Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘schools

In August 2016, the Singapore Health Promotion Board updated its documentation for the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme. If the programme has a mission statement, it must be this (from programme site):

Research has shown that food preferences are generally acquired during childhood and that eating habits acquired after adolescence are more resistant to change. The school environment plays an important role in nurturing and sustaining good eating habit. In view of this, the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme (HMSP) seeks to enhance the availability of healthier food and beverage choices in schools.

School canteen stall owners generally toe the line during normal school operating hours. But some might operate outside those lines when they can.

My son had to attend extra classes Monday through Saturday during the school “vacation” last week because of the upcoming PSLE. He told me that the canteen uncles and aunties sold french fries and fizzy drinks like Sprite.

Were they doing this to make a quick buck? Might their excuse be that the junk food items were morale boosters? Might they reason that they did this only rarely so they were not really doing anything wrong?

Who can blame them if they have self-interests to think of, they retain old mindsets that are not challenged, and there is seemingly little monitoring?

The same could be asked about the implementation of our latest ICT Masterplan. The fourth iteration was released a year ago without much fanfare. However, in this case there is even less pressure.

There are guidelines and principles. There are even metrics from the previous plan. School ICT heads will know what I am talking about, and if they are honest, they will acknowledge that such data and soft policies do not make a dent.

The ICT Masterplan and the Healthy Meals in Schools Programme suffer similar problems. If they are viewed as policies, rules, or guidelines to follow, people will look for loopholes. If the words are not enforced, they will be ignored. If there are spot-checks and periodic measures, they are predictable and can be prepared for, just like exams.

What needs to happen is a shift to ownership of better teaching and learning as enabled (not just enhanced) with ICT, and better eating habits as enabled by an environment promoting healthier food. Both address mindsets first, not behaviours. Both seek to replace an old culture of practice.

Both need non-traditional leadership — from the ground up. Both need social pressure, not just periodic measuring, testing, monitoring, and punishing.

To be fair, the 4th ICT Masterplan is crafted in a way that embraces such forms of ownership, leadership, and cultural change. However, they are just as easy to ignore in favour of french fry or instant noodle teaching.

Such teaching is fast, efficient, and seemingly filling. But like the unhealthy food, this results in long-term harm. Schooling is favoured over educating; the schooled are exam-smart and dependent on such meals; the next generation are prepared for the teachers’ past instead of being able to shape their future.

There is a saying that hindsight is 20/20. People who say this mean that things look clearer once you get past them. It is easy to look back and see what you have accomplished.

It is also easy to paint a picture rosier than actually was. Our memories are more fickle than we would like to admit. One of my favourite sayings is: Nostalgia is like grammar. It makes the past perfect and the present tense.

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

Like it or not, we forget more than remember [Decay Theory]. We Instagram-filter our memories as we snapshot them [Interference Theory].

Video source

So when ISTE2016 made this declaration, I clap and I caution.

Let us celebrate successes, but not congratulate ourselves prematurely. Things may have changed, but they are not representative of every context, even in the so-called first world.

For example, participants at ISTE were having wifi issues.

We know of teachers who are still behind or trying to get over the “how to use tech” barrier. If you conducted a study, I would wager that a significant portion of “professional development” gets stuck at technology awareness and basic training.

Singapore embarked on the ICT Masterplan 4 this year, but teachers still complain about access and connectivity. They are not just talking about technology (poor signal, blocked resources), but also about policy and practice.

I mention these not to play down the achievements of any system attempting and embracing change. It takes guts, persistence, and time for change to happen and there will always be laggards and brickbats.

But let us not give naysayers fuel for their fire.

I say we admit we have failings, address them, and learn from them. I say we not whitewash underlying problems. I say we challenge rhetoric with reality.

There is a common phrase that thought leaders in education often use: Schools are disconnected with the real world.

They do not mean this literally, of course. They are referring to the bubble that schools create and operate in. For example, one only need look at math word problems, high stakes tests that you cannot retake quickly, and the general teach just-in-case approach.

Schools are part of the real world in the sense that students and teachers face real issues and problems. There is bullying, adjusting to change, learning on the run, dealing with difficult people, keeping to deadlines, following instructions you do not understand or believe in, etc. Now consider what the students face!

However, schools might not be as connected to the wider world as they could be. One need only think of mobile phone restrictions or outright bans as punitive measures for controlling human behaviour.

Today the phone is a key communication and connection tool, but some schools demand it be left out of the tool kit. As a result, both teachers and students do not learn how to use it effectively and responsibly for teaching and learning.

The adults and kids have already adopted behaviours about mobile phone use from home, their ride to school, the mall, and everywhere else but school. These behaviours are not what the school needs. For example, schools do not need people looking down at their phones while they walk, sending hateful texts, and using resources irresponsibly. The realms outside school — the real world — do not teach rationales and counter-behaviours.

So in that sense schools should not be part of the real world because it has to shape a better world. In order to do so, schools have to be better connected to the wider world so that they can problem-seek and problem-solve. They can start by officially welcoming mobile phones.

To make a better world, both teachers and students need to negotiate new behaviours with their phones in school. Schools might start with some questions. How might schools:

  • connect with the wider world with these devices?
  • leverage on phones to create a better world by communicating, sharing, and critiquing?
  • help students find things out by themselves?
  • help students find themselves?
  • help students help others?

Does anyone learn anything from school-sanctioned e-learning days? Do the kids learn? Do the teachers? Do the administrators?

As an e-learning practitioner and director before, I had enough data, knowledge, and authority to say the answers to those questions was no. I have even described many e-learning events as more e-doing than actual e-learning.

Now I ask these questions again because I only have anecdotal answers.

