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Posts Tagged ‘time

This is a continuation of yesterday’s rant on a poorly conceived video by Channel News Asia (CNA), “Can e-learning make you dumb?”.

The presenter (and his writers, if he had any) equated educational apps with e-learning. Any apps might be used for e-learning, but they do not represent e-learning. Furthermore, labelling an app “educational” does not make it so. It is about HOW any app is used that makes it useful for schooling, education, or learning. This principle seemed to be lost on the makers of the video.

Today I critique the video in the order in which its ideas were presented.

The video started with the now iconic dragon playground as a representation of how kids used to play in the past. Its message was clear — nostalgic thinking was better even if it did not consider changing contexts and fallible memories.
Nostalgia quote.
The presenter then interviewed three sets of researchers and clinicians.

The first was a researcher from the National Institute of Education, Singapore. There was nothing new from this segment if you keep up with educator blogs or current papers on screen time.

The strategy was the same — highlight unwarranted fears and conveniently leave out the importance of supervised and strategic use of apps by children.

The most alarming segment of the video started with this question from the presenter:

These apps are just bad at teaching our children. What if they could also be messing our children’s brains in the long run?

The presenter started with a tiny sample of non-identical twins (n=2) to test executive function after one twin played with app and other sat and drew. He then showed how the app-using child seemed to have problems following instructions compared to his non-app kin.

The presenter claimed that his illustration was a “ripoff” of an actual study. So was the original study just as poorly designed and implemented? Any critical thinker or researcher worth their salt would ask questions like:

  • Were there no confounding variables that could have affected the results?
  • How can anyone control for all contributing factors?
  • Were the treatments switched after a sufficiently long rest period?

The only statement from the presenter that I agree with was his admission that “this is far from a scientific experiment”. His pantomime attempt to put the app-using child in bad light was neither valid nor reliable.
Texting Congress 1 by afagen, on Flickr
Texting Congress 1” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by afagen
The presenter then interviewed two clinicians. “Interview” might be too generous; it was more like selectively confirming bias.

The first item on the interview list was the fabled harmful screen time. In doing so, they conveniently lumped all devices with screens to harmful screen time and ignored more nuanced definitions and revised guidelines from authorities like the American Pediatric Association (see this curated list of resources).

For example, one of the two clinicians pointed out the harm of passive screen time from watching too much TV. However, this did not discount active screen time.

If you do not know what active screen time looks like, I share a snapshot of future instructors I teach and mentor. This group was using apps with their learners.
Active screen time.
The other clinician said active use involved two-way communication or interaction with the environment. However, the video producers opted not to balance their bias with examples of such active screen time. They seemed to focus on children only as passive consumers and not active producers of content.

Not content to fearmonger about short-term effects of using apps, the interviewer also asked how the apps affect the career prospects of children. Read that again: Career prospects of children. This tangent then led to children leading lives of crime. I kid you not.

Reasonably logical and critical people do not need research or “research” to realise that the interviewer was over reaching here.

As if to appease the interviewer’s agenda, one researcher gave an example of a distracted child in a classroom. Really? This could be any child, app user or not, or to a child with ADHD.

There is no research that says that children sitting still are ultimately successful. Nor should there be. Not only are such studies unethical, they are illogical. No one can claim that a single factor (like app use) determines a child’s career prospects.

That same researcher suggested that a distracted child could suffer from bad grades, have poor health, and end up committing crimes. How can anyone draw a single, clear, and unbroken line that links a child’s app use to an adult’s job prospects or likelihood to commit crimes?

If the researcher was prone to exaggeration, then the interviewer was prone to oversimplification. He declared on camera:

I didn’t realise that just more screen time can develop to more crimes in society.

The real crime was that Channel News Asia pushed such drivel on screen.

The final expert interviewed by the presenter did what most people do with the delayed gratification study — misinterpret it.  The emphasis of the study was not IF a child delayed gratification, but HOW they did so.

The expert used the misinterpretation to highlight how apps provide instant gratification. Both the expert and the video producers conveniently ignored that both rewards and app use can be about the decision-making processes and the choices a child makes.

The CNA video was an attempt to pander to base fears instead of challenging viewers to look beyond the obvious. The question (“Can e-learning make you dumb?”) was designed as click bait and was a misdirect.

