Week 1- Responses to Intro/Ch.1 of Education 2.0 by Leonard Waks

While there is no requirement that we need to keep a blog for this course, I have gotten used to doing so in order to keep a record of my own learning.  Consequently, entries here may be sporadic.

The first week’s discussion prompt

“What do you think Dr. Waks’s purposes and intentions are in his book, Education 2.0? Are you sympathetic to those purposes? Do you have any skepticism about his approach or where you think he’ll be going in the book? Are you excited to read this book? Why or why not?”

To begin, the full title of this text is very alluring: Education 2.0: The Learningweb Revolution

Education 2.0 book cover.
Source: Amazon.com

and the Transformation of the School.  Even the graphic on the cover draws one in in unexpected ways.  Featuring a flat screen computer monitor with a mortar board perched on a top corner with a digital wire frame model of a hand extending from it.  At a quick glance it’s easy to interpret that model hand as grasping a human hand and drawing it in towards the monitor/the digital world.  But in fact, it’s extending a diploma, which even in its outward motion, still simultaneously draws one into the digital realm of the monitor as the method of attaining the credential.  It’s quite a subtle, yet powerful visual representation of the title, and likely the themes contained therein.


As someone who has “a thing” for theory in so far as it has practical applications, the fact that the very first person Dr. Waks acknowledges is John Dewey (along with several other philosophers and theoreticians) is a good sign in my book.  I learn best by starting with a global view and then scoping down to see how the big picture applies to the real world.  To start with these big picture thinkers is encouraging.  That said, it could also signal that the text will be mostly theory with little suggested action.   Looking at the table of contents, only the last chapter, “What Needs to Be Done?”, contains a verb in the chapter title.  This gives me some pause given the book title includes the word “transformation”.  So, I will predict that it is the readers who will have to do the lion’s share of developing the actions needed to bring about the changes implied or suggested in the text.  I find it interesting too that I’m reading the acknowledgements of a text with a Web 2.0 eye — as a kind of descriptive narrative of the author’s collaborative network.  Connected learning and the 4 C’s in analog form.


Insofar as Waks lays out his proposition “that the Internet and its new social tools have much to contribute to such new social models of learn and living,” I am sympathetic.  He rightly and succinctly sums up the extent to which schools have ineffectively employed computers for education and only as add-ons for furthering the industrial model of schooling.  Already by the bottom of page xi I’m considering all the ways I’ve been complicit while believing I was doing something cutting edge (at least as far as my technology use when I was teaching — which last was in 2006).

As a coach and consultant, however, I’ve been using Web 2.0 technologies for professional learning much more.  But after three classes in the LTE program I realize that even that work has not pushed the envelope sufficiently.  I’m finding a high degree of relevance when Waks writes,  “Researchers will conduct assessment studies pitting high-tech and no-tech instructional methods against one another in a horserace — with inconclusive results.  These responses inevitably miss what is most important about the new technologies — that they are already [emphasis added] facets of new ways of life with their own distinctive processes and ends” (p. xii).

One of the challenges I regularly face as a coach and consultant is getting both administrators and teachers to actually integrate ICT methods into their priorities and practices.  For the more resistant, they live in that “horserace”.  The difference is that to them the results are conclusive and no-tech or low-tech wins the race.  For many of the teachers I work with they either have no interest in digital learning or they believe they don’t have the time to become expert enough in it in order to teach with it.  Yet the refrain I keep singing is that the technology is already here and impacting all our lives.  Not just the lives of teens.  So why are we not using it to teach students who are completely connected the other 16 hours a day they are not in school?  Why are we not teaching them how to be responsible, thoughtful, creative users of that technology as well?  Consequently, I felt validated reading the above passage and am quite sympathetic to Waks’s message and mission.

Chapter One: Young People
Book cover for danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked youth
Source: Yale University Press

My “leisure” reading this summer was dominated by danah boyd‘s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens.  So I found chapter one, “Young People”, to be quite resonant.

