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The adage “practice makes perfect” is an imperfect one. There is no point practising mindlessly nor is there any actual muscle memory. Such unscientific assumptions have, unfortunately, become the basis for homework to keep kids busy or for blind drill.

We now have neurological and cognitive research that helps us understand what practice does and which kinds of practice actually help.

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This TED-Ed video briefly explains how our psychomotor functions refine with practice. I fill in a few blanks based on basic biology and educational psychology.

Neurologically speaking, effective practice is due to the increased myelination of our motor neurones. This strengthens neural transmission, i.e., the signals from the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) to the peripheral nervous system (nerves connected to muscles).

Cognitive science has also unlocked secrets on what makes for effective practice. Such practice is consistent and focused to target at weakness or what is “at the edge” of current abilities.

While drills might focus on what you are already competent at, cognitive science suggests that we concentrate on what is just outside our zone of proximal development.

The video focused largely on psychomotor skills and did not dwell on social aspects of cognition or construction. These are just as important, and arguably more so, in the contexts of learning languages, negotiating cultures, or establishing schema and mindsets.

We have much to learn about how and why we learn. The worst thing we can do is ignore good research and listen only to unquestioned tradition.

If you live under a rock, watch this video first.

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If you do not, you know that everyone and their grandmother watched it and had something to say about it.

This is what I saw and say from an educational technology perspective.

Technology integration
This was an example of technology integration, not just technology use. While the effort was just a recreation of a face-to-face interview, it would not have been possible without the video conferencing software.

One alternative would have been to find some other expert nearby. But the BBC either did not have one or know one.

Yet another alternative would have been to fly the expert over, but this would have been costly and probably would have lost its impact by air time.

Technology integration makes the edtech indispensable, not just good to have. It is necessary, transparent, and practically indistinguishable from the strategy.

Managing the environment
Good technology integration is just as much about managing the environment. In hindsight, most people might have wondered why he did not lock the door.

In a subsequent interview, the expert revealed that he normally locks the door. The day he forgot, his kids took advantage.

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Technology integration looks effortless only if it is planned meticulously, rehearsed diligently, and when the environments are managed skillfully.

The environment might include the physical (e.g., lighting, temperature, noise), infrastructural (e.g., availability of tools, access to electrical points, reliability of wifi), social (e.g., individual space, group space, reflection space), pedagogical (e.g., instructional tools and platforms, strategies intertwined with the previous elements) and so much more. All must be considered, balanced, and managed in when contexts change.

Keep on keeping on
When novices try and fail, it is easy to give up due to the unwanted outcomes like embarrassment, poor participation, or negative feedback.

It is critical not to give up during and after something like this happens. The professor in the video soldiered on and he had the timely support and intervention from his wife.

He behaved professionally. He shared his burden with someone else. He reflected on the experience. He showed he was human.

No matter WHAT you teach, it is ultimately about WHO you are trying to teach it to. Making that human connection — in this case, it was family and kids — is what learners remember. Those are arguably more important lessons than what is in the official syllabus.

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I cannot remember the last time I read a textbook about how we think we think. So this video by Veritasium was a good reminder of how working memory and long-term memory operate.

I like how YouTuber, Derek Muller, role-played Drew (working memory) and Gunn (long-term memory). But the video went further than just explaining these two concepts. It highlighted how we become lazy thinkers and hinted at how we might start thinking more actively, i.e., by forcibly putting things into working memory.

The best bit of the video was how strategically making things more difficult was optimal for learning. I have highlighted this in the video segment above.

Muller described how lectures relied on coasting and lazy thinking (if any at all) while more active learning designs like workshops made students process questions.

Active learning is like exercise: Most people do not really like to work, but the same folks will appreciate how the effort pays off.

That is one more reason to blog every day. It helps me stay fit and sharp by dredging up what I think I know, laying it bare, and keeping only what is current or relevant.

Bonus: I have already thought of ways I can use this video in two different workshops I conduct. The first is as a primer for setting the expectation that questions drive learning, not answers. The other is for instructors who have not been weaned off lecturing. There will be so much dissonance!

Only the disconnected and disinterested will not know what is happening in US politics now.

