Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘learning

Primary 1 to 5 students stayed at home because of the PSLE oral exams for Primary 6 students late last week. When the first group of students needed to access e-learning resources from MCOnline, the service provider’s website crashed.

Parents complained, e.g., “the website is not available for public access” and “it took us 10 hours to finish a one-hour task”.

Even when the service was available in the past, one parent said, “The website is often very slow during peak hours to the point that it kicks you out”. Another parent, who also happened to be an educator, was resigned to saying, “I’m so used to this”.

I could point out tongue-in-cheek that MCOnline servers went on MC (medical certificate, the excuse slip for missing school, duty, or work). Instead, I shall point out the excuses and non-answers.

An unnamed MC Education representative said that a third-party arrangement to increase capacity “was not activated”. Why not? There was no reason given in the article for this oversight.

Will the service provider be held accountable for this outage just like the telco providers are? The article did not mention this either.

As information about the Student Learning System (SLS) was released last week, the attention turned there. Unfortunately, the focus was on access during emergencies. That might be why e-learning in Singapore actually stands for emergency learning.

An unnamed spokesperson from MOE said that the SLS would take advantage of cloud technologies. She also mentioned how the SLS would be compatible with most devices.

The first answer was vague. Just what are cloud technologies to the layperson? Which CMS or LMS provider does not depend on cloud technologies today? Since they do, why did a crash happen anyway? What is to prevent the SLS from suffering the same fate?

The secondary mention was a redundant non-answer. What is the point of multi-device compatibility if none can access the resources when servers are down?

We do not need redundant answers. We need more “redundant” servers to share the load. This is the sort of cloud technology the spokesperson probably meant. But this answer is still vague.

A better example might be to draw on what online users already experience with YouTube or Amazon. The uptime of these services is about as reliable as our power and water supply because they rely on “cloud technologies”.

Can MCOnline and the SLS promise the same reliability? These are services that we pay for with our tax money. Compare that with free and open services like YouTube. These are paid for by advertising that might be linked to our personal data, but that is not the point.

The point is that access and reliability of online learning resources come at a price. Neither cost is transparent to the average user. However, freely available services like YouTube are subject to scrutiny. Google, the parent company of YouTube, was recently fined 2.4 billion euros by the EU for anti-trust issues.

So I ask again: Will our online learning service providers be held accountable for outages like the telco providers are? Or is learning at home not as important as learning in school?

Let’s see if we put our money where our mouth is…

One of the best reads of 2017 so far is this blog entry simply titled Evaluating Personalization.

Personalised learning is a continuum between non-learner-provided choices and learner-directed agency.

I distill the long read to this takeaway: Personalised learning is a continuum between non-learner-provided choices and learner-directed agency. The non-learner could be the teacher, vendor, or edtech platform.

Or, in the words of the author:

…one end of the continuum is personalization for the learner; the other end is personalization by the learner

Instead of trying to outline the main points of the article, I will try to add value to it by making an observation.

In the era before current technologies like computers and phones, the focus was on providing choice. Today, edtech vendors still tout choice: pacing, content, modes, etc. The personalisation by agency — goals, expectations, strategies, evaluation — is still sorely lacking.

We cannot keep making the excuse that learners do not know what they want. If we teach them to wait to be fed, they will be lazy consumers. If we nurture them to think, they will not just critically consume, they will also skilfully catch and create.

There is another major problem with personalisation-as-choice. The options a vendor or designer provides might not actually be choices. I use an example I have cited before.

StarHub app

My current telco, StarHub, has an app that claims to provide “choices” for some cards that you can display or hide. However, if you deselect them, the app reverts to the selected state upon restart. So you cannot remove the content that is not relevant to you from the app.

While the example is from a commercial entity, edtech vendors and designers of curricula often do the same thing — they provide choices in theory that are not actually choices in practice. So even the provision of choice is not necessarily indicative of personalisation.

Learners need not wait for vendors, designers, or teachers to give them choices. With current open and/or collaborative tools like Google Apps and YouTube, learners can take matters into their own hands and find or make their own choices. In doing so, they move from one end of the spectrum to the other by creating their own agency.

