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Posts Tagged ‘transfer

The transfer of teaching strategies between physical and online classrooms does not seem to be balanced.

When forced to conduct emergency remote teaching, most teachers transferred strategies they were already familiar with, e.g., teacher talk and proctored exams.

While such a response is understandable — the runway was short and the need was urgent — repeating these behaviours when we know better is irresponsible. Teachers need to be taught how to design for and to facilitate actual online learning.

Teachers also need to be guided to reflect on why certain strategies failed and to learn from the successes of others who avoided the usual tropes.

When they return to their classrooms, they also need to transfer online designs that are likely to work well in-person, e.g., independent learning strategies, greater choice and individualisation, broader and context-based assessment, ungrading.

Things should not return to normal; they should get better. This means that teachers learn how to facilitate online learning and also that classroom-based teaching improves as a result.

I learnt from this news video that the American Disabilities Act is 30 years-old.

Video source

When I used to teach a web design and HTML course in the USA, I recall having to address the issue of disabled-friendly websites.

What I learnt then was that such accommodations were not for a minority. The changes we make for the one seemingly small group can often help larger groups.

The interviewee in the video made this point: Everyone can use a ramp. Not everyone can use the stairs. What seems to service most people (stairs) excludes a few; what is provided for the few (ramps) actually helps many.

The ramps are not just useful for people in wheelchairs. They are also used by parents with young children in strollers, delivery people with trolleys, and old folk on mobility scooters.

For an example online, consider closed captions in YouTube videos. They are be useful for the hearing-impaired and they can also be used by learners of a new language.

This is how help for one group transfers to help for other groups. Such help might not be planned for these other groups, but it is used serendipitously and strategically by them.

I am critical of vendors looking from the outside claiming they have solutions for schools. I am all for educators transferring principles they apply from the wider world to change what happens in schools. But I wonder how many bother to look or know how to look.

Here is an example. I share a mundane experience and then suggest in italics what educators might learn.


Like the majority of Singaporeans, I need spectacles to correct myopia. So do my wife and son. Replacing our glasses is an expensive affair.

I noticed a new chain of stores that promised to not only offer lower prices but to also make replacement lenses in about half an hour.

With free or low-cost technology, you can reach learners with much less traditional effort.

My wife and I wandered into one branch while in town, ordered ourselves new pairs of glasses, and arranged to collect them at a branch near where we stay.

Teaching and learning does not have to happen in one place. Going to where the learner is at socially and pedagogically is easy with today’s technology.

The spectacle chain is thorough with their eye examinations, their staff are polite, and the lenses prepared overseas. The price breakdowns are clear: There is the basic set and several add-ons (like the type of lenses) that increase the cost of a pair of glasses.

Treat people nicely and communicate simply and clearly. Your resources need not be created in-house; they can be outsourced or curated.

Easy pairs of spectacles are done on the spot. More customised glasses like the ones with progressive, transition, or high-index lenses take about two weeks to make.

Communicate performance expectations clearly and keep your promises.

The chain contacted me by SMS when the glasses were ready. I visited the store they promised I could pick them up at and was very pleased with my new spectacles.

Again, go where the learners are at. Communicate with media and strategies that they are already using.

I asked if they could replace my son’s lenses but keep his current frame. The processing and eye examination probably took more time than the grinding of the lenses.

Meet the learners where they are. Technology allows customisation and you can learn how to go with the flow.

I received two $30 discount coupons on my first purchase. I applied one coupon to the first purchase and the other to the second. I received a $10 discount coupon with the second purchase for a subsequent purchase.

Incentivise logically. While many “gamify” by withholding benefits, this chain illustrated a strategy of giving. Giving away on a social media PLN, for example, does not make you poorer. It increases your reputational capital if you create value.

Do you see what I see? Or do you need a pair of special glasses?

In my last blog entry, I concluded in a rambly sort of way that ICT courses during teacher preparation alone were not going to help teachers bridge the technology integration gap. Professional development in real school contexts is more likely to be more meaningful.

