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Posts Tagged ‘smart

Here is an anecdote to add to our story to be a Smart Nation. It reveals how far we are from the starting line.

Early last week, I returned a library book via the book drop kiosk on my way to work in the morning. It beeped and the “Returned” indicator flashed to confirm the transaction.

About an hour later, I received email that the book was still due. Did I imagine returning the book or did the kiosk not register my return?

The next day, I received email that confirmed that I had returned the book the previous day. Apparently, it takes a day to register transactions and send notifications. Even telegrams worked faster!

What is the point of replacing inefficient human processes with equally inefficient but automated processes? If we are going to claim to be a Smart Nation, we need to identify the stupid processes that prevent us from starting on that journey.

I say we start by getting rid of the people who cannot empathise with the people they are supposed to be helping. Here is a tip: If someone is going to fire them, do it in person. It might take a while for an automated response to get to them.

I had an uncomfortable gut feeling when I read this CNA article about biometric payments being available to schools here in 2018.

I had to dig deep for why I was uncomfortable. After all, I am all for technology making lives better. And therein lay the problem: In doing good, there was also the potential for harm.

The good is the sheer convenience of going cashless while being able to track spending. This might be the start of basic financial literacy.

According to the news article, the system has safety measures:

Fingerprint information will not be stored on the device. Instead, the prints will be encrypted and stored securely in a cloud database.

Anti-spoofing technology will also be put in place to ensure that the fingerprints are real and that the person making the payment is present.

This is the trifecta of data accuracy (reading), data security (keeping), and data integrity (reliably identifying). If just one to fails, the system’s users are harmed. Take the recent Instagram hack, for example.

For the sake of argument, let us assume that the three data concepts are sound in practice. What is the harm then?

To answer this question, we need to ask at least one other question: What else can vendors do with the data that is accurate, “stored securely”, and reliable?

The short answer is lots. One needs only look at what Facebook and Google did (and continue to do) with our data. They offer their services for “free” to us because our data serves up advertisements which make these companies money. Lots of it.

One needs only to casually search for data breaches and infringements involving these two companies. For example:

The last item was not so much about the privacy of data as about the use and manipulation of data. That is my point: Assuring stakeholders that data is accurate, authentic, and safe is not enough; it is the lack of transparency and foresight about what can be done with that data.

Students are particularly vulnerable because adults make decisions about their data and the kids have no say in the biometric scheme. By this I am referring to the scheme being employed as a Smart Nation initiative, not the choice of whether to join the scheme.

The issue is so serious that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has tips for teachers about student privacy. These include:

  • Making digital literacy part of the curriculum
  • Advocating for better training for teachers
  • Getting parental consent
  • Selecting technology tools carefully
  • Building community of like-minded privacy advocates

A Smart Nation needs people to make smart choices. To do that, people need good information. Where is the information about how the data might be used both intentionally and peripherally? What promises and standards of practice can service vendors and providers be held to? Where is the public debate on the data privacy of the especially vulnerable?

I read two recent news articles [1] [2] about a local bank providing 6,000 kids with watches that manage their spending in and outside school. I wondered if there was an unseen opportunity for learning.

Might the provision of watches be combined with coding and making so the kids try some hacking? This is something that happened in programmes like Negroponte’s OLPCs and Mitra’s hole-in-the-wall computers.

While such actions might be viewed negatively, they are not only an opportunity to learn by tinkering, they are also ripe for learning about ethical practices and responsible behaviour.

Not every hack is bad. Buyers of IKEA products have been hacking them for a long time. The results can be creative and even better than the original.

A Smart Nation is not just about “smart” devices. It is more about smart people making smart choices. One of the best ways to get to that state is learning by doing and learning from mistakes.

What is our next smart move?

What drives otherwise normal and healthy students to buy pills that claim to help them with “last minute cramming”? The chase for good grades.

That is according to this ST article. The same article provided the names of the pills, how much they cost, and how to get them. If more students and parents did not already know about them, they do now.

