Friday, March 05, 2010

iCTLT 2010, Day 2

iCTLT 2010 Day 2

This morning's keynote speaker, Jenny Lewis, reminded us that our students' success depends on a whole-school commitment to producing an end-product that is contextually relevant to market needs. Make 'em employable, then they can carve out whatever future they want for themselves. Towards this end, she showed us impressive stats and studies that made it painfully clear that student performance can be consistently tracked and measured against a standard benchmark in order to identify which kids require what forms of intervention when. Technology applied with bottom-line in mind.

Other factors of school success is teacher quality, not just across the board but also in maintaining an atmosphere of openness and a sense of mission such that teachers freely collaborate with each other within and across departments and levels because everyone has an interest in the total learning potential of every child, rather than keep the learning experience into subject-specific domains dominions limited to the individual teacher's personal sphere of influence.

That makes sense. Often there's the tendency to protect the subject or department without considering the kids' total development. Homework, remedials, assessments and research are all imposed on the kids by subject. Hence, every subject competes for the kids' time, effort and concentration. We make the kids prioritize between one subject or another, and there's probably a spiralling cycle of guilt when a choice is made. That choice is usually on the basis on which teacher the kid likes the most or which teacher has the loudest shouting voice or is the most creative (or ruthless) in meting out punishment. That's not really a good way to develop a well-rounded student, but it happens all too often.

Thus, a whole-school approach can be a very simple exercise of having all the different subjects coordinate the kids' workload evenly so that five assignments, two tests, several tutorials and a lab assessment don't all collide on the same week for them. The sooner we teachers stop competing against each other, the sooner we can have saner kids. Well, maybe easier said than done.

Lewis is also a firm believer in Authoritative pedagogies underlying all teaching and learning activities: school-wide, and personal. Um, 'k.

David Warlick's back to discuss personal learning networks. What I learned wasn't so much about how those are supposed to work for the kids but rather the mistakes I have been making as a blogger. Although I keep reminding my kids that essays are mostly commentaries on other people's essays and little else, I realise I'm not following my own advice. Blogs are little more than commentaries on other people's blogs. They are meant to contribute to an extended conversation that's going on in the blogosphere, but because I don't like butting in on other people's conversations my blog's been feeling like the lone voice in the wilderness. Long-winded one at that. So, time to go see what other people are writing about. I'm sure there are nice people out there. Yes.

Finally, Terry Freedman broached a topic that I'd so taken for granted that I didn't even realise was a topic of discussion: Reputation Management on the Internet. But he's right. I admit I've been releasing all kinds of skeletons from my closet and letting them collaborate freely all over cyberspace. I'm sure they'll all come back and haunt me again someday. But if savvy ol' me could be so careless with his rep online, the kids really need to be guided in this area or exam results might just be the least of their worries.

Unfortunately, I didn't stay for the final keynote speaker. I sensed dark clouds brewing on the horizon, and sure enough, there was trouble on the homefront. Not ready to release this skeleton into cyberspace yet. Some conversations are really not for public consumption.

Anyway, biggest takeaway for me from iCLT 2010: Whatever else you do with technology in education, please collaborate, socialize, share, converse. That's learning in the 21st Century.

iCTLT 2010, Day 1

iCTLT 2010

The iCTLT is back in town, presenting us with another opportunity to rub shoulders with prominent education te[a]ch-ies from around the world. I got overexcited the last time the circus came to town, and I did try some of the stunts at home. So I knew enough to look at things more realistically this time around.

My key question this time -- and I heard the speakers address bits and pieces of it -- was how do we stop teaching kids to write the perfect answer, but rather teach them to ask a better class of questions instead? And given that keynote speaker, David Warlick, reminded us time and again that we don't know what future we're preparing our kids for, it's clear they won't survive on our pat textbook answers any longer. They have to start asking useful questions and employ processes that help them find those answers on their own.

I may once have been blinded by technology, but if there's one thing that's coming clear from this year's conference, it's that the shiny toys and tools won't work on their own. Access is not a problem for us -- the tools are readily available at our fingertips. My biggest problem and disappointment so far has been in attempting to orchestrate a social learning environment among kids who view each other as competitors rather then collaborators. If I understand the psychology of my kids correctly, they'll distract and disrupt class so that no one can gain an advantage over anyone else, then frustrate themselves by trying to catch up with the lesson at home, away from prying eyes.

Good that Warlick pointed out that the most successful organizations are collaborative rather then competitive in nature. There's a story there I could use to bring the kids back online.

Elliot Soloway and Michael Furdyk were seriously gung ho about the collaborative learning potential of technology. Soloway was hot on mobile, anytime, anywhere, teacher-designed, student-centered learning platforms; though I imagine such programmes have to be... creatively funded. It would be best if such learning programmes could be accessed by every kid using the mobile phones they already own but because there's a multitude of software platforms, apps markets, service providers and indeed differing capabilities of mobile phones themselves, schools will have to shell out for a standard-issue device per child. That's a very expensive proposition for a school, so until every kid can afford an iPhone or a comparable competitor, I don't see that happening en masse just quite yet.

Furdyk is all about inspiring young people to get together through collaborative social networks to actually work on social entrepreneurship projects because they will have to put real learning into direct application towards real problems in order to achieve tangible results in real humanitarian causes. Makes sense. If the kids are worrying about bigger problems affecting people other than themselves, their exams will seem minor in comparison.

Currently, we're facing a vicious cycle. Kids worry about exams and they don't see the problems of others. They study to pass their exams, but they can't put their learning to real-life use. But because they can't apply what they're studying, they can't understand or appreciate what they're studying. They get bored, disconnected, frustrated and ultimately worry they can't pass their exams. Ad infinitum. It isn't that the kids are dumb or stupid, it's that they have to live outside of themselves in order to make the difference.

