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Posts Tagged ‘lesson

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. I decided to follow his advice since I did not have the lay of the land.

I received a confirmation almost instantly, but 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 to use the tool or even when. 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.

Yesterday I shared some advice on how novice facilitators might put more thought into cooperative group work.

Today I focus on how they might write better lesson plans.

Lesson planning is not a chore, it is a discipline. With practice, it becomes a habit that gets internalised.

Even faculty members in institutes of higher education (IHLs) need to lesson plan. Especially faculty members need to lesson plan because they might not have had teacher preparation.

Novice facilitators should not simply walk into tutorial rooms or laboratories and try to repeat what they experienced as undergraduates and graduate students. The didactic pedagogy they perpetuate is based on the transmission of information.

While information might be transferable, knowledge is not. Such meaning is negotiated cognitively and socially. Facilitating such negotiation first takes the knowledge and skills of writing learning outcomes, designing learner-centred activities, and providing feedback on performance. All these should be developed in a lesson plan.

Lesson planning is essentially a writing process. Like any writing process, there is drafting and revising. Novices should not expect to get a plan right on the first attempt. The process can be painful, but as the adage goes: No pain, no gain.

The programme I am involved in requires future faculty to write course descriptions, lesson plans, and personal teaching philosophies.

Chunk
No matter the academic subject, there are disciplines to hone when writing. One is chunking thoughts in paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain one main idea. Ideally, one chunk should link to another in a logical series.

Write tight
Another discipline of writing is not to write the way you speak. A conversation between two people can meander and even get lost. It is informal and interaction is immediate. Elements of a lesson plan need to be written clearly and concisely.

I find that it helps to imagine that you are planning a lesson just in case someone else needs to take over your class in your absence. You need to write simply and directly so that another facilitator might read your plan and lead the class almost like you would.

Do not be lazy
When writing, use the autocorrect tools in word processing programs. They help you avoid spelling and grammatical errors. However, they cannot correct lazy or ill-disciplined writing.

The screen capture above shows how I highlighted and corrected a lesson plan element. The lesson plan was about bits and bytes, hence the tongue-in-cheek comment about ones and zeroes.

My comment might come across as mean. It is not. Being a disciplined writer means not taking the reader for granted. What you say is not necessarily what someone else will hear. It is about taking another’s perspective.

Disciplined writing is also about caring for the small things that matter. If you cannot get these details right, how can you be trusted with the larger picture?

Proofread
Autocorrect tools do not understand context or detect all errors. So another aspect of disciplined writing is proofreading. Such reading is not just for spotting and correcting spelling and grammatical errors, but also for addressing flaws in logic and bumps in flow.

I find that it helps to walk away from a piece of writing and return to it with a fresh perspective.

Practise and transfer
Like most skills that are developed over time, writing takes practice. Future faculty who wish to be good facilitators should invest time in writing good lesson plans because this is a skill that transfers. Disciplined writing can help with the composition of dissertations, grant proposals, conference submissions, research papers, etc.

But the most important purpose of disciplined writing by novice faculty is lesson planning. Such writing might seem burdensome initially, but when practiced iteratively and reflectively, it becomes a habit. This habit pays off when students benefit from learner-centred design that is held together by disciplined writing.

I am evaluating the lesson plans of future facilitators. Normally I wait till the end of the semester to reflect on the common misconceptions that arise. However, critical patterns have already emerged.

One mistake is not articulating how they form student groups using pedagogical principles. Novice instructors often assume that students will form groups, know how to form different types of groups, and/or know what to do in those groups. This is not true even with learners who have worked in loose cooperative groups before. This is because context and content change the strategy for the type of cooperative work.

What might work with heterogeneous grouping in one context might not work with another class learning the same content. The second class might need different-sized groups, more homogeneous groups, or different group strategies.

I model these strategies in my workshops. Here is one example.

As my learners come from different schools in a university, I make them find peers of similar backgrounds so that they are in more homogenous groups. I get them to play an academic dating game by asking each person to write their school and teaching topic on a piece of paper. Then I ask them to use that paper sign to find birds of similar feather and to flock together. The rest of the session then looks something like this.

My design rationale is simple: My learners uncover generic cooperative and learner-centric strategies during my workshops. However, they need to apply them in specific teaching contexts. What works in one context might not work in another. So the more similar their backgrounds and shared histories, the less cognitive burden my learners have to shoulder when they unpack and repack the strategies.

There is value in using more diverse groups, of course. The cross-fertilisation of ideas when an language historian shares strategies with a theoretical physicist can be wonderful, but this is more likely to work for a group of more advanced participants.

Depending on the group of learners I have that day, I facilitate a rise above of the experience so that we analyse the design of grouping for cooperative learning. Perhaps I should not assume some groups get it and others do not. I should set aside time and space for all groups to rise to this lofty ideal.

I dislike noise that prevents me from concentrating and thinking. Given that I do a fair amount of my work on the move in public transport or in cafes, I face a lot of noise.

Even libraries are not immune from interference because the quiet space makes even page flips, periodic sniffling, or inconsiderate talking seem loud.

So I invested in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, the Bose QuietComfort 25, almost two years ago.


