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Posts Tagged ‘medium

These two tweets have something in common — they highlight relics of the past shrouded in the cloak of modernity.

Both mention current technologies. The first critiques the thinking around content delivery while the second focuses on content submission. Both hint at the change in medium and not a corresponding or upward change in method.

The tweets reminded me of an event I attended recently. I had to download a mobile app that generated a QR code which was used to take my attendance. Sounds progressive, right?

I wondered how it worked. When I found out, I was disappointed. The QR code was just my full name and the attendance taker checked this manually against a printed list.

This took longer than me stating my name and showing my identification card. This was even longer for folks who did not download the app — they had to do that first, sign in on the app (if they could remember their log in details), and then learn how to find their QR code.

Then there were some who did not bother and the attendance taker just asked them for their names. So why go through the motions of using the app and QR code when stating your name was enough?

Again, there was a change in medium (QR code) but not in the method (taking attendance). The technology was overkill for something so simple.

If, on the other hand, the QR code was tied to individual verification and the event being more selective about its participants, this might have made for sense. The method would not just have been about attendance, it would have been about selection and verification.

So this is my long-standing critique technology implementation, particularly in schools and educational institutions: Superficial changes or administrative procedures seem to come first. This is not meaningful and powerful integration of technology. For that to happen, we must put the learners and learning first.

I would like to critique this move fairly, but I cannot as the rest of the article is behind a paywall.

However, the SEAB has a track record of siding with caution. It moves so slowly, if at all, that molasses in a jar looks like speed demon.

Article screenshot: More trials before switch to electronic marking of exam scripts.

The SEAB seems to favour changing the medium and not the method, and as a result, not change at all.

This example of electronic marking would presume electronic test-taking were simple transitions from paper to screens. This is what happened with early e-books. Going electronic in this manner did (and does) not take advantage of hyperlinking, searching, and collaborating.

To push the boundaries where they need to be, the method must also change. The test should not just be about individual accountability, but also about the ability to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate. The challenge should not just be about low level thinking, but about contextual application, evaluation, and creation.

The superficial change in medium and not the method reveals this: The SEAB is neither prepared (state of mind) nor ready (state of being) to design and implement meaningful change. It is about jogging on the same spot to create the impression of work, but not move in any particular direction.

One of the replies to my tweet about the parliamentary response to stolen exam papers — electronic scanning and and marking of scripts — was this tweet.

I had to look up the product and service and found a UK-based website and YouTube video.

Apparently SurpassPaper+ allows students who opt to take electronic versions of an exam on their own devices alongside their peers who opt to take the paper version.

There are several advantages of taking the electronic version. The ones that stood out for me were:

  • Students use a platform they are already accustomed to.
  • The submissions are immediate and do not incur physical handling, storage, security, and transport costs.
  • Proctors can monitor student progress with an app and intervene if necessary.
  • Students can continue on an alternate device should their own fail them.

If all this seems innovative compared to the old-school method of high-stakes exams, then we should cast our eyes on how some standardised tests are regularly taken on Chromebooks in US school districts.

The change is also just an incremental one. Evolutionarily speaking, the new test animal is not that different from the generation before. It has not replaced the old one and actually lives alongside the incumbent species as a minority and novelty.

The bottomline is this: The medium has changed, but the method has not. Changing the medium is comparatively less disruptive and easier than changing the method of assessment.

To change the method is to face the usual suspects of barrier statements. I share just three and pose three questions as responses.

The first barrier statement is: We should not abandon what is good about the old or current method. My questions are: What is objectively good about it? From whose perspective is “good” defined?

The second barrier is an excuse: Now is not the time. My response are: If not now, then when? How will you know when the right time is? What if the right time is too late? How can we make it the right time?

The third barrier is a generalisation: Change will take time. My response is:
Of course it does. But when will you start?

We live in testing times, not least because of people like Trump and the consequences of their thoughtlessness.

Last week, the local press bragged about how Singapore universities were moving towards electronic examinations.

This sounds oh-so-progressive until you read excerpts like:

  • “laptops to replace pen-and-paper exams because students are losing the ability to write by hand”
  • “online exams save paper”
  • “efficiency in distribution of exam papers, marking and collating results”

The reasons for changing the medium of exams were relatively superficial. Legibility of writing and saving paper are natural shifts in switching media. That is like saying switching from a bicycle to a plane lets you travel further and faster, and allows you to have a bird’s eye view. Of course you would!

