Mindfulness, Blended Learning and Schools of the Future

Written by: Nithyashree Murthy  

On the second day of the EduTech Asia 2020 Festival, I attended a half-hour session on The Psychology of Technology – Using mindfulness-based techniques to enhance digital well-being by Matthew Scott who is the Vice Principal of Middleton International School, Singapore.

It was a very interesting session as he was talking from an educator’s as well as a parent’s point of view. The session focused on how we should be aware and respond mindfully to technology. He started off by comparing technology to the ocean. When we look at the ocean, we want to swim and surf in it as it looks calm and inviting. But the reality is that most oceans have pull and currents that can drag us under if we are not careful or have the skills to handle it. We can enjoy the swim and the surf but we must also be aware of the undercurrents present, just as it is in technology. We must have the skillset to navigate technology as it looks very inviting at first glance and might not necessarily be so when we dwell deep into it.

The Google (ironically) definition of “Digital Well Being is about crafting and maintaining a healthy relationship with technology. It’s about how technology serves us and moves us towards our goals, rather than distracting us, interrupting us, or getting in the way. Being in control of technology enables us to use its full potential and gain all the benefits of it.” We need the discernment to make wise choices and to be in control of it is very important.

This statement of Mr. Scott resonated with me. “If we are going to be wise in our use of technology then we need to be attentive and present as to how it is impacting us and those around us.’’ Technology is grabbing our attention and holding on it. This is especially so in the present Covid times as we teachers are caught as to when to respond and when to have a break as we always seem to be “on’’. This is definitely taking a toll on our mental health and in our relationships with family and friends.

Making people aware of their choices and then guiding them to make sustainable choices is important. If we pick up our phone every time, we hear the notification sound then our minds are trained and that becomes automatic over time. So, it is all about training our minds. Matthew Scott quoted Amy Krause Rosenthal here, “Pay attention to what you pay attention to.”

Mindfulness is about paying attention, having awareness, and accepting before responding. We need to move away from a reactive stance when it comes to technology. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Self-Curiosity Check-Ins is one way to apply mindfulness. Before, during, and after tech use, check as to what you are feeling, why are you feeling like that and how long did it last? Is there any other perspective that you could consider? Another way we can apply mindfulness is using STOP (Wilkinson – UCLA). Stop, Take a breath. Observe. Proceed. This will help us build a gap between stimulus and response.

Finally, the session ended with a reminder from Matthew Scott to have empathy with this generation that is growing up with technology. Our experiences and use of technology are very different from theirs and just taking away the phone or the tablet is not going to benefit anyone. Instead, teaching them to use technology ethically is important. Teach them to breathe and then respond so that they are mindful of how they use technology.

Another very good session was a live panel that was on Blended Learning – balancing asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities. This session had a diverse group of professionals from different parts of the world. The people on the panel were Matt Heinrich from Caulfield Grammar School – Australia, Greg Port from All Saints College – Australia, Dan Hicks from Woodlands Pre-schools – Hong Kong, Chris Timms from Dulwich College – Singapore, Ankit Jain from Podar Education Network – India, Lisa Plenty from Radford College – Australia. To start off let’s look at the definitions of synchronous and asynchronous learning.

Synchronicity means doing something at the same time, and with learning, it’s no different. Synchronous learning refers to a learning event in which a group of participants is engaged in learning at the same time. For that, they should be in the same physical location, such as a classroom, or at the same online environment, such as in a web conference, where they can interact with the instructor and other participants. There is real-interaction with other people.” (Webdesign, Difference synchronous vs asynchronous learning: Easy lms)

If synchronous learning takes place at the same time, asynchronous learning refers to the opposite. The instructor, the learner, and other participants are not engaged in the learning process at the same time. There is no real-time interaction with other people.” (Webdesign, Difference synchronous vs asynchronous learning: Easy lms)

This whole topic of synchronous and asynchronous learning is in focus now because of the online teaching and learning that is happening due to the pandemic. Achieving a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning is important. Asynchronous learning will be parent-led for the younger age group of students and hence feedback from the students and parents should be taken into account when it comes to asynchronous learning. However, asynchronous learning is a game-changer when it comes to older students as they have opportunities to access content when they are in a more receptive frame of mind. That being said, students will still need scaffolding on making the right choices.

Another important point that was discussed was screen time. Again, for younger children screen time management is very important as parents are very concerned about the effect on the physical and mental health of the children. On a positive note, it helped that children were able to see their friends and teachers and were able to see that all their friends were also doing what they were doing. On the other hand, for older children, time spent looking at screens is not the only factor that should be considered. If students are productive, then it is considered a good use of screen time. It is important to communicate the objectives of screen time with the parents and get them on board for successful and productive learning to happen.

The session ended with these three words. Amplify what worked well, Rectify what could have worked better, and Ditch what did not work. This will help us use what we have learned during this time for the future and not just fall back on the usual.

On a penultimate day, there was a reflective panel discussion on School of the Future – what Tomorrow’s schools would look like. The panelists were Mr. Murray McKay from ACT Education Directorate – Australia, Mr. Colin Marson from Google for Education APAC – Singapore, Mr. Alain Del B Pascua from the Department of Education – the Philippines, Mr. Pramod Tripathi from Global Indian International Schools – Singapore, and Mr. Wagheeh Shukry Bin Hassan from the Ministry of Education – Malaysia. The session focused on the challenges faced by teachers and administrators during the process of online learning and how these experiences will help in the future when it comes to planning and executing in teaching, assessment, and administration. The panel focused on teachers’ mindset on online learning and the use of technology and how it has changed due to the online lessons. The acceptance level of teachers has changed for the better and resistance to technology has lessened. Partnerships to enhance the skills of the teachers was one of the key ways to handle the pandemic and it has reaped rewards as teachers are now more confident when it comes to conducting online lessons. The panel also emphasizes that teachers’ confidence in using technology is more valuable at times than the skill or platform used.

As for the future, blended or hybrid learning is the way to go with technology on one side and teachers with pedagogy on the other. Micro courses and self-paced learning are also what we should be looking at in the future. Another change could be in the way assessments are carried out. Measuring tools/metrics should change when it comes to assessing both teachers and students. However, relationships between people are still a work in progress when it comes to online learning as students and teachers miss the human connection.

There were many interesting sessions, but these three sessions were very memorable for me and made me reflect on my teaching and learning journey during this year.

Webdesign, I. (n.d.). Difference synchronous vs asynchronous learning: Easy lms. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://www.easy-lms.com/knowledge-center/lms-knowledge-center/synchronous-vs-asynchronouslearning/item10387#:~:text=Synchronous%20learning%20is%20learning%20that,can%20happen%20on%2D%20or%20offline.&text=Asynchronous%20learning%20is%20learning%20that,the%20instructor%20and%20the%20learners.