“[T]eens are true adults whose development is artificially inhibited by constraining institutions, especially schools.  Freed from these constraints, teens are highly capable — in some ways more so than adults” (p. 6).  As a high school teacher who has taught mainly 9th graders throughout my career, I’m always amazed at exactly what teenagers can do when we adults set up just enough of a scaffold and then get the hell out of their way and watch.  I’m never completely prepared for their boundless creativity, flashes of profound insight and wisdom, and righteous yearning for justice.  With 5 decades+ on this earth, I know what horrors humans are capable of.  Yet I still shake my head in disbelief when I see or hear something terrible a person or group of people have done.  I’ve wondered if that is because I’ve never quite grown out of my own teen mindsets.  I wonder if that’s why I believe “teens are awesome, because (some of us at least) still have little bits of innocence from our childhood combined with maturity as we turn into adults” (p. 6).

Finally, Waks articulates something that I have long believed and could not fully formulate, which is Rawls’s “Aristotelian principle”.  It hurts my soul as a human being and makes me scream “Malpractice!” as an educator when I walk into a classroom and see students copying information from a textbook into a packet; then to see the teacher walk the room at the end of the period checking for completion of said packet and calling it learning.  This is so far below what humans need to thrive because “other things equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity” (p. 9).

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

With all of these experiences in my own practices, I am quite sympathetic to Waks’s intention and purposes.  From my learnings so far in the LTE program, I absolutely believe in his purposes, his mission.  I believe getting educators to incorporate the technologies that are relevant to the lives and experiences of 21st century children is a key to rejuvenating student interest and excitement about learning.  And it would certainly seem as if this is Waks’s project. If pushed to articulate where I’m skeptical, I would say it’s around the combination of what may be a significant amount of theory, combined with his stating that this is not about “fixing, reforming, or improving today’s schools, but at laying out a new blueprint for an educational transformation — a shift to a new paradigm for new kinds of educational organizations.”  I’m not skeptical about the need for such work.  I’m skeptical because it seems to call for a razing of very old, entrenched institutions and very deep-seated societal beliefs about those institutions.  And while I may be someone who can get on board with blowing it all up and starting from scratch, societies do not respond quickly to the kinds of paradigm shifts Waks is calling for.  What I sense from Dr. Waks so far — and I share — is a sense of  urgency to bring about this paradigm shift.  What I fear is that it might take generations to happen to the extent we need it to.  That said, I think it is no accident that chapter one as a whole is about young people (not “children”, by the way).  As such, it implicitly makes young people the foundation, the center, the reasons for the next 14 chapters to follow.  That not only excites me.  It makes me hopeful that if society can see and believe that this project is about young people and their future, as well as our collective future, then we might be able to make this paradigm shift sooner rather than later.

Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.

Dr. Leonard Waks talks about MOOCs


Link to Framing Questions

Week 7-Gamification

When it comes to game theory, I have had only a passing, skeptical interested.  But my recent studies have started me thinking about gamification from a different perspective.  So that is my selected adventure this week.

The quick Answer to One Framing Question

The week’s framing questions for the topic were provocative.  Do I think we need to gamify our classrooms to engage students?  This one I can answer quickly.  No.  There are many ways for creative teachers to draw students into learning without having to sexy it up with a video game interface.   That “no” is even firmer if it means that gaming is the only way we conduct instruction since no teacher can be successful with only one method or strategy in their toolbox.

Do I think gamificaion is bribery and the way students learn in the 21st century?  As a result of my course work last term and my readings and explorations this week, those answers are now more complex.  As I said, the idea of gamification has been, at best, at the edges of my professional interests.  When thinking about my own gaming experiences my gut tells me there is something there that I “get” as it applies to learning and I have trusted that academics have teased out all the theory for those teachers who want to traverse that route in their classrooms.   But this grown up, serious teacher never pursued deep research into game theory because I was fine with my practice as it was, thank you very much!  But last term was a watershed for me when it comes to thinking about the conditions that provide powerful learning experiences.  The course of study Dr. Angela Elkordy put together for Intro to the Learning Sciences required us to think deeply about our own learning in every conceivable context (documentation of which is posted on this blog under the NLU Class Journal Entries tab above).  Examining my own informal, collaborative, digital, self-directed, just-in-time, playful learning experiences caused me to realize the potency of learning in these other-than-formal contexts.  Those reflections have led me to re-evaluate some core beliefs about teaching and learning — for both students in the classroom and teachers in professional learning.  That re-evaluation has ramifications for my thinking about game theory.