What the pill poppers are blind to is the short-term and temporary benefits of the pills and their long-term health risks like “heart problems, severe rashes, headaches, irritability, difficulty in breathing and insomnia”. Furthermore, possessing such pills without a valid condition and prescription of controlled substances is also against the law.

The alternative is not to take shortcuts. As Denise Phua, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, pointed out:

It is smarter to stick to natural strategies such as having enough sleep, healthy food, lots of physical exercise and adopting good study skills – strategies that are all tested and backed by research.

Those strategies smarter in the long run. But as long as we provide conditions for short sprints, some people will take shortcuts.

My rant today began with the first world problem of setting up a GIRO link (automatic deduction) from my bank account to my son’s new ez-link (public transport) card.

Why establish this payment link? It is the smart thing to do: I do not have to remember when to top up the card’s cash value because the process is automated.

The instructions on how to do this are critical because a) they probably change over time (they did), and b) a user cannot be expected to remember what to do (it is a few years between needing to do this).

When I tried following the instructions at the ez-link website to set up a GIRO-linked travel card, I discovered that the instructions were outdated.

The main steps were to first get an authorisation number from an AXS machine and then look for a general ticketing machine to activate the travel card with the authorisation number.

The AXS instructions were not only inaccurate, the reader refused to read the card and reported that the card was faulty. I moved to another AXS machine and got the same message. The card worked just fine when I was at a customer service counter to deactivate the old card and activate the new one.

This begs the question of why everything — deactivation of old card, activation of new card, GIRO application — could not be performed at the customer service counter. It is as if some agency wanted people to walk from a counter to a machine to yet another machine so I got some exercise. The only thing I exercised was my patience.

The overall process is one main step too many. The authorities realised this and removed the AXS steps. However, the instructions persist online.

How are we to be a Smart Nation if we have dumb processes (the irrelevant instructions) that persist?

I do not blame the technology. I blame people.

The technology evolved to be more secure so that the AXS authorisation process was no longer a necessity. There is now one less step to play in this administrative scavenger hunt. But people in charge did not update the instructions and the links to them.

You could attribute this to laziness, oversight, or carelessness. Whatever the root cause, it would be stupid to push for a Smart Nation while retaining dumb habits.

The push is a sociotechnical system and efforts that forget the human element are doomed to fail. The failures do not have to be the headlining sort. They are the simple things that are supposed to make everyday life more convenient and seamless, like automating the payment of a travel card. If you cannot succeed with the little things, do not expect to do well with the big ones.

Smart people can come up with dumb labels. The smart prefix has been used with phones, rooms, boards, vehicles, etc.

These devices are not smart. They do not (yet) create or intuit.

The devices might also bring out behaviours in people that are not smart. People walk around with phones without looking around. Teachers might expect the room and board work to engage. Drivers let vehicles make decisions that the latter cannot yet make.

Maybe the people who label things smart are not that smart after all.

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The thread that runs through my rant yesterday and today is how people talk smart talk but walk dumb.

Several weeks ago, I had an unpleasant dining experience. It gave me food for thought on why technology-led change in school flows slower than molasses.

I revisited an eatery that made some changes. One such change was a subtle one. There were QR code stickers on the tables which linked patrons to an online menu and ordering system.

The process was straightforward: Scan, select, order, pay, wait.

While waiting for our food to be served, I dealt with a technical issue on my son’s phone. It took a while to deal with because the problem was quite serious. I spent almost 20 minutes trying to troubleshoot the problem. I know this because my food order did not arrive and I checked to see why.

Online order.

I walked to the counter staff and asked if there was a problem with my order. They replied that I not ordered because I was “just sitting there as if I was waiting for someone”. Forgive me for doing what customers do, i.e., order and wait.

They also said that they tended to rely on online orders at lunch when things got busy. Apparently I was supposed to know this. Forgive me for not being a mind-reader.

