Book Review – The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning

Book Review - The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning

Title: The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students Through Digital Learning

Author: James Paul Gee

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (January 8, 2013)

The Anti-Education Era: Creative Smarter Students Through Digital Learning by James Paul Gee

Before we can be convinced of the need to get smart through digital learning, we need to be convinced of our own stupidity.

The title implies that the book will explain how digital leaning will create smarter students in an era the author terms ‘anti-education’. While Gee does explain that and does it well without much reference to buzzwords in educational technology, what the title (as well as the blurb) does not warn us is that there will be a confrontation of the state of the human being and an uncovering of the failings that we are oblivious to. In fact, Part I of the book, which comprises 15 chapters, is plainly titled ‘How To Be Stupid’, while Part II, titled ‘How To Get Smart Before It Gets Too Late’,  has just six chapters.

In other words, before we can be convinced of the need to get smart through digital learning, we need to be convinced of our own stupidity – and Gee does that by exposing mental comfort stories, the dangerous lack of agency or purpose among members of a community (or citizens of a country), and the damaging consequences of our stupidity, e.g. self-deception, inequality and hopelessness.

Unapologetic and deeply convinced for a smarter and more moral world, Gee writes simply and candidly to question our assumptions about education, the economy and society, and calls us to action: to connect, collaborate and create collective intelligence.

I touch on a few of Gee’s arguments that have struck a chord with me.

First, the bad news

HOW SCHOOLS MAKE US STUPID

Humans have the capacity to be reflective and thereafter embark on good actions. Gee calls this the Circuit of Human Reflective Action. The conditions for smart actions to take place are:

1) Initial mentorship so we can learn from people and experience in specific areas/domains;

2) Lots of prior experience;

3) Clear goals;

4) The actions and goals must matter to us emotionally;

5) There is an opportunity to act in a way that elicits a meaningful response from our community (local/global).

Unfortunately, much of formal schooling is highly passive with students imbibing knowledge without much opportunity to take meaningful action based on what they have learned. The lack of a compelling or meaningful goal of studying and attending school is exacerbated by the focus on testing and gate-keeping examinations. Furthermore, some students have initial mentoring (in the form of parents, out-of-school experiences, etc.) and some have not; nonetheless, “we pretend they are on a level-playing field” (p. 16-17).

WHEN STATUS AND SOLIDARITY DIVIDE US

Status and solidarity are powerful cultural forces that shape our identity and influence our everyday actions. We seek status in terms of respect from others. We also seek solidarity with other in order to have a sense of belonging and being accepted.  Such forces, however, may dull our senses and better judgment when status and solidarity become the only end goals of a meaningful life.

As a consequence, we accept and perpetuate particular world views and actions contrary to empirical evidence and facts, common sense and moral standards. For example, aspiring to own a club membership like your peers when your income cannot support it; indulging in bullying tactics along with your buddies when you know the bullied is distressed. These examples may appear trivial but they scratch the surface of a world beset with social ills and inequalities.

In our limited world of people who we want to like us, and people we want to be like, we disregard more rational thought and action, and more sadly, disregard other humans who fall below our flawed standards of human existence.

Now, for some good news

AFFINITY SPACES FOR ALL

In order to engage our students in more critical and reflective thinking, we need to lead them to an affinity space where a community of learners who share common passions and goals. They may come from a variety of backgrounds and have varying levels of experience and expertise, but by exchanging ideas, opinions and thoughts with one another, the group solution to the challenge is going to be superior to an individual’s effort. “[H]umans think and act better when we do so by getting the help of others and giving help to them” (p. 174).

Such affinity spaces would look like discussion boards and interest groups related to the simulation video game The Sims where players find ways to create objects of their desire such as building their dream house and accessories, as well as the various user-generated communities where players interact with one another.

I do believe that affinity spaces are not limited to an online environment and it is important to have real-life face-to-face connections in any affinity space to encourage authentic relationships among learners.

Exactly how affinity spaces are to be constructed is not the focus in Part II of the book but the end is really the beginning of our conversation of how to make use of our 21st century tools to enhance our student’s thinking, reflecting and doing while creating purposeful goals for them in a diverse and global community.

 

How I Use Open Educational Resources (OER)

How I Use Open Educational Resources

Open Educational Resources (OER) are increasingly important when we consider the breadth and depth of material that are being produced by educational institutions, media production companies,  and even individuals. Equipping my students with web-based resources allows both my students and I to have access to high-quality and up-to-date information, whenever we need it, wherever we are. This frees me from creating teaching material from scratch and enables me to focus on teaching in class.

