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Posts Tagged ‘plan

I am a planner and I know of two common axioms about planning.

  1. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
  2. A plan is only as good as its implementation.

The first is about being prepared by thinking things through and practising before a critical event. The second is about putting theory (the plan) into actual practice (the action).

The problem with some plans is that they are hastily made. No amount of firefighting will compensate for foresight , wisdom, and prudence.

The bottomline: You need a good plan. A plan that offers solutions needs to address clearly defined problems. Jump the gun and you solve problems that do not exist, distract, and demoralise.

Two weeks ago, I shared this announcement about Singapore’s ten-year plan for AI and focused on how it might affect schooling.

I left my reflection on AI for grading on slow burn for a while. I am enjoying a break, but I also enjoy wrestling with dubious change.

Yes, dubious. But first, two pretexts.

First, the vendors that the Ministry of Education, Singapore, works with are not going to be transparent with their technologies, so I cannot be absolutely certain of the AI development runway, timeline, and capabilities.

Next, the field of AI is not new and it is diverse. Parts of it evolve more quickly or slowly than we might expect. For example, handwriting recognition has been around since before Microsoft released its slate PCs. It was good enough to recognise some doctor scrawls even back then!

However, the Hollywood vision that AI will replace or even kill us off has not materialised. An expert might point out that AI is not good at making social predictions and ethical decisions. I simply point out that artificial intelligence is still no match for natural stupidity.

Back to the issue — we need to consume claims made by policymakers and edtech vendors critically. And more critically if they are reported by the mainstream media that thrives on sensationalism.

Do not take my word for it. Take this expert’s view that some claims are “snake oil”. In his slides, he put these claims into three categories: Genuine and rapid progress; imperfect but improving; and fundamentally dubious.

An expert’s view that some AI claims are “snake oil”. In his slides, he put the claims into three categories: Genuine and rapid progress; imperfect but improving; and fundamentally dubious. Slide #10 at

I highlighted “automated essay grading” in the screenshot above because that coincides with our 2022 plan to “launch automated marking system for English in primary and secondary schools”.

The fundamental issue is AI’s ability to automate judgement. Some judgements are simple and objective, others are complex and subjective. Written language falls in the latter category particularly when the writers get older and are expected to write in more complex and subjective ways.

Anyone who has had to grade essays will know what rubrics and “standardisation” sessions are. Rubrics provide standards, guidelines, and point allocation. Standardisation meetings are when a group of assessors get a small and common set of essays, grade those essays, and compare the marks. Those same meetings set the standard for the definitions of subjectivity, disagreement, and frustration.

Might AI in three years be able to find the holy grail of objective and perfect grading of subjective and imperfect writing? Perhaps. If it does so, it might be less a result of rapid technological evolution and more one of social manipulation.

To facilitate AI processing of essays, students might be required to use proprietary tools and platforms. For example, they might have to use word processed forms instead of handwriting. They could be told to write in machine readable ways, e.g., only five paragraphs, structured paragraphs, model phrases, etc. In other words, force-fitting writers and writing.

This is already how some tuition and enrichment centres operate. They reduce essay writing to formulae and teach these strategies to kids. Students are not encouraged to make mistakes, learn from them, or develop creative and critical thought. They are taught to game the algorithms.

The algorithms are the teachers’ expectations and rubrics now. They could be the AI algorithms in future. But the same reductionist strategy applies because we foolishly prefer shortcuts.

The AI expert I highlighted earlier focused on how ill-equipped AI is to predict social outcomes. He concluded his talk with this slide.

Concluding slide (#21) from

We might also apply his last two points to automated essay grading: Resist commercial-only interest aimed to hide what AI cannot do, and focus on what is accurate and transparent.

This is not my way of stifling innovation as enable by educational technology. I wear my badge of edtech evangelist proudly. But I keep that badge polished with critical thought and informed practice.

I still hear people in schools and education institutes declare that learners can learn “any time, anywhere (on campus), with any device”. This might be part of a plan to “personalise” learning.

My simple response to this is that their “any” plan is only as good as their reach and robustness of their wifi.

I cannot claim to have visited every school and campus here, but I have been to several.

The institutes of higher learning (IHLs) somehow manage to mostly blanket their large campuses with wireless access.

Most of the schools I have been to, on the other hand, have spotty wifi. This is despite the fact that schools here have set up additional and alternative networks to cater to what seems like an exponential increase in devices.

I still have to bring my own connection (BYOC) when I step through school gates. Even when I do, I worry when the meeting or workshop venue is below street level or at the school periphery. The wifi typically falls short.

Even the 3G/4G signals are weak here. When my telco’s signal is weak, I cannot tether my phone to my laptop. So even BYOC does not permit the “any” plan.

When I am invited to sell, reinforce, or extend the “any” plan, the message falls short because my audience and participants know that the plan is only as good as their wifi.

It is 2018 — get with the plan already!

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I am evaluating the lesson plans of future facilitators. Normally I wait till the end of the semester to reflect on the common misconceptions that arise. However, critical patterns have already emerged.

One mistake is not articulating how they form student groups using pedagogical principles. Novice instructors often assume that students will form groups, know how to form different types of groups, and/or know what to do in those groups. This is not true even with learners who have worked in loose cooperative groups before. This is because context and content change the strategy for the type of cooperative work.

What might work with heterogeneous grouping in one context might not work with another class learning the same content. The second class might need different-sized groups, more homogeneous groups, or different group strategies.

I model these strategies in my workshops. Here is one example.

As my learners come from different schools in a university, I make them find peers of similar backgrounds so that they are in more homogenous groups. I get them to play an academic dating game by asking each person to write their school and teaching topic on a piece of paper. Then I ask them to use that paper sign to find birds of similar feather and to flock together. The rest of the session then looks something like this.

My design rationale is simple: My learners uncover generic cooperative and learner-centric strategies during my workshops. However, they need to apply them in specific teaching contexts. What works in one context might not work in another. So the more similar their backgrounds and shared histories, the less cognitive burden my learners have to shoulder when they unpack and repack the strategies.

There is value in using more diverse groups, of course. The cross-fertilisation of ideas when an language historian shares strategies with a theoretical physicist can be wonderful, but this is more likely to work for a group of more advanced participants.

Depending on the group of learners I have that day, I facilitate a rise above of the experience so that we analyse the design of grouping for cooperative learning. Perhaps I should not assume some groups get it and others do not. I should set aside time and space for all groups to rise to this lofty ideal.

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