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I have always wondered why some teachers and school leaders are fond of citing ICT “use” in order to “prepare for the future”.

I could focus on why “use” is not as effective as “integration” or “immersion”, but that is for another day.

Take a straw poll and people will tell you that the future is uncertain. How can you prepare for what you cannot see or define?

We should be leveraging on the ICTs we already have to address the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities we have now. These are the smartphones in students pockets, their always-on connections, their indefinite reach, and their relevance now.

What we do now affects the future and helps shape it, so we should focus on the present and work our way forward. Focusing on the future (for example, “they will need this later”) is attempting to reverse engineer a projected need that may not exist.
 

 
I know what these well-intentioned teachers and leaders mean to say. Look forward. Do not teach the way you were taught. Prepare kids for their future, not your past.

These are messages that resonate with me too. But let us not forget the now because it is what we already have and the now shapes our future. The future messages are empty rhetoric; the actions we take now might prove historic.

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I felt a little empty yesterday.

If I was still facilitating, I would have started another round of MLS125 (Planning, Articulating, Leading, and Sustaining Change with ICT) yesterday at NIE. If I had, it would have been the eighth semester doing this.

Then I reminded myself that I am doing the same, this time directly with schools, polytechnics, and private institutes this and next month. And this time round I can follow up directly with the institutes and see them through the journey instead of seeing the momentum slow after the course is over.

 
Yesterday I shared a trinity of ideas that stemmed from conversations I had with stakeholders. Today I share something that has guided my thoughts and shaped how I operate over the last decade.

Information Technology or IT tends to be one-dimensional. It is often one way and standards-based, but often necessary as a basic step. Leveraged on correctly, IT is a wonderful servant. Managed incorrectly IT becomes terrible tyrant.

Think about your workplace’s IT policies, approved hardware and software, and the communication of said policies and usage of devices and programmes. Think also about how IT can enable you to do your basic work, but when you want to innovate or do something different, IT policies and practices hold you back.

Information and Communication Technology or ICT tends to be two-dimensional. The communication component in ICT brings in processes that are two-way, consultative, and based on negotiation.

Think about communication tools Skype or Hangouts and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Think also about authoring tools like blogs and curating tools like scoop.it and Diigo. The idea is to seek and to share, not harvest and hoard.

PowerPoint is IT because it enables mostly one-way presentations. Google Slides can be ICT because the audience can be participants if the facilitator allows slides to be commented on or collaboratively created. IT is about control and it is typically teacher-centred. ICT is about communication, creation, and collaboration, and it is best used when student-centred.

ICT is also a better acronym. When I first started offering MLS125 in NIE four years ago, I would meet school teachers who were Subject Heads of Information Technology. Who wants to be a SHIT?

Interactive Digital Media or IDM is literally and figuratively three-dimensional. IDMs include, but are not limited to, virtual worlds, simulations, and video games. They can take advantage of the best that is IT (e.g., programming) and ICT (e.g., distance but real-time communication).

I am tempted to include the next wave of technology, wearable computing devices, the Internet of Things and the semantic Web (Web 3.0), as IDM.

Current and emerging IDMs contribute to the individual learning to be. Who a person is, what they do, how they do it, as well as when, where, and why they do so, are already influenced by ICT. Think about how people walk or talk in the presence of technology. But I think that our being and our sense of who we are will be shaped even further by IDMs.

We are already precursors of cyborgs as we have memories like thoughts, photos, videos, and audio in blogs, online galleries, YouTube, and podcasts. When we need information we reach out to Google or an online community instead of just reaching into the limited recesses of our minds.

If we want progress, to innovate, or to push for meaningful change, we should keep in mind the current affordances of IT. But that should not dictate planning or policymaking. We should be taking advantage of forward-looking ICT or testing emerging IDMs. To do otherwise would be backwards and irresponsible.

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I reflected briefly on the Look Up video recently.

The Fine Bros got YouTubers to share their thoughts on the same video. The main and bonus videos are on this page.


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I thought that the first video leaned towards the populist view of technological determinism (e.g., phones make us less social). The second (and less viewed video) provided more critical analyses and opinions of Look Up.

