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Posts Tagged ‘podcast

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I look forward to my podcast stream updating with an entry from Build For Tomorrow. It is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. 

But no more. Its creator, Jason Feifer, announced that the podcast is going on hiatus. I have heard other podcasters say this and they have not walked back. I fear that BFT is sunset. 

I understand why Feifer needs to walk away from the labour-intensive work. He described how each episode was an all-consuming, lone wolf effort of three months worth of work. Even with the help he got, each episode would take a month to make. I empathise.

His replacement podcast focuses on issues people face at work. He and a collaborator advise, role-play, or are sounding boards for people who call or write in. 

But I can hold more than one thought or feeling — I also grieve the loss of the wonderful BFT podcast that inspires change and energises change agents. I would love to be proven wrong if Feifer rekindles the fire and finds the energy to revive it.

Entrepreneur, author, and podcaster, Jason Feifer, debunked learning styles in his latest Build For Tomorrow episode, The Greatest Myth About Learning.

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I was not surprised that he did this even though this was not his domain. His track record of promoting change and debunking myths speaks for itself. I was surprised that it took him this long.

Feifer interviewed researchers who lifted the lid on the myth of learning styles. One of them, Associate Professor Polly Husmann, summarised what others had also found from their research: When students studied using their preferring learning style (or used what they were told was their style), learning outcomes did not improve.

She and other researchers pointed out other problems with the myth of learning styles. One is learnt helplessness, i.e., this is my style, I cannot learn if I do not have it my way. That style becomes a crutch instead of an enabler.

Learning styles proponents might also ignore how we actually learn. One is to reprocess new information in authentic problem-solving or by application of knowledge in real contexts.

But Feifer might have misrepresented the concept of scaffolding. In trying to explain how we actually learn, he said that we internalise new information because of scaffolding. The scaffolding he referred to was pre-existing knowledge the new information could associate with. He was not wrong in that respect.

He also meant for new information to connect with existing knowledge. This is schema theory, assimilation, and accommodation — concepts that an educator should recall from educational psychology 101. 

Scaffolds are an instructional strategy, not just pre-existing concepts. For example, an educator might scaffold a difficult task by providing instructions, prompting with questions, offering clues, etc.

This does not discount Feifer’s attempt to debunk a well-embedded myth like learning styles. I applaud him for taking an unpopular stance in order to uproot a well-intentioned but harmful practice.

What lessons might we learn by looking back 100 years into what people thought 2023 might look like?

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Jason Feifer looked back at one particular publication in 1923 in his podcast episode What People of 1923 Predicted About 2023. The main prediction was that people would work just 4 hours a day. Predictably, pundits objected.

The reasons for their objections were varied and they are worth listening to in the episode. They all stem from a common phenomenon — we are very bad at making such predictions. 

We have much of the same now as we had then because we do not learn. Whatever steps we could take forward are held back by those who refuse to move, or worse, would rather go backward.

If there is a simple reminder from the episode that bears repeating, it is this: The future is what we make, not what we wait for. Good or bad things are not going to happen auto-magically by new technologies. It is how we use, mitigate, and manage them that make the difference.

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This short interview by Trevor Noah of Tressie McMillan Cottom (TMC) provided two interesting perspectives about Twitter as was.

TMC was never a public space. I agree. It was (and still is) a fenced garden you could grow and prune. Visitors could look in and offer praise or criticism.

I appreciated how TCM described Twitter as a place to showcase vulnerability while learning. This could be about new information, perspectives, or mindsets.

It is sad that most seem to focus on the negativity on Twitter. I say you get what you grow. Even though a megalomaniac owns it now, I hope we can tend to our gardens for as long as we can.

Have I not reflected after listening to a Build For Tomorrow podcast episode? These tend to be so relevant to education (even though it is ostensibly about entrepreneurship) that I reflect right after listening to each episode.

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The latest podcast episode was about the way we might asked ourselves “What if….?” questions after an event. What if you made a better business decision? What if I did not forget to use this instructional strategy?

