10 Ways in Which The Pandemic is Modernizing Education

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Students and teachers the world over faced unprecedented challenges as the pandemic raged through its first and second waves. Staff and children were sent home (and back to school) on multiple occasions in many cases, and teaching methodologies had to undergo a massive revamp out of the sheer necessity to adapt to the immediate situation schools were (and, in some cases, still are) faced with. This ‘jolt’ of circumstance has changed education forever.

In today’s blog post I will explore the main ways in which I believe teaching and learning have changed, and what the implications are for students and teachers today. Readers should bear in-mind that this is an opinion piece, albeit based on my experience in the field as a high-school science teacher (at an international school) and my own research.

#1: Students have realized that traditional university education offers little return-on-investment

Coronavirus had a double-whammy effect on universities and colleges:

  • Students were sent home and had to learn online, raising questions about the effectiveness of instruction delivered at traditional lecture halls crammed with hundreds of students.
  • Overseas students stopped applying for courses in the UK and the United States in large numbers, and sought local alternatives.

These issues have been further compounded by the fact that a university degree no longer prepares a person for a lifelong career.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), for example, surveyed about 400 employers and 613 college students about how prepared those students were to enter the professional world in 2015. Some key findings were:

  • 65 percent of the students surveyed felt their writing skills were strong enough for the professional world, but only 27 percent of employers felt the same way.
  • 55 percent of students felt they were well prepared to work with people in which they had little in-common, but only 18 percent of employers agreed.

You can download the AACU’s research paper as a pdf for free here.

The merits of a university-level education have been questioned for decades, and now that the pandemic has forced so-many to ‘learn from home’ we are experiencing a new realization that education needs to be modern and delivered in real-time. As a result, online courses are booming, and students are now quickly realizing that there are affordable, higher-quality alternatives to a traditional university degree.

#2: Practical skills training has gained in popularity

There are many skills that students can’t fully acquire via remote-learning:

  • Dangerous/specialized science experiments (e.g. dissections and chemical reactions)
  • Woodwork, metalwork, carpentry, plumbing and other vocational skills
  • Mechanical and electronic engineering and robotics
  • Specialized cookery

As a result, many schools focused heavily on practical-skills training when students returned to school after the first-wave subsided (in large part due to fear of losing this opportunity in the event of a second-wave, which many schools did actually experience later on). In my opinion, this has caused a renewed interest in the practical skills enrichment activities that are often non-compulsory, yet very useful, components of school courses. I believe that we will see schools incorporating more hands-on tasks and activities in the years to come as a product of this realization.

#3: High-quality online courses are booming

Remote-learning is all-the-rage right now, and the numbers are staggering:

  • According to a recent survey by China Youth Daily, more than 87 percent of Chinese parents have signed their children up for online tutoring sessions to enrich their education
  • Financing for education technology start-ups has more than doubled, rising to $12.58 billion worldwide in 2020 – up from $4.81 billion in 2019, according to a report from CB Insights

Students are becoming increasingly aware that short-certificate courses from high-quality providers like EdX and Udemy are not-only affordable, but will provide the very latest industry-leading, accredited information. This poses a big challenge for traditional schools that are somewhat stuck-in-the-past following syllabuses and curricula that are at least several years old. In my opinion, schools will need to adopt fluid schemes of work and modernize fast, so that students can learn relevant, current, topical information in a traditional classroom setting.

#4: EdTech used for remote-teaching is now being used in traditional classrooms

Video-conferencing skyrocketed during the pandemic:

  • Zoom’s sales in the last three months of 2020 were up 370% compared to the same period in 2019, hitting $882.5 million.
  • During the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, Google Meets was adding around 3 million users per day.

Schools are now using video-conferencing within the school buildings themselves for assemblies, staff-meetings, whole-school quizzes and even screen-share tasks (a newly realized application for many teachers).

Video-conferencing’s adoption will make teachers more accountable, in my opinion, as illness may not be accepted as a reason to miss meetings which can be accessed remotely from home (even if only audio is activated). Schools will also adopt new ways to allow students to showcase work in real-time, as the screen-share features offered by video-conferencing systems facilitate this process quickly and easily (especially as student-work becomes more and more digitized).

#5: Schools are appreciating the need for kids to catch-up

Gaps in knowledge and misconceptions acquired during the remote-learning phase are surfacing quickly as students return to classrooms. This is generating a renewed interest in traditional pedagogical techniques such as accelerated learning and differentiation. Another positive is that many teachers are realizing further the importance of pace, and how students often have to have information presented in a number of ways, multiple times, before it is truly embedded. These discoveries will challenge schools to adopt the very-best instructional techniques and offer catch-up camps and classes for students who fall behind, long after the pandemic is over. This may provide school teachers with extra sources of income, as well as offering students the enrichment they need to succeed.

The problems presented by students needing to catch-up are not easy to solve, however. The British government’s recent programme to help pupils who missed school to catch up may not be reaching the most disadvantaged children, according to a recent report by the National Audit Office. The issues here seem to relate to tutoring not being provided in the first place to disadvantaged children, as opposed to any flaws in the methodologies being used [BBC News]. Schools will therefore need to ensure that attendance for catch-up courses is being monitored, along with the methodologies being executed.

#6: Terminal examinations have lost some of their credibility

Many exam-boards have cancelled examinations for the 2020/2021 academic year, as was the case last year. Grades have been assigned on the basis of teacher-predictions and coursework, and I believe that this has caused many students to question the validity of terminal examinations as an effective assessment tool. This shift in thought has also rippled into the online-learning market, which is gaining in popularity due to the very fact that terminal examinations are often absent from key course assessment components. Qualifications and certificates that are awarded on the basis of a student’s portfolio of achievements (such as course assignments) are gaining respect and kudos, and I foresee this trend continuing well-into the future.

#7: Students and teachers have become more tech-savvy

Classwork, homework, coursework and exams are being assigned, completed and assessed by evermore creative means. Students have had to learn to how to use specific learning apps out of necessity, and teachers have benefitted from automated assessment systems such as Google Forms, Educake, MyMaths, Lexia Learning and others. If the pandemic has had only one positive effect on education, then it is this: computer literacy has improved across the board.

This emergence of teaching and learning software and disruptive EdTech systems is not all sunshine and rainbows, however. It threatens to destroy the very fabric of conventional teaching. It is not inconceivable, for example, to foresee human teachers being fully replaced with software, droids and surveillance systems within a decade from now (easily). The main takeaway for teachers, in my opinion, is this: skill-up in EdTech, coding and computer science fast – we may be out of a job if we don’t.

This gradual erosion of a teacher’s role from ‘sage on a stage’ to ‘guide on the side’, and perhaps even one day to ‘chieftaincy to see with infrequency’, is something I’ve written about before. I’ve also made a video about this very subject matter which I’ve embedded below.

#8: More support is being made available for staff and student mental-health and wellbeing

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on staff and student mental health. Reuters, for example, surveyed school districts across America in February 2021 to assess the mental health impacts of school shutdowns. These districts serve more than 2.2 million students. Of the 74 districts that responded, 74% reported multiple indicators of increased mental health stresses among students. More than 50% reported rises in mental health referrals and counseling. [Yahoo News].

One positive of this is that school leaders are recognizing that staff and student well-being matters, and that can only be a good thing. Schools would do well to recruit counselors to assist with student referrals. and staff workload should be monitored closely. Happy teachers make happy students, and downtime gives teachers time to plan better lessons.

#9: The dangers of excessive screen-time and gaming addiction have been highlighted

I’ve written about the dangers of screen-time before, and we must not forget that an EdTech revolution brings with it some nasty realities, highlighted by one expansive report:

  • On-screen behavior is often compulsive, with young people typically spending no longer than one-minute looking at any particular page of content before swiping to something else
  • Social media takes up hours and hours of teenagers’ free time
  • Children from ‘low-income’ households seem more prone to compulsive use of social media than others
  • Many children in the study admitted to falling asleep at night whilst on their phones
  • Many children admitted that they felt that their compulsions were “mindless” and “pointless”, but felt compelled to use their smartphones on a near-constant basis anyway because there’s a feeling of incompleteness or ‘losing out’ when the phone is not being checked.
  • Some children in the study felt the need to check their phones whilst actually being interviewed by the research panel

The supervision of students whilst using EdTech is going to become a bigger and bigger issue as we move forward as educators. How many times, for example, have you walked around the classroom during some student-centered online activity to find students abruptly switching/closing some gaming/chat screens? I know I have, on much more than one occasion.

