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Posts Tagged ‘policy

This news surprised me: A local university seemed to insist on in-person classes despite some staff and students being stuck overseas.

This information was published in a local newspaper on 18 August but was already reported on elsewhere on 10 August.

The TODAY paper reported that the university:

…is facing criticism because it is the only one of Singapore’s main universities where students and faculty staff members stranded abroad are unable to study or teach online until they are able to enter the country.

Staff and students are overseas and having trouble travelling to Singapore due to strict border restrictions. They have had to struggle with issues like dropping out, being put on no-pay leave, getting courses cancelled, etc.

The earlier article revealed that: 

…academics who have been granted compassionate leave, and thus allowed to teach classes remotely, will be paid only for the days that they teach.

…based on this payment system, a professor whose classes are clustered within two or three days will be paid only for those days, while another with the same number of teaching hours, but with classes spread across all five days of the week, will receive full pay.

As a former academic, I feel for the teaching faculty who are affected by bean-counting administrators and micromanagers. I borrow an argument from that same article on valuing teaching faculty: 

…academics do work, even on the days they don’t have classes, and that teaching online might even require more work in terms of planning and coordination than in-person lessons.

The university policies probably do not make sense. If teaching staff and students are stuck overseas for legitimate reasons and both have the capacity to teach and take classes online, why not do that? 

Have we learnt nothing from enforced remote teaching and learning due to COVID-19 lockdown? Why return to normal when you can do better?

Looking elsewhere, some faculty take to Zoom as a fact of life. Take Dr Inna in her tweet above as an example.

Teaching online is not a substitute for a campus experience. But it is better than cancelling classes, treating people like numbers in a spreadsheet, and implementing cruel policy.

This news snippet highlighted a training and education policy from our current Education Minister.

Video source

Mr Lawrence Wong is one of our more empathetic public servants and seems to be a progressive thinker. He also knows that policy is relatively easy to craft than to follow through with implementation.

Why? Every policy is subject to opposition, interpretation, and implementation. Even if we assume that a good policy has zero opposition, it is still subject to differences in interpretation and implementation.

This is not always a bad thing because policies need to be contextualised in their own content and skill areas. So if the policy is to nurture students and workers who are more independent and flexible, teachers in the humanities might have different ways of reaching that ideal compared to AI computing educators.

That said, different people can also have the same sorts of fallbacks and defensive tactics. Take my rant about administrative manuals yesterday. An administrative group might see their role as ensuring compliance and create a manual or handbook. These can be viewed and used as recipes to follow instead of requiring learners to actually learn actively, authentically, and independently.

Fixed-gear bicycles, or fixies, are brakeless bikes which were banned on public paths and roads as of 25 January 2021.

The embedded article tells you what the policy change is, but not why. Late last year, a 13-year-old girl fell down six storeys after losing control on one such bike.

We seem to need need extremes of circumstances (like death) before we take action. We react instead of preempt.

Consider how hotels have started deep cleaning with UV and electrostatic misting in the wake of COVD-19 quarantine stays.

Video source

Will hotels continue to do this as the norm after the storm? Do we need another pandemic to remind us how to raise basic requirements of service and safety? Do we really want to return to “normal life” when we should be striving for better life?

I like watching clips of QI because what the panel discusses often straddles the line of entertainment and education. The clip below was an example of game theory.

Video source

If you were in a “truel” — a duel with a total three people, each with a gun loaded with one bullet — which person would you shoot first? The conditions were that you had a 10% chance of hitting your target, the second person was good shot with a 60% chance, and the third person was an excellent shot with 90%.

If you followed the numbers, you might play by the rules and take your chance. Even if you hit either one successfully by slim chance, the remaining shooter is even more likely gun you down.

The seemingly illogical option would be to miss on purpose and make it obvious. You would likely be ignored because you are not perceived as a threat and the other two would take each other out. You remain alive as a result.

