Archive for March, 2007

Live Demo With AB 430 Administrators

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

I’m at National University leading a session with AB 430 Administrators from around Orange County… and I’m asking them these three familiar questions:

  1. What is a blog? Interactive Website… a place to throw up comments or discuss an issue… an easy way to get information… your personal thoughts… people can actually comment.
  2. What is the read/write web? You read something and make a comment… you read and write… online classes… chat rooms… blackboard…
  3. What do these technologies mean for you and your students? They could be dangerous… instant information and feedback… better communication… or false information… actually interacting, reflecting, and writing about something allows deeper learning. So we’re off…

Motivation and Engagement (In a Nutshell)

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Note: The “one page” overviews I’m writing for each section of my dissertation seem to be just the right size for blog posts, so here is the one on motivation and engagement. I’ll post a link to the full version as soon as I’ve had another day to work on it. Meanwhile, how’d I do? Anything critical missing?

One of the fundamental properties of an effective constructivist learning environment is that it engages and motivates students.

Engaging and motivating students has been a primary concern of the constructivist movement since long before computers and video games. Now, though, modern complex video games offer a new multi-modal medium for engaging students and a wide variety of new strategies for motivating their participation.

For more than a century, traditional classroom lessons – including lectures, reading, and written assignments – have often failed to effectively or reliably engage and motivate students. In recent decades, video games (and other interactive media) may have exacerbated this problem, as students, particularly gamers, are now coming to school with higher expectations of engagement and interaction.

However, there is little doubt that modern video games are deeply motivating and engaging to many of the same students that struggle to pay attention in school – despite the fact that games continuously and consistently challenge students, often to the brink of frustration. It has been clear for some time that these games are fun not in spite of being hard, but precisely because they are hard. Massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), in particular, often require players to perform repetitive tasks that seem suspiciously like work, and yet these games are among the most compellingly immersive experiences available.

Traditionally, constructivists have found a great deal of value in children’s play, and consider it an important element of education. Constructivists, of course, look at play not so much as something that students do, but rather as a state of mind. These perspectives are shared by modern video game scholars.

Despite advocating for the value of fun and play in education, the constructivist perspective does not recommend an environment free of structure. In contrast, the hope is to harness the strategies of motivation and engagement responsible for the incidental learning that takes place in many good games and put these strategies to use for the purposes of intentional learning in formal educational environments.

Video game scholars caution, though, that not all games (or specific strategies for motivating and engaging students) will appeal to all students, even those that consider themselves gamers. Also, it is not surprising that video games are not a terribly effective instructional medium for students that consider themselves non-gamers. Of course, many of the strategies for motivating and engaging students are not necessarily unique to the video game format, and can be implemented in more traditional educational contexts.

Link: Cool mac dashboard widget – “App Update”

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

This link comes from David Brussin via email:

This is quite a cool dashboard widget… it finds all of your
installed software packages and checks for updates. Kind of like
apple’s Software Update, but for everything else on your system.

Meanwhile, I’m back up to 1400 unread items in my feeds… and these are mostly my favorite blogs that I want to actually spend time reading. :(

Constructivism (In A Nutshell)

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

Note: I originally wrote this in preparation for writing part of my dissertation – and I linked to it in yesterday’s post. I realized it also made a good post in it’s own right, so I’m sharing it here now. Please feel free to comment. Did I forget anything or misrepresent anything – or nail anything right on the head? :)

In contrast to the empirical behaviorist view that knowledge about an objective reality can be simply and reliably passed on from teacher to student, the kernel of constructivist philosophy is the belief that all knowledge must be actively and subjectively constructed in the mind of each individual. This core belief is associated with several corollary beliefs that have become hallmarks of constructivist pedagogy.

The most important of these corollaries is captured by the adage of learning by doing. Constructivist philosophy holds that the learner should take an active rather than passive roll in the learning process, and that the tasks required of the learner should have an authentic context and purpose. It is under these conditions that the transfer of learning from the educational experience to the “real-world” is believed to be most successful.

In addition, learning is often considered by constructivists to be a social process, involving the negotiation of meaning between individuals and the distribution of knowledge over social networks. It is commonly accepted that individual learners can complete more sophisticated tasks with the aid of mentors or peers than they can on their own.

It is also commonly accepted by constructivists that individual learners will have different interests as well as different strengths and weakness, including a varying degree of aptitude not only in mathematical and linguistic intelligence but also in multiple other kinds of intelligences.

