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Posts Tagged ‘technology

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. 

The most recent episode of the Build For Tomorrow podcast is for anyone who has bought into the narrative of being “addicted” to technology. 

Podcast host, Jason Feifer, started with the premise that people who have no qualifications, expertise, or study in addiction tend to be the ones who make claims that we are helplessly “addicted” to technology.

Ask the experts and they might point out that such “addiction” is the pathologicalisation of normal behaviour. For an addiction to actually be one, it must interfere with social, familial, occupational commitments.

Another problem with saying that we are “addicted” to technology is that addiction is normally defined chemically (e.g., to drugs, smoking, or alcohol) and not to behaviourally (e.g., gaming, checking social media). Just because something looks like addiction does not mean it is addiction.

An expert interviewed in the podcast described how behavioural addiction had misappropriated chemical addiction in self-reporting surveys (listen from around the 28min 45sec mark). To illustrate how wrong this misappropriation was, he designed an “addicted to friends” study (description starts at the 32min mark).

  • Take the questions from studies about addictive social media use
  • Swap content for friendship measures, e.g., From “How often do you think about social media a day?” to “How often do you think about spending time with friends during the day?”
  • Get a large and representative sample (807 respondents) and ask participants to self report (just like other “addiction” studies)

Long story made short: This study found that 69% of participants were “pathologically addicted to wanting to spend time with other people”. Is this also not a health crisis?

If that sounds ridiculous, know that this followed the design of the alarming social media addiction studies but was more thorough. If we cannot accept the finding that people are addicted to spending time with one another, we should not accept similarly designed studies that claim people are “addicted” to social media.

Other notable notes from the podcast episode:

  • Non-expert addiction “experts” or the press like to cite numbers, e.g., check social media X times a day. This alone does not indicate addiction. After all, we breathe, eat, and go to the loo a certain number of times a day, but that does not mean we are addicted to those things.
  • The heavy use of, say, social media is not necessarily a cause of addiction. It might be a correlation made bare, i.e., a person has an underlying condition and behaviour manifests that way. The behaviour (checking social media) did not cause the addiction; it is the result of something deeper.
  • The increased use of social media and other technological tools are often enablers of social, familial, occupational commitments, not indicators of addiction. Just think about how we have had to work and school from home over the current pandemic. Are we addicted to work or school?

One final and important takeaway. The podcast episode ended with how blindly blaming addiction on technology is a form of learnt helplessness. It is easier for us to say: Something or someone else is to blame, not me. We lose our agency that way. Instead, we should call our habit what it is — overuse, wilful choice — not a pathological condition. 

I enjoyed this podcast episode because it dealt with a common and ongoing message by self-proclaimed gurus and uninformed press. They focus on getting attention and leveraging on fear. Podcasts like Build For Tomorrow and the experts it taps focus on meaning and nuance.

To fully understand this tweet, you need to know who Sisyphus is. From this blurb in Merriam-Webster

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king who annoyed the gods with his trickery. As a consequence, he was condemned for eternity to roll a huge rock up a long, steep hill in the underworld, only to watch it roll back down.

A research fellow at the University of Cambridge, Dr Amy Orben, borrowed this story to write a paper, The Sisyphean Cycle of Technology Panics. The tweet above nicely illustrates this with some examples of what we have worried about over time.

Why do we repeat this this pointless effort? Orben offers a condensed answer in her abstract:

In this cycle, psychologists are encouraged to spend time investigating new technologies, and how they affect children and young people, to calm a worried population. Their endeavour is however rendered ineffective due to a lacking theoretical baseline; researchers cannot build on what has been learnt researching past technologies of concern. Thus academic study seemingly restarts for each new technology of interest, slowing down the policy interventions necessary to ensure technologies are benefitting society.

TLDR? We fail to learn from history. Others much wiser have made that claim before me. So I share some image quotes I made previously by embedding them in this slideshow.

We can be better than this. We need to break the wheel. Orben suggested a UnITED Framework for Technology Research: Unique use, Individual, Time frame, Effect size, Direction. Unique use seemed to be about identifying a special affordance of technology and Individual seemed to be about specifying the unit of research.

Her paper will be critiqued by her peers. Both the paper and critiques should be useful to those who do not deeply understand or use technology but still have to shape policies or write newspaper articles about them.

Come October I will be facilitating online modules on ICT for inclusive education. This is part of a larger course set that I have been involved in since 2016.

As with most courses, the allocated time is extremely tight, so we uncover only the basics. But there are two broader issues that I wish we could address in greater depth. These are some quick thoughts on the deficit model and equitable education.

The first thing I take issue with is the deficit model of special needs and inclusive education. If you watch the videos below, you might note how the “disabled” are concerned about how they help they receive is often based on charity or pity.


Video source


Video source

The interviewees shared their hopes and dreams, which are no different from yours or mine. So instead of just focusing on overcoming their disabilities, we might also develop their nascent or untapped abilities.

The second issue that does not get enough attention is equitable opportunities in education, not just equal ones. This long used reference illustrates the difference between treating people equally and with equity.

Treating everyone the same is a hallmark of equality. The problem with equality is that the most disadvatanged start at a much lower point and the help does not boost them enough to level the playing ground.

The idea of fairness drives equity. This means giving those that need it more help than those who do not. This is like giving the poorer more money to tide over the current coronavirus pandemic and less (or nothing) to the rich.

How does ICT fit in?

In terms of equity, I see the marginalised and disenfranchised given at least as much access to current technologies. Where there are specialised enabling (assistive) technologies, I say we put in the time, money, and effort to develop and provide these to those who need them.

As for overturning the deficit model, I say we focus on technologies that enable the so-called disabled to develop and share what they can do. This might be everyday tools we use like YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok.

I hope to be able to conclude my modules with these thoughts or sprinkle them when they arise organically. This way I focus less on content that expires and more on mindsets that last a lifetime.

If you asked me to define “technology”, I would say that it is any tool that helps us perform tasks more efficiently or effectively.

A stick is technology whether it is used as a lever, a spear to fish, or an instrument to write on the sand. It helps us lift a weight more easily, increases our reach, and externalises thought respectively.

These days, however, I would define technology as any tool that you have now that you did not have when you were growing up. For older adults, this might be the mobile phone. It is something that has great utility, but gained prominence outside a period of fearless learning.
 

 
Modern technology not static. A mobile phone used to mimic a landline; it is now a small computer, camera, and a myriad of other devices compactly squashed in our pockets.

The current and modern mobile phone is a good example of an ICT — an information and communication technology. It can be used to find information, possibly repackage it, and then share it. I might use my phone to check for definitions of technology, devise my own, and then blog about it.

IT tends to be one-way — think about the transmissive powers of television, PowerPoint, and wifi. IT tends to be highly regulated or controlled by someone or a group in authority.

ICT, on the other hand, is two-way or multi-way. Think about social media, video conferencing, and torrent seeding. ICT relies on decentralised and socialised control. Its norms and expectations are negotiated over time and within communities.

There is no single way to define technology, IT, or ICT. Their meanings can change in context. Mine is education and these are ideas that provide a foundation for how I begin to teach others how to integrate technologies. This is how I see T.


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