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Posts Tagged ‘reflection

Talks are the least effectiveness way to effect change, but they are a necessary evil because people still organise them and the talks can have extensive reach.

But when I conduct talks, seminars, or keynotes, I ensure that I interact with my audience richly in a few ways.

Why do this? Most speakers will use an “e” word like engagement or even entertainment. I do not play these games because I know my participants are smarter than to fall for that.

I use tools to interact so that my audience (listeners) become participants (thinkers, doers). I do not wish to merely engage, I want to participants to take ownership of learning and responsibility of action.

Beth Kanter shared some ideas last week. I am weighing in on my own and I suggest free tools combined with basic principles of educational psychology.

A backchannel is an online space for participants to comment, discuss, and ask questions while I am speaking or after I have asked them to consider an issue.

My favourite backchannel tools are Twitter and TodaysMeet.

Twitter is great when an organiser already has one or more event #hashtags that participants can use. This presumes that a sizeable number of participants already use Twitter or are willing to get on it quickly.

Twitter backchannel.

TodaysMeet is better when participants have not committed to any particular platform. If they can text or SMS, then can use TodaysMeet.

With my own free TodaysMeet account, I can create an online text-based interaction space and define how long it will be open for. I then invite participants to it by sharing the access URL. (Pro tip: Create a custom URL with and a QR code with this generator.)

One of the most recent versions of Google Slides lets you invite questions from the audience. The URL for participants to submit questions appears at the top of your slides and they can vote up the best questions. (Read my review of Google Slides audience tool.)

Audience Tool URL as overlay.

This is not quite a backchannel because it is not designed for chatter. It favours focused queries. This tool might be better for less adventurous participants who are not used to switching quickly between tasks.

Whatever the backchannel tool, its use must be guided by sound educational principles. You might want to provide participants with a space to be heard immediately instead of waiting till the end, or you want to monitor their thoughts, sense their doubts, or get feedback.

The visualisations I am referring to are not images and videos. These are show-and-tell elements which are attempts to engage, but have little to do with interacting with participants.

My most common strategy of participative visualisation is to incorporate data collecting and collating tools like Google Forms and AnswerGarden.

Both these tools require user inputs that can be visualised. For example, I could ask the room which major phone platform they are on: Android, iOS, other in a Google Form.

The data they provide is collated in a Google Sheet and can be visualised in a pie chart or bar graph. The relative proportions are more obvious to see than asking the participants to raise their hands.

There are many tools that do what Google Forms and Sheets do, possibly a bit quicker and slicker. But these normally come at a premium. The GSuite is free.

One way to visualise a group’s grasp of concepts is to use a word cloud. For example, I am fond of asking participants what they consider the most important 21st century competencies.

AnswerGarden word cloud.

I invite them to share words or short phrases in an AnswerGarden in brainstorming mode. The most commonly cited concepts appear large while the less common ones become small.

The purpose of such illustrations is not just to leverage on the fact that we are visual creatures and the visuals make an immediate impact. I want participants to get involved in real time and this helps also me illustrate how the technology enables more current forms of learning and work.

One of the worst things I could do as a speaker is talk about something that the audience has no interest in. As it is, some or most of the people there might be present as an obligation and not by choice. So I try to find out what they might want to learn.

I often use Google Forms to find out beforehand and present the popular suggested topics in the form of a chart.

With smaller seminars, I might use Dotstorming to determine which direction to take midway through the event. I ask participants to suggest areas to explore and they vote on topics each others topics.

Dotstorming is similar to Padlet in that users input ideas on online stickies. However, Dotstorming allows me to let them vote on the best ideas and arrange the notes by popularity.

Dotstorming example.

The idea here is to give the participant a say in what gets covered or uncovered. It is about providing and fulfilling user choice instead of focusing on a potentially irrelevant curriculum or plan.

My perennial favourite for quick-quizzing participants is Flubaroo, an add-on to Google Forms for auto-grading quizzes as well as providing feedback and answers to my learners.

Google Forms has since upped its game to offer quiz-like functions, but it still lags behind the leader, Flubaroo in some ways. This site provides a detailed breakdown of a Forms quiz vs a Flubaroo one.

Quiz is coming!

The point of quizzing is not just to keep participants on their toes. Some might be driven by such a challenge, but all benefit from evaluating themselves in terms of learning. The results can also be an indicator of how much my talk was understood.

I am fond of using Padlet and Google Forms for pitstops and one-minute papers.

Pitstops are pauses in my sessions for participants to collect their thoughts and think of questions. They are an opportunity for them to see if they can link the negotiated outcomes with their current state of learning, and to see where they still need to go.

