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Posts Tagged ‘opinion

I tweet-shared this opinion piece yesterday because I thought it was timely and well-written for lay folk.

I agree with almost all of it. Almost.

The authors’ example of 21st century edtech pseudoscience was DVDs on the Mozart Effect and Baby Einstein. I get the valid arguments against the DVDs — their benefits were for older learners, temporary, or scientifically proven to be ineffective. But how are DVDs “21st century”? What person in current “early childhood” knows what a DVD is?

They also make this statement:

Raising a successful child in today’s world does not require special technology, toys or other products because we know that the brain is a social organ thriving on basic human communication and daily social experiences – conversations, stories, gestures, demonstrations, walks, hide-and-seek, doing things together, holding the lift door for a neighbour, helping granny with her grocery bag, exchanging words of encouragement.

I agree that there is no need for special technology. But this does not mean NO technology. The everyday and mundane technology include their parents’ phones and eventually their own. Kids need to be taught how and when use them meaningfully, powerfully, and responsibly. We must embrace such tools rather than reject them under a blanket statement.

This is Part 2 of my smell something-say something rant on an op piece on the upcoming Singapore Student Learning Space (SLS).

In Part 1, I critiqued how the article:

  • made vague reference to unnamed “observers”
  • perpetuated the rhetoric of engagement over empowerment
  • stated that students “will be learning what is expected of them”

In this reflection, I focus on how it:

  • claimed that the SLS can be a social leveller in education
  • quoted “learning styles” and cited “best practices”

A social leveller
The article claimed that the SLS would provide “the same quality resources, regardless of their home background”.

It is very tempting to buy into the rhetoric that the portal will be a social leveller. The key idea is that everyone will have equal access to the same quality resources.

Will they?

Social levelling is an old and simplistic argument that has not come true for the decades-old edtech movement. It trivialises the complexity of access issues, among them socio-economic status, infrastructural preparedness, pedagogical nous, informed leadership, and rapidly evolving technology.

Uncritically citing social levelling is not researching and learning from recent history and parallel systems. The work of Cuban, Fullan, Hattie, and Reigeluth is a substantial but revealing start.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

One of the most recent statistics about Singapore households showed that as of June 2016, the Residential Wired Broadband Household Penetration Rate was 98.4%. This included households that might have more than one broadband subscription plan. On the surface, this could mean that most students will not have a problem with basic access.

Dig a bit deeper beyond the statistics that hide “realistics”: Teachers and parents prevent access because students and children are supposed to only “learn what is expected”. There is no or little room to learn by play, error, or experimentation.

Another realistic is the prevailing mindset that test is best. This is my way of saying that most of us cannot think and operate outside the box that is testing and chasing grades. The SLS is supposed to help reduce and perhaps remove that sort of behaviour.

However, a platform alone cannot and will not realistically do this. It will take political courage and will on the part of our leaders, pedagogies driven by progressive mindsets in teachers, and informed decision-making by parents and students to head in that direction. Social levelling does not happen only via a technological platform; it requires social interventions leveraging that platform.

Now consider another aspect of access and social levelling.

The same set of information-communication statistics revealed that Singapore’s Mobile Population Penetration Rate is 148.2%. Even the poorest of family units save for a phone. Given that 2G was phased out here this year, our population is technically on broadband.

However, a technical affordance does not guarantee social or pedagogical affordances. While a previous article mentioned that the SLS would be accessible on mobile, it did not say whether it was mobile-friendly or mobile-first.

Such a distinction is important. Any online resource that is mobile-friendly is designed for the desktop or laptop first. For example, I can only create and edit Google Sites in large screen format. When I publish the work, it adapts to smaller screens. However, elements like wide tables, animations, and videos might be optimised for the large screen and not appear properly on small ones.

A mobile-first design is just that — the design or redesign starts with a small form factor first. This approach is typical of apps made for emerging markets. More mature ones like ours are stuck in the desktop age.

Ask any teacher if they use their phones to do research. Then ask them to prepare resources and facilitate lessons using only their phones. The answers will be different because of the prevailing desktop mindset.

If you are not a teacher, then consider how stripped down banking transactions via apps are compared to the full web versions. Exceptions and mobile-first app designs might include transport and some e-commerce apps because their use is on-the-go.

My point is this: We should expect the learner of today to consume and create on mobile devices and platforms. If the SLS is designed for laptops or desktops, this creates another access barrier. So much for being a social leveller.

Learning styles and best practices

Experts like Dr Chan pointed out that not every student learns the same way. Teachers, then, cannot be expected to cater to varied learning styles, even with the portal.

They hope that besides benefiting students, the e-learning platform can aid teachers by having them share best practices and work together on materials with their colleagues from other schools.

I am going to sound like a squeaky wheel. Learning styles are a myth and there is no such thing as best practices, particularly in education.

I will oil the wheel and point out that I have written about the learning styles myth and claimed that we should not have best practices in education.

I return to Jon Stewart’s quote about being socially responsible. If you see or smell something, say something. Better safe than sorry.

People respond more quickly to an abandoned parcel in a public space because there is potential and imminent danger. The same people are less likely to respond to a warning like mine because the danger is not immediate and the impact is spread out over time.

The danger is still there, but we prefer a pat on the back instead paying attention to warning signs right in front of us. We are shortsighted that way.

