Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘perspective

Today I reflect on what a tragedy on the international stage and work in the local arena have in common. 

The US military conducted two drone strikes as it left Afghanistan. The first got its intended target while the second was a horrific mistake. The latter not only got the wrong person, it also killed seven children. [1] [2] [3]

On 11 September, the New York Times published its investigation of the second drone strike.

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It revealed that the target, Zemari Ahmadi, was an aid worker of non-profit called Nutrition and Education International. He had no links to terrorism. 

It explained how the children became victims and provided evidence of how the supposed secondary explosion was not due to a car packed with explosives.

The US military admitted to this awful mistake one week later on 18 September.

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There will be much commentary and critique from politicians, news anchors, and experts. Rightly so because the US military needs to be held accountable.

The rest of us might take a principle away from this: It is critical to have an outside perspective. Not only does an outside agency provide a check and measure, it helps cover blind spots.

For example, organisations have external audits because they cannot trust themselves to be objective about their own processes. How can they if they have self-interest, internal bias, and blind spots to contend with?

Individuals from the outside do not have the same blind spots simply because they are outsiders. They offer perspectives that the audited organisations do not have.

This assumes that both the organisations and the auditors behave professionally, of course. The organisations need to be open to examination and the auditors need to use multiple methods and sources.

I have had the privilege of working with different organisations when I was a professor and now as a consultant. I enjoy getting new perspectives from clients and I know I have given them something crucial to think about or act on.

But I have also met representatives from some organisations who are insincere, indecisive, or insecure. They say one thing and either do something else or they do not follow up. 

Organisations would rather just keep doing what they are already doing. The problem with this is that they are not held accountable if they cover up mistakes or if their current processes lead to mistakes. 

In the US, the press has the freedom to poke its nose into just about anything without it being cut off or ending up too bloody. The press is an outside check and measure. 

In my own work, I need to be invited to be that professional outsider. I am impressed when organisations make that move and I leave critical impressions when I provide my services. But I am also disappointed when they make promises and do not deliver.

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You recognise expertise when you see and hear it. This trauma surgeon picked apart surgical and other medical procedures as represented on TV or movies. 

Some might argue that TV shows or movies are for entertainment and should not be compared to reality. I argue that these sources of entertainment are often the reference points for laypeople (see tweet below and its thread for an example). This results in unrealistic expectations not just of medical procedures, but also natural disasters, space travel, dinosaur attacks, military strategy, etc.

Reality can be simultaneously more frightening and mundane, so we need experts to shift our focus. I also find such critiques to be entertaining in themselves. This is why YouTube channels of Wired, Insider, and GQ [examples] have them.

The bits of reality that the trauma surgeon shared should, at the minimum, create some appreciation for what she does. Optimally, it might also generate new perspectives and empathy from non-surgeons.

I wonder if there will ever be a Wired expert critique of teachers and classroom practices as shown on the small and big screen. Probably not. Teachers are normally not wired to be stars; they are tired from slogging in the background. 

This would be a shame because many parents experienced primers during lockdowns on what it is like to teach their children. They typically have their memories as students and Hollywood representations of classrooms. Neither are realistic perspectives of teaching.

Get some perspective. Listen to some teachers today.

I spotted this sign above a childcare centre.

Its owners probably mean to say that it helps develop the aptitudes of young children. But that is not all the sign means.

Another interpretation is that the centre is for kids low in flair or gifts. There is nothing wrong with that if they are truly providing a humble social service, but that is just how the meaning of language is negotiated.

My point is that you should get a second opinion on even the most innocuous of things. A different perspective might make all the difference in how you come across to others or how you implement an intervention.

I have referred to the image in this tweet before. I share it again to highlight how important getting perspective is.

If a person descending (far left) and another person ascending (far right) these stairs were to follow the arrows strictly, they would run into one another. As they did so, they would wonder why the other was not following instructions. They would not know that they were following instructions that they were given at the start of each of their journeys.

Rising above this cartoonish crash, I might speculate how this is similar to the tensions that arise between people who work on the ground and those who make policy. Neither see what they other sees.

A similar tension exists between those who dwell more in theory and those who are active practitioners. The theoretician does not have enough practice and the practitioner might not keep up with research. The two people might not crash into one another, but their ideas on what works might.

Both examples point to the need to learn how to gain the perspective of the other side. It might start with establishing forward-looking expectations (the arrows) and learning to react positively when there is tension or dissonance (the bumping).

This tweet is a reminder in case you missed the memo on the challenges of designing for (and actually facilitating) online learning.

Teaching in person is already a complex skill set that can take years to be competent at. You never master teaching because the sand shifts under your feet — content evolves, learner expectations shift, technology brings change.

But teaching does not always ensure learning. Teaching should be a means to the learning end, but it can sometimes be a barrier.

