Week 11-Teaching 21st Century Students

One of the key safety instructions we all hear every time we board an airplane is that in the event of cabin depressurization we must put our own oxygen mask on first before helping others.  This is vital since not matter how much we care about the family or friends sitting with us, we cannot help them if we ourselves are unconscious due to asphyxia.  When it comes to our societal need to transform our schools, we are very much in a similar situation as a depressurizing airplane.  As much as we say we want to focus on the needs of students, we will not see the transformations they need in our education system until teachers and administrators are moved to understand the need for change and prioritize the professional learning necessary to get us there.  So this week I focused on the ISTE Standards for Teachers 15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher, and The 21st Century Workplace which provide clear targets for teachers to consider when teaching the habits of mind, cognitive skills and collaborative abilities students will need in the world we’re preparing them to enter.

Verbs Are Calling For Transformation

Image source: ISTE Standards for Teachers

Consider the verbs of the 5 top level ISTE Standards for Teachers: facilitate, inspire, design, develop, model, promote, engage.  In addition to these top level verbs, it is striking that “model” appears nine times across all 5 standards and 20 sub-clusters.  When considered in combination with the other verbs inspire and facilitate, I’m struck by the heavy lift the ISTE standards are pointing towards.  They suggest that what we need is nothing short of a sea change in school cultures with regard to 21C technology and methodologies.  When so many schools outright ban cell phones and so many teachers don’t incorporate technology in meaningful ways, how are they to facilitate, model and inspire?

It’s All About Culture and Professional Learning

In research for a previous literature review I found that a critical component for implementing the necessary change ISTE calls for comes only with consistent, focused professional learning for teachers.  Not only that, but school culture also has a significant impact on the success or failure of information and communication technology (ICT) implementation, much of which is determined by the level of support projected by the principal.

School culture can positively impact ICT practices.  Positive peer pressure can motivate reluctant teachers to try new approaches with technology.  Studies have also found that teachers who see positive student outcomes as a direct result of ICT practices are more likely to continue and expand their ICT toolkit.

In a study of three schools where teachers adapted ICT in meaningful ways, all three schools had six characteristics in common:  1) They were well equipped for ICT.  2) Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT.  3) Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully.  4) The school provided support.  5) Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and  troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time.  6) The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets  (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).

Therefore, the school community must recognize that the most effective professional development is that which facilitates teachers understanding about how specific instructional practices themselves support student learning of particular content.  That is, schools must allow teachers to see that technology-supported, student-centered practices impact student acquisition of knowledge  (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).

Finally, even when teachers are willing to wrestle with their beliefs, identify what they truly value, use these realizations to motivate changes to their practice via meaningful PD, the role of the principal administrator cannot be underestimated…. The principal plays an outsized role in creating and maintaining at least four of Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich’s six conditions and is generally responsible for shepherding the wider culture of the school community.  Determining what professional learning is necessary among which teachers; establishing the systems for implementing the professional learning plan; creating calendars for structured and unstructured learning; countering programmed time with protected, unprogrammed time for reflection and metacognition about instruction – all these necessities flow from the principal’s office.  When the principal does these things in a way that sets high expectations and supports for ICT instruction, shifts can be made more readily if still not easily.  However, when the principal’s own beliefs, values, and motivations do not prioritize ICT methods, digitally infused learning environments are far less likely to take hold, even with willing and capable teachers.

Douglas van Dyke, “Transitions to Digitally Mediated Classrooms”

 

The Educator’s Need to Feel Expert

This dovetails with the what I’ve written about in previous blog posts about the anxiety teachers feel when they are thrust into areas where they do not feel expert.  Given the significant shift and stretch for which the ISTE standards are calling, we don’t seem likely to meet them without acknowledging both the fundamental changes in school culture that are necessary as well as high quality and consistent PD for teachers.  Additionally, educators must reconcile their reluctance to implement ICT methods in school with their own ICT use in the various aspects of their lives outside of school.

