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Posts Tagged ‘what

One of my educational mantras is to focus on processes of learning, not just supposed products of learning. The processes are often more revealing and more important than the products alone.

Another way of looking at this call is to not just show what but also to show how. The Instagram video above illustrates this principle in a few seconds.

First we watch a videographer swinging a cameraphone to take two clips. Then we see what the combined clips looks like. The how (process) preceded the what (product). I can think of at least two takeaways:

  1. Some might point out that such transparency allows copycats to make their own versions. I do not see this as a problem as long as they also learn to credit their sources. It local laws are not in place, then learn how to use Creative Commons to label and attribute.
  2. Perhaps the idea to create such a video was original, or maybe the videographer learnt it elsewhere. The more important issue is that the process behind the product is more visible. If the point of a learning experience is to learn a new skill, it must be clearly and generously modelled first.

Such a culture and habit of sharing openly and freely does not necessarily make the sharer poorer. It builds the sharer’s reputation and we are all richer from the process.

After a rigorous walk yesterday, my mind connected some dots and arrived at this point: Students need to learn how to think more systemically.

Sytemically, not just systematically. The latter is about logic and sequence. The former is a combination of divergent and convergent thinking. It is about critical questioning and appreciating nuance. 

Why is systemic thinking important?

Consider the disconnect between what happens in policymaking circles (e.g., the recent updates on Singapore’s ramping up of contact tracing, testing, and vaccination), and social media and kopitiam/cabbie chatter.

Video source

The thinking that happens in the first group is mycelial or rhizomal — it is complex, interconnected, and messy. It is necessarily divergent to find solutions to a complex problem. But such thinking then needs to be conceptualised and simplified, i.e., it needs to converge to communication points and concrete action.

The thinking and discourse in the second group tends to be superficial. I choose not to embed examples here because they are harmful. You need only take a cursory glance of your Facebook timelines or WhatsApp conversations for examples.

The second group depends on personal experiences, does not counter bias, and eschews data or facts. It is convergent from the start and does not diverge because its communication circles are tight or even closed.

I reflect on this 15 years after being conferred a Ph.D. that is based on systemic thinking and design. I majored in Instructional Systems Technology and minored in Information Science. That investment reshaped my life and work.

So during my walk, I wondered why I was not taught to think this way earlier. I compared my schooling to what my son and his generation experience now. They are more aware of the importance of asking critical questions, embracing uncertainty, and non-routine work.

But they are still subject to teachers, tests, and timetables that do not (cannot?) accommodate systemic thinking. So how might they be taught and nurtured to operate more broadly?

At the risk of oversimplification, they need to ask beyond the core set of powerful questions. They need to learn how to ask and answer “What else?” questions. 

If they are solving authentic problems, they need to iteratively ask what else might contribute to those problems and what else might solve them. If they are involved in meaningful projects, they need to ask themselves what else they need to do.

Asking “What else?” is not the only way to develop systemic thinking, but it a useful start. What else do we need to do to enable systemic thinking?


Video source

This video snippet from the BBC painted a positive picture of the possible effects of mobile use by babies or toddlers. It was a better clip than the CNA video last year [1] [2] not because it was tech-positive, but because it was less biased.

The CNA video last year asked the question “Can e-learning make you dumb?” and sought to back up its answers with what its writers had already decided instead of what they could investigate.

The BBC video was not as negative, even when the narrator seemed to sneak in negative associations with mobile device use like “young children sat down using technologies won’t be as good at coordinating their bodies”. It was simply repeating a commonly held concern by lay folk.

The takeaways from the video should not be that the small sample of kids was representative of a larger group nor that kids who used technology were no worse with gross motor skills and better at fine motor skills.

If we learn anything at all from these videos it should not be the opinions on the effects of e-learning or mobile devices. It should be that we need to read, listen, watch, or otherwise process all sources of information with critical filters.

One coarse but vital filter is identifying bias. The CNA video asked questions and rushed to answer them with unbalanced certainty. The BBC video, while seemingly positive, asked questions and left room for even the child expert to express doubt.

One video tried to tell you WHAT to think; the other video could teach you HOW to think.

The tweet below reminded me of how I used to introduce myself after I stopped being a teacher and became an educator.

At most teacher and educator events, we are often asked to introduce ourselves by sharing what we call ourselves, where we work, and what we teach.

I often start normally with my name and then say that I work nowhere in particular. If that does not confuse people, I add that I do not teach any subject in particular; I say that I teach people.

I state that last point in all seriousness, but it often draws laughter, some of it nervous and some of it knowing. The few that chortle knowingly are educators whose mantra is the tweet.

Some people like the saying:

If you cannot say anything nice, don’t say anything.

I prefer:

Better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

Both are about self-control.

The first is something you might tell a child; the other is about reigning in the need to talk for its own sake. Then again, there are lots of adults who still need to learn to do both.

All that said, both do not apply in formative feedback. Constructive critique can sound harsh or unpleasant. No one likes to be told that the work they put in was insufficient or subpar.

It is difficult to give and receive well-meaning feedback. But without such feedback, the student does not learn.

The feedback might not be nice, but you can say it nicely. You cannot control what someone else thinks, but better to be thought a tyrant than to let them wander aimlessly.

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Despite the doubling of tweet length, this one (archived version) needs more context.

The sharing session might focus on WHAT the context is and HOW the supposed system auto-magically does this.

But I wonder if it will explore the WHY of doing this. Answering this question explores the ethics of incorporating such technology. This might include what data is collected and how algorithms run to make summary decisions.

Let us not forget where others have gone or are going before, i.e., how Facebook and Google are under the microscope for not being more careful with student data.

This video-maker asked an important question: WHAT will you learn in 2017?


Video source

While he focused on nice-to-have skills, the same questions could be asked of any current day worker who needs to keep learning to stay relevant.

An equally important question is: HOW will you learn?

There are so many opportunities, many of them at very low cost or free. Those who have learnt to search wisely and curate judiciously leverage on YouTube and social media channels.

There is no need to wait for a professional development unit or a training department to get a curriculum approved or a content module developed. The end result of the wait may be a slick product, but the process is too slow to be relevant.

I will continue to use blogs, RSS, and Twitter to learn every day. How will you learn in 2017? Will you talk about learning in the 21st century? Or will you actually learn like it is already the early 21st century?


Video source

This video perfectly encapsulates the adage that it is often not WHAT you say but HOW you say it that can make the difference.

In this case, less text and more enjoyable video.


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