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Posts Tagged ‘pedagogy

Here is a critical question and a critique in the space of 280 characters.

Policymakers, administrators, and some teachers like to tout the so-called 21st century competencies. So what if we cooperate, collaborate, or communicate, particularly in superficial or inauthentic ways?

So what if all that sharing is feel-good and does no good?

Are we prepared to ask the critical and difficult questions that reveal how uncertain our answers are? Only then can we move forward instead of resting on our laurels. Only then can adults model and lead by example.

I like watching videos where experts either explain difficult concepts to learners of different ages or just to kids. The video below is one of the latter.

Video source

Explaining to an adult how to create bioluminescent plants from firefly DNA is challenging, much less kids. The two content experts from MIT were not quite comfortable teaching kids and their attempts illuminate some concepts about how students learn and what an effective teacher looks like.

When one content expert tried simplifying the concept of transferring bioluminescence, she ran into some trouble.

Expert: “…we just ask them to give us some chemicals”.
One child: “Do you tell them?”

Expert: “We just borrow the light from the fireflies…”
Another child: “Do you mean like real borrow or do you just keep it?”

The expert was visibly stunned by the kids’ questions and their teacher intervened with timely and appropriate answers.

An effective teacher is not just knowledgeable in content, she should also be a child and learning expert. As information mushrooms and knowledge needs to be constantly negotiated and updated, being the latter type of expert is critical.

The other expert got the kids to participate in a hands-on activity where they simulated bioluminescence by mixing chemicals in small vials. Instead of hearing about bioluminescence, they tried and saw for themselves.

This is not about appealing to different “learning styles” — which is a myth anyway — but to teach and reinforce with multiple methods and modes. That said, kids generally learn best by what stems from natural curiosity, i.e., experiencing and asking.

The teacher as a child and learning expert asked a critical question at the end of the experiment: “What do you think this could help solve?” She did not provide answers to her learners, but got them to generate answers that required them to think actively about what they just experienced.

You might look at the obvious design and implementation flaw in the tweet below and wonder how this happens.

These are commonplace judging from the number of photos and websites that feature such flaws. They are easy to spot with a critical eye.

The flaws are obvious as is the physical harm users might experience as a result of such designs. However, some designs are easily overlooked.

One such less obvious design happens in “new” classrooms. These are helmed by agencies and vendors that claim they design for learning. They call these places hubs of learning or classrooms that are smart.

Recently I had a conversation with someone who had to test a new classroom. Some background: This campus had issues with pillars blocking views and platforms facing the wrong way.

Having experienced so many design flaws myself, I asked him what the problems were with the new room. Off the top of his head he mentioned that there weren’t enough writing surfaces. He also described a pillar with an odd configuration of displays. If I find this design faux pas, I will photograph it and update this page.

The people in charge were unhappy with the design flaws. This invariably led to delays in using the classrooms (time cost), modifications to correct the errors (effort cost), and budget negotiations (financial cost).

One reason why these errors persist is that these classrooms are designed without consulting progressive-minded policymakers and reflective educators. Most modern universities also have learning or pedagogy centres who can advise on these design. But these agencies are as easily overlooked as writing surfaces.

I suspect that many designs are based on photos of visits to cool-looking venues and administrators choose an item from A, another from B, and so on. All at the lowest possible price, of course. When this happens, the designers know WHAT to do and HOW to do this, but not WHY.

The WHY of the design of a classroom is not just about aesthetics or comfort. It is about pedagogy and learning. Including a person or a small team that has expertise in such design is not cheap, but it prevents bad pedagogical design of a learning environment.

It just takes sense/cents to save a dollar.

At around this time last year, I reflected on how I integrate Padlet into my classes, modules, or workshops. I summarise my Padlet strategies in a Padlet note below.

Padlet strategies.

The academic semester at one university I work with has resumed and I met my first classes last week.

