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Posts Tagged ‘wrong

Today I link a conversation I overheard about COVID-19 vaccines with a blog entry about learning loss.

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov on

The conversation was between two mothers who were discussing the merits and side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine boosters. One remarked how the booster knocked her out over the weekend while another said that one vaccine was better than another.

Both failed to recognise that the possible after effects of the booster, e.g., tiredness, soreness, fever, are normal and evidence that the body was responding to the vaccine. And whichever the rigorously researched and properly approved vaccine you got, it boosted your immunity. 

They conveniently forgot the impact of not getting vaccinated, i.e., running the risk of carrying and spreading COVID, helping viral variants emerge, getting severe COVID in the short term, possibly suffering from the effects of long COVID, or dying in isolation.

In other words, while discussing the effects of COVID vaccines, they focused on the wrong things. They did this perhaps because those things were immediate and personal.

Photo by Alena Darmel on

How is this linked to the worry about learning loss among students who miss out on school because of pandemic closures?

I borrow from John Spencer’s recent blog entry

I see bigger concerns than learning loss. Often, the biggest issue seems to be the lack of soft skills or the absence of student self-direction in their learning. In this article, we… examine how factors like soft skills, stickiness, play, and self-direction might help students prepare for an unpredictable world.

To be clear, Spencer was not saying that there was no loss in curriculum time, assessment measures, and content gains. He was pointing out that there were other factors that were just as important. These factors are not quite addressed in school and tend to be long-term or hard-to-pin-down.

His thoughts on slow thinking/deep work, leveraging on the natural inclination to play, and so-called soft skills might provoke influential educators or ambitious policymakers with fuel for a pedagogical fire.

Here is my takeaway. I was triggered by his thoughts on content knowledge and how sticky it is. For example: 

When we think about learning loss, it’s easy to imagine a place where students are supposed to be and contrast that with their current content knowledge at the moment. But learning loss also occurs when students learn a topic in a shallow way and then forget it later.

I mentally clapped and cheered when I read this. There has been a learning pandemic that started before COVID and it has lasted decades. Learning loss occurs even in good or normal times.

Learning loss happens when “learning” is shallow and for the sake of test. I call this garbage-in-garbage-out (GIGO) learning. Learning loss happens when students learn content from working a project but fail to learn how to better communicate or manage themselves.

Learning loss is real and evident when teachers of the next level need to reteach something students should have learnt in the previous level. This started well before the current pandemic and there is no vaccine for it.

Stakeholders, especially parents, are aware of it now because their children stay home from school. They bemoan learning loss and demand that something be done about it. They are concerned because the issue is now immediate and personal.

Teachers and educators should take the opportunity to not just remind them how normal this is, they could also point out the opportunities to fuel changes in focus. Yes, knowing facts is important, but so is being able to determine if those facts are correct or not. Getting good grades is a stepping stone to university education, but this does not necessarily make you a good team player or a desirable worker.

It is time to leverage on the conversation about learning loss and point out what stakeholders are not focusing on — sticky learning, life skills, and long term outcomes.

There is a long-standing argument that has been pushed to the front during the current pandemic: Should schools and universities conduct classes face-to-face (FTF) vs or go online (e.g., home-based learning or HBL)?

It is simplistic to just focus on the mode of teaching and learning, and then take one side or the other. A lesson can be simultaneously both, e.g., teachers and students can be in classroom using online tools. To avoid either label, someone called that blended. 

Neither mode is necessarily better than the other in every possible context. Both can share the same weaknesses, e.g., teacher talk can dominate in a FTF and an online classroom, and this can stifle student voice and choice. 

Being FTF provides immediacy, but this might also push slow reflection out the window. Being online requires greater discipline and independence, but this is not optimal for those that need more guidance or those with special needs.

A FTF classroom might favour the socially dominant or comfortable. An online classroom might enable social wallflowers to bloom. So what logic is there to first define classrooms like this and then choose between the two or force one mode to operate like the other?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

FTF vs online is a false dichotomy because they are facets of a complex object we call teaching and learning. You can try to force other facets into either FTF or online, but you will find elements that fit both, e.g., teacher talk, learner indifference.

The actual dichotomy is an inflexible vs a flexible mindset. The former seeks neat but lazy concepts. The latter embraces nuance and stays open to critical ideas.

A flexible and logical mind can see how being FTF and online operate in the same single reality we call modern teaching and learning. It is not an argument of one or the other. It is about leveraging on both.

Lisa Lane posed this question Lecture: recorded, zoomed, or what? and provided her answers for each option depending on the type of lecturer one might be.

The problem with answering such a question lies in the photo she used in her blog entry. If you visit the link above, you would see the black-and-white photo of a white man in a suit talking to a room of other white men also in suits.

So much has changed from that time and yet such a “pedagogy”, if you can call it that, persists. It hangs on not because it is a fit strategy. It does so because people are lazy. And even lazy and unfit animals survive and pass on their genes because they are not selected against.

The same could be said about lecturing. The environment does not put pressure on this practice. It is not challenged socially, it is enabled technologically, and it is justified economically.

