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This is sad and upsetting. A reputable YouTube channel that focuses on science education had to appeal to viewers to favour “facts over clicks”.

Why? The producers of that channel did the hard work of reporting science as responsibly as they could. Others simply gamed YouTube algorithms and put views over standards.

The problem with the latter group is that its viewers are more likely to get quick fixes and wrong ideas. This perpetuates shortcuts and misinformation.

But I am glad that the responsible channel did the right thing by calling bad behaviour out. It also put out a call to action — support channels that do the right thing and not the popular thing.

The right thing is not just responsible, it is informative too. For example, did you know that N95 masks operate like spider webs instead of sieves when capturing particles?


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The responsible channel might rely on stick figures to educate, but that does not mean that it is low in quality. Quite the opposite. Consider its strategy to create cognitive dissonance first instead of presenting all the information.
 
From Minute Physics: N95 masks catch large and small particles, but let some medium-sized particles through.
The dissonance was created by first telling us that both large and small particles are easily caught by an N95 mask. However, medium sized particles get through more easily. This makes you wonder why and puts questions before answers.
 
The quick fix is to just provide answers. The long game is to create cognitive dissonance first. This has the benefit of an anchor which serves as an emotional hook and a puzzle to solve.

The pedagogy is apparent in such a video. This takes skill and hard work. This is about placing questions before answers and facts before clicks. This is what good modern educators do.

What do cooling metals and a computer algorithm have in common? What does that commonality offer those of us wishing to improve teaching and education post-pandemic?

Watch this video first.


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The video started with an example of a problem with many competing variables, i.e., a constrained optimisation problem. Complex issues like deciding where to open up a store or how to implement home-based learning are examples of such problems.

Constrained optimisation.

How are solving such problems like cooling metals or an optimising algorithm?

From the metal example, we might pick up on how they must be cooled slowly (annealed) so that their crystalline structures stabilise to become tough instead of brittle. From the algorithm, we might learn that it necessary to account for wide swings or seemingly bad solutions before narrowing our choices.

Why are these principles important? Consider what Hank Green said:

… the algorithm becomes less and less willing to accept changes that don’t improve the results, just like as the metal cools it keeps getting harder for atoms to bounce to a higher energy state.

If we simulate annealing, we do not rush decision-making and settle for quick fixes (these break in the long run). Complex issues with confounding and competing problems should not be solved with a conservative mindset. Such an approach is risk-averse and ignores previously unconsidered ideas and solutions.

In short, invest in time and a divergent approach before converging on what seems to work.

One component of instructional design is information design. There are many aspects of information design and I use a short video to illustrate why information design is important.


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After watching the news report about malware masquerading as a contact tracing app, you 1) know such malware exists, and 2) do not know exactly which two malware apps mimic the contact tracing app in Singapore.

Knowing something is good, but acting on what you know is crucial. Effective instructional design does not just focus only on content delivery, it is also about getting the learner to meaningfully apply knowledge.

Information design includes the sequencing and chunking of information so that each learner can negotiate that into knowledge. The video above lacks information on 1) what the names of the two malware apps are, 2) how to distinguish the authentic app from the fake ones, and 3) what to do if you have installed the fake app.

A precursor of any design effort is having empathy for the learner. It is about anticipating questions and answers from them. It is not about answering all possible questions. It is about addressing the most critical issues.

What does this fleeting form of art have to do with teaching?


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The artist, David Zinn, creates street art that washes away with the rain. A simple way to answer my question is to reply that teaching is also an art.

I am not one for singular and simple answers. For example, why bother if the art is ephermal? That question reveals a mindset that focuses on the product and not the process. Teaching is not just about getting students to show products of learning; it is also about processes of learning.

Another way teaching is like Zinn’s disappearing art is how superficial learning disappears after the test. There is an initialism for that, GIGO, which is short for garbage in, garbage out. This is what happens if we teach only to the test.

The YouTuber who goes by the name Brett Domino is probably one of the most underrated talents.

He and his partner, Steven Peavis, form the Brett Domino Trio band, and they might be best known for their How to Make a Hit Pop Song video.

I appreciate Domino’s latest effort — to attempt a song that consists only of words with three letters.


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For me, this is a reminder that it takes talent, experience, and effort to make things seem simple.

