.

Such game theory not only applies in the truel scenario, it could apply in policymaking in schooling and education. Administrators and policymakers cite numbers, build walls with them, and enact plans. But if they rise above those numbers and think about the people — the students and the teachers — that are create those numbers, they might build bridges instead.

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This week’s episode was a continuation was of last week’s. It was less about theory and more about testing some Python code and Google Colaboratory.

My goal of watching and taking notes on this series was basic knowledge building and not actual coding. But the episode gave me insights into the processes of this form of AI training.

I also found the transfer of biological concepts like mutation and fitness particularly interesting. I also took note of how humans are currently generally better than AI at what we take for granted.

CrashCourse AI episode 13.

The next episode promises to cover some ground on how humans and AI might work together.

This tweet reminded me of how people in power play the numbers game to oversimplify complex issues.

In this case, the number (USD 5000) looked good because the mathematical average supported a predisposed conclusion. This is not how to analyse data or conduct research. The data might reveal one or more conclusions; bias or mindset should not dictate the analytical process.

One way to counter the misleading conclusion could be to use the median gain instead. This takes into account the number of beneficiaries and will reveal that there are many more ordinary folks receiving less than claimed.

Countering such a numbers game is relatively easy. Pundits on Twitter and news channels alike can make the same point as I have. But some activities-by-numbers are more insidious.

Consider the claim that the administrative load of teachers here has been reduced on average. However, they might have been lowered only from a policymaker’s or administrator’s spreadsheet, e.g., timetables, co-curricular duties, committee work, special projects, etc.

Such spreadsheets do not consider how school leaders and managers replace the “void” with smaller and more numerous tasks that do not look like administration. Consider how a teacher might be told to follow up on an event by writing a report, counsel a sensitive parent-student case, or chaperone an overseas trip.

All these can be quantitatively defined in a spreadsheet (if they are at all), but not qualitatively justified. A post-hoc report might involve gathering data, sorting though photographs, and drafting documents, all of which take more time than anticipated.

Dealing with a difficult parent and/or student can be emotionally draining and this affects all other work. One might bean-count a two-hour contact time and ignore the lasting effects of such an engagement.

The solutions for countering such a blind and cruel numbers game are not easy. They might include having empathetic leaders, conducting frank and open communication between teachers and their managers, and crafting policies that look into the quality of work and not just the quantity.

Many of our teachers a self-selecting because they are empathetic nurturers. They care for others, but in the process, forget to care for themselves. They do not care about the numbers game or know how to counter it when assaulted by unexpected responsibilities. Might their leaders and managers nurture these nurturers by not playing the numbers game?

Today I conduct a mobile learning and game-based learning session. This is part of a Masters course on educational technologies.

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This Wired video from 2018 appeared in my YouTube feed. Two days ago, my Twitter feed led me to a news article about how Singaporeans spend the most time playing video games when compared to the rest of Asia.

While the video focused on the impact of video games on the brain, the article provided a few insights into how and how much we play.

My session is a primer on game-based learning. If my learners walk away from the session knowing the differences between game-based learning and gamification, I would be a happy man.

I only wish I could focus on educational gaming for an entire semester instead of just one session. This would almost mirror the immersion and flow that gamers experience, and the learning would be both intentional and incidental.

If you are going to use video game-based teaching to have video game-based learning, you also need to align the assessment for video games.

What schools and educational institutions often do instead is use video games to try to teach content. The more informed ones ones might focus on attitudes and skills, but most stop at content acquisition. That is why the tests remain in the traditional realm.

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The pedagogy needs to be aligned with the assessment. So what might assessment that leverages on video games look like? The video above provides some clues. Spoiler: The tests are performative, not just cognitive.

If we measure only for cognitive outcomes, other methods might already be efficient and/or effective for the teaching and learning of content. This is not so say that we should not also test for cognitive outcomes. But we need to be aware that our current assessment falls short. This is why new interventions often have negative or “no significant differences”.

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