Tossed in the blend

Despite the hopes of creating a blended learning environment, real limitations exist in how technology can be made available inside and outside the Philippine classroom. As such, bulk of learning experiences still rely on brick and mortar methods.

Having worked in e-learning. I know how it has been a challenge for schools to even implement blended learning strategies and methods. One key challenge is the comfort level of teachers (especially the more senior ones) to adopt technology.

Being digital migrants (compared to learners who are digital natives), some simply view the use of technology in education as simply using projectors and computers. PowerPoint often becomes the pinnacle of educational technology, never mind if students are not at all impressed with bullet-laden slideshows accentuated by dizzying (and cheesy) animation.

It is critical to expose teachers to new ways of doing things. The problem is, many teachers aren’t even exposed to the new philosophies and approaches to teaching that are proven to be more effective in today’s environment. For example, in teaching English, it is proven that using the communicative language teaching (CLT) approach is more suitable for second language learners like us. And yet, many English teachers still go by traditional methods hooked up on grammaticality. It is in part because of the tendency to teach in the manner through which they were previously taught, in part because they aren’t even aware that there is CLT.

The cost of infrastructure is another. It is a major investment for schools to provide a 1:1 ratio laptops/projectors per classroom. Computer labs (hardware + software + networking + maintenance) remain to be a blows to schools’ budgets. Having competent and sustainable IT support is also a challenge. Many have made a killing by offering overpriced IT services to tech unsavvy school administrators.

Internet speed and cost also remains dismal. How can we use the wealth of information already made available if a single class of 30 using a connection throws back the whole school infrastructure to dial up speeds on a per user basis. Good luck loading educational videos with that.

Now there will be much buzz about flipped classrooms. Flipped classrooms are where the fact parts of learning is taken out of the classroom (goodbye, boring lectures). Instead, students get to learn these things prior to classroom engagement thanks to internet and digital resources. Classroom learning now becomes an opportunity for mentoring, collaboration, and accomplishment of performance tasks that enhance, re-align, and elaborate on the information the students have discovered online.

It all appears to be quite nice. It’s the “in” thing in international education conferences an soon, in local conferences. It would be quite tragic to see how it would be spun by many an “expert” as the panacea educators are waiting for without having to discuss the real issues that need to be addressed.

Getting paid

Funny thing. I was working on the yearly performance evaluation and appraisal forms of staff (and mine) when this article (on “Why You Can’t Rely on a Salary to Get Rich“) from Business Insider popped up. Talk about the Internet gods doing their inception thing.

It’s not really a unique concept to me. Ever since I got a bit smart about how capitalism works, I’ve known that being employed (particularly if you’re not a C-level executive for a large firm) is simply being a cog to the machine and that no matter how well you perform, you’re still just making others’ dreams come true.

Sure some employees have also grown with their companies. Let’s take Google’s first employees for example. They got stock options and many were able to cash them in for millions. But still, that’s chump change compared to the founders’ billions. Never mind if it only ever works if the company made it big.

Employers can be quite generous but not everyone. If there’s an employer that values their people more than their bottom line, then that’s more likely an exception rather than the rule. I know some business owners who talk big when it comes to mission statements and corporate values and yet elects to reward themselves first over their people who have made sacrifices to build someone else’s business.

So why aren’t many Filipinos ditch employment and go on to become business owners?

Putting up a business is a challenge. The Philippines hates small businesses. Take out the inherent challenges of the market and you’re still left with the miles and miles of red tape you have to navigate just to legally set it up. There’s also  the issue of capital where you do need a substantial war chest to fund your business through its growth phases.

Plenty of young Filipinos have done it, but it’s usually with the help of “investors” in the form of rich parents. Probably why I simply carry more respect for entrepreneurs who built their business with grit over those who had generous benefactors to kickstart their efforts.

Now, it’s quite tempting to launch into a rant about how the system is totally anti-development and that the status quo is inherently a hegemonic ploy to keep the electorate dumb and middle class few and antsy. They are.

That said, I think that owning a business is the way to go for me. Helping others build theirs can get pretty tiring. I’d like to think that I’m taking time to learn and build a war chest but that little goblin at the back of my mind is screaming, “No better time than the present!” I am just acknowledging the challenges of building one and contextualize why employment remains to be a popular and quite secure way of earning a living.

The big fundamentals

basketball-pick-up

Fundamentals. Ever since I developed the maturity to self-learn, I always insisted on getting the fundamentals right early on. Bad habits are hard to break and simply winging it can impede progress later on.

For some reason, the PBA doesn’t quite sit well with me. I was a fan of the old Alaska team with Johnny Abarrientos and Tim Cone’s triangle but I lost interest after that when the league regressed into all that personality-driven “Baranggay” Ginebra fanfare.

Whenever I stray into watching PBA games, it really strikes me how fundamentally unsound many PBA players are. Just take a look at stats. We consider someone who shoots field goals at 40% and threes at 30% a good shooter. That’s poor in the NBA. And how unfit players can be. Just take a look at Beau Belga. I don’t think any decent team would let their players remain 70 lbs overweight for his entire career.

