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I love the comedic stylings of Joe Lycett and Lucy Beaumont. So if I was a classroom teacher, I might use this video as a hook for teaching and modelling critical thinking.

The video was about how Beaumont tried to offset her carbon expenditure (travel overseas) with credits (local actions). She wanted to be carbon neutral so that she could enjoy a guilt-free hen-do (a bachelorette party) for a friend.

The video was an opportunity to not just entertain, but to also inform its audiences on being responsible with our shared and natural resources. That said, edutainment errs on the side of a good laugh and low-hanging fruit. It is up to an educator to help learners dig deeper.

I might start by asking my learners to find out how ineffective tree-planting is, much less the six plants that Beaumont bought. We might factor in the unseen vehicle she had to arrange to transport everything she bought.

Beaumont brought in a consultant who told her that the asparagus she had in her fridge was flown in at great environmental cost from Peru. My learners and I would analyse this issue by identifying and calculating the costs in detail.

We might ponder on statements I would make, like: 

  • One person’s effort to stop buying Peruvian asparagus does not count for much.
  • Beaumont’s overall strategy of consumerism was counterproductive.
  • If you are going to change behaviours, do not rely on half measures.

In the process of uncovering answers, we would deconstruct thought processes and reconstruct principles of critical thinking.

If I had any agenda, it would be to end the lesson on the fact that “carbon neutrality” is often an excuse to keep practicing bad behaviours and “balancing” them with good ones. 

We are not the fictional character, Dexter, who kills people by night and solves crimes by day. That TV show was entertaining to watch, but no one in their right minds would condone such behaviour. And yet so many see nothing wrong with carbon neutrality.

Anyone who might have red my reflection about edutainment might think I dislike fact-based shows. Not true.

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I like QI. I like it even more that I have insights into their people and processes thanks to the video above. I would normally use such a video to emphasise the importance of “processes behind product”.

But I link it to my previous stream of consciousness instead. Edutainment is not helpful if it is done only to get attention, to compensate for the lack of a teacher’s imagination, or for some short term gain. 

It can be powerful if it is part of a larger strategy. For example, something from popular culture might be an initial hook for a think-pair-share activity, subsequent whole class discussion, and a consolidation by reflection. 

The point is this: An entertaining video has little or no educational content until an educator facilitates thought and action around it. This might seem like an unnecessary statement to make, but I have observed far too many teachers use YouTube videos as fire-and-forget missiles. 

Like most synchronous learning resources, YouTube videos do not hit targets on their own. They need to be guided as do the students.

Today I link a pop-culture phenomenon and the importance of nuanced expertise.

Like many other Netflix subscribers, I enjoyed Squid Game. But I was surprised to learn that it was ten years in the making and almost did not happen.

I also appreciated the critique of the show’s english subtitles. Some references just got lost in translation. As a result, those of us that were not fluent in Korean lost social and emotional context.

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The video above featured several examples by a Korean language professor.

For example, I loved the analysis of the use of “hyung” or a social elder brother. The subtitles simply indicated that the character of Ali called his friend’s name. However, the audio clearly indicated that he was also using this term of close kinship. Knowing the meaning of hyung made Ali’s betrayal and death even more impactful.

It took a language professor to explain this nuance. A subtle cannot realistically capture such a cultural reference and so much was lost in translation. But we have the benefit of an expert’s analysis if we seek it out.

I see a parallel in pedagogical design. I might use a strategy like cooperation within heterogeneous groups. An outside observer might simplistically “subtitle” this as a collaborative activity. They could not be more wrong.

My strategy does not go as far as collaboration; it is realistically levelled at brief and task-based cooperation. The student groupings comprise of intentionally different learner skills or abilities. There is more thought and skill in my design than meets the eye.

The designs of my lessons are no where near complexity of Squid Game. But they might be just as subtle. You only have to ask, unpack, and learn.

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This CNA video featured Jonathan Tiong, a “disabled” valedictorian of NUS’s Class of 2021. He might be conventionally disabled, but I consider him “differently abled”.

He is an inspiring and timely reminder for students of the ICT for Inclusion modules I will be facilitating in December. In particular, I will highlight the every day technologies like the Internet that has enabled him to study and work. Jonathan said:

… the pandemic has brought about the benefits for people especially with physical disabilities because it takes away a lot of our limitations… just give me the laptop and Internet and I can do a lot of things.