Watch a brief interview I did with Learning Academy , Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore:

Let me share some of the OERs I have used :

1. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) OER: Purdue OWL

 

For me, the most useful resource on this site is the section on APA Style. It contains sections on how to cite and reference for different reference materials, including print, web and recorded material. The information is presented in an easy-to-read format with clear examples for readers to follow. The information is also easily searchable which makes navigating a content-heavy website less onerous on the user. The Purdue OWL is a great example of how one educational institution creates and maintains educational resources and makes it available for free for educational use.

Terms of use of Purdue OWL materials in the classroom: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/551/01

 

2. Howcast Media, Inc

OER: Howcast Media, Inc.

 

Howcast is a media production company that specialises in high-quality and entertaining instructional videos. The videos are usually no more than 5 minutes long but contains enough information to keep the audience engaged. I have used their videos on presentations, writing and questionnaires in my classes. My students usually perk up when the lights dim and the video comes on.

Terms of use of Howcast videos in the classroom: http://www.howcast.com/faq

 

3.  The YUNiversity

OER: The YUNiversity

 

The  YUNiversity is a blog (and more) on grammar tips presented in an off-beat, humorous and engaging manner, and is especially suited for the current generation of youths. They post on Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Medium and handle Q&As on ask.fm The YUNiversity is managed by an English graduate from the University of California at Berkeley and his wife. I share their posts on grammar tips with my students on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

Terms of use of The YUNiversity materials in the classroom: Not obvious but here’s the link to their FAQs: http://www.theyuniversity.net/FAQ

 

OERs are indispensable in any classroom. I hope this post has got you thinking about exploring the world wide web of wonderful educational resources!

 

The Science of Character – Thinking About Grit

The Science of Character - Thinking About Grit

It was Character Day on March 20, 2014. In celebration of, and also to facilitate discussion on character strengths, there was the global cloud film premiere of The Science of Character, “an 8-minute film that explores fascinating new research on character development and our ability to shape who we are” (Let It Ripple website).

The Science of Character – an 8 min film directed by Tiffany Shlain (Twitter: @tiffanyshlain)

Directed by Tiffany Shlain, the film promotes the idea that we can cultivate character by building on our strengths, instead of focusing on our deficits. The central organising structure of character is what has been coined a periodic table of character strengths, which is, in fact, fashioned from the VIA Classification of Character Strengths. The classification itself comes out of a landmark publication, Character Strengths and Virtues written by the late Christopher Peterson, one of the founders of positive psychology, and Martin Seligman,  Director of the Center and a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Periodic Table of Character Strengths

Periodic Table of Character Strengths from The Science of Character

While the table is a neat way of categorising 24 virtues common across cultures and time, the VIA Institute on Character reminds us that character strengths were conceived as “dimensions and not as categories” and that “[p]eople have more-or-less of all the strengths and not simply a set of discrete strengths versus weaknesses” (VIA Institute on Character, para 7). This is an important point to note as the periodic table may lead to an inventory list ticking exercise, thus reinforcing a false dichotomy between what we are and what we’re not.

To begin to understand the complexity of the character traits, I started with Grit, a trait I see in myself developing over the years. As part of the film’s premiere, there was a series of Q&A sessions with the experts and I  joined a Google Hangouts session featuring Angela Lee Duckworth, the expert on grit and how it contributes to student success.

Angela Lee Duckworth speaks on Grit

I first came across Angela’s work on TED. Today’s expert chat session on Grit brought up discussions on whether there could be too much virtue, and whether grit could be instilled on demand or something that simply needed time to be developed.

To help explain Grit, Angela provided a metaphor of the Christmas Tree where the various levels of goals are hierarchically organised, with the shining star as the highest and unchanging goal underlying Grit. For example, if my highest level goal is providing free education to poor children, my lower level goals could range from studying for a Masters or PhD, setting up projects, and networking. I should be adaptable and flexible with these lower level goals, for example, if I don’t succeed in one project, I can look at starting a new one. However, the overarching goal of free education to the poor does not change. If it did, I wouldn’t be displaying Grit toward my final destination.

The Christmas Tree metaphor is helpful in understanding why sudden bursts of energy for short periods of time does not really count toward Grit, but rather, a deep interest that you hold over a period of time does. The fact that Grit requires stamina and patience also means that older people will exhibit Grit more often than younger people.

