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While out on a grocery run yesterday, a van belonging to an IT company caught my eye. It had a slogan on its side: Challenging Future Changes.

My mind raced faster than my hands when the van sped by, so I did not get a photo. I got caught up in how ambiguous the slogan was.

Its intended meaning probably was that the company could face any IT challenge that would come its way. But the way it was phrased left other interpretations.

If “challenging” was read as an adjective, the company was simply saying that the future would be demanding or gruelling. So it was stating the obvious.

If “challenging” was read as a verb, then the company was effectively saying it would maintain the status quo. It would stand up to change and help you do the same thing regardless of circumstance.

The second interpretation tickled me because that is what many IT departments do. They interpret policies their own way and create more layers of policy. This red tape acts like armour to protect the soft belly of old practices.

This is ironic since IT groups are supposed to support and enable change. They often challenge future change instead.

Change!

It is practically an oxymoron to describe most “IT departments” as “empathetic”.

If you are part of a large corporation or civil service, you will likely be required to change your password regularly using outdated and non-sensical rules. But I can live with that.

What I cannot stand is a system that makes me change my password, but does not apply the change across the entire system. In one educational institute I work with, the password change gives me access to a portal, but not to my email.

In theory, I should still be able to receive and send email from my account with my previous password. In practice, I can do neither because the email accepts neither the old or new password.

When this first happened to me last semester, I asked to speak with actual people in the IT department, I only got canned email responses that did not ask me what the issue was. The IT folks hid behind email, give answers devoid of context, and closed the case without my acknowledgment.

Apparently, it was far more important to look like they had done something — enforced policy, sent auto-responses, recorded cases — than to have shown a modicum of empathy.

I work with more than one institution. Earlier this semester, I reflected on how an IT group removed some instructors’ LMS accounts and data without letting the affected users know.

This same group also has a policy of tagging student names with their schools or departments. This means they get sorted by those tags by default. But when I need to access their online assignments and enter grades, I need the students sorted by their registered surnames. An “A” name can appear at the end of a list because it is prefixed with a “Z” department.

To get around this, I copy and paste all my students appended names to a spreadsheet and manually remove the prefixes. Then I sort them based on what makes sense to an educator instead of a database manager.

All that said, I do not really blame the foot soldiers in IT departments. They have a lot to deal with and many work thanklessly. They also might not know any other way of doing things. So I blame their managers or leaders for not teaching them better.

Do I forgive them because they know not what they do? No, I rant so that they might hear, listen, and empathise.

As if I needed more reasons to dislike how LMS are implemented…
 

 
The new semester started three weeks ago and I am already grading student work. This would be standard fare for me if not for two things that happened this year.

I discovered that I could no longer log in to the institutional LMS. This was the first time since 2015 that I had been locked out. Why? Someone in IT decided to remove all adjunct accounts without telling those most affected by the move.

So I started the first week of semester without access to the LMS. Fortunately, I do not rely much on the clunky layout and closed nature of the LMS. Instead I maintain almost all content and activities on an alternative platform.

Reminder number 1: Always have an alternative.

Fast forward to Week 3 when the first assignment was due for grading. Despite getting having my login reinstated, I discovered that all my customised Turnitin Feedback Studio (TFS) comments were gone. This meant I lost about eight semesters worth of cumulative work in one fell swoop.

I had taken the precaution of manually copying and pasting my comments to a private Google Doc. At last count six months ago, my collection of comments was nine page long. I am slowly repopulating my comments in TFS as I grade assignments.

Reminder number 2: Backup, backup, backup.

IT and LMS can be a good thing from an administrative and control point of view. But it is also disempowering and frustrating.

When Bloomberg posted an article titled Singapore wants kids to skip university: Good luck with that, it was click bait.

How could you not want to find out what Singapore was up to and wonder if such a socio-economic experiment could work?

It has worked elsewhere (i.e., Germany), so the question is not why (we have gone past that thanks to forecasting) and have moved on to how (albeit a bit late).