He has a message for the rest of “abled” society: 

… society’s way of defining success should change for people with disabilities. I think the only reason why I’ve got the attention that I have… is because I’ve met the traditional markers of success. Good degree. Good job, prestigious company.

Jonathan added: 

…we need to acknowledge the fact that living with a disability is hard in itself. And every day, the people with disabilities out there are winning their own battles…

Digging deeper, his message is about how we still focus on equality — the traditional emphasis opportunities and success. We need to shift our gaze and efforts to equity, i.e., giving greater access to those need it more.

Why is there still resistance to educational technologies in SPED and inclusive classrooms? I sense that many of the pre- and in-service teachers who take my modules fear the parents who worry about the fabled “screen time” monster. They might also have bought in to the media’s narrative that mobile devices do more harm than good instead of following the research.

In this CNA article, Jonathan also provided another insight about the barriers of rules and money. Commenting on his final year of study during the pandemic and his current employment:

“A lot of the time we are told by administrators that: ‘Oh we can’t do this because – rules.’ Or ‘because we cannot lor.’

“But a lot of accommodations are actually a mindset thing,” he said. “People seem to have this concept that if you want to accommodate the disabled, we need billions of dollars. I don’t think that’s true.”

For instance, being allowed to work remotely at his present job has not cost his employer anything, he said. “It’s a matter of will and decision-making.”

My agenda is simple: To challenge them to think of every day technologies as enablers for learners in special or inclusive classrooms. These students need more and better access to these tools, not less. Enabling and educational technologies do not have to cost much or anything at all. The real barriers are stubbornness and ignorance.

There is a line between entertainment and education. Unfortunately, some paint that line and call it “edutainment”.

A problem with edutainment is that it is sometimes confused with education. Consider the video below as an example.

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Intentionally or not, the show QI informs almost as much as it entertains. It provides factoids to those who did not previously know them and so the show is potentially educational. It enlists comedians and celebrities to provide commentary and so it is entertaining. It is arguably a form edutainment.

I love QI, but I sometimes cringe when I hear the panelists on the show (or the hosts of the podcast) say ignorant, anthropomorphic, or otherwise counterproductive things in the name of getting a laugh. If the audiences know why they are laughing, there is little harm done. The problem is that they probably do not.

The video is about the termite queen. It is fascinating and fact-filled. But it is also introduced as disgusting or gross, and judged from how humans might behave or react. It might inform audiences about the termite queen’s life, but it also reinforces narrow perspectives and ignorance. The nett effect is neither more knowledge nor an educated audience.

The teaching of any subject does not have to rely on edutainment. It should not because students already bring their biases and gaps to a learning space. Edutainment could reinforce that state instead of breaking it.

The teaching of those academic subjects needs to be engaging and empowering in itself. If we rely largely on Hollywood, then we might lack the imagination and passion for what we teach.

Here is some cognitive dissonance about a fashionable green effort.

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What could be wrong with replanting trees after we take them away? Very little if we do it correctly and for the right reasons.

The BBC videos above and below provide nuanced thoughts on why greening efforts like replanting trees is not always a good idea.

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The second video reviews some reasons why replanting trees is not always a good idea:

  • It can take two or three decades before trees are effective carbon sinks
  • About a quarter of the trees planted die before they serve that purpose
  • Planting the wrong trees might do more harm that good (e.g., non-native trees; monocultures that supplant diversity)
  • Individuals and companies look good when they claim to plant trees to offset carbon emissions, and this gives them an excuse to keep polluting
  • It feels good to put in the effort to plant trees, but we could be putting our energies into more effective strategies 

This is not to say that we should not be planting more trees. But it is greenwashing if this is done incorrectly or for the wrong reasons. 

I remove my old biology glasses and put on my educator lens now. There are many edtech vendors and central planning units that push initiatives that look good on the surface. But dig to their roots and you might find the wrong reasons and questionable methods.

I am thinking of people that misrepresent game-based learning by focusing only on the behaviouristic mechanisms of gamification; flipping the classroom instead of flipping the learning; confusing structured online lessons with self-directed and independent learning.

I have a metric for detecting BS: If it looks easy, it is likely to be lazy. Anything worth doing takes much effort and time. If something claims to be quick and painless, it is unlikely to address mindsets before changing behaviours. I only ask that people rethink the easy options and put their efforts into what it worthwhile instead.

