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Posts Tagged ‘singapore

 
Primary 1 to 5 students stayed at home because of the PSLE oral exams for Primary 6 students late last week. When the first group of students needed to access e-learning resources from MCOnline, the service provider’s website crashed.

Parents complained, e.g., “the website is not available for public access” and “it took us 10 hours to finish a one-hour task”.

Even when the service was available in the past, one parent said, “The website is often very slow during peak hours to the point that it kicks you out”. Another parent, who also happened to be an educator, was resigned to saying, “I’m so used to this”.

I could point out tongue-in-cheek that MCOnline servers went on MC (medical certificate, the excuse slip for missing school, duty, or work). Instead, I shall point out the excuses and non-answers.

An unnamed MC Education representative said that a third-party arrangement to increase capacity “was not activated”. Why not? There was no reason given in the article for this oversight.

Will the service provider be held accountable for this outage just like the telco providers are? The article did not mention this either.

As information about the Student Learning System (SLS) was released last week, the attention turned there. Unfortunately, the focus was on access during emergencies. That might be why e-learning in Singapore actually stands for emergency learning.

An unnamed spokesperson from MOE said that the SLS would take advantage of cloud technologies. She also mentioned how the SLS would be compatible with most devices.

The first answer was vague. Just what are cloud technologies to the layperson? Which CMS or LMS provider does not depend on cloud technologies today? Since they do, why did a crash happen anyway? What is to prevent the SLS from suffering the same fate?

The secondary mention was a redundant non-answer. What is the point of multi-device compatibility if none can access the resources when servers are down?

We do not need redundant answers. We need more “redundant” servers to share the load. This is the sort of cloud technology the spokesperson probably meant. But this answer is still vague.

A better example might be to draw on what online users already experience with YouTube or Amazon. The uptime of these services is about as reliable as our power and water supply because they rely on “cloud technologies”.

Can MCOnline and the SLS promise the same reliability? These are services that we pay for with our tax money. Compare that with free and open services like YouTube. These are paid for by advertising that might be linked to our personal data, but that is not the point.

The point is that access and reliability of online learning resources come at a price. Neither cost is transparent to the average user. However, freely available services like YouTube are subject to scrutiny. Google, the parent company of YouTube, was recently fined 2.4 billion euros by the EU for anti-trust issues.

So I ask again: Will our online learning service providers be held accountable for outages like the telco providers are? Or is learning at home not as important as learning in school?

Let’s see if we put our money where our mouth is…

No, I am not referring to the SLS that is Sim Lim Square, although that place is worthy of a rant. I am referring to the recently announced rollout of the Student Learning Space.

I cannot critique this article on the SLS in one tweet. Hence this longer critique.

I present segments from the article and share some thoughts.

“The aim is for students to take greater ownership of their learning and to work together with their peers.”

This is a worthwhile aim. However, I wonder if students should actually be exploring and using other already available resources to do this. The fact that such resources are NOT already under one roof, curated, or sanitised is the point. How else better to prepare them for higher education and work?

The path to ownership is paved with learner agency and empowerment. Such characteristics are not found neatly stacked on a shelf or conveniently packaged online.

“learn at their own pace, revisit concepts and read up on other areas of interest”

Uh, one word: YouTube. Another word: Wikipedia.

These words are not neat and tidy like teaching. Instead, they accurately mirror the messiness that is learning.

“developed with industry and external partners to offer real-world context”

Um, another word: Buzzword.

“Real-world” examples and contexts are crucial and sorely missing, so making lessons more real is worthwhile.

I hope that the providers of SLS have learnt from the plethora of examples in YouTube and social media like Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram what to do and what not to.

If not, they are just using a buzzword for effect. The effect is like a firework. It is spectacular when it explodes, but it does not last long and the scene fades back to black.

I still wonder if providing a portal is wise in the long run. Is this not just more elaborate spoonfeeding? Or perhaps the giving and regurgitation of fish?

“rolled out progressively to all schools from next year (2018)”

Starting when next year? After the main exams so students can do cool and fun but not test-relevant things?

The official announcement mentioned 62 trial schools, but no specifics on when. My guess is that you cannot get shot down if you do not hold up timeline targets.

“teachers can share lesson ideas and strategies within and across schools”

Will this be done like the way it was about a decade ago? It was mandatory for some to share resources like test papers in online repositories. The “ideas and strategies within and across schools” was poorly conceived and implemented because competition was stronger than collaboration.

I hope the Ministry officials learnt from this faux pas. It must have the right people to provide that institutional memory and who have the willingness to not be yes-men or women.

