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Posts Tagged ‘problem

I teach teachers. I used to focus on pre- and in-service teachers when I was a professor at NIE. Now I work with school teachers, polytechnic instructors, and future university faculty.

Part of that work is reviewing lesson plans and essays of those who are new to teaching. (When I say new, I mean uninitiated to the work of teaching and/or new to the scholarship of teaching.)

A phrase that these groups like to use in lesson designs and justifications for the same is “real-world problem”. I have a real problem with it.

How can teachers claim to design real-world problems from the confines of the classroom? How do they ensure that such problems are from the outside and not artificially manufactured?

How do teachers embrace the complexity and subjectivity of such problems? How do they actually start with questions instead of providing answers? How comfortable are they with not having all the solutions and being wrong in front of students?

“Real-world problems” seems to be a convenient catch-all term that looks good in plans and rationalisations. But it is also uncritical and lazy if teachers do not ponder the questions above first.

After I watched the video embedded in this tweet, I came to a few conclusions.

A superficial one was that the solutions to problems seem insurmountable when you are stuck in the middle, but they are clear in hindsight.

Another was that an obvious solution is clear to some, but not all. The majority stick with conventional “wisdom” and remain stuck. The minority might come up with something novel and liberating. We need to be open to the latter.

Still another perspective is that the problem causer (or the one with the biggest stake in the issue) should also be the problem solver. Invested bystanders cannot fully relate after all.

But my biggest takeaway was this: Remain as you are or pull backwards, and you remain stuck in the problem. The solution lies in moving forwards.

Earlier this week, I read about Nokia’s second swing of the bat with re-re-released 3310.

No, I did not have a spasm. Earlier this year, Nokia released a version of the 3310 based on the meme-worthy but defunct 3310.

This re-released version was updated for the early 21st century with colourful bodies and colour screens. However, it only supported 2.5G, which countries like Singapore phased out.

So Nokia will be releasing a 3310 3G model in October. They do this at a time when 4G is the norm and the rest of the world is looking forward to 5G.

The feature phone will be cheaper than current phones. It will have excellent battery life and it might be as indestructible as the original 3310.

Nostalgia is like grammar. It makes the past perfect and the present tense.

But Nokia is banking on the nostalgic, the collectors, and cheapskates (by choice or circumstance) to buy these phones. If it keeps trying to play catch up with a rapidly moving vehicle, it is going to be left behind again.

Yes, again. It did not take the smartphone movement seriously and plummeted off the market share chart. The world of commerce is cruel that way. The effects of a bad habit or a stubborn decision are felt quickly.

This is not the case in schooling and education where consequences of policies are felt decades or generations later. Right now we still have teachers with 3310 mindsets trying to operate in a 4G world. They do so by reshaping the new world to the old one that they are more comfortable with.

The problem with nostalgia is not just trying to live in the “good old days”. It is forcing the present to conform to the past. This results in complaints of the disconnected classroom and rhetorical calls to make schooling more authentic or “real world”.

The tension that teachers, students, and other stakeholders of schooling feel is a real one. The disconnect is exemplified by how most students are not allowed to use their phones in lessons and tests. In the “real world” we rely on our phones for both.

Such a tension has its roots in nostalgia and stubbornness. Such mindsets will not change with training or professional development that focuses on knowledge or skills. A mindset problem requires mindset solutions. All these solutions need to be built on this foundation.

Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.

It makes sense to pause for a cause. An educator might require learners to take pit-stops to reflect on what they are learning, if any at all.
Standing still is like moving backwards if you do nothing as the world rushes by.
However, pausing is not the same as stopping dead. Both pausing and stopping drop momentum and create inertia. Pausing is followed by efforts to overcome that inertia. Stopping dead is wallowing in the status quo.

The biggest problem with stopping and not realising that you might actually be going backwards. This is relative to everyone else moving forwards.

Initiative can easily devolve to inertia. This happens if you sit on your accomplishments instead of seeking the next challenge.