The answers were like a poorly written General Paper by a scatter-brained junior college (JC) student. That JC student was not a distracted app user. She was not supervised by her parents nor guided by teachers. She was not taught to question critically or research thoroughly.

An app alone cannot teach; an adult needs to be involved to monitor, moderate, and mediate. An app alone cannot make you dumb. Uninformed use, uncritical processing of the CNA video, or misguided beliefs in misinformation make you or your children dumb.

Apps do not make you dumb or keep you ignorant. Only dumb people who choose to be wilfully ignorant do.

This TED talk is like a trojan horse, but a good kind.


It started with the unwarranted fears of “screen time” but was really about authentic game-based learning.

The speaker, Sara Dewitt, outlined how games were or could be:

  • A form of embodied learning
  • A possible replacement for standardised testing
  • An opportunity for adults to co-learning with children

These aspects of gaming might be new to some. I hope they become standard fare in education because that is one of the places the mobile road is taking us.

You might be reading this because of the clickbait title and image. I hope you read on even though this reflection is not about punishing your child. It is about inculcating discipline.

Earlier this week, my son decided to share what his school mates do for meals outside of school. Some of them have such huge allowances that they drink a Starbucks coffee every day. Others microwave marked up and over-processed food at a 7-11.

Some might argue that the kids are not drinking actual coffee nor are they consuming good food. I choose not to focus on this health issue. Instead I wish to share some strategies of helping kids manage their money, their time, and themselves.

Managing money
Some of my son’s classmates come from rich households and this shows in their allowances. Their weekly expenditure on Starbucks alone exceeds my son’s weekly allowance and public transport fares combined.

Parents want the best for their kids and for me this does not meaning giving them everything they want or more than they need. It means nurturing good values and attitudes with something as basic as managing one’s allowance.

One simple way to help kids manage finances is to discuss their weekly allowance and to show them how to use it. This means getting down to specifics of what they might eat at breaks and lunch, and how much to spend.

My son also has to save part of his allowance to buy what he wants. This is typically e-wallet gaming money which can take a few months to build up. This teaches him not only the basics of financial literacy, but also how to prioritise and to persevere.

Managing time
Money is tangible in that it can be held or exchanged for some commodity. Time less so.

Kids will spend hours on devices if we let them and if we do not teach them how to walk away. Even adults are guilty of doing this, so who are we to judge? But judge we must because kids need to learn to allocate time to different tasks.

We do two things in our home to help my son manage his computer gaming time. We discuss limits and we use a timer.

When he was younger, we typed up and laminated a contract that stated expectations, limits, and consequences. We stuck the contract on the computer desk where he plays and works.

Now that he is older, we do not rely on the old contract. We have a spoken agreement on how much time he can spend on the computer on weekdays and weekends. He sets the timer, and when it goes off, he has to stop using the computer.

This means that he must decide how much time and effort he can spend with his gaming buddies. His expeditions must be planned instead of leaving everything to chance or emergence.

Managing self
Managing one’s finances and time are part of managing one’s self. But there are other aspects of self management, e.g., social behaviours.

A significant issue growing up is dealing with negative peer pressure. The do’s and don’ts are too numerous to list, so we have opted not to fight that battle. Listing a set of “commandments” does not teach a child to think critically and independently.

Instead I introduced the concept of “spheres of influence” to my son. I told him that when he was younger, my wife and I were the only ones in that sphere. As he grew up more relatives, other adults, friends, and acquaintances stepped in and out of that sphere.

The growing sphere is a natural function of learning in social contexts. However, only his original parental sphere has his best interest in mind. The other spheres may have non-ideal or less altruistic goals.

My son experiences this for himself every day, so the spheres of influence are not just a theoretical concept. If we tell him what and why he needs to do something, he knows we have his well-being in mind.

The spheres shape each person and condense into who they are. The quality of a person manifests itself in self-management and some expressions are more obvious than others.

I look for small evidence of self-management. He clears his food tray without being reminded. He does not abandon his bag in a public place. He greets “uncles” and “aunties” on his own.

Being a mild child, he is shy about the last one and needs constant reminding. But that is why he has parents. We are there to instil that discipline.

December is often a time to think of March. The march of time to be precise.

This photo is a variant of many before it, but I had not yet seen this version.

