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Posts Tagged ‘online

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This video on student “hacks” and tips on doing assignments, homework, and online learning will upset some teachers the wrong way and other teachers the right way.

The wrong way to get upset is to be defensive about current teaching practices and to push against what some students are already doing.

The right way to get upset is to reflect on our collective practices and to adapt to what is possible. This is not a war between teacher and learners. It is an opportunity for teachers to learn from their students. 

There were are two news reports released at the end of 2020 about the impact of edtech in Singapore schooling in 2021. I focus on one today.

It is important to read all of both articles. It is also important to highlight segments that might need scrutiny instead of glossing them over.

From the CNA article:

HBL (home-based learning) days will also be less structured than a typical day in school to allow students to exercise initiative in learning. Students who require closer supervision and those who lack a home environment conducive for learning, or need access to certain school facilities may return to school on HBL…

If the intent of HBL is to get students to develop “mindsets and habits for self-directed learning”, then call it that instead of HBL since self-directed learning can take place anywhere. Confusing it with what happens at home (or what should happen there but cannot) makes HBL a misnomer. Independent and self-directed learning can take place anywhere. It is not place dependent.

Mine is not an argument about semantics. Yes, the words we use hold meaning — we need to say what we mean and mean what we say. But consider how “HBL” or “independent” might be questioned when practiced. If a child is supposed to participate in HBL but goes to school instead, why call it home-based? If the activities designed by teachers are over-scaffolded or the students are not empowered with choice, how is it independent?

The article also reports conflates HBL with blended learning. Most teachers seem to understand this as combining face-to-face and online teaching. Do they also know that blending should include the seamless integration of content areas and learning (not just teaching) strategies? More of my distillations of blended learning are listed here.

Do not get me wrong. I like the fact that COVID lockdowns have pushed us to make more independent and online learning a habit or even a norm. According to the report, this will:

… account for about 10 per cent of curriculum time at secondary schools and up to 20 per cent at junior colleges and Millennia Institute… This translates to around once a fortnight across terms, excluding examination periods.

I fear the repeating of mistakes from the past when numbers like 10% and 20% of curricula or curricula time were used to determine what e-learning materials should be created from conventional materials. This was an issue we failed miserably with in the late 90s and early noughts because we built up repositories but not changes in pedagogies or expectations.

All that said, I am glad that the MOE is ensuring that:

All secondary school students will own a personal learning device by the end of 2021, under the National Digital Literacy Programme…. This will be rolled out in two phases, with 86 schools receiving the devices by Term 2 of 2021 in the first phase, and 66 schools receiving the devices by Term 3 in the second phase…

But having a personal learning device without a suitably fast and reliable Internet connection is like having a car without fuel. Neither student nor driver is going anywhere. Thankfully, a strategy similar to the one used in lockdown will be employed again, namely:

The ministry is also working with the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to provide subsidised broadband access for students from lower-income households…

Even with the car and fuel, a driver needs to operate the vehicle responsibly. We have driving school and road rules to shape this mindset and skillset. I am sure that schools will do the equivalent for online learning. But I wonder just how heavy handed the regulations will be:

To ensure that the devices are an “enabler for learning” rather than a distraction, device management applications will be installed in each device to “provide a safe and more regulated digital environment”…

To suggest any specifics now is speculation. But users of most work or school-provided devices might know the pains of locked down devices. While this is understandable in a few circumstances, e.g., security or secret work, this is not always a good blanket rule.

There are several schools that take a different route. They require students to purchase their own devices and teach them how to use them responsibly. The lock down is not an administrative or technical one. It is a continuous lesson in personal responsibility.

I am glad that our new Minister for Education and the MOE are taking the locked down schooling experiments in their stride. I hope that administrators and teachers do not respond with a locked down mentality. This is a wonderful opportunity to free our collective pedagogy from the shackles of the past. If we want independent learners, we need independent thinking adults as well.

The best bit of this article might have been left for last. People still conflate (and confuse) modality with pedagogy.

To quote the article: “…online learning is often accused of being passive, and face-to-face learning is described as being dynamic. However, large, lecture-based, on-campus courses can also be passive, and small, online seminar courses can be dynamic and engaging”.

Much depends on the pedagogical design and implementation of each modality. The author advised readers to consider flexible learning, flipped learning, and inquiry-based learning (IBL) from a pedagogical point of view instead of a modal one. She dedicated a paragraph on the brief history of each approach.

