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Posts Tagged ‘practice

There is an old joke that asks why doctors call what they do “practice”. The punchline might be about how they should stop practising and get on with real work. Or it might be about how terrifying it is that doctors are still just practising on you.

This is a semantic game of course, but not everyone appreciates the nuance.

Teaching and facilitating learning are skillsets that require lots of practice. If you do it right, this practice might not get easier past the novice stage.

Photo by Los Muertos Crew on

I have long maintained my own course sites. I created these because my partners either did not have LMS, or if they did, would cut access to resources based on administrative needs.

I keep a lists of things to do before, during, and after each semester. For example, I have a list for a short course that is currently 29 items long and keeps growing every semester. These items are not just reminders of what to update, but also of new ideas, new resources, and what strategies to change.

Practice does not always make perfect. Perfection is neither achievable nor desirable in teaching/facilitating. There are far too many variables to manage and most are out of my control. I choose to focus on what I should and can practice.


I watched a video that made me think about a fallacy on practice.

There is a saying that “practice makes perfect”. First, it is not any kind of practice. It has to be mindful, focused, and contextual practice. If learners do not know why they are practising, or if they do not care about the practice, then that exercise does not matter.

Second, practice, even if it is mindful, focused, and contextual, does not guarantee perfection. Perfection is rarely, if ever, attainable. Unless, of course, you dumb down what passes for perfection.

What practice can do is nurture persistence.

Video source 

The video above is funny because the first featured girl goes through her choreographed moves even though she is upset and crying. If it seems cruel to laugh at her plight, then focus on what she teaches us.

Some might call her actions “muscle memory”. But muscles do not have neurones for storing memory, so this is a misnomer. It is a layperson’s inaccurate way of saying that practice has made the actions automatic. 

There is practically no conscious thought to create the movements. These have been seared by reinforcement into the parts of the brain that do not require conscious thought or heavy lifting.

Such reinforcement practice is typically linked to psychomotor tasks, e.g., dance moves, tennis serve, driving to work. But they might also be linked to cognitive tasks like algorithmic thinking, critical media consumption, and deep reflection.

Such cognition is like physical exercise — it takes effort, it is not always pleasant, and you might not want to do it. But practice wears down resistance. We repeat good habits not because they result in perfection. Instead, this practice helps build a character trait called persistence. And we persist because the show must go on.

Zoom announced a new feature, Breakout Rooms, in August this year for rollout last month [link]. In early September, I blogged that this might finally simulate station-based learning.

I will be trying this feature out in an evening class tomorrow. But as in my modus operandi, I tested it first with a class last evening.

I asked a several students to volunteer to stay after Zoom class to help with my experiment. I created one room for each student and so that they could choose the room to enter instead of having me assign them to rooms. This is faster than manually assigning them one by one because they make the choice and move.

But only one student was able to see the breakout room option. Why? The rest had not updated their Zoom clients to at least version 5.30. This Zoom support article makes this requirement clear. An administrator must also enable this function in the first place.

I have reflected on such a practice before and I will say it again: Always do your homework (Is the feature ‘live’? How do I ensure that it works? What are some problems with it?) and conduct dry runs with it yourself.

About a week ago, I watched a news interview where a politician countered a question by saying that there was no evidence for a nefarious deed and therefore it did not happen.

That was not unusual because that is what a backpedalling might politician say. What might be unusual is how easily we might accept that argument.

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

An often stated axiom is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. A lack of evidence of a crime does not mean that the crime did not take place. It could mean that proof has not yet been gathered.

The politician’s argument is a logical fallacy that is based on ignorance. If you do not know that something exists or that some process happens, you might insist that it does not. The remedy is to learn so that you are no longer ignorant.

And then there is wilful ignorance. This is when you (should) know better, but decide to ignore the facts or advice. An example of this in schooling and training is atheoretical practice. This is perpetuating information and processes (the what and how) without knowing the reasons for them (the why).

Atheoretical practice is frighteningly common. I know of people who claim to be “learning designers” who have little to no theoretical foundation. They choose not to learn from edtech history or stay current with research.

Ignorance is difficult enough to overcome. But wilful ignorance is a beast ridden particularly by adults who think they know better. They do not.

