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Posts Tagged ‘policy

… 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!

Much earlier this month, there was a recent flurry of reports on the New York Department of Education banning student-teacher interaction on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

The NY DOE concedes that the platforms were powerful and did not ban their use for official and professional use, e.g., instructional, educational, or extra-curricular contexts.

Why did this policy merge? A few teachers and students used social media to take “extra-curricular” to extremes.

But the ban is almost like letting a few rotten apples stop the harvesting of apples from a ripe orchard. Lots of legitimately good apples are going to waste.

Put another way, social media provide teachers and students with platforms to extend conversations that are legitimate, powerful, and meaningful for learning. They provide opportunities for teachers to engage learners outside the classroom, not to get engaged to them.

I am all for creating safe environments for students. But banning social media is not going to stop inappropriate teacher-student relationships. The policy attempts to deal with the symptoms (e.g., inappropriate communication or relationships) but not the cause (e.g., poor morals or judgments).

Curiously, according to the New York Times article, the ban was not extended to SMS (texting) which is a more insidious method of communication. At least with the social media like Facebook and Twitter there can be a clearer trail of evidence.

One might argue that the NY DOE (or any school board, district, or Ministry who agrees with them) is simply asking teachers to draw the line between personal and professional use of social media. The fact is enforcing this rule is difficult because the social media use already overlaps both areas.

Why? Socializing, in its many modes and forms, is a human condition. We need to socialize to teach and learn. This does not mean having to reveal personal details or desires. It does mean bringing real life contexts and examples into the classroom and this could mean personal examples, e.g., writing about your family, relating personal experience to scientific concepts, or discussing value systems.

The worst thing about the ban is that it automatically labels social media as bad even though it tries to acknowledge that is has its usefulness. If it was that good, why restrict its integration into education? The ban casts a shadow over social media ruse. Teachers who are hesitant or fearful remain so. Those who have already bought in may fold.

All this is a big step backwards for education. This tweet says it succinctly:

There is a negative saying about teaching: Those that can do; those who can’t teach. Perhaps some of those who cannot teach choose to administer and they create policy to prevent those that can teach from truly educating.

Recently I had to set up a few US iTunes app store accounts for my staff at the CeL. Why not get my staff to buy their own apps?

iTunes Gift Cards by yum9me, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  yum9me 

First, I wanted to give them iOS apps as Christmas presents.

Second, we do not yet have a clear and logical system at work for making claims for low-cost individual apps. (These apps are considered software and are subject to an approval process!)

Third, each iTunes account can be authorized on five computers. With most of my teams comprising of four or five members, this was a perfect opportunity to buy apps for entire teams. (We resorted to this as bulk licensing is currently available only in the USA.)

But the process is not straightforward since my department does not have access to a shared credit card. So here is a workaround that is based on previous solutions offered by others online [1] [2].

  1. Create new email accounts (I used Gmail) with shared logins and passwords for each team.
  2. Buy iTunes gift cards for use in the US store. I bought mine from Qisahn.com.
  3. Use each new email account to set up a new iTunes account at the US store.*
  4. When asked to provide credit card details, use the gift card code into the relevant box instead.
  5. Share the iTunes IDs and passwords with the teams.

The gift cards work only from the store you purchase them from. If you buy an Aussie gift card, you must create an Aussie iTunes account. The choice of store depends on whether:

  • the apps you want are available in that store (there are some apps you cannot get at the Singapore store)
  • you have a usable address and phone number in the country in which that store is based*

There were at least two things I realized when trying to buy apps for my teams in systems that forbade it.

Lesson 1: This is one possible workaround because policy makers have not got their heads around new ways of using, purchasing and distributing apps. So much for being in the 21st century!

Lesson 2: There are elements of this process that one might label 21st century skills. I am not referring to problem-solving as humans have had to do this for as long as we can remember. Think about how and why you might do what I asterisked (*) for example.


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