I'm thankful to start 2021 with Daisy Christodoulou's new book, Teachers vs Tech? The case for an ed tech revolution, published in March 2020 by Oxford University Press. In this post, I like to share my personal notes and reflections on some of the important key points.
Christodoulou, who is the Director of Education at No More Marking and the author of Seven Myths of Education (2014) as well as Making Good Progress? The future of Assessment of Learning (2017) - is also an English language teacher. This has made the book all the more appealing to me. To deliver some of her arguments, she offers lots of examples and anecdotes from classroom experiences that resonate with my own. Of course, there are plenty of examples from other subjects like mathematics and science, too - but it is my belief that many English language teachers would find this aspect of the book helpful in so many ways.
The book's Foreword is written by Paul Kirschner. He ponders on the fact that despite all the hypes that surround it, ed tech doesn't seem to be successful in revamping education in the same ways that previous revolutions like the printing press and the blackboard (or the chalkboard) did. At least not yet. In Kirschner's words:
In my working life as an educational psychologist and instructional designer (at the time of writing, over 40 years). I've had to suffer the prophecies and predictions of trend watchers, trend matchers, futurologists, corporations, educational gurus, and eduquacks telling me how information and communication technologies were the next revolution in education. Up until now, these technologies have been little more than expansions of the first two real revolutions.
The questions that we need to ask
The introduction chapter opens with a quote by Thomas Edison from 1913 where he predicted that books will be obsolete and that everything will be taught with "motion picture" in ten years. Echoing Kirschner's sentiment in the Foreword, Christodoulou points at how education today has remained almost similar to how it had been in Edison's time. She writes: "Compared to the change and disruption that technology has brought to practically every other part of our society, education is an outlier" (p. 14).
Christodoulou argues that if education does indeed need to change, these are the two fundamental questions that we need to ask: 1) how do humans learn? and 2) what causes learning to happen? The main theme of the book is to find out "the gap between what we know about human cognition, and what often gets recommended in education technology" (p. 22). According to Christodoulou:
If we can reconnect both education and technology with the research underpinning them both, there is enormous promise for a genuinely successful revolution.
Closing the gap
This book is a novel attempt at addressing the chasm between evidence-based learning theories and ed tech innovations. Christodoulou's main arguments throughout the book can be summarised as follows:
1) humans learn through mental activities that help develop long-term memory, which is essential in helping us make sense of everyday information that we encounter;
2) teaching methods should be directed at helping learners develop this long-term memory;
3) in order for ed tech to be 'revolutionary,' it has to employ approaches that support and/or complement these teaching methods;
4) the best way for ed tech to support/complement these teaching methods is by mimicking the teacher expertise and by finding ways to make up for the shortcomings / 'blindspots' caused by human factor.
Education versus tech
Chapter 1 focuses on the science of learning theories, which argues that instead of assisting classroom practices that are backed by scientific research, the adoptions of ed tech are currently very much geared towards overwhelming the working memory, - i.e. the memory that helps us hold small information in our minds in order to help us execute cognitive tasks. When working memory is overwhelmed, it can't contribute towards the development of long-term memory. The first part of the book is also dedicated towards challenging common conceptions which have widely been applied in ed tech practices, such as the notions of 'individual learning styles' and 'self-directed learning' in providing personalised learning experiences for learners. The claim that students learn better when taught in their preferred learning styles "has been extensively researched, and consistently found lacking" (p. 50). For Christodoulou, "When we are learning, what matters most is not our best or preferred learning style, but the best learning style for the content" (ibid.). Instead of constraining a learner to a learning style that he prefers, Christodoulou recommends using technology to aid understanding (e.g. using a combination of words and images), and to create memorable content (e.g. by adopting Mayer's principles of multimedia learning - see chapter 3, pp. 84-91). These strategies should aim at benefitting all learners, not just those who prefer certain learning styles.