It could very well have been photoshopped, but the message it clear. Time, tide, and technology wait for no man.

Change matters.

Here is something I shared last year thanks to this CC-licensed photo.

My message then and now is the same: We can use technology to do the same things we have done before or to help us conquer the impossible. If we believe change matters, we will do the latter.

I am a consultant. If you want my services and we cut to the chase, you need to exchange my time and effort for a fee because that is how I make a living.

Groupie after a talk.

One thing I do quite often is conduct seminars or deliver keynotes. However, the people who try to engage me do not know how much work that entails. They often offer a low honorarium that is suitable for, say, university faculty who already draw regular salaries.

How much is my time and effort worth? To answer that question, you need to know how much time and effort I put into something as basic as a talk.

Here are some things I do just to prepare for a talk:

  • I meet with the organisers to clarify goals and align strategies for the event.
  • I find out about my audience by designing and conducting online polls, conducting focus group interviews, and/or visiting and observing work environments.
  • I jump through administrative hoops and navigate the policy-riddled waters that each opportunity brings.
  • I do my usual daily readings courtesy of RSS feeds and Twitter, but I focus on articles that are serendipitously relevant to the topic.
  • I connect the loose threads that arise from my readings; the results of my polls, interviews, and observations; previous events I have facilitated; and my overall experience.
  • I consolidate and distill wisdoms into an outline for the talk.
  • I fill in information gaps in the content and of the audience by doing more reading and research.
  • I design visually pleasing and provocative slides for sharing online.
  • I create one or more online spaces for my audience to become participants instead.
  • I iteratively reflect and revise the content and method.
  • I rehearse. Over and over. If I make something look effortless, it is only because of the practice.

I do all these three to six months before the event.

On stage.

I take what I do seriously and professionally. The talk is not a hobby or an interesting distraction.

I share this to provide insights into what my time and effort are worth. I will not shortchange you, so please do not shortchange me.

There have been recommendations about limiting screen time for kids. Then there was the take back for some of those recommendations. More recently there were these suggestions for how to rationalise screen time for and with kids.

These articles might share a similar fixation, which is viewing screen time as one activity. It is not.

If you have a child, watch them as they use the same mobile device for different activities. If you do not, imagine what that looks like.

iphone by apdk, on Flickr
iphone” (CC BY 2.0) by  apdk 

Just because it looks the same does not mean it is.

The child could be watching YouTube videos, or just as likely, the parent could be letting the videos nanny the child. People like to call this passive consumption of media and compare this to watching television. Articles that recommend strict limits tend to adopt this school of thought.

The child could also be interacting and communicating with others. The sheer number of text, voice, and video-based tools for these activities will create a lot of screen time for adults wanting to find out what these are.

The child could also be co-creating in Minecraft, remixing in GarageBand, designing memes in a Photoshop-like tool, or, gasp, submitting some homework in Edmodo.

The communicating and creating activities are vital skills as the child grows, and these practices continue into adulthood. This is like predator cubs learning by play and practice as they grow up and when they are grown up.

Can a standard set of recommendations and strategies deal with a diverse set of activities? More importantly, can adults who do not look through the eyes of a child (or not do what the child does) relate to why the child loves “screen time”?

No. So I recommend a switch in world view.

If you are going to restrict your kids, restrict yourself first and see how you like it. Do not read e-books while on your daily commute. Do not binge on Netflix. Do not Instagram your food. Do not Facebook micro facets of your day. Do not do any work that involves a screen.

How much can you do in modern life without screen time? How do you set a number on it and how do you decide what is good and bad?

You start by not making assumptions as an adult. You continue by doing as a child would, living in the child’s world, and projecting where you can into the child’s future.

This is not to say that there should not be any rules or negotiation. But these do not come first. The child does.

For a better set of ideas and recommendations, I recommend Mind/Shift’s How to Provide Kids With Screen Time That Supports Learning.

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Lead any teacher through a critical thought process of what the most important commodity they need is and you will likely arrive at time. (If not, time will be in the top three.)

Time to plan lessons. Time to complete the curricular race. Time to grade assignments and tests. Time to counsel students. Time to meet with parents. Time to waste at meetings. Time to do the non-core work that schools require them to do.

Time to do all these and so much more.