Constructivism and Game Theory
My niece learning to code on her mom’s phone by playing Lightbot (and then teaching me!) Source: D. van Dyke

I’ve always believed that teachers needed to be more facilitators of exploration than dispensers of information.  I am a constructivist.  So my instruction — be it with children or adults — is designed accordingly.  My lessons are always written for the specific learning needs of the students in front of me.  Pacing is a dance with students’ zones of proximal development.  Formative assessment is central for two-way feedback, metacognition, and reflection for both students and myself that then determine my next planning steps.  With the growth of digital technology and mobile tech particularly, it makes sense to leverage these to push the boundaries of constructivism even farther.  Additionally, I see clear connections now between constructivist methods and the way games work for those who play them.

Any-time, just-in-time, exploratory learning all cement learning in long-term memory.   As a result of Dr. Elkordy’s strategies with us, I experienced first hand how learning new content through learning a new app permanently inks that neural tattoo on the brain.  Almost weekly I learned a new app of my choosing by exploring it, playing in it, and not from a formal training course or a user’s manual.  Then I applied my understanding of the app to demonstrate my understanding of the course content.  All of this was done informally, in my time, with just enough difficulty to challenge me.   Except now I don’t only understand the content.  By learning content through the use of a digital tool, I now understand so much more than just the content itself.  Not the least of which is that the learning I structure myself is highly enjoyable and more often than not elicits flow and the consolidation of understanding in long-term memory.  These are the learning conditions I want to create for my students and teachers.

A More Complicated Answer to the Other Framing Questions

As to the questions of gamifying education as bribery and being particularly suited to 21st century learners, I believe it is neither.  The way humans learn best is the way humans learn best whether they are of the 11th century or 21st century.  What is different about the 21st century is our knowledge of how the brain functions; the advent of technologies that allow us to align our pedagogy to our neurology, psychology, sociology; and the economic imperative that we change the way we do school.  In as much as game theory and educational psychology share underlying elements, I can accept gamification as a methodology.  Though does it always need to be so literal as turning the learning process into an actual game?  Especially since doing so requires an incredible investment of time and effort to convert a unit of study into a game that will create the conditions necessary for deep understanding to occur.  So I have generated a few key questions that could help guide decision-making when thoughts turn to gamification:

  • What are the concepts from game theory that are applicable to a given unit of instruction?  A given set of students?  Under what circumstances might it be useful to apply those concepts to improve teaching and learning?
  • When teachers decide to convert a unit into an actual game, what online platforms are available to facilitate the implementation and that can quickly and easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
  • When teachers want or have to make the game themselves, how can they create elegant games that don’t require disproportionate amounts of time to construct and relatively easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
How can we make certain gamifying efforts result in students learning the intended content and not just playing the game?
Video: Heck Awesome blog, Carrie Baughcum

Still, informal learning, unstructured learning, choice, and play are powerful contexts in which deep understanding can occur.  These modes are, as Willis calls them, “neuro-logical”.  It makes sense to create them when possible since they activate optimal learning pathways in the brain and foster new, strong synaptic connections.  Well-designed games create these conditions and leverage the same brain processes for learning.  Thus, including high-quality game-based instruction could be a powerful method for teaching and learning.

Gamifying Professional Learning

What was already a paucity of professional learning time in CPS has been completely eliminated this year as a partial “solution” to the budget travesty being visited upon CPS teachers and students.  As a result, I have started leveraging ICT options that are included with GAFE to continue our professional learning despite losing our PD calendar.  Via Groups and Sites, we continue the work asynchronously by holding discussions of professional readings, presenting aggregated learning walk evidence and sharing thoughts and insights about them.  We have already moved quite a bit of planning to remote, synchronous spacetime via Hangouts and Drive.  So the idea of gamifying professional learning is just an extension of this.  Taking PD into the realm of gaming would have the combined benefits of making PD more relevant by providing teachers with differentiation, choice, and timing.  I have also started researching adding digital badges to the work which I find terribly exciting!  On my goal list for next year:  implementing a badged, gamified professional learning series for the schools with which I work.

