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Posts Tagged ‘technology

This reflection might seem like a departure from what I normally write about, but it is still about learning and technology.

I spent the last three weeks dealing with the aftermath of a leaky ceiling at my father’s apartment. It took several months to get the upstairs neighbour to get his pipes and floor repaired, and then we were left with dining walls and ceiling that looked like this.

Photo of example wall showing water damage due to upstairs neighbour's leaky pipes and floor.
Wall with water damage due to upstairs neighbour’s leaky pipes and floor.

The months-old fresh yellow paint had peeled and flaked to reveal bare patches. Worse still, fungus grew from the walls and ceiling and it “snowed” indoors when clumps of fungal filaments came loose.

Screenshot from video of fungus growing out of wall.
Screenshot from video of fungus growing out of wall.

The apartment was a health hazard and the first step was to kill the fungus. With DIY not the norm in Singapore, it took me a while to find a place that sold a canister of anti-fungus solution (SGD36 for 5L). It took two to three applications to make sure that the filaments did not grow back.

Before I did that, I had to scrape off the flakey paint, sand the walls, and allow the walls to air-dry. Only then did I soak the walls with the anti-fungus solution. These took two weeks to apply, observe, and repeat.

Then came the painting in layers. I used two strategies. For the ceiling, I applied a primer and then two coats of anti-fungal paint that is normally used for bathrooms.

For the walls, I first patched the bare parts, sanded the rough bits, applied two coats of primer, and a coat of yellow paint. I am taking a break before applying the second coat. The initial coat already looks good, but I know not to rest on my laurels.

The process was not one of painting by numbers but of problem-solving instead. For example, I had not encountered indoor wall fungus before and had to learn how it formed and what to do. I then had to look for resources to create a solution.

For me, this was not unlike how teachers new to a technology might approach their learning. That is, not rely on formula or dogma, but instead find informed solutions to authentic problems. Why do this at all? Because you care for those in your care.

I was happy to see how the ceiling and walls looked with the eventual coats of paint. The results seemed instantaneous, but there was a lot of preparatory work — cleaning, disinfecting, sanding, patching, priming, waiting in between — before the actual painting.

This was a reminder of what good technology integration is like— advance and hard work behind the possibly flashy lesson. Fail to do that preparatory work and the lesson will likely fail. It the lesson does not fail immediately, it will over time (e.g., students do not actually learn or attitudes do not change) just like the fungus returning or the paint flaking.

Screenshot from ceiling-mounted webcam of me painting the ceiling.
Screenshot from ceiling-mounted webcam of me painting the ceiling.

I also applied what I had learnt previously. I levelled up from the practice and experience of painting my own bathrooms and kitchen several weeks before. I had to learn how to deal with the fungus, but I already knew how to properly prepare and paint the walls after that. This is like technology integration in that one experience can positively inform and build towards another. Rarely are such efforts novel or unlinked.

Paint and the various painting implements are evolving technologies in their own right. Water-based paints are very different from the smelly, solvent-based ones I used when helping my father paint his apartment about 45 years ago. Water-based paints dry faster, release much less odour, and are easier to clean up. They make for more efficient and effective painting.

Technology integration is about embracing current and evolving tools because they are better. They are not perfect, but they might be more efficient, effective, or both compared to a previous practice-tool combination. It helps to remember the past while not letting that hold you back. We should learn from technological history, but we should not let that dictate dogma. If we do, we rely on painting by numbers instead of finding meaningful solutions to authentic problems.

The video above is a good example of how to use technology. It is about clearing a clogged drain grating with a rake, but the principles apply to contexts like schooling and education.

The humble rake is a form of technology — it is a tool that helps us do work more efficiently and/or effectively. It would be possible to do the same without the rake, but the task would have been slower and more difficult.

What rake technology principles apply elsewhere? The rake helped clear the clog effectively and prevented a flood. Technology use is good when it solves problems and benefits as many people as possible.

The raker also illustrated behaviours of good technology use. He did not clear the clog on his first try — he had to start blind because he was not sure were the drain grating was. But he persisted and eventually cleared the clog. Good technology use is persistent.

