…and Life: On being a soul searching hermit… with email, voicemail, IM, videogames, and RSS feeds.

You may have picked up on my offhand comments about dealing with some serious “and Life” issues these past two months. Well, unfortunately, that’s still the case and is likely to be for some time. As with my work, my research, and many other parts of my life, I am just happy that I’ve kept this blog trickling along in the meantime. The content of what I’m dealing with really really doesn’t belong on this blog (though I’m writing a lot about it… and I’ve considered an annonymous online outlet), but some bits of the process might be worth sharing.

While Eva is out of town, I’m spending this week being something of a hermit. I’m not returning emails or phone calls… and keeping my IM set to away. Still, that means I’m reading emails, listening to messages and, frankly, responding to brazen IMers… and it still feels like being a hermit… I suppose to a 21st century educational technologist, it is. I suppose I really need to get away into the woods. But perhaps that wouldn’t help either.

But, soul searching is much more time consuming then I ever imagined! I’m also taking some time to really delve into new years resolutions, annual goals, and a concrete plan to follow through on them. Naturally, resolutions and soul searching really do go hand in hand… and resolutions (with concrete goals and plans) can be equally time consuming.

Meanwhile I am being sure to take time for some recharging type chores (organizing and cleaning mostly), and for entertainment, including actually playing World of Warcraft… and actually getting a PSP (and an RPG to play… it’s something like an interactive paperback now).

Oh, and I’ve gotten back on my feet for the next phase of my research… I brought home a whole stack of Vygotsky and Bruner books from the UCI Library, ordered many more from Amazon, and added them to my stacks of Squire, Steinkuehler, and Shaffer articles.

Wouldn’t you know it… I find myself making a To Do list for each day with undone items being fit into following days… just as if I were at work! I told Eva on the phone earlier that I think you could take away my job and I would still be busy all day everyday for the next year and barely notice the time go by!

At any rate, I found one particular resolution I’ve been working on worth sharing here. (Perhaps there will be more later). Resolution 8 (of the 10 I originally narrowed it down to) was this:

8. Blog Regularly.

Sub-points included posting at least once about my work, once about my research, and once about “and Life” per week. I’d still like to stick to this if possible, but when it came time to work out how many hours a week to allocate to each goal (you really do have to do this if you’re both working and going to school full time), I still had too many goals and not enough hours.

So, I managed to cut it from 10 goals to 8, putting off some more things untill 2007 and finding an interesting solution for the old blogging resolution, which I think is relevant to helping educators (and others) sort out how blogs and RSS feeds can be worked into an already busy schedule.

Others have said it elsewhere, but the key is this… blogging and reading feeds must be integrated into the other pursuits you find important. So, I will read feeds as part of my job, part of my research, and part of my entertainment. And, I will blog this way, too. Work posts will come from things I write at work (with only a few minutes more overhead for posting them). Similarly research posts will come from what I am writing for school, and “and Life” posts from journals or other writing I do for life… or else come out of entertainment time. (Wow… I don’t know if that sounds like a successful person or a crazy person!)

This has also helped me to clarify and focus on what I should be blogging. Additional posts on my Dewey readings will now wait until I actually start writing the next paper… in a few weeks time. (Sorry, Dave). There may be some Vygotsky and Bruner notes in my near future though, since library books necessitate some typing on my part – and because I think the annotation of my notes will be valuable when it comes time to write. (The books I own still get annotated in pen… and I’d still love a way out of this and into the digital world with my reading and annotations.)

I will really need to be more vigilant about identifying things I write at work that can also be used here.

As far as “and Life” goes, I like sharing posts like this one, which is still a hybrid of technology… and life. I’m not sure how I feel about truly “and Life” posts being here, so I’ve flirted with the idea of a separate … and Life blog. I’m asking myself the same question everyone else is though… would anyone read it? Also, as I said earlier, I’m considering an anonymous outlet to fully differentiate it from my professional presence online – but there is also a part of me that feels part of the spirit of this whole thing is helping others to see the personal side of professional content providers and I am somewhat resistant to splintering my online identity.

As always, I’ll appreciate any comments.There’s a potential for some juicy ones here. And, thank you for reading.


John Dewey’s Pedagogic Creed, Educational Technology, and Video Games

John Dewey’s Pedagogic Creed, Educational Technology, and Video Games

Happy new year, all!

