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Posts Tagged ‘online

This tweet led to a paywalled article (at the time of writing), so I read the few tweet replies that were not spam.

One person wondered what polytechnics were afraid of. I am afraid I do not know what that person was trying to say. Was she wondering if polytechnics were afraid of mass infection, perpetuating an outdated practice, or something else? 

The former is a superficial answer because preventing students from gathering in large groups in an enclosed space certainly prevents the spread of airborne pathogens. That is a good thing and not something to be afraid of.

The latter is a less obvious answer because lectures are still happening online. So perhaps polytechnics might be afraid of pedagogical change? I still do not know what that person might be getting at.

Another person snidely replied that students would “get an education but lack any social skills from not mixing with people”. I wonder how this person thinks that lectures are social places. Student are more likely to be alone together. 

Lectures develop as many social skills as they ensure meaningful learning. An educator worth their salt knows that much of learning happens outside the lecture hall. Students learn at home, in their dorms, in libraries, at coffee joints, etc. It is there that they practice learning that could be social, reflective, and independent.

When referring to online education, Martin Weller opined that “the means that effectively saved education during the online pivot… has now become the enemy”. That might be true in his Open University and UK context. I am unsure if that is the case here because I do not have survey data.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s start with this. About a third of a population will never bend to change, another third will embrace it, while the last third could go either way. It is the first third that might call work from home and online education a public enemy. Why? Weller said that they need to distract from underlying issues, divert blame from themselves, or make themselves feel superior. 

He explained that these folk rely on the false dichotomy of “online is pretend, in-person is real” because: 

…simple narratives are powerful for many people, so even if everyone involved knows that it’s nonsense, you can still end up spending a lot of your time refuting it…

It is important for the third that is at the forefront of change to win over the third that is indifferent. I would argue that it is not the mode (in-person or online) or the medium (Post-Its notes or Padlets notes) that matter as much as the method. Both can be used or abused.

For example, if avoiding group think or engaging in divergent thinking is the goal, then an immediate group activity is the wrong method. Instead, a well-informed facilitator might use a disciplined think-pair-share strategy.

Each mode and medium might lend itself to certain methods, e.g., immediacy over reflectiveness, but that does not make one method better than the other. Context matters. If an issue is urgent, immediacy rules; if an issue is important, it might be better to reflect on past strategies before moving forward.

Studying or working in person or online does not auto-magically make things better. You can get distracted, attend time-wasting events, do empty tasks, etc. in both.

Instead of blaming the mode or medium, I say we improve our methods, e.g., build in choice, autonomy, and empowerment; design for meaningful learning and work; start with empathy. None of these are easy. Anything worth doing is not easy.

Photo by u0410u043du043du0430 u0420u044bu0436u043au043eu0432u0430 on

I only found out from a US-based NPR comedy podcast, Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me episode that our national carrier, Singapore International Airlines (SIA), had changed “delayed” flights to “retimed” flights.

Spotify source

SIA was mentioned was nearly at the end of the episode when a contestant had to answer a quiz question. 

An NPR researcher might have created that question after reading this source (dated 7 June 2022) that SIA flight “retimed” his flight from Bali.

But this news was not new. When looking for possible sources of this claim, I performed a simple search for “SIA retimed”. The very first page of search returns was mostly news reports dating as far back as 2019 of SIA using “retimed” instead of “delayed”.

So what?

I could reflect on how something that seems new or novel to some is old or passé to others. This is not a call to stop spreading the good word. It is to keep going because there will almost always be someone we can reach and teach.

I also focus on how retimed might sound better but does nothing to change circumstances. A delayed flight is a delayed flight which has consequences, e.g., a missed connecting flight. It is also an insult to the intelligence of passengers — trying to make something sound good is not the same as actually making good.

Anyone who has worked a while will probably recognise admin speak when they hear it. I remember administrators and policymakers beaming when they declared how X percent of lesson resources were online (replace “online” with “blended” in the 2020s).

You can replace X with an arbitrary number that someone somehow thinks is effective. I do not see how, say, 50% of teaching material online or blended translates to change or effectiveness. Heck, even 100% is no guarantee that pedagogy has evolved or expectations have changed.

Changing a word is an administrative pat on administrative backs. What matters in the use of “retimed” or “blended” is whether there is informed policy that nurtures new mindsets and creates better behaviours. If not, all we have is empty words.

A few months ago, a researcher and educator shared his thoughts in a Twitter thread about the invalid comparison of face-to-face and online learning.

He argued that neither form of learning was a single collective method that could be compared with the other. For example, online discussions do not solely represent online learning just like in-person tutorial classes do not only represent face-to-face learning. There are many facets of each mode.

You could, however, compare face-to-face lectures with Zoom-based lectures. But like him, I wonder why you would want to compare a method where students are all alone together. Both modes of lecturing suffer the same weaknesses. 

He then argued that it was more important to focus on what matters more, e.g., student attitudes, teacher’s ability to teach in that context, teacher’s capacity to relate to students.