As I reset each Padlet for reuse with a new group, I was reminded of how I used the same tool in five different ways in the very first session:

  1. As an icebreaker (self-introductions)
  2. For data collection (perceptions on learning)
  3. For Shared notes/Open note-taking (guided video-viewing)
  4. To enable think-pair-share (combining personal experience with concepts in readings)
  5. As an exit ticket (reflecting on takeaways)

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. There may be just one pudding base, but it is up to the person preparing the pudding to make things different, appealing, and healthy.

I am recreating some of my favourite image quotes I created some time ago. This time I use Pablo by Buffer and indicate attribution and CC license.

If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow. -- John Dewey

Dewey’s quote has been my mantra. As a teacher educator, I am acutely aware that teachers tend to teach the way they are taught.

If I do not model alternative and progressive ways to not just teach but also educate, they are not as likely to do differently for the good of our learners.

Note: I am on vacation with my family. However, I am keeping up my blog-reflection-a-day habit by scheduling a thought a day. I hope this shows that reflections do not have to be arduous to provoke thought or seed learning.

Some people choose to focus on the positive. Others dwell on the negative. I choose to be realistic.

That is why I tweeted this in response to another tweet.

The original tweet was not wrong, but it was not balanced. It lacked the other half of the story.

Technology amplifies what we can already already do or it enables us to do what we could not do before.

This means that a teacher can reach out to her learners beyond the time and space constraints of her classroom, e.g., online coaching.

But this could also mean that she teaches the same old and irrelevant way with different tools, e.g., from death by PowerPoint to massacre with Google Slides.

All this is not to say that technology plays a passive or follower role to pedagogy. I have explained before why technology integration is not like a pedagogical horse pulling a technological cart; it is more like a car. Educational technology should be seen and practised as an integrated whole.

As current and new technology enables new possibilities — for example, for students to create and share content — so should pedagogy change to move beyond consumption and control.

Most people might see how technology amplifies a teacher’s mindset and practice. The same people might not acknowledge that technology can enable new behaviours. Perhaps we should spend more time and effort amplifying the latter message instead.

TPACK+ model
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

If you asked me what the most important things to take away from the TPACK+ model of technology integration are, I would suggest:

  1. Planning for technology integration is only effective if you concurrently consider the nature of the content, pedagogical strategies, and technological affordances. This is the “sweet spot” of the TPACK+ model.
  2. An even more vital consideration is the context. This might not be obvious in the model because it is labelled at the bottom. However, it surrounds the entire model. Context should dictate decisions about technology integration.

I take context very seriously and model this for my courses and workshops. I do this by first finding out as much as I can about my learners.

For a course that just ended two nights ago, I had to make changes to adapt to participants who were collectively different from those that took the same course just five months prior.

Why? This batch learners was youthful. Seventy-one percent (71%) were teachers while the rest were leaders or managers. The same proportion had less than one year (9.7%) or no (61.3%) official teaching experience.

Five months ago, the proportion was about even between the newbies and the more experienced educators. The batch before that was almost the polar opposite: Almost two-thirds were experienced teachers while the rest were fresh faces.

If I did not conduct a survey, I could have simply gauged their experience and ICT readiness by their preferred technology. Given the choice to bring a device, my most recent class had a total of only two or three laptops. Everyone else was clutching an Android or iOS device. The earlier batches were laptop dominant and I had to cater for power strips all over the room.

The shifts were visually and qualitatively obvious to me. The shifts were clearer with quantitative data. But both forms of sensing were pointless if I did not adapt to the changes in context.

While there are many contextual elements — for example, physical environment, time of day, overall energy of learners, social cohesiveness — the technology context was a key consideration if I was to provide similar content and leverage on powerful pedagogical strategies.

To those ends, I used the new Google Sites as it seamlessly adjusted to screens on large or small devices. I embedded tools and resources that were mobile-friendly.

The access and consumption was flawless. However, creating on mobile is still an issue. For example, mind mapping tools like Coggle and even Google Docs still do not work evenly across different mobile browsers. Some of my participants could view, but not edit. Fortunately, they were grouped with others who could. Therein lay another benefit of group work.

This is the bottomline: It important to sense shifts in the ground; it is just as important to adapt to changes. Just as there are differences between individuals, one group of learners is different from the next. I reflect more so I need to react less.

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