Criticisms of constructivism often focus on the lack of structure provided to students, however many constructivist educators insist on a structured environment in which students’ knowledge construction can be facilitated. Such an environment is one in which students are challenged without being frustrated and in which they are focused on intentional (rather than incidental) learning.

At a minimum, a constructivist learning environment will motivate and engage learners. Most importantly, it will also provide a context for learning, opportunities for inquiry or discovery, and a framework for collaborative learning. The value of all of these elements is increased if the environment also facilitates reflection and metacognition on the part of the learner. Such an environment can also be useful for the development not only of traditional school skills but also difficult-to-teach “soft” skills and “21st century skills”, such as digital-age literacies, inventive thinking, effective communication, and high-productivity. Within such a learning environment, the role of the teacher in providing support to students is especially critical. Each of these elements of a constructivist learning environment will be discussed in greater detail in the following sections. Each section will explore traditional constructivist perspectives, the contributions of educational technologists, and the more recent literature on video games and education.

Links: Two Tips from Mr. Belshaw

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Sidekiq: all your search belong to us (Via On his new technology focused blog, Mr. Belshaw points out a powerful new search destination. Direct Link:

Tumblr – a great way to get your students (and colleagues?) blogging! (Via He also points out a good entry level blogging platform, Tumblir.

I highly recommend Mr. Belshaw’s new feed as a source of great tech tips. :)

Feedback Early and Often

Monday, March 26th, 2007

The open source software movement has a a philosophy of releasing early and often… in order to take advantage of feedback from the user community. In business and in progressive education, I’ve also often heard the adage “fail early, fail often.” Again, the primariy purpose of this is to receive feedback, but it also helps one avoid perfectionism and practice risk taking.

Given my frustrating first efforts at beginning to actually write the dissertation, I want to seek feedback early… and perhaps often as time goes on, though hopefully the early feedback will help alleviate the need for more feedback later in the process. Regardless, I’m suddenly very aware of my lack of people to talk with about this.

I’ve finally started writing (after arriving at 450 pages of notes when I finally got my last few resources into my outliner). I decided to start with the first substantial section of chapter 2, a brief overview of constructivism prior to discussing constructivist learning environments in more depth. Despite my initial efforts at organizing and outlining my notes, this was still a daunting task. My six pages of notes just for this segment alone were in places overwhelming, insufficient, or rehashed and poorly written material from previous papers. After a few aborted efforts at writing the section, I was frustrated.

I finally talked through it with Eva and she motivated me to write a “one page” version of the section with no notes. This turned out alright, so I went on and supported each point with what I considered a minimal amount of research. It represents not even the tip of the ice burg (luckily, there are several much more detailed sections to follow), but I think it serves the purpose… and it comes off more like the articles I’ve written recently than the laborious papers I wrote over the past two years.

In any case, I’d love feedback if any of you can take a minute to look over these six pages. Imagine it’s followed by nine more sections that provide greater detail. (I’ve linked to an overview outline of my dissertation with this section highlighted to put it into perspective.) I’m curious if this is the sort of writing you’d expect to see in a literature review?


Friday Links – Part 2: Administrators

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

On Wednesday I will be working again with a cohort of AB 430 administrators, so this Friday is a good time to share these links. I have over the past year been collecting links relevant to administrators and educational technology. These two, though, never made it into a post. So, with no further ado, here are two links I found interesting back in September:

Superintendent As Visionary (Via Dangerously Irrelevant.)

Helping Administrators With Technology Integration (Via iTASC.)

Friday Links – Part 1: One-to-One Computing

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

This week’s Friday Links (links that have accumulated as draft posts that I never got back to) are going to cover two categories. The first is one-to-one (or 1:1) computing, which is increasingly becoming a reality for more students as more districts implement various pilot programs. For example, in the Palm Springs Unified School District, where I spent a great deal of time over the last four months, their plans for pilot one-to-one projects are accelerating well ahead of schedule for next year. Below are three relevant links, two of them from Wes Freyer and one from Raj Boora, that might help Palm Springs and other districts interested in 1:1 initiatives:

OLPC to teach kids in the Mindtools mindset (Via EDITing in the Dark.)

Podcast126: The Case for 1 to 1 Computing (Via Moving at the Speed of Creativity.)

The Children’s Machine (Via Moving at the Speed of Creativity.)