Perhaps because I’m spoiled by NBA-level basketball where being fundamentally unsound is the exception. There’s also a certain aesthetic with how great teams like the Spurs play. Sure there’s the individual talent. But there’s also that certain something with the kind of basketball they play for fans and students of the game.

This got me into thinking whether or not it’s a Pinoy thing.

The problem with this is, if you hadn’t had any proper coaching, you’d probably carried over some pretty bad habits growing up with the game. Many Pinoys just pick up the game on the streets and in neighborhood/baranggay courts. Personally, I never had any formal basketball training and coaching growing up. I picked up the game through neighborhood play and studying in an all-boys school. And knowing how I play, I know how crappy my movements are on the court.

Just take shooting mechanics as an example. We play with guys who have nasty looking jumpers . Some end up like Shawn Marion who had a f*ck-ugly shot. We’ve seen those tambay sa laruan manongs who are just “good shooters” because they’ve memorized their shot for that particular rim. Never mind if they have a nasty hitch their shot.

It wasn’t only about three years ago when I lived by myself and had access to a court in the mornings was I able to practice a proper jump shot form. While I don’t lapse into my old form, I still am inconsistent especially without regular practice.

We only play pickup games with people at the office so there’s no real pressure in being a stud on the court. There are no titles to be won. Not even a bottle of Coke for pustahan. Still, it was pretty satisfying if you know you did a few things well. I forget to keep scrimmage scores at times, but my mental counter logs my box score stats.

We’ve been playing basketball on a weekly basis now and we’ve converted Mark (one of our software developers) to the sport. Amazingly, he’s a bit outside the norm in terms of growing up and not picking up the sport.  Mark’s a pretty good student as shown his coachability at work.

He’s shown the same in basketball where he’s always asking for pointers, tips, and tricks. We taught him some shooting fundamentals and with his height (he’s about 6 inches taller than me) and soft touch, I’d say he’s starting to be a more consistent shooter. Better than guys who had more than 10 years of basketball “experience” than him.

I guess it’s not even about starting  young. Michael Jordan delved into this in one of his interviews. That it’s more important to let young kids love the game first then teach them about the technical things later.

The thing is, many of us never “grew up.” We stuck to our playground routines and convinced ourselves that all that herky-jerky style of play we got from watching young Kobe would carry over 10 or 20 years down the line. For us, not that it matters now. No one really cares in our office pick up games. We play for fun and exercise.

But how about our future kids? Maybe when it’s time for us to share our love for the game knowing the right thing would mean we’ll get to teach them the right thing. never mind if they’d end up playing varsity or even professionally.

As for the PBA or Philippine basketball, that’s a different thing. I’m quite excited with the upcoming FIBA world championships. Team Gilas would be there and I’d be interested in how they’d be able to stack up especially against the fundamentally sound Europeans.

Why not a project team draft?

Image Source: TNT

Image Source: TNT

We’re about to start a new development cycle at work and my fellow project leads and I were discussing how to we’d like to form our project teams.

While we all desire a balanced matrix, one function head insists on going strong matrix where her team would function as their little “agency” with the head serving as the gatekeeper for all tasks that need to be done. We strongly disagree with such a setup since we all believe that it’s highly inefficient as her gatekeeper function impedes collaboration between project team members . We’ve had great success implementing a balanced matrix but somehow, insecure managers insist on full control and internal politics meant brats had their way.

So us project leads got to talking (as a sidebar) how ideally we should be building our project team. We’d all want to handpick the people we know have the skills that the project need combined with their gel factor with the rest of the team. However, since we’ll be trying to handpick the strongest performers, we’d probably end up doing trial by combat just to get those resources.

As is common with some organizations, there are weak performers that we would like to avoid getting assigned to our projects. So for the sake of equity among leads, we floated the idea of doing it like a sports team draft. Kind of timely too with the 2014 NBA Draft and all and we’re huge NBA fans at the office.

Here are some ideas on how we’d go about doing it, if we had the chance.

  • All resources across all function teams are part of the draft
  • Lottery to determine draft order
  • 15 second clock
  • Trades are welcome

We feel that there are just innate advantages to doing it draft style. At least in our specific context, it gives project leaders a level playing field in tapping  the skills and talent that are needed for the project. Currently, the authority of assigning resources lie on the function head. It would’ve been tolerable if the head had a pretty good feel and view of the project needs and the skills portfolio of each of the staff. That isn’t the case. So, instead of just succumbing to some pretty arbitrary whim, with a draft, the decision who to draft anchors on some organized decision-making on the part of the project lead.

Going last would definitely have disadvantages especially if you are going last. But thinking positively, we could always think of these as cleverly veiled opportunities. While I personally would want to avoid the untrainable ones (the ones I’d fire if only we had a culture of letting people go), I am still comfortable getting unskilled ones. I always believed in doing the whole Gregg Popovich thing and make less talented people over-perform and work hard in developing skills. Also, you can hope that someone messes with their first pick. (“Wow. Are you serious?” -Reggie Miller)

So, why not hold a draft then?