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Posts Tagged ‘netflix

I agree with those who say that we can learn a lot from Netflix about how we might school and educate learners, but not in the way you might think.

Proponents of the Netflix way might refer to viewing on-demand or its recommendation engine, but those focus on the relatively superficial technological affordances of making viewing more efficient.

I would rather focus on what makes learning more effective. With that in mind, I have started thinking about the “pedagogy” of Netflix, i.e., how some shows follow common designs that educators might emulate.

A caveat: Not all Netflix shows are winners. The best are what some might call slow burns, e.g., Ozark, Criminal: UK, The Queen’s Gambit.

Netflix's Ozark, Criminal: UK, and The Queen's Gambit.

The most intriguing shows draw viewers in with non-linear narratives. This means that a story is not told sequentially from A to Z. A show like The Queen’s Gambit is not afraid to go back in time to provide backstories.

In a classroom, this might apply to curricular redesign. Most curricula are designed with standards and examinations at the head and tail end. Both result in a “just-in-case you need this later” design, i.e., what students learn is not used immediately or meaningfully.

The willingness of a teacher to leave a linear design and provide just-in-time information contrasts with the orderliness of most curricula. But this also focuses on what the learner needs most at the time. This could mean that a math teacher who realises that students have a language deficit will address that gap first instead of sticking to the math scheme of work.

A show like Criminal assumes that the audience is smart and curious. It does not provide all the answers and actually hides some information. The viewers become participants as we put the pieces together by discussing the gaps with others and/or by figuring things out on our own.

The application of this to schooling and education is not that educators carelessly teach and exclude information randomly. There is a method to the apparent madness — it is called needs analysis that informs pedagogical/content design. The design invariably includes an emphasis on peer teaching and critical reflection.

If there is a winner of the slow-burn award, it should go to Ozark. It is show that provides shocking moments largely because the rest of the movement is languid. Its not-afraid-to-go-slow might be a storytelling device that is akin to slow cooking.

Likewise, not everything needs to be taught a breakneck speed or rely on flashy demonstrations. Much of learning is a slow and mundane struggle. Students do not give up because there is a constant dance between what a teacher encourages and what a student needs to do. The learning environment is not limited to the classroom and not dominated by the teacher.

I would be the first to point out that Netflix is designed to provide entertainment and not to be a source of professional development for teachers. But I would also point out that we can learn from any experience if we watch carefully, reflect critically, and apply meaningfully.

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It has been a while since I have used a video to highlight the importance of being able to see the processes that are responsible for a product. This principle is true not just for a popular movie on Netflix, but also for schooling and education.

We are not mind readers and so we are more certain that students have learnt something if they externalise it. This overall process often manifests itself in a product, e.g., exam answers, group project, performed skill. One or more teachers then assess that product.

But what about the processes that led to the product? Processes like planning, tinkering, correcting mistakes, working with others, reflecting, and more. These processes are important to students while they are in school and later on at work.

Such processes are trickier to evaluate, but this does not mean the job is impossible. And anything worth doing is difficult. That is what makes it difficult.

Focus on the processes, not just the product of those processes. You might just enjoy gaining insights on and evaluating those processes as a result.

A simple definition of an autodidact is a person who self-educates. I can think of no better example of an autodidact than William Kamkwamba.

Kamkwamba was the subject of a Netflix original, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. It is well worth the watch and I include the movie trailer below.

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Kamkwamba was interviewed at a TED talk when he was just 19-years-old. According to this Newsweek article, he later “graduated from Dartmouth College in 2014 and continued on to work with focusing on Human Centered Design. The now 31-year-old has since worked on projects from sanitation in India to gender-based violence prevention in Kenya.”

TED talk

Other than providing inspiring story, the movie could be the basis of lessons for teachers and students.

For example, in teacher education, it could be used to highlight the importance of identifying problems before exploring solutions, and of placing context before content.

For students in general, the movie offers food for thought on the uncontrolled stripping of natural resources from our environment. It has equally powerful lessons on how people of different religions can be friends.

There are worthwhile lessons everywhere. You do not have to wait for the permission of curriculum planners or administrators. You just need to feel what the wind blows in. That is what an autodidact would do.

Spoiler alert: In order to make a point, I need to reveal events in episode 2 of the latest season of Black Mirror on Netflix.

The episode is titled Smithereens and features an ex-teacher who kidnaps an underling who works at a social media company of the same name.