Blow This Stuff UP!

When we consider the 21st century world — that is the one we are living in today — and the workplace students will enter, especially as described by Daniel Pink, the need for a cultural and instructional transformation of our schools could not be more apparent.  The leap from an “Information Age” to a “Conceptual Age” cannot happen without students learning through active learning and metacognitive methods.   ICT and the 4C’s are uniquely suited for the attainment of the skills categories that will be most valued as described by Levy and Murnane: “expert thinking — solving new problems for which there are no routine answers” and “complex communication — persuading, explaining, and in other ways conveying a particular interpretation of information”.  To make such shifts, however, educators must blow up the linearity of the industrial model that defines our school structures and curriculum and the information model on which accountability is based in favor of more distributed, differentiated, student-centric proficiency-based approaches that digital and mobile technologies can now facilitate.

Concluding This Post & TIE 524

What ISTE is essentially calling for is SAMRizing and TPACKing our entire education system.  We must prioritize changes in school culture through consistent professional learning for teachers around ICT methodologies.  Administrators must lead the way, advocating and requiring ICT methods and solidifying the cultural shifts that come as a result.

Over the last eleven weeks, this course has provided a remarkable set of resources for incorporating ICT strategies for both  classroom instruction and professional learning.  In doing so it has facilitated multiple opportunities for reflection about my own practice, where we are as a profession, and how far we all have to go.  It has been an excellent next step on this master’s journey!

Week 10-Frameworks for Evaluating Technology

When SAMR first crossed my path last term, it seemed an elegant way to evaluate the role of a particular technology for whether it was innovating the learning process or just being sexy.  Among many of the teachers I encounter, technology is, as Liz Kolb noted, a gimmick.  Students with iPads are being tricked into thinking they are learning while the teachers who deploy them feel cutting edge.  (Though, the kids are not being tricked.  If I had a dollar for every time I asked a student about what they were doing with a device and was met with a lethargic explanation through a smirk and some eye rolling.  Yeah, they know!)

My SAMR Experiences

SAMR has been useful in my coaching in two ways.  I look for opportunities to stretch my coachees into at least augmentation or modification.  For instance, I recently set up a discussion board in Google Groups for an ILT I work with to extend faculty conversations around learning walks beyond teachers’ physical time together.  Granted, it’s not a lot compared to what we’ve been using in our NLU course work.  But even for my teachers who want to embrace technology, it’s an ah-ha since they don’t venture too far down the GAFE paths they have available to them.  They are easily overwhelmed and quickly become anxious when asked to use features outside their workflow in programs they use everyday.  In general, they struggle with their own ability to transfer skills from a known program to a new one.

In another school I’m helping the faculty map their curriculum using Google Docs to collaboratively write their maps, collect resources, and view each other’s maps.  This is the first that they have effectively been able to visualize the curriculum as a whole.  However, teachers have struggled to find enough time to meet to work collaboratively on course team maps.  CPS’s turning PD days into furlough days has only exacerbated the issue.  While many see the value of the project, they are tired of fighting to carve out tiny parcels of time to meet and do the work.  So just last week I proposed they stop trying to meet face-to-face as it was less necessary than they thought given the powerful collaboration tools that already exist in Google Docs if only they would use them.

Part of a concept map to show teachers how to use Google Docs more remotely and collaboratively; Image Source: D. van Dyke
An enthusiastic teacher’s Google Groups discussion thread; Image source: D. van Dyke

 

In my instructional work I’ve brought SAMR to planning meetings and coached teachers through using the framework to analyze and evaluate their current technology.  Many are surprised to see that they’re operating mostly at the substitution level with occasional dips into augmentation.   We all get excited when the conversation then turns creative and the teacher starts visualizing ways to redesign a lesson such that those iPads or Chromebooks are being used for modification or redefinition.

