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technology, education, other sundries

Thoughts on Technology (April 2021)

Technology education telephones 100DaysToOffload

March is over. The ship is unstuck. Vaccines are rolling out. People are either overjoyed or appalled about a situation.

I don’t know about shipping logistics or vaccines logistics, but I do have some (basic) knowledge on risk assessment. I am hoping that people on both sides of this Internet skirmish have taken a moment to really think about things. In business school we teach students some variation of risk assessment and management, and — at least from my perspective — it looks like people have been skipping steps.

You want to be on top of a situation. In order to be on top, you start at the bottom. You are presented with a decision which should then cascade down (well…up, because we start at the bottom) resulting in questions and decisions and, importantly, precautions!

The most basic version (the one that I teach because I am really not an expert at all) looks like this:

  • What could go wrong?
    • Who/what will be harmed? How will they be harmed? (Identify risk, detail impact, determine priority)
      • Is that a risk worth taking? What precautions should be taken?
        • Risk not work it: abandon idea
        • Risk maybe worth it: give it a try
          • Begin assessment again with new information

Making a surprise announcement and forgoing something like a press release is the stuff of business case studies.

Moving on.

This month I go on a ramble about two things in particular: feature phones and IT in education. If you have no interest in those topics, you might want to back away slowly.

Feature Phones

I have been down the path of the feature phone more than once. First because I was a little fed up with smartphones, again because I discovered Internet trends like Digital Detox and Digital Minimalism. I went from a BlackBerry to a Nokia feature phone to an MP01 to a Motorola Android phone in the course of a year. Then, just toward the end of 2020 I tried again with another Nokia feature phone.

Getting off smartphones an interesting experience and earlier this month I read a great post by Gregory Alvarez called Living Like It’s 99: No Social Media, No Smartphone.

Toward the end of the post he comes to this conclusion:

It’s Not Social Media Fault

Everybody blames social media for the psychological downsides of technology. But having experienced life without it for quite a while now, having used a smartphone and a “dumb phone”, I’ve discovered a big counter intuitive truth, that the real problem is being online: it’s the smartphone fault.

Social media are nice tools with real added benefits when you use it with moderation, like everything else in life. The problem is that having a smartphone in your pocket 24/7 connected to everything makes you overdose.

Don’t get me wrong, social media still has a lot of bad sides which for me outweigh the good it provides. I think this is a perversion due to the people who run them rather than due to the concept in itself. However the economy of attention can only get you if you are online, and that’s where the smartphone comes in.

And don’t try to kid yourself by blocking internet on your devices, it never works. I went through two withdrawal phases of 30 days each (social media and smartphone), and it was violent. At one point I was going through the settings on my watch looking for dopamine in the middle of a conversation sitting at a restaurant. Their systems have been designed by experts who study psychological and social behavior all day long, and they do a great job at keeping you in them. Like a drug addict, you are going to want your dopamine shot and turn internet back on.

Getting off of social media is not easy. My wife stopped using Facebook (the second most invasive app according to pCloud) and people thought something was wrong! It took some explaining but she got through to them. She also successfully got her ENTIRE family to stop using WhatsApp for their mega-group-chat thing. Some of them went to Signal, while others went to Telegram. That all went down a few months ago and I am still trying to find the source of the rumour claiming that Signal is owned by Zuckerberg and is bad (seriously, my mother-in-law believed this). Anyway, off topic, back to the matter at hand.

Like some people over on YouTube, I occasionally get the idea in my head that I want to put down my smartphone for a bit and have something simple. Something like a dumbphone or a feature phone. I have learned from experience that they are all awful.

