Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘thinking

Today I reflect on a timely reminder about designing lessons with empathy. 

Last week I brought a revived iMac to my dad’s place in an attempt to pull that apartment into the 21st century (I had previously installed a mobile router).

My plan was for my dad’s live-in helper to learn how to use it for my dad’s telemedical appointments and her own communication with her own family. New ICT skills could be useful in her resume too.

I installed every possible additional messaging system I could think of — WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype — only to be reminded by her that Meta’s Messenger was missing. So I installed that too.

After demonstrating how a tool like WhatsApp could be used on her phone and the desktop, I asked my dad’s helper to set up the desktop client of Messenger, her preferred communication tool.

I left her to tinker with the computer as I busied myself with other chores. As she could not remember her Facebook/Messenger password, she had to create a new account. And that is where she got stuck.

Photo by Sohel Patel on

While competent on mobile, she had hardly used a desktop computer. She did not know how to enter the “@“ sign and create capital letters. So I taught her how to use the Shift key.

I had taken two things for granted: First, that I had provided a near complete suite of communication tools, and second, that she knew how to use a desktop keyboard. 

I did not lack empathy, but I was certainly lacking in empathy. The way I built up more empathy depended on us previously establishing a relationship of trust, e.g., there is no question too dumb. I asked the helper what messaging tool she preferred to use. She asked me how to input the “@“ sign and capital letters.

When I think about the workshop that I am designing now on the pedagogy of empathy, I remind myself how empathy is built first on the pedagogy of questions (i.e., focusing on learning processes) and on building trust with learners (i.e., focusing on relationships with learners). 

I might have taught my dad’s helper how to use the Shift key. Now I might need to convince some teachers how to shift in mindset and behaviour.

My response to the tweet above: Why operate on a false dichotomy? Good teachers should do both.

The saying was probably a critique to how some (most?) teachers operate — deliverers of content. Hence the call to “not teach others WHAT to think”.

In the long run, it is better (and harder) to teach learners HOW to think. They learn to operate more independently, teach themselves, and test ideas.

However, a teacher cannot enable this in a vacuum. She needs content. You cannot really teach someone to fish with an empty barrel.

No, the call is not one of a wholesale shift in pedagogy. It is a realignment to do both and focus on what matters in the long run.

Spotify source

I enjoyed the latest Conan Needs A Friend podcast episode more than I usually do because the guest was Professor Brian Cox.

In the episode, Cox reminded me of two lessons on science and one principle about systems:

  1. Science is about a way of thinking, not simply the acquisition of knowledge.
  2. It is about developing a skill — the ability to say that you do not know and then seeking reliable sources of knowledge.
  3. Systems take a long time to change and sometimes progress is made by swinging from one extreme to another. While alarming, the return to a less progressive extreme is a reminder why we need the more progressive change.

It took my leaving the profession as a science teacher to really learn the first two principles. I had to pursue a Ph.D. in Instructional Systems Technology to get the basics of systemic thinking. It is no wonder that it is difficult to think and operate this way.

I reject the simplistic notion that we suffer from “information overload”. What ails us might be a deficit of healthy skepticism nurtured by modern literacy and critical thinking. I arrived at that conclusion as I read this tweeted report by STonline.

I am not denying that we have more information now that we have ever had before. This is merely a function of time and evolution. We will have more information tomorrow than we have today. This does not mean that we have an overload of information.

Instead, I would wager that most people operate in their bubbles. This means that they already filter information based on biases and beliefs. They are not overloaded with it; they are consuming it with glee.

But I also acknowledge that people might wonder what to do with new sets of information that seem contradictory. Take, for example, the information, misinformation, and disinformation around COVID-19 and its vaccines over the last two years.

That is not because there was an overload of information. There was a lack of scientific and modern literacy, i.e., an ignorance about how scientific discoveries are made and evaluated, and the inability to read laterally and critically. To those ends I agree wholeheartedly with the call to prepare teachers to educate differently and better.

But I worry about the buzzwords in the article that negate this well-intentioned call. For example, it referred to implementing “best teaching practices” as if there was a set that you could use among diverse contexts like ITEs, polytechnics, and universities. You need only consider one faculty member teaching two classes of students taking the same course to realise that you cannot teach both exactly the same way.

The article also name dropped “e-pedagogy” as if it was a new thing. I think that it is NOT new and more to do with mindset than skillset. You cannot rely only on courses and professional development to nurture such mindsets.

Is that a cognitive overload? Think again. It is cognitive dissonance and the start of learning something new if you choose to take that journey.

Instagram source

I like how Edutopia uses Instagram to create bite-size tips to teachers. The video above suggested three ways of putting visible thinking into practice: Vertical learning, fishbowl learning, and think-aloud problem-solving.

If they asked me how their videos could be better, I suggest they include the source of the concept, John Hattie’s research on visible thinking, in the video (like how I attribute their Instagram post with links in this blog entry). They might think of this as visible attribution of someone else’s work and the modelling of ethical behaviour.

Video source

I love the comedic stylings of Joe Lycett and Lucy Beaumont. So if I was a classroom teacher, I might use this video as a hook for teaching and modelling critical thinking.

