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I read this in a news digest earlier this week.

Students use new media technologies to record their overseas adventures (Evelyn Lam, MediaCorp News 8, 31/8)

Report noted that students in a primary school were making use of new media technologies to document their overseas learning journeys. Report noted that the students used an iPad app to produce an electronic journal to document what they learned during their trips by using photos, narrative scripts and voice recordings. Report also noted that to produce a more interesting journal, students became more involved during the trip so as to better understand the cultural and historical facts of the destination. A student said that the use of the app also helped to improve her language skills as she needed to write and record her narration of the sights she encountered.

Does what kids can already do when they travel with their families count as news simply because they now do them during school trips?

That is not news. That is olds.

For the traditional media, this might be a step up from fear-mongering. It might be news if some schools are catching up to what happens in homes that are on the right side of the divide.

What would really be news is “old” media not calling other media “new”. What is news is doing something different but meaningful as a result of technology integration. What is old is doing the same thing with a new tool.

What is news is challenging your readers or generating critical discussion. What is old is telling the same old story differently.

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I am privvy to news digests provided by a group in MOE. I really appreciate the work that this group does because they trawl the papers, listen to radio boradcasts, and watch TV to bring summaries on education issue to us.

I really like having summaries from papers I do not read or do not understand because they are in a different language. They provide me with other world views and fodder for reactions.

Here are two digests and my reactions.

Scolded by teacher for tearing her books, student rebuts that it is none of the teacher’s business (Huang Jian Ye, SM, 2/5, p4)

Follow-up report to a letter by Chen Wei Jun, a secondary school CL teacher, who wrote to the ZB Forum on 2/5 commenting that her students had bad manners and bad attitude during the weekly CL reading period in her school. Chen had shared that she noticed that some students tore out pages from their Chinese books for the reading sessions instead of bringing the entire book.

Report carried comments by Minister that this incident showed that it was important to teach character development and values. Minister said that teachers could use this incident for classroom discussion with their students. He added that while some students would burn their books after the examinations, other students would generously donate their books to help others.

Report carried comments by a counsellor that nowadays students were influenced by the Western way of thinking and valued an individual’s rights. Some students felt that they had every right to vandalise or tear their own books as it was their individual right.

Report also carried comments by teachers that the student had gone too far. One teacher said that a lot of students came from rich families so they did not know how to treasure their books. Another teacher felt that he would counsel the student and inform the parents, adding that teachers needed to have a lot of patience in educating their students.

Reaction 1: Was is so Western about valuing one’s individual rights?

Reaction 2: It may be true that those students do not know how to take care of their books. But it is also true that students carry lots of books to school and that books can be heavy. They are just trying to lighten the load. That is why a few schools have begun slate or tablet initiatives to provide e-books or references as alternatives. Countries like Korea and Thailand are set to do the same.

Error existed in History textbook for seven years: parents surprised that 700 teachers did not discover it (Lin Wen Chuan and Gao Jian Kang, WB, 2/5, p8)

Follow-up report on the Secondary One History textbook – The Living Past: History of Ancient India, China and Southeast Asia (2nd Edition) – erroneously referring to “feudal lords” in the Shang and Zhou dynasties as ‘shi’ noted that academics and parents were surprised that the error in the history textbook had gone unnoticed for seven years, and that 700 history teachers from over 200 schools here did not discover it. Report also noted that some parents were concerned that there might be more errors left undiscovered.

Report carried comments from a literature and history scholar who said that the error was an indication of a decline in Singaporeans’ knowledge of Chinese culture, and the lack of a questioning spirit among educators.

Report added that the history textbook was not used in all schools here. Intergrated Programme schools could choose not to use the history textbook, and some schools could choose to use history textbooks compiled by their own teachers. Thus, they were not affected by the erroneous history textbook. Report carried comments by an NIE staff member that when training history teachers, they focused on teaching methods for history without using any specific history textbooks.

Report also clarified that the History textbook was a Secondary One textbook.

Reaction 1: This is news? Textbooks are bound to have errors, perhaps fewer than newspapers have errors, but errors nonetheless.