A takeaway or “dabao” (in local vernacular) is a terminal activity in which I ask participants to tell me their biggest learning outcome from the session.

In both I find that there is an even mix of planned and unplanned learning outcomes. This is a good thing because the internalisation and ownership of learning is important, not just the blind reception of information.

I do not only like to connect with participants before and during a talk, but also after it. I do so a few ways.

I leave my social media information in one of the final slides.

Contact me.

If I use a backchannel, participants can contact me indefinitely on Twitter and up to several days or weeks after on TodaysMeet.

I also use my blog to reflect on the events and to answer questions I might not have been able to address during the session.

It would be an understatement if I said my last week was a tiring one. I balanced classes in the evening and evaluations of novice facilitators in the day.

I was glad that I had the flexibility to arrange the evening classes early in the week and negotiate evaluations later the same week.

When I was a young faculty member, I was treated like a number on a schedule. I recall having to leave home at 6am to get from one end of the island to the other to set up for early morning classes. Sometimes this was on the back of a class the evening before or I had a string of tutorials throughout the day. It was not that much better with seniority because the timetable was king.

Now I get to choose what to be involved in as a consultant and only because I relate to the causes of those I collaborate with. But this does not mean that the work is any less strenuous.

My evening classes are typically from 6.30-9.30pm in a central location. I leave home at 4.30pm to take into account time for travel, an early dinner, and setting up the classroom. After clearing up and chatting with people who stay behind, I might leave the venue at around 10pm and am lucky if I am home at 11pm.

This is a sacrifice that no amount of renumeration compensates for: This takes away from family time. This week was exceptionally painful because it coincided with a week-long school vacation that I could not enjoy with my wife and son.

I make sure that the sacrifice is worth it. I keep the sessions as lively as possible and refrain from lecturing. The entire three hours of each class is driven by learner-centred activities, technology-mediated strategies, and individual reflection.

Jigsaw method of peer learning and instruction.

The photo above might look static, but it is actually a snapshot of groups hard at work during a jigsaw of peer instruction. It is a joy to see energy levels high and questioning minds active even at the end of the session. Sometimes I feel bad that we cannot do more or because I have to stop discussions in order to move on to other important activities and topics.

The evening classes are particularly draining because the body and mind want rest after a day of work. But my learners and I keep our energies up and I employ active learning strategies to help in this regard.

An equally draining activity is evaluating novice facilitators. I do this as part of a cumulative assignment that future faculty develop over approximately two months. They plan and implement a self-contained 10-minute lesson that showcases their ability to be learner-centred.

Evaluating microteaching at NTU.

I am always encouraged by those who make the effort to teach in ways that they were not taught when they were undergraduates.

The other facilitators and I have the unenviable task of changing or shifting mindsets over a very short period. The reception and abilities of our learners spans the spectrum of the militantly resistant to the devoutly willing. Yet we have to help all of them manage their expectations and coax performances that meet the high standards we set for them.

All this makes for taxing, but fulfilling work. Even though I am technically paid to be with these learners three hours at a time, I do my usual early start and late end. The latter is often a result of staying back to discuss ideas, overcome stumbling blocks, or debate philosophical differences.

A while ago, a contact of mine asked me what I did. I described my teaching and facilitating work in less detail than I did above. However, he was sharp enough to label what I did “unbundling”. I understood what he meant immediately.

I had dropped the unnecessary meetings and the regular interruptions. I was able to offer specific services to my clients and collaborators that I was well-versed in as a professor and was also able to focus on these tasks exclusively instead of being torn in different directions.

I have always made time to read and write (I started this blog when I had less bandwidth than I have now) and the unbundling now affords me more. In hindsight, I wish I knew then what I know now about unbundling. It would have given me something to look forward to.

Gathering around an iPad to edit a Popplet.

Whenever I facilitate learning at workshops or course modules, I try something new or tweak a time-tested process.

Here is some context first.

Last year, I facilitated ICT-focused classes for special needs/inclusive education teachers. The sessions were conducted in the evening and I did not change the active learning design this year. However, I made the effort to jump at the deep end, tried a different swim stroke, and dealt with an unexpected current.

Chrome Incognito
What was the deep end jump?

I opted not to bring my Chromebook or Macbook Pro to the first session, and used the ageing desktop at the venue instead.

I used Chrome in Incognito mode to sign into various accounts, and with two-factor authentication via the Google app on my iPhone, was able to verify the log-in. When I was done with the session, I cleared the browser cache.

