Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Games-Based Learning

Games are becoming a pervasive part of everyday life, and our notions of what constitutes a game are changing as fast as the applications of games themselves. These games have defined learning outcomes. Generally they are designed in order to balance the subject matter with the game play and the ability of the player to retain and apply the subject matter in the real world.

Online games for single users are also popular, though access to them is often blocked in the K12 environment. There are many free games designed for K-12 students that are accessible via a web browser and require no installation, such as The Potato Story (, a UK-based game that teaches kids where food comes from

Open-ended, collaborative games also play out as alternate reality games (ARGs), in which players find clues and solve puzzles in experiences that blur the boundary between the game and real life. Recent examples of large-scale ARGs include the educational games World Without Oil and Superstruct, and the promotional game I Love Bees. The Tower of Babel, an ARG designed by the European ARGuing Project, was used in schools as well as by learners of all ages. It was developed to engage students in learning languages other than their own.

According to the 2010 Horizon Report: K12 Edition, another promising area is the development of educational Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games. As yet, there are few examples of these games designed specifically for education. Early efforts include Mithril, a multiplayer online role-playing game developed by students at Stanford University. Mithril draws on the look and feel of MMOs but is math-based. Students must master mathematical concepts in order to cast spells, defeat foes, and progress in the game.

Software in corporate training and higher education
According to there website, "In a Virtual Heroes world, textbooks and lectures are replaced with complete interactivity, excitement and serious fun!  Our Advanced Learning Technology (A.L.T.) platform has re-invented the way medical, military and corporate professionals can enhance performance and unleash potential. Our technology facilitates the linkage of learning objectives to measurable performance outcomes."

Founded in 1998, BreakAway, Ltd. is a leading developer of entertainment games and game-based technology products. We create entertainment experiences that enable people to master skills and concepts in virtual worlds, and transfer this expertise to develop tools that provide game-based solutions for real world problems. Their platform, the mōsbē™ desktop development studio, is a strategy-based platform designed to enable military, homeland security, medical, and corporate customers solve real-world problems with the situational realism and experiential engagement of game-based simulation.

The term "edutainment" describes an intentional merger of computer games and educational software into a single product. The term describes educational software whose primary focus entertainment, but can be used for educational purposes as well. "Software of this kind is not structured towards school curricula, does not normally involve educational advisors, and does not focus on core skills such as literacy and numeracy" (Wikipedia).

These are games which were originally developed for adults or older children and which have potential learning implications. For the most part, these games provide simulations of different kinds of human activities or historical recreations, allowing players to explore a variety of social, historical and economic processes.
For example:
  • City-building games such as the SimCity series (1989–2003) and Caesar (video game) (1993–2006) invite players to explore the social, practical and economic processes involved in city management;
  • Empire-building games such as the Civilization (video game) series (1991–2005) and the Europa Universalis series (2000–2007) help players to learn about history and its political, economic and military aspects;
  • Railroad management games such as Railroad Tycoon (1990–2003) and Rails Across America (2001) illuminate the history, engineering and economics of railroad management.
  • Geography games such as PlaceSpotting (2008–2009) help players to find locations on earth according to some hints.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Google and Pearson Announce New LMS Option

Last week Google and Pearson announced that they were entering the learning management system marketplace with a totally innovative product stating, "OpenClass is a new kind of learning environment that goes beyond the LMS, stimulating social learning and the free exchange of content. It’s open to everyone, easy to use, and completely free." There is no hardware to install, no licensing fees, and no hosting costs. That right there would make it a totally new way of approaching how we look at online education.  However, Pearson and Google weren't content to stop there. They wanted to reinvent course interactions and activities to reflect the modern world.

The following is the description from the Google Apps Marketplace:
OpenClass integrates seamlessly with Google Apps for Education, enabling easy setup and single sign-on and includes tools that support the automatic import of content from external sources. Users can launch OpenClass directly from within their Google Apps experience and access their Google applications through OpenClass.

  • Collaborative spaces for students to interact with coursework
  • Ability to create and edit course content directly from within the platform
  • Deep integration to Gmail, Google Docs and Calendar
Data access requirements
  • Calendar (Read/Write)
  • Docs (Read/Write)
  • Email, new messages (Read only)
  • User Provisioning (Read only)
Just the beginning
Out of the box, OpenClass has all the LMS functionality needed to manage courses. But that’s just the beginning. OpenClass actually advances education by leveraging modern social technology to encourage collaboration and communication for students, faculty, institutions, and administrators around the world.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Encourage Learning

The following are tidbits I pulled from Tom Kuhlmann's Blog post: 9 Ways to Encourage Adult E-Learning. I too have written about learning being an iterative process and that we need alternate ways of demonstrating learning.