Reaction 2: What is an error now might not be an error later. Or what was correct then is an error now, e.g., calling Pluto a planet.

Reaction 3: Imagine if the textbook was online and like Wikipedia. If it was, the error would have been detected much earlier.

I got a bit steamed when I read yesterday’s ST article, MOE seeks ways to beat the heat in class. It is looking into ways of cooling schools in our hot and humid clime.

Singapore’s mrbrown was not impressed. I’m not either, but for different reasons.

The first might be an error in reporting. Or it might be that I don’t understand north-south orientations:

Given that most schools don’t have a think-outside-the-rectangular-box shape, a north-south orientation is like a lower case “l”. This would mean the building absorbs the most heat throughout the day. To reduce heat absorption, the building needs an east-west orientation on its long axis; the windows need a north-south orientation (i.e., be facing north and south).

Then there is the reason for the move in the first place:

A lack of focus and the ability to stay awake are not just because of the heat. How about a more reasonable start time? How about reducing the amount of “hot air” that is generated during teaching?

My suggestions? Make use of our plentiful sunlight to partially or fully power fans and air-conditioners. This might be expensive initially but it can pay for itself in the long run.

The other two suggestions I hinted at aren’t going to happen any time soon. We are held captive by the private bus companies and many teachers don’t know any other way of teaching.

End of nit-picky rant.

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You might have read this Channel News Asia (CNA) article about MOE’s latest buzz phrase. I’ve highlighted two parts of the article but I actually have three things to say about it.

2009-08-26-moe_vision

First, teachers now have a vision statement: “Singapore Teachers: Lead. Care. Inspire”. A former colleague of mine that I follow on Facebook said:

slightly bemused at MOE’s new vision statement: ‘lead. care. inspire’. Indeed, but who’s going to do the actual teaching? (not to mention marking!)

It’s tongue-in-cheek, but typical of what an experienced teacher might say. In reality, the vision might play out as teach, mark, cry (teacher), scold, cry (student), teach…

Second, most teachers would recognise the picture that CNA used. Sadly it still represents the typical classroom. So tell me: How do teachers lead, care and inspire with PowerPoint? Oh wait, maybe they will upgrade and use “Smart” boards or “Interactive” White Boards! (Long time readers will know that I am being sarcastic.)

At this point, I highlight an article that a former trainee of mine, Laremy, brought to my attention about a teacher education programme in the UK, Teach First, that emphasizes that teaching is difficult. They do this in an attempt to recruit and retain the best talent. Here’s a snippet from the article:

Unlike government recruitment drives, which tend to present teaching as appealing, even easy, Teach First describes the job as tough and demanding because the right people are those who are attracted by the most daunting tasks.

This is in direct contrast to our MOE-sanctioned ads that show teaching or teachers as inspiring , hip or surrounded by a permanent mist that magically makes everything better. I also recall that MOE used to have a recruitment ad that said: Teach, if you care. My response then (and still) is they should have gone with Teach, if you dare.

So back to the CNA article which reports that MOE has signed 3,040 teachers. Our NIE records indicate that we have 2,233 as of 18 Aug 09. The remaining 807 are either in cold storage or they will join us next year. If they dare!

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No wonder parents and teachers sometimes distrust current forms of ICT! That was my reaction when I read two different accounts of an opera that will be crowdsourced and written via Twitter.

Yahoo! News [archive] reported the event in what I thought was a neutral tone.

On the other hand, one of the highlights of a Straits Times online/Reuters [archive] report was: “The first few lines of the opera show the difficulty of stringing together the submissions into a coherent story”. Of course it’s difficult! But the difficulty is not doing this Twitter-style but in creating a complex performance. Do this in any other medium and the same difficulties will emerge. This report attempted to put pass opinion as fact and this resulted in the propagation of misinformation.

ST does feature stories about technology use in schools occasionally. But I question the knowledge of some of their reporters. For example, Second Life is commonly thought of as an online gaming environment when it is not. ST and DigitalLife have featured articles about it in the past and they do not always correct this misconception. They have a responsibility to inform.