This is a continuation of a rant I started yesterday against an STonline article.

I can almost understand why parents would want to attend a forum on factors that influence early childhood cognition. It is hard for any informed parent to believe what they read in the press and they would rather visit the stable and hear from the horses’ mouths. But I worry when the stable opening is organized by the press.

The answer to the question of letting your child use technology is not yes or no. It is knowing about when and how instead of being blinded by fear.

It is never too early to introduce technology to kids, just as it is never too early to teach them about setting rules, how to self-regulate, the consequences of one’s actions, etc. You do not do one (let kids use technology) without doing the other (learn discipline). If you leave kids unsupervised or unmanaged, you cannot expect good to come from it.

All this sounds like common sense. So why are we allowing organizations to not only take advantage of parental fear, but also get parents to part with money to hear expert opinion?
 

ttl by Stitch, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Stitch 

 
The fundamental problem is that we are shortsighted. We tend not to be concerned about the foreseeable future or choose not to learn from our past.

If we let kids watch videos with a mobile device at meals, they will keep doing so because the videos are motivating. This does not seem harmful over the short term because the child is easier to manage. However, the ease of the here-and-now hides longer term problems like an unreasonable dependency on the device, a lack of discipline or internal locus of control, and selfish or antisocial behaviour.

We are just as myopic looking back as we are looking forward. We do not learn from the history of our fear of technology.

This graphic was originally created by Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham in their book Bad For You. The image was shared here in 2013.

Every previous generation fears what it does not understand about the current one. It treats the current generation’s technologies and preferences with suspicion. Some might call this neophobia, the fear of the new. Such a fear stems from the fact that the old is established and comforting. The new is the exact opposite.

We need to look back and realize that history repeats itself with every major technology. If we do, we learn that such fear is irrational. We have progressed because a few people chose to ignore that fear and even what passes as expert opinion. They relied on an uncommon common sense to do what they knew was right.

I wonder how much glee STonline had when it sponsored a forum and then ran with the headline Curb use of IT devices by the young, say childhood experts.

The title and writeup [archive] conveniently left out what the two experts they featured seemed to be focusing on in shaping early childhood cognition: The importance of play and a rich language environment. This does not mean that one should exclude technology-based play or interaction.

The first expert, Dr Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play, briefly mentioned a range of play in his interview: object, body, social, imaginative, and narrative. The last time I checked, well designed and managed technology enhances and enables all those.

The second expert, Dana Suskin, while cautioning against complete reliance on technology for language development, added that “Skype or FaceTime, or similar response-based interactive style communication tools, do help” [quote from video].

Brown and Suskin were the experts because they probably have the research to back up what they say. But when explained plainly to laypersons, it sounds like common sense to let kids play and to develop language humanistically.

If common sense was that common, why pay good money to fly in experts and run an event to validate or reinforce what you claim you already know?

If we had that collective common sense, why are some parents foolish enough to let mobiles replace person-to-person interaction? They deserve what is coming to them if they do. Like one parent with a seven-year-old reportedly said: “My older son sometimes refuses to feed himself and asks that I feed him while he uses the iPad” [quote from article].

It also seems like the article and video editor did not work in sync.

The article was decidedly anti-technology and old-school. On the other hand, a soundbite from Dr Brown in the embedded video indicated that “parents should let children decide how to play” [quote from video]. Parts of the video were decidedly progressive.

Perhaps STonline was submitting a weird General Paper essay where cons were delivered in text and pros in video. Maybe, but not likely. Folks who read the dead tree version of ST or choose not to watch the video will not see the other side of the story.

For me, the article reeks of maintaining the status quo by repurposing progressive expert opinion and research.

One of Dr Brown’s slides on screen (citing Einstein) stated “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change”.

  • How intelligent are we when it comes to rolling with change?
  • How much longer are we going to let headlines with “curb use of devices” hold us back?
  • When will we develop enough scientific literacy to find and evaluate such studies so that we make up our own minds?

I read this opinion in the ST forum a few times to make sure I was not missing anything or misinterpreting it.

Dr William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, attributed the use of mobile phones to people being inconsiderate on public transport.

One might react emotionally by asking when minding one’s own business is being inconsiderate. But the fact of the matter is that not being aware of the people around you can be impolite depending on the context.

That said, why put the blame on the medium? Yes, the e-books, games, videos, and other mobile content are very engaging (a few folks have even tried participating in #edsg chats while on public transport!), but the mobile media are not the only factor.

If you blame that medium then I would also point out that reading paperbacks, playing cards, listening to a Walkman (way back then!), or just chatting intently are just as absorbing. The traditional newspaper is a magnificent wall to place between the reader and someone who needs the space or a seat.

You can take the devices out of the hands of users and they will still be rude or inconsiderate. They can pretend to sleep, take more room than they need, or talk very loudly. (Coincidentally, as I quietly type this draft of my iPhone, a group of four university students does not care if the whole bus can hear their incessant blather.)

If you are going to address a problem, get at its roots. Attacking the symptoms will get you nowhere and you risk alienating the very people you are trying to reach.

So what is the root of the problem? In this case, I agree with Dr Wan that it is the lack of a combination of good upbringing and schooling on the use of mobile devices in public places or face-to-face social contexts.


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