In between, I rediscovered the bane of YouTube ads because the Chrome browser on the desktop was not protected like my extension-enabled ones on my laptops. I wanted to show a small segment of a video but had to click away layered ads and two video ads that played before the actual video.

On hindsight, I could have relied on one of the many online services that let me download offline versions of entire videos or video segments.

As I neared the end of the session, the browser crashed. Ordinarily, this would mean having to log in to various services all over again. Thankfully, we were almost done and I did not have to do this. I also had my iPad on standby, but did not have to use it.

The interruptions due to the ads and crash were a reminder why facilitators should always bring their own devices. If you prepare and practice on that device, it is best to bring it along unless you like living dangerously.
Panoramic shot of 32 learners in five focus groups.

Google Forms to form groups
What did I do a bit differently with folks that I had not met before?

I usually ask participants to complete a Google Form questionnaire before we meet. In one question, I ask participants to choose a focus area or issue. Instead of trying to deliver a one-size-fits-all experience, I want to shape a custom one.

I normally follow this up by showing the results of the questionnaire at the start of our meeting to remind them of their selections. This time round, I predefined groups based on their responses and indicated what these were in a Google Site page.

About a quarter of the class did not respond by the deadline, so I met these learners during a break to sort them out before the group-based activities. This was a necessary step since it is rare for everyone to complete tasks beforehand. I also had two last-minute additions who probably did not get the instructions.

Such a preemptive design prevents groups from self-selecting. In this context, however, I wanted groups to be as diverse but as focused as possible. Knowing how people tend to stay in their comfort zones both social and cognitive, my decision to do this turned out to be a good one. The discussions were rich and there was a lot of productive noise in the room.

Jumping Padlet notes
I like getting participants to use Padlets for reflective pitstops and exit tickets.

However, a recent change to the platform seems to have made the online stickies refresh and rearrange themselves more often. This meant that some of my learners could not compose their thoughts because the notes kept “jumping away” from them.

This did not seem to affect all of them equally. Anecdotally, I have found that this happens to owners of small screens and slower devices with older Android builds.

One alternative might be to provide Google Forms and share the resulting Google Sheet with my learners. However, this limits my participants to text instead of other media like audio, photos, or video in Padlet.

I also like my participants to take ownership of their notes and to revisit them at different stages of learning. They could co-edit the Google Sheet resulting from Forms, but this is not as natural as the simulated writing or drawing on an online sticky note.

No space for Google Space
Last year I used the then brand new Google Spaces and reflected on the pros and cons of using it versus Google Sites [1] [2]. This year, Spaces will be shut down on 17 April in a failed Google experiment, whiles Sites, a mainstay for about a decade, lives on.

This meant transferring many resources, instructions, and activities to Sites from Spaces. This was no mean task as the two are not interoperable.

I also had to restructure the Site and this meant URLs changed. This affected the shortened URLs and QR codes I had created, so I had to make new ones, print them out as cards, and laminate them myself.
Scanning a QR code in class.

Bonus experiment
I was about to end this reflection when I remembered another step I took.

I normally send participants instructions to download and install a QR code reader. This makes it easy for them to access online resources instead of having to type URLs.

This time round I left this instruction out to see how adept my participants would be.

I was pleased to notes how several were game to use the QR codes on their own. Those that did not still had the benefit of using my shortened URLs.

Overall takeaway
It is easy to be complacent and to coast with strategies that seem to work over different contexts and content. I choose not to do this.

I tell my learners that one of the best ways to learn is by cognitive dissonance. Better to live by this mantra than to come across as a hypocrite. If the situation does not provide these challenges, I create my own.

In describing how I might design for interaction during what are normally passive talks, I mentioned how I used Google Forms for a quiz, AnswerGarden to crowdsource ideas, and Google Slides’ Q&A tool for a keynote I delivered yesterday.

This is my reflection on how things panned out.

I used Google Forms to get participants to use their mobile devices to take a five-question quiz. They had to Google for information to answer the questions.

Google Forms quiz.

Of the roughly 200 people there, 107 managed to take the quiz in the time I gave. The quiz scores ran the gamut, but that was not important.

What was important was how a low-bandwidth activity could get everyone involved (imagine if each person shared their device with someone else) and that it served as an introduction to the recurring themes of my talk on 21C: Mindsets, expectations, and behaviours.

I think that activity went well as did the AnswerGarden activity.

I used AnswerGarden to get participants to suggest what they thought were important 21C competencies. This is a screenshot of what they suggested.

AnswerGarden word cloud.

The word cloud that emerged highlighted the popular concepts. For example, 33 people suggested communication, 33 creativity, 28 critical thinking, and 21 collaboration. With that information, I was able to make the point that such 21C competencies were not unique to the 21C; they are timeless and it is more about how we model and make these happen with today’s technology.

