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Posts Tagged ‘work

The two tweeted articles below send a message contrary to popular media.

Televised news, newspapers, and some gurus on social media might tell you that people long to return to their office cubicles for work.

The Pew research was an analysis of a sample of 2,767 working adults in the USA who had the option of working from home. This survey indicated that 74% of these workers were “fine with the amount of time they spend on video calls” while 26% were not. Their previous survey found that 63% of their respondents were fine with teleworking while 37% were worn out by video conferencing. Hence their tweet that effectively asked: What Zoom fatigue?

In Singapore, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) “polled more than 2,000 workers over nine months”. The summary finding seemed to be: 

From mid-July last year to April this year, between 41 and 52 per cent felt that flexible work arrangements should be the new norm for workplaces in Singapore.

In the same period, around 20 to 35 per cent felt that working from home on most days should be the new norm for workplaces.

But the same CNA article also cited other parts of the study that the desire for flexible work differed by gender: About 73% of female respondents wished for it while around 66% of males did. The reporting did not clarify how other genders caused these relatively high percentages to drop to the summary levels.

The article reported what might seem obvious without data — those wanting flexible work cited reasons with psychological well-being as the root cause. How serious were they about this? About 42% “would consider looking for another job if their employer required them to return to the office on most days”.

The jury might still be out on whether we will have kinder work arrangements, but the evidence is stacking up for those want more flexible arrangements. 

It only took a pandemic to bring this to the spotlight. I might say that this was painful but effective e-learning, if E stood for emergency and epidemic.

I have followed the writing of edtech historian and critic Audrey Watters for years. 

I enjoyed her regular collation and biting remarks on edtech news when she used to write them. She stopped doing that but still provides an important voice to balance the uncritical enthusiasm and loose ethics of some “edtech” providers. 

So I was glad to read the transcript of Watters’ keynote for Digifest 2022. But driven by her stance that “criticism is generative”, I highlight one flawed argument. Early in her speech, she declared:

I have watched the awfulness of pandemic education (and its digital components) unfold.

Given that much of “pandemic education” was technologically-enabled, I would question if the awfulness is technologically determined. It is, after all, teachers and students who are so set in their ways that they could not pivot to take advantage of the affordances of said technologies.

If Zoom fatigue was an example, I would lay blame not just on Zoom but on tired and old methods of chalk and talk applied to a context that does not favour it. Instead, Zoom also affords the creation of homogenous and heterogenous groupings that teachers could employ for student-centred work. Teachers could also design for asynchrony, reflection, self-evaluation, etc.

That said, I agree with Watters’ analysis of some folks in the edtech:

The tech industry’s historical amnesia — the inability to learn about, to recognize, to remember what has come before — is deeply intertwined with the idea of “disruption” and its firm belief that new technologies are necessarily innovative and are always “progress.”

She warned us not to forget that these folk “have done real, substantive damage to students, to teachers, to public education”. Is this hyperbole? Nope. Just think of how many people have been subject to the programmer and administrator designs of the ironically labelled LMS — they are not for learning. 

University IT departments seem to be hopelessly dependent on LMS and shiny “edtech” vines that vendors first dangle and then use to tie down. So what did Watters suggest we do about it?

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Hope. Not hope as an optimistic emotion but as disciplined practice. This means pushing back when you sense something wrong, putting the time and effort into finding or shaping better solutions, and striving to be a better educator by doing what is best for learners.

If this sounds a bit rebellious, then it is. I remember this line from a Star Wars movie, Rogue One. Rebellions big and small are built on hope. But not just on hope that is a strong feeling or belief. Hope takes work.

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The statistics claimed in this tweet and embedded video are stark. They seemed to indicate that there has been an acceptance of remote work (colloquially known as work from home or WFH here). The video interview also illustrated how much better WFH was.

Much of my work has been remote since going independent in 2014. I have been open with its pluses AND minuses. The video anecdote in the tweet only highlighted the best case of multiple revenue streams, flexible and efficient hours, and lifestyle alignment.

The tweeted narrative is selective because large swings grab eyeballs more than nuanced views. The statistic and anecdote provide an important story element, but it does not tell the whole story. A tweeted story does not have to, of course, but this stance misrepresents WFH.

That said, the statistic was remarkable (assuming it was accurate). It showed how an external pressure like the current pandemic pushes the levers of change. What might start as a necessity and evolved to be independent and effective work might eventually be adopted by employers as a norm.

Sadly, the same might not be said about online learning in school and universities. Why? I would argue that stakeholders still conflate emergency remote teaching with online learning. The tweet below highlights a general distinction between the two.

Emergency remote teaching is often a rushed and desperate attempt to recreate a physical classroom experience online. Well-designed online learning, on the other hand, factors in limitations and affordances of reduced social presence.

Neither the second tweet nor my short reflection tells the story of effective online learning. But every educator who has tried something online has a paragraph or chapter worth sharing. For example, I have shared my design plans with, use of, and reflections on Zoom.

