Archive for September, 2009

Gaming, Social Learning & Authenticity

September 29th, 2009 jonmott Comments

James Paul Gee argues that gaming, particularly role-playing gaming, is providing young people with precisely the skills they need to be effective and productive in our new mediated culture and highly networked workplaces.

Gee’s positive view on the impact of gaming confirms what I’ve concluded about the video game “races” my son occasionally organizes in our basement. Gaming has the potential to bring people together in new, different, and socially healthy ways. My son’s game races consist of assembling a group of four or five friends, each with his own game console, copy of a game, and television. With all of them in the same room, they say “Go!” and race through the entire game together. As they race, they talk, compare game strategies, tell jokes, and snack (a lot).

Game Racing

Game Racing

Notwithstanding the warnings of critics, gaming is not (or at least doesn’t have to be) a socially isolating activity. On the contrary, Gee contends that game players overwhelmingly want to join, participate, teach, mentor, lead, and build their gaming communities.

Among other things, Gee argues that game playing enhances the ability to be in communities and collaborate, to be smarter in the community than they are individually. Unfortunately, we’re not adequately leveraging games and gaming principles in our classrooms. Gee argues that we essentially have two educational systems–one that is dynamic, collaborative, and community based and another that is narrowly focused on what an individual can do, without assistance or help from others, in a very narrow domain. In fact, when kids attempt to collaborate in individually focused learning and assessment contexts, the traditional educational environment perceives such behavior as cheating, even when it is merely mimicking what happens in non-technology mediated contexts.

Part of being on a team is being an expert and knowing what everyone else does and how your expertise works together with everyone else’s expertise. We are unlikely to see significant, transformational changes in student learning and performance until we change both the way we teach and assess students. We need to shift our focus from testing how “knowledgeable” our students are to how “knowledge-able” they are. Can they adeptly use a variety of tools to find information, connect and collaborate with others, and solve problems? These are the skills they’ll need in real life. To prepare them for the challenges they’ll soon face, we need to leverage the new affordances of new technologies to replicate these kinds of authentic activities (which can in turn be authentically assessed) in our schools and classrooms.

WordPress iPhone App

September 27th, 2009 jonmott Comments

Just discovered the free WordPress iPhone app. Great way to write short posts on the go. This post is mostly to see how it works … and to note that technology never ceases to amaze me.

Why is it that with such amazing technological affordances available to us we haven’t significantly and demonstably improved learning???

Assessment as a Social Activity

September 17th, 2009 jonmott Comments

I’ve been following the Washington State Harvesting Gradebook project for sometime and have been impressed with the intellectual rigor behind the project. That is clearly evidenced in this video overview of the project:

The comments at the end of the video are particularly significant. The narrator concludes:

At bottom, our research findings challenge many traditional assumptions. We are all understanding now that more than ever learning and assessment is or should be social. It benefits from the insight and diversity of broader engaged community. Expertise is distributed. It is not monolithic.

Assessment and assessment criteria, as Wiggins has long argued, should not be a secret. Students’ energy and creativity in their learning should not be held hostage by a classroom or coddled with promises of, “Someday in the real world …”

Intellectual capital is mistakenly recognized as a noun. Intellectual capital is a gerund. It is learning. And it is most valuable when it’s plural: “We learn.”

This emphasis on community and social connections in the learning process (which encompasses assessment) is reminiscent of Brown & Adler’s assertion that it is time for us move beyond the Cartesian premise of “I think, therefore I am” and embrace the more realistic and rich notion of “we participate, therefore we are.” As we make learning and learning assessment more social, public, and transparent, learners will be naturally more invested and engaged in the learning process because they become co-creators and co-custodians of the experience. The WSU model of social assessment that incorporates external assessment of student work extends this openness into the broader community in which our students will work and continue to learn after graduation.

As we move forward with the development of the BYU gradebook, we will incorporate these elements of social assessment, facilitating self-assessment, peer assessment, instructor assessment, and external (third-party) assessment. The resulting treasure trove of authentic assessment data will more than meet our accreditation needs (so long as our program outcomes, learning activities and assessments are aligned!). But far more importantly, this rich, community-centric assessment approach will deepen and enrich the student learning experience.

To Act or To Be Acted Upon

September 16th, 2009 jonmott Comments

One of my favorite scriptural passages reminds us that we all have a fundamental choice to make in life–to act or to be acted upon. Certainly there are many things in life that are beyond our control. But we have the choice–every day, every hour, every moment. We can choose to let external forces push us forward to a destination not of our choosing or, instead, to take what comes and continue to chart our own course, pursuing goals we define, completing projects we choose to complete, notwithstanding our external environment.

Sailors call this “tacking into the wind.” A headwind might seem an insurmountable force working against the forward progress of a sailboat. But experienced sailors now how to set the sails to harness the power of the headwind and propel the vessel forward.

Today, we and our students face shifting technology winds. In our learning spaces we are beset with numerous challenges that can sometimes feel like strong headwinds–technology compatibility, reliability, security, plagiarism, copyright issues, hacking, bullying, pornography, privacy, and even addiction. So, do we act in the face of such challenges and act, or do we passively allow ourselves to be acted upon? A recent study conducted by researchers from the Cranfield School of Management and AJM Associates suggests that adolescent and teen “addiction” to technology is causing poor academic performance. Since the full 25-page report is only accessible for a $25 fee, I haven’t read the entire piece (I need to eat lunch this week). Accordingly, I cannot judge what the authors suggest we do about the “techno addiction.” But the comments in the official press release suggest that technology is acting upon us and our students.

Andrew Kakabadse, one of the study’s authors proclaims:

“Our research shows that technology obsession hinders spelling skills, implicitly encourages plagiarism, and disrupts classroom learning.  Despite school policies restricting mobile phone usage, students use the phone frequently, with the majority making calls from the toilets. The mobile phone continues to be a prime channel of social communication during the school day.”

He further observes:

“Shockingly, a high proportion of teenagers (59.2%) admitted to inserting information straight from the internet into schoolwork, without actually reading or changing it.  Almost a third (28.5%) deemed this as acceptable practice despite recognising that such behaviour is considered plagiarism.”

While we should certainly be concerned about plagiarism and other potentially negative implications of technology use, suggesting the technology is the culprit and that we should somehow try to control it is like a sailor attempting to control the wind. As individual teachers and learning technologists, we have little if any control of the technology landscape in which we and our students interact. We and our students have mobile phones, iPods, and ubiquitous access to the Internet. If we are worried about inappropriate use of these technologies, disconnecting and powering down are not the answers. As Kakabadse himself notes, students are bringing their technology to school “despite school policies restricting” them from doing so. Rules, restrictions, and technical barriers are not going to keep technology out of the classroom, let alone prevent inappropriate usage of technology.

Low-Tech Texting

Low-Tech Texting

Our job as teachers and as mentors is to harness technology for our own purposes, to use it to accomplish our goals, and to help our students to do the same. Instead of futilely trying to control the wind or wish it away, let’s tack into it. Let’s be creative and find new ways to leverage the technologies we all have at our fingertips and in our pockets. (For example, instead of banning cell phones from the classroom, how about using them creatively to foster student engagement?)

Technology is not the bogeyman. Low levels of student engagement in the classroom is not a new problem. Remember low-tech texting?

Technology can be used for good or for ill.

Given the choice, I opt to act and not to be acted upon. I choose to proactively use technology for purposes of my choosing, to accomplish my goals.

And I opt to teach my students to do the same.

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