But I would urge those who rely on lecturing, even those who are really good at it, to consider this statement:

The danger of lectures is that they create the illusion of teaching for teachers, and the illusion of learning for learners.

Then we might consider a better question than Lane’s. One like: If not lectures, then what?

I do not know what I was reading, watching, or listening to last week, but it was enough to remind me to write a short reflection on teaching the right things.

Several years after I left teaching to become a teacher educator, a few of my ex-students told me about an ex-colleague who bad-mouthed me. Apparently, he said that I had taught my students the wrong things.

I was puzzled since we shared the same curricula and textbooks. But then I agreed with my ex-students. I told them that he was right in the sense that I did not just focus on preparing them for a major exam.

I used to bring my students out on field trips, and tell stories or share resources that went beyond the prescribed curriculum. My actions were driven by a passion to share the love I had for my subject.

From the point of view of someone who wanted students to do well in exams, these pursuits were a waste of time. They were the wrong things to teach.

From my point of view, the exams were short term measures that created robotic and “mercenary” students. Content went out the window as soon as the exam ended. But a love for an academic subject and the teaching of that subject developed a value system and thinking skills. I preferred the long game to the short one.

Back then I realised that teaching some wrong things was right in the long run. I live by that principle to this day.

It is difficult to process the news on the two most recent mass shootings in the USA.

Video source

It is just as difficult to read how Republican Politicians on Fox News Blame Video Games for Latest Mass Shootings.

If you understand the basics of politics there, you know how the NRA, a powerful gun lobby, has loaded guns to the heads and loaded wallets to the pockets of some politicians. So these politicians deflect blame.

What is worse is that they propagate ignorance of the facts. Facts like gun violence is a multi-pronged issue. Facts like how other countries that do not allow gun ownership but allow “violent” video games do not have as many (or even any) mass shootings.

Video source

For the record, the differences in gamers and the nature of games matter first. Politicians who seek to deflect instead of following the research and doing the right thing have their interests in mind, not anyone else’s.

The smoking gun might look like violent video games. The ones who actually help pull the trigger are cowardly and greedy people.

This article reported that “around 80 percent of instructors around the world teaching or training others in flipped learning are three to five years behind current best practices”.

If their estimate is close, then that is an alarming statistic because teachers are not staying current with research-informed practices.

That said, I am just as alarmed with the use of “best practices”. What is best or good in one context is not in another. Here are my other objections to the blind adoption of this corporate term.

I am also worried that an article that claims numbers and standards of practice does not link properly to evidence. For example, at the time of my reflection, there was a sentence: “The standards were developed by a team of international academics from the U.S., Spain, Turkey and Taiwan”. The link leads to a non-existent page about the experts.

Strangely enough, the article took a twist about halfway through. It quoted Robert Talbert, a mathematics professor and author of a book on flipping:

Talbert noted, however, that the FLGI’s Global Standards Project is primarily about setting standards for flipped learning training, and not for flipped learning itself.

First, I was concerned that the group thought it could train adult learners.

Second, if you asked the question “Are You Flipping the Wrong Way?” (the title of the article), then why were the standards not for the implementation of flipped learning per se?

While my reflection might come across as an argument about semantics, it is not. Words hold meaning and their meanings stem from the beliefs and mindsets of the people who speak and write them. If they cannot get terms right, who are they to tell others that their practices are right or wrong?

All that said, there is value in the latter half of the article. If the premise had been better stated as teachers were not keeping up with research-informed practices, then the article did a good job of illustrating wasteful practices like investing in redundant LMS and providing every student with thumb drives.

It also had this to say about the emphasis on pre-class work:

“Using video for preclass work is still by far the most common approach, but more instructors are using some interactive activity instead,” said Talbert. Some instructors are reverting to assigning students a text to read with structured questions before class, he said. “Making a video is very time-consuming, and it’s not clear if video provides benefits to students commensurate with the cost of making those videos.”

Emphasis has also shifted in recent years from what happens before class to what happens in class, said Talbert. “In the early days, instructors tended to put a great deal of emphasis on students’ preclass work and then do nothing particularly special for class meetings. Now there’s a much broader understanding that the in-class activity needs to be designed first.”

Ultimately, the problem is not that teachers are not researchers and do not have the bandwidth for reading research:

“There are lots of common pitfalls, and it’s likely that in almost two decades somebody has tried what you’re thinking of and failed,” said Bowen. But finding out what hasn’t worked can be difficult, because positive results are more likely to get published than negative ones. Access to journal articles is also expensive, he noted.

The issue is that journals tend to favour positive results and are walled-gardens with premium access. The academic publishing system is flipping wrong. Teachers need to rely more on connected communities of practice, not just on central “training” bodies or pay-for-access journals.

I read this article yesterday, The Fallacy of Open-Access Publication.

Before anyone processes the problems with some current implementations of “open” access publications, they need to be aware of an even more fundamental problem. The article described it succinctly and accurately:

Publishers are getting rich on the backs of underfunded academic libraries and the unpaid labor of academics who serve as editors, reviewers, and authors. That system is unsustainable.