Only the uninspired will not be able to design lessons based on what the Trump administration seems to spew every day.

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This video was of Trump railing on what he considered to be “fake news” media.

The clip (27s to 1min 57s mark) of Trump’s claim and its rebuttal by MSNBC is a lesson on the importance of context. Specifically, how NOT to cite a quote selectively and out context.

The same could be said when teaching. Any content should not be taught without context. If it is, the content is not meaningful. Any strategy should not be employed without context. If it is, this would be like walking around blind and rudderless.

Bonus lesson: When trying to make a point, there is no need to make it about your birthday.

Ordinarily I would not share a video like the one below. There is nothing wrong with it. It is just not something I would share as a functional extrovert.

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But when I linked three things I experienced from as far back as my undergraduate days to an event just last week, the purpose of sharing such a video became clear.

When I first stepped into university, I had a conversation with what some might call a flamboyant professor. Our chat strayed and he described himself as functional extrovert. That phrase was about playing a role as the context needed and has stuck with me since.

A few years ago, I detected a movement of sorts among some teachers who seemed to be resisting workshops and school initiatives that were cooperative or collaborative in nature. One of the leading concerns was whether the trend of teachers needing to work together — whether within the school walls or wide outside of them — was detrimental to “introverted” teachers. Some of these teachers were probably resistant or stubborn; a few had genuine concerns.

Last week I met with a group of educators to discuss revisions to criteria we used for evaluating novice instructors and facilitators. One category of criteria bugged me because it was worded in a manner that valued frontal teaching. The frontal criteria are important at times for lectures and public speaking, but our processes focused on facilitation which required more connective competencies. The criteria seemed to punish those that were not charismatic or lacked the gift of the gab.

The line linking these three events was an implicit assumption on what it means to be an introvert. That assumption is accompanied by others like whether introversion was inferior, if this placed introverts at a disadvantage, and if an introvert’s traits are not rewarded or recognised in good teaching.

A more fundamental question is: What is introversion? That is where the video comes in. It answers this question by highlighting five myths about being introverted. Introverts:

  1. Can make good leaders
  2. Are not necessarily smarter than extroverts
  3. Do not always want to be alone
  4. Do not hate people
  5. Are not necessarily shy

When I was in Denmark a few years ago, my host asked me what I learnt from travelling overseas. I gave my standard reply: For the important things, we are more alike than different.

This is a particularly important lesson in today because of the social climate and our membership as world citizens. So I was pleased to find this video from a Danish broadcaster.

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The video starts with people being put in boxes. We then discover that people move out of those categories into new ones based on different contexts we put them in and the questions we ask of them.

While it is human to take cognitive shortcuts by categorisation, it is far more important to question and challenge those categories. I would wager that by asking more questions and issuing more challenges to ourselves, we learn more about others. Then we might discover that we struggle with the same issues because we have the same differences.

When this principle is applied in schooling and education, we might question if single curricula and standard assessments are logical for different learners.

Last month I pondered on how I could use a YouTube video on Trump’s tweets to teach discourse analysis.

Earlier this week I chanced upon a video that might be used to illustrate how to report discourse analysis.

Video source

By relying on the expertise of a debate master, the creators of this video outlined how Kellyanne Conway deals with questions that get thrown her way and how she frustrates journalists.

Her strategies were to:

  1. Deflect by repeating keywords and going off on a tangent.
  2. Take advantage of the politeness of interviewers and their need to move on to other questions.
  3. Pass the buck when she did not have answers.
  4. Fabricate information.

These strategies were a result of basic analysis: Listening and watching videos of Conway, noting patterns, chunking patterns, and verifying patterns. That is a simplified version of a how-to of video content analysis.

What is valuable in this video is how the evidence was presented. The pattern was textbook: Present each main strategy, illustrate it once, illustrate it again, and explain it concisely to remove doubt.

As much as I would rather not have videos of Trump or Conway as fodder for learning these skills, they are a reminder that good things can emerge from bad if we know how to look. The content itself is emotionally charged and this can be leveraged on to create memorable lessons and to show novices how to be objective when it matters.

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