Recently I spent the day at the beach watching people learning to surf. One of the people learning to surf was a blind girl.  It was very inspiring as she learned to balance on the board.  She probably fell off of the surfboard a few dozen times before she successfully stood and balanced on it.  And when she finally succeeded she let out a cry of joy.

Learning is a funny thing.  It’s not something that can always be neatly packaged.  Real learning isn’t a one-time event (like many elearning courses) where it’s just a matter of getting new information.  Instead it’s an iterative process where you do something, get feedback to evaluate, make adjustments, and do it again.

Adult Learners Don’t Like to Fail

As learners, our culture conditions us to avoid failure.  Typically our grading systems reward successful test taking more than successful learning. Because of this, we’re motivated to pass tests and getting good scores and not always focused on the learning process.

Going back to the blind surfer, it takes a lot to fall down and continue getting up.  I saw plenty of other surfers give up after a few tries.  Few people like to fail and then do so publicly.  This is especially true of adult learners. The blind surfer was motivated to learn and willing to risk failure as she kept falling of the surf board.  She might not have been as inclined to do so if she was only allowed two attempts and then notified that she failed.

The main point in all of this is that elearning presents a unique opportunity to compress time and offer repeatable events where people can practice and get feedback.  But we need to craft an environment that encourages learning (which is not the same as exposure to information).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Seven Principles of Learning

Summary of Seven Principles of Learning
(Based on the Cognitive Science of How People Learn)
National Research Council

1.    Learning with understanding is facilitated when new and existing knowledge is structured around the major concepts and principles of the discipline. Knowing disconnected facts is insufficient to produce deep learning or develop expertise.  Expert strategies for thinking and problem-solving are linked to the expert’s understanding of important core concepts of “big ideas”.  This suggests that courses should be organized around helping students understand these big concepts and instructors should focus on helping students understand, explain, and apply these concepts rather than focusing on memorizing large amounts of content.

2.    Learners use what they already know to construct new understandings.
Learners construct interpretations of new information and problems in ways that agree with their own prior knowledge and misunderstandings.  Effective teaching involves engaging what learners already know about a subject and finding ways to build on that knowledge.  It also involves detecting student misconceptions and addressing them. 

3.    Learning is facilitated through the use of metacognitive strategies that identify, monitor, and regulate cognitive processes.
Metacognitive strategies include:  a) connecting new information to former knowledge, b) selecting thinking strategies deliberately; and c) planning, monitoring and evaluating one’s own thinking processes.  Students need to reflect on what they already know and what they need to know for situations.  They must consider both factual knowledge and strategic knowledge (how and when to use what procedures to solve the problem).  Instructors should provide explicit instruction in the use of such skills and opportunities for students to observe others solving problems (including experts) and by making their thinking available to observers.

4.    Learners have different strategies, approaches, patterns of abilities, and learning styles that are a function of the interaction between their heredity and their prior experiences.
Useful concepts here include Gardner’s model of Multiple Intelligences, different learning styles, deep vs. surface approaches to learning, etc.  One size does not fit all.  Some students respond favorably to one approach, others to another.  Educators should be alert to these differences and match curricular material to students’ developing abilities, knowledge bases, preferences, and styles.  Students with different learning styles need a range of ways to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.  One form of assessment will advantage some students and disadvantage others; multiple measures of learning will provide a better picture of how well individual students are learning what is expected of them.

5.   Learners’ motivation to learn and sense of self affect what is learned, how much is learned, and how much effort will be put into the learning process. Internal and external factors motivate people to learn.  Learners’ level of motivation strongly affects their willingness to persist in learning difficult material or challenging assignments.  When students perceive learning tasks as interesting and personally meaningful, and presented at an appropriate level of learning, they develop intrinsic motivation.  Tasks too difficult are frustrating; tasks that are too easy are boring.  There are strong connections between learners’ beliefs about their own abilities in a subject area and their success in that area [attribution theory].  Instructional strategies should encourage conceptual understanding; this tends to increase students’ interest and enhance their confidence about their abilities to learn.