I dropped Eva and her girl friends off at the airport at 6am this morning and only 15 hours later, I’m back from my blog break. So, back to the John Dewey, Educational Technology, and Video Games…

I am not at all ready to tackle Democracy and Education or Experience and Education right out the gate, so I’ll begin with the brief (but dense with quotable material) “My Pedagogic Creed”, written by Dewey in 1897, 109 years ago. It still turns out to be a lengthy post. ;)

Dewey begins the first “Article” of his creed with an explanation of what education is. IHe believes that all education is social, even formal education, which can only organize of differentiate the social process. He also feels it is important to balance the psychological elements of education with these social elements. In this way his creed may represent both an early constructivist view (the psychological) and social constructivist view (the social) – the later being why I am studying him for the Knowledge Area Module (KAM) I am currently writing. Put another way, Dewey (as he writes later) believes that “education must begin with a psychological insight into the child’s capacities, interests, and habits” and must translate these “into terms of their social equivalents – into terms of what they are capable of in the way of social service”. This of course sits well with me as I become more committed to Walden’s vision of effecting positive social change. (Dewey states the straightforward belief that “education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform”!)

I’ve often been struck these past few months but how relevant Dewey’s writing sounds with respect to 21st Century education – and educational technology in general. This happened again at the end of “Article 1.”

It is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities; that his eye and ear and hand may be tools ready to command, that his judgment may be capable of grasping the conditions under which it has to work, and the executive forces be trained to act economically and efficiently.

This concept is related to the use of educational technology in two ways. First, the same can be said of teaching any specific technology – attempting to prepare students to use the precise technologies they will be required to master in their future is a foolish enterprise, but preparing them to understand and master technology is a worth while pursuit. Second, computers can now be used as what David H. Jonassen calls “Mind Tools” to facilitate the development of such meta-skills (as Dewey is describing) by today’s students. Consider the role of computers in the 21st Century Skills I am so often referencing.

Dewey’s creed resonated with me again when in “Article Two: What the School Is” he declared that the school is primarily a social institution (an extension of community life) and that education “is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” He goes on to suggest that “much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life.” His writing continues to make me happier with the title I chose for this blog… and with my own educational philosophy. I am particularly fond of his take on the role of the teacher… and the purpose of an examination:

The teacher’s place and work in the school is to be interpreted from this same basis. The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences.

Examinations are of use only so far as they test the child’s fitness for social life and reveal the place in which he can be of most service and where he can receive the most help.

As for subject matter, Dewey’s writing supports my early attraction to project-based learning, and later to constructivist teaching and learning:

The true centre of correlation of the school subjects is not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, but the child’s own social activities.

As a former literature teacher it is a bit tough to see him say that literature “cannot be made the basis” of education, but I understood even when I was in the classroom that part of what I enjoyed about the job was the feeling that anything I knew contributed to my effectiveness as a teacher and might in one way or another help a student make progress, though not always in the subject (or standards) I was formally charged to teach.

Though he doesn’t mean it as constructivist educators do now, I often find it significant when Dewey uses the word “constructive” – as he does in this quote:

I believe, therefore, in the so-called expressive or constructive activities as the centre of correlation.

This is followed closely by a point that may at first seem anachronistic, but which I found to be one of the most relevant of the paper:

I believe that this gives the standard for the place of cooking, sewing, manual training, etc., in the school.

This refers to what we might consider “vocational” education today, and today this would certainly include “technical” education of the sort offered by Introduction courses for productivity applications, programing, hardware troubleshooting and other classes of the sort that ROP programs often offer. Though he doesn’t go into depth in this creed, he wrote elsewhere about how sewing can be the gateway to teaching all human knowledge… and the same could be said of computers… consider using Neal Stepheson’s Cryptonomicon to teach the fundamentals of computing… some basics of venture capitalism, and a little history of World War Two. (Ok, maybe not with public school kids… but perhaps in college… still, I’ll let the example stand.)

This bit requires more thought, particularly the second half of the sentence, but I thought I’d pass it on here for the time being:

I believe finally, that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing.

Having studied Piaget for my last KAM, I can now see Dewey as a clear predecessor when he states that “the question of method is ultimately reducible to the question of the order of development of the child’s powers and interests.” (Like Piaget, though with considerably less clinical data to support his assertions, Dewey then suggests several stages of development… these too seem to be a bit arbitrary and simplistic by modern constructivist standards. Dewey too believes that actions precede ideas and the symbols play an important part in a child’s development.)