I heard a few questions from new faculty at a recent pre-semester meeting. The questions revealed how much I take for granted and how much the new folk need to level up.

One person confused academic integrity with general integrity. Academic integrity is normally about how one writes essays and reports research. We want individuals who are models of overall integrity, of course. But when we focus on assignments and reports, we zoom in on specific aspects of academic integrity like citing, attributing, and not plagiarising.

Another person brought up how students might be confused as to why they had to cooperate in class activities (e.g., co-editing Google Docs) but could not do the same with most summative assignments. While such students bring up a valid argument, we should counter that with accountability. We focus on group accountability with shared documents, but we determine individual accountability with end-of-course essays.

I was glad to hear how a few faculty had started using mobile apps to quiz their students. However, I was dismayed that they focused on the bells and whistles instead of the praxis of feedback or assessment. Such application of educational theory could be the need to monitor learning and/or to provide formative feedback. It should not be about a timer counting down or background music adding tension.

All three examples bring up the importance of being an academic who is literate in pedagogical theory and research. Being a good instructor and facilitator is not just about knowing what works. It is also about knowing why it works.

Praxis is research-informed practice or research that is translated into practice.

Video source

According to this video, there is surprisingly little praxis in the area of classroom management.

Just how little? According to one research group’s analysis, only 0.13% of published research were replications. Replications are studies that test another researcher’s findings and claims. This means that it is easy to make an initial claim and not have it challenged by questions or critique.

That finding affects educators who regularly read academic journals. If they do not, their practice is transmitted and challenged socially by their peers and supervisors.

There is nothing wrong with teachers observing one another and exchanging professional practice. In fact, this needs to happen more often than it already does. But casual or unstructured observations and communications are not research. They do not have the reach or rigour of reputable research journals.

So the next time you attend a workshop or conference with a guru up front making claims that their technique works, ask them what replicated research it is based on. If you do not, I have some snake oil you might like to purchase.

This is my second updated image quote for the week.

Theory without practice is sterile. Practice without theory is blind.

My original image quotable quote was:
Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.

Some might say that the quote is about maintaining a balance between theory and practice. I would go one step further and point out that it is about praxis — the art of putting theory into practice and in doing so possibly generating more useful theory.

Steven Anderson described five reasons why educational research is not commonly used in schools. He then suggested four things teachers could consider about reading, applying, or conducting research.

I could not agree more. In fact, I am guiding and mentoring a group of teachers as they write research papers about their shared experiences. I enjoy the clinic-like sessions as we write, reflect, and revise our work.

But back to the importance of practice-based research. I sum it up with this image quote I made in 2015.

Practice without theory is blind. Theory without practice is sterile.

Who says that you cannot learn from tweets?

While some might seem to concentrate bile in 140 characters, the edu-Twitterverse distills wisdoms. Here are just two that I bookmarked recently.

Teaching is a social process, but that does not make it based on wishy-washy feel good ideas. Effective pedagogy is based on rigorous research and reflective practice.

Teaching Is about digging deep to figure out what is best for learners and how to improve learning. It is not about teaching the way you were taught and with your blinders on.

Thanks to my Twitter PLN, I chanced upon this tweet.

Both my immediate reaction and critical reflection was: Nope, this I don’t like.

I do not have anything against fidget spinners. I do not have anything against practice provided that it is designed based on sound principles, e.g., spaced repetition, interleaving. [1] [2] [3]

It is not enough for teachers to design with just good intent. Their decision-making and implementation must be informed by rigorous research and/or reflective practice.

One design issue discussed in Twitter was that the spinner was meant to be a timer. Spin it, then do as many sums as you can before it stops.

What if the variability of the spinning momentum (some more, some less) an issue?

Is the speed of completion the desired learning outcome?

How is the use of spinners justifiable?

What better alternatives in terms of strategies and tools are there?

I am all for starting with where the learner is at. But my caveat is that the starting point is not to pander. It is to build on prior knowledge or experience and to provide a meaningful challenge.

Teachers may feel the tug of their hearts because they love their students, but they must be led first by their heads. They must first be critically informed or they risk designing in a vacuum and establishing the wrong sort of expectations.

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