The video was about how Beaumont tried to offset her carbon expenditure (travel overseas) with credits (local actions). She wanted to be carbon neutral so that she could enjoy a guilt-free hen-do (a bachelorette party) for a friend.

The video was an opportunity to not just entertain, but to also inform its audiences on being responsible with our shared and natural resources. That said, edutainment errs on the side of a good laugh and low-hanging fruit. It is up to an educator to help learners dig deeper.

I might start by asking my learners to find out how ineffective tree-planting is, much less the six plants that Beaumont bought. We might factor in the unseen vehicle she had to arrange to transport everything she bought.

Beaumont brought in a consultant who told her that the asparagus she had in her fridge was flown in at great environmental cost from Peru. My learners and I would analyse this issue by identifying and calculating the costs in detail.

We might ponder on statements I would make, like: 

  • One person’s effort to stop buying Peruvian asparagus does not count for much.
  • Beaumont’s overall strategy of consumerism was counterproductive.
  • If you are going to change behaviours, do not rely on half measures.

In the process of uncovering answers, we would deconstruct thought processes and reconstruct principles of critical thinking.

If I had any agenda, it would be to end the lesson on the fact that “carbon neutrality” is often an excuse to keep practicing bad behaviours and “balancing” them with good ones. 

We are not the fictional character, Dexter, who kills people by night and solves crimes by day. That TV show was entertaining to watch, but no one in their right minds would condone such behaviour. And yet so many see nothing wrong with carbon neutrality.

The image in the tweet above is amusing, but that is all it is. It reminds me of online quizzes that claim they can tell you your personality type or which Hogwarts house you belong to.

I am none of the options in the image. Someone might think of categories to lump people into, but they cannot be exhaustive.

You might be in more than one or you might jump from one category to another depending on the circumstances. We are fickle and complex that way. 

You might also argue that such quizzes or questions that categorise you are harmless fun. They might be if you are a critical thinker. The problem is that such “fun” is more popular than the work of actually thinking for yourself. You become lazy if you cannot critique something that relies on lazy thinking to propagate itself.

Tags: ,

No, I am not treading on the toes of those who promote visual thinking or visual learning. I am referring to this representation:

The worst kind of thinking can create conspiracy theories. These start a predefined idea (the unicorn) instead of doing the hard work of the scientific method. Such theories connecting the dots around the stencil so that the idea materialises.

If there is a bigger problem than this sort of thinking, it might be that some people do not realise that they are thinking this way. They fall prey to pseudoscientists and charlatans who take advantage of lazy or convenient thinking.

We have a preventative antidote to this sort of poisonous thought. It is called metacognition — thinking about thinking — and knowing when and how to switch strategies.

Recently, five Singapore doctors cautioned against inoculating younger males with mRNA-based vaccines because of a small chance of myocarditis, i.e., heart inflammation [source].

Their view was informed more by “heart inflammation” than by “small chance”. How small? According to this CNA article, there were 1,226 cases of myocarditis out of almost 400 million vaccine doses in the USA. This works out to a 0.0003% chance of getting myocarditis.

The same article reported that Singapore reported 6 cases out of about 5 million doses. This is an almost one in a million chance. You might be more likely to win a lottery than to get myocarditis.

The doctors also cited a USA report of the “death of a 13-year-old boy after being vaccinated with the second dose of an mRNA vaccine”. However, an expert committee here countered that by stating that “the news report cited by the doctors did not state death from heart failure as alleged”.

The small group of doctors might be well-meaning, but they have chosen to write a fear-based headline, speculated a causal link between vaccine and death, and ignored the statistical part of the narrative.

The group of five doctors overlaps with the 12 doctors who wrote an earlier letter, which like the latest one, was roundly debunked by the expert committee. Eleven of the 12 doctors who wrote that letter retracted what they said [CNA] [Today].

What damage both letters caused is difficult to determine. We might get some inference by measuring vaccine hesitancy and queues outside private clinics that offer non-mRNA-based vaccines, i.e., Sinovac in our case [source].

We have vaccines as a class of weapons against the current pandemic. We are less well-equipped with the infodemic. We need to learn to read, think, and act beyond a headline. If we do not, infected minds will lead to infected bodies.

Today I build on my reflection yesterday on how to encourage systemic thinking by teaching learners to ask “What else?“.

I listened to a podcast interview by Conan O’Brien of former US President Barack Obama. Towards the end of the interview, both explored a theme that started with this quote (54min mark):

…if we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will… be between patriotism and intelligence on one side, and superstition, ignorance, and ambition on the other.

In the context of the US political system, the quote could have been from a pundit or scholar on a news talk show yesterday. But it was by Ulysses S Grant in 1875.

Obama then described we how tend to pay attention only to what is immediately in front of us. If you asked me, I would say that we deal with the urgent and forget what is important.

Both men were trying to say how important it is to study and learn from history. The problems we face now are not new; they are just different.

So if we are to nurture critical thinkers who think systemically, another powerful question they might ask is: When else?


Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: