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“This just in. A school teaches 9 to 12-year-olds how to use YouTube!”

That is what my son declared today to me after remembering what he experienced in school last week. He went on to complete his faux news report and ended with “Now over to Jim for sports!”

Based on my son’s account, let me tell you what the school did, why I think they did it, and what this has to do with changing the way teachers teach.

The school gathered the Primary 3 to 6 classes and provided a briefing on how to use YouTube. The kids were told to enter “www” into a Web browser.

What is wrong with that? Nothing, if you were teaching a retiree or a grandparent with a desktop computer in 1995.

There is no need to type “www” most of the time now. It is quite redundant. (My son asked me what “www” was and I had to explain.)

In fact, there is no need to type. Most kids and even adults are used to tapping on the YouTube app on a mobile device.

The assumption was that kids use a Web browser to watch YouTube. Some might and people in general still do. But even more use mobile apps because they are easier, friendlier, and literally within reach.

The Web is mobile. If you have been hiding under an Internet rock, taste this sample:

There are more examples of how the Web is mobile if you bother to search.

The Web is mobile and this requires teachers to rethink the instructions they provide. They must also relearn the way to teach.

The biggest assumption teachers make is that kids need to be taught the way teachers learnt (in this case, how to use YouTube). This is turn is due to the tendency for teachers to teach the way they are taught. This puts the teachers’ needs and past experiences before the students’ needs and experiences today.

That is my first sermon. The second is on why and how the kids were suddenly briefed on using YouTube.

Was this a “cyberwellness” mass briefing? You could certainly check that off on someone’s list. But I doubt that because such lessons are largely relegated to e-teaching by Garfield (that fat cartoon cat) on the schools LMS.

Was there coincidentally a video that the school produced, uploaded to YouTube, and needed view counts to rocket? About as much a coincidence as some parents receiving messages with the video URL and the mass briefing including instructions on how use exact search terms to find the video.

I am speculating, of course.

It could just have been an old-fashioned and unnecessary briefing for kids who already know how to use YouTube.

There could have been a few kids who really did not have access to computers or mobile devices, and to treat everyone the same, it was only fair to get everyone to attend the briefing to rehash what most already knew.

Including the kids who had no way of watching the video was logical too. Because, you know, just in case they needed to do this in future. After all, telling everyone what to do means they learn it and ensures they do it, right?

Sermon number 2: Not only was a mass, one-size-fits-all briefing unhelpful for a skill, its agenda was clear even to the kids. Teachers can pretend to operate inside such bubbles. The problem is that such bubbles are transparent and they pop.

safari by cuatrok77, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  cuatrok77 

Sometimes you hear folks say that they need a break from their break. They might be referring to how their vacation was more hectic than work. Or how more stressful it was. Or how tiring it was.

Mine was relaxing but I still need a holiday from my holiday because of the people I met while I was away. Somehow you can travel to almost any part of the world and you will bump into socially ugly Singaporeans.

Everyone will claim to know someone uncouth or from a backcountry. We have no countryside, so what is our excuse?

We are well-to-do and generally well-behaved. But when we travel, the body wanders but the mind does not. This manifests itself in ugly behaviours.

Like piling plates high at buffets, talking loudly, and complaining unreasonably. I was unfortunate to see all three at once thanks to a large family group at a restaurant.

The last thing we need is to export the way we talk. With language comes a culture. The video below is meant to be funny and is quite funny. But I would classify this as horror-comedy.

Video source

Then there are those who behave like idiots because the rules seem different elsewhere. Like creating a ruckus till 2am and throwing fruit and chairs into your swimming pool.

Thankfully my holiday was largely a restful and peaceful one. But I was treated to the occasional safari where I saw that the Ugly Singaporean animal was not just alive and well but also breeding.

Oh, to have a hunting licence.

AAAARRRGGGHHH by Evil Erin, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Evil Erin 

Warning: Rant ahead.

The dust around River Valley High School’s adoption of the iPad might have settled among the layfolk. But the dust is still swirling in the school.

Parents questioned the necessity of the iPad citing reasons like high cost, questionable value add, potential distraction and security risks.

My first reaction was, “Yawn!” This sort of reaction has played out in other school systems in other parts of the world. The objections are the same. The reasons for the unhappiness are similar: Unclear or mishandled communication from schools and an overly conservative view of parents.

The other reason for my yawn was the fact that the original article was written for a tabloid. Sensationalism was the news. The facts were secondary.

My second reaction was, “Have we asked the learners for their inputs?” A few students were interviewed, but that is not the same as designing the iPad implementation with them front and centre. Are we just playing lip service to the claim that we teach “in the service of learners”?

No, instead much of the attention seemed to be about the cost of each device. (Just like lo hei during the Lunar New Year is mostly about wealth. Really, translate what gets recited and you will see what I mean.)

If financial cost is the burden to bear, then I suggest that parents add to the balance the cost of textbooks and tuition. Then they should factor in the cost of not teaching responsible use of technologies like the iPad now.

Our Asian neighbours are not waiting. Last year, the Koreans announced how they would adopt e-books by 2015 [archived ST article]. Earlier this week we learnt that the Thais will be getting tablets for 900,000 students [archived version]. The Thais do not have reliable wireless Internet access but they are still going ahead.