Frameworks From Heaven

SAMR was an epiphany when I first encountered it.  But having these other analytical and evaluative tools for ICT integration feels like revelation.

TPACK, 3E, TIM are all new to me and I can see each having its place.  3E and SAMR seem more entry-level frameworks for teachers just starting to wrestle with ICT integration.  They are relatively simple and straightforward.  Given their complexity, however, TPACK and TIM seem to be for more sophisticated evaluation of technology deployment.  The pedagogue in me appreciates how TPACK operates from the interplay among multiple domains and context.  TPACK acknowledges the complexity and locality of teaching and learning and demands that the teacher does as well.

Different visualizations of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition

TIM reminded me less of a rubric than of a continuum of skill development like something along the lines of a practitioner model of professional growth such as the Dreyfus model.  Such models allow practitioners to position themselves on the continuum with the skill sets they currently possess.  This creates an evaluative environment, but with less judgment and critique since the model honors practitioners at their current level of experience.  It also suggests that their place in the model is dynamic.  The longer they practice the more skills or “tools” they acquire.   As they grow in experience they travel along the continuum.  Such implicit messaging can be powerful for teachers working to improve their practice.  There is an implied level of safety which is an important motivator for growth.

Kids are savvy enough to know when an iPad or laptop activity is engaging them cognitively or when it is just a glorified textbook.  We’re not pulling anything over on them by simply putting a device in their hands.  These frameworks are great tools to level up our “teaching with tech” game.  They not only foster teacher reflection about how effectively they teach with technology, but having multiple frameworks allows us to differentiate for the sophistication of the teacher using them.

For Further Reading
The Five-Stage Model of Adult Skill Acquisition - Stuart Dreyfus

 

Week 9-Digital Citizenship

When is it better not to know something?  What does it say about you when you truly believe ignorance really is bliss?  How instructive is it to know the extent of your digital tattoo?

Spinning Beach ball

This week’s assignment caused me more anxiety than any other moment in this master’s journey to date.  I did not want to know with certainty what information about me was publicly available for the clicking.  That’s because I understand the economic model that underpins the internet. Increasingly, it is becoming less about the free, democratic flow of information and more about the delivery of consumers to retailers via advertising.  And the algorithm and cookie technologies web sites use to collect my information is, for all intents and purposes, out of my control.  So I hold my nose and, like most everyone else, tick the “I accept the Terms of Use” check box then click OK.  I know I am giving my information away — with every Google search, with every opening of a map app, with every purchase I make online.  It’s frustrating because if we want to use the internet with any kind of reasonable ease, we are faced with these choiceless choices.  So in the face of such choicelessness, I didn’t want to know the precise details of what information is out there about me.

Yes, ok, if someone really wants to find me they can find me in that some of the information is public record (or I myself have volunteered).  However, it’s the ease with which the information can be found these days.  It is so much easier and potentially more likely that we will experience the social hacking of our lives by triangulating public information in order to gain access to more sensitive parts of our lives.  (This is one of the hardest identity theft concepts I keep trying to impress on my septuagenarian parents and in-laws!)  Having to live in a constant state of vigilance about such things as we now do is the digital version of low-level PTSD.

In this TED Talk, Juan Enriquez leads with physical tattoos, which made me realize one significant difference between them and the digital variety: Whether good or bad decisions, a body tattoo is a choice we make.  However, many of our digital tattoos are choices made by others that we must live with.

Nevertheless, I thought a bit about Nicole’s admonition that in an online, networked age, we need to have some searchable presence.  It offered a palliative — or at lease a beneficial trade-off.  Accepting that some of our credibility is tied not just to the nature of our digital tattoo, but to its very existence, deepens my roots as a digital resident.  I, too, am not hiding anything.  I took to heart advice I heard way back in the ’90’s:  “If you’d be embarrassed to have your grandmother read it, see it, or hear it, don’t post it.”  So, I was not worried about finding anything unseemly or compromising.  (Color me boring.  Or old.)   If someone wants to use their time rummaging through all my personal information, and spend about $30 to access all of it, have at it.  There’s nothing prurient to see if prurience is what they’re looking for.  And that feels good to know.