He also highlighted how much learning can happen when students are not in class or in the absence of explicit teaching. I can think of learners reading in a library, lateral watching of YouTube videos to compare what was said in a recorded lecture, discussing ideas over lunch, etc.

He shot down the idea of the lack of access to devices or resources by pointing out that most campuses provided ample digital technologies. And instead of thinking about what was not possible, he urged critics to focus on what can be done creatively. 

On the flip side, he argued that not everyone appreciated the on-campus experience or liked travelling to it. Idealised brochure images do not necessarily become reality either. We need to work at making those ideals real. That is why those who have only just dipped their toes into online teaching and learning need to get better at it instead of making invalid and nostalgic comparisons.

Nostalgia is like grammar. It makes the past perfect and the present tense.

Video source

I am already thinking about how I might start and end a workshop on the design of online learning. The workshop is months down the road.

I might use the portion of the clip above that features Gromit (of Wallace and Gromit fame) frantically laying train tracks as he needed them.

Why use this clip?

I sense that teachers do not plan as far ahead or with enough depth when they are tasked to conduct online lessons. Gromit’s tracks are like readymade resources prepared by someone else and their use is reactionary. This leads to failed or unpleasant experiences for both them and their students. 

For online learning to be effective, one design practice is to prepare well in advance. Such preparation is about preempting and preventing instead of reacting and firefighting. Roughly speaking, the preparation to implementation time might follow a 90:10 rule, i.e., 90% preparation, 10% implementation. 

Most teachers are probably not used to doing this. They might prefer to put their 90% into live instruction instead. However, doing this is an attempt to force a face-to-face practice into an online context.

The switch in environment necessitates change because the affordances and expectations are different. Not changing is like a human refusing to learn how to breathe under water with new tools and techniques. That person would likely drown. 

In the space of about a week, I read two reflections that challenged the narrative of “online = bad, face to face = good”.

The first was a tweet thread by Tim Fawns:

Fawn’s main points seemed to be:

  • It is not logical or possible to compare “face-to-face learning” and “online learning” because each is not just one method, environment, or resource.
  • Even if you compare just one method, e.g., online lectures and in-person lectures, or online group work vs face-to-face group work, how well each approach worked would depend on a host of other factors such as “how well each approach was done, how well it suited students, how well students engaged with it, relationships between teachers & student, infrastructure & support for each approach, surrounding circumstances, what else students did”.
  • The either/or argument is counterproductive. Students already do both, both teachers and students have strategies that work well for them, and much of teaching and learning is already blended in terms of environments and methods.
  • Labelling all online learning as bad probably stems from a bad experience, but this does not make all online learning bad. One rotten apple does not mean that all other apples are bad.

The second resource — good online learning – group work — was from Martin Weller. Citing previous research and practice, Weller stated that there are “well established model(s) to help you construct online interaction in a way that is different from face to face”.

Specifically, he suggested Diana Laurillard’s conversational framework (see condensed version of four categories of activities and five media forms here) and Gilly Salmon’s 5 stage e-moderating model.

Then he summed up what research has uncovered on online learning and group work. In plain speak, he suggested that we:

  • Clearly differentiate synchronous vs asynchronous activities
  • Include a lot more time for activities to be conducted and completed
  • Engage in careful design when planning, and provide detailed instructions and guidance when facilitating 
  • Take advantage of pre-existing learner expectations and behaviours about operating online
  • Establish social connections early in an online course: It is the glue that holds people together
  • Leverage on asynchronous work to not just provide flexibility of time for all but also reassurance for the socially awkward
  • Monitor and deal with behaviours that are counterproductive to online learning and cooperation
  • Not simply transfer face-to-face group work designs to online experiences without redesign or greater support

Rising above, these two gents provided precursors for a masterclass on the design of online learning experiences. I have a Masters and Ph.D. for studies relevant in this field and have taught online since 2001. But I am still learning how to do this. So I appreciate the pearls of wisdom they threw online. Oink!

This tweet thread and the ensuing conversation needs to be a blog post.

Distilling the wisdom from the tweets, effective online design and implementation could result from:

  • Sufficient time to practice (≈ two years)
  • The intrinsic desire to improve by learning from successes and failures
  • Getting academic qualifications for instructional design (ID) of online courses
  • Providing online facilitators with the resources they need (not what administrators or vendors want them to use)

The two-year tinkering and improving period sounds reasonable if the online educator is new to teaching. After all, we would not expect a beginning classroom teacher be exemplary from the start.

Getting a Masters in ID (mentioned in one conversation) might be too much to ask of faculty who already have their research, service, and content focus. But I do not think that it is unreasonable for leaders to enable professional development opportunities so that their teaching staff are better at facilitating learning online.

The final bullet point is about support from management and leadership. Instead of planning with spreadsheets and increasing class sizes, they could find out what teaching staff actually need.