There was no mention of how switching to electronic forms was not only more aligned with how we consume media today and how many students take their notes. The latter, in turn, is linked to the practice medium matching the task medium. If you do not understand the last point, consider a common response from teachers: Why should we use computers when students still have to take exams with papers and pens?

“Efficient” or “efficiency” was mentioned at least four times in the short article. Apparently, more effective ways of measuring learning were not on the radar.

The paper claimed that universities were “adopting more creative ways of assessment… audio or video segments, and interactive charts and graphics”. Again, that those are functions of richer media.

But can students also respond in equally creative and critical ways? Apparently not since “the students will have a ‘lock-down browser mode’ to prevent cheating, which cuts access to the Internet”.

Those that prepare the e-exams would rather set the same type of lower level Google-able, app-solvable questions than to change their methods and set unGoogle-able questions or tasks instead.

I said it in my tweet and I will say it again: This is a change in exam media, but not a shift in method or mindset.

Still on the topic of tests, I tweeted a WaPo article last night.

TLDR? Here is a comic I found in 2014 that summarises the take home message.

Tests. I can take tests.

The WaPo article did an excellent review of a national exam in the USA and tested the test with the help of three researchers. The researchers were experts in the content area of the test (history) and of assessment in general.

The researchers found that the tests only functioned to teach test-takers how to take tests. The questions did not necessarily test critical thinking skills like:

  • “explain points of view”
  • “weigh and judge different views of the past,” and
  • “develop sound generalizations and defend these generalizations with persuasive arguments”

Those tests were also going electronic or online. But again the change in medium was apparent; the change in method was not.

If we are going to design better forms of assessment and evaluation, we need to think outside the traditional test. This Twitter jokester gives us a clue on how to do this.

The test looks like a simple two-choice series of questions. However, the test-taker has the liberty of illustrating their answers. This provides insights into their mindsets, belief systems, and attitudes.

This makes such tests harder to quantify, but this is what changing the method entails. It is not just about increasing the efficiency of tests, it is also about being more effective in determining if, what, and how learning takes place.

The WSJ wants you to know that “at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted reading with a book or e-book helps” your brain and reduces stress. But they would prefer that you read a book. Quietly. Or snuggle up with a newspaper perhaps?

I would argue that I have the same gains (and then some more) by dedicating at least 30 minutes of reading my Twitter stream or RSS feeds.

Here are the gains blow by blow.

Deepens empathy and provides pleasure
I am not sure how any book or e-resource actually deepens real empathy, but I find reading off my screens pleasurable. I take even greater pleasure in that I can hyper read to learn something more deeply or to explore more widely.

Heightens concentration
Being able to stay on task on a screen that produces an occasional pop-up and reading while balancing in careening public transport takes a lot of concentration. Dealing with a quick reply and then having the discipline to return to task is also a form of concentration.

Enhances comprehension, particularly of complex material and Enriches vocabulary
The fact that I can fact check and look for definitions online more easily than I can with a book definitely improves my comprehension and vocabulary.

Improves listening skills
I do not know how reading a book quietly to yourself does this. But I do know that my computing devices can read to me if my hands or eyes need to be elsewhere.

Reduces stress
It is certainly relaxing to be able to be able to read for a one 30-minute stretch. I do not mind if I get ten 3-minute moments of reading too.

So does the medium matter as long as I achieve the same gains?

More importantly, does the medium matter if I learn to read in a way that is more relevant?

Yesterday Seth Godin lamented how we have digital analogues of things like parking meters. (We do not have those devices here because we have both an electronic cash card system and primitive tear-away parking coupons.)

Godin’s point was how current tools, methods, or systems can often limit future tools, methods, or systems. A digital parking system should not just replace the old version by replicating its functions but actually improve them or change them.

If an old parking system required you to guess how much time you were going to park or allowed you to cheat, then the new one should remove the guesswork by determining exactly how long you parked.

You should not not marry old strategies with new technologies.

But we do that all the time, and education is no exception. We might have experienced how lectures happen with a chalkboard, overhead projector and transparencies, PowerPoint, SlidesShare and virtual world. The tool and medium change but the method does not.

Keeping our antiquated parking coupon system in the presence of an electronic one might waste resources, but it just creates an inconvenience now. If we change the medium of instruction but not the method, we do this to the detriment of our learners now and in future.

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