As for self-directed learning which supposedly allows students to be more autonomous in deciding their own learning content and paces, Christodoulou contends that students are often "not well-equipped to make good decisions about their learning, precisely because they are still learning" (p. 57). She refers to the seminal work of Dunning and Kruger (1999) as the main supporting evidence for this argument. Dunning and Kruger's central finding - which is famously known as the Dunning-Kruger effect - posits that in order to make good decisions about one's own competence, a baseline of competence is necessary. Those with lower level of competence tend to overestimate their abilities, while those with higher level of competence would be able to judge their abilities more accurately. We can personalise learning based on a student's choice and self-assessment, but novice learners often struggle to identify their own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, Christodoulou suggests that instead of getting students to be self-paced or self-directed learners when they are still novices, teachers should focus on providing guidance, structure and knowledge that will allow them to increase their ability to evaluate their competence in a more accurate manner, This will eventually help them make good learning choices.
When we are learning, what matters most is not our preferred or best learning style, but the best learning style for the content.
Adaptive learning utilises personalised data that can offer teachers and students with accurate information on the students' learning behaviour, typically by tracking how they answer questions. This information is then used to respond to each student's specific needs by customising the individual learning experiences. Adaptive systems can also provide students with hints and tips, probe for misconceptions, and offer follow-up activities to address misconceptions. In short, adaptive learning is basically a system that tries "to mimic what teachers would like to do if they had unlimited time and attention" (p. 61). The examples that Christodoulou gives like ALEKS, Cognitive Tutor, and Andes are all unfamiliar to me, but I do recall being once an addict of this adaptive learning game on Vocabulary.com. The game does mimic what a teacher would love to do if she has unlimited time and attention to teach vocabulary individually to each and every student. The system tracks which questions I answer correctly and wrongly, and personalises subsequent questions based on that information. For example, the questions that I've got wrong will be repeated a few times till I master it, based on the system's algorithm. I also receive hints and tips to help me learn along the way. Parallel questions will pop up at certain intervals to ensure that I won't forget what I've supposedly mastered. It's brilliant, it's addictive, and it's fun. And I sure learn a lot of vocabulary through the site. Christodoulou makes it clear that adaptive learning is her preferred way of providing personalisation compared to others discussed in this book. I feel the same way.
Problematising project-based learning
These challenges to most recent education hypes and buzzes continue in chapter 4, where Christodoulou analyses the current trendiest education practices like active learning, student-centred learning and project-based learning. Advocates of these types of learning often cited benefits such as enhancements of real-world engagements, problem-solving skills, teamwork, and communication skills. Christodoulou problematises these approaches by pointing out how complex tasks associated with so-called 'real-world problems' often overload working memories, and results in students not learning anything even if they manage to complete the project. As she puts it: "The problem with all kinds of projects - those that use technology, and those that don't - is that they involve so many different elements that it is hard to know what a student will pay attention to. Often, the important element you want students to focus on is obscured or unclear" (p. 102).
To solve this problem, Christodoulou recommends breaking down big, complex projects into smaller manageable chunks so they won't overload working memories. Complex tasks should be the end goal, and not the steps along the way.
The Big Tech guys
I love how Christodoulou doesn't mince words in offering her views on the education philosophies advocated by Big Tech companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple, - mainly delivered through their teacher certification programme and tech-based lesson plans. She slams Google's claim about how learning facts is no longer relevant or necessary nowadays because students can 'just Google it up.' She describes how Google's teacher certification programme is mainly geared towards teaching students (and teachers) how to use Google apps, instead of getting learners to actually learn the skills and lessons they are supposed to learn.
Christodoulou shows that facts are needed in order to help students to think, to construct a more useful search, and to evaluate the information that they find online. The 'higher-order thinking skills' that are so crucial in executing the types of tasks outlined in Google's lesson plans will not be possible without "a quite basic bit of knowledge" (p. 76). As she puts it, "Knowledge is needed before HOTS can happen" (ibid.). Relying on Google searches every time they need a few facts to execute a task will overload students' working memory. As shown in the chapter on the science of learning, this does little in helping students develop long-term memory, which is key in helping them learn what they need to learn.
