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Posts Tagged ‘hbl

Today I continue yesterday’s reflection with the second of two news articles on edtech initiatives in Singapore schooling in 2021.

The second article summarised the first initiative:

…all secondary and junior college students will undertake home-based learning at least two days a month from the third term of next year…

In my reflection yesterday, I surmised that this was part of a habit or mindset forming exercise. But this news article put the frequency of the so-called home-based learning (HBL) more plainly, i.e., two days a month. Is this frequent enough to form a habit or shape a mindset? Perhaps time will tell.

This second article introduced another initialism, PLDs, which is short for personal learning devices. To the uninitiated, Singapore loves initialisms and the PLDs refer to laptop computers or tablets (more accurately slate computers).

The good and bad news is:

Junior colleges (JCs) and Millennia Institute can choose to tap the Ministry of Education’s (MOE’s) bulk tender to purchase personal learning devices (PLDs) for their students…

Why good? The bulk purchase lowers the cost to the students. Why bad? Low cost does not guarantee high quality. Despite improvements to procurement procedures and the selection of providers, bulk purchases often lead to defective or lower quality devices. That is just how buying in bulk works.

If you do not believe me, take an anecdotal or even a scientifically random sample of teachers with officially provided laptops. Then find out how many have their personal laptops and why they prefer their own.

Teachers are paid well enough to buy alternatives, but students do not have that luxury. They might also have to buy what their schools choose for them. And on that there is more good and bad news:

…expected out-of-pocket expenses from students will be kept to a minimum as students may use their Edusave account to buy the devices.

Under current Edusave disbursement rates, secondary students receive $290 a year, amounting to between $1,160 and $1,450 for four to five years of education…

So the good news is that students can tap their Edusave accounts to pay for (or offset the cost of) a device.

Here is possible bad news: If students do not have enough in their account, might they be allowed to pay for the device in instalments? Given that a device might not last “four to give years” or even lose relevance before that period, will there be enough for a second or third device?

Thankfully, there are provisions:

For Singaporean students on the MOE Financial Assistance Scheme, further assistance will be provided, said MOE, in the form of a subsidy before the student’s Edusave funds are tapped.

Should the Edusave balance still fail to cover the remaining device cost, MOE said it will provide further subsidies to these students to bring their out-of-pocket expenses to zero.

Finally, here is a procedure that seems to be a norm. Apparently, students must:

…allow the school to install a device management application on their device, similar to that installed on school-selected devices.

The application allows schools and parents to monitor device usage by restricting certain applications from being accessible by students, managing screen time and allowing the teacher to monitor students’ screens during the lesson.

Such a management application is good for getting technical support, e.g., remote diagnostics and troubleshooting. But this is potentially invasive. To use the car analogy I introduced in my first reflection, this is like allowing traffic lights, CCTVs, and road barricades into your home.

As there is no description of such a management tool nor an openly shared third-party evaluation of it, I cannot say anything more that what I have said about the secondary use of TraceTogether data [1] [2]. This data was supposed to be for COVID-19 contact tracing, but now it might be used for the investigation of serious crimes.

My point? There is designed and intended use of an application. There is also emergent and unplanned use. How do we ensure that the latter is not abusive by being unreasonably limiting or invading a student’s privacy?

There were are two news reports released at the end of 2020 about the impact of edtech in Singapore schooling in 2021. I focus on one today.

It is important to read all of both articles. It is also important to highlight segments that might need scrutiny instead of glossing them over.

From the CNA article:

HBL (home-based learning) days will also be less structured than a typical day in school to allow students to exercise initiative in learning. Students who require closer supervision and those who lack a home environment conducive for learning, or need access to certain school facilities may return to school on HBL…

If the intent of HBL is to get students to develop “mindsets and habits for self-directed learning”, then call it that instead of HBL since self-directed learning can take place anywhere. Confusing it with what happens at home (or what should happen there but cannot) makes HBL a misnomer. Independent and self-directed learning can take place anywhere. It is not place dependent.

Mine is not an argument about semantics. Yes, the words we use hold meaning — we need to say what we mean and mean what we say. But consider how “HBL” or “independent” might be questioned when practiced. If a child is supposed to participate in HBL but goes to school instead, why call it home-based? If the activities designed by teachers are over-scaffolded or the students are not empowered with choice, how is it independent?

The article also reports conflates HBL with blended learning. Most teachers seem to understand this as combining face-to-face and online teaching. Do they also know that blending should include the seamless integration of content areas and learning (not just teaching) strategies? More of my distillations of blended learning are listed here.

