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Posts Tagged ‘work

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

Ah, project work in school. High on ideals, low on returns. So low that the tweet below is humorous version of a common response of students.

Good educators also focus on the social skills and metacognition of learners, not just the timelines and final products. But not enough do and that is why this response will persist.

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I am a consultant. If you want my services and we cut to the chase, you need to exchange my time and effort for a fee because that is how I make a living.

Groupie after a talk.

One thing I do quite often is conduct seminars or deliver keynotes. However, the people who try to engage me do not know how much work that entails. They often offer a low honorarium that is suitable for, say, university faculty who already draw regular salaries.

How much is my time and effort worth? To answer that question, you need to know how much time and effort I put into something as basic as a talk.

Here are some things I do just to prepare for a talk:

  • I meet with the organisers to clarify goals and align strategies for the event.
  • I find out about my audience by designing and conducting online polls, conducting focus group interviews, and/or visiting and observing work environments.
  • I jump through administrative hoops and navigate the policy-riddled waters that each opportunity brings.
  • I do my usual daily readings courtesy of RSS feeds and Twitter, but I focus on articles that are serendipitously relevant to the topic.
  • I connect the loose threads that arise from my readings; the results of my polls, interviews, and observations; previous events I have facilitated; and my overall experience.
  • I consolidate and distill wisdoms into an outline for the talk.
  • I fill in information gaps in the content and of the audience by doing more reading and research.
  • I design visually pleasing and provocative slides for sharing online.
  • I create one or more online spaces for my audience to become participants instead.
  • I iteratively reflect and revise the content and method.
  • I rehearse. Over and over. If I make something look effortless, it is only because of the practice.

I do all these three to six months before the event.

On stage.

I take what I do seriously and professionally. The talk is not a hobby or an interesting distraction.

I share this to provide insights into what my time and effort are worth. I will not shortchange you, so please do not shortchange me.

 
It has been a hot month of April in more ways than one. 

I rarely rely on air-conditioning, but I have had to use it several times this month to get a decent night’s sleep. 

I have also enjoyed the most varied work ever since striking out on my own as an education consultant since August 2014. 

In early April, I evaluated the ability of future faculty to facilitate modern learning. Last week I sat with colleagues in what might be called a Board of Examiners meeting. We were bored of examining because the series of learning experiences is unlike anything I have ever been involved in. 

In the middle of April, I delivered a keynote and participated in a panel for the Social Services Institute, the professional development arm of the National Council of Social Services, Singapore. It was wonderful to see a major player wanting to shrug off the shackles of traditional education. 

Not long after that I flew to a conference overseas to facilitate conversations on the flipped classroom vs flipped learning. The strange thing is connecting with Singaporeans there that I could more easily meet at home. 

After returning from my trip, I met with a passionate edu-preneur and professor after we connected via my blog.

Another connection was a result of my keynote. It will take place via one of two Google Hangouts that will bring April to a close. I hope that it will bring more opportunities in the months to come.  

The other Hangout is a result of my flipped learning talk last January at Bett 2015. I am tempted to call it remote mentoring and hope to repeat a strategy I tried at the more recent conference. 

The exceptionally warm weather here is not the norm at this time of year. The variety of work I have had is not the norm either. While I hope the muggy days and nights go away, I do what I can to keep the sizzling work in play.

When Bloomberg posted an article titled Singapore wants kids to skip university: Good luck with that, it was click bait.

How could you not want to find out what Singapore was up to and wonder if such a socio-economic experiment could work?

It has worked elsewhere (i.e., Germany), so the question is not why (we have gone past that thanks to forecasting) and have moved on to how (albeit a bit late).

Bloomberg cited Pasi Sahlberg, who was in Singapore recently for a leadership conference.

“There is a clear international trend in the developed world to make vocational education a true choice for more young people,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a visiting professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The larger trend among developed countries is a glut in degree holders (too many graduates, not enough jobs) and/or poor fit (universities were not providing what industries needed).

If the USA is any indication, thought leaders are fond of pointing out that we might see the first generation of kids that will not be as well-employed or as financially well off as their parents.

The question is not “Can the non-degree strategy work?” but “How can we make it work?”.

Some changes to the system have already taken root.

Right here in Singapore, I learnt over closed conversations what initially seemed to be a surprising statistic. A top school here revealed that about 60% of its graduating cohort was entering polytechnics by choice instead of by circumstance.

Skills Future was launched this year as was an earn-and-learn programme. The civil service will provide equal opportunities for non-degree and degree holders alike [example].

We are not going to abandon the pursuit of degrees, but the charm offensive of promoting vocational and non-degree jobs has gone beyond rhetoric to implementation.

So far these designs and implementations are the domain of systems designers like politicians and economists. What can parents and teachers do?

Most parents are unlikely to let up on wanting degrees for their kids regardless of whether their offspring need degrees. Parental concern is what they are familiar with: A degree commands a higher starting salary. The thing to realize is that a degree no longer guarantees a job, much less a career.

The other thing to realize is that parental concerns are not their childrens’ concerns. Not immature children, but adults who grow up with more opportunities than their parents and look forward to finding themselves, social enterprise, or doing good for larger causes. And finding realistic answers to the question “Is money really that important?”