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Some viewers of the episode might wonder if real world entities like Facebook have as much reach as Smithereens. These viewers need only find out about data analytics and how Facebook has been used to influence political outcomes.

So it is not surprising to assume that the episode is about blaming social ills on technological affordances. After all the series creator, Charlie Brooker, has showcased this tendency over five seasons in Netflix.

This might be the first episode where the victim, the ex-teacher, blames himself for getting distracted while driving and causing two deaths. The guilt weights heavily and he resorts to kidnapping the Smithereens employee in order to speak directly to its CEO.

It takes two hands to clap: A greedy company to design an engaging app and an ill-disciplined user to use it regardless of context and circumstances. No one has a gun to our heads to make us watch videos while we cross the road.

The social media company holds it hand up waiting for us to complete the clap, but clapping is not appropriate in every circumstance. It does not take much to put our hand down and move the screen away from our eyes for a while.

I enjoyed the four-part Netflix series, The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes. The original shows seemed to be part of a larger BBC series.

Here is a playlist of official snippets from the BBC series. However, they are not quite representative of the Netflix series in terms of emphasis and tone.

Playlist source

One might walk away from the Netflix episodes envious of how some of the ultra-rich live. However, I admired how the owners and designers of the homes took care to minimise the impact of the buildings on the environment or blended the former into the latter.

As is my habit, I link what I watched with what might be practiced in schooling and education.

Just as the architects worked closely with their clients on the homes, so should educators if we are to truly personalise experiences for their learners. Even the youngest of our learners has hopes and experiences we can build on.

It might also seem easier to try to start with a blank slate by clearing the land. The equivalent in teaching might be starting without finding out what the learners know first. Just as the designers and builders took pain to integrate the environment and the buildings, so should teachers and educators if we are to create learning experiences that are special and meaningful.

A Netflix watch-worthy series is David Letterman’s “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction”.

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It is not binge-worthy because they are released episode by episode instead of an entire series. The episodes are interviews, so they might not be light enough to take in at one go.

But they are worth watching because of some of the people that Letterman interviews. The first episode featured former US President Barack Obama. There will be another episode with Malala Yousafzai.

I watched the Obama episode and it was inspiring and insightful. I was particularly taken by the snippets of Letterman crossing the Edmund Pettus bridge with Congressman John Lewis.

Folks in my part of the world probably do not know who John Lewis is and what the bridge represents. A recent Washington Post article will shed some light on this important moment in the US Civil Rights movement.

John Lewis speaks with a gravitas today as much as he did as a young man. Watch his interview with MSNBC and his responses to Trump’s racist (“shit hole”) remarks.

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In light of the racial tensions that persist in the US and the deadly event in Charlottesville, Virginia, one might wonder if there has been any progress since John Lewis marched and worked with Martin Luther King. Letterman brought that up and Lewis had a poignant response:

… in the whole struggle there may be some setbacks, some delays, some interruption, but you take a long hard look. We will get there.

Any agent of worthwhile change should be encouraged by Lewis’ words when faced with some setbacks, some delays, and some interruption.

Lewis lived that struggle first hand and has the benefit of hindsight. He also has the wisdom of believing in belief, hope, and better days ahead. The situation is better now than before and Obama as US President for two terms is evidence of that.

The writers of Quartz, some of whom I have described as using lazy writing, wondered why one of the world’s wealthiest countries is also one of its biggest online pirates.

The country was Singapore, “the world’s fourth richest country, measured by gross national income per capita and adjusted for purchasing power”. Quartz wondered why Singaporeans still resorted to piracy despite having access to Netflix.

Does it assume that 1) there are no poor people in Singapore, 2) everyone here has heard of Netflix or other legal video streaming platforms, 3) the rich people here (all of us!) subscribe to something like Netflix, and 4) having access to legal streaming should reduce piracy significantly?

These are flawed assumptions. In not trying to answer its own question, it revealed lazy thinking and research.

For example, it did not mention how Netflix Singapore only offers 15% of TV shows carried by Netflix USA. (The exact figure might vary over time and is available in the table at this site.)

It did not mention that we have relatively low-cost fibre optic broadband plans.

Telcos here now push 1Gbps plans. One needs only a cursory examination of this chart maintained by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) of Singapore to see that the plans hover around S$50 now.

The low access to the full Netflix USA library combined with ready access to high speed Internet point to our ability to get the same resources elsewhere.

Quartz decided to call our behaviour kiasu. That is a catchall term that avoids actual thought and explanation. The label is convenient: You are all just like that despite your money and access.