Something happens practically every time I return home from an overseas trip: My iPhone does not work exactly the same way it did before the trip.
The problems are varied, as are the solutions.

A few years ago, I recall that some WhatsApps contacts could message me while others could not. At that time I foolishly updated the WhatsApp app with my foreign SIM number while overseas. When I returned, I put my original number back, but some contacts in remained in limbo.

Now I try to make sure that I use my phone only to activate a foreign prepaid SIM and pop the SIM into a travel router as soon as I can. Foreign telcos often send profile updates to the phone to make sure it works with their system, but this can have unintended consequences.

iOS Messages toggle setting.
After my most recent trip last week, I found that my phone did not forward Messages (Apple’s text messages and normal SMS) to my laptop, desktop, and iPad like before.

I found out that I had to toggle Messages to each device off in my phone settings and then reactivate them one by one. This meant getting activation codes from my other devices all over again.
Handoff from other device.
I also discovered that Handoff did not work between my phone and laptop or desktop. This was unusual because my iPad, which travelled with me, did not suffer the same travel bug.

After a bit of investigating, I discovered that my Bluetooth connection did not automatically reactivate after Flight Mode on my phone while it did on my iPad.

People like to say that you learn a lot when you travel. This used to be true mainly because of the new experience, culture, food, language, etc. that travel brings. We should add to that lot lessons from troubleshooting.

Yes, screenshorts. Not just screenshots.

Screenshorts are images of text, images, or whatever happens to be on your device’s screen. The Buzzfeed article embedded above describes screenshorts as a way to overcome Twitter’s 140-character limit.

This is a sociotechnical phenomenon. There is a technical barrier (the character limit in Twitter) and a workaround (you can embed a picture of practically anything in Twitter). A few people started embedded pictures of longer form text and more people adopted the practice because it worked.

I use this strategy to provide a hook, summary, or concept bite of a larger resource I share. It might help to think of this as serving up a movie trailer and a direct link to the movie.

My favourite tool for creating screenshorts is OneShot because it allows cropping, highlighting, and auto-finding the URL of the article. The last feature is not always accurate and you have the option of using the URL copied to the clipboard.

However, the problem with screenshorts is that images in Twitter do not help the visually-impaired. While we have optical character recognition (OCR) technology, it does not seem to have extended yet as a web or mobile standard.

So a solution that helps many seems to have become a problem for some. But that problem is an opportunity.

The maker of OneShot suggested that screen readers for the visually-impaired be further developed to include OCR of screenshorts. That could be a parallel effort alongside a longer term solution of web and mobile standards to decode and tag screenshorts.

In the meantime, there is already a commonly employed workaround. Instead of just taking screenshots, sharers also include a link to the original source. This is not a solution in that the original source is larger than the shared selection. But it is a workaround in that a screenreader is likely able to process the original source.

As with most things, technology outpaces human readiness. It is important to realize that we invent the technology and we create the problems that arise. But these problems might be opportunities for even better work. We need only treat them as such instead of complaining.

If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

There are very few dichotomies in life. Even something as seemingly clear cut as gender is influenced by one’s biochemistry, belief system, environment, bank account, etc.

Manhattanhenge, Jul 2012 - 03 by Ed Yourdon, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Ed Yourdon 

But the problem-solution divide in education is more black and white. Even the huge range of grey suits in the middle or those who seem to be sitting on the fence are part of the problem.

Why? If you are not doing something about the problem, you are part of the problem. If you are merely complaining or explaining or talking instead of taking action to actually rectify the problem, you are part of a problem.

If you are an armchair critic and not a soldier in the battlefield of change, you are part of the problem.

Video source

The problem presented in the video was people who would not wait for the light to turn green before they crossed the road. The red man made some of them see red.

A normal reaction would have been to monitor the crossings, enforce rules, and fine offenders. That is the Singapore way.