Knowledge is needed before HOTS can happen.
One example highlighted in chapter 4 is on how an assignment on Spanish Civil War has turned into a lesson on how to use the "esoteric features of PowerPoint" (p. 102). Christodoulou contends, "Of course it's useful to learn how PowerPoint and other popular computer programmes work, But in this lesson, the original aim was to learn about the Spanish Civil War, not about PowerPoint" (ibid.). Parallels can be seen in lessons and projects recommended by Microsoft and Apple. For example, we are prompted to ponder on how much students are thinking about mathematics while engaged in an iMovie video project about equations that uses cooking utensils (a lesson plan from Apple), or about the problem of senior-citizen loneliness when they are building a Minecraft world in an attempt to combat the problem. While acknowledging that tasks like these can serve some important non-academic purposes, Christodoulou is also quick to point out that Microsoft's recommended project gets students to be engaged mostly with its popular Minecraft virtual world, not the purported 'real-world' that it claims to utilise.
Facts versus skills?
The pendulum swing towards more skills-based as opposed to facts-based teaching in this 21st century is understandable, as more and more educators feel pressured to do away with 'meaningless drills' and 'rote memorisations' which allegedly has limited relevance for real-world applications. But Christodoulou offers another viewpoint. Instead of regarding the teaching of facts and the teaching of skills as two opposing dichotomies, she recommends focusing on developing a learning pathway that utilises both so that learning can be optimised to the fullest. It isn't about whether teaching one is more important than the other, it is about customising students' learning journeys so they can develop the knowledge of facts as well as the skills needed in order to reach the learning objectives. As mentioned earlier, complex tasks should be broken down into smaller, simpler tasks that can help students acquire the knowledge and master the skills needed in a way that won't overload their working memories, but help develop long-term memories that are useful for them to execute the more complex tasks ahead.
And this is the area that technology should prove most useful. Apps, virtual games, quizzes, and even mini projects using PowerPoints, iMovie etc., - if planned and executed properly - can help make learning facts and knowledge more engaging, fun, interesting, and memorable as students journey along the pathways that we have created for them. As Christodoulou puts it, "instead of expecting technology to eliminate the need to build memories, we should instead use technology to make it easier for us to build memories" (p. 91). And my most favourite quote of all:
We can use technology to make memorisation as fun as possible, we can use technology to make it as efficient as possible, but we cannot use technology to eliminate memory - unless we want to eliminate something that makes us human.
Technology can also be utilised to provide interactive and personalised feedback, as well as help make classroom assessments more effective and meaningful (the book dedicates a whole chapter (chapter 7, pp. 174-191) on how technology can be used to transform the way we do assessments - well worth checking out).
Can technology replace teachers?
"Teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge; the Internet is." ~ Don Tapscott, a leading authority on the impact of technology on business and society (quoted in the book on p. 69)
Outcomes from attempts to show that technology can take over the jobs of teachers have not been convincing. Attempts to leverage students' capabilities in being self-directed, independent learners with no support other than brandishing computers and devices in the classrooms "has a really lousy record" (to put it in the words of Bill Gates). The examples that Christodoulou gives, i.e. that of Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and Sugata Mitra's Hole in the Wall experiments are well-known (and have been regarded as a bit unusual in their quite extreme beliefs in how students can 'teach themselves' with just the help of computers), but she also points out how it's perhaps not that unusual when compared against how ed tech has been largely adopted in current education systems. As the book has compellingly demonstrated throughout all the chapters, this technocentric beliefs in the "transformative power of new technologies and media" which "neglects thoughtful and well-designed content" is part of a broader trend (p. 131).