His initial success of finding the grate switched from moving debris around to removing it so that it would not reclog the drain. On other words, he leveraged on early victories and reflexively learnt from them to use the technology even more effectively.

When some people say they are afraid of technology or do not use it, I say that they are kidding themselves. We use technology all the time be it basic or advanced. The principles of good use apply to forms and are easy to transfer if we just try.

Video source

I watched this video on extending the lifespan of existing LED bulbs instead of buying new ones. 

I appreciated the relatively simple hacks that the YouTuber suggested to increase the longevity of LED bulbs. Not throwing them away means not wasting money and resources. After all, we should be stewards of our planet, not slaves to corporations.

I also admired how the YouTuber took advantage of technologies that translated his native language to english. This move helped him reach a larger audience than he already had. It was a simple reminder of how much good technology can do if we learn to leverage on its affordances.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

When I listened to Jason Feifer’s latest podcast episode about the dawn of recorded music, How to See Gain, Where Others See Loss, I had two immediate thoughts.

The first was that I had heard this message from Feifer before. The next was about how naysayers have disproportionate influence. By listening to the end, I also learnt about the “lump-of-labour” fallacy.

At the end of his current episode, Feifer pointed out that it was based on a previous one in 2017. The message that people tended to fear newer technologies simply because they see a loss (of control, jobs, income, etc.) was also not new.

Also not new was how we might focus on what we might gain from technology adoption. This is a worthwhile message because some people forget and others have not heard it. Every semester, I meet the latter group in the form of pre and inservice teachers.

That group also reminded me how influential naysayers can be. They have disproportionate volume and weight because we are attuned to paying attention to threats. So something negative gets our time and attention.

However, placing too much effort on appeasing this group distracts us from doing the good work of helping the other group — the neutrals and the positives — see how to gain from edtech.

The value-add of the newer version of the podcast episode came in at the 34-minute mark. Feifer and the expert he interviewed talked about the lump-of-labour fallacy. This is where technophobes assume that there is a fixed number of jobs and that technology (like robots) will replace people and take jobs away.

The technophobes might not realise how this might actually create new jobs or expand current job scopes. Feifer explained how automation in the past created cheaper products and allowed workers to spend less money on essentials like food and more on entertainment. The latter fed the creation and sustenance of the entertainment and recreation industries.

This non-zero-sum game has a different approach in schooling and education. Instead of seeing how edtech takes time away from curriculum and could require teacher reskilling, teachers might look at what opportunities it brings. If students have greater access and develop more independence, then the role of teachers can evolve too. Why focus on what you might lose when you have so much more to gain?

This tweeted look back into our recent history triggered me. I still hear excuses for why technology should not enable teaching and learning. 

The news article may be 40-years-old, but it shares the same the roots for excuses today — fear and ignorance. There is the fear of change and the lack of reading up and trying new ways.

Nowadays the fear that paralyses seems to come from the bogeymen of screen time, social media, and video games. The ignorance behind these is entrenched by traditional media channels that focus on opinions over research, and loose perception over rigorous data.

Thankfully, I do not encounter as many technology-resistant pre- and in-service teachers as before. But they linger like the anti-vax segments of our population. And like the anti-vaxxers, such teachers hold themselves and their students back from doing and being better.

Whether on mainstream or social media, pundits like to point out that technology evolves so quickly that laws and policies fall behind.

The last week in Singapore saw a rare opposite: Policy preceded technological readiness. I am referring to the differentiated treatments of those vaccinated and unvaccinated against SARS-CoV2.

The policy was to only allow those who were fully vaccinated access to “dine-in at hawker centres and coffee shops, and to enter shopping malls and attractions” [source].

The problem lay in the check-in process to these areas. The use of the TraceTogether app provided a human checker with information about vaccination status and recorded contact tracing information. A person armed only with a TraceTogether token also had to carry a hardcopy of their vaccination status.

Either way, this created delays in entry to buildings. However, this was resolved when a newer scanning system recorded both vaccination status and contact tracing information. This was efficient, but the rollout was uneven across the week and over different places.

The policy was ahead of technological readiness. But I have no doubt that workers in this field were prepared with change options. This is why the rollout of the new scanning system was relatively quick.