You can bypass traditional teaching by focusing on how people learn. People might learn in the presence of more informed others, but they can also learn by observing, problem-solving, tinkering, etc. These other ways are more challenging to design and prepare for.

Non-educators whose only reference of teaching is their early schooling or higher education cannot see what it is like on the other side of the table. At best, they can only imagine the work and passion it takes.

Parents who had to monitor or supervise their children during COVID-19’s home-based schooling might have gained a small insight on what a teacher does. But they still do not have the full picture.

Likewise, teachers and administrators who only know the world of conventional teaching do not relate to what online facilitators experience. In case you missed it (ICYMI) read the tweet again.

How to I educate myself on how teachers are responding to schooling in lockdown?

Screencap of RSS feeds on teaching during COVID-19 lockdown and its aftermath.

I rely on my RSS feed. Here is a snapshot of some articles I have in my reading queue.

Why not rely on hearsay from teachers I know? I know them too well. I need some objectivity and different perspectives.

Why not rely on press articles? Sorry, I could not hear that question because I was laughing out loud.

Depending on your browser, you may or may not see the image that leads the story. So here is a screen capture.

Three-quarters of Singapore adolescents are not active enough: WHO study.

The headline sounds serious, does it not?

I am not going to ask why the WHO guideline is “one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day”. I found out what counts as moderate to vigorous activity, but I think that traditional hunting and gathering, and roofing or thatching do not apply in our context.

I wonder why the people behind the paper chose to feature Pokémon Go given how the game requires players to walk in order to play. (BTW, I clock between 50-60km per week playing the game.) Might it have been too mean or inaccurate to feature a couch potato?

Perhaps those in mainstream media still look for opportunities to put down anything they see as a threat (mobiles and gaming). Maybe focusing on worries and bad news gets more attention.

But I question why such an article does not explore reasons why we have this statistic, the role of physical education in schools, or solutions to such issues.

Perhaps dishing out what others have already said is easier than actual work. You know, like how it is easier to be a couch potato than to actively play Pokémon Go.

It is easy to play the blame game. For example, some might attribute the lack of deep writing to what seems like shallow sharing on social media. Case in point, this tweet.

The first part of the tweet that houses this assumption is itself not nuanced. Many things contribute to the inability to write more deeply, meaningfully, or reflectively. “Impatient” writing could be due to the maturity of the writer, the time they have left to write, the relevance of the task, etc.

The educator was open enough to acknowledge the feedback from her students — the low-hanging fruit sort of writing was a product of the low-hanging fruit sort of testing. If tests value and reward short-term thinking and convenient answers instead of more nuanced thought, then why do we blame students for thinking that way?

We are buffeted and conditioned by our environments. We adapt to those conditions and adopt mindsets and behaviours that help us survive or thrive. Then we bring those mindsets and behaviours to other environments and see what works.

If students learn superficial writing from superficial media, then might they learn about nuanced writing by being exposed to more thoughtfully-crafted social media postings? Maybe. Nuanced writing takes time, discipline, and effort. Pursuing and nurturing such value systems is, in part, what education is for.

I was schooled. I became educated.

The learning of any subject might seem like a goal and an end unto itself. This might be true when the learner is a novice and being schooled. But as learners mature, they might realise that it is more important to learn-to-be (a writer), not just to learn-about (writing). They become more educated when they realise that it is far more important to learn HOW to think that to be taught WHAT to think.

One of the podcast channels I have recently subscribed is No Such Thing As A Fish. It is helmed by the fact-finding team behind the QI television series.

I have been binging the series in reverse order and recently listed to episode 244 No Such Thing As A Fishman (iTunes) (Spotify).

Stephen Fry made a guest appearance and shared his thoughts on how warped our thinking can sometimes be. He described how we do not seem to take offence to violence but vilify basic body functions.

Around the seven-minute mark, he mentioned how we think nothing of phrases like “Traffic was murder!” but might consider “It was shitting bad traffic!” as rude.

The juxtaposition was ridiculous, I LOL’d anyway, and I got his point. It was a matter of questioning one’s perspective.

If we are to nurture more empathetic learners, we should not just deluge them with the experiences and cultures of “others”. We also need to help them explore and question their own biases and standards. If we cannot look past ourselves, how are we to gain insights into others?

In this week’s episode of Crash Course’s video on information and digital literacies, host John Green focused on the authority and perspective of sources.

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The authority of an author or a source might be determined by finding out about its:

  • Professional background
  • Processes used to create information
  • Systems in place to catch and correct mistakes

Authoritative sources do not guarantee that their information is correct all the time. When they make mistakes, they admit and correct them openly.

The perspective of an author or a source needs to be gleaned from its orientation, opinions, or analyses. Perspective colours choice of words and the direction of influence.


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