The Value of Collaboration (and Graphic Design)

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

As I reflect on this week, one theme I find unifying many events for me is the value of collaboration.

This first came to mind on Monday when I presented at the Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) District Technology Leaders (DTL) meeting. I was sharing the Internet Awareness and Safety curriculum (for parents and educators) that I’ve been developing in collaboration with the Laguna Beach Unified School District and the Laguna Beach Police Department. The project would not have been possible if Victor Guthrie, the IT director at the Laguna Beach USD, hadn’t approached me about a program that would provide participants with both sides of the web 2.0 story… the benefits and the concerns. Also, there’s no way the workshops would be what they have been if we hadn’t have worked with the police department. It was downright sobering for me to hear the real stories of what has happened locally right in their small (but admittedly attention attracting) town. Now, the OCDE is helping to pay for the project, and I certainly would not have been sharing the curriculum with the other district technology leaders without the support of Sandy Lapham, the administrator of educational technology at the county office.

When I posted some Internet Safety links in preparation for this talk, Anne Bubnic of CTAP Region 4 left a comment about the cybersafety site they’ve created for their region. I checked it out before the DTL meeting and was humbled by their graphic design (in comparison to my bare-bones approach)… their site is very thorough, but very accessible – and it looks great. (In defense of the work we’ve been doing, I think we still contribute an effort to focus on telling both sides of the story… on educating about the benefits to off-set the danger of fear-mongering.)

In any case, I serendipitously happened to then spend Tuesday traveling up to Oakland to present to the equivalent of the DTL group in CTAP Region 4… the Bay Area Regional Council (BARC). Again I was humbled by their work. The presentation used to introduce my talk (prepared by Kathleen Ferenz) was beautiful, animated, full of embedded video, and included interactive elements… complete with toy laser swords! On the fly, I ended up contrasting the elegant design of their cybersafety slides with my barebones design as an example of a 21st Century Literacy I needed to work on myself. (The topic of the meeting was “new literacies.”) In any case, the meeting would not have been what it was without Kathleen’s introductory activities.

I also realized that there is no reason I shouldn’t collaborate with someone to be sure that my work takes advantage of better graphic design. After all, I’m learning that in many ways the “media is the message” – or perhaps the media is at least as important as the message. In any case, my old friend Benton Melbourne may have some new work headed his way next time I am developing any curriculum… or presenting anything for that matter.

So I could go on about all the other collaborations I worked on this week (like the upcoming podcasting workshops put on by CUE, CSUF, and the OCDE), but I think the real value comes from boiling this down to it’s essence: that pursuing collaborations, particularly in place of competition or to shore up weaknesses, is a valuable strategy for success.

Where is the collaboration aphorism that I’m searching for here? Any ideas?

Link: Towards Passion-Based Conversations

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Towards Passion-Based Conversations (Via blog of proximal development.) As I was catching up on reading my feeds (down to 900 unread posts from 2800 yesterday), the title of Konrad Glogowski’s post caught my eye. I read through it and discovered this sentiment, which was exactly what I hoped to find:

I enjoy reading the School 2.0 manifestos. They offer a glimpse into a world where teachers are free to be passionate and engaging, where students really want to learn, and where the restrictive policies of our current world do not exist.

This is certainly what I am working toward.

Some time ago I linked to a post by Will Richardson about passionate learning that caught my eye. The concept eventually found it’s way into my thoughts on passion and professional development. Konrad apparently heard Will mention the idea in a presentation, and he blogged about it, too. Now, he’s introduced the importance of passionate conversations in the learning process:

We need to learn how to sustain conversations that are initiated by the students themselves, not conversations that emerge from the official Ministry documents or our own interests and beliefs. I think that passion-based learning will help, but I also know that there is much more that I can do. It seems to me that this new approach will require that we revisit Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. Perhaps we could refine the notion of “instructional conversation” (Tharp & Gallimore, 1991) where the teacher is involved in “assisted performance.” This approach is not perfect but I think it gives us a good place to start: “To truly teach, one must converse; to truly converse is to teach” (Tharp & Gallimore, 1991).

I love that last quote… and to boot, Konrad cites Dewey several times in his (rather rich) discussion.

I’m not writing much about this topic right now, but I know it’s found it’s place in my own schema… I’ve long known that what draws me to people and what energizes me most is passionate conversation, though I may not have called it that. Now Konrad has helped build an explicit link between this and my work as an educator.

Now how on earth do I categorize this post?