A staff member then reluctantly pulled out a previously hidden iPad and saw the order. Almost as soon as she tapped on her screen did a confirmation appear on my screen. Forgive me for not reminding you to check your ordering system.

I am sorry. I apologise for the portion of the human race that holds the rest back because they cannot overcome their inertia and bias. They do what is good and comfortable for them instead of focusing on others.

I am not sorry. I make it a point to create dissonance. I tell and show people — teachers in particular — why and how to teach better with technology. The process is sometimes painful and difficult, but we do this because we focus on our learners.

Most of us would not put up with shoddy service at an eatery. I cannot put up with schooling that pretends to be education. I see through the lip service and push or pull people along if necessary. If this makes them feel uncomfortable, then so be it. Better to be honest than a hypocrite.

Last week I received email from GeBIZ to complete a survey (PDF file) and then either email the file or fax it.

Gebiz email requesting for survey returns.

The message and instructions begged these questions:

Perhaps someone conspired to rile GeBIZ users up so much that they would provide feedback to demand for more efficient and effective practices.

An online version of the form is both more efficient and effective.

  • Its submission is immediate as is a confirmation of receipt.
  • There is no need for people to compile data from two different sources into one.
  • The data can be automatically collated and analysed without first being inputted manually from the emailed PDFs or faxes, thereby reducing human error.

If this is what happens to a survey, I dare not imagine how other processes might be compromised.

As an educator, I cannot help but wonder what messages actions like these send to the larger system. Are these indicators of push-backs on progress?

I do not think that my concern is unwarranted. While mainstream school teachers are not quite affected Internet restrictions, there are already restrictions on services like Dropbox and mobile services.

If plans are only as good as their implementation, why does “smart talk, dumb walk” persist?

Policies crafted by leaders shape the work environment and culture. If higher-ups associate the Internet, social media, or anything “e” as dangerous or wasting time, they will enact policies that reinforce such hang-ups and nurture a culture based on fear.

Consider this scenario. Imagine I propose that school personnel decide on whether they spend money only on a textbook collection or Chromebooks. The books do not raise an eyebrow, but the response to Chromebooks is “Yes, but…”.

As different as schools are now compared to a generation ago, values and practices today are arguably still entrenched in the past. Ask teachers if they integrate technology and it is still common to hear phrases like “technology to enhance”, “the basics are more important”, “we don’t want the kids to be distracted”, or “the exams are handwritten”.

Technology should not just enhance, it should enable learning. The basics have changed and are more complex and kids need to be empowered. Very little outside of conventional exams and schools is handwritten. Even GeBIZ asked for email replies.

Despite the smart talk and inspiring rhetoric, what actually makes a difference is the walk. It easy to say you want innovation in schools. It is more difficult to create conditions for change.

I tweeted this while away at a conference earlier this week.

I did this because I had noticed the number of “interactive” and “smart” board vendors at the conference centre. I had also coincidentally read an article suggesting 5 Ways to Stop Using Your Interactive Whiteboard as a Whiteboard.

I can suggest better. Stop using an “interactive” white elephant board. You can do this is just three steps.

  1. Do not buy an IWB.
  2. Use the money to get shared slates or Chromebooks and a mobile Internet connection.
  3. Invest in learning how to design and manage lessons that require students to create and teach.

Without such boards you will not have items to show off to visitors of your school. Your teachers will also have to unlearn old ways of teaching, relearn what it is like to learn, and learn newer ways to teach.

So ask yourself who you serve: The visitors, the vendors, or your students?

I had the opportunity to share this quote during workshops I conducted over the last two weeks. It emphasizes the importance on focusing on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching.

That is not to say that the teacher is not important. Teachers are, but not in the traditional delivery-oriented way. There is so much information on the Internet and in the minds and experiences of our learners. Teachers need to learn how to create that smart room and to create group smarts.

As is my new habit, I used Haiku Deck to create the image quote. I took the precaution of searching for an image in ImageCodr first. When I found it, I shared the URL with Haiku Deck. This allowed me to attribute the photo properly.


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