Banksy’s tweet below was a call to use the lenses in your eyes instead of the lenses in your phone to process life events.

It is easy to sigh and complain that “young people” or “millennials” are staring at their phones instead of paying attention to each other or what is around them. It is more difficult to see things through their eyes.

Who are we to judge? Your parents complained about your time on the corded phone or television. They also had negative things to say about your taste in music and clothes. Anything of theirs was nostalgically good while yours is alarmingly questionable.

No, you do not have to put down your phone to enjoy life. Life is not just what exists outside the phone. Some moments are best enjoyed through it.

There are FaceTime calls with loved ones that you are separated from by physical distance, but not technological distance.

There is the capturing of significant moments in life like first steps, graduation, a new home, and eye-opening trips.

There is information and intellectual connection you can make via YouTube and social media.

The larger issue is awareness of context. There are times to look up, look down, or both. It is about knowing when, not applying a blanket rule to cover every situation.

There is so much world to see and so much life to experience. Why make it either-or instead of taking in all that life has to offer?

I love watching the YouTube videos from Great Big Story. That channel finds amazing and inspiring stories from all over the globe and distills them into just a few minutes.

This video is a collection of four stories. The first two personify lifelong learning in ways that no academic, policymaker, or school leader can describe.

Video source

The first story is of an 80-year-old woman who started weightlifting at age 70. The second is about a 69-year-old Nepalese man who is in the equivalent of tenth grade high school.

No words I might write do them justice. Watch and be inspired!

Count your blessings if you do not have to deal with customer “service”. I must have been cursed to need to communicate with three different groups this week. But ever the optimist, I link my negative experiences with lessons on learning.

My first encounter was to arrange a redelivery with a courier company that I had never heard of. I Googled for information and found their site.

Like most modern companies, their site had a lot of information and an option to type in a reference number. However, the number was handwritten poorly on the delivery chit. Whatever number I keyed in gave me an empty return.

I resorted to calling their hotline, and while the customer service representative was polite enough, he also could not find the reference number. We eventually used other information to find the package.

When rearranging a delivery time, he offered a wide 9am to 6pm window on a weekday. This meant waiting at home, potentially the whole day, for a package. I asked for a weekend delivery with a smaller delivery window.

The problems here were bad human handwriting and ridiculous delivery windows. Both are examples of not putting the customer first — writing in a way only the delivery person understands and wanting to redeliver when no one is at home.

The first thing an expert forgets is what is it like to struggle with learning.

Just as there was no empathy for the customer, teachers sometimes forget what it is like to be a student. If you forget what it is like to struggle with learning, then there is no point teaching.

My second call of the week was to arrange for the recycling or responsible disposal of a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) that had stopped working.

I called a service number and discovered that I had three options: Bring the item in to an industrial office, pay a courier to deliver it, or arrange for pickup based the convenience of the company.

A UPS is heavy and I was not going to lug it to an industrial area that typically has poor access via public transport. I had already paid for the UPS and was not about to pay for its collection.

So I got the instructions to send an email — to an address that was not listed at the company’s website — to arrange for pickup. I received an automated reply with a reference number. And nothing else. No schedule, no instructions, nothing.

The main problem in this case was a broken promise because someone forgot to combine human effectiveness with technological efficiency.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

The reminder to teachers is a mantra I repeat: You must reach them to teach them. This goes beyond delivering content and providing critical information. It means following up and providing feedback until there is clear evidence of learning.

Singapore's Mos Eisley, Sim Lim Square, is still a hive of scum and villainy.

My third encounter was to find a replacement UPS. To get a good deal, I looked for alternatives at Singapore’s equivalent of Mos Eisley, Sim Lim Square (SLS).

While some scum and villainy still exists, SLS has cleaned up its act and I know a few reputable stores. Reputable, but not dependable.

I looked up price lists and contacted one shop by SMS since the contact number was plastered prominently on its website. I did not receive a reply and called two-and-a-half hours later. The lady realised I was the same person who send the SMS and told me that they had contacted the supplier.