But instead of dealing with the problem in a conventional way, a group decided to make waiting for the traffic light fun. The problem presented an opportunity for change.

There are lessons from this for educators, school leaders, and administrators.

For example, many teachers still view student mobile devices as problems. They are actually an opportunity. But the solutions that stare them in the face might be obvious, conventional, and not likely to work.

Why not take the opportunity to try something outside the box? Make the change fun, different, and above all, human.

About a month ago, I read a political blog entry that wanted to make the point that schooling needs to change by focusing more on the child. But it did so by being alarmist. I am choosing not to link to the blog for ethical reasons.

alarm by loop_oh, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  loop_oh 

It cited the rise of suicide rates among children. If you are not familiar with the Singapore context, that blog entry might lead you to think that children were flinging themselves off of tall buildings if they could not deal with the pressures of homework or exams here.

That is not to say that kids do not face heavy stress or that there is no trend of suicide. It is simply illogical to solely blame the pressures of schooling on the trend. Like any other complex phenomena, there are other contributing and mitigating factors.

Our kids are growing up faster than we are. Ask any reflective parent and they might remark that their kids know more (and are worried about more things) than we were at their age.

Some adults here like to reminisce how they used to “catch spiders” in their kampongs whether or not they actually caught any arachnids or lived in villages. What they mean is that there was a simpler time with simpler pleasures and simpler problems.

Kids today seem to face problems that only adults should have to deal with. But our kids are resilient. They deal with the problems with solutions they come up with and whether we sanction them or not.

And there are green shoots emerging from our rotten kiasu and test-driven culture.

Our MOE is currently helmed by a ship captain who champions values-based education and has effectively declared that academics are not the be all and end all. But we need not rely on the powers-that-be alone.

Educated and informed parents are also helping solve problems via ground up efforts. I know no less than four groups of passionate individuals that meet to suss out problems with schooling. We will help our kids ourselves.

When an alarm goes off, you can panic if you are not prepared and you can blame someone else for letting you snooze. That is how alarmists react.

Alternatively, you can wake up to the problem and choose to deal with it by taking ownership, thinking rationally, and acting compassionately.

Over about a decade of being a teacher educator, there is a question or challenge I most frequently face on the topic of ICT integration or ICT-enabled change.

I hear it from preservice teachers, inservice teachers, clients that consult me, and visitors local and overseas. It goes something like: I understand the rationale for (ICT/change/flipping/game-based learning/insert new idea here), but at the end of the day, our students must take pen-and-paper exams.

Sometimes they will add: How do I resolve this dilemma? or How do we remain accountable to parents (or some other stakeholders)?

I would often give a nice answer. Learning with, from, and as a result of technology can be meaningful and powerful to the learner. If handled well, students learn not just content but also thinking skills, values, and attitudes. How does this not help them with their exams? How does this not appeal to the good sense of your stakeholders?

Cue the proverbial crickets or the laugh track.

I am done with this nice answer. Now I tell them that by thinking and acting that way they are perpetuating the problem.

I have stopped trying to sympathize by saying I know that kids are not allowed to Google or collaborate or even type their answers during their tests or exams.

If teachers believe that one of the main purposes of school is to prepare students for life or work, why do we perpetuate a system that prevents Googling, collaborating, and expressing yourself with more than just text?

If teachers can see that teaching to the test and exams are not helping students in the long run, then they should do something positive about it.

The solution is not finding better or formulaic ways to deal with exams. Let tuition or test mills do that.

Teachers need to think about the longer term effect that they have on kids. They should stop being part of the problem by feeding the exam monster.

Instead, they could be part of the solution by critically examining their own practice and answering questions like:

  • How am I promoting creative and critical thought?
  • What do I do to nurture independent and self-directed problem solvers?
  • How am I modelling solid and progressive values so that my learners catch them?
  • What can I do to inspire confidence in my learners?
  • How do I reach my learners by making my lessons more real, relevant, and meaningful?

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