I observe a lopsided similarity of edtech in schooling and education. For example, technology enables more independent learning, but antiquated policies and behavioural inertia lag far behind. This is similar to rest-of-world reaction to possibilities enabled with technology.

But when progressive policies push all stakeholders in edtech, people try to force fit what they already do with new technology sets instead of changing their behaviours, e.g., rely on synchronous teacher talk instead of asynchronous, semi-independent learning. They are neither ready nor prepared. 

I cannot blame people for not being fully ready. They cannot be because the changes are so rapid. But they can be prepared by reading up, trying new technologies, and failing safely. 

Video source

None of the technology represented above as futuristic was new. They should not be to anyone who reads, listens, or watches consistently.

Much of the technology was also embryonic or nascent. They are just as likely to spark hope as they are disappear into the night.

The video offered another timely reminder — these wonders are already available to the ones on the right side of the divide.

Do I sound pessimistic? I am trying to be optimistically realistic. I do not wish to build castles in the air. If I invest in hope and energy, I look for more grounding than Hollywood fantasy.

Video source 

There is a reason why they are called The Economist — they are not educationists! I would not venture into the world of economics and make claims based on what I Google or even what hear from someone I respect.

I wish that they (and others like them) would refrain from reinforcing these mythic buzzwords.

Within the first 20 seconds of the video, 2020 was called the year of disruption. Disruption is overused. If we are inconvenienced for a while and return to normal after that, that “disruption” was not one.

At the 2 minute 11 second mark, was the much vaunted “year of loss” because of school shutdowns. These are losses as measured only by tests and curriculum time. Already disenfranchised kids were disadvantaged further. But were there absolutely no gains, e.g., in resilience, independence, savvy? 

Roughly 4 minutes and 15 seconds into the video, the narrator claimed that edtech companies responded with apps and service. As few kind words as I have for mercenary vendors, it is unfair to say that they responded as if they reacted. No, many were already prepared and took advantage of emergency-based learning.

OMG, the video at 4 minutes and 25 seconds sees the mention of the “teacher had to suddenly become virtual”. Virtual is not the same as going online. Virtual means not real, e.g., a virtual world simulation like Second Life. Virtual reality, as oxymoronic as that sounds, refers to a simulated representation of the real world. Teachers are real and had real problems going fully online because they were not professionally developed to operate this way.

OK, take a deep breath… cleanse.

Thankfully, the video was not entirely misinformed. 

At the 7 minute 46 second mark, it introduced how some student teachers experience classroom  interactions with simulations. Unfortunately, this example was technological overkill — a person still had to take a microphone and role play student avatars. The avatars were not yet AI-driven. The simulation was a mere substitution of what teacher preparation programmes already do with role plays.

I wish that the segment was about preparing new teachers on how to do design and facilitate lessons with Zoom. At least this would start nurturing a generation of teachers who know how to operate in lockdowns or teach fully online.

And speaking of being fully online, you had to be 9 minutes and 10 seconds into the video to be asked: Do you need a classroom at all?

Maybe The Economist sought to placate the viewer with easy-to-swallow factoids first. The problem is this does not fit the title of the video (transform your kids’ education). There is nothing transformational about repeating disruption, year of less, or virtual teaching. 

A real transformation is less palatable. It is about challenging the status quo with better ways of doing things. It is about asking and answering difficult questions like: How do we address divides? What mindsets to we need to address? How do we sustain change?

The video is the tweet above is a reminder that many of us do not learn from recent history.

The telling of technological futures does not just happen through a crystal ball. It also happens with rose-tinted glasses. This means that projections can be fuelled by pseudoscience and nostalgia.

The best projections are based on extrapolations of valid and reliable data. They are made by people who are humbled by the scientific method and have learnt from their mistakes. Self-styled gurus make bold claims based more on opinion than fact.

I used to be asked to make predictions about edtech. I choose not to do this very much anymore. The only thing I can be certain of is that we are going to be wrong.

The tweet above samples headline of yesteryears. Today the headlines could read mobile phones, video games, and social media. 

What does not change is people fearing what they chose not to use or understand. It does not take courage to overcome that kind of fear. It takes a modicum of effort. 

If I have any resolve at all, it is to always put int the effort to try and to learn as I age. I do not wish to live in fear. 


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