These are stories of lessons from failures and successes during the pandemic pivot. The stories are worth telling not just because they are instructive, they also provide a counter narrative to the sensational swings presented by those making judgements from the outside.

This press piece began with this question.

Why is the question not: Why are some people less productive than others when working at work? It is not as if working outside of home automatically makes work better for everyone.

A similar and equally uncritical question could be asked of schooling and education: Why is home-based learning so difficult? We should instead pivot to the question about the difficulties of learning in the classroom.

One direct answer for avoiding the pivot is that refocusing on work and school highlights what we fail to do well and somehow keep ignoring. For example, it is easier to ignore how administrative needs at work or school might be placed higher than working or learning needs.

Another simple answer is that the home is not made for work or school. Often it is a place to get away from both, i.e., to rest, pursue an interest, spend time with family, etc. We can make adjustments to home just like a scuba diver dons a suit and air tank, but such adjustments are temporary. 

So, no, the tweeted question is not a good one. It is an attempt at clickbait. It is not an attempt to actually challenge or develop creative and critical thinking. 

A question that might actually create some dissonance might be: What can we learn from the online pivot at work/school and apply to the workplace/classroom when we return?

Martin Weller recently critiqued how we tend to do the same thing differently:

We decry the tendency to simply replicate lectures online, but then do the same with meetings. We call for educators to use technology to its advantage to realise new pedagogies, and then recreate face to face conferences in Zoom. We stress the need to rethink your teaching approach to ensure learners are not adversely affected and then conduct line management via Teams.

In short, we think almost exclusively inside the work/school box even when circumstances (pandemic) throw us firmly outside it.

Now that we have enforced experiments with telecommuting and remote teaching/learning, why not use these experiences to address the weaknesses of the office and classroom?

One of the very few things I have against working from home is neighbours’ renovation works. If I had to give the din a kind label, I might call it the Heartland Symphony.

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Here is a sample of the noise I experience even though I am seven floors below. Even my noise-cancelling earphones and headphones cannot shield me from that cacophony. The noise is enough to drive anyone mad.

The symphony has other movements like incessantly barking dogs, screaming children, practising karaoke artistes, etc. We are creative that way.

So when I saw a new installation of work pods at a nearby mall, I was intrigued. According to the information on the boxes, they were from a company called Switch (not sponsored).

My wife wondered who would want to study or work in a mall. I would, provided that the booth I saw was relatively sound-proof, private, and properly ventilated. 

I know many others would as well, given how many work and study in public places like libraries and coffee shops. We do this not to be seen, but to avoid the Heartland Symphony.

One underrated power of being a father is invisibility, i.e., doing the unseen work.

My invisible power is paying the utility bills, assorted fees, insurance premiums, and groceries. I clean the floors, windows, and fans when no one is home so no one gets in the way.

But this also means no one sees me do these things. I am invisible until I stop doing them. Then my lack of action becomes obvious and no good comes of it.

There is also much invisible educator work, e.g., lesson planning, keeping up with research, and preparing resources. This work is often invisible to an administrator or a client and remains unappreciated. But if we stop doing these things, this also becomes obvious and bad things happen.

Do the invisible work. No one (or very few) will thank you or pay you for it. It is the price to pay whether you are a parent or an educator.

This tweet is a reminder in case you missed the memo on the challenges of designing for (and actually facilitating) online learning.

Teaching in person is already a complex skill set that can take years to be competent at. You never master teaching because the sand shifts under your feet — content evolves, learner expectations shift, technology brings change.

But teaching does not always ensure learning. Teaching should be a means to the learning end, but it can sometimes be a barrier.

You can bypass traditional teaching by focusing on how people learn. People might learn in the presence of more informed others, but they can also learn by observing, problem-solving, tinkering, etc. These other ways are more challenging to design and prepare for.

Non-educators whose only reference of teaching is their early schooling or higher education cannot see what it is like on the other side of the table. At best, they can only imagine the work and passion it takes.

Parents who had to monitor or supervise their children during COVID-19’s home-based schooling might have gained a small insight on what a teacher does. But they still do not have the full picture.

Likewise, teachers and administrators who only know the world of conventional teaching do not relate to what online facilitators experience. In case you missed it (ICYMI) read the tweet again.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the 2018 results of its Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS).

The Today article summarised some TALIS data.

Taken at face value, the sample of lower secondary school teachers in Singapore spent less time teaching but more time marking student work than their OECD counterparts.

So might the 2005 initiative to Teach Less, Learn More become Teach Less, Mark More now?

I jest. Here was another tweeted article on TALIS.

As I read both articles on survey findings, I wondered:

  1. How were “working hours” of the sample of lower secondary school teachers calculated?
  2. Did these hours include work done outside school, e.g., grading student work at home or at a Starbucks?

Why ask these questions? If the working hours were only based on official time tables and co-curricula commitments, then the figures did not capture the extent of work.

Even if we assume that there was a valid and reliable way of collecting outside school work across various OECD countries, how meaningful is an average for each country?

Consider how much more time a language teacher takes on grading and feedback than would a teacher who relies on online quizzes and scanned bubble sheets.