Anyone who has nurtured expertise has probably developed concepts of practice or shortcuts that work. Anyone else probably cannot appreciate how much work such distillation entails.

The expert probably does not know how he or she does it too. That is, unless they challenge themselves to simplify over and over again like Brett Domino.

If you are a teacher who had to conduct remote teaching during lockdown, you might relate to the song featured in the video below.


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I have the same reaction to those who confuse and conflate distance education and online learning with remote teaching. There are overlaps, but they are not the same things.

Recreating the face-to-face classroom in an online environment is not logical nor sustainable. It does not take into account the lack of immediacy and physicality. A teacher cannot use physical distancing to manage a class for instance. Constantly being on-call for synchronous video conferencing — student consultations, staff meetings — is draining.

Two recent articles have addressed both issues. The first was on emergency remote teaching and the second was about why Zoom meetings are tiring. The articles and my reflections offer design considerations for stepping around the pitfalls.


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Are you complaining about the restrictions during lockdown? Is fighting a war by staying at home or wearing a mask when going out for groceries difficult to stomach.

Consider what the visually-impaired have to go through. Look through their eyes. If there is anything worth developing while in lockdown, it is a sense of empathy.

John Krasinski is an actor from the USA. During the COVID-19 lockdown, he was inspired to focus on Some Good News (SGN) instead of the usual fare.


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His latest episode focused on how an online community sprung up from his initiative and offered a glimpse into what other SGNs shows looked like (start at this timestamp).

Krasinski’s efforts remind me of the importance of being open in education and empowering learners. Setting this expectation releases resources and ideas from the shackles of outdated policy and unnecessary administration. Giving permission provides learners and educators with the freedom and responsibility to create, share and learn.

If there is something I would like to emerge after the pandemic dust settles, it is mindsets and behaviours that showcase openness and empowerment. I bet that the joy and creativity that these unleash will help us deal with the next obstacle thrown our way.

The comic and video below is funny because they are true to teachers. In those truths come hidden lessons if we bother to look.
 


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No, I am not talking about learning how to mute everyone in Zoom or how to improvise camera stands for sharing written work.

The comic and video capture attempts to replicate classroom practices. When pushed online, we call these synchronous teaching and learning activities. Such activities are the focus of the comic and video because that is what most people seem to think teaching looks like online. This is only half the picture.

The hidden lesson is about designing for asynchronous and more inclusive learning. The design and facilitation of such learning are not obvious or glamorous. It is neither easy nor interesting to capture the process of combining educational psychology, content knowledge, pedagogical savvy, technical skills, learner empathy, and evaluation principles.

The design of asynchronous learning is about teaching that ensures learning without the constant and immediate presence of the teacher. This is NOT about taking the teacher out from the teaching-learning equation. It is about a shift in focus and effort — understanding the processes of learning and meeting the needs of learners asynchronously.

Inclusive education, be it online or offline, is about including the quieter learners so that they express themselves (there are other types of disadvantaged learners, but this group is easily overlooked). Reticent students are already reluctant to speak up in class. Instead of replicating such conditions online, we might design and facilitate experiences that focus on deeper, nuanced, or reflective thinking.

Is designing for asynchronous and more inclusive learning more difficult? Definitely. This is why teachers and educators who only know how to teach in classrooms, labs, and studios need new mind and skill sets if emergency remote teaching is to actually become meaningful and powerful online learning.

The good news is that teachers do not have to start from scratch. They might be able to transfer some skills and practices (e.g., active listening and wait time) to the design of online experiences. However, the same skills might have to be tweaked or revised to account for the lack of immediate social cues and a shared physical environment. Using the examples, active listening might be replaced by anticipatory scaffolds from the teacher and active reflection for the learner; wait time might be translated to longer or negotiated deadlines.

The bad news is that teachers might not see the point of adopting new mindsets and learning new skills. If the lockdown now and possibly ones in the future are relatively short and transient, why should they change? They might consider this: The applications online of psychology, pedagogy, technology, and evaluation can make them better teachers overall. If that is not relevant and continuous professional development, I do not know what is.


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Oh, the humble IQ test.

Not so fast. This video by Ted Ed provides insights on what the IQ test was originally for (identifying students for remediation) and what it has become (sorting, categorising, and labelling, not always with good intent or consequences).

Caveat emptor — let the buyer beware. If you rely on IQ tests, be aware of what you might be buying into and perpetuating.

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