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I take issue with the popular press referring to “virtual learning” and some sectors calling their platforms virtual learning environments (VLEs). This might sound trite, but “virtual” is not the same as “online”.

Virtual means not real or not really there. It could also mean close but not quite there. Virtual reality comprises of artificially constructed artefacts that mimic reality but are distinct from it. So why would anyone want learning or a platform to not be real or not be quite there?

If you mean learning that is enabled online, call it online learning. If there is a system that facilitates such experiences, call it an online learning system. Is that too difficult?

Words hold meaning and it is not too late to jump aboard the online learning bus.

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The first part of this SciShow video highlighted how the popular press misrepresented a study.

According to the study, a cloth mask that people might also wrap their neck with — a neck gaiter — was not only much less effective that surgical masks at reducing expelled water droplets, it somehow created more.

To the uninitiated, this was newsworthy because it could help with public safety. As well-meaning as journalists or Facebook forwarders might be, the propagation of such news is misinformation.

As Hank Green pointed out, the study comprised of only four participants and each of them did not have a standard way of wearing the masks. The study was preliminary or exploratory at best — it might have been a way to test the measuring tool. It was not meant to inform public safety.

Knowing if and when results and conclusions transfer other contexts is an important aspect of scientific literacy. The same could be said about pedagogical innovation.

The success of your classroom experiment is not always transferable to someone else’s. This does not mean that teachers should not share their stories. But it does mean that they do not make claims larger than anecdotes.

It is Christmas week. It is also a sign of our times when people make observations like the one above.

It is one thing to complain and it another to create humour from the same.

It is one thing to take in superficially and it is another to make something from it.

One of the disadvantages of not reacting immediately is that something online might go offline. In this case it was a tweet of a slide from a self-proclaimed expert.

The slide was a rehash of the so-called learning pyramid. I hate how much it has been misrepresented that I refuse to show an example of it now.

But I only have to describe what has become common knowledge among new teachers and trainers — we supposedly only learn 5 or 10% from lectures, 10% from reading, 20% from audio-visual, and all that jazz. This is a bastardisation of Dale’s original Cone of Experience.

Dale's (1946) original Cone of Experience.

A few years ago, I shared how the learning pyramid with percentages has been debunked. But here is the short version.

  • Edgar Dale suggested in 1946 that media had effects on imparting information, and suggested a hierarchy of media effects.
  • This hierarchy was dubbed Dale’s Cone of Experience.
  • Dale did not suggest percentages to his theoretical model.
  • The hierarchy was about media effects, not retention or learning.

Despite this, Dale’s Cone was misused. Michael Molenda, someone I studied under, suggested that someone named Paul John Phillips, an instructor working at a military training methods branch, might have added retention rates without any backing from research. An early form of the learning pyramid was first published in 1967 by D. G. Treichler, again without any evidence.

It is easy to challenge the learning pyramid without mentioning the lack of research. Just ask the seller of snake oil how the percentages are in exact percentages of fives or tens. For example, how does a lecture ensure 5% of retention or learning? Why 5%? How was this measured? Why not deliver just that 5%?

Some things bear repeating. No, not the mythical percentages in the learning pyramid, but the fact that it was spread as a lie.

I spotted this notice on the new “digital display“ at the lift lobby on the ground floor of my apartment block. Residents were warned not to touch it.

Not a touchscreen?

Touchscreens are so common as to be the norm. This screen is at eye to shoulder height and begs to be touched. If we are not supposed to interact with the screen, a conventional noticeboard might have made more sense.

Given the environment, the risk for damage to this screen is high. The cost of this initiative not known even though residents pay for it via monthly dues. The return on this investment is also questionable. Innovation is not doing the same thing differently and at greater cost.

Now, am I being curmudgeonly or are the authorities just out of touch?

Here is an anecdote to add to our story to be a Smart Nation. It reveals how far we are from the starting line.

Early last week, I returned a library book via the book drop kiosk on my way to work in the morning. It beeped and the “Returned” indicator flashed to confirm the transaction.

About an hour later, I received email that the book was still due. Did I imagine returning the book or did the kiosk not register my return?

The next day, I received email that confirmed that I had returned the book the previous day. Apparently, it takes a day to register transactions and send notifications. Even telegrams worked faster!

What is the point of replacing inefficient human processes with equally inefficient but automated processes? If we are going to claim to be a Smart Nation, we need to identify the stupid processes that prevent us from starting on that journey.