Two content creators that I follow made recent episodes that focused on dopamine.

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The first was a SciShow Psych video led by Hank Green who explained how dopamine was not just a feel good neurotransmitter. Dopamine has multiple functions and works in different parts of the brain. 

The video was a warning that if you hear something often enough, it becomes true. Self-styled experts like to warn that video games and Instagram are “addictive” because they release hits of dopamine. The people who know better do not have as loud or as clear a voice as armchair/online gurus, so they are not heard.

Green outlined how neuroscience has taught us that dopamine helps us “move around, take appropriate risks, and focus”. If the brain is short of dopamine, the person might exhibit symptoms of Parkinson’s. If that person is given a dopamine analogue, Pramipexole, the symptoms reduce.

Dopamine affects parts of brain to prevent depression (nucleus accumbens), stimulate attention (prefrontal cortex), impact memory (hippocampus), and more. Dopamine is a systemic chemical, i.e., it has complex and interconnected functions. It cannot be used in a focused way or be reduced to the label of happy chemical.

The most recent episode of Build For Tomorrow also focused on dopamine. This one was partly about the dopes making claims they do not understand. They arrive at conclusions first, e.g., social media is harmful even though it feels good, and then find supporting “rationale”, e.g., app use feels good because we get hits of dopamine.

Host of the podcast, Jason Feifer, countered such thinking by asking an expert. Consider this bit near the 21min mark of the podcast [see transcript].

Jason Feifer: For example, when technology critics talk about dopamine, they talk about it as a thing directly tied to pleasure and addiction, and only tied to pleasure and addiction. You do something pleasurable, you get dopamine, get enough dopamine, you’re addicted. Period, end of story. But is that actually true? 

Read Montague: Like all things in biology, dopamine doesn’t do one thing. It doesn’t have this monolithic dopamine equals pleasure marque. The fact is dopamine doesn’t equal pleasure. Squirts of dopamine, transient increases and decreases in dopamine, are clearly in certain kinds of brain regions, learning signals. They’re not pleasure signals. 

To label dopamine the happy chemical is simplistic. But it is what we keep reading or hearing in much of popular media because they embrace dumbing things down.

To attribute dopamine to addictive behaviour without understanding how it works or what addiction entails is irresponsible. It makes the speaker feel smart and superior, and it makes listeners worry and fear. It creates dopes of us all. That is, unless we learn to say NO to such disinformation.

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I would not normally recommend listening to a lecture, much less one from a comedian. But this one by Rachel Parris struck a chord.

Parents, teachers, and armchair philosophers might argue for or against the advice for kids to pursue their passions or dreams. Encouraging kids to pursue an interest seems like good advice, but what if these interests change? Telling kids to ignore their interests and bear with the paper chase is not good advice either.

Parris’ perspective: Our interests or passions change as we grow up. Anyone who carefully observes and listens a child knows this. So what we might focus on instead is the energy that drives such interests and passions.

This energy is clear when kids wake up early to go to practice. It is evident as the state of flow that players get into when gaming. It shows when they read up on an interest or passion on their own. These actions are all part of learning that that is intrinsically driven.

This is something that cannot be explicitly taught; it needs to be modelled. Such energy might be seeded, but the learner needs to nurture it or leave it. All a mentor or facilitator can then do is say: Follow your energy.

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Taskmaster is not just entertaining, it can be educational if you let it.

This video looked like a task, but it was actually a cleverly disguised ad for Google’s speech and text translation tools. 

Such tools are now more accurate than they were before and are practically de rigueur for current phones. They should not be considered novel or even exciting.

They have good education potential because they can be used formally (e.g., in class) and informally (e.g., while travelling overseas). This is an example of how mobile tools are assistive.

However, the edtech trap is to only call such tools teaching enhancements. That might be true from a teacher’s point of view. The equally (if not more) important view is how they might enable independent and meaningful learning by students of a new language.

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One of the reasons I like channels like Tom Scott’s is that he provides links to his sources.

His claim that the level of carbon dioxide negatively affects cognition is compelling because it is backed up with research. Specifically:

This was pre-pandemic. Now we also know that good indoor ventilation [USA’s CDC] [Singapore’s NEA] is essential if we are to reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV2.

Hasn’t any vendor seen this and jumped on the opportunity to build safer and smarter classrooms? 😉

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