But there fomidable barriers in schools:

  • infrastructure
  • formulae, expectations, culture and mindsets
  • a dearth of pedagogical models
  • the dominant assessment model

Compared to many schools or school districts overseas, Singapore schools have a lot of money for educational technology. But not all have wireless Internet access everywhere like we have in NIE. Very few initiate 1:1 laptop programmes like the one we have in NIE. The school computer:student ratio might look very good on paper, but walk into most schools and you will see traditional, package-and-deliver instruction flourishing. If disruptive technology is not put in the hands of learners all the time, the window of opportunity for change shuts.

Even if this window exists, school rules and policies might put a huge wet blanket on how teaching and learning might change. E-learning is not necessarily seen as a viable and powerful form of learning but is often relegated to emergency learning during disease outbreaks or reserved for less important topics.

Consider another example. Most schools ban the use of mobile phones in classrooms without considering how they might be leveraged for learning. They would rather avoid the messy life skills that come with mobile phone use because they are not part of the curriculum.

If policy does not change, all the technology in the world will have little impact (if any at all). When teachers perceive or experience a lack of support, they shy from innovative pedagogy and this in turn strengthens existing practices and results in a shortage of role models.

Yes, times are a-changing. School principals now have greater autonomy and some run their schools like small corporations. But their bottom line is not as immediate as dollars and cents. Grades are and they worship at the altar of the Sacred Cow of Assessment.

The curriculum is driven largely by assessment. There is nothing wrong with that if objectives are aligned to assessment and content. But parents and students don’t see it that way. If the standard answer to “Why do I need to learn this?” is “Because it’s in the test!”, then we have lost the purpose of having curricula and assessments.

Where is the “curriculum” on dealing with a cyberbully, solving complex, non-linear problems, or simply being considerate in public? These take a backseat to tests and exams that focus on putting one stepping stone ahead of the other.

There are schools that are trying to break out of that mould but they find the going tough because no one dares to sacrifice that sacred cow of high-stakes assessment. Why? If you are brought up in one culture (and you are told that it is successful based on even more tests like PISA), you know no other way. (Here is a perspective on PISA.)

But pit so-called average students from the countries further down the PISA list with an excellent test taker from our system. I have seen and heard the average students out-talk and out-think our paper savvy ones. Those are what count in the real world.

So the gap that separates idealistic theory from the realistic practice of technology integration is filled with many obstacles and dangers. How do we navigate that gap?

The heart aches and the head hurts to think of such things. I am taking a break with my family on an overseas vacation where I hope to see an alternative school in action. Maybe that will provide a fresh perspective. In the meantime, I am scheduling some entries in my absence.

On Monday I featured a CC-licenced photo of a new bridge in Singapore. Today I include the photo of the bamboo bridge at the Green School in Bali.

I had wondered out loud how we might bridge the theory of ICT integration into the practice in schools so that it mirrored what working life is/will be like. I had suggested that this gap could be due to the fact that most teachers were sociotech savvy but not edutech savvy. Why might this be the case?

The ICT course that trainees must take in NIE is a standalone one. If you search the Web or journal repositories, you will find studies comparing the effectiveness of standalone courses (for technology only and devoid largely of academic type content) vs more integrated ones (content-based courses that incorporate technology).

You will find a mixed bag of conclusions simply because no teacher preparation system is alike. Some might do well with standalone courses; others with integrated courses. There can be good standalone courses and poorly integrated content ones.

But there is no denying that a standalone course is a silo. If the instructor of that course does not make links with educational psychology principles, classroom management and specific content concepts, then the knowledge, attitudes and practices are not likely to transfer within teacher preparation, much less outside of it. Furthermore, a single course cannot provide the necessary content, context or experiences necessary for technology integration even in the teacher preparation phase.

In the absence of integrated courses, what is obviously needed then is regular and rigorous professional development for in-service teachers. Therein lie more clues… and more reflections!

This is what I observe:

  1. Each new batch of teacher trainees is more technologically savvy than the previous one
  2. They learn how to integrate technology when they undergo training here in NIE
  3. Unfortunately, these ideas rarely transfer once they are posted to schools

Why? How do we bridge the gap between teacher training and school-based integration?

Student teachers may be, say, iPhone or Facebook savvy. But this does not mean their tech-savviness translates to effective classroom practice. Just because you know how to use Facebook to socialize via your smartphone or laptop computer does not mean you know how to use them effectively in the classroom context. Being sociotech-savvy is not the same as being edutech-savvy.

I think I’ll explore some answers to my questions in subsequent reflections.


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