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Posts Tagged ‘practices

This tweet reminded me of one of the worst phrases that we have imported into schooling and education — “best practices”.

I have previously explained why we should not use this meaningless and misleading phrase, particularly in education. Now I add more fuel to the fire.

Consider the example of creating secure passwords. Most working adults are part of organisations whose IT departments might require them to change passwords regularly. They typically follow the rule of alpha-numeric passwords with mixed sequence and case.

The person who invented this “best practice” 15 years ago now admits this standard is useless.

xkcd comic about password strength.

Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License

The creator of the online comic, xkcd, made this to illustrate exactly why.

We have many “best practices”, but we often do not know why they exist, not deeply or meaningfully anyway. Someone else made them known and required. Often we do not have the time or the expertise to research and question these so-called “best practices”.

However, this does not mean that we should leave the decision-making to others. We need to learn to spot standards that are not necessarily best for teaching and learning, but are administratively convenient or arbitrary instead.

How does one spot these shifty standards? I suggest looking for standards that emphasise numbers over reason. This could be about the fabled screen time, the supposedly optimal amount of homework, the amount of resource preparation time over implementation time for online courses, etc.

The agencies behind such standards might cite or conduct research to back up their numbers. It does not take very much effort to detect the link between those agencies and the research bodies, or the selective bias in citing research that favours the agenda.

The worst practice is buying into best practices without question. We owe it to ourselves and to our learners to shape better practices than “best practices”.

Here is a tweeted headline that could have been relevant ten years ago.

The Yellow Pages were irrelevant even then. It seems to have taken a newspaper a decade to realise or admit it.

It sometimes takes teachers in schools just as long, if not longer, to realise and admit that some of their practices are losing relevance.

The aptly named Yellow Pages can also mean that the medium is showing their age. The problem with irrelevant practices is that the signs are not as obvious. It takes critical reflection to spot the yellowing edges of bad habits and pages of unquestioned tradition.

I could stop blogging and some of my reflections will keep getting daily views.

One of them is my thoughts on “best practices” as a result for searches on “another way to say best practices”. Depend on where and how you search, it might be the second on the list of results.

If you are looking to do something differently or better, why are you looking for another way to say or do the same thing?

A quote attributed — some say wrongly — to Einstein is this: Insanity is doing the same thing differently over and over again and expecting different results. [Google image search]

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. -- Einstein

Another quote from Einstein might hammer the point home: We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

Whether Einstein actually said these words is immaterial. We should not need a famous person to tell us what we know and experience every day at work and school.

If ignorance of the issue is not the barrier to change, then inertia is. Battle entrenched culture, stubborn leadership, reluctant individuals. But do not find a different way to do the same thing. This adds to the problem instead of solving it.

On the surface, this STonline article lets readers know that some tutors are taking their roles more seriously. They are seeking professional development to stay current.

Read the report more critically and “best practices” could raise an alarm. While there might be such practices in industry and business, we should be concerned if they belong in the areas of schooling and education.

I have reflected on why “best practices” is a misnomer, is a bad set of practices, and should not be co-opted in education.

In the context of tuition, can there really be “best” practices when there are different kinds of tuition? Is the group spearheading this move going to address all the different needs and contexts?

The tuition industry in all its forms has its critics and cynics. While it should be associated with help for all who need it, segments are also associated with highly selective agencies and entry tests. While it could focus on remediation or personalisation, it is also known for shortcuts and formularisation.

I am not advocating a lack of standards or guidelines. I am worried about the answer to this question: What if the “best practices” includes what is undesirable in tuition as practiced here in Singapore?

Every day for the last four years, my reflection on “best” practices gets some views. My thoughts were incomplete so I wrote a follow-up in 2015 with links to others who had written about why “best” practices might be one of the worst ideas.

Unfortunately, that term persists.

This tweet is probably one of the best arguments against the term” “Best practices lose their effectiveness when we use them as an excuse to keep doing what we’ve been doing”.

In other words, what we might think as the best practices might create complacency and stop us from thinking about next practices. What is even better? What is truly creative and innovative? What is more efficient and effective?

There are a few of my blog entries that seem to get hits every day even though they are a few years old. One of them is “Alternative to ‘best’ practices?“.

That particular reflection was a series of a few. To provide some context, I am listing my thoughts on this contentious issue in today’s entry.

  1. 15 Sep 2012: There is no BEST practice (Contexts may not transfer)
  2. 17 Sep 2012: Alternative to “best” practices? (Contexts are different; best implies there is no need to get even better)
  3. 22 Jul 2014: Can practices be transmitted? (There is signal loss; not all signals are relevant or timely)
  4. 24 Sep 2014: Be wary of “best practices”: Slides 5-9 (Best for whom? Have you considered all contexts?)


Just Beware by MTSOfan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  MTSOfan 

I was not the first to write against “best practices” and I will not be the last. Here are a few other bloggers or authors who have been more articulate than me with their thoughts about this issue.

  1. The Sham of Best Practices by Larry Cuban
  2. Why Best Practices Don’t Work for Knowledge Work by Luis Suarez
  3. On Best Practices by Shelley Blake-Plock
  4. “Best Practice”—The Enemy of Better Teaching by Bradley Ermeling, James Hiebert, and Ronald Gallimore

Yesterday I asked if practices could be transmitted. Shortly after I read the forum letter that prompted that question, I experienced something at a fast food restaurant that made me question if practices can (or even should) be transplanted.

If you enter a Japanese eatery, you might be greeted with a welcome. I am quite sure that it works where it originated, but it was startling and strange to hear it at a burger joint. My guess was that the manager used to work at a Japanese eatery.

Often the people who shout the welcome parrot the greeting and they direct it no one in particular. There is no real welcome in their eyes or faces because they are just going through the motions. It does not seem to be in our DNA or culture.

We cannot simply transplant a practice that works well elsewhere without considering the context for its use.

So by all means attend sharing sessions or invest in study trips. But do not expect transplanted practices to work. It seems like common sense. The same common sense that has become a rare commodity among leaders, administrators, and policymakers.

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