When teachers struggle to minimise distractions, some ed tech advocates are quick to put the blame on teachers; citing poor classroom management, failure to teach students about appropriate use of devices and digital citizenship. as well as execution of activities that lack challenges and engagements. Some fault students for not having enough self-control. What many seem to have forgotten is that devices are not neutral - they are designed to distract (with the intention to profit the people who invent and sell them). Teaching students about the "appropriate use of devices and digital citizenship" should begin with an explanation on "how the modern Internet really works" (p. 148). Making an effort to minimise distractions caused by devices should be regarded as a strength rather than a weakness.
Given all these complexities surrounding the use of computers, devices, and the Internet as learning tools, claiming that technology can take the place of teachers is ambitious at best, and preposterous at worst. I don't feel the book has offered any definitive solution to the problem of minimising/eliminating distractions (apart from a suggestion to ban or adapt devices accordingly to maximise learning), but it does challenge us to revisit this popular notion about whether or not technology can stand on its own when it comes to the business of educating young minds. It challenges technocentric solutions to the problems of education, e.g. the belief that providing computers and laptops in every school and classroom can solve the issues of learning difficulties, education inequity, or digital divide. I really love R.E. Clark's metaphor in his 1983's meta-review of the exaggerated educational benefits of TV:
Media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition.
Almost 40 years on, we can see that education is still unfortunately too keen on investing in shiny new trucks rather than healthy foods.
I believe this book does a great job in proving that teachers will always be essential and that their jobs will never be replaced by computers, devices, and the Internet. The teacher expertise is likened to expertise in professions like firefighters and nurses where rapid, accurate judgements are frequently needed in "highly complex" and "uncertain" situations (p. 153). Expert teachers, nurses, and firefighters are those who have vast amount of experiences and have dedicated a significant amount of time perfecting their practices. An expert firefighter can "pick up on reliable cues" when a building is about to collapse, in the same way that an expert nurse can make good decision about what to do to help an infant who has an infection (ibid.). While teaching might rarely involve dangerous, life-threatening situations like collapsing buildings or medical complications, the ability to make good decisions "in the heat of the moment" is frequently necessary and extremely crucial (ibid.). An expert teacher is someone who can "recognise when students are struggling to learn something," and "practise the best kinds of responses" (p. 154).
So maybe teachers are no longer the fountain of knowledge, yet their expertise is still pivotal. Having said that, Christodoulou argues that "neither human nor technological expertise on its own is enough: we need both" (p. 152). It is not a question of teachers versus technology, it is a question of whether we can leverage technology to make up for the shortcomings of teachers. Teachers, no matter how experienced and skilful, are mere mortals who are susceptible to errors and mistakes. Teachers can have expertise-induced blindness, where they can sometimes forget how it's like to be a novice and therefore overlook the struggles of certain students. There's also a problem of fractionation of expertise, where a teacher can be an expert in one particular aspect but not in others. Teachers may also face challenges related to providing individual and timely feedback that are so crucial for ensuring progress. And as humans, teachers are not immune to expert bias, which mainly refers to the inconsistencies of human judgement, particularly in aspects related to assessments and evaluations.
Therefore, instead of aspiring to replace teachers, technology should play the role as a gap-filler, to make up for where human expertise is found lacking. Suggestions include optimising the application of adaptive learning system (see above), most preferably in ways that would allow teachers "to create their own content, or change the way they teach" (p. 166). In addition to being an effective platform for personalised learning, an ideal adaptive system can gather data that will be helpful for teachers to understand individual student's learning trajectories, and hence customise their classroom approaches based on each student's needs. The data from these types of system can also be integrated with teacher education and professional development programmes. Besides this, there are also lots of potentials in comparative judgement, i.e. a tool for marking assessments that combine computer algorithms with human expertise.
This isn't a book about technology
I believe the message of this whole book can be recapitulated in these two quotes:
1) "The dividing line between the more and less effective approaches we've looked at is in the attitude to teacher expertise. The more effective approaches seek out what is valuable about teacher expertise and try to copy or even improve on it. The less-effective approaches assume it is irrelevant or can be ignored" (p. 195, emphasis mine).