Video source

This pair of headphones is expensive, but I did not realise that I would have to pay an additional SGD49 so far each year to maintain them. This is not some insurance or other fee. This is the cost of replacement Bose ear cups.

The ear cups do not seem to be made for Singapore’s humidity. The photo shows what one of my old pairs looks like. I have not made them look worse. The photo shows the literal wear and tear from just putting the headphones on and off repeatedly.

Wear and tear of a pair of Bose QC25 ear cups.

I suppose that the company assumed that someone who bought the headphones would only wear them in a plane or in an air-conditioned office.

I already have two pairs of ear cups that have similar damage and my current third pair has just started showing the typical signs of wear and tear.

My receipts remind me that in October 2015 and May 2016, I visited a brick-and-mortar store in town to get replacements. This year I wised up. I read an article about Alibaba’s 11/11 online specials and searched Lazada’s offerings (Alibaba bought Lazada earlier in 2016).

I found the same ear cups from Lazada for a lot less. At the time of my purchase, I paid SGD8.60 for a replacement pair. My wallet felt relief from the savings and I felt stupid for paying so much in the past.

As is my habit, I wondered if there was a lesson for those of us in schooling and education.

I learnt my lesson. But can the same be said of schools or universities that keep buying and maintaining hardware and software that they underutilise or not use at all? I am thinking about “special” rooms or labs, “interactive” white boards, LMS which are neither about learning nor managing, and more.

In my case, I found something I needed for less by responding to timely information. But schools and other educational institutions spend so much more on the unnecessary. They listen uncritically to vendors and companies that do not process educational research or speak with authority.

So they spend foolishly like I used to. I have learnt my lesson. Have they?

[Full disclosure: I have not been paid by Bose or Lazada to mention them.]

 
I was writing in Evernote recently when I copied information from email into a note. I had done this many times before, but this time I was copying into the web version of Evernote because the free version limited the app to two devices.

For reasons unknown to me, the formatted text removed everything in my notes except for the first two lines. Evernote synced this across all my devices and I lost several weeks of writing.

A while ago I could have retrieved my notes on some other device. I could have also visited the history of the note and rolled back to an earlier state.

But not in the current version of Evernote. I had to pay to access my notes offline or to go back in note time.

It was pay or redo a lot of work. I could not possibly remember everything I wrote — that is why I took notes — so I resorted to paying for a year’s premium subscription.

I could not even pay a bit less for the mid-tier plan (the plus plan) because it did not offer the note history tool.

I felt like victim of ransomware — malware that prevents you from accessing your files or data until you pay up for a key to unlock it.

The premium plan was USD57.98 a year. Fortunately, I remembered an email message in June offering a 50% discount. The deadline had elapsed, but I found that the offer was still valid. So while I paid less, I still paid up.

It was a painful reminder to use more reliable tools. I will be moving some active writing elsewhere and will probably use Evernote for archiving in future.

Evernote’s logo is an elephant because the pachyderms never forget. I am not forgetting this warning and lesson.


Video source

Amira Willighagen has an amazing talent for singing opera. What might be even more amazing is her claim that she taught herself how to do this by watching YouTube videos.

The video above was recorded when she was 11-years-old. Before that, she won Holland’s Got Talent in 2013. [performance] [result]


Video source

When she was nine, she was already an accomplished performer on stage in front of 10,000 people. How did she learn that?

There might be some things she could learn from videos by mimicking and practising. There are others that videos alone cannot nurture. However, there is something that drives both. Amira put it plainly:

The important thing to sing opera is that you like it, because if you don’t like it, then it’s not fun.

The same could be said with learning any other skill or content.

Fun does not mean easy. Singing opera well alone, during a contest, or in front of 10,000 people is not easy. Like many worthwhile things in life, it is difficult. But difficult does not have to mean miserable.

Learning can and should be fun. Kids might be engaged with fun, but they should be empowered with finding solutions to difficult yet meaningful fun. Amira’s effort is an extreme example of the latter.

Can teachers learn to have and design fun? Or is this too difficult? Would they like a video series on how to do this?

Side note: If there is suspicion that Amira is actually a really youthful 47-year-old soprano, watch the video to the end where she shares her thoughts about chocolate cake and ends her singing with a priceless facial expression.

Here is a lesson on video-based learning as applied outside the schooling bubble.

Watch this video of a 12-year-old girl who taught herself dubstep dancing by watching YouTube videos.


Video source

Administrators, instructional designers, and teachers might be seduced by the sentiment that the girl expressed: “It benefits you by rewinding, pausing… you can watch it over and over again, but in a classroom you can’t do that.” This is also what a vendor might say.

The self-taught dancer went on to say that the Internet was her generation’s way of learning things.

I do not deny those two points, but if we focus only on the technical affordances of YouTube videos and what seems to be a generational difference, we focus on the wrong things.

A video simply being on YouTube does not drive the learning. It is the learner that does this. In the words of the girl in the video:

If you’re on the Internet, you can really learn and teach yourself… You can do anything if you really have a passion for it.

What YouTube has done is made self-directed and truly independent learning possible. What the learner must do is desire to learn, search, watch, curate, practice, critique, and create. All are desirable outcomes, are they not?


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