Easter Eggs

Still, how accurate it all was was unnerving!  Every town I’ve lived in, names of my family members, universities I’ve attended, our home purchase price and tax info, my social media profiles, all there. I found tweets of mine embedded in the blogs of complete strangers — one from the Cubs’ victory and another on the SCOTUS marriage equality decision.  I even found my Twitter and Instagram accounts listed among the “most active” on a blog tracking the MLB playoffs.  Who knew??  But the discovery traveling the farthest from out of nowhere was a June 2014 church newsletter.  Apparently, my mother put my name in for the month’s birthday prayers and it got posted on the church web site which no one knew anything about until this week.  Talk about having no way of knowing how and from where your information will show up online!

 

 

Other surprises included differing search results depending on the search engine and browser used.  Finding different results between search engines was less surprising, given differences in algorithms. However, I did not expect the differences between browsers.  I’m curious about why that would be.

Ones & Zeroes

The internet and social media are platforms, facilitators, amplifiers.  Like everything humans create, they are extensions of us — our good, our bad and our in between.  Sadly, many choose to use social media to amplify the basest elements of human nature.  But I believe as Nicole does that “the internet can do amazing things.  It’s not all negative.”  I love the idea that “your online presence gives you a great opportunity to use social media for good.”  As well the idea of using it for creative purposes, making online “interest portfolios” to use as models for professional use and CV’s.  But I’d like to soapbox a minute against the idea of our digital tattoos as “personal brands”.  I have to admit to wanting to scream every time I hear this term or am queried about my own.  “Personal brands” represents the commodification, the marketing of individuals.  This trend may result from a downside of social media, perhaps because they too are blends of written or aural text and visual images — the very elements upon which branding relies.  But companies have brands.  Services have brands.  Products have brands.  Cattle have brands.  Which is fine for huge entities that need to be recognized quickly, compressing concepts and information into a single graphic or seconds on radio or TV.

But I resist what to me comes off as the hipster social media-driven fad and pretentiousness of “personal brands”.  People have reputations, interests, integrity.  And for people, that is what their digital tattoo represents.   Never Seconds and @thebenevolentone3 are not Payne’s and Konner Suave’s brands.  They are extensions of their curiosity, their empathy for and kindness towards others.  Which now, thanks to the astonishing power of social media, nearly every human on the planet can witness.   These digital platforms are perfectly suited to explain, demonstrate, exhibit, connect the incredible complexities that make up us human beings.  And in so doing, make people and society better for it.  So why in the world would we ever settle for reducing people like Martha and Konnor to the something as crass as a brand?  [Climbs down off soapbox.]

Launchpad?

Whether, what, and how this information should be taught to students obviously depends on the age of the students and the complexities and goals of what is being taught.  What if we thought about it like we do sex ed (where schools or parents still teach sex ed!)?  Usually, the basics are taught before puberty.  Then instruction becomes more nuanced as children mature through middle and high school.  When it comes to digital tattoos, parents and computer teachers should both be involved.  However, as much as I believe most of this instruction should be coming from home, at this moment in history, I doubt most parents have the depth of knowledge themselves to do it effectively.

As for when we should start, I would say just prior to the age where their getting their own devices or accounts.  Perhaps elementary teachers start with demonstrating the kinds of information that can be found online through activities with Fakebook & Twister .  Students could examine examples and non-examples from which they discuss possible consequences for each.  Adolescents, though, can conduct  limited searches guided by their teachers.   However, regardless of who teaches about digital tattoos and when, just dis-covering of what information can be found online is not enough.  Parents and teachers both need to press kids to answer, “So what?  Why is this important to know?”  That’s where the understanding and consequences lie.