2) "If we persist with faulty ideas about how humans think and learn, we will just extend a century-long cycle of hype and disillusionment" (p. 196).
This isn't a book about technology. It claims to make a "case for an ed tech revolution," but a more important underlying message is a call to change the way we think about education. I think we have allowed too many conceptions and assumptions that are not backed by science to proliferate our field and influence our teaching in ways that don't benefit our learners. People are too quick to jump on the bandwagon when ideas like students should be taught based on their individual learning styles, HOTS should be emphasised over 'LOTS,' teaching of facts isn't as important as teaching 'real-world' skills, the purpose of schools is to prepare students for the workforce (actually the purpose of schools is to help students become good and useful human beings) - the list goes on. More than making a case for an ed tech revolution, this book is making a case for science-backed teaching to optimise learning, and for ed tech to be utilised in ways that can make education transformational and revolutionary.
~ccj, Duvanson, 4.03 p.m.
Christodoulou, D. (2020). Teachers vs tech? The case for an ed tech revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Link
On the last day of 2020, my social media feeds were lined from top to bottom with people reflecting on their 2020 highlights and biggest achievements of the year.
A friend urged me to share what I would consider my biggest achievement. She thought it necessary to celebrate every single achievement, no matter how small, to make 2020 (which undoubtedly had been the hardest year for many) worthy of celebration. I racked my brain, but I couldn't find anything worth sharing. I didn't think I had achieved anything - I had been spending too much of my 2020 on finding healing and trying to survive.
But I posted this on Facebook, nevertheless:
I guess my friend wasn't too impressed with that - but I honestly believed that that was my biggest achievement of the year. I had procrastinated doing that for too long, so to be able to enter the new year with an organised closet was a magical feeling.
But skimming through my friends' posts on my feed got me thinking. Is this what a brand new year is supposed to be about? Collecting trophies and achievements? Well, there's nothing wrong with that of course; it's never a bad thing to have goals and ambitions. But what if I don't want to have any achievement to brag about at the end of the year? What does "achievement" really mean?
I asked a dear friend of mine what she thought was her biggest achievement of the year. This was her reply:
"My biggest achievement is remaining a Christian till the end of 2020. And not running away from God when things became hard."
She also wrote:
"This was God's grace in an ultimate sense, but it also felt like a major achievement somehow."
But aren't all achievements God's grace? I don't think I would ever be able to lift my lazy bones to clean that poor closet of mine if it wasn't for God's grace.
I'm just a book
In addition to overwhelming posts about successes and achievements (which I enjoyed reading - they were like refreshing oasis in the midst of what seemed to be a parched year), I was also bombarded with newsletters about books that had impacted the world in 2020. I love books, and I always welcome these newsletters as they give me ideas on what to put in my reading list for the following year. The books that shaped 2020 from Penguin is one of my favourites, as well as the Best Books 2020 from Goodreads and Most Anticipated Books of 2021 from Times.
As I tried to decide which books to include in my list, I did more than just reading the reviews and synopsis. I also tried to learn as much as I could about the authors. The authors, to me, are always as important as (if not more important than) the books.
I pondered upon it this morning, and this thought came to me:
People can't enjoy a book without appreciating the author.
People can't celebrate a person without glorifying the Creator.
I was reminded then that I'm just a book. Without my Author, I'm nothing.
In the Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote:
"Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. "Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest "well pleased." "
When I celebrate my achievements and blessings, I should be giving Him glory. He's the Creator who made this book. He's the Author who writes my story.
Have a blessed 2021.
~ccj, Duvanson, 9.54am
I've never heard of Claude Shannon, till I came across this article about him on Quanta Magazine. Shannon was a genius - a scientist, an electrical engineer, and a mathematician - whose groundbreaking work on communication made possible the Information Age as we know it today.