6.    The practices and activities in which people engage while learning shape what is learned. The way people learn a particular area of knowledge and skills and the context in which they learn it becomes a fundamental part of what is learned.  This means that when students learn a subject in a limited or narrow context, they often miss seeing the applicability of using that information to solve new problems encountered in other situations.  Course assignments and tasks that ask students to encounter the same concept in various situations, help students develop a deeper understanding of the material.  Coursework should engage students in learning experiences that draw on real-world applications or exercises that foster problem-solving skills and strategies that are used in real situations.  Two examples of this approach are problem-based and case-based learning strategies.

7.    Learning is enhanced through socially supported interactions. Learning is enhanced when students can interact and collaborate with others on learning tasks.  Learning environments that encourage collaboration, similar to those of real-world scientific, mathematical, clinical, or business work, gives students the chance to test their ideas and learn by observing others.  By providing opportunities for students to express their ideas to their peers and hear and discuss others’ ideas, learning can become particularly effective.  Social interaction is also critical to development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and enhancing the learner’s sense of self.

Summarized by the Utah Valley University Faculty Center from:
National Research Council (2003).  Evaluating and Improving Undergraduate Teaching:  In Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  The National Academies Press:  Washington, DC.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lessons Learned

As I reviewed my EDU 271 course as well as other courses that I have developed, I started writing down my reflections. I've posted some of the more cogent lessons below. I would welcome comments and other reflections.
  • I have learned that my students are not as technologically literate and savvy as we might think. One student commented that she had never thought to evaluate the information that she found on the Internet until she had an assignment to do so in my class.
  • We need to provide more technology "how-to" support (within the course) if we want to have students utilize Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies to demonstrate knowledge. Several students were still not even familiar with the basic Office Suite of programs--much less blogs and wikis. If we assign technology related projects, then we need to make sure that we provide handouts, videos, tutorials, etc. to help students learn the technology as well. We also need to consider that the students are also learning the technology as well as demonstrating their understanding of the concept/topic.
  • A single course is not enough time to not only expose students (and faculty) to new technologies but to also help them learn how to use the technology and then develop activities and assignments that utilize that technology. Breaking the course into several courses has been suggested; however, the technology component needs to be incorporated across the curriculum. Right now, the students seem to get a smattering of technology depending on who they have as instructors. Therefore, their exposure is uneven.
  • I have also learned that not only do we have to change our teaching paradigm, we need to get students to change their learning paradigm. All too often they expect to be spoon-fed the information (as in lectures) and then to simply regurgitate it on an exam. They have no expectations of ever using the information--even when they are studying to become teachers.
  • Finally, we need to evaluate how we are teaching our teachers to teach. If we expect them to integrate technology in their teaching practices, if we expect them to use collaborative learning in their classrooms, if we expect them to teach their students how to become digital citizens--then shouldn't we be modeling this type of teaching?

Early Education and Technology for Children Conference

March 14–16, 2012
Salt Lake City, Utah

Early Education and Technology for Children (EETC) is an annual conference that brings researchers, policy makers, administrators, educators, and practitioners together to present and discuss research and applications in the areas of preschool through elementary education. EETC welcomes visitors from around the globe who come to learn from other’s expertise and share their own insights on applications that will help make a difference in the education of young children.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Teachers Using Twitter for Professional Development

Teachers are increasingly using Twitter for professional development and collaboration, according to the New York Times blog post by Kathleen Schulten. Each week, thousands of teachers participate in scheduled Twitter “chats” around a particular subject area or type of student. Math teachers meet on Mondays, for instance, while science discussions happen on Tuesdays, new teachers gather on Wednesdays and teachers working with sixth graders meet Thursdays. (Jerry Blumengarten, Twitter’s @cybraryman1, posts this helpful list of educational chats.)

By using hashtags — that is, words or phrases preceded by the # symbol, like “#Scichat” for science educators — users can organize, search and find messages on a particular topic all in one place.

Anyone can participate, and joining is easy: just go to Twitter, search for the hashtag of the chat that appeals to you, and start to read the stream of messages. When you’re ready to add your own thoughts or share resources, just append that same hashtag to your Twitter message. (For more tips, visit The Times' “Nuts and Bolts” and “Resources” lists.)

The blog post also features an interview with the founders of the Edchat, SSchat and Engchat Twitter streams, who talk about the power of the medium.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Goodbye, Steve

Steve Jobs, the mastermind behind Apple's iPhone, iPad, iPod, iMac and iTunes, has died at the age of 56 after an 8 year battle with pancreatic cancer. In 2005, Jobs provided the following comments to the graduating class at Stanford.

Goodbye, Steve. Your creativity and vision will be missed.