Bloomberg cited Pasi Sahlberg, who was in Singapore recently for a leadership conference.

“There is a clear international trend in the developed world to make vocational education a true choice for more young people,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The larger trend among developed countries is a glut in degree holders (too many graduates, not enough jobs) and/or poor fit (universities were not providing what industries needed).

If the USA is any indication, thought leaders are fond of pointing out that we might see the first generation of kids that will not be as well-employed or as financially well off as their parents.

The question is not “Can the non-degree strategy work?” but “How can we make it work?”.

Some changes to the system have already taken root.

Right here in Singapore, I learnt over closed conversations what initially seemed to be a surprising statistic. A top school here revealed that about 60% of its graduating cohort was entering polytechnics by choice instead of by circumstance.

Skills Future was launched this year as was an earn-and-learn programme. The civil service will provide equal opportunities for non-degree and degree holders alike [example].

We are not going to abandon the pursuit of degrees, but the charm offensive of promoting vocational and non-degree jobs has gone beyond rhetoric to implementation.

So far these designs and implementations are the domain of systems designers like politicians and economists. What can parents and teachers do?

Most parents are unlikely to let up on wanting degrees for their kids regardless of whether their offspring need degrees. Parental concern is what they are familiar with: A degree commands a higher starting salary. The thing to realize is that a degree no longer guarantees a job, much less a career.

The other thing to realize is that parental concerns are not their childrens’ concerns. Not immature children, but adults who grow up with more opportunities than their parents and look forward to finding themselves, social enterprise, or doing good for larger causes. And finding realistic answers to the question “Is money really that important?”

The expectations and pressures of the employee today and tomorrow are different from those of yesterday.

Teachers need to take heed and learn to operate outside their bubbles. There are no more single-trajectory careers and no more iron rice bowls.

Curricula are less important than nurturing flexible, adaptable thinkers. Assessment that ultimately leads to a strong degree printed on fancy paper is less important than a portfolio of experiences.

I shared these two images I created with #eduality recently as messages to teachers.

Teachers are in a unique position to shape the mindset of the next generation. But teachers sometimes view the world through the distorted lens that is their classroom bubble.

Teachers cannot afford to teach the way they were taught. If they persist, they do their students a disservice and they sabotage the plans of a nation needing to go forward.

 
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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It’s that time of semester for me to resume teaching.

First up on my list is the elective MLS118 which starts tomorrow. It’s meant for school ICT heads and is just labelled “Information Technology” in the handbook.

I don’t like the sound of IT because communication is missing. IT, like PowerPoint, has a transmissive feel to it. ICT is more about two-way communication and leveraging on opportunities to collaborate.

I have gone further by defining my course as being about Planning, Articulating, Leading and Sustaining Change with ICT. It’s a mouthful so occasionally I abbreviate it to Enabling Change with ICT.

I used Edmodo, QR codes, Skype and various Google Apps last semester to promote change via social, open and mobile forms of learning. This time around I am simplifying the assignments and bringing in video game-based learning (vGBL).

Why vGBL?

Rather than just read, talk, share or videoconference about change, I would like to my participants experience elements of change. By doing so, I hope that they will be better able to relate to the concepts of change and adopt/adapt models of these concepts in action. It’s about making concepts real.

To provide these shared experiences of change, we will be playing various video games. (I normally do this with preservice teachers for the ICT course.)

I will also bring in mobile gaming. I will require my participants to play with Angry Birds and Tiny Tower. I’m guessing a few already do!

These games are deceptively simple and addictive. But they will also reveal elements of systemic change if my participants think deeply enough.

Here are some questions I am thinking of asking my participants to reflect on:

  • Why do you think you were asked to play those games?
  • What might students learn from such games?
  • How might teachers incorporate such games into teaching?
  • How might teachers integrate GBL into their teaching without playing games?
  • What do these games have to do with change?

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