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Posts Tagged ‘practices

When I venture out of my home for groceries during lock down, I wonder at the inconsistent entry practices at different malls.

I avoid going to the mall nearest to home because the grocery store there still draws crowds. But the entry to that mall and the grocery store is quick because the contact tracing is done by scanning the bar code on my NRIC.

I prefer a mall further away because it attracts fewer people. I can also use an app to check out my groceries, so I do not have to wait in queue. But that mall implemented two different QR-based check-in systems over two weeks.

One week the QR code prompted me to use SingPass to share basic contact information. Unfortunately, the app failed to register my details with the entry system.

The alternative was to fill in an online form manually. But since SingPass hijacked the form filling, I could not access the online form manually. So I had to use pen and paper. How quaint. And germy.

Earlier this week, there was a new system that abandoned SingPass. I could access an online form, but had to fill it in twice — once at a mall entrance and again at the grocery store entrance — even though it was exactly the same form. I do not know why it did not save the information.

When the form went through, I got a confirmation screen with the prompt to save it. Unfortunately, the default choice was to Instagram. What? Why? I ignored the prompt and walked down the line.

I should have relied on my usual practice of taking a quick screenshot because I was stopped by a person asking to see the confirmation. It was gone by then because the browser that popped up from the phone camera was not permanent. Thankfully that person did not make a fuss.

Yes, I have just described first-world problems. No, they are not just minor inconveniences. The different practices mean that there is a lack of communication and coordination of data collection. Perhaps there is a huge social experiment to test us during testing times.

As an edtech professional, I am all for the use and integration of different tools to suit different learners, purposes, and contexts. But the building entry system has a singular purpose of contact tracing. It has to be efficient because you do not want people to cluster at the entrance. It also has to be accurate because the information is tied to identification and communication.

My experiences with mall entry contact tracing and what I observe of our version of emergency remote teaching share a consistent pattern. People try different tools and strategies under pressure and they learn to quickly adapt and improve. But the same people also tend not to share their attempts, failures, and lessons learnt.

This is why we forget. This is why we let history repeat itself.

History repeats itself. It has to, because no one ever listens. -- Steve Turner.

A few weeks into 2020 is still too early to hear someone utter “best practices”. Worse still, the phrase preceded “in teaching”.

There can be good practices and they are all contextual. What works in one classroom can flop in another — there are no “best” methods or ideas that work in all circumstances.

Consider how background music seems to be the norm in restaurants now. I recently had a family dinner in one that sounded like a noisy food court because patrons had to shout to be heard.

Someone thought that music was a good idea and might have looked into the how music could affect mood. One place did it and then everyone else followed suit whether or not they understood why.

When adopted by many, the strategy might be labelled a “best practice”. However, this ignores the fact that it may not be at all good.

In the context of the restaurant I was in, the music was loud enough that people had to talk above it. As more patrons came in, the din built up.

In the context of classrooms, one teacher’s personality, experience, or competence is not the same as another. You cannot blindly apply a “best” method or tool without first considering what is good for that teacher, the students, and the learning environments.

To cite “best practices” is to be lazy and uncritical. It is not a good way to start 2020. I do not just hope that users of such phrases learn to see more clearly. I will help point these things out.

I tweet-shared this opinion piece yesterday because I thought it was timely and well-written for lay folk.

I agree with almost all of it. Almost.

The authors’ example of 21st century edtech pseudoscience was DVDs on the Mozart Effect and Baby Einstein. I get the valid arguments against the DVDs — their benefits were for older learners, temporary, or scientifically proven to be ineffective. But how are DVDs “21st century”? What person in current “early childhood” knows what a DVD is?

They also make this statement:

Raising a successful child in today’s world does not require special technology, toys or other products because we know that the brain is a social organ thriving on basic human communication and daily social experiences – conversations, stories, gestures, demonstrations, walks, hide-and-seek, doing things together, holding the lift door for a neighbour, helping granny with her grocery bag, exchanging words of encouragement.

I agree that there is no need for special technology. But this does not mean NO technology. The everyday and mundane technology include their parents’ phones and eventually their own. Kids need to be taught how and when use them meaningfully, powerfully, and responsibly. We must embrace such tools rather than reject them under a blanket statement.

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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