From my regular interactions with teachers, I find that:

  • schools still schedule e-learning days.
  • teachers require students to work only according to that schedule, e.g., students are not encouraged to access or complete e-tasks outside that time.
  • the tasks are equivalent to conventional worksheets.
  • the content might be superficial or peripheral, or are easy enough to be repeated in class.

How many times do we need to test if kids can do things online that they already do in school? They already have strict school structures and class schedules for that.

Do people not see that the point of e-learning is to:

  • provide flexibility?
  • push creative pedagogy?
  • accommodate different learning needs?
  • nurture independent learning?
  • test the effectiveness of something different?

This should be the operating principle of any technology-mediated learning: It is a means of change for the better. Schools should not be doing the same old thing in a different medium.

So in the case of e-learning, school authorities and teachers should not be focusing on dealing with problems that will reduce over time. In Singapore’s context, these might include technology access and procedures to access e-platforms. These issues will not disappear entirely, but they should not be what we concern ourselves with.

Instead, we should be dealing with e-learning issues that will persist. Amongst many things, kids need to be taught how to independently or collaboratively read, listen, watch, analyze, evaluate, create, share, and critique online. These are skills and values-laden processes.

If they are not taught these, I question the validity and quality of the e-learning. The students are very likely going through the motions of e-doing instead of actually learning something valuable.

So I ask again. What do the kids learn? What do the teachers learn? What do the administrators learn?

I was inspired by @mcleod’s “stop pretending” blog entry so I now offer my own five.

We should stop pretending that:

  • schools prepare kids for the real world; ours prepare them for the next test
  • textbook or worksheet examples are authentic
  • teachers learn anything from professional development; they learn when it is personal
  • doing the same things differently makes a difference, e.g., using analogue-only strategies in a digital or blended world
  • e-learning as implemented in schools here is about learning; they are about e-doing

I am also not pretending that my little dot in the blogosphere is going to make a difference. That is why I work with teachers and educators to make a difference, one person at a time.

Year of the Horse by snap713, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  snap713 

The Chinese zodiac tell us that this is the Year of the Horse.

At CeL’s department meeting last Friday, I told my staff that 2014 would be the year of change. More change than usual, that is.

On the personal front, last year seemed to be the year of talks for me. I was invited to give several even though I dislike talks.

This year is already turning out to be a year of school-based consultations. So far a handful have asked me to advise them on their technology-enabled journeys.

Like the talks, I can barely spare the bandwidth. Certainly not when I am teaching and barely when I have other change initiatives to manage.

But I think that action is still better than talk. So I will see which schools have the best fit and I will do my best to help.

Earlier this week I was privileged to be invited to speak at CSC 2013 as a panel member and to present with my colleagues and staff our free CeL apps for mobile learning.

I think I was invited because I tweet and @Cambridge_CAS follows me. I wonder how many other speakers got invited this way.

This reminds me of Julian Stodd’s thoughts on how authority or reputation nowadays is based less on “positionality” or titles. I am getting used to invitations that start with how someone Googled a topic and found a digital artefact I shared, read this blog, or followed my tweets.

That said, I doubt the organizers would have invited someone who had a track record but did not have some sort of title. I guess they were entitled to be somewhat conservative in their first regional conference in Singapore.

And conservative they were. How do I know?

The things I heard and saw were about the same as at other education-oriented conferences. Things like technology is disruptive, we must change, technology can enhance learning, teachers are indispensable, etc. All good messages, reminders, or takeaways because not everyone is on the same page.

But if you look at the Twitter backchannel (#csconf2013), you might get the impression that little was happening. The quality of a modern conference is as much a function of how much the delegates participate in all channels of communication as how well it was organized, if not more so.

A discourse analyst might notice there were several official postings and other socially interactive ones. If you coded for the latter, you might wonder if actual conversations took place.

I use a backchannel as a barometer of change and change acceptance. I have been to events where the backchannel topic trends locally or internationally and it is difficult to keep track of what goes on. That tells me that participants have embraced a change mindset, are thinking actively, and wanting to share and act on what they know.

Photo courtesy of Eveleen Er (@EdTechLink)

Prior to my panel discussion, I asked the organizers if I could project resources on screen should the need arise. This was not driven by ego (I do not like the sage on stage mentality). This was driven by a basic teaching strategy (send the same message over different channels).

I had to go though three people to be told no. The corporate background had to be in place for the video recording and photo ops. I respect that. They are entitled to do that. But I wonder if they realize how that also speaks volumes about the prevailing mindset.

I had been asked to think of a main question and to provide evidence. Much of the evidence was visual. All of the resources could have been hyperlinked. People would not have to photograph slides. I would have liked to gently push the boundaries of presenting or discussing in an attempt to model change.

In all other panels I have been involved in, I have had to meet fellow panelists beforehand either in person or online. I have no problem with being spontaneous, but I also see the value in establishing expectations or agreeing to certain themes so that the audience gets the most out of the combined experience of the panel.

For another event earlier this month, a fellow panelist and I did a Google Hangout and prepared a Google Site which housed our Google Slides, a SoapBox backchannel, and links to resources. How much more do you think an audience appreciates such an effort?

That is not to say that I did not enjoy being a panelist at this conference. There was lively chat, challenging questions, and humorous moments.

Not many people know what happens in the background of something as seemingly straightforward as a panel discussion. For me, this was not just an opportunity to teach but to educate. To reach, to connect, to inspire action. I am not sure what impact I had.

I did get the usual post-talk phenomenon of audience members wanting to meet, exchange business cards, and have extended conversations. I also received appreciation and praise for my insights. But this was not an ego trip for me. Words are easy, actions less so.

In any case, that is three out of four talks down this month. I have one big one, a keynote, to go at the end of the month.

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