I look back on my twenty-something self and see several bursts of energy and nothing close to Grit. Comfortably into my thirties, I have discovered what I’m passionate about and Grit will serve me for the long run.

Character Day may have come and gone but let the Character Conversation continue, with experts, with each other, with yourself.

Sources

Peterson, Christopher, and Martin E. P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004. Print.

Shlain, Tiffany & The Moxie Institute Films. “The Science of Character (a New 8 Min “Cloud Film”).” YouTube. YouTube, 20 Mar 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

TED. “Angela Lee Duckworth: The Key to Success? Grit.” YouTube. YouTube, 09 May 2013. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.

VIA Institute on Character. “Guidelines on Use and Interpretation.” VIA Character Use and Interpretation. N.p., 2014. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. http://www.viacharacter.org/www/en-us/viainstitute/useandinterpretation.aspx.

Are MOOCs the future of learning?

Are MOOCs the future of learning?

With the ongoing discussion of whether MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) is the next revolution in education, I decided to embark on a MOOC myself. My first experience with online courses was not Massive nor Open. It was with the Master of Arts in Teaching program with USC. It was a full-fledged master program conducted via video conferencing which meant real-time interaction with professors and classmates. Having thrived in such an environment, I look to MOOCs with great expectations of lifelong learning without a hefty price tag or any price at all if possible.

My first experience with MOOCs was a shaky one. I can’t really say I fully experienced it since I was never fully engaged with the course. There was one course I did with Open2Study and another with Coursera. Both courses were related to learning and education but somehow there was too much going on in my life in the time I was supposed to complete it. The Open2Study course was conducted at a pace which required almost daily attention that I quickly abandoned it altogether. The pace of the Coursera course was much better but I still couldn’t keep up with the myriad of activities that were going on and felt pretty much a non-student. Without a concerted effort and a “studying” frame of mind, those two MOOCs amounted to a faint memory of videos and catchphrases.

Still hoping for a better outcome with MOOC, I recently enrolled for a Coursera course, History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education, offered by Duke University and am now in the fourth week of the six-week course. This time I was more prepared to set aside some time to do the course. The first week, however, went by in the flash and I only caught up with the video lectures in the second week.

What got me hooked was the high quality video production with a friendly and engaging presenter  (Professor Cathy N. Davidson) and useful presentation pointers appearing from the side. It a short period of 10 to 15 minutes, I learned important concepts and got thinking about the implication of technology in education. The videos were stimulating enough for me to anticipate the following week’s materials.

One of the tools used in the course is forums which drive a socially-connected and engaging form of learning. I was not, however, particularly drawn to the forums because I am inundated enough with articles, debates and discussion on Twitter (my daily feed of news and trends). Furthermore, as a non-fee-paying student, I am just not as motivated to devote time and energy to share and exchange ideas with strangers, even if it means learning new things.

Professor Cathy Davidson reviewing guiding principles of the course

To me, the outcome of watching the videos was immediate knowledge. I could watch the videos anytime and in between tasks and gained a lot from a relative short span of focused attention. Forums, on the other hand, required more thoughtful and time-consuming contribution which had a less obvious reward. There was no tangible carrot nor stick to motivate the more socially engaging aspect of the course. I am a full-time working mother with three young children, and this makes me evaluate how worthwhile any pursuit is on an ongoing basis.

 Modes of learning aside, let me move on to what I have been learning so far: 1) We’re teaching like it’s 1992; 2) We need to teach for the future; and 3) Our conception of reality is created through the filter of our own mind and perception.

Pen & paper | Flickr: Loops San

Technology and communication practices have evolved since 1993 but education seems to be largely stuck in the days of pen and paper, individual summative assessments and the like.

1) We’re teaching like it’s 1992.

The significance of 1992 was lost on me until I learnt that the Internet was opened to the world on April 22, 1993. Since then, anyone with an internet connection could communicate with one another, expressing what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted. Technology and communication practices have evolved since 1993 but education seems to be largely stuck in the days of pen and paper, individual summative assessments and the like.

Personally, I find this to be true in Singapore. National examinations are in the traditional vein of individual summative assessment of the highest order, to the extent of determining your lot in life (whether perceived or real). In post-secondary institutions, however, coursework is more prevalent, especially at the polytechnic. There is a mix of individual and group assignments, some more collaborative than others, but not quite exploiting the full potential of our current technologies.