The solution may be a technological one – allow students to connect only through LAN or school WIFI and filter/monitor usage. Another solution may be surveillance systems inside classrooms, or perhaps even mandating that screens be always visible to the teacher (e.g. by having students sit in rows with their screens facing the teacher’s desk). There are obvious pros and cons to each of these proposals, and the decisions made will depend strongly on school culture and individual course/student aims.

#10: The pandemic pointed anew to blatant inequalities of income

Students in low-income areas have had to contend with less access to school counselors, technology and the training needed to access said technology. Some school districts in various countries around the world have responded by shipping laptops to schools and individual students.

As teaching continues to digitize, the needs of low-income students will continue to grow. Schools will need to address these issues, and that may put financial strain on districts and education authorities. Eventually, we may even see technology investment being pitted against the salaries of human teachers, and this will make our need to compete more immediate. As teachers, we are no longer fighting for jobs with each other – we’re contending with educational technology that threatens to completely replace us.

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10 Destructive Habits Every Teacher Should Avoid

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

In the quest to better ourselves on a daily basis we often consume self-help advice from places like YouTube, blogs and books. Most of this advice focusses on proactive things we should do to achieve success. With titles to choose from such as 4 Straight Forward Steps to Success and If You Commit to Yourself, Here’s What Will Happen, there’s certainly is no shortage of motivational and personal growth guidance out there.

Most of this self-help material, however, focusses on new things we should implement on a regular basis. Strategies that provide us with new things to do to improve productivity, health or wealth.

Many people use to-do lists to clarify priorities for the day, week or longer. How many of us, however, have thought to use not-to-do lists?

Few resources focus on what NOT to do, and this is a pity as such advice can often be the clearest and simplest to understand.

One video that really inspired me two weeks ago was 10 Habits You Should Stop Having with Ben Bergerson (embedded below):

This video resonated with me because of its simplicity, and my somewhat skewed opinion that it’s easier to stop myself doing destructive things than it is to implement a completely new habit. Perhaps I felt that I should stop doing destructive things first, and get used to that, before implementing some new strategies in my life.

So, let’s get right into how the past 14 days of trialing these 10 habit-stoppers went.

Habit Stopping Tip #1: Don’t hit the snooze button

This is something I’ve ashamedly preached about before, but in my daily life I’ve found it really difficult to implement. My warm bed entices me to climb back into it when my alarm goes off, and this is further compounded by an extreme feeling of tiredness for at least 10 minutes after waking (something that has gotten worse, I think, as I’ve grown older).

I managed to do this on 9 out of 14 days.

On those days that I did get right out of bed as soon as the alarm sounded, I found that I was in a much better mood during my teaching day (and in a state of better physical alertness) than on those days when I snoozed. I also found out that if I have an immediate ‘get out of bed’ ritual to follow, then I am much more likely to actually get out of bed. At the moment, that ritual involves switching off my alarm and immediately walking to the nearest 7-11 convenience store to buy coffee and breakfast – this acts as a kind of reward for not hitting snooze. If I were to snooze, then I probably wouldn’t have time for this.

As a result of not hitting the snooze button on 9 out of 14 days I was able to eat breakfast before school started, read over lesson plans and even avoid traffic because I left my home earlier, which brings me on to tip number 2…………

Habit Stopping Tip #2: Don’t get mad at traffic

Leaving home earlier (because I didn’t snooze) meant that there was less traffic to get mad at, so tip number one definitely rippled into tip number 2.

I have gotten mad at traffic many times in the past – and at my taxi driver for not driving fast enough; not turning quickly enough or even for going along a route I didn’t prefer. All of this mental complaining would put me in an angry frame of mind before my school day had even started.

“An AMAZING book for teachers!”

I managed to not complain at traffic for 14 out of the 14 days, and I found that I was in a better mood at school because of it.

Habit Stopping Tip #3: Don’t be late

This is one I’ve always advocated, and it’s significance will surely be obvious to the readers of this blog. When we’re late, then what we are saying is that ‘Your time is not valuable enough for me to be on-time’.

A good analogy I was once told is that if you had to turn up at a designated location to receive 10 million pounds in cash at 6am tomorrow, then you would certainly be there on-time, perhaps even arriving very early for this appointment.

We turn up early and on-time to those things we consider important enough to be punctual for. We therefore need to assign a high-level of importance to meetings, duties and any other activities/events that require us to be punctual.

Once again, tip number 1 (Don’t hit the snooze button) allows us to be on-time, every time.

Habit Stopping Tip #4: Don’t tolerate gossip

This is a principle I have (thankfully) had the sense to follow since day one of my teaching career, and I wrote about the devastating effects that gossip can have for teachers in my debut book, The Quick Guide to Classroom Management.

When we gossip, we show people that we cannot be trusted. Secretly, our coworkers are thinking “I can’t trust him – what if he gossips about me one day”. Gossip also circulates quickly, and so-called friends can very often be duplicitous: acting as ‘double-agents’ who pass on information to those who have been gossiped about.

Just don’t gossip – it’s that simple.

Not tolerating gossip takes this principle to another level – the advice being that if you hear gossip, then you should shut it down with, perhaps, a statement like “I don’t think it’s appropriate for this conversation to be happening”. This advanced-level step, however, requires bravery, and its consequences will depend on your workplace ethos and culture. You may just wish to take the easy way out by simply standing up and walking out of the room, or walking away from the gossip, whenever you hear it.

Habit Stopping Tip #5: Don’t watch the news

I found this one SO DIFFICULT to implement, and this really surprised me! By consciously attempting to stop myself from reading the news, I discovered that I often scroll through news websites because I’m simply bored. I’m hooked – and it was hard to break to this habit.

The idea behind this is that news is a distraction, and is very often biased anyway. The majority of the news we read is bad news, and most of it describes events that are beyond our control. Why waste our time and energy feeling sad about things we can’t change?

On those days that I stopped myself reading the news, I found myself with little else to distract me besides work. This increased my productivity.

Habit Stopping Tip #6: Don’t pass judgement

I’ve fallen out of the sky many times in my life. I started from nothing, and I know what it feels like to have nothing. I’m not trying to paint myself as someone special here – many people can relate, I’m sure. However, I try my best not to look down on people where possible because:

  • I never know the full story
  • I’m far from perfect myself
  • I know what it feels like to be inadequate – both in terms of skill and finances

Passing judgement is just another one of life’s energy drainers that we could all be better without.

Habit Stopping Tip #7: Don’t eat and scroll…….

…………and don’t scroll at any social gathering, for that matter.

When I see couples or families at restaurants and coffee shops, and all they are doing is playing on devices, it makes me very sad (but also happy that I have a great relationship with someone in which this never happens). People are quickly losing the ability to interact physically, in my opinion.

The principle behind this habit-stopper is presence – we should be present in everything we do if we’re to get the most out of it. As I write this blog post, for example, I’ve mostly ‘gone dark’ – my phone is out of reach as I know that if I check it I’ll never get this blog post finished.

I’m more productive and present when I’m not on my phone, unless I’m using my phone for a specific purpose.

Habit stopping tip #8 – Don’t check e-mail before noon

Does this apply to teachers? I’m not sure.

E-mail has become an essential part of my job, but some would say it is yet another distraction. I’m still on-the-fence about this one, as important announcements often come to me by e-mail, and they often need to be acted upon quickly. Are there e-mails that I don’t need to check before noon? Probably. E-mail is evolving quickly into a messaging tool, however, and as teachers we are fast-approaching a stage where we need to be reachable at all times at work. GMail, for example, is becoming more skewed towards Google Hangouts and instant messaging. As workplace messaging technology evolves, teaching will surely evolve with it.

Habit Stopping Tip #9: Don’t leave dishes in the sink

I loved seeing how this particular habit affected my life. It was very powerful.

I am typical ‘dish-leaver’, and once I started to pro-actively wash dishes as soon as I used them I found myself also doing laundry right away; tidying up after myself right away; putting my work clothes in my wardrobe instead of over the back of a chair; putting old cosmetics’ bottles in the bin right away, and on and on it went.

My home became tidier more quickly – and less clutter at home meant an overall sense of happiness.

I highly recommend this tip.

Habit Stopping Tip #10: Don’t wait for perfect

In the video provided at the start of this blog post, Ben uses the phrase “Jump, and grow wings on the way down”. As a result of this one statement, I found myself going to the gym more often, despite being in not-so-perfect shape.

That’s got to be a good start, right?

Have you grown your wings yet, or are they still growing?

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8 Ways to Increase Lesson Clarity

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-winning author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management). Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

Accompanying video:

Our lessons need to be clear in order for students to understand the subject content they are expected to learn. This is particularly important for older students who are preparing for exams, and who are therefore expected to memorize, understand and apply vast amounts of information.

An unclear teacher who presents information in a confusing way can be a source of dread for students who are expected to perform highly on end-of-unit tests and exams. A clear teacher, on the other hand, can make students feel confident, relaxed and comfortable with the learning process contained within each lesson.

The good news for us is that it is easy to make our lessons clearer with just a few, simple, proactive tweaks. In today’s blog post I offer my top eight suggestions for maximizing lesson clarity: all of which have been distilled from just over 16 years of experience. Within these paragraphs I will present the conclusions garnered from the many mistakes I have made in my teaching career, so that you don’t have to make those same mistakes yourself.

Lesson Clarity Tip #1: Share resources with your students in advance of each lesson

When we share instructional resources with our students in-advance of each lesson we provide an opportunity to read-ahead. And, of course, we should be encouraging our students to read-ahead before each lesson anyway, as this process will cement some foundational principles before greater detail is presented within each lesson itself.

Nowadays most teachers are competent in the use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Google Classroom, Firefly, Moodle and so on. However, one aspect of this digital realm that’s not fully exploited is the ability to upload PowerPoints, Google Slides, PDF summaries, worksheets and other resources in advance of each lesson.

One big challenge that this poses for teachers is that these resources actually need to be ready and stored somewhere, in an organized fashion, before they can be uploaded en masse. This problem becomes further compounded when syllabuses change, and resources need to be adapted accordingly.

Where possible, we should have a sequence of slideshows, worksheets, summaries and other resources mapped out for a course before the course begins. Then, when day one of the course starts, all of the resources needed for the entire course can be ready for students to access right away. At the moment, for example, all of my PowerPoints for my entire two year IB Diploma Chemistry course are uploaded on the students Google Classroom, and are classified on there by topic.

Advantages to us, as teachers, when we do this are:

  1. We don’t have to scramble to upload resources on the day of teaching. Our time can be better spent on other things.
  2. We don’t have to scramble to find resources on a USB drive or some kind of shared folder. The resources are all in one place, online, ready to go.
  3. Students can view the presentations, worksheets, PDF textbooks and other materials on their individual device screens in real-time, as the lesson is happening. This aids our instruction, reduces note-taking time for students and even saves paper for printing (students can view worksheets on their screens, without the need for a printed copy, for example).

Lesson Clarity Tip #2: Don’t put too much information on slides

  • Keep text large and clear.
  • Make diagrams and illustrations as large as possible (as large as the slide is perfect, where possible).
  • Avoid ‘crowding’ slides with too much information. A slide filled with paragraphs of small text can be very off-putting for students, not least because the the text can be difficult to read when it’s so small.
  • Keep information digestible – present material in bitesize chunks. Avoid presenting tons of information all at once.

Lesson Clarity Tip #3: Avoid irrelevant information

It can be tempting to bring-in content that’s indirectly related to the material we are presenting: often to provide an extra dimension of fun and interest to the subject. A good example I can think of from my experience is when I was teaching physics to young teenagers some years ago. The topic they were learning was entitled ‘Sound and Hearing’, and the students had to learn about sound waves, the Doppler Effect and how human ears work.

In my youthful stupidity, however, I thought (for some bizarre reason) that it would be a good idea to teach the students about sign language. I thought that it would bring a bit of fun to the classroom and allow my learners to empathize with those in society who cannot hear properly. This proved to be a mistake on my part, however, as some students were confused about what exactly they needed to know for their upcoming test.

“Do we need to know about sign language for our test, Mr Rogers?” was a question I was asked.

The answer was no, of course. I had essentially wasted a good portion of teaching time bringing-in extra material that was unnecessary. That time could have been better spent reinforcing the foundational concepts needed to pass the test.

We must keep our lessons focused on the curriculum statements we are expected to teach. When we want to bring in topical information, then let’s do that after the students have learnt the main material. At the end of a recent physics lesson, for example, I played a short video of the recent Mars Perseverance Rover landing from NASA, as this was related to velocity, acceleration and distance (concepts we had been exploring in class). This NASA video didn’t form the main-body of the lesson, but was rather a short ‘treat’ for the students at the end of an hour of hard-work.

Lesson Clarity Tip #4: Always assign focused activities

Have you ever been in a rush at school and quickly found an online quiz or web-activity that relates to your topic, only to share it with your students and later find out that the activity wasn’t quit up-to-standard?

I’ve fallen into this trap many times in the past. I’ve assigned Quizlets, Wordwalls, Kahoot! activities and other online quizzes in a rush, only to later find the following errors:

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes.
  • Content mistakes (in some cases).
  • Too much information (more than the students needed to know).
  • Too little information (not enough for the task to be substantial).
  • Irrelevant information (content that the students didn’t need to know).
  • Poor usability (problems with software interactivity and the user experience).

It’s vital that we check our third-party content thoroughly before we assign it to our students. This level of due process needs to be extended to offline resources, such as textbooks, too.

Lesson Clarity Tip #5: Speak loudly and clearly

We must avoid the following:

  • Mumbling.
  • Using colloquialisms that our students may not understand.
  • Speaking with an accent that may be unclear to some learners.

I quickly learnt the importance of the above three points when I moved to Thailand in 2008 to teach Chemistry at an international school. My students mostly had Thai as their first language, so I had to lose my thick North Wales accent (which even native English speakers would find difficult to understand at times) and I had to speak classical, textbook English. I’m “sound as a pound” became “I’m fine, thank you”, “That doesn’t quite cut the mustard” became “This work is not up-to-standard”, and so on.

We must ensure that our speech is clear and, just as importantly: loud. This latter point is of more importance now than ever before as teachers all over the world are wearing masks and visors when speaking. One thing that surprised me when I wore a visor to teach last summer was that my voice sounded louder to myself when I wore the visor, then when I took it off (due to vibrations and bone conduction).

Lesson Clarity Tip #6: Speak slowly

Our students need time to process information: especially when it is presented verbally. We must include pauses in our speech, and check for understanding along the way. It may be necessary to repeat key sentences a few times too, especially if the concept being explained is advanced, or technically challenging to understand.

Lesson Clarity Tip #7: Reinforce key words

Technical vocabulary feature prominently in official mark schemes, and are often the core components of a well-formulated answer to an exam-style question. Consider the following strategies:

  • Ask students to say key words when they appear in your lessons. In a recent chemistry lesson, for example, I said “Everyone say the word ‘resonance'”, after which the whole class said it. Forcefully getting students to articulate key words through deliberate speech can be a good way to prime the brain to remember those words when they are used in some thought process later on in the lesson.
  • Use exam-style questions and official mark schemes to show students just how important it is to write key words within an acceptable context during an exam.
  • Differentiate texts to make key words more digestible.
  • Encourage students to highlight key words in their notes along the way.

Lesson Clarity Tip #8: Use everyday language to explain advanced concepts (where possible)

Rephrasing sentences that contain subject-specific vocabulary can be a good way to help students understand the underlying concepts being taught. Here are some examples:

  • The train accelerated = the train sped up
  • The bond enthalpy of the C-C bond is…… = the energy contained within the C-C bond is…….
  • The dinner was sublime = the dinner was superb

We can prompt this process by repeating technical sentences in an everyday format, and we can ask our students “What does ___________ mean?”. This can lead to meaningful discussion that will serve to reinforce key words (Tip #7) and clarify the underlying theory of the lesson.

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