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Posts Tagged ‘nuance

I look forward to every podcast episode of Pessimists Archive, rare and irregular as it is. I wish the latest episode came out before my course finale.

The latest podcast started with a “heroic” dog and ended with the war between natural ice and artificial refrigeration. Yes, the episodes are weird but connected like that. But they all share a common theme.

Take this quote from the 23min 47sec mark:

When people face new technologies… they end up wanting… a simple heuristic to cut through complexity and allow them to make decisions that would otherwise be ambiguous or overwhelming.

Technology represents change and some people react with fear. To manage that change and fear, these people seek simple heuristics e.g., tell me what to do, what is a formula I can follow, how might I dumb it down and essentially do the same thing.

But such short-term thinking does us no good. Shortcuts avoid the critical and creative thinking that is necessary for problem-solving and embracing nuance. Given that my course was about new educational technologies, the quote and the thinking behind it would have made a timely and wise course conclusion.

Ah, well. This is something else to add to the 30-plus reminders I already have in my Notes app…

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The message from Hank Green was about nuanced thought. His comical examples illustrate how “common” sense or superficial thinking are antithetical to fact, logic, and nuance.

It does not take that much dive deeper to make meaningful sense of what is going on. When challenged to skip the effort, we might consider what George Couros reflected on:

What is life, if not the sum of a hundred thousand daily battles and tiny decisions to either gut it out or give it up?

The small things matter because they add up. No “butts” about it.


As I watched the video below, I thought about the importance of being precise and nuanced.

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Hank Green was upset that news pundits and headlines were blindly declaring that the Amazon rainforest was burning, i.e., natural wild fires. He made the point that many of the fires this year were started by people to clear the land — the forest was being burnt.

For me, this was a good example of precision and nuance. It was not about nit-picking the use of burning vs being burnt. Anyone dismissive would point out that both had fires in common and that the immediate end result was the same.

However, Green’s point was that wild fires are natural, cyclical, and balanced. Man-made fires for the purpose of clearing forest were not. The processes are different — one is natural and the other is forced. The long-term results are different — one sees a natural recovery or evolution while the other sees damage.
Life is not black and white; there is some grey nuance to it. -- Pilou Asbaek
I try to be precise and more nuanced about why I do not like to merely engage my learners and why I prefer to empower them. I do not restrict myself to flipping a classroom; I choose to flip the learning. I do not simply use technology for teaching; I integrate it for learning.

The precision and nuance lie in this principle: I focus on the learner and learning, not just the teacher and teaching. This is a lot more difficult to do consistently, but it is also more rewarding in the long run.

Anyone not living under a rock will know that the current cultural entertainment phenomena are Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones.

Any educator worth their salt could take advantage of them. Videos that analyze their content are not only seeds, hooks, and drivers of content, they might also be used to teach nuance and critical thinking.

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The video above is one such example. It provides a low entry barrier, a shared experience, and cognitive dissonance among the learners.

An educator might leverage on such a video by highlighting how it models nuanced and critical thinking. By facilitating discussion and reflection the same educator can teach her students to do the same.

The FBE YouTube channel released a video about the preponderance of “Florida man”.

For the uninitiated, “Florida man” is a frequent prefix that appears in ridiculous newspaper headline or news chyrons. The video below provides numerous examples.

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While entertaining, the video is also an example of exploring nuance.

When trying to answer the question “Why does Florida seem to have so many crazy people?” it might be tempting to assume that there is something in the air or water there that makes people crazy.

The crazy thing is that a tongue-firmly-in-cheek report actually reveals the root of Florida man. This is the segment that matters.

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There is a law in the state of Florida in the USA that requires governing bodies (the police in this case) to provide access of records to the public (news agencies, for example.)

So there is something in Florida that makes Florida man so ”common” — it is the law that requires the sharing of information. There are not necessarily more crazy people there. There is more open reporting of crazy people.

This is a simple example of nuance. It is going beyond anecdotes and assumptions. It is about digging deeper and making connections.

I get it. Why do complex when you can go simple? I even created an image quote a while ago of someone else sharing the same sentiment.

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity. -- Charles Mingus.

However, any “truth” of “principle“ is subject to context — what applies to one does not to another.

Simpler is not necessarily better. Simpler is likely not nuanced or one-size-fits-all. Case in point? Take how the linked article began:

Do straight-A students make good policymakers? … Some have leadership qualities and interpersonal skills and others are only good at studying and doing well in exams.