I know I should read up more about him, about his life, and about his work (and I do intend to, soon) before I should dream about writing a post about him - but I need to make note of how much this article has inspired me. The author David Tse described Shannon as a "lone genius" who "invented the future." I'm not an engineer or a mathematician, and although I'm interested in Information Technology, it's quite unlikely that I would ever have to refer to any of Shannon's writings for my own research in social science (at least for now). But I'm drawn to his approach to the pursuit of knowledge. In this post, I'd like to list down lessons I learned from Shannon's scholarly life as described by Tse in his article. These are lessons that I hope to emulate in my own academic journey, and also in my life in general.
Lesson 1: Aim big
The article revealed how Shannon's work had been impactful since the very beginning. Upon graduating from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and mathematics, Shannon wrote a thesis for his Master's at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The work ended up being transformative - one that "is now considered to have been the starting point of digital circuit design."
Shannon was clearly ahead of his time. But after achieving a success of this magnitude, he didn't stop there. He moved on to a bigger goal, which was to transform the way humans communicate.
Lesson 2: Look for a unifying point (this might take some time, but it's okay)
Before Shannon published his seminal work A Mathematical Theory of Communication in 1948 (which took him a decade to complete), communication systems had always been about "specific sources" and "physical medium."
Shannon was not satisfied with complying with the way things were. He was brave enough to think out of the box, to ask a question that no one in the field seemed to have asked before. He was looking for "a grand unified theory for communication," - and he found it.
I learned that this philosophy is applicable not only in academic, but also in life. I'm stating this because this lesson resonates with me in more ways than one. Recently, I've been reflecting on the value of finding a unifying point that would harmonise the different aspects of my life, as opposed to treating them as disparate entities. Modern advice seems to advocate compartmentalisation, and for a long time, this is an ideal I've been subscribing to. The pandemic, the lockdowns, having to work from home while simultaneously juggling the needs of my family have made compartmentalising very difficult - almost impossible, actually. Have I been doing it wrong all these whiles? Life consists of different aspects - yes. But these different aspects are so overlapping and intricately intertwined; I can't do one without the other. Maybe compartmentalising, drawing boundaries, and separating different aspects of life as if they're totally unconnected aren't the best ways to go. Maybe harmonising everything through one unifying point is something that I should consider doing more seriously from now on.
The unifying point might be different from person to person. I have decided that my unifying point should be my faith. I hope to write more about this in a future post.
Lesson 3: Simplicity is key
Tse wrote, "The heart of his theory is a simple but very general model of communication." Then Tse went on to describe how despite its simplicity, Shannon's theory captures some very key insights which are crucial in addressing the main issues in communication systems.
A work doesn't have to be complicated to be groundbreaking. I often think (and have been advised to think) that in order to make a contribution in my field, I need to come up with something that's not there yet. In other words, I need to create something new. But Shannon showed that sometimes what's needed is simply to point people towards the right direction. In Shannon's case, it isn't about creating something new. It's about highlighting the obvious stuffs that have gone under the radar because people have been focusing on something else that's more aligned to general intuitions of the day.
Tse commented: "Shannon’s general theory of communication is so natural that it’s as if he discovered the universe’s laws of communication, rather than inventing them."
How did Shannon do it? Through investing all his time and energy on things that he believes matter. Tse offers that Shannon had focused "relentlessly on the essential feature of a problem while ignoring all other aspects." I've been allowing too many stuffs to clutter my mind in my quest towards contributing something that I hope would be valuable. It's time to declutter my life and make things more simple so I can focus on what matters.
Lesson 4: Uncertainty is to be embraced
Shannon was the first in his field to observe that "the key to communication is uncertainty." Tse pointed out that this observation "shifted the communication problem from the physical to the abstract." Uncertainty allowed Shannon to use probability to draw up his theory of communication, which is at the same time a theory of how "information is produced and transferred - an information theory." As a result of this theory, Shannon is known as the "father of information theory."