Do not get me wrong. I like the fact that COVID lockdowns have pushed us to make more independent and online learning a habit or even a norm. According to the report, this will:

… account for about 10 per cent of curriculum time at secondary schools and up to 20 per cent at junior colleges and Millennia Institute… This translates to around once a fortnight across terms, excluding examination periods.

I fear the repeating of mistakes from the past when numbers like 10% and 20% of curricula or curricula time were used to determine what e-learning materials should be created from conventional materials. This was an issue we failed miserably with in the late 90s and early noughts because we built up repositories but not changes in pedagogies or expectations.

All that said, I am glad that the MOE is ensuring that:

All secondary school students will own a personal learning device by the end of 2021, under the National Digital Literacy Programme…. This will be rolled out in two phases, with 86 schools receiving the devices by Term 2 of 2021 in the first phase, and 66 schools receiving the devices by Term 3 in the second phase…

But having a personal learning device without a suitably fast and reliable Internet connection is like having a car without fuel. Neither student nor driver is going anywhere. Thankfully, a strategy similar to the one used in lockdown will be employed again, namely:

The ministry is also working with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to provide subsidised broadband access for students from lower-income households…

Even with the car and fuel, a driver needs to operate the vehicle responsibly. We have driving school and road rules to shape this mindset and skillset. I am sure that schools will do the equivalent for online learning. But I wonder just how heavy handed the regulations will be:

To ensure that the devices are an “enabler for learning” rather than a distraction, device management applications will be installed in each device to “provide a safe and more regulated digital environment”…

To suggest any specifics now is speculation. But users of most work or school-provided devices might know the pains of locked down devices. While this is understandable in a few circumstances, e.g., security or secret work, this is not always a good blanket rule.

There are several schools that take a different route. They require students to purchase their own devices and teach them how to use them responsibly. The lock down is not an administrative or technical one. It is a continuous lesson in personal responsibility.

I am glad that our new Minister for Education and the MOE are taking the locked down schooling experiments in their stride. I hope that administrators and teachers do not respond with a locked down mentality. This is a wonderful opportunity to free our collective pedagogy from the shackles of the past. If we want independent learners, we need independent thinking adults as well.

 
This STonline article claimed that we have five things to learn from our enforced home-based learning (HBL) — our version of emergency remote teaching. They were:

  1. Crossover lessons
  2. 
Recorded lessons
  3. Homework by video
  4. Parents as teacher aides
  5. Gamification

I call them claims because these are arguments based on anecdotes, not rigorous studies or critical reflections on practice. To be fair, a newspaper is not an educational journal or teaching website. To be balanced, I provide some critique.

Crossover lessons are what the author said were those conducted at home that could be replicated in the classroom. The lesson on building models at home to illustrate concepts in physics was not quite that. It seemed more like a transfer of a classroom activity to the home. It was a crossover, but not in the direction the author intended.

How about recorded lessons? The author did not say anything about the quality of such lessons, just that they are useful for whenever-whatever learning emergency. The latter is still the conversation piece, but we need to move on to lessons worth recording.

A good point raised about homework by video was that students who might not write well might find such homework to their advantage — they can record video and/or audio of themselves. A takeaway could have been about reaching learners, not homework per se. After all, video homework can still be busy work or it can hold back learners who are more reticent.

How about parents as teacher aides? This should have been about the home environment supporting what happens in the classroom. Instead, it was reduced learning styles (note the reference to “kinaesthetic learner”). This was a step backward in educational progress as it ignored research that debunks learning styles.

Gamification. Ugh. This is overused, misunderstood, and overhyped. There was nothing in the article that broke the mould of “gamification” be it in the classroom or online. If there is no change, there is no learning.

For some strange reason, the author or editor of the piece decided that the last anecdote about the “compassion and empathy” of teachers was left for last and put under the header of gamification. These traits have little to do with gamification and could have been the focus on an article. But who wants to read about teachers learning more about their students and connecting better with them, right?

 
Most people probably understand the rationale of fire drills even as they go through the motions of evacuating a building. They also have the hope — and perhaps the expectation — that the practice never becomes reality.

Something similar could be said about e-learning in Singapore before the current pandemic.

For over a decade, most schools and education institutes here have mandated at least one e-learning day (or even a week) under the guise of practice for shutdowns like the one we just experienced.

Unlike a relatively simple fire drill, people had to be prepared for the difficult design and implementation of e-learning. They were not and still are not. So like the fire drills, people did the bare minimum to adhere to policy, went through the motions, and continued with teaching normally when the drills were over.

I am fully aware of the pains of doing this not least because I was a participant of such drills. I had to facilitate such “initiatives”, and when I finally headed an e-learning department, did away with compulsory e-day or e-week.

Why remove them? People had lost sight of why they needed to do this, their efforts were minimal, and the infrastructure then could not handle a full shift online.

