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Posts Tagged ‘professional

This tweet is not just a funny play on “remotely”, it also reveals a fundamental difference between teaching in-person and online. You cannot simply transfer teaching skills and habits from a physical classroom to an online space and expect them to work. 

One reason why classroom humour does not work even in a setup like Zoom is that social presence is not just about immediacy. It is also about the fact that the participants microphones are often muted.

Furthermore, Zoom and other video conferencing software are often set up as turn-taking platforms, not mass audience venues. Even when there are Zoom-based seminars, the speakers often cannot see or hear from their audiences. 

So it is unreasonable to expect the same social effect or to complain about feeling disconnected. The tool simply does not work that way.

An educator who has to teach online needs to choose another tool, change expectations, and/or learn new skills. If getting immediate feedback is critical, then a platform like Twitch is an option. However, the feedback is largely text and emoji-based, and it can flow fast and furious. It takes much practice to quickly split attention between giving and getting.

This is just one of many professional development skills needed by educators who are serious about being online learning facilitators. Perhaps this is why schools and even entire ministries like our own MOE would rather avoid e-learning than embrace it.

They do this even though teachers would learn to teach better thanks to the constraints and opportunities of being online. This move is seriously no laughing matter.

Alas, the #edsg community on Twitter is long gone [archive]. But that does not mean that Twitter is no longer a source of informal professional development (PD) for me.

Here is a sample of tweets that I have bookmarked in the last month or two.

The content of this PD is unplanned and it arrives unpredictably. But it is timely because it is often the latest news about my professional interests. Sometimes it is serendipitous — it is relevant to something I am teaching that semester.

So if there is anyone pooh-poohing Twitter for PD, I say this: Don’t knock it until you have tried it. I joined Twitter in January 2007 and it has not failed me since.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition Part 2

When I shared this idea at a conference in 2013, it was a call to be avoid being totally or blindly reliant on vendor-provided learning management systems (LMS). Right now the principle applies to emergency remote teaching: Do not be reliant on just one platform for video conferencing, e.g., Zoom. Why not? This is my Diigo archive for Zoom-related woes and alternatives.

Today, I would position this thought a bit differently. The closed system would not just be the LMS (which learners lose access to sooner than later), it would be about the closed professional development system.

Progressive schools see the value of mentoring new teachers and continuously developing the professional capacity of all teachers. They do so with events like internal sharing sessions and vendor-conducted workshops. If timely and relevant, these benefit the teachers in that school’s ecosystem.

However, some schools operate as closed systems, i.e., they do not share what they learn openly and regularly so that others outside their school may also learn. If other schools behave the same way, that school does not benefit from the mistakes, lessons, and ideas of the other schools.

It can be difficult to open up tightly closed systems. It might not be worth the trouble to do so given the many other things that teachers already need to do. Fortunately, there is an approximately decade-old solution — social media.

Teachers all over the world have shared their dos and their don’ts in blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. They do this even though school conditions and contexts differ. Why? Teachers and teaching remain constant at their core — how to improve teaching so that students learn better.

If you need evidence, you need only trawl the last month’s edu-Twitter streams. Teachers all over the world freely and openly have shared their ideas on how to design and conduct emergency remote teaching, offered tips on synchronous and asynchronous lessons, outlined stay-at-home plans, and more.

There is still a fear that being so open is risky. But sharing your ideas with other teachers is not a zero-sum game. Giving ten ideas does not mean you lose those ten. In all likelihood you will receive the gratitude of other teachers, suggestions on how to improve your own ideas, and raise your reputational capital.

I say this to administrators, policymakers, or teachers who have Fear 2: You risk nurturing teachers who are risk-averse if you do not encourage them to share openly and responsibly. These teachers then cannot model similar behaviours for their students.

I was looking for an image in my Google Photo archive when I spotted an unrelated one (screenshot below). I revisited the resource of that screenshot and discovered that it was still relevant today.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition

In 2013, I was invited to give a talk about e-learning. The host had one main request: Focus on MOOCs (because they were still the flavour of the moment). MOOCs are passé now, but some overarching reminders about e-learning are pertinent as we head into an intense period home-based learning (HBL).

Our HBL is still largely emergency remote teaching and not quite the quality that e-learning can be. So I reorient the four ideas I shared in 2013 to the circumstances of 2020. In particular, I focus on how we might shape our thoughts before we emerge on the other side of COVID-19 isolations.

Fear Factor: e-Learning Edition 1

The first fear of e-learning is FOMO. This could include the fear on not having access to tools like Zoom or content repositories. (Side note: Zoom is not a good tool and there are several alternatives).

If actions belie thoughts, then the fear among planners and policymakers seems to be the availability on ready-made tools and resources. While we cannot ignore those, it relegates a more important factor. If there is a better fear, it should be: What if my teachers are not prepared to teach remotely?