Like most sociotechnical phenomena (behaviours shaped and enabled with technology), the underlying reasons are nuanced. I have suggested just two and backed it up with the data.

When a few people talk about the Netflix-ation of education, they might be referring to the online, customisation, or on-demand aspect of Netflix.

Coursera seems to have already taken a leaf from the Netflix book by offering courses by subscription.

We will have to wait and see if this has any legs and becomes a worthwhile trend. In the meantime, I offer a perspective on a Netflix-like education that I would NOT like to see.

Ever since Netflix went global, I lost access to the US listing and gained a Singapore listing.

Now some favourites of mine, like Black Mirror and Rock and Morty, are labelled in Chinese.


Singapore is not in China, and even though we have a Chinese majority, our lingua franca is English.

My preferred language setting is English and most other titles are in English, e.g., Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold (see screenshot above).

So again, why?

For some reason, Netflix also recommends a section of movies to me that is labelled “Western Movies”. Why not call the category “Corrupt Bourgeoisie Shows” since there is an implied value system?

The issue is not so much the language or the labels. It is that there is a one-size-fits-all standard that I do not have control of. Isn’t Netflix-ation supposed to provide more choice based on my preferences?

So while having a Netflix-like education might offer more customisation, it might also view us more like a customer. However, this customer is not king, nor is he or she always right.

This customer is to be mined of data and possibly manipulated into accepting labels and making false choices. This is not the Netflix-like education I look forward to.

If you asked me what the biggest technology news was so far in 2016, I would point to Netflix planting its flag in almost every country in the world.

In case you live under a rock or are indifferent to Netflix, here is a Wired article on Netflix’s conquest.

What Netflix did was no small feat if you recall that it started out as a video disc distribution company. People who wanted to watch movies in the comfort of their homes rented movies online and the discs were sent to them via the post.

The post. Video discs. Imagine that!

The company reinvented itself by streaming videos over the Internet. In the process, Netflix streaming accounts for more than a third of all Internet traffic in the USA.

This corporate entity has achieved in a decade what educational institutions have struggled with for millennia, e.g., access to resources free from old restrictions like geography, gender, and age.

Admittedly Netflix cannot solve the problem of socio-economic divide. Its library of videos is also not available equally to all due to international laws (e.g., intellectual property) and local policies (e.g., censorship).

However, those flaws are actually evidence of a strength. Netflix did not wait for systems to be ready nor did they try to make everyone happy. Quite the opposite.

Netflix did this because survival & profit were at stake. Those of us who think of ourselves as educators do not necessarily think like that.

Maybe we should. How long will the old school stay relevant when today’s learners can teach themselves? How might teachers reinvent for survival and salary? How long will the system provide conditions for teachers to not change?

Netflix dropped a happy bomb at the start of 2016. Almost the whole world can now enjoy the golden age of online-streamed television.

Apparently the response in hyperconnected Singapore has been mixed. This should come as no surprise as segments of the press, bloggers, and online forums have long provided how-tos on accessing Netflix US via VPN services*.

People go for the US offering because some shows are not available here. This article provides a comparison.

What are some reminders or lessons from this for school leaders and teachers who are integrating technology?

Technology is rarely the rate determining step. Instead it is what pushes, pulls, and leads. Technology creates possibilities, but not opportunities, because it is held back by policies, regulations, or rights.

With Netflix, each country will have different policies on viewer age ratings, adhere to varying censorship regulations, and have separate access rights to television programming. VPN services provide an access workaround*.

Likewise the context of each school, classroom, or learning environment is different from the one next door. All are drawn to the promises and potential of technology, but only a few individuals within each system will keep pace with the technology and resist being held back by policies, regulations, or rights.

These people find workarounds when there are no clear paths. They forge ahead to problem-seek and problem-solve. These are the rebels, the creatives, and the innovators.

Sadly, most systems ignore and even punish this group of people instead of supporting and rewarding them. This is not entirely the systems fault. Teachers tend to be nurturers who do not wish to promote themselves or what they do. If they do not stand out and share, others cannot be faulted for not recognising them.

So if you are a leader, look beyond the surface for innovation and create conditions for hidden talent to show itself. If you are a teacher, show off not for yourself but for the good of your students and your profession.

Above all, do not let the status quo hold you back. Change happens on the backs of those willing to push forward.

*Update: We will wait and see what develops as Netflix tries to block VPNs.

Netflix has transformed from bit player to a major one. It has challenged the practices of what is means to broadcast. It will now be challenged.


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