Archive for April, 2007

I have my computer back: Goodbye Google Desktop

Monday, April 30th, 2007

I installed the Google Desktop for Mac Beta a few weeks ago. My computer has dragged ever since… really dragged… there was lag switching between apps and windows – and even lag typing sometimes! It took me a while to confidently pin point Google Desktop as the culprit, but in the end it was clear that the background processes were routinely taking up 50% or more of my processing power… to say nothing of the RAM, virtual memory, and harddrive space it consumed. I uninstalled it just now and all seems to be back to normal. I’m usually a fan of cool new Google apps, but this one gets an “F” grade from me this time out. An index is no good to me if it makes my computer frustrating to use. (And this was on my less than 1 year old MacBook with 2 GB of RAM and almost 4 GB of free harddrive space… I can’t imagine what it would do to most school computers.) In any case, I don’t recommend it.

Engagement and Motivation Part I: Digital Natives

Monday, April 30th, 2007

This post marks the beginning of a new daily trend here. Over the past several weeks I was posting “one-page” overviews of each section of my dissertation lit review. Now that I’ve begun fleshing out those sections, I have more material to post – complete with quotes and citations. I’ve already posted two of the sections in their long form as word documents, but now I’ll be posting brief (blog post length) excerpts each day.

This is the first part of the Engagement and Motivation section of my dissertation lit review:

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. As Dewey (1938) noted, many students come to “associate the learning process with ennui and boredom” (p. 27), and as Slator (2006) explained, these “uninspired students often create difficulties for instructors and themselves” (p. 10).

In recent decades, video games (and other interactive media) may have exacerbated this problem. Students, particularly gamers, are now coming to school with higher expectations of engagement and interaction. Papert (1993), a student of Piaget, made the argument that video games encourage in students “an industriousness and eagerness that school can seldom generate” (p. 3-4) and that “school strikes many young people as slow, boring, and frankly out of touch” (p. 5).

Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

Prensky (2001b) introduced the metaphor of digital natives and digital immigrants, in which students who have never known a time without the Internet, email, cell phones, and video games are considered digital natives – and in which adults who have to learn these technologies later in life are considered digital immigrants. Prensky (2006) makes the case that today’s students, the digital natives, “are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach” (p. 30). He cites research suggesting they think differently, particularly on account of playing video games (2001c, 2006 p. 32-39). He explained several differences in their cognitive style (2001a, p. 52) and ways in which they interact differently than digital immigrants (2006, p. 41-50). In short, he concluded that “immigrants teaching natives causes problems” (2006, p. 29). Carstens and Beck (2005) also found that “gamers showed a range of different opinions and behaviors” compared to non-gamers (p. 23), and they suggested that gamers have comparatively little respect for traditional authority and training.

However, these same technologies, including video games, can also offer a solution to the problem. Papert (1993), for instance, believed that “video games teach children… that some forms of learning are fast-paced, immensely compelling, and rewarding” (p. 5). Prensky (2001a), too, felt that video games are “one of the few structures that we currently have that is capable of meeting many of the Games Generation’s changing learning needs and requirements” (p. 65). Shaffer (2005) wrote that “computers and other new technologies can help make learning engaging and relevant in ways Dewey suggested” (p. 6), and that students can have “intense and intensive” experiences playing a game as part of a class project” (in press, p. 3). Shaffer and Gee (2005) concluded, “contemporary video games are profoundly engaging and motivating to young people” (p. 15). Gee (2005) also discussed the motivating pleasures even simple games such as Tetris can bring a player (p. 13). He went on to say that “cognitive science… has shown quite clearly that feeling and emotion are not peripheral to thinking and learning” (p. 30), and that “if learners are to learn… deeply… then they need to feel and care about the world… in which they are playing” (p. 30). An interactive game space can offer “rewards from the beginning, customized to each learner’s level, effort, and growing mastery and signaling the learner’s ongoing achievements” (Gee, 2003, p. 67). Gee even shared an anecdote about a video game motivating very young students to learn to read (Prensky, 2006, p. 163). Because video games can thus empower the learner, games can be used as part of a motivating “loop of rewards and reinforcement – [giving] a taste of empowerment and ownership, leading to more engagement, which, in turn, allows further empowerment and so on” (Jonassen, 2003, p. 114).

I’m seeking feedback on this writing, so please let me know what you think in the comments.

Strange Reactions To “Cyber” Safety

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

And a Picture, Too! (Via 2 Cents Worth.) David Walick posted about a well writen movie review – credited to a 12th grade girl (including her full name and picture). David somewhat cryptically posted that this confused him “in about seven different ways.”

The reaction I saw in the comments is what struck me as strange, though. Four comments prior to mine made this basic point:

Not a good idea from the cyber safety perspective: readers now have the girl’s name, face, area of residence, approximate age, and school district.

One made this point regarding the paper:

Extremely short sighted on the part of the newspaper. Acknowledging the author is one thing. Publishing a picture of a school-age girl is wrong. However, sports sections do it ALL THE TIME!

Personally, I’m glad the girl got credit for her article – and credit equivalent to an adult, complete with her picture next to her article. I don’t usually have such a strong reaction to something I read on a blog (or in blog comments for that matter), so I’m posting my response here, too:

I hope I’m not the only one who has a different take on this… first of all, she’s not 12. She’s a 12th grader, most likely 18 at this point in the year.

Secondly, if newspapers reporting on students using full names and pictures is so normal, why is it so bad online?