My critiques: Having researched and practiced them, I found the flipped and inquiry approaches lacking in detail.

  • The “flipped learning” description focused on the early iterations of flipping classroom practice (where things happen) instead of actually flipping the learning (who does what).
  • The IBL paragraph did not explore its roots in science education and the thinking that drives it, i.e., learning-to-be and learning-about.

That said, I found the brief review on open pedagogy, open educational practices, OER, and the like useful. There is just as much confusion about what these as the previous issues on modality.

I liked that the author avoided defending one term over another and instead stuck to basic principles: Define every term you use so that others understand you. This is not about sounding high and mighty. It is about basic communication.

Today I continue with my notes on yesterday’s article.

The other half of the article started with a rather optimistic “shifts from old-fashioned binary thinking” of face-to-face vs online. IMHO, reality bites hard and people still operate by that binary, e.g., face-to-face is better.

Thankfully, it focused on more nuanced terms like emergency remote teaching (my reflection) as something that resulted from an urgent situation (COVID-19 lockdowns) and unprepared teachers (low digital literacy). This distinction is important — emergency remote teaching is not the same as online learning which had decades of practice and research to back it up.

The author then returned to redefining “online learning”. She used three previously described design elements — modality, pedagogy, and course access — as defining blocks of online learning.

Building on an example she cited, a more precise description of an “online” course might read:

  • Modality: A synchronous, video-enabled seminars…
  • Pedagogy: …based on existing lecture series…
  • Access: … available only by registration on XYZ learning management system.

The author warned of vague terms like online, blended, and hybrid. These should raise alarms in anyone reading these in course descriptions because these terms can immediately be followed with the question “What do you mean by…?” (I would add a few more equally vague but commonly used terms like interactive, engage, and lifelong.)

Before focusing on pedagogy, the author reminded the reader of the importance of shared meanings. If we use the same terms but mean different things, we risk creating misunderstandings professionally as researchers and practitioners.

I save the focus on pedagogy in my next reflection.

If there was an agenda in this excellent review article, it was to provide answers to the question: What is online learning? Here is Part 1 of my notes on the article.


  • Online learning with synonymous with asynchronous, text-based learning
  • Blended learning was about mixing face-to-face and online modes of learning
  • Hybrid learning (Australia, non-USA) was synonymous with blended learning (USA)

By late-1990s

  • Synchronous learning methods evolved
  • Examples: Basic ‘live’ sharing of resources, e.g., slides; “blended online learning”


  • Video conferencing ramped up
  • Synchronous learning was practically synonymous with video-enabled communication
  • Modalities (i.e., blended or hybrid) became largely irrelevant

In 2007: HyFlex (hybrid-flexible)

  • Combining both online and face-to-face modalities, and flexible, where “students may choose whether or not to attend face-to-face sessions
  • Similar to what is happening in universities during the age of COVID-19

In 2006, the author of the review article offered her own framework that mixed three modes (face-to-face, online synchronous, online asynchronous) with one on access (open access or not). While I favour any experience designed with open access, I do not see the logic of the mix from a modal lens.

When viewed through the lens of learner access, however, her framework starts to make sense. The learner decides if s/he goes to campus or not, works concurrently with others or not, and has limited or unlimited access to materials.

2010s: Multi-access frameworks

  • Examples: Blended synchronous (2013) and synchronous hybrid (2014)
  • In both, students can be on campus or online, but both meet via conferencing or shared online platforms/virtual worlds/telepresence robots.

The author took a paragraph to focus on asynchronous efforts in the same time frame. Some important ideas:

  • Asynchronous communication requires more monitoring and digital literacy than synchronous-only classes
  • Those new to teaching online in general may also prefer the synchronous-only design, so as to minimise the workload creep that comes with robust asynchronous communication
  • Designs should consider… reducing synchronous instructional hours to create time for asynchronous activities and dialogue
  • Many learners… will develop their own private backchannel spaces to support learner-only asynchronous peer-to-peer communication

More notes tomorrow!

I recently concluded online-only lessons for teachers who had to learn how to infuse ICT.

Today I share design elements to make an online lesson a blended one. Note: Blending is NOT just about combining online and face-to-face activities. It is also about seamlessly mixing different teaching strategies, tools, content, evaluations, etc.

Each of my three-hour sessions was a blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning experiences. Instead of requiring a three-hour Zoom session, I designed for 1.5 hours of asynchronous work followed by 1.5 hours of synchronous work.

