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Posts Tagged ‘semantics

Call me a pedantic semantic, but “America“ does not belong to the USA nor should the names be used interchangeably.

I reflected on this at least twice [1] [2] in the past. I only had the benefit of inputs from the people I interacted with when I lived in the US. Now I also have this informative and funny video.

Video source

The Map Men took a jaunty walk down history to explain why politicians in the US did their best to obtain a map that first labelled the Americas “America”. The US conveniently overlooked how the label of “America” was on what is now Brazil.

Sidetrack: If the US needs a name more apt, I would borrow one from the list provided by the Map Men — The Land of the Rising Gun.

Now “America” is practically synonymous with the USA. This ignores the fact that there are so many other countries in “America”.

A linguist might ask: If common use has redefined a word, why fight against it? Mine is not a linguistic or semantic argument. It is a philosophical and practical one.

For example, assessment is not the same as evaluation; gamification is not the same as game-based learning; the flipped classroom is not the same as flipping learning processes. I leave my previous reflections to define these terms and phrases for me.

The words we use can create shared meaning or sow confusion. I would rather do the former as part of my philosophy of teaching. We then act on what we understand and believe, i.e., there are practical consequences.

For example, a poorly informed instructional designer might develop a learning package that “gamifies” learning with a multiple choice quiz that rewards students with extrinsic rewards if they complete this assessment outside of class.

If this designer does this for an edtech company that sells the package as game-based flipped learning, they are selling lies. These lies become more common and acceptable if they are not challenged.

I might seem pedantic about semantics on the surface. But dig deeper and you will discover that my objections have pedagogical roots.

This tweet reminded me about how Facebook tries to redefine friends. You might end up with thousands of “friends”, most of whom you have not met in person or online. You might not even know these people and some might even be your enemies. These are not friends; they are barely acquaintances. 

Twitter is guilty of misnomers too. Take “likes” as an example. If you want to keep track of a tweet but not propagate it, you have to like it. You actually want to bookmark or archive it for later reference, but you have to send a wrong message to the tweeter and a wrong data point to Twitter.

These platforms are not reinventing the wheel. They are reshaping it so that it is twisted out of shape and feeds their data-hungry appetites.

Words matter. We need to say what we mean, and mean what we say.

I am not being pedantic about semantics. But I am particular about saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

If we do not have shared meanings, we do not have common reference points. Then when we try to solve problems, we might go off on different tangents and risk being irrelevant. 

If there was an agenda in this excellent review article, it was to provide answers to the question: What is online learning? Here is Part 1 of my notes on the article.


  • Online learning with synonymous with asynchronous, text-based learning
  • Blended learning was about mixing face-to-face and online modes of learning
  • Hybrid learning (Australia, non-USA) was synonymous with blended learning (USA)

By late-1990s

  • Synchronous learning methods evolved
  • Examples: Basic ‘live’ sharing of resources, e.g., slides; “blended online learning”


  • Video conferencing ramped up
  • Synchronous learning was practically synonymous with video-enabled communication
  • Modalities (i.e., blended or hybrid) became largely irrelevant

In 2007: HyFlex (hybrid-flexible)

  • Combining both online and face-to-face modalities, and flexible, where “students may choose whether or not to attend face-to-face sessions
  • Similar to what is happening in universities during the age of COVID-19

In 2006, the author of the review article offered her own framework that mixed three modes (face-to-face, online synchronous, online asynchronous) with one on access (open access or not). While I favour any experience designed with open access, I do not see the logic of the mix from a modal lens.

When viewed through the lens of learner access, however, her framework starts to make sense. The learner decides if s/he goes to campus or not, works concurrently with others or not, and has limited or unlimited access to materials.

2010s: Multi-access frameworks

  • Examples: Blended synchronous (2013) and synchronous hybrid (2014)
  • In both, students can be on campus or online, but both meet via conferencing or shared online platforms/virtual worlds/telepresence robots.

The author took a paragraph to focus on asynchronous efforts in the same time frame. Some important ideas:

  • Asynchronous communication requires more monitoring and digital literacy than synchronous-only classes
  • Those new to teaching online in general may also prefer the synchronous-only design, so as to minimise the workload creep that comes with robust asynchronous communication
  • Designs should consider… reducing synchronous instructional hours to create time for asynchronous activities and dialogue
  • Many learners… will develop their own private backchannel spaces to support learner-only asynchronous peer-to-peer communication

More notes tomorrow!

Seth Godin is one of my writing heroes. He says what he means and he means what he says.