One reason behind this phenomenon of teaching like it’s 1992 is the fact that educators have grown up in the world pre-1993 and were schooled through and through in the ways and sensibilities of the time before the Internet. I certainly was. Some are looking forward to the future but many are comfortable and used to the past. Whatever the arguments are for staying put and not rocking the boat, I think there are more compelling reasons to decide that we have to change and act on it.

Digital literacies | Flickr: dougbelshaw

It’s not about getting students through a course on digital literacies, it’s about practising digital literacies in and out of the classroom.

2) We need to teach for the future.

I believe that we need to teach our students digital literacies. The post-1993 generation was born into an Internet world of instant communication and gratification. Having taught such students for the past 5 years, I’m convinced that I am more digitally savvy that most of them. They may have the latest gadgets and apps, but most of the time they are too trusting of the first few Google search results, think that, in fact, Google is the originator of the information, and pay little attention to issues of privacy and ethics.

I don’t think students are mastering how to evaluate internet sources because there is a (wrong) assumption that they are naturally digitally savvy and so teachers pay scant attention to this aspect of learning. To put another perspective on this issue, if there are no grades or tangible rewards attached to being digitally literate, students will not become literate. It’s not about getting students through a course on digital literacies, it’s about practising digital literacies in and out of the classroom.

We can never teach our students enough content for the future, but we ought to teach them how to navigate the future with greater critical analytical skills.

3) Our conception of reality is created through the filter of our own mind and perception.

One major concept I learnt and find so true in all areas of my life is Immanuel Kant’s concept of how our perception of the world is filtered by our own preconceived notions and ideas. If we see our students as well-oiled machines, responsive to instructions and high in productivity, then our approach to teaching and assessment will follow suit. Standardised testing, orderliness and measurable results become drivers of education.

While I believe that such a filter is outdated today and that a new filter of creative and collaborative learners is more appropriate, I feel trapped in a factory of deadlines where incomplete or faulty products or tossed aside. Most of the teaching my own children are experiencing right now is highly segmented, time-bound, and considered a done deal by way of tests. Creativity is relegated to physical activity and art lessons or specific assignments.

True creativity and collaborative practice can only be achieved if they are part and parcel of everyday learning – something I have never experienced in my own schooling experience but a future I hope for my children and their children.

A traditional classroom | Flickr: young shanahan

A traditional classroom | Flickr: young shanahan

An online course can run like a factory if that’s the vision of the instructors. A traditional classroom can be turned into a laboratory of inquisitive minds if the teachers so wish.

So what about MOOCs?

Will MOOCs then be one of the solutions to instill creativity and collaborative practice in learning? MOOC is merely a vehicle. An online course can run like a factory if that’s the vision of the instructors. A traditional classroom can be turned into a laboratory of inquisitive minds if the teachers so wish. Granted that MOOCs has the potential of reaching out to more by using technologies that are innately collaborative in nature (e.g. forum posting, wikis, etc.), the challenge is to make use of that potential in a sustainable manner for a meaningful learning experience.

My own interaction with the current MOOC has been limited to watching video lectures so far. I have not set my mind on anything collaborative but I may if I find like-minded friends or colleagues who believe that it is a meaningful endeavour for their work or personal growth.

MOOCs can roll out its bells and whistles, but the choice is up to us to ride along with the revolution.

Educating Singapore – Moving Beyond Grades

Educating Singapore - Moving Beyond Grades

The latest PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results have placed Singapore among the top performers among 65 countries and economies who took part in the fifth assessment of 15-year-olds’ competencies in Reading, Mathematics and Science. We came in second in Mathematics, and third in both Reading and Science.

Not only are we in good company with our Asian neighbours like Shanghai (top in all three areas) and Hong Kong (third in Math and second in both Reading and Science), we have shown improvement in results in both academically weaker and stronger pupils. Our Education Minister is reported to be very happy and very proud of the results but I hope Singapore’s stellar performance at PISA will not undermine the need to improve areas such as equity and creativity.

S’pore can do better in ensuring educational equity

Singapore can do better in ensuring educational equity

A recent news report gave a more balanced assessment of Singapore’s PISA results, where OECD Deputy Director for Education and Skills Andreas Schleicher noted that Singapore is “a strong performer in (education) quality, but only an average performer in equity.” Educational equity is defined by OECD in terms of fairness and inclusion – providing all students, regardless of gender, socio-economic status or ethnic origin, have similar opportunities to achieving educational potential; and ensuring a basic minimum standard of education for all. By that definition, Singapore has progressed very well over the past few decades (from fishing village to global player) and has been considered the “poster child” for educational development (mirroring its economic success story) – see country report by OECD. We have reduced achievement gaps between genders and races, and have refined the process of teaching students according to their abilities.

