During my public lectures I usually announce my cellphone number. This way, the audience is able to send me questions even as I lecture. I am thus able to incorporate the answers to the questions into the lectures themselves. This practice has the added advantage of encouraging microphone-shy listeners to interact with me. After I leave the lecture hall, I also make it a practice to text back those with questions unanswered due to lack of time.
Here are some questions raised in the lectures I gave to teachers in various conferences during the summer. I have, as I did in previous columns of this nature, translated the text language into newspaper English.
Q: You made mention of plagiarism [cut-and-pasted from the Web]. Can you discuss it briefly? For example, how can we identify plagiarized material?
A: You can get anti-plagiarism software (such as WCopyfind, Moss, Glatt Plagiarism Screening Program, or Eve 2), some free, some expensive.
Q: To check if a student output is plagiarized, google a suspected phrase and the source will be found.
A: Not all the time. In fact, even if Google lists the suspected phrase, it may be on the 300th screen page or the 300,000th entry, and you will spend too much time finding it.
Q: What is your comment re: viruses on the web, downtime, and other limitations of technology for teaching?
A: For viruses, just subscribe to one of the standard anti-virus services (McAfee, Norton, and so on). As for downtime, waiting a couple of minutes for something to download from the Web is still preferable to spending a couple of hours typing something, having it photocopied, collating the pages, and distributing it to students. The real limitation to the use of technology for teaching is the teacher. If the teacher is a digital immigrant, we have a real problem, since most, if not all, of our students are digital natives.
Q: What happens to the bonding of students and teachers when everything will be communicated through technological tools, such as the Internet?
A: Not everything can be communicated through the Internet. For example, you cannot teach the difference between the adjectives sweet and sour unless the student eats something sweet and something sour. You cannot teach a student how to swim unless there’s a swimming pool or river nearby. You cannot even teach literature just through technology: no one can understand a simple sentence like Shakespeare’s “parting is such sweet sorrow” without having parted with a loved one.
Never fear that teachers will be superfluous. Teachers will always be needed to guide and mentor students. In fact, even in pure online courses (where students never meet their teachers in a physical classroom), teachers design the courses and answer the questions posed on websites.
Of course, the bonding between teachers and students diminishes with the use of technology. If nothing else, there is less time for teachers and students to talk to each other, because much classroom time is taken up fixing cables and things of that sort. As with everything else, you must weigh the advantages against the disadvantages of using technology to teach and to learn.
Q: Is the teacher in transformative learning similar to a guidance counselor?
A: Similar, yes, but not identical. Both the transformative teacher and the guidance counselor are trained to listen to students and not to impose their own views on students. But the teacher has a duty to help the student fulfill prescribed minimum learning requirements, while the counselor has no predetermined body of knowledge to impart.
The guidance counsellor, faced with a drug dependent student, is duty-bound to try to take the student out of the dependence. Similarly, a transformative teacher, faced with a factual error on the part of a student, has to correct the mistake (for example, you cannot allow a student to grow up convinced that Ferdinand Magellan was Ilocano or that Gabriela Silang was Australian).
What is crucial in transformative education is the wrong attitude of many teachers that they have a monopoly on information. On the other hand, what is wrong with some of those pushing transformative education, however, is that they act precisely like the kind of non-transformative teachers that they detest: they think that they, and only they, know what transformative learning is all about!
The situation in transformative learning today is similar to the situation of Marxism before deconstruction: the older Marxists preached that everything is a product of history and therefore subject to its limitations, except Marxism itself.
Closer to home, what is going on today in transformative education is like what happens when a Filipino says that “Filipinos are lazy, corrupt, and stupid.” Needless to say, the subject of the sentence includes, and therefore refers to, the speaker.
Q: Is chaos theory like Zen? Things will naturally resolve themselves, so we just have to sit back and watch things unfold.
A: Not exactly. Although chaos theory says that we can always find an explanation for what seems to be chaotic, it does not have the acceptance of things as they are that characterizes Zen. Adherents of chaos theory have created the computer, surely an intervention in the flow of nature. Adherents of Zen would rather not disturb the universe.
This question was asked in the context of reforms being undertaken at the Department of Education. Since everything works out in the end, should we just let the natural course of progress catch up with those in charge of the future of our children? Or should we take some deliberate actions to cause change in DepEd?
Chaos theorists would simply point to the inevitability of reform happening in DepEd due to the changes in educational conditions worldwide. For example, when Chinese finally overtakes English as a medium of international business, DepEd will have no choice but to include Chinese as a second language.