I opted not to use my go-to TodaysMeet backchannel or close with a one-minute paper on the same platform. Instead I opted for Google Slides Q&A.

Google Slides Q&A.

This tool allowed participants to ask questions and vote them up. The URL to do this was at the top of every slide. However, I found it to be too unwieldy.

The URL kept changing based on the instance of the presentation I ran. This meant I could not prepare a QR code and short URL in advance. Participants had to type in a URL that, while not terribly long, was not very convenient either. It was no surprise that there were fewer than ten questions.

When I first tried this tool a few months ago, Google Slides kept track of the questions. Now I do not know exactly how many there are and what they are. I do not have this problem with any other tools I have used before.

I mentioned in a pre-keynote reflection that I removed three of four chunks of content. I think this was a wise move as that not only provided focus, I had almost 30 minutes for Q&A which meant that I could provide more specific answers to those who had questions.

I normally reflect on my preparation for consultancy services and do post-mortems like this one. I often have one more follow up in the form of unanswered questions, either from a pre-event poll or a backchannel. But since this was a whirlwind engagement, I do not have those closing tasks. So tomorrow I will reflect a travel experience instead.

I reflect after any talks or workshops I deliver or facilitate. My hour-long keynote yesterday, Don’t Play Games with Gamification, was no exception.

If the unsolicited feedback I received online, during the lunchtime conversations, or even as I tried to use a restroom are any indication, the keynote went well.

I also amazed by the efforts of @Reinventionist2 who made his thinking visual at the conference. He was kind enough to show his work to me and to ask for my signature.

All that said, I am my worst critic because I know what I had planned and what I had to leave out.

I shared what I intended to do here. I took the risk of biting off more than I could chew, and despite telling participants we might only have time to cover two of the three main parts, I had to leave out some more.

In trying to create opportunities for participants to interact with one another during the keynote, I took up more time than I should have. I dislike it when others overshoot their time and I am sorry for throwing the schedule off.

My ‘live’ demo of apps using AirServer went off without a hitch thanks to the efforts of people working in the background to unblock ports. I had my mifi device there just in case, too.

Of the three shared online spaces we used, we under-utilised one, Padlet. I had to push participants for time and I resorted to asking people to share their thoughts verbally instead of reflecting online.

I am glad that I decided to stick with TodaysMeet since it was and still is a proper backchannel. Google Presentation’s Q&A is still not quite there yet. A few took to tweeting with the hashtag #simgeconf. Very few. So I am glad that I had my own backchannel and Q&A area.

I was also able to work in answers to questions raised by folks in the pre-conference Google Forms poll. I hope I managed to answer the pertinent questions and I “hijacked” part of the panel session at the end of the day to bring up a sensitive but critical question that someone asked in the poll.

Speaking of the panel, I thoroughly enjoyed the panel session because all of us, moderator included, were candid and humorous. It was gratifying to see the audience laughing and taking notes well into a Saturday afternoon.

Post-draft note: I just received an updated version of the visual map of all four speakers’ talks. Many thanks to @Reinventionist2, aka Thum Cheng Cheong, for his brilliant work! [Full-sized version]

Today’s reflection starts as a contrast to yesterday’s Apple sales chat experience. But I bring it back to a critique of teaching and schooling as we still know today.

Over the last year or so, several McDonald’s fast food restaurants here saw the introduction of self-order kiosks.

McDonald's self-order kiosks.

The demand for these kiosks might stem from efficiency studies or a reduction in manpower.

After collecting data or conducting a study, McDonald’s might have concluded that letting people order and pay for their food without the help of a cashier was more efficient. Without access to data, that is my best guess.

Removing a few human cashiers might also address the problem of a smaller worker population or allow better deployment of existing staff.

Both are often part of the rationale of replacing people with machines. Though this example (machines replacing people) starts differently from yesterday’s example (people replacing machines), the theme is the same: Let people do what people might do best; let machines do what machines do better.

Computers, machines, robots, and other forms of automation replacing people is not new. We did this since we became sapient and found that tools were more efficient or effective than blunt mass force.

Initially people might feel sore about being replaced because they are robbed of their livelihoods. However, we eventually get over it because we realise how much better things can be.

For example, if all cabs and buses become self-driving, there would likely be a riot from drivers at first. But when people realise that the drivers can provide speciality services or do something else, and the roads are much safer and public transport more reliable, a new normal will set in.

McDonald's self-order kiosks.