I saw precursors to Dewey’s own thoughts on waste in education when he explained that in traditional schools…

The child is thrown into a passive, receptive or absorbing attitude. The conditions are such that he is not permitted to follow the law of his nature; the result is friction and waste.

And I loved this next sentiment!

Interests are the signs and symptoms of growing power. I believe that they represent dawning capacities. Accordingly the constant and careful observation of interests is of the utmost importance for the educator.

Personally, I know I have only become interested in new subjects or new skills as my own zone of proximal development included the necessary pre-requesites. It is exciting to see early evidence of something like Vygotsky’s theories in Dewey’s work as well.

When Dewey then suggests that “only through the continual and sympathetic observation of childhood’s interests can the adult enter into the child’s life and see what it is ready for, and upon what material it could work most readily and fruitfully,” I immediately considered the importance of computers and video games in our students’ social lives and ways in which serious games or games for change might be able to introduce adult society into a child’s life.

“All reforms which rest simply upon the enactment of law, or the threatening of certain penalties, or upon changes in mechanical or outward arrangements, are transitory and futile.”

Hallelujia, brother. I am often arguing for educational technology policies that rely on education of the students in order to work, as opposed to those that rely on policing by the teacher.

While most of Dewey’s creed made me proud to do what I do (particularly the bit about “education thus conceived mark[ing] the most perfect and intimate union of science and art conceivable in human experience”, which reminded me of the lyric of U2’s Miracle Drug, “Of science and the human heart there is no limit”), there were never the less a few things that really made me jump at the end of “Article Five.”

There was the bit about society recognizing its obligation to education and providing unimaginable “resources of time, attention , and money,” not to mention “sufficient equipment”, which just made me laugh.

Then there was the final belief… “the teacher always is the prophet of the true God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God.” This is a blog, so I think I can share my personal reaction, which was something like, “WTF?” On further reflection though, I realized I may not be comfortable with his language, but I suppose people can associate these beliefs and effects with whatever underlying meaning they choose – its no less positive a perspective. Also, this creed qualifies as an academic work; there are no works cited, and no data presented. (But, then, perhaps very little of Dewey’s seminal work stands up to that kind of scrutiny.)

Thanks for reading on into a new year… I look forward to any comments you might share.


Vacation Blog Break

I don’t like to let this blog go more than a week without an update, but I find myself with three good reasons for a blog break…

1.) I’m on vacation from the Orange County Department of Education – and from Walden University since I am setting my own schedule there – and so will not be generating much in the way of content that belongs here.

2.) I still have a very serious “and Life” issue that requires my full attention… and I can finally give it the time it deserves now that I am on vacation.

3.) I will have plenty of time to myself to catch up on my blogging next week, when Eva will be out of town on a road trip with her girl friends.

In the meantime I may find cause for interrupting the blog break… and I will continue to read all my feeds, so I may very continue posting to my FURL archive and feed.

These topics are in the queue for when I return…

– John Dewey’s Democracy and Education
– John Dewey’s Experience and Education
– John Dewey’s “My Pedagogic Creed”
– Reflections on World of Warcraft (Fueled by discussion with my brother James who grew up playing paper and dice role playing games with me.)
– And more… time for that break though. ;)

Happy holidays to all, and if I don’t get back to it… happy new year! (Man, I just realized my blogiversary went uncelebrated back on December 7th… maybe I’ll have to celebrate my blogger-versary instead… in February.)

Thanks for reading.


What are the advantages and disadvantages of serious games?

I received this question via email a few days ago. It prompted an interesting response from me… a brief summary of my thoughts on the subject actually… so I thought I’d share it here, too.

In short, I think the impact of serious games, or rather the potential impact, is to provide a powerful medium for education and for affecting positive social change. The advantages are many. For starters, games are engaging and motivating, and appeal to students (particularly young students) in a medium they are comfortable with (see Marc Prensky’s work, particularly his writings on Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants for more on this). Also, and this is what I am most interested in, games can provide a context for learning, opportunities for inquiry, and a framework for collaboration… all elements that are important in an educational environment, particularly in the constructivist philosophy (here, I hope, is where my research – and my blog, might come in handy). Finally, games – particularly those with many simulation elements – can be used to teach content that is typically very difficult to teach in the classroom, including non-linear content such as cyclical or systems content (see Clark Aldrich’s work for more on these content types), and what some call 21st century skills of digital age literacies, inventive thinking (particularly risk taking), effective communication, and high productivity (see http://www.ncrel.org/engauge/skills/skills.htm for an explanation of what I mean by these skills).