The common cry from teachers is: If you want us to do these things and more, give us more time. Now we cannot actually create more time, so what teachers mean is for policy makers and leaders to set policy and provide structure so that time is set aside for worthwhile ventures.

Unfortunately, neither policy nor structure will guarantee time, space, or priority to explore new methods, much less to learn from mistakes and to try some more.

To illustrate, first watch the video below and try the activity it suggests.

Video source

Policy is like the overall principle that you cannot move diagonally. Structure is the number of moves you are told to make whenever the person says you can make them. Structure is also the gradual removal of rectangles you can land on.

Like the predicted landing on the pink rectangle, a combination of ideal implementation of policy and structure should lead to predicted outcomes. However, social interventions are not just based on mathematical models.

We need only revisit recent history of broad schooling initiatives here. Those in the service for 10 to 20 years might recall curricular reductions [example], syllabus changes [example], and increased administrative assistance. While these efforts were designed to provide teachers with time and space to focus on their core work and/or try new strategies, teachers are just as busy as before, if not more so.

I have reflected on this phenomenon on different occasions:

In declaring that curricular reduction is an oxymoron, I wrote:

Curricula may be reduced on paper, but the other initiatives that pushed out content in the first place now take disproportionately more time and effort.

The quantity-oriented approach of curricular reduction without an accompanying increase in quality instruction and effective professional development of teachers is pointless. Nature abhors a vacuum and schools tend to fill up the time meant for innovation and reflection with traditional curricular endeavours.

Before I concluded that the problem is not homework, it is context, I said:

I am not sure that content reduction will help. I recall being involved in curricular reduction more than 15 years ago when I was a teacher. Now there only seems to be more to do. Why? Instead of filling the time with exploratory or creative ventures, teachers filled the time with anything linked to test preparation.

In an effort to develop kids holistically, curriculum time was also filled with other activities. In theory, this is a wonderful idea. In reality, this breaks down when things like zoo visits become administrative, logistical, and legal challenges instead of pedagogical ones. Kids then spend their time following orders and rushing from one station to another instead of learning deeply.

When writing Outside-the-box: A follow up, I advised teachers not to view curricula or any element of schooling as a zero sum game.

Neither schooling nor education is a mathematical formula or equation. You cannot expect all a teacher’s work to be, say, ten units in size and ask for five to be removed for a different five to take its place. Whose units of work do you use? How can you compare them?

The lack of time is not just a teacher’s problem. Practically every person who is not a teacher who I have listened to cites the same problem of time. (They also mention the shortfall of personnel, which the Ministry of Education, Singapore, will argue is not an issue with schools, at least on paper.)

The nature of modern work is to do more with less time and even fewer people. If not more work, then it is to deal with constantly changing circumstances or to grapple with issues that are quantifiably the same but qualitatively more difficult.

For example, a teacher might have taught the same content for the last five years and experienced content reduction and a reduction in class size. However, the expectations of parents are higher, the tolerance of students for old pedagogy is lower, and the annual appraisal criteria shift with evolving standards of practice.

For argument’s sake, we might assume a major policy changes, e.g., we sacrifice the sacred cow that is the PSLE. It would be unrealistic to expect that what follows a seismic change is stability. Teachers might get more time and space initially, but things will change again.

The goalposts move and and rules shift. This is the game of school and, for that matter, practically any other work worth doing.

So if teachers cannot expect policies and structure to help create time or space, what can they do? For now I suggest two things.

First, abandon the “wait for others to do something for me first” approach. Drop the programmatic if-then posturing, e.g., if you provide me with social media training, then only will I consider using it for class. Exceptional teachers all over the world are sharing their ideas and practices on platforms like Twitter. Learn from them.

Second, realize that time is not made, it is set aside. All of us have the same 24 hours in a day. You decide what is important in the long run, not the school principal or a policy making team. For example, you decide if it is worth creating your own personal learning network (PLN) so that you can teach your students more meaningfully. You invest the time and effort to learn personally and professionally from teachers and educators anywhere in the world.

It might be hard to read this, but I will put it plainly: Stop complaining and waiting for someone else to create time, space, or resources for you. If you do this, you do not take ownership of the problem. The solutions will also not be yours and this can become a new problem. Take ownership: Identify the problems, find your own solutions. If it is time, you set it aside; if it is space or resources, you create it.


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