It can be tempting to follow the numbers and the rules that seem to accompany it. However, the numbers should only guide what should be logical and forward thinking.

Such game theory not only applies in the truel scenario, it could apply in policymaking in schooling and education. Administrators and policymakers cite numbers, build walls with them, and enact plans. But if they rise above those numbers and think about the people — the students and the teachers — that are create those numbers, they might build bridges instead.

As I start another teaching semester, I draw inspiration from someone whose blog I added to my RSS feed a long time ago.

In a recent post, Lisa Lane shared how she helped her students keep the cost of higher education down by offering a free textbook.

She lamented how policies stood in the way of progressive change. She could not tap an Open Educational Resources (OER) fund as compensation because the grant was for those adopting OERs, not for those creating them.

Furthermore, the grants were for those who could prove cost-savings over the previous semester. Lane relied on the free model the previous semester, so she could not justify how free was better than free.

Such policies punish progressive faculty who move ahead of policies written by those who do not teach or have forgotten how to.

But there is a silver lining. Lane’s students valued the gifts of free books that they were treated gingerly. Some were good enough to be used another semester. She inadvertently developed a method to sustain the good will.

I take inspiration from the fact that Lane shares her trials, tribulations, and triumphs. I know full well how moving ahead quickly means taking difficult paths that few initially follow. But I take comfort in that more eventually will.

… and damned if you don’t. That was one of my reactions when I watched this video.

Video source

The video featured volunteers trying to help during the US government service shutdown. But they were stopped by an authority figure because current policies do not allow them to chip in when the chips are down for federal employees.

Therein lies a reminder for change agents in schooling and education. You know that something should be done now and you take it upon yourself (and perhaps a small team) to enact the change. But policies and those that police them will stand in your way.

This reminded me of a series of workshops that I designed and conducted for an education institute. I had recommended that policy makers and administrators also attend the sessions.

My contact enabled this and it was a joy to facilitate. The police makers and administrators were not on the frontline and could not see what progressive pedagogy looked like. At the same time, instructors on the ground could not understand the rationales formed in towers overhead.

The workshops became shared spaces and experiences for these folk to co-learn and to exchange their perspectives. I wish more organisations would enable such designs.

Several months ago, I met someone who told me that his organization was hesitant to use YouTube as a platform to host educational videos.

Perhaps you have heard of YouTube. YouTube, the second most popular search engine. YouTube, the near ubiquitous app on smartphones. YouTube, the host of videos which are becoming the text that learners become literate in by virtue of sheer appeal.

YouTube, a free hosting platform for totally open or selectively shared videos. Zero dollars, infinite storage, and about as reliable as your supply of electricity or water.

The reason I was given for that organization not adopting YouTube was Singapore’s Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). Ludicrous.

Imagine instructors and learners deciding to make very boring recordings that revealed names and personally identifiable information of other people. Now that would be ludicrous.

The policy decision to not use YouTube was made by a higher-up who does not understand nor see the needs on the ground. This was the same “leader” who saw it fit to try to prevent workers from using work wifi on their phones some years ago. He eventually had to give in when the BYOD tsunami swept in.

What will it take for that person to stop paddling backwards against this tsunami?

If you read a headline like More People Have Cell Phones Than Toilets, you know that it was designed to pique interest and draw the reader as far down the article as possible.

According to a UN report, 6 of 7 billion people in the world have cell phones, while just 4.5 billion have access to a toilet or latrine.

I have no doubt that there is some truth in the statistics presented, but the numbers also hide other facts. The article conveniently avoids the fact that quite a few countries have mobile penetration rates that exceed 100%. This means that owners have multiple mobile devices. This also means that there are some people who do not have these devices.

Here is another headline of similar design: More New Androids Than Babies.

Every day more than 1.3 million Android devices are activated — which is way more than the 300,000 babies born daily

It is tempting to draw quick conclusions with the numbers, e.g., platform domination, four devices for every child. But what exactly does that statistic do?

If it is designed to impress, so be it. If you use it unprocessed to inform decision or policy, then far from it!

Any educational institute worth its salt will have “usage” data of its LMS. I say “usage” because such reports tend to be technical, e.g., how many courses are online, how many instructors use what tool. But this does not reveal HOW the tools are used pedagogically or if they are even used well.

I often draw an analogy to how our land and transport authorities might cite how extensive and well-connected our roads and rails are. They might provide very impressive statistics on accident rates, traffic flow, train frequency and so on.

IMG_6203 by gurms, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  gurms 

But the stories are missing.

Stories like how a father might get trapped in hour-long jams getting home from work in what should be a 15-minute journey. Every day.

Stories like how a mother-to-be has to skip a few crowded trains before finally getting on only to be denied a seat. Every day.

These stories are varied and there are many of them. More often that not these stories are not told.

The statistics are important and they can be impressive. But numbers can lie. So can photos, videos, and stories. But they should be used judiciously to paint a more complete and honest picture.

If not, we kid ourselves at best. In a worse case, we use an inaccurate picture or projection to perpetuate lies or to create bad long term policy.

Someone I know in my Twitter circle tweeted this recently:

I think that the point of the tweet is that in the grand scheme of things, policymakers and administrators do not really impact the interaction between a teacher and a student.

But do they?

Policies can be very powerful. Set an agenda for a return to basics and withhold funding to schools if they do not do well in tests and see how teaching changes. Teachers will start to teach to the test.

Conversely, good policies can make huge difference in driving and sustaining initiatives.

I am now part of two task forces at work. I see an inspired leader setting policy that has the potential to open up our courses so that we share what we know more openly and build our reputational capital.

I observe others in another task force say things like, “Let’s put infrastructure and a plan in place first, then let us think about policy!” What if they put the technological cart before the pedagogical horse?

If we use a more modern example, the car, then the policy is the blueprint or the design philosophy of the initiative. That determines the materials, manpower, money, and man-hours.

The design philosophy defines the overall approach. Do we want a sleek sports car that only seats two? Do we want an clunky but functional family vehicle?

Likewise, do we want courses that require next to no interaction and designed for independent learning? Or do we want to build on social interaction and the expectation of more open resources?

If we put an open policy in place first, that drives architecture, construction, and usage. We do not reverse engineer policy after putting things into place. Those things will constrain policy.

Bad assessment policy can determine content, devolve pedagogy, and reduce learners to smart test takers. Good policy, say one that rewards educators for innovative and progressive instructional strategies, can change the status quo and push pedagogy for the better.

I will also say this. There are at least two types of people: Those that are motivated intrinsically and those that are motivated extrinsically to change. Policies address the latter group more than the former because the intrinsically motivated (the minority) will keep doing what they do, for better or for worse, no matter what the policy.

Majority Rules by amchu, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  amchu 

I love Scott McLeod’s “26 Internet safety talking points“. Here is a sample:

Mobile phones, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, Wikispaces, Google, and whatever other technologies you’re blocking are not inherently evil. Stop demonizing them and focus on people’s behavior, not the tools, particularly when it comes to making policy.

You don’t need special policies for specific tools. Just check that the policies you have are inclusive of electronic communication channels and then enforce the policies you already have on bullying, cheating, sexual harassment, inappropriate communication, illicit behavior, etc.

Why are you penalizing the 95% for the 5%? You don’t do this in other areas of discipline at school. Even though you know some students will use their voices or bodies inappropriately in school, you don’t ban everyone from speaking or moving. You know some students may show up drunk to the prom, yet you don’t cancel the prom because of a few rule breakers. Instead, you assume that most students will act appropriately most of the time and then you enforce reasonable expectations and policies for the occasional few that don’t.

When a blog article is this good, there is little to add. Except to add it to a list of bookmarks, Evernote, Diigo, Delicious, etc. for future reference!


Usage policy

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