Archive for October, 2011

In this reflection, I’m not going to take sides. Rather, I would like to start from the end with the beginning in mind and hope to give a different take on this controversial topic by looking at roles, rights and responsibilities.

Clearly, the view that ‘students are customers’ has crept in surreptitiously into the education sector, much to the chagrin of educators. There has been much contempt and dismissal of this notion, especially amongst senior academic staff (Lomas, 2007), to treat ‘students as customers’ since education is viewed as an unique service activity that is markedly different from both business and government.

As I see it, the reluctance to adopt this view is evident of educators’ unwillingless to relinquish power and control in the domains of learning and put the ball back into the court of the students. In quite a myopic way, viewing ‘students as customers’ would mean treating the students as they themselves would like to have been treated as customers – their rights acknowledged and satisfaction fulfilled.

Whilst educators in schools and universities tend to look upon themselves pompously as personalities of free inquiry, free expression, open discovery and dissent, they are often not prepared to walk the talk in real life. In his article, Macfarlane (2011) distinguishes between negative and positive rights vis-à-vis the role of students and academic freedom. If we are prepared to dig a little deeper and ask ourselves honestly how much of the former rights associated with academic freedom have we really accorded to the role of students, the answer would be, not surprisingly, little: Do students really have the freedom of speech to speak up against a curriculum that is shoved down their throat? Can they partake in the decision making process of time-tabling, assessments, review and attendance matters? Are they able to find their own voice in a ‘market’ that constantly drowns theirs with politicized notions of being a globally and environmentally responsible citizen?

In short, the bottom line is that even when students are viewed in their roles as students themselves (as opposed to the role of customers) do the education institutions really provide the conducive environment for them to fulfill the responsibilities that such a student role entails?

And if we look carefully again at the above questions, we would find implicitly embedded within them are the roles, rights and responsibilities of customers. In other words, no, students are not treated as customers even though we would like to think that way. It seems that students are treated more as passive consumers of the information and not as customers of the education process since most of the time, most of them would imbibe whatever is taught to them as gospel truths, unquestioningly follow rules and regulations and unthinkingly accepts their place in the education sector.

So, to conclude, this topic has opened up a Pandora box for me as an educator and I wonder how much of the role, rights and responsibilities of a student would I want to champion and advocate without rocking the boat too much since I myself am now at both ends of the education spectrum – an educator and a student.

This is my home: WP’s Chen Show Mao

Posted: October 21, 2011 in Life

This is my home: WP’s Chen Show Mao.

This is a great animation video tracing the development of technology since bygone eras. What is telling is that technology has existed since time immemorial, its ubiquity more pronounced now than ever, its influence seeping in and blurring the lines between what is personal and professional.


Whilst its inroad into education remains an indisputable fact, we cannot allow the tool to displace (or replace) the teacher. The teacher resides in the control tower in which he/she is the guide by the side, dispenses instructions and stimulates thinking as the guru, not to the ‘goondu‘ but to a more evolved group of students and shapes learning as the sage on the stage by drawing on the relevance of learning theories from behaviourism, cognitivism and constructivism theorists in the like of Skinner, Briggs, Piaget & Vygotsky. To that end, a teacher’s role in this era is to keep asking these pertinent questions: How did I learn before? How am I learning now? How do my students learn? And when we, as educators, can take a step back from our pre-conceptions and delve deeply into these questions, we may just cross the threshold of the great divide and find ourselves on the other side.

Whilst I fully and wholeheartedly agree with the first three writers’ views and propositions, I envisage one problem that may arise when readers view these articles as ingratiating themselves with the use of technology in the classroom, i.e. seeing humans as beholden to technology. Such interpretations has spawned opinions from people like Marshall (in Hayes, 2004) denouncing technology as hype and many teachers giving technology ‘blanket denials of relevance’. With such titles like “Learning with Technology or Learning from Technology”, the great divide is made more pronounced, the differences perpetuated further. I personally think that we have missed the woods for the trees when we keep segregating technology and education that way. 

Technology has been present since time immemorial – from Stone Age to Print (thanks to Gutenberg) to the more recent ‘Pencil to Pixels’ – and it is ubiquitous. Technology has evolved and progressed but with the kind of debates we’ve been raising about the use of technology in education, it seems, we humans have devolved and regressed.  The onus, on us as educators, is not to ask the question ‘Where is education heading with technology?’ but rather, embrace the question with the answer, ‘With technology, we’ve been going somewhere and now, with emerging technologies, we can start to see where we’re headed.”

Underlying this antagonistic perspective is, perhaps, fear – the fear that technology will take away what was once ours – our jobs as educators, our relationships with students, colleagues, family and friends; the fear that power is wrested from our hands and the computer, not the educator, is in control.  Hence, I feel that technology needs to be put in its rightful place so that we, as educators, can re-claim our rightful roles in the education arena. When one confronts the subject that is feared head on, one’s fear, hopefully, dissipates. What is this rightful place for us educators with regards to technology? Well, I would like to use the terms hardware, headware and heartware to exemplify this.

Grabinger and Dunlap (1995) gravitate to the use of Rich Environments for Active Learning (REALs) that are information-rich, imbued with interactive-learning in order to spur students to dive into the waters of deep learning to discover the gems hidden in their field of enquiry and not tread on the surface of shallowness. Johassen et al (1998) proposed the use of computers as Mindtools to engage learners meaningfully as designers in knowledge production, not reproduction. Churchill (2006), drawing on the constructivism fundamentals espoused by Vygotsky and Piaget proposed a holistic student-centred learning design with technology embedded in its framework. 

All three writers agree that students are knowledge builders and technology facilitates this process of knowledge construction. Hence, technology is seen as the ‘hardware’ that dispenses the information. For the students to assimilate this information and convert the data to knowledge, the set of instructional designs needs to be given thorough ‘headware’ from the person designing it (the educator). To take the writers’ point even further, I might add that with the correct ‘heartware’ input from the educators, students will hopefully be able to convert the knowledge into priceless wisdom – taking what he/she has learned within the boundaries of the school to the borderless world beyond. 

Hence, the relationship between technology and the educator in the 21st century is symbiotic. And when we can embrace technology as an extension of our voice and intelligence in the classroom and evaluate honestly and fearlessly its influence in both our personal and professional lives, then we will be able to effectively harness the limitless potential of this (UN)intelligent tool.