In a recent blog entry, he declared:

The way we process words changes the way we act. The story we tell ourselves has an emotional foundation, but those emotions are triggered by the words we use.

I could not agree more. Using different words are not just a matter of vocabulary or semantics. Words reveal mindsets which then dictate actions.

Most semesters I comment on examples of awkward or otherwise poor examples of essay writing.

This semester I do not share examples of writing faux pas. Instead I share a photo I took to illustrate nuance.

The photo is a screenshot of a Pokémon Go stop that someone labelled “hook up point”.

If you are an old school local, you might understand that this place is for hanging bird cages in a community space.

However, “hook up” has a broader use. When one refers to people hooking up, they are, um, managing the birds and the bees. A hook up point would then have a bad reputation.

My message to essay and paper writers is simple: Do not write for yourself, write for your reader. If you do the former, you are satisfied with what your words mean to you. If you do on the latter, you focus on communicating with readers by embracing the nuance of meaning and taking their points of view.

Integrity is not completely synonymous with honesty.

Honesty is what you have in the presence of others or when you are confronted to tell the truth. You are asked to be honest when you make a statement or if you take the stand in court.

Integrity is what you have (or lack) when you are alone. Take academic integrity, for instance. It is when you are trying to write a paper that you decide whether or not to plagiarise or to attribute. You might think of integrity as confronting yourself.

However you define honesty and integrity, they share some similarities, but they are also different. They are not entirely synonymous and that is why we have different words.

The same could be said about the flipped classroom and flipped learning. After years of combining reflective practice and critical research, I distilled two big differences between the two.

The flipped classroom swaps WHAT happens WHERE. Flipped learning changes WHO does WHAT.

  1. The flipped classroom swaps WHAT happens WHERE. Flipped learning changes WHO does WHAT.
  2. The flipped classroom focuses on engagement. Flipped learning is more about learner empowerment.

The flipped classroom focuses on engagement. Flipped learning is about learner empowerment.

The flipped classroom is still defined by what happens conventionally in a classroom. The delivery and exploration of information still needs to happen, but in a different place and manner — for example, at home. The use or practice of that information happens in the classroom where peer and expert help is, instead of outside it.

To those ends, there is nothing wrong with the flipping the classroom. However, that is to “innovate” by iteration. Teachers are still doing much of the teaching, and subsequently, the learning.

To flip learning is to focus on the learner and processes of deep learning. This means empowering students to problem-seek and problem-solve. It also means that learners create content and teach it. The teacher learns to guide from the side and to meddle from the middle.

The flipped classroom and flipped learning might share some roots and tools, e.g., the nurturing of self-directed learners and online videos. But these do not make the terms interchangeable.

Chimpanzees and man share a distant evolutionary ancestor (shared roots), but they are different animals because they diverged over millennia to where they are now. The flipped classroom and flipped learning are different animals because their practices stem from different mindsets, expectations, and educational philosophies. It is not about semantics; it is about different foundations upon which we build teaching practices.

Video source

It’s strange how some things get triggered in one’s mind. I get most of my a-ha moments when I am about to sleep or when I shower. That is why I have my iPhone and Evernote near me all the time. Too bad they aren’t waterproof.

Anyway, this video of a journalist trying to tell the Dalai Lama a joke (that crashed and burned very quickly) reminded me of a conversation I had almost a year ago.

A group of us went on a study trip to the US to get ideas on e-portfolios amongst other things. At a social gathering, I mentioned to a fellow teacher educator how technology could be replicate, enrich, enable or transform what we do in education.

I mentioned how technology could be used to replicate or enrich how we already teach and how the other two concepts, enabling and transforming, had more to do with learning rather than teaching. I also presented my concepts as a hierarchy of difficulty (e.g., easy to replicate existing teaching, difficult to transform learning).

My conversation partner disagreed with technology as an “enabler” because she had a negative view of the word, e.g., how one might be an enabler of someone else’s addiction. My perspective more positive: Using technology in ways that enable learning that could not otherwise take place in the absence of that technology.

It dawned on me then how important context and semantics are when trying to sell ideas to other people. Take the use of the word “resistance” for example. It will have different meanings to a police officer, a freedom fighter and a physics professor!

Returning to the video, the breakdown in communication could have originated in a lack of a shared understanding of what a pizza was or what “one with everything” meant. This was an issue with semantics. But there also was an issue of context: Why tell the joke in the first place?

This is a reminder to me to be where my learners are at and to realize what they might not understand.


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