I'm aware that this article refers to "uncertainty" and "probability" as engineering / mathematical terms in relation to communication / information systems. But at philosophical level, this truth still holds. Transferring the lesson to my own personal pursuit of knowledge, I'm reminded of instances where some things tend to be generally perceived as concrete, physical, and tangible. Treating these things as being abstract and uncertain might invite raised eyebrows. Being the amateur that I am, I often retract despite knowing that I might find something useful if I press on. It would be far from groundbreaking or world-changing, but what I would discover might be helpful in my pursuit of understanding. And this, I believe, is the main reason why I embark on this journey.
Lesson 5: Don't be afraid to be different
The article describes how Shannon's theory has led to "counterintuitive" and "unexpected" conclusions. As a result, he was deemed esoteric by fellow engineers of his time. But if it wasn't for his courage to be different, we might not know communication and information systems as we know them today. Tse pointed out that "Shannon's theory has now become the standard framework underlying all modern-day communication systems." Shannon discovered his landmark theory 70 years ago. He passed away in 2001, but his legacy lives on in the technology that surrounds us today and for many more years to come.
Familiarity gives me a safe place, a feeling of security, a sense of belonging. It takes a lot of courage to do something that no one else is doing, to be alone, to be perceived as a weirdo. But as evidenced through Shannon's life (and the lives of many other prominent scholars and inspiring people who have changed the world), taking the road less taken is not only worthwhile; it is necessary sometimes.
Pruning the Tree versus Adding my Twigs
I'll end this post with Tse's concluding paragraphs:
"When I started graduate school, my adviser told me that the best work would prune the tree of knowledge, rather than grow it. I didn’t know what to make of this message then; I always thought my job as a researcher was to add my own twigs. But over my career, as I had the opportunity to apply this philosophy in my own work, I began to understand."
"When Shannon began studying communication, engineers already had a large collection of techniques. It was his unifying work that pruned all these twigs of knowledge into a single coherent and lovely tree — one that’s borne fruit for generations of scientists, mathematicians and engineers."
Pruning the twigs of knowledge into a single coherent and lovely tree. That should be the aim.
~ccj, Duvanson, 10.57pm
Tse, David (December 22, 2020). How Claude Shannon's Information Theory Invented the Future. Quanta Magazine. Link
I know this statement is so ubiquitous that it has become almost a cliche, but I still want to write it down because it's so important to me. Here we go: COVID-19 has exposed the reality of digital divide in unprecedented ways.
Sabah, my beloved home state, is not spared. Earlier this year, a video of an 18-year old girl staying overnight on top of a tree in the middle of a jungle so she can take her online examination went viral. Her story even made it to the BBC. But we know that this girl’s experience is not exclusive. In resource-scarce areas where Internet access is more a luxury than an everyday necessity, millions of children are falling behind in their studies. A recent UNICEF-ITU report pointed out that this is true even before 'pandemic' becomes a household word. For many years, hundreds of children in Sabah and Malaysia have had to endure unimaginable things for access to education. It's sad to think that it took a viral video of a girl studying on a makeshift treehouse for local politicians to finally take notice.
Scholars such as Warschauer contended that digital divide is more than an issue of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ Digital divide is clearly a sociological problem, and technocentric solutions are not the best answers. The question that I've been pondering upon is this: what will I discover if I try to understand digital divide by making sense of the realities within the social spaces that occupy it?
Bourdieu describes these realities as struggles between an evolving set of roles and relationships in a social domain. I have to embody these struggles in my years of service as a teacher in Sabah rural schools. In this social space, I've tried my best to address learning inequity by utilising digital resources at my disposal to the fullest. I have to learn how to manage the interplay between my knowledge of technology, pedagogy, and the curriculum content. I have to be ingenuous in adopting classroom approaches that make full use of 'anachronistic' digital equipment and snail-y Internet connections.
When I moved to a new social space as a district supervisor, my roles and relationships changed. My struggles in this new space consisted of assisting other teachers to manage the interplay between the three knowledge domains. These struggles inspired my study on ESL teachers TPACK mobilisation and enactment which I did as part of my MPhil. Through the findings, I learned that even teachers who had to teach in the most challenging situations thrived when their knowledge appropriation was properly facilitated.
