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Posts Tagged ‘technology

After reading the article below, I appreciated how the app makers thought just outside the box to deal with those operating stubbornly inside it.

The creators of SnapType responded to how some teachers gave pen-and-paper homework to kids with special needs. The teachers did this even though the kids could not write due to their disabilities.

This teaching behaviour is a classic case of favouring equality over equity. Equality is treating all the kids the same regardless of ability or context. Equity is giving those that need a leg up more help so they can operate at more equal footing with their peers.

The app creators realised they needed to create a more equitable situation for kids with special needs. While the kids could not write, they could type.

Their solution was simple: Snap a photo of the homework and Type the answers. The completed homework could be submitted online to a shared platform or via email attachment.

The snap, type, and send strategy helps students with special needs in more ways than one. Not only are they able to complete their homework, they are also using enabling technologies.

The moral of this story does not end with the app or kids with special needs. Teachers in mainstream classrooms need to ask themselves if they are disabling able kids by not taking advantage of enabling technologies.

For kids that we label normal, technology is often limited to enhancing or supporting the learning.

For kids with special needs, technology enables the doing and learning they might not be capable of otherwise.
 

Video source

Now here is a thought: Why do we not think that all kids and all learners are special? We are. Why do we still believe that there is a normal or an average? Have we not heard of the end of average?

So if we are all special, shouldn’t technology be used to enable instead just enhance?

“Apple
Wikimedia Commons source

This CNET article claimed that Apple Face ID might practically replace Touch ID for verification. This is no surprise given how Face ID is effectively a 3D mapping and recognition system.

Even neutrals have suggested that it could have applications beyond the iPhone. Offhand I can think of how Face ID might be expanded to banking services and venue access.

As smart these moves could be, their potential and effectiveness is stymied by dumb people.

I am not referring to people who refuse to adopt such technology or who do not have access. These people might have legitimate reasons for saying no. For example, they might have valid security concerns or financial limitations.

I am thinking about people who have bought in to the idea, but do not implement them properly. Here are two examples, both of which involve point-of-sale payment.

I find Apple Pay to be fast and convenient where it is available. However, I have been to one fast food joint where the reader was at crotch level. This is fine with Touch ID — I could reach down with my thumb on my iPhone. However, assuming that scanning, authorisation, and payment must occur in quick sequence, I would have to bow or kneel to have my face read with Face ID.

At a popular coffee place, the reader was located near shoulder level on a countertop. The counter itself prioritised the display and sale of knick-knacks so you had to reach awkwardly high and over to pay electronically with Touch ID.

To make matters worse, the reader faced the ceiling instead being angled towards the customer. How might it read my face?

Both these two establishments could avoid placing readers at odd spaces and angles. They should provide better experiences by taking customer perspectives and use.

As I often do, I link these everyday experiences to teaching and learning with technology.

These odd implementations of cashless payments are like clumsy edtech use. Teachers and administrators might have bought in to the use of a particular technology, a suite of tools, or an entire system. All these are typically led by one or more vendors.

However, all parties often forget the learner and do not know how to design from the learning point of view. This sounds like such a fundamental principle, but it is one of the most ignored or poorly understood.

My almost 30 years of being an educator have helped me distill this principle down to this: Teaching is neat. Learning is messy. 

“Teaching

Experts forget what it it like to be a novice. Sellers forget what it is like to be buyers. Worse still, both might argue that it is not important to take the perspective of those they serve.

We may have aspirations to be a so-called Smart Nation. But this push is meaningless if we have willfully dumb people.

Some people choose to focus on the positive. Others dwell on the negative. I choose to be realistic.

That is why I tweeted this in response to another tweet.

The original tweet was not wrong, but it was not balanced. It lacked the other half of the story.

Technology amplifies what we can already already do or it enables us to do what we could not do before.

This means that a teacher can reach out to her learners beyond the time and space constraints of her classroom, e.g., online coaching.

But this could also mean that she teaches the same old and irrelevant way with different tools, e.g., from death by PowerPoint to massacre with Google Slides.

All this is not to say that technology plays a passive or follower role to pedagogy. I have explained before why technology integration is not like a pedagogical horse pulling a technological cart; it is more like a car. Educational technology should be seen and practised as an integrated whole.

As current and new technology enables new possibilities — for example, for students to create and share content — so should pedagogy change to move beyond consumption and control.

Most people might see how technology amplifies a teacher’s mindset and practice. The same people might not acknowledge that technology can enable new behaviours. Perhaps we should spend more time and effort amplifying the latter message instead.

Lady Gaga sang that we are Born This Way. I say we are also schooled a certain way.

Case in point: In the low-hanging fruit category of technology in Singapore schools comes this report.

I wondered why 85% of schools using technology to take attendance was newsworthy, so I asked and answered my own questions.

What do the attendance tools look like?

While most schools use mobile systems for attendance-taking, which can also be accessed on a Web browser, others rely on a biometric system that requires students to get their fingerprints scanned when they enter and leave the school compound.