The central tension is that mobile and social media might make it easier for us to ignore people, but they also make it easier for us to connect with people far away or with cultures that we would otherwise never reach. These technologies also enable us to communicate more richly (multimedia) and over a longer time (asynchronously, not just here and now). These, in turn, lead to communication that is potentially more meaningful and reflective. However, arguing along this line only brings you to a stalemate or the time-tested, middle ground “surely there must be a balance” answer.

I think we can do better. If you want to do more than just forward that video to someone, you might end up asking yourself: What should I do?

I think you should start by realizing that practically everything we do is a social-technical or behavioural-technical system. Pencils and paper-based letters are technologies created by people using other technologies. We use them to communicate with other people with the help of packaging, payment, and transport technologies.

No one oohs or ahhs, makes a video, or has international visitors observe each time a classroom teacher tells her/his students to complete a worksheet or have them write pen pal letters. But when students find their own teachers on YouTube or communicate with each other via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, adults worry.

Adults worry because kids do not have to be in class to do these things. They also do not have to look each other in the eye or need to sharpen any pencils. But are these worries warranted?

Perhaps we have forgotten how we all used to be (or might still be) socially awkward. We have forgotten what it is like to be a learner.

Perhaps we forget that people are social creatures and that is unlikely to change. We forget that is the essence of who we are and will continue to be unlike the dystopian futures that Hollywood movies paint.

Perhaps we do not realize how the human race finds new ways to communicate. We might not realize that is how we move forward and we worry because it seems so new.

Look at it this way. No one in the modern world really gives a shit about modern toilet bowls and plumbing simply because they are accepted, everyday technologies. Over time, some technologies become so transparent that there is no thought or judgement about using them. The technologies are not thought of as usual and are not labelled right or wrong.

So instead of asking you to look up from your device, I say you look in at yourself. You can choose to use or abuse. You can think about the why and how you use technology. What you should not do is judge and say look up without first looking in.


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I love OK Go‘s latest music video. It is based on optical illusions to trick the eye into seeing what is not quite there.

I would remind outsiders looking into the ICT scene in Singapore schools that all they read and watch is not what they seem.

I am responding to reputable groups like Edutopia’s video feature of Ngee Ann Secondary School and Hechinger Report of ICT in Singapore.

A while ago, I responded to the video by simply stating that “one school does not a system make”. As for the article, I tweeted:

I am not saying that our ICT use or integration is a false illusion. There certainly are some very good examples here. But when observers and policymakers go off on tangents, make generalizations, or make claims with poor foundations, I cannot stand idly by.

Sometimes I get asked to give talks at seminars. I have a standard reply: I try not to give talks because not everyone is ready to listen.

Recently, I was asked to give a talk on game-based learning for an ICT seminar at a local institute. As my schedule was packed, I suggested that they watch my TED talk and we could video conference if needed. The organizers preferred that I be physically present.

I pointed out that the seminar was supposed to be about the power of ICT in education and that we would be using ICT while talking about ICT-mediated strategies. The organizers did not relent, nor did I.

I do not believe in giving only talks about ICT. I prefer workshops where we can uncover the whys, hows, and so whats of ICT, roughly in that order. A seminar is not the best way to do this.

So if any of the organizers read this, know that I said no on principle. And thank you for reminding me why I stick to my guns.

… you read about an e-book service being launched in Singapore and its distinguishing feature is that it also offers assessment papers.

Sure, this appeals to the market, but it indicates the sad state of the market.

This article and another I am highlighting below were from yesterday’s Digital Life. Click on the images below to see larger versions of segments of the articles. If you have a Straits Times online subscription, see article 1 and article 2.

It is equally sad to read another report of a school that claims to have a system in place for home-based, self-directed learning that allows teachers to block students from visiting other sites or playing games.

If the teacher is using a whiteboard and PowerPoint, how is this home learning? If the teacher restricts sites that students might be able to visit, how is this self-directed learning? For that matter, read the excerpt above and tell me what really distinguishes the home learning from school.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say this again: If you are going to use ICT and not change the way things are done, don’t use it. The students and teachers may not be in the same venue, but if the pedagogy does not change, then I consider that technology abuse.

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