Nonetheless, the education culture in Singapore is one driven by results of  high-stakes examinations which are the gatekeepers to the next level of education which in turn determine the type and quality of jobs students eventually land. While this is not a culture unique to Singapore, and certainly not as extreme as compared to South Korea and China, such a culture privileges those who have easier access to educational resources (e.g. private lessons, parental coaching, financial support). Furthermore, innovation and creativity take a back seat while grades get all the glory. Despite government attempts to downplay the importance of grades and asking parents to broaden their perception of their children’s success, parents are too pragmatic to give up the paper chase. Exam results continue to be the determining factor at each turning point of a child’s school life.

The Singapore Ministry of Education hails the latest PISA results as an indication that Singapore students “are ready to thrive in the 21st century.” To me, thriving means growing in a supportive environment where students can realise their potential and nurture their talents. To thrive in the 21st century also means having the capacity to change, innovate and look for new ways of doing things. I’m not sure if we can claim that all Singapore students are ready to thrive. Some have more resources to be able to thrive, some have fewer, and many have discovered the best way to thrive is to go to another country where there’s more to school than just getting good grades.

An education system is a product of philosophy, politics and societal values. I don’t believe there is something inherently right or wrong about using exam results to measure success. Neither do I believe that there is a level playing field for all children. What I hope our education system does not do is to reduce a person’s worth to the degree of educational attainment, and by extension, the financial rewards that come from it.

However the education game is being played, we must be critical of our successes and learn from our failures. Doing that will keep my hope alive.

The First Year of Primary School – A Mother’s Reflection

The First Year of Primary School - A Mother's Reflection

My daughter R started Primary One this year. At the beginning, it was exciting, she found most things enjoyable, and I was happy that she adjusted quickly to the environment and found it easy to make friends. As the year wore on, however, the life of primary school unveiled itself to be a mixed bag of things – some good, some bad, some disappointing.

THE GOOD

Faith, Friends & Fun

R’s school is a government school but was founded by Christian missionaries and holds fast to values and principles which I grew up with and which I wanted my children to learn. There is a pastoral staff based in the school and students attend a weekly chapel session. R comes home singing songs she has learnt and I believe her Christian faith is strengthened because of such an environment.

R’s school, despite its Christian background, attracts a mix of races and religions. Having non-Chinese and non-Christian friends has exposed her to cultural and religious differences which I hope will make her more sensitive to the needs of others. Recently,  R’s Hindu classmate invited R and their classmates to her home for Deepavali celebrations. I’m glad R had fun and was able to interact with her classmates outside of school.

R also found several activities in school to be fun, primarily activities that were sports and arts related. She enjoyed badminton and gymnastics sessions, Chinese dance, and speech and drama activities. My girl needs her space to move around and express herself. It’s important that the school has a non-academic programme to let students find and develop their talent. While I wish there was formal training available at the school for music and gymnastics, I know resources are limited and I’m grateful that there are Chinese Dance lessons which R faithfully attends each week.

THE BAD

Books

The weight of the many books – textbooks , workbooks, exercise books – all add up to a considerable burden for a 7-year-old. The haversack needs to be large enough to contain the books, sturdy enough so it doesn’t tear, and padded enough so it won’t hurt the shoulders and back.

The main reason for the need to cart the books to and fro is that R’s classroom is shared with the morning session class (R is in the afternoon session – another contentious point). Plus the fact that there are no lockers for students to use. The school is in the midst of building extensions so that the school can go single session — in 2016. Not sure if there will be lockers or shelving space for books in the future but I hope there will be some alternatives to the book carrying routine.

Weight aside, I wonder how well the books are used. What does my child do with the textbook during lessons? Does she flip the pages, close the book, and then move on to some activity in class? The textbooks  have hardly any activities in them so how does the child interact with the book? Workbooks are, of course, more used to the point of pages being dog-eared.  So why not just have a workbook? Can’t concepts be included in the workbooks? Wouldn’t that make the book worth its weight?

Better yet, throw out the book. English has done away with textbooks and workbooks altogether, focusing on worksheets instead. So why not Chinese and Math? Worksheets are targeted, timely and thin!