Providing all the best tools and resource but not providing timely and relevant professional development is like giving ordinary drivers the best Formula 1 cars and tracks but not teaching them how to drive under those circumstances.

What superficially looks like “just driving” in every-day and Formula 1 surfaces could not be more wrong. The latter person is a high performance athlete with top conditioning, support, and pressure. Likewise, good e-learning is facilitated well only by a relative few who have studied and honed their craft.

We would not expect an ordinary driver to be comfortable with Formula 1 racing. Likewise, we should not expect classroom-bred teachers to take to online facilitation even in an emergency. If we recognise this gap in performance, then we are missing out on preparation on how to design and facilitate online sessions. Worry about that, too!

I continue with fear factor #2 tomorrow.

This was a tweet that was both funny and sad.

Many people in the so-called first world carry phones in their pockets or bags that are portals to the world’s information. They seem to be underutilised when their typical use is “to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers”.

Not just these uses, of course, but more of the same. As a result, these are very much less than what phones could be used for.

I say that phones are misused, particularly in schools, if their full power is not harnessed. Today’s mobile phones are not just handy Google portals. They are also:

  • Connectors to more knowledgeable others
  • Collators of news and information
  • Providers of sounding boards
  • Oases of ideas
  • Amplifiers of messages
  • Translators of many languages
  • Tools for making e-portfolio artefacts
  • Navigators to resources and treasures
  • Monitors and managers of our time and energy

And so much more.

But so little of this potential is used for learning in schools because dominant pedagogy is shaped by the past and driven by fear. Consider how the list of possibilities quickly becomes one of worries about:

  • Cheating
  • Misinformation
  • Spreading propaganda
  • Radical indoctrination
  • Creating confusion
  • Wasting of time and energy


The same tool or instrument in different hands does different things.

A hammer in the hands of a vandal destroys public property. A hammer in the hands of a skilled worker repairs that damage.

A violin in the hands of an amateur might sound like a cat being disembowelled. A violin in the hands of an artist soothes the savage beast.

The difference in mindset and practice is down to the type of teachers and how we prepare them. The type of teachers is a function of recruitment. Preparation is a function of professional development. Recruitment does not offer a perfect filter; professional development is an attempt to manage the people you have.

If teachers are underutilising mobile technology or misusing it, what are we doing to right this wrong?

Something kept appearing in my feeds earlier this week. It was the news [1] [2] [3] that a few teachers got fired after they complained about and insulted students while using Slack, a private messaging platform.

Private became public when 18 pages of exchanges were leaked to students and teachers of that school.

You can imagine the damage control measures that both the service company and school might have taken. Like most news cycles involving “educational” technology faux pas, this pattern ensues: Exposé, investigation, judgement, commentary and witch hunt, communiqués, lull. Repeat.

No one would condone the behaviour of the teachers. No one other than criminal lawyers perhaps.

However, the teachers were communicating amongst themselves in private (or at least as private as Slack claims to be). Someone or some party managed to get transcripts of their chat and then leaked them. Is this not an invasion of privacy?

This was not a case of “see something, say something” or something worthy of surveillance. If it was, then teacher chat in WhatsApp, email, or over coffee should be monitored.

In absolute terms, there is nothing truly private if it is expressed in some form. The larger issue is about being savvy. Not being technologically savvy, mind you, because that is not going to stop a persistent and savvier snooper.

No, the issue is whether teachers are socially and ethically savvy as they embrace technology. Using an online tool does not make you invisible or invincible. It does not make you totally anonymous or grant you greater rights.

Being online amplifies who you are, what you say, and what you are perceived to be. This is how professional development (PD) that focuses only on technical savvy and not social savvy misses the point. The teachers who lost their jobs are a perfect case to deconstruct, reconstruct, and reflect on. If we fail to do this sort of PD, we fail our teachers.

When I read an article that claimed even Apple is acknowledging that the “iPads in education” fad is coming to an end, I came to one conclusion: The article was guilty of misdirection.

The article pointed in every direction except the important one, i.e., how schools might buy technology and head in the wrong direction.

The title of the article was clickbait. It lured with the possibility of reading about how Apple admitted wrong even though there is no mention of it.

There was mention of Apple being “disappointed” by a survey’s results and the company allowing a district to switch iPads for MacBook Airs. However, the report did not state that Apple actually acknowledged that iPads in education was a fad and that it was coming to an end.

The article is guilty of misdirection, just like the school district, its leaders, and its teachers might have been. How do I know?

Consider teacher comments and statements like these:

  • “Largely gaming devices.”
  • “Students use them as toys. Word processing is near to impossible.”
  • One teacher in Virginia thought giving her third graders an iPad would enhance their learning.
  • According to one of the teachers surveyed, tablets provided “no educational function in the classroom.”

The kids are likely to expect to use iPads in school the same way they use them outside school, e.g., to play games, to watch YouTube videos, to chat with friends. If adults are honest, that is how they use devices like iPads too.