Superficially, asking yourself a “What if….?” question is based on regret. Podcast host Jason Feifer looked into the psychology of this behaviour and interviewed experts. His first find was that this phenomenon had a name —counter factual thinking.

Counter factual thinking is not about wishing that things had gone better. Two schools of thought are that it is a learning method or a coping mechanism.

Counter factual thinking can be a learning method if you consider how a mistake or accident leads a person to reflect and take corrective action. 

The example in the podcast was spilling coffee on yourself at work because you used a normal mug. What if you used a travel mug instead? You learn from that unpleasant experience and take steps to avoid it.

As an educator, I play back instructional mistakes in my head and wonder how things might have turned out if I had done something different. If I reflect with resolve, I might learn from that mistake so that the next class is better.

The second school of thought about counter factual thinking is that we tell ourselves a story (what if something else happened instead?) to cope with a bad experience. What if you prepared for the meeting o lesson like you usually would instead of slacking off? You tell yourself you know better and resolve to be prepared.

But there are problems with counter factual thinking. Among them:

  • obsessing over the what ifs
  • not taking action after considering the what its
  • focusing on the negatives instead of the positives

One answer to countering counter factual thinking is to say ignore it. This is easier said than done. If you care enough about something, you should obsess about it and you should want to do something about it.

A actionable change is reflecting on the positives of an experience. Feifer initially lamented that he thought he did not do well as a guest in a friend’s podcast. But he reasoned that he reached more people that way by trying.

I used to obsess about mistakes I made in class — whether in person or online — and did not reflexively make changes then. Being deeply reflective, I would think through how I would do better the next time. 

With experience I have also taught myself that I have had opportunities to influence teachers with new concepts, skills, and mindsets. That positive thinking is far more productive than obsessing over a mistake.

I watched and listened to the interview of Trevor Noah by Alex Wagner. I processed it twice because Noah is as thoughtful as he is funny.

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I also thought that some of his approaches to comedy in The Daily Show with Trevor Noah had parallels in education.

Noah said that his audience included not just the ones immediately in front of him, but also the people at home. This became even clearer during lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers and school administrators might want nothing more than to return to classrooms, but have they considered how they might disadvantage a subset of learners when they do this?

As a comedian, he had to balance the need to entertain and to inform, but not in an either-or way. The parallel is like teachers who need to prepare students for the test and also ensure meaningful and long term learning. They can do both. Noah informs humorously and the entertainment results. Might teachers enable short term goals by aiming for long term ones?

Noah reflected on the importance of context and perspective. For context, he tried to get to know his audience. For perspective, he listened to his grandmother’s thoughts on issues like apartheid. Teachers can do the same by learning about student contexts and engaging in deep conversations with them.

He shared how he liked covering blindspots with a diversity of opinions and admitted how difficult this was to do. After all, “most things worth doing are going to be harder”. That is an axiom that should guide teachers and students alike.

When pressed on how his team does so much over so many different platforms, Noah had a simple answer: Get people who are passionate about what they are doing. I have no doubt that many teachers consider teaching a calling and not just a job. But it is a taxing one and they need to take the time off to refuel their passion.

As for leveraging different platforms (like TikTok or Facebook), Noah left this to others who were better at it than he was. Teachers do not need to do it all. But they need to recognise that they must first reach their students before they can teach them.

Noah mentioned that the work-life balance was an illusion because the work he did was interesting and integral to his life. He joked that he was not trying to pull a Severance — the dystopian Apple TV show where people would forget about life outside work while at work, and vice versa.

I do not want to see more teachers marking papers on weekends, on train journeys, or in fast food restaurants. But answering the call to educate means sensing, learning, and reflecting all the time. This does not have to be tedious or oppressive. This is one reason why I choose to reflect every day by edu-blogging.

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I enjoyed the latest Conan Needs A Friend podcast episode more than I usually do because the guest was Professor Brian Cox.

In the episode, Cox reminded me of two lessons on science and one principle about systems:

  1. Science is about a way of thinking, not simply the acquisition of knowledge.
  2. It is about developing a skill — the ability to say that you do not know and then seeking reliable sources of knowledge.
  3. Systems take a long time to change and sometimes progress is made by swinging from one extreme to another. While alarming, the return to a less progressive extreme is a reminder why we need the more progressive change.

It took my leaving the profession as a science teacher to really learn the first two principles. I had to pursue a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology to get the basics of systemic thinking. It is no wonder that it is difficult to think and operate this way.

My third takeaway from the Build For Tomorrow podcast about forecasters was preventing false consensus.

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The original context for this was that forecasters need to pool information. They did this by sharing and gaining access. 

Katy Milkman, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of How to Change, said: 

There’s really great research showing that in general, we think other people have more similar cognitions and knowledge to us than they actually do. So if you, like me live in a city, and think living in a city is the best, you probably think everyone you see must agree with that. So it’s the false consensus effect is a name for it.

I shorten this insight to sailing with a ship of fools instead of leveraging on the wisdom of crowds. To get information of value and meaning, we to fulfil four criteria identified by James Surowiecki: Diversity of opinion, independence, decentralisation, and aggregation. Assuming that everyone else thinks the way you do fails the first criterion.

Milkman provided an example of students approaching her in class for advice on how to do better. When she asked them if they asked their peers who were doing well what worked for them, she got “a lot of blank stares”. Her students did not think others did any different and/or did not ask others for their strategies.

When applied to the instructional design of learning activities, preventing such false consensus might being with a complex problem that has no single correct answer. The design might continue with heterogenous groupings of three to five students. Each group might be given a scaffold that leads them through divergent thought processes before converging on one or more solutions.

I had more than one takeaway from my reflection of a Build For Tomorrow podcast. My two other reminders relevant to teaching and learning were about noise and false consensus. I focus on noise today.

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Near the end of the podcast, one interviewed expert shared how forecasting noise could take the form of too much information and opinion. Both are barriers to asking good questions and getting meaningful answers.

The expert’s suggestion was to write a pros and cons list that you could revisit every week to examine your thinking. That could help in forecasting and a variation might help in education. 

I am thinking of a journal or blog. This is a place where learners can record their thoughts about what they are learning that week and write another entry after revisiting the previous entry.

This is not a new idea. I discovered this when I was writing the literature review of my Ph.D. dissertation 17 years ago. It was popular when students were required to journal regularly and when blogs took off. Thankfully, this is a core practice for an academic subject like Design and Technology where students need to maintain ideation journals or records.

Journalling requires the discipline of slowing down and metacognitive ability to reflect effectively (I have suggested a framework that I call a Reflective Compass). Sadly, reflection as a discipined practice does not seem to be a priority in our schooling system. I wish that more educators would help students reduce noise that interferes with learning.

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The latest Build For Tomorrow podcast episode began with this premise: We are bad at forecasting the future and we know this, but some of us will still try and many others will listen to them.


The short and cynical answer is that we are stupid. A longer and more nuanced answer was explored in the podcast and began with a look back to Nostradamus in the 1500s. His claims were vague but captivating enough or people to reverse engineer what he said. 

For example, if he predicted a famine in 2022, we might say that came true as long as there was a famine somewhere in the world or if the cost of food rose so much that some of us could not afford it.

But sometimes these prophets get it wrong, e.g., Steve Balmer pooh-poohed the iPhone based on its cost and lack of a physical keyboard. So why do people keep listening to people with poor track records?

The interviewed expert, Laura Smolar, suggested that we do not expect even hard science to be right all the time. So we rationalise and offer excuses of their behalf, e.g., there were miscalculations or other unaccounted factors.

And then there are the super forecasters who study data and make projections that come true at a higher rate than chance. What makes them better at predictions than others?

According to another expert, Warren Hatch, these forecasters have excellent pattern recognition, are open-minded, and are reflective. The latter two manifest themselves when the good forecasters realise that they do not have enough information and do not limit themselves to what they already know.

As a pedagogue, my applicative takeaway from that is accepting our ignorance before trying to provide answers (especially for complex issues). In simpler terms, we need to know what we do not know before attempting to fill that knowledge gap. 


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