I say we start by getting rid of the people who cannot empathise with the people they are supposed to be helping. Here is a tip: If someone is going to fire them, do it in person. It might take a while for an automated response to get to them.

I would rather use any platform other than an institutional LMS. Over the years, I have reflected on why. Most recently I mentioned a paradigm shift in edtech.

But here are some simple and pragmatic reasons why I prefer to operate outside an LMS.

Reliability: Platforms likes Google Sites have near-perfect uptime. It would take a catastrophic failure for them to be unavailable over a long stretch of time. They operate over redundant servers so that the end user does not ever see “scheduled maintenance” notices.

Transferability: It is a chore to export courses from one semester to another. Even as LMS providers make this process easier, the fact remains that course resources are not available indefinitely and importing them to a new section can result in accidents. This happens most often when an LMS “upgrades”.

Indefinite access: Nothing lasts forever, but open platforms that stand the test of time have it in their interest to keep users and customers. I have resources from over a decade ago that are still online and occasionally still referred to. How do I know? I get email notifications when this happens.

Mobile responsiveness: Most LMS providers are not mobile responsive. Instead they create feature poor apps for things like notifications, announcements, polling, and attendance-taking. But when I create a course site in Google Sites, content is automatically adjusted for smaller mobile devices.

Flexibility: I can use and embed just about any other edtech tool in an open platform. I do not have to rely on LMS API or be be held back by backward IT policy. The edtech world changes quickly and features come and go, but this also means I learn to be flexible instead of simply relying on LMS inertia or repetitive practice semester over semester.

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I cringed, I screen capped, I posted.

It is easy to judge a newspaper for thinking that dated references are still relevant.

What is not as easy to capture is how some teachers still try to incorporate technology for coolness sake. Their learners cringing is the least of their problems.

The harm is in the technology being used to engage instead of empower; it enhances teaching but does not enable powerful and meaningful learning.

I am not one for conspiracy theories, but a casual observer might say I am living one — the items I need for work have synchronised breakdowns.

Holes appeared in my favourite shoes, my laptop backpack is starting to fall apart, my Macbook periodically freezes and shuts down, and my iPad battery is bloated. All this in a space of about a week or two.

Truth be told, I only noticed the holes and wear on my shoes and bag when they became obvious. They did not appear overnight when seemingly signalled by my iPad and Macbook.

If I think about it, my shoes have lasted a few years, and even though I do not wear them every day, I walk in them more. When I visit new campuses or work environments, I make the effort to explore and my shoes get a work out.

I carry a fair bit in my laptop bag because I want to be prepared for any instructional eventuality. This means I carry a small house on my back. I have worn through my share of bags, so this is not unusual.

My iPad started losing battery capacity several weeks ago, but I ignored this and kept charging it up instead of getting a battery replacement. This probably stressed the battery.

Apple SSD programme.

My laptop, on the other hand, was working fine until I brought it in when I received a notification from Apple for a free servicing for an SSD issue. I had not previously experienced “data loss and failure of the drive”. But the freezing and shutting down started happening after the servicing.

So there is no conspiracy. But there is a going to be a larger-than-usual credit card bill as I pay to get the items repaired or replaced.

It seems to be a point of pride for some Pokémon Go (PoGo) players to highlight how little money, if any at all, that they put into the game. That is what I gather from anecdotal interactions with other players and from Facebook group posts.

If they wish to play that way and grind a maximum of 50 coins a day, they are entitled to do so. What they are not entitled to do is getting those coins by spoofing, sniping, and shaving.

What these players are also not entitled to do is putting others down for paying to play. Closet PoGo players do not reveal they pay to play in order to avoid the condescending question, “Pay for what?”

PoGo shop.

I pay to play to the tune of just SGD 1 a day. I enjoy the game and wish to support the company and the people it employs. I benefit from the ecosystem it has created in the form of YouTubers and other social leaders.

I do not think that it is helpful to expect a company to provide an app, a service, and an entire ecosystem for free. Doing this entrenches a mean and closed mindset.

I challenge the notion that the best things in life are free. They are not, not even the intangibles. Take family time for instance. Think about how much time and effort it takes to carve it out or set it aside.

Born free. Became expensive.

Free or freemium apps get cashflows eventually. They could offer micro-transactions that fool users or sell user data without the users’ knowledge. When the latter happens, we become the product, not the customer.

Thinking or wishing that you can get away with “free” has its price — continued ignorance, unrealistic expectations, and futile actions. We might be born free of burden, but we become expensive very quickly. The lesson at birth is something we should not forget.

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