Now, KaiOS seems interesting on paper and there are loads of devices that I can find and use where I live. Also, many of them are 4G ready, which is one thing that matters where I live (because of very poor 2G coverage). I did have the Nokia 800 Tough. I bought it knowing that thanks to the instructions on BananaHackers.net I could get rid of the preloaded trash on the phone (Facebook, WhatsApp, Google Maps, Google Search, Twitter, and several games come preinstalled and cannot be deleted without rooting the device!). I only used that thing for a month. The battery was not any better than a regular smartphone and the typing experience is awful! Nightmarish even! This might be because T9 predictive text is a patented technology (?) and companies are trying to develop their own, or it is just because the system was not responsive enough for it, or it was never designed for it. I could go on and get into the details of “The Next Billion” but I will spare you that for now.

If you want to have basic phone, with 4G, today, your choices are limited. You could hobble your smartphone, buy a tiny phone (like a Palm or a Jelly), get a KaiOS phone and remove the bloat or wait for something like the Mudita Pure.

The tragedy of the Mudita Pure is that of delay. On the 11th of March they announced further delays, while being very transparent. Although this phone is pricey, it really does look promising. Their announcement came with some videos showing off a production model of the phone.

Mudita Pure Phone
Mudita Pure

I still think this device is promising for several reasons: they are open with their community and backers, they are sticking to their guns when it comes to the features they will include, and they will make the software for the phone open source! I also like the idea of an e-ink phone. You can see the rest of the specs here.

Much like the KaiOS phones, the typing experience and predictive text features need some detailing. On their community forum they have said:

T9 is patented so although we won’t be using it, we are working on a similar solution for texting. Additional language support will be available via our desktop app when new languages are added. Initially, Mudita Pure will only have English, German, Spanish, Polish and French. I have put in a request for Dutch and Norwegian language updates. It will be possible to connect Mudita Pure to a laptop if you’d like to send longer text messages using a laptop keyboard.

But more recently, the the 17th of March, they posted an entry on their blog entitled Predictive texting: The need for speed. Reading that post, it almost sounds like they will not have a predictive texting by design (give it a read, maybe you’ll see what I mean).

At over €300, I don’t know if I could justify the purchase. I would definitely want to try one out someday.

Student Cheating

My second point on technology this month is inspired by an article on Vice entitled Students Are Easily Cheating ‘State-of-the-Art’ Test Proctoring Tech. This is something that affects me. I am a professor. My school opted not to use this type of service last year and I hope they do the same this year. It is a disaster. The other thing I loved about this article is the opening quote from a French student:

“I’ve taken online exams cheating and not cheating and they are just about as stressful anyways so fuck it, am I right?”

I have lived in France for almost 15 years and I have been teaching for all of them. I don’t want to say that the French are cheaters, that is a little slanderous. I will say that I have seen lots of cheating and heard about cheating. With the pandemic, the war on cheating is pointless.

We weren’t quite ready for this. I mean, I think we did the best we could, but we are out of touch with the university-aged generation.

We expected something like this:

Push-Button Education by A. Radebaugh
Push-Button Education by A. Radebaugh
source

or this

Computerized Desk by A. Radebaugh
Computerized Desk by A. Radebaugh
source

In February, at one of the schools that I teach, a group of students were required to take one of these online tests that would be proctored by software mentioned in the article. Their first reaction was that they could cheat. As soon as they found out that they would be monitored by their computer AND their mobile phone they panicked. It was like seeing Kübler-Ross' stages of grief played out. First they said they wouldn’t do the test. Then they found out it was on the syllabus. Then they got angry and had a big meeting (on Teams) where they first expressed their anger, even toward myself because I didn’t prepare them for the test. When they were informed that I was not supposed to prepare them, the bargaining began. They asked for an extra week to prepare. They asked for special accommodations. They said that the school couldn’t force them to do it (well, they weren’t wrong there but…). At the end of the meeting only 6 out of about 45 students said they would take the test. The day of the test, 100% of the students took the test. They accepted.

This month, my other school did the same online test (a TOEIC). Well, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, 25% of our students were caught cheating. They denied it vehemently, but the screencasts showed them copying and pasting and chatting with each other. Clearly they were not as pragmatic as the students in the article with their HDMI cables.