THE DISAPPOINTING

Results

Do I already sound like a parent obsessed with grades? I don’t think I am, at least, I won’t use the term ‘obsessed’ but grades are a reflection of how much a student is able to prove what she knows at a given point in time. And at those given points in time called ‘tests’, R proved to be highly competent in English, somewhat average in Math, and hitting the bottom of the barrel in Chinese.

I’m not so much disappointed in her results as I am that she did not reach her potential during those assessments. And to be honest, I am more disappointed in myself for not coaching her to be able to perform her best.

Time was certainly a main factor. R is in the afternoon session, which means not having to wake up too early in the morning. By 8 am, R should be awake. By that time, I’m well on my way to work. She takes her time with breakfast and after that needs her TV fix for the day, for just 30 min or so.

Between 9 to 10:30 am, she might do homework, learn spelling, or if there’s no school assignments, she might pop down to the playground or ride her bicycle. At 10:30 am, she starts to get ready to change into her school uniform, have an early lunch and leaves home around 11:30 am to report for school by 12:20 pm.

At 6:30 pm, school ends and R reaches home around 7:20 pm. By that time, I have returned home from work and finished my dinner. After R washes up and has her dinner, there is a fairly unproductive 45 mins or so of doing homework and other things like learning spelling, doing a book review or whatever tasks scribbled in her pupil handbook. All this with the background noise of her two younger brothers clamouring for attention, and me nagging at R to focus on her work.

By 9 pm, the kids need to be in bed, preferably asleep. By 9 pm, I need some time to myself, preferably in silence. By 9 pm, it’s late enough for all of us.

Such is the daily routine, Monday to Friday.

What about the weekend, you might ask? Don’t I send R for tuition, fill her waking hours with assessment books and makes sure that she’s primed for any test?

I don’t. Sure there are assessment books, and there are more well used closer to tests, but I don’t have a tight schedule of formal learning for my child. I did try a few times, but they did not go down well with R. And I would much rather spend time taking her and her brothers to the library, or run around the playground.

Ah, now I will change, you might think. Just look at her results – R needs tuition, doesn’t she, at least in Chinese?

I’m not sure she does. I think I’ll take her to her to the library more often and encourage her to read more Chinese books.

What about Math? She needs tuition for that. Everyone has tuition!

R needs more focused attention in shorter spans of time, whether for Math, Chinese or English. And that’s what I’ll try to do. And hopefully without the distraction from her brothers.

PAUSE FOR THOUGHT

There will always be the good, the bad and the disappointing in many situations, life changing events and, of course, the long journey of parenting. My journey is on a rocky mountain path but I’m fixing my eyes on the summit – with plenty of lessons to learn along the way.

Using Google Hangouts on Air for a Research Presentation

Using Google Hangouts on Air for a Research Presentation

Although Google Hangouts on Air launched in May 2012, I only recently discovered it when I chanced upon a colleague’s live lecture while scanning my Google+ feed. And what I saw, I liked. Google Hangouts on Air (or HOA for short) broadcasts what happens in a Google Hangout session. In that session, you can choose to have a conversation with people you invite, work on Google docs, or what I thought was the most promising, conduct a presentation via screenshare. The live session is streamed via YouTube and that live stream is automatically saved as a video whenthe broadcast ends.

Google Hangouts on Air

Google Hangouts on Air

Practice Makes Perfect

While the process sounds simple, I had to practise going through the process of setting up a HOA, broadcasting it and checking if the recording of the session matched what I imagined it to be – five times to be exact – before I was convinced I was sure of what to do at the actual presentation. Through the practice sessions, here are some of the pitfalls I encountered:

  • Entering a name for your HOA generates a YouTube link for the live session in standby mode. Hitting the broadcast button makes the video ‘live’. However, if you open the page for the YouTube live session and record at the same time, you will get two sets of audio being recorded. So after checking that the YouTube link has been created, close the browser or tab.
  • There are several options for screenshare – desktop and the various windows that are open. Although it may seem obvious to screenshare the particular application you are using for your presentation, that did not work for me – the slides did not appear to move as I clicked through them in presentation mode. What was more reliable was screensharing the desktop and then activating whichever application I wanted.
  • A mic is necessary for the best sound input. Otherwise the sound quality in the video sounds muffled.