The simple approach is to boil a complex issue down to a false dichotomy. Dig just a bit deeper and you might rationalise that good EQ and good IQ are not mutually exclusive.

This is not a criticism of the article. It does good job in providing examples of oversimplifying problem-solving and overcomplicating policies.

My thoughts turn to Singapore schooling instead. Academic streaming is simpler than subject-based banding (SBB). Yet we are moving on to SBB despite how students, parents, and enrichment tuition centres might interfere with the policy implementation.

The adoption and implementation of SBB has downstream impact on what is now the O and N-level examinations. What combinations and levels of subjects students take as well as their examination results will determine where they go next. The polytechnics and junior colleges will likely have to adjust their admission criteria.

There is no simple approach when a problem is systemic. The pathways are not just winding, they are multiple and rhizomic. We can do our best to simplify, but we must embrace complexity and nuance if we are to move forward.

Substituting nuance for novelty is what experts do, and that is why they are never bored. -- Angela Duckworth
The first thing that comes to mind on what I started reflecting on this year is the importance of nuance.

Nuance is going beyond simplistic arguments and time-honoured but unquestioned practices. Nuance is making the effort to climb above the obvious and low-hanging fruit. Nuance is rejecting easy answers and embracing difficult questions.

If I had to distill something memorable and funny that illustrates nuance, it would be this bit by Finnish comedian, Ismo.

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The video is not for the faint-of-heart. If you watch it, you might appreciate the subtleties in the use of the word “ass”. You might then appreciate the skill it takes to weave this nuance in language into a funny story and then tell it with panache.

Something similar could be said about educators who combine the findings of rigorous research and reflective practice to design and implement courses. Instead of merely doing what they were taught, they focus on what it means to learn. They take into account the nuance of context instead of just focusing on content.

When I read this tweet, I thought: Here we go again — fear mongering.

When I read the article (TODAY borrowed from the NYT again), it was more a more uncertain set of answers to the question. The answers were not new to anyone following the debate, and more importantly, following the research.

The link between insert-latest-condition-to-fear (e.g., cortical thinning) directly and insert-latest-evil-to-fear (e.g., screen time) was inconclusive.

If there is a tweet that sums up the nuance is a whisper, it might be this one:

One might take a simple observation (like the one tweeted below) and turn it into a teaching moment.

At first glance, you might see nothing wrong with the set up and leave it at that.

As the Twitter personality points out human foibles like laziness or oversight, you might look for something wrong. So a second look might reveal how the rolled up screen cannot be lowered past the projector.

Even so, anyone who has used a short-throw projector knows that 1) it is typically used with a wall-mounted whiteboard (like the one in the same photo), and 2) the projection on the board is often interactive. The second point means that the presenter can tap or write on the board — this requires a stationary surface, not a dangling one.

Still, someone whose job was to install the projector could have also removed the old screen. But even that is not nuanced enough. Why replace one type of projector with another?

Administrators and policymakers have bought into the sales pitches of vendors who say that such interactive projections are the next big thing. They are not. They leave the teacher squarely at the front of the classroom, with little involvement of the learners.

To teach is the learn twice.

If the adage that “To teach is to learn twice” is true, then we understand why teachers become content experts. They are constantly unpacking and repacking content for others.

How about the learners? Would they not benefit from teaching one another more often than not?

If teachers have just one critical job (for the record, they have many), it is to ensure that students learn effectively and meaningfully. Presentations on screen do not ensure learning; performance using the new knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes do.

Learning is not a spectator sport. --Chickering and Ehrmann

Most semesters I comment on examples of awkward or otherwise poor examples of essay writing.

This semester I do not share examples of writing faux pas. Instead I share a photo I took to illustrate nuance.

The photo is a screenshot of a Pokémon Go stop that someone labelled “hook up point”.

If you are an old school local, you might understand that this place is for hanging bird cages in a community space.

However, “hook up” has a broader use. When one refers to people hooking up, they are, um, managing the birds and the bees. A hook up point would then have a bad reputation.

My message to essay and paper writers is simple: Do not write for yourself, write for your reader. If you do the former, you are satisfied with what your words mean to you. If you do on the latter, you focus on communicating with readers by embracing the nuance of meaning and taking their points of view.

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