What does the kiosks replacing people have to do with teaching? Sometimes the change is a good thing, but most times teachers struggle with the transition until they take ownership of the change. Still other times the change does not happen because teachers hang on to old practices.

The emerging self-help culture among some of today’s students and a small proportion of teachers means that both groups do not need traditional schooling and professional development as much as before. This is a good thing as this is more efficient and effective; it is a bad thing for schools and vendors.

The people who do not like the McDonald’s kiosks might complain that using the devices is slower than joining a normal queue. After all, the kiosks create two queues instead of one. Before the kiosks, you joined one queue to order, pay, and collect your food. Now you join one queue to order and pay, and another queue to collect your food.

Teachers, like the anti-kiosk patrons, need to take ownership of the do-it-yourself or help yourself movement. This is a trend now, but it might become a culture later. How soon this happens depends on when both parties embrace technology.

What prevents anti-kiosk patrons and teachers from doing this is McDonald’s and school authorities maintaining old systems alongside new ones. McDonald’s still has the old queue system just in case; schools still operate with industrial age machinery in an information age. There is little incentive to jump from the old ship because it is kept afloat.

Yesterday I concluded that we should not get in the way of either people or technology unless one enables the other to do and be better. The introduction of McDonald’s kiosks is a change that does not appear help us do better. Likewise the changes in curricular, assessment, and educational technology policies may threaten a shakeup. But teachers can comfortably ignore those policies if they do not appear to be effective. They would rather go to McDonald’s to enjoy some fries with that shake.

Some people travel to experience a different culture. Ask a group of travellers what “culture” means and you will get different answers.

Culture is hard to define, but you know it when you see, feel, or otherwise experience it. The same can be said of the culture of a workplace or school.

The first thing I do when I work with a new group is ask to walk around and get a feel of the place. I do this to get a sense of the culture of the workplace and the mindset of its workers.

I have visited the headquarters (HQs) of two technology giants in Singapore several times. One giant’s name sounds like a fruit, the other sounds like a large number. Just sitting in their waiting areas provides a palpable sense of the different cultural mindsets of the organisations.

I am not talking about the decor. I am talking about how they treat their guests.

The current campus of Fruit HQ is divided into two main blocks, each with its own waiting area. You speak to a human at reception to have your identity verified and to get a name tag sticker.

I had a series of visits where I met different people from Fruit HQ. Some told me which block to go to while others did not even when I asked. I found out the hard way that the check in system and the human receptionist do not tell you if you are in the wrong block.

I always arrive early for my appointments. On one occasion I waited for a long time to be met by my contact. The receptionist decided to call the person and discovered that my contact was in the other block. I scurried over to the other building and was told that I had to check in and wait some more.

Had I not already done that? Was my contact not already waiting for me? Apparently there was protocol to follow.

At Number HQ, you self-register and get a sticker at a computer kiosk. There is more than one kiosk and people can be processed individually or in groups efficiently. There still is a human receptionist if you need one, but you see the kiosks before you spot the person in the background. Better still, there is just one meeting spot.

Another way I look for how an outfit welcomes its visitors is its guest wifi policy. The access points are easy to see on any modern mobile device. How you join them is a different matter.

I asked the receptionist at Fruit HQs how I might access guest wifi and I was told that my contact would have to request it. This meant meeting the person first, being asked to show something, saying you need wifi, the person going back to reception and making the request, processing the request… it is tiring just recalling and typing the process.

This is why I have a mifi device. Unfortunately, Fruity HQ does not have the best reception and things only get worse inside its core.

At Number HQ, you hop on their guest wifi by registering with your mobile device online like you would at a mall or public library.

The people that you meet at both HQs will generally be schooled and skilled in the art of social interaction — these are the 1%. That is not an accurate picture of the culture and mindset of the workplace — this is the 99%.

While the people on frontline are a good show, the protocols and processes are a better indicator of the culture and mindset of workers. The latter are a result of how well an organisation takes the perspectives of the people it serves and policies it puts into play.

The technology giants are very successful even though they vibe different cultures. That said, would you rather have a closed and controlled environment, or would you like a more open and expressive one? Both seem to lead to the same end, but what would you like to invest part of your working life to?

Now transfer this philosophy to schools. Then consider these questions:

  • What are your school’s cultures and mindsets? What is real and what is perceived?
  • If you say you are a leader or teacher in a school and do not know the vibe it gives off, how do you find out?
  • If you are aware of the vibes, what would you like your stakeholders to resonate with?

Like the tech giants whose success is measured by how much money they make, the success of schools here are judged by standard exam results. However, as we swing back to values-based education, academic results fade into the background. It is the cultures in different schools that help them stand out and apart.

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