HOA For Real This Time

The use of HOA at my presentation (of my research paper Understanding the Identity of One ELL in Singaporewent fairly smoothly but it was only after the whole process was completed did I realise the finer details of implementation. A few realisations as I watched the playback of my presentation:

  • The screenshare (using desktop) of my powerpoint presentation was exactly what I had on my desktop (presenter mode), but not on the projector screen (full screen mode). Using Microsoft Powerpoint 2013 meant that once the application detects a projector, it goes into presenter mode with the notes of the current slide and a preview of the subsequent slide show at the side of the screen. I didn’t like it but others thought it was cool. Note for future HOA: change the default presenter mode to full screen presentation.
  •  The mic I used was an arm attached to headphones and had a long wire so that I could move around with ease but stay connected to the laptop. While the long wire was helpful for movement, the awkward shape of an arm mic dangling from my neck resulted in inconsistent volume in the recording.
  • I recorded both the presentation and the Q&A which meant a 58 min recording. 58 min is an overwhelming duration for a YouTube video clip. In fact, some friends gave feedback that the video would stall halfway through. Not sure if it’s because the recording is too long or it’s a technical glitch. Either way, I intend to edit the video to include just the presentation portion which would last about 30 min.

More Tech Won’t Hurt

HOA aside, I was also experimenting with the use of Padlet during the presentation for audience members to post their questions, comments, etc. As it was a live audience, I guess few were inclined to post anything since there was going to be a Q&A session immediately after the presentation. A friend who was keen to try out Padlet did a little more than post comments. He posted a related link as well as uploaded a few photos of my presentation to my Padlet wall. I wasn’t expecting photos but this turned out to be a neat way of capturing moments of an event.

Using Padlet during a presentation

Using Padlet during a presentation

Conclusion

The best outcome of my presentation experiment was that the entire event was captured and archived. The YouTube video serves as a reference for me to reflect on how I could conduct a presentation more effectively, on how I could refine my thought process, and provides another avenue for me to share my research ideas with a broader audience. As long as HOA remains free, it will probably become the tool of choice among tech novices like myself to create (and archive) live presentations.

Me and those English-speaking Elites

Blog Post - Me and those English-speaking Elites

Last month, I presented a paper based on my Masters research project at the 2013 Joint SELF Biennial International Conference and Educational Research Association of Singapore (ERAS) Conference.

My research was a single case study which analyzed the English language learning experience of my student using Bonny Norton’s notion of how identity intersects with social relationships, and James Gee‘s take on Discourses.

Me and those English-speaking Elites: Uncovering the Identity of One ELL in Singapore from Sherrie Lee

Here’s a Google Hangouts on Air recording of my presentation of my research

For the abstract, read on:

Me and those English-speaking elites: Uncovering the identity of one minority ELL in Singapore

The minority English language learner (ELL) in Singapore is one who does not have English as a home language nor considers English as one’s first language even though Singapore’s education system and virtually every aspect of civic life uses and promotes English as a first and official language. Using the narrative inquiry method, I explore one minority ELL’s (“Rachel”) past and present schooling experiences in learning English. In understanding Rachel’s identity as an English language learner, I consider how her primary Discourse – a Mandarin-speaking working class family background – influences the acquisition of the secondary Discourse of school and English as a first and academic language (Gee, 2012).  I also show how her identity is shaped by how inequitable social relationships influence language learning, and how investment in learning English is driven by both real and metaphorical capital to be gained (Norton Peirce, 1995; Norton, 2000).  I then suggest that Rachel’s apparent contradictory attitudes of desire and reluctance toward language learning opportunities can be resolved by Gee’s (2012) notion of a mushfaking learner.

References

Gee, J. P. (2012). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourse (4th ed.). Oxford: Routledge.

Norton Peirce, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29(1), 9–31.

Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and educational change. London: Longman/Pearson Education.

Adventures of a Note-taking Warrior

Adventures of a Note-taking Warrior

I recently attended the 2013 Joint SELF Biennial International Conference and Educational Research Association of Singapore (ERAS) Conference. I wanted to go more digital in my note-taking so I tool along a Samsung Note 10.1 which includes a stylus. I also had my usual pen and notebook as I wasn’t sure if I would end up going all digital in my notes.

The argument for digital notes is an easy one – more legible, searchable and easily transferred from one digital source to another. But what about writing down notes? Apart from being faster, words stuck on page are just stuck on page.

During the conference, I used Evernote to store my notes. With a premium account, I could work on my notes offline which is important when you may not always have internet access. For me, Evernote has been the best note-taking app/software for desktop, phone and tablet without a doubt. What is not so clear, however, is the best way to make those notes.

Evernote

Evernote (Photo credit: /Sizemore/)

Here are the results of my experiment with different note-taking ways:

1) Using tablet with on-screen keyboard

Two words: hand cramp.

