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Posts Tagged ‘leverage

Yesterday I reflected on disaster-based technology integration. Today I focus on our context and what NOT to leverage on.
 

 
Singapore schools practice e-learning days where kids stay at home for lessons. Prior to this, schools send notifications to parents that explain how this helps us be prepared for the unexpected. In our context, this might mean a viral outbreak or the haze.

That type of rationale — e-learning is emergency learning — does us no favours. The viruses do not celebrate racial harmony in one day and the haze does not heed our kindness campaigns. That is my way of saying that WHEN such events occur and HOW LONG they will take is not easy to predict.

One e-learning day repeated a few times a year is not going to cut it. I know of schools that stagger e-learning content in batches to prevent server overload that one day. How prepared are we should we require constant access over a protracted period?

If there is model to look to, it is how Google ensures that YouTube is up 24×7. That sort of e-learning (entertainment-learning) is available all the time and any time.

When e-learning is relegated to a single day, the preparation to implement it is minimal both technologically and pedagogically. Content and platform access are outsourced to one of a few edtech vendors. There is practically no pedagogy beyond the blanket statement of encouraging students to be self-directed learners.

Being self-directed is important, but most e-learning days are not exemplars of that. Students are told exactly what to do, when, and how. They are following formulas, instructions, and recipes. They are not being independent.
 

 
What might self-direction look like? When learners have an authentic and complex problem they want to solve, they meet in a WhatsApp group they already have, watch a few relevant YouTube videos they look for, and discuss solutions.

Any parent with an e-learning notification letter can also tell you that e-learning days seem to coincide with days or the week right before vacation periods. Is the focus meaningful learning or administrative creativity? Does this mean that the e-learning is in excess, extra, or otherwise good-to-have but not essential?

Not many adults examine the quality of such “e-learning”. As a concerned educator and former head of a centre for e-learning, I offer some questions for both parents and teachers:

  • Bearing in mind what I just wrote, why do you have e-learning?
  • What does the e-learning material and experiences do the SAME as school?
  • What does the e-learning material and experiences do DIFFERENTLY from school?
  • What was worth the effort? What was effective and what was not? Why?
  • After answering the question above, why do you have e-learning (really)?

What might we take away when we compare our efforts with the disaster-driven technology for e-learning?

We should not be complacent when we have the time, space, and resources to do different and do better. But like the case study I summarised yesterday, we should leverage on what learners already do authentically, seamlessly, and without boundaries.

I often reflect on how we might leverage on technology in the contexts of schooling and education.

But what might technology (aided by change agents) leverage on? Unfortunately, the unfortunate. Disasters of different types, be they weather-driven, geopolitical, or other, are problems seeking solutions.

Several years ago at a conference, one speaker shared a story of how he finally managed to implement e-learning in Thailand. Floods had forced the shutting down of schools, but the idea of “business continuity” appealed to decision makers.

Earlier this week, I read this article on refugee education in Kenya. The refugees prioritised their phones for both life and learning, and this forced refugee educators to rethink platforms, delivery, and interaction.

Tech companies have flooded this space with possibility—new apps, online learning portals, libraries. But, often lost in this rush to help, the best ideas may start very simply and originate within refugee communities.

What were some general principles of technology integration that worked in this context? The Kenyan case study revealed these:

  • Ground-up: The teachers decided what they would use and how, e.g., using Facebook groups for feedback on essays.
  • Authentic and logical use: Teachers there already used Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp to communicate. They extended their conversations to discuss teaching topics and challenges.
  • Seamless use: The teachers did not seem to have an “either/or” approach, i.e., either face-to-face or virtual; no-technology or technology. Their use was not based on distinction by medium or tool, but on a seamless application of “and”.
  • Going beyond classroom walls: Recognising the need to change social norms (e.g., sending girls to school), face-to-face classroom discussions with males were continued in WhatsApp outside the classroom.

The principles that emerged from a refugee camp in Kenya are generic enough to apply to a “first world” context.

Technology and change agents might leverage on what teachers and learners already have with them and what they already do. Learners value their phones and they already use them authentically. Design for that instead of our preconceived notions of what schooling should look like.


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