Some tools rely more on the teachers while others depend on the students. Some might create sharable data while others do not. Despite these differences, any and all tools are part of that 85%.

Without knowing how these systems work and what their strengths and weaknesses are, how more informed are you as a result of reading the article?

How concerned are you that a vendor might have access to your child’s data and attendance? Did your child’s school provide you with a copy of a policy document? Did you sign a release document? If not, why is there not a newspaper article on that?

Are the attendance systems more accurate and reliable?

Not necessarily, no. Sometimes the problem is human:

“We tried out biometric, but faced issues with having to remind students who forgot to mark their attendance at the terminals,” said Madam Azizah Rabunam, who heads the school’s department of information and communications technology.

Other times the problem could lie more in the technology.

My son’s school has gates like the ones at MRT stations. If students do not check in, they do not get in.

If this sounds perfect, it is not. I have access to my son’s attendance records and the system occasionally does not record either his entrances or his exits.

It is particularly odd when the system does not register his entrance but records his exit. How does a person leave without entering? On a few rare occasions, the system marked him absent.

When I alerted my son’s form teacher, she mentioned that teachers verify attendance again in class. So much for efficiency.

What purposes do the attendance tools serve?

A Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman said such systems can help schools better monitor truancy, absenteeism rates and trends related to latecomers.

In other words, these systems are core to what schools are for: To condition and to enculturate our kids. This is a necessary evil if we are to have a compliant workforce.

What is the point of my reflection?

Now we can swallow whole the claim of the article that:

The different systems also reduce the administrative workload of school staff.

We just have to take the collective word of newspaper, MOE, and vendors. After all, we have been schooled that way.

Technology destroys the perfect and then it enables the impossible.

Seth Godin recently made this declaration:

Technology destroys the perfect and then it enables the impossible.

He said this while providing examples of how computers do things better, faster, or cheaper than people can. His examples were from daily life and commerce.

Something similar could be said about schooling and education. The “perfection” is the general insularity of the classroom from the outside world. Technology needs to destroy this status quo, but it is only chipping away at this mountain of change.

Today’s classroom walls are potentially more porous thanks to our phones. These allow teachers and students to connect with experts and content beyond traditional means.

Why is the change so slow in schooling and education?

The same people who use their phones in their personal lives might see how the changes are better, faster, or cheaper. However, they probably do not see how the same applies in the classroom or other learning contexts.

Technology will need a lot of help to overcome this human impasse. Training and professional development that addresses skills and behaviours will do little to make this change. To enable the impossible, we must start first with mindsets.

While the technology affords change, the teachers and leaders must allow it. They might be aware of what technology can do and perhaps even how, but they must also know why.

Yesterday I reflected on disaster-based technology integration. Today I focus on our context and what NOT to leverage on.
 

 
Singapore schools practice e-learning days where kids stay at home for lessons. Prior to this, schools send notifications to parents that explain how this helps us be prepared for the unexpected. In our context, this might mean a viral outbreak or the haze.

That type of rationale — e-learning is emergency learning — does us no favours. The viruses do not celebrate racial harmony in one day and the haze does not heed our kindness campaigns. That is my way of saying that WHEN such events occur and HOW LONG they will take is not easy to predict.

One e-learning day repeated a few times a year is not going to cut it. I know of schools that stagger e-learning content in batches to prevent server overload that one day. How prepared are we should we require constant access over a protracted period?

If there is model to look to, it is how Google ensures that YouTube is up 24×7. That sort of e-learning (entertainment-learning) is available all the time and any time.

When e-learning is relegated to a single day, the preparation to implement it is minimal both technologically and pedagogically. Content and platform access are outsourced to one of a few edtech vendors. There is practically no pedagogy beyond the blanket statement of encouraging students to be self-directed learners.

Being self-directed is important, but most e-learning days are not exemplars of that. Students are told exactly what to do, when, and how. They are following formulas, instructions, and recipes. They are not being independent.
 

 
What might self-direction look like? When learners have an authentic and complex problem they want to solve, they meet in a WhatsApp group they already have, watch a few relevant YouTube videos they look for, and discuss solutions.

Any parent with an e-learning notification letter can also tell you that e-learning days seem to coincide with days or the week right before vacation periods. Is the focus meaningful learning or administrative creativity? Does this mean that the e-learning is in excess, extra, or otherwise good-to-have but not essential?

Not many adults examine the quality of such “e-learning”. As a concerned educator and former head of a centre for e-learning, I offer some questions for both parents and teachers:

  • Bearing in mind what I just wrote, why do you have e-learning?
  • What does the e-learning material and experiences do the SAME as school?
  • What does the e-learning material and experiences do DIFFERENTLY from school?
  • What was worth the effort? What was effective and what was not? Why?
  • After answering the question above, why do you have e-learning (really)?

What might we take away when we compare our efforts with the disaster-driven technology for e-learning?

We should not be complacent when we have the time, space, and resources to do different and do better. But like the case study I summarised yesterday, we should leverage on what learners already do authentically, seamlessly, and without boundaries.


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