I also wonder if the goal is to emulate teachers who already blog, tweet, and create YouTube videos. If so, they must nurture a mindset and culture that embraces openness, humility, interdependence, creativity, critical thinking, and reflectivity.

If not, they might be creating conditions for another mistake. An expensive and very public mistake.

This is my response to newspaper articles [Today] [STonline] on a study by Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). I also respond in longer form to tweets about the articles or study.

First some background, disclosures, and caveats.

According to one article, the study was “a quantitative look at the views of 1,500 citizen or permanent resident (PR) parents with children in local primary schools on their perceptions about Singapore’s education system at that level”.

I am not linked to the IPS nor do I have a stake in what it does. As an educator, I have a stake in how people process reports of such studies because it reflects our collective capacity to think critically.

My intent is to provide some insights based on my experiences as a teacher educator and researcher. In the latter capacity, I have had to design and conduct research, supervise it, and be consulted on designs, strategies, and methodologies.

However, without full and immediate access to the actual IPS report and data, I have to take the newspaper articles at face value. I also have to assume that the research group implemented the survey-based study rigorously and ethically.

The headline by the Today paper was click(bait)-worthy. It was not the only finding, but the paper thought it would grab eyeballs.

At least two people tweeted and wanted to know if other stakeholders like parents and the students themselves were asked about the impact of the PSLE.


I understand their concerns, but this was probably not on the research agenda. I say this not to dismiss the importance of their questions.

Good research is focused in order to be practical, to manage limited time and resources, and to shed a spotlight on a fuzzy issue. The questions about teachers and students could be addressed in another study.

It might help to view the study as a snapshot of early stage policy implementation. MOE has passed policy of “every school, a good school” and shared upcoming changes to the PSLE. The big question is: What is the buy in?

MOE can more easily manage the buy in among teachers and students. Parents are a different matter, so the study rightfully focused on that group.

The study was not about making any comparison. It was about taking a snapshot of public opinion.

This is also not a question that the IPS could seek answers to in mainstream schools here. Except for international, private, and most special needs schools, all mainstream Primary schools subscribe to the PSLE and do not have alternatives like e-portfolios. Some home-schooled children even take the PSLE.

This is actually a critical question that needs to be asked.

Our Prime Minister hinted at it in his National Day Rally speech in 2013 and MOE responded with some changes — IMO superficial changes — in late 2016.

If enough stakeholders question the timing or value of PSLE, then the followup questions revolve around the WHEN and HOW of change.

According to the ST article, “the sample of parents… had a proportionate number of children in almost all the 180 or so primary schools here.”

Now this could mean that there was less than ten parents representing each school on average. We cannot be sure if some schools were over or under-represented, nor can we be absolutely certain that the respondents were representative of parents in general. This is why national surveys rely on large returns.

That said, surveys, whether voluntary or solicited, tend to be taken by those who want to have their say. You can never be absolutely certain if you have are missing a silent majority or have a data from a vocal minority. However, a large return tends to balance things out.

The survey study seemed to rely on descriptive statistics. At least, that is what the papers focused on. If that is the case, a statistical analysis was not in the design. If it was, there would be specific research questions based on hypotheses.

Not every study needs a statistical analysis. If this was a snapshot or preliminary study, the descriptive statistics paint a picture that highlight more questions or help policymakers suggest future strategies.

Overall, I do not fault a study for attempting to paint a broad picture that no one else seemed to have a clear view of. It sets the stage for more query and critical analysis.

But I do have one more potshot to take and it is directed at the newspapers.

The contrast of what was highlighted by each paper of the same study could not be more stark.

To be fair, both papers had a few articles on the same study to highlight different topics. But what the newspapers choose to tweet is an indication of what they value. This is no different from what any of us chooses to tweet.

I chose to call out the subjectivity of any press that thinks of itself as objective or impartial. Any study and press article has bias, some have more and some less.

As content creators, we should make our bias transparently obvious. As critical thinkers and doers, we should try to figure out what the biases are first.

When the stone dropped in the once placid waters of teaching, its ripples started spreading. One result of enforced mergers of some mainstream Singapore schools was how some teachers had to look for teaching opportunities elsewhere.
 

 
This is a classic case of a problem defined largely through an administrative lens, being patched by an administrative solution, only to create another problem.

The original problem was falling enrolments due to falling birthrates. Logically, fewer children means smaller intakes mean fewer classes. Administratively, this also means too many teachers.