Instead, I tried to get my colleagues to design scenarios and solutions they thought met their needs and contexts. They could choose their own day or week, which took a load off the infrastructure. This ownership was slow to build, but I observed people taking things more seriously.

Then disaster struck — not as a pandemic but in the form of change in leadership-at-the-top. A core group of us left what seemed like sinking ship helmed by a team of leaders that had other priorities. Sadly, the empowered e-learning was not sustained.

The e-learning drills were not effective in the mainstream school system either. Why? Most schools transferred “e-learning” design and hosting to third-party vendors instead of learning how to deal with emergencies on their own.

It is easy to observe and make judgements in hindsight. It is much more difficult to eat humble pie and learn from the harsh lessons of not taking preparations seriously. Will we learn? I hope so, but I think not.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

The opinion piece below highlighted a loophole in our bid to return to normalcy during our battle with COVID-19. I could not help but see a parallel with what we call home-based learning.

The article highlighted how people will be physically distanced and required to wear a mask in cinema halls. However, since audiences are allowed to eat and drink, they can remove said mask. Therein lies the loophole through which policies fail.

Whether at cinemas or at eateries, it makes sense to allow people to remove their masks in order to eat or drink. But the problem is people following the rules without knowing or caring why.

They take advantage of the loophole to not wear a mask. Consider what already happens at reopened eateries: People stay longer than they should and talk to each other without masks on (often very loudly).

While folks in a cinema hall will not talk as much, they are in an enclosed space. Being in the dark might embolden some to leave their masks off. If reprimanded, they might use the consumption of food and drink as excuses.

This goes against collective and public safety because the point of wearing a mask is to prevent projectiles from leaving one’s mouth. If people do not know why they must wear a mask and why this matters, no amount of policy setting and policing will do any good.

How might this apply to teaching and learning, particularly as they are conducted online?

There was an initial urgency due to sudden policy changes, i.e., close schools and conduct home-based learning (actually emergency remote teaching). Teachers resorted to recreating classrooms when online. Any instructional designer or online facilitator worth their salt would have told them this was not a good idea.

But they did that anyway by telling students what to do, how to do it, and when to do things by. There was a time-table in school so the instinct was to simply move it online.

I liken this practice to assuming that we can transfer building practices on Earth directly to the Space Station. Some ideas will work, others will not. Teachers who have not taken online-only courses or taught online before will not anticipate what does not work.

Students at home do not face the same social contexts and pressures they do in school. For example, a teacher cannot use simple physical proximity to discretely prevent misbehaviour. The face-to-face mode relies much on social cues and extrinsic motivations.

Agency is giving learners the opportunities to make decisions. Empowerment is enabling them to take meaningful and self-driven action.

Online learning needs to be designed with agency and empowerment. This needs to be taught to learners young and old. More importantly, they need to be taught why they need to operate differently and why they should care.

Such a model of instruction and learning is built on the foundation of more independent learning. Such design is less teach-by-pushing and more pull-to-learning. This requires teachers to tap into the intrinsic motivations of learners and their individual needs.

It is easier to stick with disseminating policies, policing students, and operating by don’t-ask-why-just-do-it. But just like mask-wearing, students will find loopholes (see the tweet for an example) if they do not learn to change. And they learn to do this only if we first change the way we teach.

What is a person to do but watch YouTube videos for a laugh during a COVID-19 lockdown?

I rediscovered videos from Georgia Caney, a Brit living in Singapore, who shares her trials and tributes of living here as an expatriate.


Video source

This might be a sweeping statement to make, but here is my claim: No one living here for at least a year is immune to picking up some Singlish.

As I laughed through the video, I was also impressed with with how Georgia and her now husband, Justin, have adopted the language and mannerisms. This is likely a result of being immersed in our environment.

A few of the couple’s Singlish expressions might seem awkward to a more practiced person. But that same person might also appreciate their effort to explore and learn.


Video source

Occasionally the Singlish padawan surprises a master. Take how Georgia corrected a Singaporean about how we lazily say “very” as an example [jump to that video segment].

These two videos illustrate lessons about change. The conditions for such change are that the experience is immersive and the learning is authentic (principles are applied immediately and regularly), insidious (you do not know or care that change is happening), and sustained (it erodes old mindsets and behaviours).

If we think that home-based learning (currently our version of emergency remote teaching) will persist as long as SARS-CoV-2, then we might consider what changes we make to shift norms.

If we insist on recreating classroom practices online instead of embracing different opportunities, we stick to a language and practice that is out of place. We need to embrace the circumstances or at least get used to them. We need to immerse ourselves in that change before we change ourselves.

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.


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