Shutting Down…

In the end, I’d say it was beneficial to push through the anxiety.  I have a sense of the size and shape of my digital tattoo.  Maybe someday I’ll pay that $30 on Spokeo to unlock my full profile.  In the meantime, it’s good to know that I’ve made wise choices about my own postings.  It feels good to know that in a very limited way I’ve contributed some thoughtful, creative elements to the internet and social media.  And I’ve made good choices when it comes to friends since I didn’t find myself compromised by any of their social media choices either.  Am I as blissful now as I was when I woke up Monday given my loss of ignorance?  Let’s call it a break-even.

 

New Tabs:
"'Right to Be Forgotten' Online Could Spread" (New York Times) - In an effort to counter some of the possible stigma from digital tattoos, the EU defined the "right to be forgotten".

Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives by David Eagleman- A wonderful book that imagines 40 different possibilities for the afterlife through 2-page vignettes. Several are a bit cyberpunkesque.  These two excerpts have haunted me for the exact reasons we're considering this week.

Week 8-Social Media in Education

Since the rubber meets the road with instruction, I continued with a focus on teachers and social media.  A number of the readings were interesting and provocative, such as Vicki Davis’s blog post which concludes with

"If you're going to ignore social media in the classroom, then throw out the ISTE Standards for Students and stop pretending that you're 21st century. Stop pretending that you're helping low-income children overcome the digital divide if you aren't going to teach them how to communicate online.  Social media is here. It's just another resource and doesn't have to be a distraction from learning objectives. Social media is another tool that you can use to make your classroom more engaging, relevant and culturally diverse."

As an educator whose career has been spent exclusively in the service of poor, black and brown, urban youth, the “If you’re going to ignore…then stop pretending…” formulation is quite satisfying and I want to give it a shoutout.  However, the main text for this week I’ll discuss…

 Howard Rheingold’s  “Attention, and Other 21st Century Social Media Literacies”

Rheingold’s thesis is that skills alone are insufficient for successfully navigating social media.  Social media literacy is needed beyond skill knowledge.  He then identifies five interwoven literacies: Attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness & critical consumption.

A SUMMARY OF RHEINGOLD’S SOCIAL MEDIA LITERACIES:
  • Attention is “the fundamental building block for how individuals think…create tools…teach each other how to use them…how groups socialize, and…transform civilization.”  Rheingold then delineates different kinds of attention human beings deploy in particular circumstances and their applicability to digital and social media.
  • Participation online “gives one a different sense of being in the world….[Y]ou become an active citizen rather than simply a passive consumer of what is sold to you…taught to you…what you’re government wants you to believe.”  The powerful devices we all now carry in our pockets give us the ability to affect societal change in easier and faster ways than ever before.
  • Collaboration takes place “[u]sing the technologies and techniques of attention and participation…allow[ing] people to work together collaboratively in ways that were too difficult or expensive to attempt before the advent of social media.”  This is a particularly good articulation of how these literacies comprise an interwoven continuum as opposed to 5 discrete elements.  Rheingold continues, illustrating social media collaboration through various examples of crowdsourcing ranging from searching for missing persons at sea to citizen responses to natural disasters to charity fundraising.
  • Network Awareness is a bit more esoteric.  Noting that the 19th century saw the industrialized society and the 20th century, the information society, Rheingold suggests the 21st century is seeing the rise of the networked society.  “In the past there were physical limitations on which people and how many people we could include in our network…. Now, technological networks…have vastly expanded the number and the variety of people we can contact.”  Here he also suggests that deep network awareness also requires participants to understand how networks can influence “how much freedom, wealth, and participation you will have in the rest of this century”, drawing attention to the current debates on net neutrality.
  • Critical Consumption is, as Rheingold reminds us, what Hemingway called “crap detection”.  In essence, it is now up to the reader to vet whether or not a media source is trustworthy.  As he notes, “[t]he authority of the text that goes back at least a thousand years has been overturned.”  Prior to the digital era we could rely on a whole series of steps and checkpoints traditional publishing provided for fact-checking and accuracy of information.  But now, the democratic nature of digital media means any yahoo with a device can publish.  Thus, all responsible citizens also have to possess the skills of a critic if they wish to be informed.  Critical consumption, then, brings us full circle, back to attention as we need to use our crap detection to determine exactly what is and isn’t worthy of our time, energy, and focus.
Illustration of Reed’s Law;   Source: Michael K. Bergman, AI^3