Digital badges for both student and teachers.  Video: HASTAC

Below are three game-based PD ideas I’m totally stealing from our readings this week:

Fired Up For February — Gamifying professional learning; Source: Unified School District of De Pere, WI


A Language Geek’s Rhetorical Finish

Even as I find myself being convinced of the benefits of game theory as instructional practice, there is still something that doesn’t sitting well when I hear phrases like “gamifying the classroom”.  If you’ll indulge the English teacher unpacking language here.  A game is a diversion or something trivial.  Something that can be taken less seriously.  Even in the multi-billion dollar world of professional sports, the expression, “It’s only a game.” is used to readjust perspectives when emotions are high.  Yet the very project at hand for education is de-trivializing digital instruction among reluctant educators.  So while I can see the underlying value and power of this way of “doing” teaching and learning, I wonder if framing it as “gamification” works against us.  I don’t have an answer as yet for what to call such a complex process.  Maybe a few rounds of Words With Friends will do the trick!

Entry #1: Thinking on Hoadley & Salmon & Kelly Ch. 1.

January 13, 2017

The inaugural entry!

And since it is the inaugural entry, I thought I’d play around with Padlet as an adjunct space for additional metacognitive nuggets.  Check it out for a “context” video as well as a quick visual on how different the technology — and thus, no doubt, the thinking —  of grad school is since last I was here.  I’m not sure if these items exactly count as metacognition.  But they’re at least a little fun to ponder!

Through both readings I found my thinking and learning being stimulated and reinforced by emotional responses, contextual relationships, and connections to previous experiences.  

I became a bit nostalgic reading again about Vygotsky & Dewey & Thorndike.  I was a bit of a geek when it came to the philosophy of education in my very first undergrad ed course.  It’s been so long since I’ve read them and yet they still hold up.  While I can very easily dive into details when the time calls for it, global thinking is my default mode.  I can see the big picture and then zoom into the details when the time comes.  Knowing this, I ought to remember to hold these scholars much closer than I usually do when I get bogged down in the weeds of daily practice.  Their thinking fascinates and humbles me.  So brilliant.  Their big ideas and big picture perspectives provide me useful paths through those weeds.

From this higher perspective, I saw pretty quickly what I believe are a few connections this course will make.  An attempt at a quick summary:

As Hoadley summarized Vygotsky, et al., technology is an artifact of culture.  We live at a time that is defined by the development and ubiquity of computer technology.  Computers, mobile, social media are having a huge impact on our culture.  As such, these tools of the culture are changing the way we think, learn and interact.

The concept of the adaptive expert, on the other hand, is a useful one on the road towards making a shift in how we teach using these technologies, especially contrasted with that of the relative expert.  I see so many teachers and administrators either actively resist or benignly — if it is possible any more to describe it as such — neglect the incorporation of digital and mobile technologies.  I have seen students penalized for merely possessing a cell phone.  So in order to engage students who, outside of school, are so immersed in these technologies of (their) digital culture, schools need to develop more adaptive thinking in their teachers for its use.  Educators need to break out of the mere efficiencies of routine expertise in order to create learning spaces that allow 21st century students to think, process information, and interact with others in the ways the technology with which they have grown up have influenced their thinking.  I believe that shift is the one to spark curiosity and a joy in learning again that is lacking in so many of our students.

Concept mapping, then, is a tool to push teachers into a more adaptive stance.  When in the hands of reflective teachers and strong coaches, they can reveal levels of understanding, confusion, misunderstanding, evolving thinking.  In as much as they map how teachers are thinking about a concept, they are also instruments for metacognition.  I am most intrigued by the notion of  using concept maps as a way of engaging in unit/lesson planning.  Finally, all these characteristics make concept maps useful formative assessments. Mapping allows teachers to probe and explore their thinking, wrestle with their anxieties on the path to the adaptive expertise they need to incorporate digital technologies as the now necessary tools of teaching and learning.

Considering the contexts in which I work and my examination of the course materials so far, these are a few of the more global connections I am making through these first readings.  I think I’ll hold of of analysis and assessment for another entry.