McKinsey’s report which states (among others) that the quality of an education system can never exceed the quality of its teachers may have been a bit over-quoted (and have also sparked some debates - here's an example, and here's another one). But I think it accurately highlights teachers' true 'location' in this social dimension. It shows that teachers are at the centre of this sociological melee - whether we like it or not.
I truly hope this project can serve as a small first step towards understanding this better.
Will write more soon.
~ccj, Duvanson, 3.41pm
Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press.
Warschauer, M. (2003). Technology and social inclusion: Rethinking the digital divide. The MIT Press.
In this post, I like to write about something I learned from my 4-year-old niece Jodi, on the connection between the act of giving and making sacrifices for others.
So, my mum bought a new red dress for Jodi, which she hoped Jodi would wear on Christmas day. For some reasons, Jodi didn't like the dress. She said, "It's too big." But it's not. It's just the right size for her. She also said, "I don't think it's me" - which is very odd for a 4-year old to say. Hmm. I have a precocious niece.
So, to cut a long story short - Jodi did finally wear that dress. It happened after a long conversation with me in my room. It began with me desperately trying to persuade her - by pointing out how beautiful the dress is, how gorgeous the colour, how it would suit the theme of Christmas. "See, Creamer is wearing a red dress, too," I said, referring to myself. Jodi shrugged, told me that's great, and continued to bang mindlessly on my Yamaha keyboard on full volume.
It seemed like it was going to be a miserably unsuccessful attempt, till I felt moved to pray about it in my heart. I asked God if this can be an opportunity for Jodi to learn something about the true meaning of Christmas. I had absolutely no idea what I was praying for at that time, and hadn't a single clue why I said what I said. But right after saying Amen, I felt inspired to tell Jodi about how Moing (that's what Jodi calls her grandma) went to the mall to get that dress for her, despite her difficulty to walk. I told her that Moing paid for that dress with money (Jodi was just learning about how money works). That got Jodi's attention. She stopped playing on the keyboard and asked, "So, Moing has no more money?" I replied, "Well, she still has a little bit." Then I said, "You received lots of presents for Christmas, didn't you?" Jodi nodded. "Did you give anyone a present?" Jodi said no. "How about wearing this dress as a present for Moing?" Jodi said Yes. It wasn't an easy Yes, I could see it on her face. She had tears in her eyes when she uttered that Yes. But it was a most sincere, heartfelt Yes. Jodi really meant that Yes, and she followed it up with her actions. She allowed me to take off the old shabby green dress she had on (it was her favourite dress), and to help her put on the new red dress that Moing had spent her money on, because she loves Jodi so much.
I could still see Jodi's face as I put the dress on her - how she struggled to fight back tears. She didn't even want to look at her reflection in the mirror when I told her how great she looked. It wasn't easy for her, I know. I hugged her and told her she has the most beautiful heart ever, and that I'm very, very proud of her. Then we headed to the living room to see Moing.
How Moing's face brightened at the sight of Jodi in that red dress! Jodi gave Moing a hug and wished her a Merry Christmas. Then she skipped towards the middle of the living room, and - in typical Jodi's fashion - started to twirl around and around and pretended that she's a ballerina.
I think Jodi has decided that the red dress isn't so bad after all.
Sometimes it's okay to wear a dress that I think is too big, or that's just "not me," or that I don't want to wear because I like my old one better. Especially if it makes other people happy. And especially when it's Christmas.
And getting someone a present doesn't always have to involve giving something away. Lovingly accepting a gift - no matter how I feel about it - is akin to giving the giver a present, too.
~ccj, Duvanson, 9.57am
I used to write on my old blog. If you come here from there - welcome to my new home! If you're a new visitor - hello and nice meeting you.
Nothing much here yet, but I'll be writing more soon.
Thanks for dropping by!
~ccj, Duvanson, 4.17 a.m.