No point in bike-shedding the world of online exam proctoring software. It is time to get back to basics. As mentioned in the article, teachers need to start using technology in a way that promotes effective prevention and adjust our structures and evaluations so that we can evaluate the students in other ways. Teachers also need to come to grips with technology. A lot of the tools our there are not new.

The tools that all teachers should know how to use is not a short list. I have frequently shown a blog posting from 2012 to my students and asked them if their teachers are able to do these things. Here is an edited version of the list:

The 21st century teacher should be able to :

  1. Create and edit digital audio
  2. Use Social bookmarking to share resources with and between learners
  3. Use blogs and wikis to create online platforms for students
  4. Exploit digital images for classroom use
  5. Use video content to engage students
  6. Use infographics to visually stimulate students
  7. Use Social networking sites to connect with colleagues and grown professionally
  8. Create and deliver asynchronous presentations and training sessions
  9. Compile a digital e-portfolio for their own development
  10. Be able to detect plagiarized works in students assignments
  11. Create screen capture videos and tutorials
  12. Curate web content for classroom learning
  13. Use and provide students with task management tools to organize their work and plan their learning
  14. Use polling software to create a real-time survey in class
  15. Understand issues related to copyright and fair use of online materials
  16. Use digital assessment tools to create quizzes
  17. Find and evaluate authentic web based content
  18. Use digital tools for time management purposes
  19. Use note taking tools to share interesting content with your students
  20. Use of online sticky notes to capture interesting ideas

I think we need to add to that list and include things like:

  • Create dynamic original content
  • Leverage the tools we have in order to allow for formative assessment
  • Teach our students how to use alternatives to Zoom, Teams, Adobe, Microsoft, etc.
  • Encourage our students to use software like Anki

We also need to teach students about plagiarism. I learned when I was young, it was taught in middle school. My students, aged 18-22, never hear about it until they are caught doing it.

Teachers also need to use effective teaching methods, such as the ADDIE method. This stated for:

  • Analyse the needs
  • Design
  • Develop
  • Implement
  • Evaluate the efficiency

But, an area where technology comes in is actually thinking like a student. Take my situation as an example. I work in France. All of my students are learners of English. Most of them use Chrome. Chrome defaults have that damn Google Translate thing activates. All of my emails and work I send to them are automatically translated. If I send them a Word document or a PDF, they translate that. I have made it just slightly annoying for them by using a little trick.

I take my PDF and run pdf2ps to convert it to PostScript. Then, I use ps2pdf to make it a PDF. No copy-paste-translate. They need to type it out. Sure, it is a little thing. I also export all instructions as images to put on Moodle so must read the instructions in English.

The other day, I forgot about that. What happened? Most of my students sent me a document that was not what I asked for. Google Translate is at fault.

Another thing we need to do as teachers is use the options that our tools come with. Use these tools to create a “scaffolding” that students progress through. After, you can use something like LevelUp to measure student engagement. This will help you evaluate the usefulness of your activities.

What I am getting at is this: the tools are there, we as teachers have just been using hammers on screws for the past few years. It is time to change, and implementing virtual campuses and augmented reality are good for the press, but not for learning. Instead of complaining about cheating, why don’t we work a little toward teaching the students and training ourselves how to use our various ICT. To bring this point home, a quote:

Despite the power of computers to enhance and reform teaching and learning practices, improper implementation is a widespread issue beyond the reach of increased funding and technological advances with little evidence that teachers and tutors are properly integrating ICT into everyday learning.1

Conclusion

Phones may be bigger problems than social media, depending on how you look at it. Education is more important than using complicated, privacy-invading technology for catching cheaters, and it always will be.


  1. Blackwell, C.K., Lauricella, A.R. and Wartella, E., 2014. Factors influencing digital technology use in early childhood education. Computers & Education, 77, pp.82-90. Retrieved from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_and_communications_technology ↩︎