A non-tactile, flat and smooth surface is really not the best input source. As much as predictive text was helpful, I was still typing more slowly than if I had a regular keyboard. Then there were times when I hit other keys instead of space bar, or when serious mistyping led to incorrect suggestions. In addition, not being able to type fast enough also meant missing some info on the slides when the presenter moved on.

Apart from taking notes from the presentation, I also searched for the presenters, found pages related to them and the main theories and ideas they were presenting on, and copied and pasted the links into my notes. If I didn’t have time to do that, I would just bookmark the sites or save the link directly to Evernote.

All in all, while I captured the notes digitally, I’m not convinced the on-screen keyboard is worth the discomfort.

2) Using tablet with stylus

The stylus was a smooth operator, but a bit too smooth.

The S pen was good for some quick scribbling, a few sentences, but certainly not for anything longer or more complex than that. After taking down a few sentences, I switched back to the keyboard.

The stylus, however, was good for making annotations on pdfs or images. I used two apps to try out the stylus for that purpose: iAnnotate and Skitch. I didn’t do a whole lot of annotations during the conference but will be experimenting more with PDF annotation with iAnnotate in the near future.

So the stylus is good for adding details or comments but not for a long stretch of writing.

3) Taking snapshots of slides

If you can’t beat them, join them.

This was actually the most common way of note-taking at the conference, judging by the number of phones and tablets bobbing up and down throughout the presentations. I resisted at first as I was not keen on having a bunch of photos stuck in my phone. Then I discovered Page Camera in Evernote. I could include my photos of slides in my Evernote notes, whether by importing from my phone gallery or taking the photos directly from Evernote. The tablet was not great for taking pictures of slides, so I used my phone for this.

With the slides in my notes, I could also add comments in the notes, or annotate on the picture of the slide using Skitch. The challenge, however, is to multitask between capturing images and taking down notes. Sometimes I found myself taking down notes but missed the chance to capture the slides.

Page Camera is a great addition to Evernote and I’m looking forward to more enhancements.

4) Taking snapshots of handwritten notes

Have pen, will write!

I ended up using my trusty pen and notebook most of the time for quicker note-taking. But not content with the non-digital nature of physical notes, I took photos of my the pages in my notebook and added them to Evernote.

With the premium version of Evernote, the search function includes picking out text from your images. As long as you write legibly, Evernote can highlight words in those pictures. I haven’t tested this fully, but then again, my handwriting is not the most legible to the human or Evernote eye.

Evernote Smart Notebook

Evernote Smart Notebook (Photo credit: AhBook)

In the end, the winner is …

With the limitations of an on-screen keyboard on the tablet, I think the Mac Air would solve that problem. Personally, I would go for the 13 inch version so I can read documents and long stretches of text more comfortably. I did consider a bluetooth keyboard for the tablet but the weight probably adds up to that of the Mac Air. Furthermore, I’m a heavy user of Mendely to organise articles (PDF documents), and so far, both iOS and Android apps do not have full functionality of the desktop version. So for serious note-taking, I’ll be going the way of the Air.

I’ll also be complementing digital note-taking with snapshots of slides and regular handwritten notes. In fact, I don’t ever think I will give up physical notes. Sometimes, you just want to write and doodle or just not have any clunky devices around. I’m going to get the Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskin which comes with three months subscription to Evernote Premium (brilliant marketing move!). Evernote Premium is valued at US$7 per month (US$21 for three months), almost offsetting the cost of a 3.5 by 5.5 notebook (US$24.95).

Previously, I didn’t think a physical Moleskin notebook would gel with the digital Evernote but it now makes sense to me, wonderful digital sense.

Kindle 3 and academic reading

Sherrie Lee:

Wasn’t considering the Kindle as a tablet of choice until I read this. If it’s good for the eyes, it’s good for me!

Originally posted on Helena's Research Blog:

For my thesis, research and studies I need to read a lot of articles. Most of these are on my computer as PDFs. For some time I have been longing to have a device that would allow me to read these PDFs on the go and thus utilize the various transfer times I have. Sure, I could print them out and take the hard copy. But for ecological and practical reasons, I now read almost everything electronically. Usually, when I read a paper, I will highlight the content or write down a few notes. Now if I have done this on my printed copy, where is this copy going to be the next time I need it? Most probably not with me. So I needed a device that would allow me to take my PDFs with me, read them conveniently, make a few highlights or notes and transfer the lot…

View original 759 more words