Consider how one teacher might be able to enjoy practically the whole of the June vacation while another has to chaperone students on an overseas trip, stay in touch with school leadership and parents, or prepare university admissions materials for graduating students during the same period.

I revisited my second question after reading both articles: Did these working hours include work done outside school?

The CNA article claimed that the working hours included “those spent working out of school” while the Today article did not. Both articles mentioned time spent marking and efforts to reduce administrative work. However, they did not stipulate whether this was marking and administration done in school or outside it.

Consider this anecdote from the Today article (I emphasised the key finding):

Four teachers teaching the lower secondary level, who spoke to TODAY on the condition of anonymity as they were not supposed to speak to the media, said that they did not feel their working hours have been reduced.

Most of their time is spent on administrative work, planning lessons as well as co-curricular activities and other school activities, they added.

Those interviewed said that they clock from 47 hours to more than 52 hours a week, taking into account the hours spent on some Saturdays due to co-curricular activities.

This did not clarify the hours of in-school work and outside school work. Both teachers and administrators probably did not see a need for such a distinction. But a data collector and analyser should. That is lesson number 1 on research.

Lesson 2 on research: When the quantitative and qualitative findings paint different pictures, we should give pause. Both might not wrong. Instead, both might be spotlights on a larger and more complex picture. We should embrace nuance instead of simplicity.

In “olds” made news, this report tells us what we already know: Singapore teachers are paid very well and they are overworked.

So instead of focusing on established fact, I concentrate on how the latest facts were established. In the process, I illustrate principles of Skepticism 101.

First, were the 200 teachers from each country representative of the teacher population?

A sample of 200 might be statistically sound, but there was no information about how the sampling was conducted. For example, were the numbers garnered from a convenience sampling of respondents, e.g., from a limited set of schools or a captive audience?

We’re all 200 beginning teachers or was there a proportionate mix? If there was a mix of teacher experience, how many beginning teachers were used to determine their average starting salaries?

Second, the starting salaries of beginning teachers in Singapore was very high. The amount was equivalent to what a local assistant professor might make a decade ago.

Even taking into account salaries that keep pace with the rising cost of living, there was no information on whether the sampled teachers here were mid-career switchers, hired by independent/private schools, and/or Masters or Ph.D. holders. All these teachers typically command higher starting salaries.

It was entirely clear if the salaries were relative or absolute. If they were relative, they would be scaled to the cost of living in each country. If the numbers were absolute, then you would have to make comparisons of salaries from different Jon’s within each country and not between teachers of different countries.

Third, the definition of work hours was not clear. Were these official or unofficial work hours? Was the average over term time or over the entire calendar year? What if some teachers reported office hours but not weekend marking?

Were the salaries and work hours compared against data that the Ministry of Education here might have? This was not the job of the producers of the report; this was something the newspaper could have done to add meaning and value.

I do not doubt that teachers here are well-paid and work-stressed. But as long as the processes (i.e., data sampling and analyses) were murky, I do not trust the product (the report). When a news article further simplified the report, this muddied the water even more.

Ask adults what school is for and a common response will likely be “To prepare our kids for work.”

I have been consistent in railing against notions of schooling. Long story made short: Schools evolve too slowly to respond to what work currently is and will become. It is also not the full responsibility of school to prepare kids for work. Work prepares kids and workers for work.

All that said, there are some forms of work and some types of workers that take their schooling seriously. Whatever they did in school and on paper, they transfer and entrench in work.

I make this claim based on something I experienced this week. I made my way to an insurance company building to settle an administrative matter.

I had called the day before and took about a decade’s worth of paper I had filed away. Despite doing this, I was surprised to learn that I would be issued a cheque. I was told then that I had to bring needed paper copies of banking information (e.g., bank book, bank statement) if I wanted an e-transfer of funds.

I was surprised because 1) I paid premiums by e-banking, 2) the transactions were recorded electronically, 3) I went fully electronic years ago and did not have paper copies of banking documents.

I was told politely but summarily that I would have to bring a bank book or bank statement. When I said that I had electronic versions on my phone, I was told that they needed to be printouts.

This was strange given how the customer service representative was using a laptop and its camera to facilitate all our transactions. Even stranger: I said that I could send an electronic copy over for printing, but I was told that there was no way to receive it.

No way to receive it? Not by wifi or bluetooth or 4G? Not on our personal or work devices? Not to a wireless printer?

I am not alone with this experience. If we stop to think about this, we face this behaviour and detect this mindset every day.

Some work behaviours might change, e.g., retrieving and recording information with mobile devices instead of on paper. But some mindsets do not change, e.g., refusing to think outside the paper box.

So school does prepare kids — and eventually adults — for work. If we do not learn from incidents like the one I shared, it prepares students for the past and increasingly irrelevant forms of work.

We might think of schooling as teaching the prior generation's knowledge so that youth are prepared to communicate on an equal footing with those they are about to join in the economic and civic spheres. -- Robert Pondiscio


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