Non-chaos theorists, however, are more impatient: since we can see clearly now that China will overtake the United States in economic power at some point in time (maybe within fifty years) and since curricular change occurs only once every ten or so years, should we not start thinking of what we should be doing fifty years from now?
Q: Is technology useful for preschoolers?
A: Absolutely. You will be surprised at the natural aptitude of preschoolers for computers. There are numerous educational software packages meant for very young pupils. Visit, for example, funschool.kaboose.com and softwareforkids.com.
As Rocky Mountain Learning Systems puts it on their website, “Pre-school children are like little sponges. Long before they enter school, most kids are eager to learn. And this is the time to introduce them to [sofware] programs that capitalize on this instinctive desire.”
Q: How can we use the Web to teach Philippine History?
A: Compared to the material available for the histories of other nations, online material on the Philippines is not extensive, but there is enough information for students in Philippine-based websites, as well as in the standard international encylopedia sources, such as Wikipedia.
As of last week, by the way, Wikipedia had 33,132 articles written in Binisayang Sinugboanon (Cebuano), 5,847 articles in Tagalog, 3,076 in Kapampangan, 2,191 articles in Iloko (Ilocano), 2,148 in Winaray (Waray), 260 in Pangasinense (Pangasinan), and one in Chavacano de Zamboanga. The articles are not all about the Philippines, but many of them are.
Q: How can we determine the accuracy of lessons on the Web?
A: Check who wrote the lessons or information. Let us take a simple example.
If you google “Philippine history,” one of the first entries you will get is the entry in Infoplease – “Timeline: Philippines History,” written by David Johnson and Shmuel Ross. If you know your Philippine history, you will know immediately that this entry is full of misinformation (it still believes in “waves of migration,” it calls the Philippine-American war an “insurrection,” that sort of thing). You have to tell students not to believe Infoplease.
Because it is open to corrections from Philippine scholars, Wikipedia is more accurate. The main entry on Philippine history acknowledges that our islands were inhabited by our ancestors as early as 400,000 BC. The entry, however, still identifies the Tabon Woman as the Tabon Man (but then, very few people know that the skeleton dated 50,000 BC found in the Tabon Cave in Palawan was really that of a woman) and even mentions the Datu Kalantiaw Code, a modern hoax (though a subsequent entry calls it fraudulent).
This is clear proof that we need flesh-and-blood teachers in the classroom. If our students relied only on the Web, they will grow up believing in some mistakes and lies. One of the silliest superstitions of our time is the belief that “everything is available on the Web.” That is true, everything is available, including errors and hoaxes.
Q: What’s appropriate for Filipino kids – American shows such as Barney or our own shows? Will foreign shows not affect the custom or upbringing of children and westernize them?
A: We can complain all day and all night about Filipino children watching foreign shows, but they will watch them anyway. The thing to do is to make the best out of the situation. Globalization is here to stay, particularly in the field of media. What we need to teach children is how to view such shows. Even the Pope has come out strongly in favor of media education. Censorship never works. Values education does.
Q: Which is the correct Filipino spelling – the one ordered by the government in 1997 or the one in 2001?
A: This is one of the contentious issues right now in linguistics. The government body tasked with standardizing our national language, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, apparently wants to go back to Tagalog-based ortography, a clear step backward. If we look at the way languages have developed in other countries (take English, which the British government tried vainly to regulate a couple of centuries ago), however, government has little influence on the way a language grows. Filipino will grow naturally, and its spelling will be determined by usage, not by rules. Just spell a word any which way you want. If you want to be safe, of course, you can always refer to the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino, which is the only Filipino dictionary we have right now, warts and all.
Q: I am having a hard time teaching literature. What can you suggest as a better strategy to help my students?
A: The teaching of literature is a skill that needs to be learned. There are books and websites on how to teach literature. If you can wait a while for it to be launched late this year, the project I am doing for the Foundation for Upgrading the Standard of Education (FUSE) called “A Telecourse for Students and Teachers of Literature” features forty different tried-and-tested classroom methods of teaching literature to high school students. Doing teaching demonstrations for the project are Metrobank Outstanding Teachers and the outstanding teachers of DepEd NCR.
Q: Would you provide or suggest some technological means to facilitate language learning like Chinese or French?
A: You don’t even have to be on the Web. There are language learning tools in any bookstore, using audio CDs or software. On the Web, there are plenty of sites which help in learning languages. To learn Tagalog, for example, try viloria.com. For Chinese, try mandarintools.com. For French, try bbc.co.uk/languages/french.
[First published in The Philippine Star, 24 and 31 May 2007]