I think it’s downright weird that a bunch of cutting edge ed tech folks are so concerned about a picture in the paper.

Don’t we want kids to be able to enjoy their name and picture in the paper – and online? Aren’t we only extra careful about it because the percent of a percent of a percent (or whatever small chance it is) that somebody malicious will misuse the information? And aren’t we only more careful online because the nature of the medium lends itself to ever so slightly easier abuse?

Personally, and this is not the cyber safety presenter speaking now, I think the few malicious types are going to find who they want to find regardless of the medium and I think its too bad – no, a tragedy – that all of us feel like our students have to tip toe around the internet anonymously.

That being said, there is still a lot of room for helping kids learn to be safe online (and in the face-to-face world). I just think the reaction (in these comments) to the article David posted about is a bit sad. Of course, Mark Ahlness did say “given the current state of paranoia in the US” and maybe that’s the real problem.

I accept that I might be in the minority here, but I’m curious what others interested in “Cyber” safety might have to say on the subject… please leave a comment if you have anything to share.

Link: Flat Planet Project

Friday, April 27th, 2007

Flat Planet Project (Via Simon O’Carroll.) This is a link to a great example of two classes in two different countries collaborating using a wiki… and with a social change agenda no less. The information and frameworks the teachers have posted look fantastic, and so do most of the student projects I looked at. This could be a great model for other teachers and other projects. Thanks to Simon O’Carroll for letting me know what his class was up to.

This wiki also comes with an accompanying blog, FlatPlanetProject.

Context-Embedded Learning (LONG)

Thursday, April 26th, 2007

Back on the 6th I posted a brief overview of context-embedded learning (with respect to video games in education). I’ve now fleshed out that section a bit. At 28 pages it’s quite a bit longer than I hoped, and consequently, I think the quality has suffered. I was able to reuse some material from earlier papers, but now this section suffers from the “quote heavy” tone of the earlier papers – even in some of the new segments. In any case, I’m slowly learning to settle for good enough, and I’m hungry for feedback, so here it is (along with a link to the updated references again):

Context-Embedded Learning (LONG) (80 KB Word Document)
References (132.5 KB Word Document)

Actually, I feel about as bad about the Palm Springs Tech Plan throughout most of the process… and the plan was just approved by the state, so I have cause for celebration tonight, too. :)

Regardless, if you download this, I’d love to hear your feedback. To make the most of it though, I will probably also offer these long sections in bite sized junks as regular posts over the next several days. Meanwhile, I’ll work on actually writing the following sections. After all, for the rest of the week the only times I have to write are a few hours Friday afternoon – and then most of the day Sunday. Luckily, I’ve got a few more afternoons set aside next week, too!

PS. If anyone wants to let me know what you think of this series of posts so far, please chime in, too.

Link: What is a game?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

What is a game? (Via yish.) I’m always interested in new definitions of “game” – and I like this one for it’s educational implications:

An activity is a game to the extent it emulates life with controlled risk.

Motivation and Engagement (LONG)

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Almost a month ago I posted a “one page” overview of Engagement and Motivation (with respect to video games as constructivist learning environments). I’ve now fleshed out that page with supporting citations and quotes. These eight pages are meant to then appear as a section in the literature review of my dissertation.

Because I’m interested in seeking feedback early and often, I’d be grateful for any feedback any of you can offer at this stage. Below are links to the long version of the Motivation and Engagement section and to the reference list:

Engagement and Motication (LONG) (34 KB Word Document)
References (132.5 KB Word Document)

I’m especially interested in whether or not this seems like a good treatment of the subject, particularly in the context of a dissertation literature review – but I look forward to reading any other comments any of you might offer. :)

Link: The Latest on Virginia Tech, From Wikipedia – New York Times

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

The Latest on Virginia Tech, From Wikipedia – New York Times (Via Education/Technology – Tim Lauer.) Tim Lauer points to a very interesting article on the role of Wikipedia in breaking news. Here’s a direct link to the article: The Latest on Virginia Tech, From Wikipedia – New York Times.

I experienced the benefit of going to the Wikipedia for this particular story last week. Then, during four different presentations last week, I shared the article as an example and watched it grow and evolve as new information was collected. The wikipedia is truly an amazing phenomenon.

People also really seemed to get a kick out of me saying it had the potential to hold “the sum of all human knowledge.” :)

Link: “RSS in Plain English” – fun and informative short video

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

“RSS in Plain English” – fun and informative short video (Via Abject Learning.) This video explanation and tutorial of RSS is being passed around today. It looks great.

Who’s doing your research for you? (Via Teach42.) Here’s another great explanation of the benefit of RSS… I tell people all the time that my computer is researching for me 24/7. :)

Link: Yahoo Teachers

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

I got an email from Jenith Mishne pointing this out. As she said in her subject line, it looks like Yahoo is jumping on the bandwagon. (We’re preparing for the third Google Teacher Academy, which will be here in Southern California.) Of course, this is one tech company trend I won’t complain about. Free services and resources for teachers is always good.

Here’s Jenith’s message:

Have you all seen this….

Hmmm…interesting…..who’s next?


Somehow the video was weird to watch. They’ve built a good lesson sharing tool, from the looks of it, but otherwise it doesn’t seem that… innovative. I guess Flickr is Yahoo!, though, and there are probably a handful of other cool tools teachers can (and do) use. It’ll be good to keep an eye on. Thanks to Jenith for the heads up.