Asynchronous and synchronous elements of my lesson.

The asynchronous tasks were scaffolded with questions, tasks, and resources in Google Site pages, and recorded with individual and group Google Docs for each student. One example of an asynchronous task was to first choose a scenario they could most relate to and then share their thoughts in a group Doc (scenario-based focus area).

The synchronous Zoom-based lesson followed up on their focus area. This was a topic that they identified with and provided answers based on what they already knew. Design rationale: This was a way of providing ownership to learners and to determine their prior knowledge (PK). Gauging PK could highlight gaps in knowledge to learners.

My students’ answers were varied but superficial. This provided an opportunity to introduce theoretical frameworks that could be used for planning and/or evaluating ICT-based lessons. DR: Linking PK or gaps to new information was a way to motivate learning. This design helped student answer the question: Why do I need to learn this?

Throughout the online lesson, I leveraged on a new Zoom tool, student-selected Breakout Rooms, which simulated station-based learning (my critique of the tool). DR: While not ideal, the tool allowed students choice of topics and provided opportunities for cooperative learning.

I also relied on the random breakout rooms so that students did not get too comfortable with their group mates. DR: There is a tendency to get complacent if you get too familiar.

I limited latter groups to three students each so that there was enough time for students to peer teach and listen to one another. DR: Some students choose not to speak in groups larger than this while others do not get enough air time because someone else dominates.

I provided opportunities for groups to read and evaluate one another’s work, to reflect on their group’s work, and to reflect on their own learning. DR: We do not learn much from experiences because they are new and messy; we learn from slowing down and reflecting on those experiences.

Addendum: The scenario-based focus area depended on homogenous grouping, i.e., students in each group had a common interest. The second strategy relied on heterogenous grouping, i.e., students had different topics to peer teach and different perspectives to share.

For individual learning, I refrained from asking students the generic “What did you learn?” question. Instead, I asked them to complete an exit ticket by completing two statements: 1) I used to think that… and 2) Now I think that… DR: Learning is about change. It is important to try to capture that change.

Reflecting on course design is my way of planning for the next semester. Looking back informs my look forward because remembering potholes in the past reminds me to be careful of them in the future.

This simultaneously truthful and exasperated tweet exposed a serious gap in the expectations of progressive educators and students schooled in teacher talk:

It is the ability of an educator to design for asynchronous work and the student’s desire to work independently.

There is another gap: What exactly constitutes the design of asynchronous work? Doing this requires knowledge and skills on scaffolding, personalising, cooperating, critiquing, and evaluating.

Each of those topics could be two or three weeks worth of content in a semester-long crash course on redesigning for blended learning. Better still, each of those topics could be semester-long courses for a higher diploma on the designs of blended and online learning.

Never heard of such a diploma? Well, that’s another gap that needs filling. I would bet that most teachers and educators are not pushed to pursue such a qualification even though it exists.

At best, they are left to their own designs and pick these up these skills by trial and error. Maybe they attend rushed and mandatory “professional development” that does little to level them up.

At worst, they do not care to learn something new because they want things to return to normal. But things will not return to normal. And we will still be left with these gaps.

Lisa Lane shared her practices on designing online discussions.

TLDR? Here were her three rules for discussion:

  1. Ensure that conversation is inherently necessary to the task or subject
  2. Design so that each student would naturally post something different
  3. Create something that applies or uses the results of the discussion

A graduate of any edtech programme with a specialisation in online teaching should be able to suggest the same. So would anyone who cares about how people learn meaningfully.

I would add two more general notes.

First, the rules work whether discussion is synchronous or asynchronous, and in-person or remote.

Second, the facilitator should explain the rationale (the why) of the design. The learners may not be future educators, but there is greater buy-in when participants see the logic of a task they need to engage in.

This is an example of doing the same thing differently: Taking exams online instead of in-person and being subject to algorithmic proctoring.

What is the problem with algorithmic proctoring? The rules, regulations, and repercussions are worse than conventional proctoring. But don’t take my word for it, read this piece by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Proctoring Apps Subject Students to Unnecessary Surveillance.

I concluded yesterday’s reflection with Alfie Kohn’s call to take our “chance to turn a(n) epidemiological crisis into an educational opportunity”. A testing vendor took the opportunity to reinforce the status quo, i.e., the old and increasingly irrelevant way of holding students accountable by first holding them captive. Progressive educators who focus on learners and learning can do better because we know better. We could start by rejecting such processes and products.

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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