I argue that they do not need clunky LMS designed by programmers and bean counters. The Apples and Googles of the world listen to and work with educators, and provide simple and intuitive tools, e.g., Google Sites, Google Classroom.

The point is not to reward vendors for feature bloat or pedagogical incompetence. Listen to your educators and partner with those who also listen to them.

Don’t paint online learning as bad and with the brush you used when you were a student and there was no pandemic. Try the broad strategies outlined above and then evaluate the quality of your online courses.

This critique by Martin Weller on why “education secretaries hate online learning” does not apply only to politicians. Other stakeholders like administrators, teachers, and parents can be just as misguided.

Weller offered possible reasons for why these folk might portray “online learning as, at best, a lazy, cheap option and at worst, some form of abuse”. Among them are these gems.

There is…

Faulty generalisation – nearly every Education Secretary seems to feel that their own experience of education is the only dataset they need to draw upon. They want Latindiscipline and Oxbridge type higher education. Online learning does not look like any of these things, so is, ipso facto, a bad thing.

Combined with…

Ignorance – I haven’t seen any desire to engage with what online, or blended, learning really looks like in a positive sense from any recent education secretary. And so they operate in a state of wilful ignorance about how effective it can be, and what is required to make it so.

Take any complex phenomenon, try to reduce it to a soundbite by combining anecdotal generalisation and wilful ignorance, and you get oversimplification and a standstill.

The oversimplification is that online learning is cheaper because it is more efficient and lazy because you do not have to show up in a classroom or because you can reuse resources.

The design, development, evaluation, and revision of online learning experiences is not cheaper than face-to-face. Factor in the time and effort to create a short YouTube video that is not just a talking head. Heck, consider what it even takes to make a talking head video good with proper script writing, camera work, sound, lighting, backgrounding, illustrating, editing, etc.!

Now consider how online learning might comprise asynchronous tasks. This could mean that learners do not Zoom or otherwise meet ‘live’ by other means like text chat or audio exchange. This is an intentional design element to take advantage of self-managed and dispersed individual time (over shared and limited classroom time) as well as reflective and investigative space (over immediate  or superficial talk). How is this lazy?

If a policymaker has only seen teaching from the student side of the desk, s/he cannot possibly empathise with what a teacher experiences. If a teacher has not designed lessons specifically with online affordances and limitations before, or not been given professional development to teach online, they cannot make comparisons or put online learning down.

To move forward, we need to learn from the pandemic pivot to online teaching and learning. Both successful and failed attempts offer lessons and ideas for education as a whole. We lose if stakeholders make uninformed judgements and throw away the gem in their hands only because it was not polished.

The statistics claimed in this tweet and embedded video are stark. They seemed to indicate that there has been an acceptance of remote work (colloquially known as work from home or WFH here). The video interview also illustrated how much better WFH was.

Much of my work has been remote since going independent in 2014. I have been open with its pluses AND minuses. The video anecdote in the tweet only highlighted the best case of multiple revenue streams, flexible and efficient hours, and lifestyle alignment.

The tweeted narrative is selective because large swings grab eyeballs more than nuanced views. The statistic and anecdote provide an important story element, but it does not tell the whole story. A tweeted story does not have to, of course, but this stance misrepresents WFH.

That said, the statistic was remarkable (assuming it was accurate). It showed how an external pressure like the current pandemic pushes the levers of change. What might start as a necessity and evolved to be independent and effective work might eventually be adopted by employers as a norm.

Sadly, the same might not be said about online learning in school and universities. Why? I would argue that stakeholders still conflate emergency remote teaching with online learning. The tweet below highlights a general distinction between the two.

Emergency remote teaching is often a rushed and desperate attempt to recreate a physical classroom experience online. Well-designed online learning, on the other hand, factors in limitations and affordances of reduced social presence.

Neither the second tweet nor my short reflection tells the story of effective online learning. But every educator who has tried something online has a paragraph or chapter worth sharing. For example, I have shared my design plans with, use of, and reflections on Zoom.

These are stories of lessons from failures and successes during the pandemic pivot. The stories are worth telling not just because they are instructive, they also provide a counter narrative to the sensational swings presented by those making judgements from the outside.

Ugly Christmas lights.

I took this snapshot of the Xmas lights that the residential committee (RC) installed in my housing area. I am guessing that they engaged the same vendor who was responsible for ugly lunar new year lights earlier this year. 

Both the RC and the lighting provider seem to believe that more colours is better. More is not always better. The riot of colours is an eyesore. To make matters worse, the housing estate across the road also seems to have been inspired by my estate’s RC. They might be competing for an unofficial Ugliest Christmas Decorations contest. 

More is also not better when designing learning experiences. This is an approach that applies to lessons face-to-face and fully online. “More” complicates things. “More” confuses learners. “More” can overwhelm. Allow this Christmas grinch to offer an old present: KISS, or keep it simple, stupid.

Only better is better. We get better by not repeating emergency remote teaching mistakes. We become better when we design from a place of empathy, critical reflection, and informed pedagogy.


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