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This reply and the original tweet reflect brutal honesties about romanticised aspects of higher “education” and office work.

If you are a white-collar office worker, you might have a cubicle. A large part of work is fencing yourself off from others and staring at a screen — much like working from home with Zoom.

If you are a university student, then attending mass lectures is the norm. Your institution might make video recordings of these lectures available online so that you can watch them on your own schedule. Or you might attend a Zoom-based lecture.

An aside: The photo of the lecture hall is of a local university. It was taken well before COVID-19. It is so large that there are smaller screens halfway up the hall. I recall using it several times for briefings of large numbers of students or student teachers.

Back to the message: Both the photos might make you think about how we can be alone together. Furthermore, being face-to-face does not automatically make work or education better. This mode does not guarantee that we are more productive or studious. 

There are other social, environmental, and other factors that make face-to-face interactions desirable, e.g., immediacy, convenience, structure. But there are other factors and conditions that make going online better than being face-to-face, e.g., more time to think through tasks/problems, not needing to commute, greater freedom.

If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we might realise that returning to “normal” is not good for everyone in every circumstance. Lockdowns due to the pandemic tried to teach us that. Has that lesson even registered?

I created an image quote from this tweet. It explains why history repeats itself.

If we bother to study our yesterdays before making judgements about our todays and tomorrows, we might break the pattern that holds us back.

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history.  — Aldous Huxley

Whenever I think that a bad teaching practice has gone the way of the dodo, I get a reminder that dinosaurs still roam the planet.

Note: The dodo is an extinct bird and birds evolved from at least one line of dinosaurs. So Jurong Bird Park is a modern version of the movie Jurassic Park. Ok, enough of this ornithology lesson.
 

 
I thought that teachers indiscriminately using YouTube videos has been taught and modelled out of existence. Sadly, I have observed lessons and reviewed plans in which teachers assume that showing a video means they do not have to teach.

This is a reminder about any lesson that incorporates videos: A video does not teach; it should support or enable teaching behaviours. If a video can teach effectively, you do not need the teacher.

If teachers want to make themselves expendible, they can. If they want to reinforce their worth, they might use videos to provide context or insights, seed discussion among learners, or highlight takeaways or mistakes.

I am glad that I am not the only one to notice this about alarm buttons in iOS.

A rise-and-shine alarm lets you stop or snooze it. The snooze button is large and orange (see example above on the right).

There is a similar interface for the countdown timer, but the prominent button is stops the alarm (see example above on the left).

What is the big deal, just tap the buttons, you say?

The affordance of a large, coloured button positioned in the middle over a small, dark button at the bottom is to draw attention to the first one. However, its function is inconsistent. In the alarm the main button extends the alarm, but in the timer you stop it.

I get that some people would rather snooze an alarm and a large button is helpful. But how about those who would rather stop the button? Alarms are by their nature jarring, and the instinct is to stop them from ringing continuously.

The superficial issue is visual design and the placement of the buttons. The deeper issue is providing users with the flexibility and choice. I would rather that both buttons be “stop”, but do not have that choice.


So why bring up this first world problem? There is a lesson for those of us in instructional design. Even the best designers, developers, and educators cannot think of every learning possibility. What we think is best might not be so for our learners. The trick is to provide choice which then powers agency. Our designs should not just set paths, they should also allow path making.

As I start another teaching semester, I draw inspiration from someone whose blog I added to my RSS feed a long time ago.

In a recent post, Lisa Lane shared how she helped her students keep the cost of higher education down by offering a free textbook.

She lamented how policies stood in the way of progressive change. She could not tap an Open Educational Resources (OER) fund as compensation because the grant was for those adopting OERs, not for those creating them.

Furthermore, the grants were for those who could prove cost-savings over the previous semester. Lane relied on the free model the previous semester, so she could not justify how free was better than free.

Such policies punish progressive faculty who move ahead of policies written by those who do not teach or have forgotten how to.

But there is a silver lining. Lane’s students valued the gifts of free books that they were treated gingerly. Some were good enough to be used another semester. She inadvertently developed a method to sustain the good will.