As for the disadvantages, there are several obvious ones… in terms of current commercial games, we have a ways to go to deal with the violence and gender equity issues. Too, most current games can be very sedentary activities. From an educational technology standpoint, most games will place considerable demands on schools’ student-to-computer ratios, hardware specs, and infrastructure (connectivity and bandwidth). Development of the games, and an economic model, may be the biggest hurdles involved.

I hope this might help others who are newly interested in the subject. I’m also hoping some of you who know quite a bit more will share your thoughts on this summary. For instance… what’d I leave out?


NECC Update: Context, Inquiry, and Collaboration: Video Games as Constructivist Learning Environments [Concurrent]

I now know when I’ll be presenting at NECC in July.

Accepted Proposals
The following proposals have been accepted to the NECC 2006 program. Click on title to review or edit. Click as indicated for other processes.

Context, Inquiry, and Collaboration: Video Games as Constructivist Learning Environments [Concurrent] (13997210)
• Scheduled: Friday, 7/7/2006  10:00am– 11:00am
• Participation Agreement Form has been confirmed.

With my exposure to event planning at the OCDE this year, I have a new perspective on this: I am amazed at how organized and streamlined (and ahead of time) their process is!


… and Life: Tonight I am happy to work at the OCDE.

I am sitting at my desk catching up on a very long to do list (including preparing comments from last night’s class for post as a podcast). My good friend Dave Conlay is teaching Excel for Educators in the PC Lab. Robert Craven, a fellow Coordinator of Educational Technology here at the OCDE (and also a good friend) is teaching Podcasting in the Mac Lab. And as our teammate Stacy Deeble-Reynolds (again, a good friend) headed out with her carpool, she pointed out this sunset. I often complain about how boring the weather is in Orange County, but occassionally this is nice. :)

Now, I am off to do some holiday shopping for the office. We have a “silly slipper” exchange tomorrow afternoon.


Educators Play Food Force!

After an hour of theory, including the work of Prensky, Gee, Aldrich, and others, teachers are finally getting to go hands on with Food Force! They will be asked to reflect on their experience as players, on how well the game reflects the theories we discussed, and on how well the gameplay reflects the content and learning objectives of the game. (I know Clark Aldrich suggested I not have them critique the game, since they are not in the position of developing games, but this should make for interesting discussion.. and should aid them in critically assessing the educational value of a game.)

I hope to record and post some of their reflections this evening, too.

… and Life: San Francisco

For the second morning in a row, I am enjoying free Wi-Fi in the Starbucks at the corner of Bush and Grant (just outside Chinatown) in San Francisco. I’m not paying for the t-mobile hotspot because there’s a kimpton network in a nearby hotel that requires only agreement to their terms of service to get online. I like that approach. (It’s kind of fun to feel like Dave Winer as I write this.)

As I catch up on my feeds (and a little bit of work) over coffee… I really appreciate the luxury to do so… I live such a life of privaledge that for $1.40 I can sit here in the warm starbucks enjoying coffee, a sense of contributing to the world as I work, and free access to nearly the sum of all human knowledge at my fingertips… while meanwhile the corner outside in the cold has never been without a beggar and a cardboard sign. I can’t help but noting, by the way, that today’s relatively young Gulf War ’91 verteran in his fatigues is getting far more attention and donations than yesterdays bearded old man on his knees with his cup outstretched as if in prayer. May programs like the $100 laptop, and the efforts of educational technologists everywhere, allow more of the world’s students to live with access to what I’m appreciating. Is that just a culturally centric thing to wish for?

These are today’s “and Life” thoughts. Now it’s time to go join my brother for a hike.

I should mention, too, though, that I have finished Democracy and Education and should finish Experience and Education on this weekend’s trip, so there are more Dewey and educational technology posts ahead.


Fwd: NECC Proposal Status Notification

It only now occured to me that I can forward interesting email, or excerpts from messages, to this blog. I thought I might start with this… Good news! I’ll be speaking at NECC in San Diego this July.

Begin forwarded message:

The NECC 2006 Program Committee has completed its review of this year’s proposal submissions, and we are pleased to announce that you have been accepted to present at NECC. Please find the status of your submission(s) below:

Context, Inquiry, and Collaboration: Video Games as Constructivist Learning Environments (Concurrent)