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Posts Tagged ‘ignorance

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The latest Build For Tomorrow podcast episode began with this premise: We are bad at forecasting the future and we know this, but some of us will still try and many others will listen to them.


The short and cynical answer is that we are stupid. A longer and more nuanced answer was explored in the podcast and began with a look back to Nostradamus in the 1500s. His claims were vague but captivating enough or people to reverse engineer what he said. 

For example, if he predicted a famine in 2022, we might say that came true as long as there was a famine somewhere in the world or if the cost of food rose so much that some of us could not afford it.

But sometimes these prophets get it wrong, e.g., Steve Balmer pooh-poohed the iPhone based on its cost and lack of a physical keyboard. So why do people keep listening to people with poor track records?

The interviewed expert, Laura Smolar, suggested that we do not expect even hard science to be right all the time. So we rationalise and offer excuses of their behalf, e.g., there were miscalculations or other unaccounted factors.

And then there are the super forecasters who study data and make projections that come true at a higher rate than chance. What makes them better at predictions than others?

According to another expert, Warren Hatch, these forecasters have excellent pattern recognition, are open-minded, and are reflective. The latter two manifest themselves when the good forecasters realise that they do not have enough information and do not limit themselves to what they already know.

As a pedagogue, my applicative takeaway from that is accepting our ignorance before trying to provide answers (especially for complex issues). In simpler terms, we need to know what we do not know before attempting to fill that knowledge gap. 

Service standards are generally low in Singapore. I am not referring to those that cater to tourists but to locals. Our frontline service rarely, if ever, include eye contact, a thank you, or a smile. They might even refuse to speak in English even though that is our lingua franca

Our poor service might be due to a combination of ignorance, complacency, and fear. Ignorance of better ways to do things; not doing them because they see no need to change. So how about fear?

I wondered if fear might be a factor after reflecting on two recent experiences. 

The most recent was when a counter staff packaged some fiddly items for me. I was the only one at the counter, but she hurried like the world was ending. Perhaps she feared that her supervisor or I would scold her for being slow.

A few weeks ago, I found some hard-to-find LED bulbs. They were the 4000K colour temperature variant, not the usual 6500K (bright white) or 3000K (tungsten yellow) versions. I like the 4000K bulbs because they provide a pleasant colour in between.

I brought two bulbs to the checkout counter and was practically interrogated by the cashier. She asked me in Chinese mandarin: What colour? I surmised that she wanted to know if I was getting the right bulbs, but as I did not want to deliver a lecture on colour temperature, I replied “mostly white” in English.

The cashier insisted that these were not white and tried to take the items away. I stopped her and said that I had the same ones at home and wanted more. 

Why did she act this way? Other customers had probably bought the bulbs only to return them because they did not know what colour temperature was. She probably feared a product return or a telling off from her boss.

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That is what working from fear that originates from ignorance or complacency looks like. Rising above, that is also what happens to other forms of work, be it shaping policy or implementing it.

Countering such fear requires a lightbulb moment: Deal with the roots of the fear — ignorance and complacency — because these are barriers to change. I suggest a metaphorical 4000K bulb that combines the harsh white light of facts and logic, and the warmth of empathy and humility.

I am not immune to revelations or striking memories when I am in the middle of showering or about to sleep. Neurologically, I know that my mind relaxes and starts to make connections. 

My mind wandered back to when I was first exposed to an Apple II computer in school. There were just two so we had to take turns to type and try our BASIC programs on them. 

I had to have one of my own, so I begged and harassed my parents into getting me one. After months of wearing them down, I finally got one and I taught myself with books that I bought or borrowed.  

It did not take long for my father to want to see returns on his investment. He brought home a large stack of papers, dumped them in front of me and my computers, and said: “Get the computer to mark this!”

This was in the 1980s. Now computers can recognise handwriting very well now, process quizzes quickly, and even judge essays. They still cannot pick up each essay, gauge nuance, and mark up the script with an old-school red pen. They do not need to all of that because we have gone past the need for paper and pen.

But back then, my father’s demand was as good as science fiction to me. It was also an example of contempt that was fuelled by a lack of interest and knowledge of what computers could and could not do.

Fast forward to today and we still have that human condition. It is not the domain of the old making ignorant judgements of the young. There are still teachers and parents who shun technology in the hands of learners. Though they are fewer in number than when I was teacher, they ignore the calls of those older and younger than them to focus on the learner and learning.

They romanticise the past. They are mired in comfortable habits. They are not models of learning because that requires discomfort and change. And if it is not enough that they wilfully remain ignorant of possibilities and opportunities, they also express contempt for those that try. To them I say:

There are legitimate reasons for opposing an idea, e.g., being the devil’s advocate so that the idea is better explored.

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One awful reason is opposing a good idea just to stay in power and even though you know better. The video above illustrates how a politician tried to use COVID-19 case numbers and the real-world effectiveness of three vaccines to argue against mass immunisation.

Another example is this ignorant response to how N95 masks work.

On the surface, there seems to be a logic to the numbers. But these belie how N95 masks work (see video below).

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I have cited the video before because it was illuminating. Proper N95 masks work like a layers of spider webs that trap particles. They also electrostatically attract much smaller particles. It is medium-sized particles that tend to pass through, hence the moniker of being 95% effective.

The person who tweeted might also not know that viruses do not travel on their own. In the case of COVID-19, they are in droplets of water that we breath, cough, and sneeze. This makes these particles varied but larger in size.

The good thing about the presence of shared knowledge that is valid and reliable is that we can overcome ignorance. The sad thing is that some choose to wilfully remain ignorant by focusing on flawed logic.

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Watching this video about the original Macintosh and other old computers brought back memories. When I was in secondary school, I joined a brand new computer club that had a few Apple I computers and IBMs.

We had lessons on BASIC and optionally on COBOL. We learnt from recipes the teacher in charge wrote on a blackboard and we wrote them down in note books.

As each of us had very little time with the shared computers, we wrote our simple programmes on paper in advance and tried to foresee what might happen. When we had actual access, we typed in what we wrote and tried to troubleshoot as fast as we could.

This was one of the first few times I felt empowered to create something, test it, and learn safely from failing. I caught the bug and needed my own Apple I.

But these computers were expensive and I bugged my father for one. Long story short — we could not afford an original so we bought one of the many clones.

I dove into simple programming at every waking moment. I enjoyed being able to start the Apple computer with my own programme running from a floppy diskette.

But my joy was interrupted by a demand from my father. He dumped a pile of unmarked papers in front of me and asked if the computer could grade them.

I was flabbergasted then and the memory troubles me now. Computers, particularly those without any of the peripherals and AI we have now, could not grade homework almost 40 years ago. Despite the advances in computing power and ability, they are still stumped by human nuance.

I was also stumped by wilful human ignorance as well. Older and sometimes well-meaningful folk (like administrators and policymakers) tend to observe technology from a distance. Without an immersive experience and use, they cannot see possibilities or limitations.

Technology makes change seem inevitable. But human change, not so much.

I cringe as much as I enjoy Jimmy Kimmel’s occasional segments, Lie Witness News. In this series, an interviewer asks passers-by what they think about a blatant lie.

The latest example was the general public’s thoughts on Canada being the 51st state in the USA.

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The videos are obviously edited for content and highlight people who are ignorant enough and lie because they are on camera. But the fact remains that there are enough people that do this.

What might an educator take away? Ignorance is persistent partly because that is our default state. Ignorance is also persistent because lies and superficiality are easy while unearthing facts and exploring nuance are difficult. Educators needs to be stubbornly persistent in this battle against ignorance.

Two days ago, I used my first Pokémon Go (PoGo) exclusive raid experience to illustrate how social leadership emerged from a crowd.

Today I illustrate how members of a crowd chose to respond to investigative analysis. In doing so, I link a game-related phenomenon to a social one in the teaching fraternity.

Nicholas Oyzon AKA Trainer Tips is a PoGo expert, an inspiring YouTuber, and an unofficial ambassador of the game franchise. He released a video detailing the efforts of people trying to unlock Niantic’s secret recipe for Ex Raid gyms.

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Here is my TLDR take on the video: A few individuals used crowdsourced data, investigative analysis, and the scientific method to suggest Niantic’s algorithms for exclusive gyms.

You would think that any PoGo player still yearning for a chance to battle and catch Mewtwo would be thankful for such data analysis and timely information. However, if the Singapore PoGo Facebook group is an indicator of lay reaction here, the response was flat or negative.

A member posted a link to Oyzon’s YouTube video.

These were the types of responses when I last made the screenshot. I have labelled them A, B, and C.

A qualitative researcher might suggest that the low number of responses could indicate the low interest to helpful information. This suggestion would carry more weight if the researcher also reported the numbers of responses to complaints, polls, show offs, etc. — these regularly garner hundreds of comments.

If we think of the Facebook group as a microcosm of how some local social media-connected players think, then they fall into a few categories.

  • A: Ignorant. “Catch no ball” is a local colloquialism for “could not understand” or “over my head”. Either the video content was too complex or people in this group were unable/unwilling to process it.
  • B: Atheoretical. Unlike category A, those in B practice without theory. They operate by “what works” and care little for “why it works”.
  • C: Stubborn or wilfully ignorant. This group may or may not possess theories, and in both cases refuse to learn something new and useful.

People belonging to Group A and B might still be open to learning something new and helpful. People in Group C are unlikely to be open enough to learn.

There are certainly other groups of people, especially when this categorisation is applied to adult learners. I have met them all — these are teachers both preservice and inservice, lecturers, trainers, and professors. What is both frightening is the number that fall into Category C.

You might assume that teachers and educators should be most aware of the theories of learning and teaching practices that enable them. You would be wrong. What is worse is that while Category C is small, this group discourages those around them and holds back entire systems from improving pedagogically.

This is why I do what I do. I battle the lack of pedagogical theory in the hope of defeating ignorance. I fight the war of wilful ignorance in the hope of defeating apathy. It is relatively easy to win battles, but the war rages on.

My open letter to #edsg lurkers received more retweets and reposts than replies on Twitter.

That is part of the problem. It is easy to republish something and not actually say or do anything. I can only hope that I am being premature in my judgement and seeing if people come back next Tuesday night to chat online.

There were just two Twitter responses.

One response referred to Twitter as a means to “enslave” while discussion forums were available “anytime-anywhere”. I do not see how any communication tool traps or enslaves unless you let it. That is like blaming bad human behaviour on technology instead of examining the people who use them.

Another was about the open discussion on Twitter being monitored and participants fearing reprisals. I live in a democracy and the 21st century and not in a police state during the Inquisition. The things we discuss and the tone we use are what bring educators forward and make us vibrant.

One response was driven by ignorance and the other by fear. These are the very things that #edsg chats can drive out by having open conversations.

Most folk would not blink on reading this tweet:

Most of the tips at the URL are reasonable but they should not be implemented as unquestioned, blanket rules.

I have different perspectives on the tweet and one of the tips.

Few question the term “cyberwellness”. I think that it is an oxymoron given how the word cyber is often paired with the words attack, bullying, threat, terrorism. Cyber is negative.

Cyberwellness is negative wellness, or to put it another way, putting up with something that is somehow inherently bad. Do a basic analysis of so-called cyberwellness tips and you will discover that most are restrictive, e.g., do not let your child play video games for more than two hours per day.

The underlying assumption that video games are bad or a waste of time should be questioned.

Why is the limit two hours and is that the limit regardless of whether it is a weekday or weekend?

Why do we have different rules for the analogue and digital worlds? The same parents that would not limit a child’s playtime with LEGO would limit a creative process like surviving and building in Minecraft.

Why do we not have rules about unnecessary tuition and completing assessment book drills? How about tips on how not to be stupefied by schooling?

Why is the analogue mostly good and the digital mostly bad?

I know why. It starts with ignorance, e.g., a parent not playing video games with their child or refusing to analyze information about gaming. Ignorance feeds fear which in turn reinforces ignorance.

But breaking this unhealthy cycle is difficult because the very things that can educate parents (video games and the Internet) are what they are already afraid of.

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