I take inspiration from the fact that Lane shares her trials, tribulations, and triumphs. I know full well how moving ahead quickly means taking difficult paths that few initially follow. But I take comfort in that more eventually will.

Some teachers crave videos that do ALL the teaching for them. I can understand that as a human response to unburdening oneself.


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But here is another strategy: Leveraging on videos that spark discussion. With enough creativity and critical thinking, an educator can weave just about anything — the Marvel comic universe, for example — into any subject. Here are just two examples on physics and philosophy.


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The video above is the original music video, We Built This City, by Starship. The song was released in 1985.


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This is a parody, We Built This City …on Sausage Rolls. It was rerolled by LadBabay about a week ago. The actual song starts after some bickering.

If there is one thing about the process of change it is that something different is not always new. But what is new is somehow different. If that difference is not communicated, implemented, or celebrated, then there is not change.

Doing things differently does not always mean doing things better. But doing things better always means doing things differently. -- Hank McKinnell


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Kenya banned plastic bags. They are not the only country to do this; they are just the most recent.

How did they do this?

It is hard to answer this question because the video shows a result and not the mediating processes. One might guess that political will and courageous activism were high on the list of change processes. And yet the video only hints at such processes.

Therein lies a lesson for those who go on “learning journeys” or “site visits”. You see the obvious products like policy documents and classroom layouts. You might even see model classes in action.

But these products do not always reveal the culture and processes of change. Learning about those important but insidious elements requires immersion or constant sensing, not snapshots or quick visits.

I am not saying that the visits are not worthwhile. I am saying that they are incomplete. If we do not take the effort to learn more about a system and how it changes, we kid ourselves into thinking we can do the same.

My family and I watched The Last Jedi last Wednesday night. As enthralling as the movie was, I could not switch off the learner in me.

To share so early is to spoil the movie. So fair warning: Spoiler ahead!

Yoda appeared as a Force ghost to Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi. One of the things the wise Jedi master said was: The greatest teacher, failure is.

The greatest teacher, failure is. -- Yoda

Another spoiler ahead.

The rebel forces made plans, but failed in practically every one. They were almost decimated, but they pushed on.

Lesson ahead.

While Star Wars is a work of science fiction, it is an opportunity to talk about the incidence, importance, and impact of failure.

We cannot really design for failure because it is going to happen anyway. It is fundamental to learning and avoided in teaching. (It might be unethical to intentionally design for ensured failure.)

What we can design for is how to deal with failure when it happens. Do we ignore it, fear it, or learn from it? If we are to learn from failure, how do we guide such learning? How does such an approach guide expectations and shape evaluation?

But I am getting ahead of myself. How prepared are teachers to do this?

Pink Fiat in front of Westerkerk.

An unexpected lesson from my family vacation was Uber-based.

Our Uber ride from home to Changi Airport went without a hitch. But I felt cheated once I arrived in Amsterdam.

My apartment host advised me to get a cab or private car from the Amsterdam Centraal Station (the train station at the city centre). I decided to take his advice since I did not have the lay of the land.

When we arrived at the train station, I used the Uber app and received a confirmation almost instantly. However, the Uber driver always seemed to be “one minute away”. I messaged the driver twice to confirm our pickup location, but did not receive a reply.

In the meantime, a host of cabs appeared in front of us as if to mock my attempt to hire a private car. I gave up waiting after 10 minutes and had to pay an 8 Euro penalty for the driver’s time.

I think that the driver wasted my time. I suspect that it was his strategy to make a quick buck — or euro in this case — by being just out of reach, but I cannot confirm it.

So we switched to a cab. I showed the driver the address of the apartment, and since he was not sure where it was, he used Google Maps. I double-checked with him by asking him the distance and time to the apartment, and also looked at his screen. He went the wrong way as he had a similar address, not the exact one.

We pulled over about a minute into the ride and got the address right. I recognised the route as I had seen it in Google Maps previously. I also saw the exact street when it matched what I saw in Street View.

The lesson: Being technology-savvy is not just about knowing how and when to use technology. It is also about working around it. What is often around it are changing circumstances and fickle people. Being savvy is a combination of leveraging on technology to be prepared, to react to circumstances, and to reflect on experiences.


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