The expectations and pressures of the employee today and tomorrow are different from those of yesterday.

Teachers need to take heed and learn to operate outside their bubbles. There are no more single-trajectory careers and no more iron rice bowls.

Curricula are less important than nurturing flexible, adaptable thinkers. Assessment that ultimately leads to a strong degree printed on fancy paper is less important than a portfolio of experiences.

I shared these two images I created with #eduality recently as messages to teachers.

Teachers are in a unique position to shape the mindset of the next generation. But teachers sometimes view the world through the distorted lens that is their classroom bubble.

Teachers cannot afford to teach the way they were taught. If they persist, they do their students a disservice and they sabotage the plans of a nation needing to go forward.

Yesterday I reflected on how teachers might dumb down a complex tool like project work by not embracing complexity.

Today I examine the other side of the same coin: Using too complex a tool for a simple task.

If you had to remove a bottle cap, you could just use a bottle opener. That is what the tool is for. Or you could do the extreme and use a helicopter.


Video source

Some teachers might say that project work is just a different way of measuring the understanding of content. But why go through all that time and expense to do something relatively simple?

The helicopter approach is like requiring students to do a stage production just to find out if students understand a Shakespearean play. Or asking them to plan and execute a journey overseas just to determine their understanding of geography, mathematics, or report writing.

It is an overkill approach because project work is meant to do more and it requires more.

Here are other overkill examples. One is flipping your classroom to be a better content practice coach. Another is acquiring or co-opting a school LMS to create “social” spaces. You can coach without flipping and you can leverage on the usage and popularity of existing social media tools.

I might sound like a buzzkill. I am merely warning teachers not to use the wrong tool for the job, like using a helicopter to remove a bottle cap. You can do that, but it will be messy and require disproportionate effort and cost for marginal returns.

Today’s reflection is part one of two on project work.

I read with a combination of interest and concern a recent chat in #edsg about grading project work.

It started with a legitimate question:

Equally legitimate answers streamed in like:

All that was interesting. Here was what created dissonance for me. The task was scaled up (project work), but its “measurement” was not. This was like needing to solve a problem in quantum physics but only being armed with Newtonian physics. Or like needing to build a skyscraper and walking in with a sandcastle construction kit.

Good sense prevailed towards the end of the conversation:

But I doubt any book or sane assessment literate expert will recommend what I am about to. Focus less on objectivity and embrace subjectivity when measuring more complex social phenomena.

To understand why I make that recommendation, we need to consider the escalating complexity of various assessments.

Assuming a multiple choice quiz is designed well, its measures are as objective as you can make them and you can even automate the grading. But even in such a black and white situation, human errors and interpretation in phrasing a question and providing answer options leave room for whether an answer should be A or B.

Move on to a more complex marking situation like essays. In the assessment domain, this is the realm of the rubric. In a more subjective space (the essay), graders attempt to standardize their reactions on scales of, say, 1 to 5. They might also conduct standardized marking exercises where teachers grade a poor, average, and exemplary essay, and then compare results. Ideally, a grading pattern follows what teachers intuitively already know is poor, average, or excellent. In reality, the points and grades rarely, if ever, coincide.

Now consider group project work. It mirrors working life in that it typically involves cooperation and/or collaboration, multiple tasks of varied complexities, minimum standards to meet, and different expectations among group members. Unlike working life, teachers resort to guidelines and rubrics because it seems logical to be as objective and as fair as possible.

But should an escalated task be measured with a simplified yardstick?

I grant that teachers will attempt to create more detailed and complex rubrics and might even have auditors (assessors of assessors and assessments) of project work. The instinctive teacher part of me views this as trying to contain or simplify a complex and subjective task.The wiser educator part of me realizes this is not only an exercise in futility, it is also an unrealistic model to perpetuate.

The context of the original Twitter post on grading group project work was to test understanding and application of content. You can certainly design rubrics for that.

But here are what most rubrics do not address if they focus largely on content:

  • What if a group cheated by relying on a knowledgeable parent or by recycling a previous project?
  • Suppose one group did their project slow and steady and another waited till the eleventh hour, but both delivered as expected. What then?
  • What if one or more members in a project group ticked all the right boxes, but those members are extremely unpleasant?

Are teachers going to compartmentalize and focus on just the content or are they going to embrace the complexity that mirrors real work and life?

You do not rely on a rubric when deciding who to vote for in an election or the winners of a talent contest. The human factors are too varied and complex. The judges might have rubric-like tools, but they also have X factor vetoes. I have been in far too many interview and judging panels to see guiding forms abandoned because they are inadequate and ineffective for both assessment and evaluation. That is real life.

Project work is an opportunity to examine outcomes outside the box, not more of what is inside. Creativity, resilience, strategizing, problem-finding, problem-solving, and so much more. All these are traits and abilities that are important in life and work, but difficult to put in a test or rubric.

A complex task requires a complex evaluation. Teachers must know what they are getting into when they design and employ project work. If they do not, they should find some professional development to help them make informed decisions.

Rubrics are too inadequate a tool for project work. As @hsiao_yun mentioned, there are multiple strategies and tools to assess and evaluate the multiple facets of project work. Teachers need to be skilled in all of them if they are to embrace the complexity of processes and products of project work.


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