Providing the balance to today's session, Jason Trump reminded us that throwing technology at our problems isn't going to solve them for us. The potential for personalized learning is all there for us to harness, but a school must "have a clear vision for how, why and when to move" towards implementing tech as policy or it will either become a white elephant or, worse, counterproductive -- causing more problems than it solves.

I see the gaps in my approach in using technology, but I think I didn't see them before because I tend to work alone. If I start collaborating with others, I may yet figure this thing out. Question is, who will work with your friendly neighbourhood misanthrope? Yes, I have issues.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Inbox has (308,462) new messages

On the eve of iCTLT 2010, I discover that kids today don't check email any longer. That's so last century. No wonder all my important notifications have fallen on deaf ears. Kids want their messages now, not wait to get PC time then log into their email server. Want kids to respond, send SMS: a mobile, handheld, instant communication medium that's never far from their person. The old man learns something new today.

Pet owners' commitment

Jojo's geriatric rabbit, Bobby, has been stricken with paralysis and needs lots of care and attention because he can't perform his usual bodily functions unassisted. Because of his age, recovery is not expected, so it's tempting to consider euthanasia as a quick, painless way out for everyone. But though it's available, it is seldom the best option, and she knows this.

Jojo asked how we coped when our cat, Belle, faced a similar situation. Well, Belle was our cat and we couldn't imagine not doing our best for her during her time of paralysis. We chose to care for her when she was young and lively, and that commitment extended to the time she became crochety and unable to walk. We chose to love this particular cat among all the other cats in the world, and when she needed our love the most it was there for her without second thought, without reservation. And when Belle eventually did pass on, we cried. When it comes to 'coping', that's as good as it gets.

Strange to think that one could love a cat, but love isn't always rational. Love is simply like that.

Our fellow pet owner is about to undergo this same process. It'll be painful and tiring and frustrating, but at least after our chat today she knows she isn't alone in this difficult time.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Monologues for an audience of one

I know myself as a writer. Too much text. So much I scare people off reading. Lengthy descriptions and unwieldy grammar make people give up and scream, "get to the point already!" Creating long, elaborate set-ups just to deliver a corny, often obscure punchline. Making people scramble for a dictionary to decipher otherwise incomprehensible vocabulary is a sign of compensating for deep-rooted insecurity in a person.

No wonder my GP Forum page (sorry, members only) is near stillborn. The kids are going nowhere near my article commentaries that are longer and more confusing than the articles themselves. It's not that they aren't reading -- the counter tells me they are -- but they're simply stunned into silence within the first paragraph. And in the end, I'm still writing monologues for an audience of one.

Ah well, I've always had trouble talking to people anyway. Conversation is just not my thing.

I do want to keep the Forum running though. Must learn to moderate my tendency towards excessive exposition and stop imposing ideas on the kids. The less I talk, the more they have a chance to say something back.

Currently reading "Ten rules for writing fiction" as a guide to developing my Forum personality. The rules may have been advocated by writers of best-selling fiction, but are still good advice for writers in general.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

15 days later

16 days ago at our CNY reunion dinner, we had an excess of the most delicious fish gravy remaining from a deep fried sea bass we eagerly devoured. Not willing to waste such a delicacy, Haen had a brainwave. He ordered two bowls of rice and dumped them both into the remaining "chup" and stirred well. We each took a small bowlful of the concoction and declared it was the best dish of the whole meal. The chef we complemented was aghast at the travesty we made of his specialty and could only shake his head in dismay at the barbarians crowding his gate.

But based on our response, perhaps we might have invented a new dish for Ah Yat to serve in the next CNY. No need to thank us. All credit should go to Haen, the family's "chup" gourmet.

Happy 15th day of CNY, folks!


I remember when I installed a Sound Blaster card into my old, boring 486 International Business Machine and reaping a revolution of whizz bang proportions. The bloody machine had found its voice! It spoke! It sang! It replicated explosions so loud that Dad charged into my room with a fire extinguisher, looking for a fire without seeing the smoke.*

It was the beginning of clocking many hours of flight time on Wing Commander with audible dialogue between the characters, contextually sensitive background music, and full sound FX (volume down, of course, to stave off another unnecessary parental intervention). And it wasn't just me alone celebrating this noisy revolution. Around the world, gamers rejoiced as their games got more realistic and hence fun to play with the introduction of sound.

Then imagine my surprise when I discovered that the master of the revolution was a fellow S'porean. I'm no flag-waving patriot, but I was proud to know that one such as myself, with my upbringing, my culture, had made such an impact on the world, the one behind all that was good for us gamers with the promise of things only getting better.

Today, I'm lugging around a laptop packed with so much more computing power than my long-trashed 486. But the tablet is peeking over the horizon and it's really tempting to make yet another substitution. A tablet would certainly be handier for computing on-the-go. Not that I'll be playing Wing Commander on it while crossing the street, I believe I've outgrown that phase of life, but for immediate access to my life online which is getting harder to distinguish from my life in so-called 'meatspace'. My calendar; status updates; blogging; messages and chats; commercial transactions; work planning, preparing and perhaps one day even delivery, all in the palm of my hand without physical commute-time delay. Oh, don't feel sorry for me. I believe I'm already working all the time -- it just doesn't feel like work.

But here's the thing. Do I go with Job's new baby with all it's glam functionality, or do I go all patriotic-proud again with a locally-made competitor launching at about the same time? Back then, Mr Sim had no competition in the market. There was only one product, which made him the innovator of his day. But now it looks like I won't be able to make a purchase unthinkingly. It can't be an automatic 'buy S'pore' anymore. The tablet will have to wait until I do a few more market comparisons. May the best competitor deserve my last dollar.

*This never actually happened. I just made it up for the effect.