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If I had to teach the concept of affordances in 10 minutes, I would use this video.

Most people use Excel to create spreadsheets and graphs. This Japanese retiree’s use of Excel to paint is an unexpected use of the program. The former is a designed or intended use. The latter is a perceived or negotiated use.

In education, we also speak of technical, social, and pedagogical affordances. These take longer than 10 minutes to teach and might require a lifetime to master.

Is there a master Japanese artist who might illustrate these affordances by accident?

I first found out about “superorganisms” when I was an undergraduate student.

Animals like ants, termites, and bees synergise to respond to their environment like a larger organism would. They do so in more complex ways they would otherwise do individually. For example, termites build cathedral-like mounds and ants form rafts to fjord waterways. The whole is more than just the sum of its parts.
 

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Recently I found out that the superorganism phenomenon is linked to a larger concept — emergence. The video above explains this with many diverse examples.

The concept of emergence is also linked to some forms of artificial intelligence (AI). Instead of creating AI that learns from humans, humans have created simple robots that behave like ants. Each robot responds simply individually, but they could be capable of more complex responses collectively.

This mimics the billions of neurons in each of our brains. Each neuron fires (or not) and is linked to other neurons. This collective on/off system seems to be the basis of artificial neural networks.

What might scare people is the realisation that our seemingly complex thinking has such simple roots. The very concept of life boils down to dead chemicals interacting under the basic laws of physics and mathematics.

It can be mind-boggling that macroscopic phenomena are shaped ultimately by molecular interactions. Our reactions might range from freaking out at the thought to taking advantage of it.

I say we do the latter. On a meta plane, we might ask ourselves: What is the role of the individual in truly collaborative learning? How about the importance of emergence in learning?


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Talk about a double-whammy — incompetent people who think that they are amazing do not know they are incompetent nor do they have the mindset or aptitude to change.

This observation is based on psychological research and is called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

How do we not overestimate our own abilities as teachers and educators? I suggest each of us reflects critically and strategically. Mine is to do so at least daily and this has become a habit.

How might we not overestimate our collective abilities as a system or country famed for its schooling and education system as measured by tests? I say we ignore PISA results and university rankings. These external validations count for little if we do not first critique ourselves and seek to continuously improve.

For kids that we label normal, technology is often limited to enhancing or supporting the learning.

For kids with special needs, technology enables the doing and learning they might not be capable of otherwise.
 

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Now here is a thought: Why do we not think that all kids and all learners are special? We are. Why do we still believe that there is a normal or an average? Have we not heard of the end of average?

So if we are all special, shouldn’t technology be used to enable instead just enhance?

I LOL’d when I watched Shmoyoho’s latest songify, Pokémon Power. It was a mockery of a minister’s fearmongering of pocket monsters.


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Laughter aside, the video illustrated how anyone can demonise anything. Rationality and evidence be damned!

The ridiculousness of the minister’s sermon is probably obvious to most. But there are more insidious sins when gamification (e.g., Pokémon Go badges) and game-based learning (playing Pokémon Go in general) are applied in schooling.

For example, there is the practice of blind gamification with badges. The badges in the current version of Pokémon Go add little tangible value to the player. This is like awarding stars for reading books or giving students stickers to BYO, but the lessons for doing these are lost. This is because the motivation is decoupled from learning and its outcomes.

In game-based learning, earnest but uncritical teachers might have justified their use of Pokémon Go to promote exercise or to teach content. There is little evidence that PoGo does both effectively. But again, rationality and evidence be damned.

The lesson that is hidden deep in any game worth playing is this: The motivation to play is linked tightly to the learning of skills (e.g., negotiation, strategic thinking, planning) and/or the adoption of values (e.g., persistence, patience, fair play). These aspects may be so insidious that they are difficult to describe or quantify. But this does not mean that they are less valuable than what lies on the surface.

Observe, listen to, and play with any child enthralled with Minecraft. You can do the same with a persistent neighbourhood auntie or uncle with Pokémon Go. They will teach you a thing or two. Rationality and evidence be embraced!
 


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It is easy to tweet the essence of the advice that Alan Alda shared about public speaking: Share just three ideas, said three different ways, and iterated three times each.

But that distilled wisdom becomes a meaningless tip if you do not adopt the same value system of wanting to create an authentic connection.

Alda took time and care to bracket his three tips with the need to make that human connection. Public speakers and teachers might take that advice as a golden reminder that delivering messages and running the curricular race come a distant second behind making that connection.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

I love YouTube videos that shed light on the processes behind a product. The video below was one of the better ones because it was about the most recent episode of Game of Thrones (GoT).


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Some say that the last 15 minutes of the episode were among the most epic of the entire series. If you watched the episode, it might be easy to see why.

It is just as easy to stop at this level of appreciation. You are entertained, but you do not really know why.

The behind-the-scenes (BTS) videos provided insights into the many processes that resulted in the product. The BTS view showcased the effort, talent, organisation, courage, and creativity of the people involved in the production.

Creating the episode was difficult. Documenting it and deciding what to highlight was not easy too. However, taking the trouble to showcase and reflect on the processes provides depth to the product.

The same could be said about academic endeavours. Most papers and projects have an audience of only one — the teacher. However, e-portfolios like blogs and personal websites have potentially larger audiences. Engage them and the audiences become participants who provide even more feedback.

This is how focusing on the processes provides richer and more meaningful learning experiences than just grading final products. I welcome the day when e-portfolios are not just good-to-have add-ons, but are default platforms and strategies for assessment and evaluation.


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