This would have been a fine response if my question was: Did you contact the supplier? It was not. Instead, I had asked: Do you have this item in stock?

I applaud her anticipation in answering the second question, but she did not answer the first. She did not inform me via SMS or a phone call that it was not available.

Immediately after the phone call, I received an SMS reply repeating what we already talked about.

The problem here is not just inertia or not being able to communicate in a timely manner. It is assuming that the customer knows what is going on (the item was not available and they were trying to get a supplier to deliver one).

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

In teaching, it is easy to assume that learners understand things the way you do. Easy does not mean that it is right. The learner does not have the same experience and mental schema as the teacher. Learning is a messy process and teachers who already see the order may forget what it is like to tidy up.

There are little things in everyday life that can remind educators what we can do to be effective pedagogues. We just need to be open, critical, and reflective.

Yes, learning as social, not learning is social. There are times when each person learns alone and some believe that is when they learn best.

However, we probably learn better in social contexts. These are opportunities to get new information, negotiate it, internalise it as new knowledge or reshape schema, and make that learning visible.

Learning as a social endeavour is not new. Educational philosophers, researchers, and thought leaders have left an on-going legacy of social constructivism, social constructionism, and connectivism.

Connectivism is particularly relevant in the Internet-connected age. Knowledge does not just reside in the nodes (individuals) but also in the links (social connections). You are more knowledgeable if you have more connections, not more content. 

Learning as social is often described and applied in pedagogy (e.g., group work) and andragogy (e.g., exploring shared experiences) of young and adult learners respectively. How about much older learners?

I loved this MSN article on Singapore’s senior citizen Pokémon players.

These are the uncles and aunties who seem to have taken over the PoGo playground and gyms after impatient kids abandoned them.

I have met and interacted with my fair share of PoGo aunties and uncles. They are generally a gentle breed and fond of mentoring newbies — their peers or juniors — and offering unsolicited advice to strangers.

I recall an incident at a level 4 raid in which other players and I gathered at a heartland venue that coincidentally looked the circular PoGo gym. I was not successful with my raid and an uncle across from me offered a strategy after the fact. I had not heard this strategy before. But the next day, that same strategy was mentioned an expert on YouTube.

Old age and treachery will always overcome youthfulness and skill.

Now some might say that the uncle’s strategy was a result of this adage: Old age and treachery will always overcome youthfulness and skill. This might assume some individual sneakiness. It was not and is not.

The uncle was with his posse and they were chatting like any group of players do. They were learning as social. That is how they learnt best and shared what they knew. They learnt so fast that even a YouTuber had not shared that idea.

The strategy was shared socially and spread by word of mouth and type of social media. Do not underestimate learning as social.

I discovered an unexpected source of ideas for flipped learning. It is a video of a teacher trolling his students after he banned them from flipping bottles.

Video source

At first glance, the teacher might come across as the embodiment of “do as I say, but not as I do”. After all, he did not want his students flipping bottles and did so himself.

Viewed through the lens of YouTube entertainment, the teacher was not only a master troll, he was also aware of memes and what connected with his learners. Even the groan-worthy references were gems.

Viewed through the lens of education, the video was a good example of practice, creative endeavour, and content creation.

The practice of bottle flipping required not just elbow grease, but also experimentation to determine the right amount of water. I have no doubt that there was much failure footage left out of the final video.

The teacher kept flipping bottles just like teachers might try flipping their classrooms. However, routine with both gets old quickly. Since the flipped classroom is still largely reliant on the teacher as driver, the teacher must design and lead interesting journeys. The teacher provided creative variations and levelled up the difficulty of bottle flipping. The same could be said about flipping classrooms.

The most important idea is that of having the agency to create content. This is one principle that distinguishes the flipped classroom from flipping learning. Learners must be empowered to create content so that they make their thinking visible, are teaching their peers, and acting on the feedback they receive. Only then does the flipped classroom transform to one that embraces flipped learning.

Bonus: This viral video also illustrated one strategy for creating videos for flipped learning. Every learner should show only what is critical. They do not need to create epic movies. They should be creating trailers that leave their peers wanting more.

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code

Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: