Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Help Me Solve a Mystery ARG

This week John Farquhar from Western Washington University, posted an email to the DEOS-L listserv about an alternate reality game (ARG) hosted by a team of faculty, librarians, instructional designers and student volunteers. The game, which is totally Internet-based, is designed to provide practice in critical thinking and help develop information literacy skills. The game is targeted to college students yet will be open and promoted to everyone to attract a broad range of participants. The game opened September 21 and is set to end in mid-December. "Help Me Solve A Mystery" ( I'm not sure exactly what information literacies are targeted.

Below is a summary of the experience as well as a description of how students can participate:

William Lewis has a mystery to solve. He found a volume of a 1933 World Book Encyclopedia among his own books. Inside the book was a note with some mysterious and cryptic messages. How did it get there? What does it mean? And, where will all of this lead? Join William's mystery and expect to uncover new mysteries and puzzles throughout the fall.

Participate in the online forum or create your own blog of your experience. Use the online tools to:
1) describe search strategies that successfully locate additional clues
2) critically examine the clues, documents and other sources of information
3) guide other participants to successfully search for and critically examine information. Perhaps you'll
make new friends and learn new things.

I know very little about the entire concept behind alternate reality games, but I am interested in knowing more about what they hope to teach and how it would happen. I have looked at the site. It looks interesting. However, since I do not play these kinds of games on a regular basis, I'm not sure how I would incorporate it into my classroom. I'm not sure what they are asking/expecting the students to do. Does this game operate similar to a scavenger hunt? Should the students post suggestions on how to decode the cryptic page? Should they pose questions for others to answer? I am assuming that additional clues will be found or supplied by the game hosts. Or do the students provide additional clues?

If anyone can tell me more about the project, let me know. John indicated that since the project is just getting started, now is the time to get in on the fun. I would love to see how my Developmental Reading students could use this project.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Interaction Economy meets Interactive Education?

In searching for information on personalized homepages today, I came across the following information on Tim Leberecht's blog iPlot: According to a McKinsey & Company study of US economic activity, "Raising the productivity of employees whose jobs can’t be automated is the next big performance challenge." The study argues that "as more companies come to specialize in core activities and outsource the rest, they have greater need for workers who can interact with co-workers, partners, and vendors," supported by highly personalized organizing and communication tools. 40 percent of labor activity, says McKinsey, comes not from making things or from traditional transactions but from what the consultancy calls the "Interaction Economy," which it defines as the "searching, coordinating, and monitoring required to exchange good[s] or services."

Think of how this impacts higher education! It boggles the mind. The whole purpose of education must change. It's not about defining a set body of knowledge that every learned individual must know. It is more about how we enable students to efficiently/effectively access information and collaborate in solving problems. The traditional behaviorist model worked for the industrial age, but today's service-driven economy requires more. Students must be allowed and encouraged to create their own meanings--based on their experiences and interactions with others. We also need to make sure that they have a wide variety of experiences--exposure to alternative ways of thinking and approaching problems. I am reminded of Taco Bell's slogan "Think outside the bun" and now Wendy's new promotion which suggests that just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean that it is right. Just because this was the way you or your parents were taught doesn't mean that it is the "right way" or only way to teach/learn.

Higher education (especially the 4-year institutions) has been the bastion of tradition--changing slowly. The technical schools and 2-year institutions have seen the need to change to meet the needs of their student population. Most adopted technology in teaching and learning years ago, offering online programs (not just online courses). 4-years institutions held out--sticking to chalk or dry erase markers and the lecture model. The professor was hired for his/her content knowledge, right? Then it is up to him/her to pass on that knowledge to students passively waiting to receive it. The problem comes when the students are passive--learning is active/interactive. Students must be involved in the process. Web 2.0's user-created content tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc.) allow that interaction--in a public sphere. No longer must students create, synthesize, and produce for just the instructor or classroom. Instead, their ideas can go out into cyberspace for others to read, comment, and digest. There is an authenticity to this kind of publication.

CAVEAT: This also means that we, as instructors, can no longer "control" what and how our students learn. How does this affect assessment--what exactly are we assessing, then?
I'm still working on getting more stuff on the blog. As I mentioned in the blog, I'm trying to get a Faculty Learning Community centered around technology going. Time has been the greatest barrier--both in getting the FLC going and in blogging. Its frustrating. The FLC falls into my KAM I and KAM III application areas. For KAM I, I am looking at Rogers (Innovation Diffusion Theory) and Hall and Hord's CBAM model. I developed a faculty development proposal based on the faculty technology survey implemented last year and plan to submit it to the Interim President next week. Our Technology FLC discussed that we need a paradigm shift in how our instructors "teach"--to be more student-centered and focused more on learning. This would definitely be an organizational change. As one way of at least exposing the instructors to alternative ways of teaching and learning, we hope to present short 30 minute interactive presentations on adult learning theory, teaching the millennial generation, using technology in the classroom, Web 2.0 tools, etc. As Rogers indicates, they have to be aware of the innovation first and then begin to see its relevance. With a graying faculty, we're chipping away a little at a time.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Best Laid Plans and Good Intentions

One of my favorite sayings is that sometimes life interferes with life. We have good intentions. We really want to accomplish our goals. However, something always seems to get in the way. Since the beginning of the semester, I have intended to go to the gym and work out. I know I need to do this. I have even encouraged my students to build time into their schedules to exercise at least 15-20 minutes a day. However, there always seems to be something that I need to do during that time period. Research has shown that those people who exercise have just as crazy lives as those who do not. How then do I motivate myself to go?

I am finding the dilemma true in our Technology FLC. We developed the Blackboard component so those who were unable to meet on a regular basis could still interact with others in the team. To date, only three out of the eleven have even logged in and reviewed some of the resources. We agreed that we would create our own blogs so we could experience that activity from the student's perspective.
We are to discuss this process and how to incorporate blogging in our teaching practices at our next meeting. Only one other faculty member has created her blog. When we signed up to participate in this endeavor, we all recognized that we needed to incorporate technology into our teaching practices. We all recognized that Web 2.0 tools are what are being used by cutting-edge teachers to reach their students. Just like I know that I need to exercise--So, how do we commit to spending that extra time? I don't know what the answer is.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Finding Time for Faculty Development

Time is listed as one of the major barriers to effective faculty development initiatives in several studies I have read. That is definitely true here! Our Technology Faculty Learning Community is having trouble finding a time when all of us can meet. Our 11:00 on Friday spot has been hijacked, so we set up 4:00 on Thursdays. Despite good intentions, only four of us were able to make the meeting this week. We have yet to meet with three who have expressed interest. Knowing that time would be a problem, we initially decided to also create a Technology FLC "course" in our Blackboard CMS. Our thought was that we would meet once or twice a month and then communicate online in between. It may be that the online discussion may form the bulk of our discussions. We did decide to hold the Thursday at 4:00 period open every week. Those who are able to meet can do so. I will facilitate the discussion. The face to face discussions will not necessarily be used to "present" information unless we decide to. Those who cannot meet on Thursdays have the opportunity to participate in the online discussions and take advantage of the resources, links, etc. located there. Time can also be a problem here as we must be committed to checking into to Blackboard on a regular basis. If we to truly develop into a learning community, then we must be willing to commit a piece of ourselves (time included) to this project.

We talked about needing a paradigm shift on Thursday. We have the opportunity to spearhead that shift in thinking (and doing). Several of us indicated that our students' technology literacy is often limited to gadgetry--mobile phones, IM, MP3 players. They use the web for socializing--FaceBook or MySpace--or shopping. However, there is so much more available to them (and to us, as teachers). Technology changes to quickly--it reminds me of the fashion world. Purple is in; pink is out. We are digital immigrants, those of us not born into today's technological world but at some later point in our lives became fascinated with it, adopted it, and use it. The importance in making this distinction, as Marc Prensky points out, is that like all immigrants, some learn better, quicker, more efficiently than others. We will always keep a foot in the past--our educational system was okay for us.... However, that educational system was not designed for today's digital natives. Technology has caused a "singularity," as Prensky notes, an event that changes things so fundamentally that there is no going back. As educators, we must embrace this change.

The first step in embracing that change was that we all agreed to explore the world of Web 2.0. As per the 2007 Horizon Report, user-created content and social networking are already established on many campuses and, therefore, will have the most immediate impact on teaching and learning. Check out Vicki Davis' classroom project entitled the Horizon Project based on a study of the Report. Here are two videos on the Horizon Report from her site. Our FLC decided to start with blogs--all of us are to create our own blog. We are then going to research how blogs are being used in higher education classrooms.