The quote from the news article that takes the cake is comes from a parent who:

… was told at the briefing that in school, cyber wellness was the teachers’ responsibility. But at home, it would be the parents’.

He asked: “Why is the school giving me additional things to do?”

If parents do not know how to teach and model good tech-related habits and values, the schools will have to lead the way and parents will just have to follow. They should step out of the way of progress and focus on what both the school and parents care about most: Good grades. Oh, wait, I meant their kids.

There was a recent spate of opinion pieces on “cyberbaiting” [1] [2] [3] [4].

There is more than one meaning for this term. I am referring to the practice of agitating or aggravating someone you may not like, secretly recording their reactions and then sharing the recording widely.

When I tweeted this resource about a fortnight ago, it did not occur to me that one or more students might have instigated event so that it looked like the teacher was bullying him. I do not have other contextual information so it could be a case of bullying or one of cyberbaiting.

Not long after, I read about how one parent in Singapore suggested that schools effectively confiscate mobile phones to neutralize the threat of cyberbaiting.

Do we bar the use of phones in other contexts to avoid cyberbaiting? If we did, there would be no mobile phone use in meeting rooms, public transport, kopitiams  and malls. If we did, then STOMP would be devoid of fodder (which might actually be a good thing).

Do we want to remove this opportunity to instill in kids a value system when using mobile technology? It is not enough to talk about values and citizenship education. We also need to address digital citizenship.

Do we really want to remove a device that provides a rich set of powerful tools that can enable learning? We need to stop giving excuses like poor infrastructure or playing lip service to integrating technology. Most schools here already have 1:1 programmes right under their noses.

If I put a positive spin on all things edtech, it is only because the press or general public often view it negatively. It’s called bringing balance to the Force.

Barely a month goes by without a blogger or a journalist saying that we should reconsider providing students with technology because it does not improve test scores. These reports might take the form of research reviews or newsworthy articles [example].

But let us call a spade a spade. Many of those blog entries and news articles are thinly disguised rants. And this is my rant against those rants.

Of course technology alone will not improve test scores! Technology alone cannot change anything other than lightening wallets and thinning budgets. There are so many things that improve test scores: Immediate feedback, good students, good teachers, drill and practice, and formulaic tuition to name a few.

Another reason why technology does not increase test scores is because we are measuring the effectiveness of a new intervention with an old method.

Testing, particularly standardized testing, was invented and implemented in the industrial age. We have already moved on to the age of information and interaction but the metric has not adapted fast enough or changed much.

Testing as we know now does not measure information or media literacy. It does not measure current forms of online collaboration and creation. Testing does not measure emergent social value systems.

So I agree that technology alone is not likely to improve test scores. After all, Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs and mobile devices were not created with test scores in mind. But that is not a good enough reason to exclude them from classrooms.

Educators who leverage on progressive technology-mediated pedagogies may or may not increase test scores. But they will use the tools and hopefully the strategies that are relevant to the generation they are nurturing.

Do I have any evidence that these technologies are helping them at all? No, not really. Not when all we have at the moment are tests and debates about tests.

I had two meetings with Blackboard (BB) representatives earlier this week and I need to vent.

I learnt about a new pricing model and their move towards learning analytics. I could rant about the first but I’ll limit myself to the second.

First, I’ll say that learning analytics as described by the NMC in the K-12 Horizon Report 2011 is an important forecasted trend. I borrow from their report to explain the purpose of learning analytics:

Learning analytics loosely joins a variety of data- gathering tools and analytic techniques to study student engagement, performance, and progress in practice, with the goal of using what is learned to revise curricula, teaching, and assessment in real time.

Imagine being able to determine in real time what difficulties a learner is having and addressing those needs based on the artefacts that a learner creates. In other words, the focus of learning analytics is learning and the learner.

BB showcased a prototype learning analytics tool. To their credit, the prototype system seems robust and all data is not sent to a remote server for processing. This will avoid data privacy issues and prevent groups like marketers from accessing this information.

But what the BB representative demonstrated left me with a “big brother is watching you” feeling.

Big Brother 2009 Italy by _mixer_, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  _mixer_ 

I did not get a sense that BB understood that this was a tool for educators, not just administrators and policy makers.

Why do I say this? With BB’s analytics tool, you can find out how many staff have not created discussion forums, which courses embed YouTube videos or compare how one cohort of students performs against another. From a systemic point of view, this tool is great for reporting corporate-type KPIs.

But I think that the point of learning analytics is to figure out what types of learning are taking place, if it is happening at all and assist the educator in analyzing the needs of the learner.

I think that BB’s prototype system has the capacity to do this. But what was demonstrated did not focus on the learner. It focused on what a university provost or systems administrator might be interested in, e.g., which faculty use the LMS and how often do users log in?

For me, this was a good example of the type of thinking and practice that makes an LMS go wrong. Where was the learning in the LMS? This was about administrating and policymaking. This was also about impressing someone in higher management who is ill-equipped to make a fully informed decision.

Don’t get me wrong. It is important to have policies in place that promote things like meaningful mobile learning. But you get there by first examining what happens at the level of the learner and the class. You should not be looking at tables or charts from an ivory tower equipped with a monitoring system designed to keep you at a distance.

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