The administrative solution was to maintain established teacher:student ratios above all else. Never mind other possibilities like centralised efforts, team teaching, or more boutique efforts.

This created the previously non-existent problem of teacher surplus. As a result other schools now have to take in teachers who have no where else to go.
 

 
The silver lining in this dark cloud has been that teachers who interact in tight circles within their own schools now are forced to fraternise with teachers elsewhere.

Interactions take the form of phone calls, job interviews, job initiation, mentoring and guidance, and daily interaction. Unlike the induction of beginning teachers, these interactions are with intermediates or veterans.

Staff at all levels — school leaders, middle managers, on-the-ground teachers — can more clearly see the differences in school culture and teacher quality when new old teachers join their ranks.

This is like going on a vacation and experiencing a new culture for the first time. Unlike a vacation, they cannot return home to what they are used to. They have to live with the consequence of administrative decision-making.

I finally made my way down to Singapore’s first official Apple Store.

Every other person seemed to take photographs of the store’s staircases. I took my share as I saw the Apple store through my eyes.

Staircases at Apple Store, Singapore.

Here is the long…

Staircase at Apple Store, Singapore.

… and the short of my visit.

Apple Store, Singapore.

The security folks (in white shirts) were omnipresent, as were the Apple sales staff (in blue). The latter were everywhere: At the entrance to welcome you, at displays to ask you if they could help, and at display and demonstration tables to answer questions.

Also present were people sitting on whatever looked like a seat. A few got very comfortable by taking off their shoes and airing their puppies. I chose not to photograph them as I was not in a pet store.

I have had the privilege of visiting in Apple stores in London, San Francisco, Manhattan, and Sydney. Other than the staircase, there is not much that Apple provided to make the Singapore store distinctive. But the walk-in traffic and their tired feet is another story.

Shared bicycles have been in the local news of late, but not always for good reason.

The current three providers of shared bikes here — mobike, obike, and ofo — face the same types of problems. Most of the problems stem from the inconsiderate behaviour of bike users.

The recent high profile cases included a teenager who threw a bike down a block of flats, a man who did the same, and a group that threw a bike into a canal.

These are probably not signs of an epidemic of reckless behaviour because they are exceptions, not the rule. However, the rule is just as upsetting. I have tried the bike services, and while the bikes are easy to find, I rarely find one that I can use immediately. I often find a damaged or vandalised bike first.

Damaged ofo shared bike.

The photo montage above is of one bike with a missing seat and broken brake cables. I have also seen padlocked drive chains, warped wheels, missing parts, loose fixtures, etc.

oBike app: Reporting damaged bikes.

The bike companies use mobile apps that allow users to make reports. I have lost count of the number I have submitted. I have also not heard from the companies by way of acknowledgement. Perhaps they are too busy collecting and repairing the bikes.

The damaging of shared bikes is an example of why we cannot have nice things. The bikes do not need to be dramatically damaged like being thrown off tall buildings or into monsoon drains. It is the small, every day things done by small, every day people that reflects our collective psyche that frustrates me.

This Singlish phrase sums up my feelings: Why liddat?

 
I have read about the pushback against “personalised learning”, particularly in the USA, for a while. The latest is this article, Teachers’ Union Faces Backlash Over Publication on Personalized Learning.

It might seem strange that attempts to help learners are met with resistance from the people at the frontline of helping them. The rhetoric, and perhaps the possible reality, is that computers and corporatised solutions threaten the jobs of teachers.

The actual reality might be that there are other factors that reduce teaching positions, e.g., shrinking budgets, poor test scores, political mandates.

Singapore’s reality was and is our low birthrate. As a former faculty of Singapore’s only teacher preparation institute, I saw the demand for teachers plateau and now see it in gentle decline.

When I started educating teachers 20 years ago, I would hear preservice teachers occasionally remark during our ICT classes how computers were going to replace them. That did not happen then and ICT is not the cause now.

We have yet to “personalise” learning in the mainstream Singapore classroom as much as edtech vendors might like. We do not have computerised standardised testing like many schools in the USA.

Our personal and personalisable technology is stealthily hidden in students’ bags, locked away in carts, or white-elephanted in labs. ICT is still like good-to-have bottled water and not must-have tap water.

Our edtech vendors are thankfully not as aggressive or creative as enrichment tuition agencies. The latter offer a different sort of personalisation: Exchange money, drilling, and sweat for better grades, never mind if you actually learn anything.

So in the USA and Singapore, we have depersonalised personal learning. It is corporatised and mechanical ICT in the USA; it is the avoidance of meaningful ICT and being test smart here.


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