 

Rheingold slides the following point into critical consumption but is worth highlighting separately.  He notes that social media is a flow, not a queue.  Email is a queue.  With email, messages arrive one at a time into our mailbox in chronological order where we deal with each message in some way — answer, ignore, delete, schedule, file.  Whereas, social media is a constant and overwhelming flow of information that we can never ever entirely apprehend.  Therefore, we have to choose what we will pay attention to, when, and how.  This is a helpful way to conceptualize the cacophony of social media and suggests a way to engage it.  It gives permission to let go of all the messages that get by us no matter how we struggle to keep up.  (For those of us who feel compelled to respond to everything that comes through our feed(s), this is no small reprieve!)  In addition, this distinction between managing items in a queue versus an endless flow of information accentuates the idea that social media participation requires conceptual, literacy-based understanding and not just skill knowledge.

Defining as “Literacy” Raises the Stakes

Shifting the conversation from one of skills acquisition to literacy raises the stakes for educators.  Prior to starting this master’s program,  my thinking about the role of digital media in education could be described as more subconscious, intuitive.  However, in the last 20 weeks, my thoughts have become more clearly conscious.  One articulation of that emergent thinking, as I noted in last week’s post, is that the internet and mobile technology are no longer curiosities or places where we dally in cyberspace.  They are as crucial to our daily functioning as the telephone, radio, television, and the automobile became in the last century.   The digital realm is, arguably, even more profound than those previous technologies in that it constitutes spaces for the conduct of nearly all kinds of human transactions — commercial, professional, artistic, personal — while at the same time breaking the limits of time and space.  Clearly, social media are now extensions of our actual social lives as well.  So in this sense, my thinking has evolved in that I believe parents and schools have a obligation to teach children what constitutes safe and responsible behaviors online just as much as they do what’s appropriate in the “real” world.

Changes in My Thinking

Rheingold’s article has helped crystalize my thinking.  Given the power and place of digital media in our lives, we need to teach their navigation as conceptual literacies and not merely skills.  This makes sense, too, given the vast and ever-changing complexities that make up the digital realm.  People will only be able to navigate as digital residents when they are fluent in the hows and whys of digital world and can transfer skills to new digital contexts as they are likely to emerge.

Further reading:
Washington's new digital citizenship legislation sets nationwide precedent

How Memes Harken Back to Pre-Internet Times -- It's a bit tangential, though it highlights the complexity and literacy required to understand something as "simple" as a meme.
Wrapping Up

In his conclusion, Rheingold notes that social media and their accompanying literacies will “shape the cognitive, social, and cultural environments of the 21st century” just as the printing press, books and their literacies shaped the Enlightenment.  If  this turns out to be the case, and it looks very likely that it will be, then we as educators have responsibilities here.  We can’t bury our heads in the sand ignoring and pretending, as Vicki Davis passionately called out.

We like to say the world is changing.  But more often than not, by the time we make such a statement the world has already changed.  And so it goes with social media.  As a profession, education is behind the curve.  There is quite a bit of catch-up we have to do when it comes to ICT instruction in general and social media in particular.  Rheingold’s formulation of the 5 social media literacies implies the stakes are higher than we thought.  It is incumbent upon us to learn these literacies at least well enough to teach them to our students.  After all, we are the ones charged with projecting them into the future — a future none of us can see — armed with the tools and understandings they (and our democracy) will need to survive through this century.

 

 

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 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!