Yet the expectations of adults or teachers is not that of kids. They are unrealistic and even ridiculous.

If they would not consider typing on an iPad screen, why should they expect their students to do so? That said, kids who get used to typing on a screen might surprise adults who think that this is an inferior process.

The language of teachers reveals evidence of fixed mindsets. For example, teachers expect the iPad to enhance learning. Why merely enhance and not actually enable learning? (The former makes the technology optional while the latter makes it essential.)

If a teacher complains that the devices have “no educational function”, what functions do they mean? Are they thinking about more efficient delivery of content, ready-made tests that are quickly and easily scored, and babysitting devices?

Are teachers expecting iPads to do what can already be done? Or are they willing to change and try something new, different, and better?

Incidents like the ones reported in the article seem to keep playing on a loop everywhere. They are reminders to leaders and teachers not to get devices without rigorous professional development that changes the mindsets and expectations of teachers. Only then might behaviours change.

This blog entry by David Geurin reminded me why I shudder when I hear these two words put together: Teacher and training.

My stance has not changed, when I was a professor and teacher educator then, and as a provider of professional development now for teachers, lecturers, instructors, and yes, trainers.

You can potty-train a child. You can train a dog to do tricks. You can train people in first aid, handling weapons, evacuation procedures, and other standard operating procedures. You do this to create what some like to call muscle memory. This is suitable for situations where compliance applies.

This is the opposite of what is required of the teacher today. Gone are the days of simply opening a textbook and reading from it. A robot can do that, which is why this projection predicts that teachers are less unlikely to be replaced by them.

That is, teachers who do not behave like robots and are not trained like them.

The problem with the word “training” is the need to standardise, and in the process, favour efficiency over effectiveness. Who knows what works best from one classroom to the next? If we want teachers to move away from the one-size-fits-all way of thinking, we should not be training them.

I prefer to use “professional development” and not as a mere substitute for “training”. I think of my workshop participants as professionals the same way different types of doctors and lawyers are professionals. Just like in those fields, the contexts, methods, and content areas are in a state of flux. This requires a constant state of development on how teachers need to think for themselves.

By comparison, training is relatively simple. Professional development is more complex because it is about shaping mindsets before attempting to change behaviours. If training can be thought of as “don’t think, just do”, professional development is more like “don’t just do, think”.

People who do not think that Twitter can provide opportunities for teacher professional development (PD) have not stayed long enough, are not following the right people, or are not monitoring the right #hashtags.

A tweet like this one provokes thought.

The standard worksheet approach is what teachers have been weaned on and are comfortable with. Breaking out of that mould is difficult and seems counterintuitive. This is often why technology is used poorly and irresponsibly; it is used as a substitute for what can already be done without it.

Ask teachers what educational theories support the use of worksheets and they will likely struggle to answer with conviction. Ask them to explain “spaced practice” and suggest a logical way to implement it and quite a few will not be able to do so.

Likewise ask teachers, administrators, or leaders to think outside the normal PD box and you will hear the same excuses for doing what was done before. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Being face-to-face provides immediacy.

The problem with those excuses is that delivery-based teaching in one place and at one pace is no longer good enough. It is losing relevance in the workplace and the worker of today already cannot sit, much less stand, for it.

People often confuse immediacy with social context. When face-to-face, you can get a more immediate reply (whether such a reply is reflective or thorough is another matter). But being there in person does not make it a social experience, especially if the PD is designed so that one struggles alone.

On the other hand, #hashtagged chats can come alive with ideas and discussion. They might seem chaotic to the uninitiated, but spend enough time there and use tools like TweetDeck to silo topics and conversations, or Storify to clarify messages, and you start to see what modern teacher PD should look like.

If you do not believe me, see what a collection of teachers discussed on Twitter about this very topic a few days ago. I have compiled their tweets in Storify. This is the PDF version of the discussion.

Twitter is a viable method for teacher PD. It might start with a tweet that questions belief systems which then seeds conversations and prompts reflection. Such PD is self-organizing and allows teachers to find the PD that suits them based on time, place, and readiness.

When selecting conferences to attend, I prefer to visit a city and/or country I have not been to before. If I can, I bracket the session I am involved in with a bit of time on each side to explore the city.

I prefer to be my own tour guide when I travel. I book my own flights, arrange my own transport, and customize my own itinerary.

Map and Compass by Inky Bob, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Inky Bob 

When I help schools with educational technology or managing ICT-mediated change, I try to do the same as a tour guide or shepherd.

The courses, workshops, or experiences I provide are like custom tours. I ask school leaders and teachers where they want to go and what they want to see. I suggest an itinerary and we negotiate.

Alternatively, I operate as a shepherd who is called in to monitor progress at strategic intervals. I help to plan, observe, critique, or evaluate. Then I nudge my flock to places they need to go.


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