The news articles on ICT in schools so far have mostly featured the technology and not necessarily how teaching and learning have become more meaningful. Technology in schools gets reported as good-to-have options or enhancements. The public does not get to read how technology enables learning. It does not get to see how technology is increasingly relevant and important in classrooms and how essential it is to integrate technology seamlessly into curricula. If you look at the depth of most Washington Post or NYTimes articles on education, you will see what I mean about providing balanced information.

Thankfully students know better than to listen to hype. They are already using these tools and preparing themselves for their future. But they do not have the benefit of experience and they do not have many teachers who know how to take advantage of this. I do not need the press to give me this information nor am I going to wait for the system to catch up. I am going to make current information available to my trainees and they can make their own minds up!

ST Online reported today that schools here might resort to e-learning [PDF] “if H1N1 worsens.” ST also reported that some schools in Hong Kong had already taken that route [PDF] with the outbreak of A(H1N1).

The articles are revealing in what they say and what they don’t. In Singapore’s case, “most of the 15 parents interviewed by The Straits Times did not think it necessary to keep schools closed.” In the Australian International School in HK, a primary school teacher was quoted:

It is surprising how technologically savvy children are getting from a young age… Students see the integration of IT (information technology) as a logical progression in their school life.

The same article then gave an example of the e-learning:

Instructors at a kindergarten in Causeway Bay record themselves reading story books and singing songs as if their students were in the classroom and send the videos out the next day.

If you ignore the standard we-are-ready responses that other interviewees gave, that in gist is what the articles reported. What the articles did not report is that such e-learning:

  1. is still peripheral and something to resort to only in emergencies
  2. tries to replicate what goes on in the classroom (when it shouldn’t)
  3. does not push pedagogies, that is, it does not change the way teachers teach despite the affordances of various technologies
  4. is designed to be e-doing instead of actual e-learning.
  5. does not take advantage of what children are already using competently inside and outside the home, e.g., mobile phones, portable gaming consoles, laptop computers, netbooks, etc.

If you want to design e-learning, make it meaningful and logical to the learner. What is the point of replicating what they do in school when you have school for that? Take advantage of the medium in which e-learning takes place. To not do that is like watching TV with the picture off because you only used a radio before. Explore independent and collaborative forms of learning that promote information literacies and thinking that is both creative and critical!

E-learning is more reflective of the way we need to think and learn in today’s (and tomorrow’s) world. It is more informal and the problems are more complex or less well-defined. Multiple resources are used to solve the problem and there is often more than one solution to the problem. The process often requires a fair amount of effort from the individual and some form of collaboration with others to make the solution logical and meaningful.

Doing e-learning for its own sake or only in situations like A(H1N1) outbreaks creates negative learning experiences. As a result, it reinforces the negative perception of e-learning. Worse still, it frustrates our learners and does not prepare them for the world that they will live in.

Every day I get a feed about how an organisation is adopting some form of Web 2.0. But it was surprising for me to read about the CIA and the US Army being so open to them.

Singapore has its own headlines on Web 2.0 too. A while ago Digital Life had a series on how various companies here used different forms of Web 2.0 to increase productivity, change work culture and practices, and so on. Those articles were presented in a positive but FYI kind of way.

Lately, there seems to be a negative tone to the headlines. Don’t believe me? Then take a look at a June 3, 2009 headline in the Straits Times:

Many firms 'forced to allow Web 2.0 surfing'

The same article in the online version of ST read:

When Web 2.0 attacks

Not selling enough newspapers, ST?

Sensationalism is not the way to go unless it wants to walk down the tabloid path of The New Paper. I’m certain that the ST is facing the same pressures of news publishers in other parts of the world, but stooping low is not a way to distinguish itself.

But I think that it has already begun its slippery descent. After all, the same publishing company gave birth to Stomp. The denizens that used to congregate and in-breed in Stomp seem to have wandered into ST Forum. A cursory glance at the responses to most readers’ letters will reveal a village idiot or three.


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