Anyone who thinks that being a professor is living high up on the food chain does not understand the academic ecosystem. Professors have to buy in to a culture and live with rules long established before they were.

How bad has the situation become with publishers driven only by profit?

Open access has turned out to be a misnomer… open access is clearly not freely open to the scholars who are required to pay exorbitant fees to publish their results, often out of their own pockets. Graduate students who wish to publish two open-access articles a year in the journals of their choice might need to use more than a quarter of their annual income to do so, if they don’t have large grants to cover the fees.

How might scholars stop this rot? The author of the article suggested that scholars supported academic or scientific societies that were non or low-profit. These groups pursue the betterment of their fields, not the profiteering by publishing companies. Let’s not make the open access cookie crumble.

Could there possibly be a lesson on teaching from the way Trump tweets?

There could, if you looked hard and reflectively enough.

I read a short article by TODAY, Donald Trump praises wrong Ivanka in Twitter shout-out, and was dissatisfied. I wanted to see the tweet embedded in the article itself, not just quoted as text. This would attribute and show the source.

But attributing and showing sources is not the lesson for teachers, important as those practices are.

I decided to look for another article and found one by The Guardian, Donald Trump mistakes Ivanka from Brighton for his daughter. This article not only provided the tweet source, it did so in entirety, including the graphic embedded in the tweet. The graphic put the point in the exclamation.

Teachers often have to make judgement calls in the race to complete curricula. One of the questions is: How much can I cover?

To answer this question with “as much and as quickly as possible”, the response is often to resort to favouring breadth over depth.

The TODAY article covered the story as did The Guardian. Even a superficial examination of both would reveal how much deeper the latter was. There was more information, background, and embedded content.

The Guardian article took more work, provided more information, and I would argue, educated its readers more the TODAY’s syndicated article.

It is up to us to decide not just what is better, but also what is right. There may be times when depth being sacrificed for breadth is justified, e.g., the topic is introductory.

However, if we are to nurture critical and reflective thinkers, our learners must be given the space and resources to do this. This happens only when we go deep enough in both the teaching and learning activities.

Bonus lesson: Trump made the mistake only because he replied to a tweet with the wrong Ivanka handle. If he paused to check, he would not have made that embarrassing mistake.

Two recent newspaper articles [1] [2] kept referring to one study that claimed that tuition did not have an impact on Singapore’s high PISA score. I question this research.

Today I reflect on how the articles might be focusing on a wrong question asked the wrong way: Does tuition impact Singapore’s PISA score?

It is a wrong question because it begs an oversimplistic “Yes” or “No” answer when the answer is likely “Depends”. There will be circumstances when tuition helps and when it does not.

Tuition is not a single entity. The are the sustained forms of remedial, enrichment, some combination of the two, or other forms. There are short interventions that focus on just-in-time test exam strategies. There are broad shot forms that deal with one or more academic subjects and there are formulaic forms that focus on specific subtopics and strategies.

Add to that messy practice the fact that a phenomenon like learning to take tests is complex and will have many contributing factors, e.g., school environment, home environment, learner traits, teacher traits, etc.

Wanting to know the impact of tuition, not just on PISA scores, but also on schooling and education in Singapore’s contexts are questions worth asking. A better way to ask one question might be: “How does tuition impact X (where X is the phenomenon)?”

This core question bracketed by: “What forms of tuition are there in Singapore?” and “What other factors influence the impact of this form of tuition?”

Methods-wise, the study would not just play the numbers game. Narratives flesh out and make the case for numbers or even explain what might seem counterintuitive.

We live in a post-truth world. You cannot believe everything you read online. You cannot take what you read offline or in newspapers at face value either.

I was appalled when I read this article, For-Profit Coalition Seeks to Bolster the Flipped-Classroom Approach.

First it defined the flipped classroom like this:

A flipped classroom describes a wide range of educational methods, like just-in-time teaching, peer instruction, and the use of clickers.

It did not distinguish between the flipped classroom and flipped learning. JIT teaching and peer instruction can happen in both, but the former is critical in the flipped classroom and the latter is a key enabler of flipped learning.

How in the world did the “use of clickers” even get mentioned? My guess is the university context of lectures and trying to justify clickers as “interactive” or “participatory”. Clickers are neither and their novelty wears off quickly.

The only things flipping when I read the article were my finger and my stomach. All it had to do to flip my life switch off was to suggest LMS, interactive white boards, and smart rooms as means to flipping.

All these and clickers do little to change pedagogy. I have written for years how these constrain pedagogy or maintain outdated methods instead of encouraging progression.

The article also mentioned how the Flipped Learning Global Initiative would be charging a $5,000 annual fee for groups be identified as partners. Why do this? Errol St. Clair Smith, the director of this group said:

…the initiative’s leaders believe there is a $500-million market for products related to course flipping. They include training, software and hardware, and other services. They expect demand to grow to about $2.4 billion by 2020.

So that is what the effort is about: Taking advantage of a financial opportunity. Never mind that university faculty do not really change how they teach. Just sell them clickers. Lots of clickers.


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