Archive Page 2

Drinking from the digital ocean


[Photo source]

I’m finding that RSS gives me a chance to have a selective drink from the digital ocean. It does help to have option to have the news I choose delivered at my digital doorstep. However, I do have to discover what I want to be included in that delivery. Of course, I can choose to read or not, too. I do like the netvibes ability to put a feed in its own window from which I can browse the posts that look to be of interest. One of the ongoing challenges is to sort out just what is relevant and is of interest. I guess that’s an ongoing process, isn’t it?

I found an blog I’m checking out that touches on that – zenhabits. The author, Leo Babuata, say it’s about: finding simplicity in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.” That’s it with any of these tools, isn’t it? Clear the clutter so we can focus on the important. And, just what that may be… we each have to discover, eh?


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Evolving meaning of ‘social networking’

The term social networking is evolving in meaning for me. I use to think that social networking meant primarily using social media sites like Facebook or Myspace. Now I am gaining some perspective on how the ‘social’ aspect of Web 2.0 can contribute to my own learning via various web connected network opportunities. The potential seems enormous. The challenge does seem to be sorting out value from the extensive content… And this is where social bookmarking seems to offer a new opportunity for me to explore.

Mark that place in the digital ocean

I had heard of delicious.com, but never really used it and was not aware of what if really offered. I’m still exploring. For the past week or so, I have used it and am considering that it is a new tool in my web 2.0 toolkit. Right now I am using it for my own personal recording of web sites/resources in a few different ares of interest. I have also used it several times in a search capacity. I found the results interesting. It will be interesting to explore an alternative to google search. I like the idea that there is a human element of selection in the equation, rather than purely a numbers game as defined by google or yahoo’s algorithm.

Tag, you’re it…

In many ways these new tools resemble blogs stripped down to the bare essentials. Here the essential unit of information is a link, not a story – but a link decorated with a title, a description, tags and perhaps even personal recommendation points. It is still uncertain whether tagging will take off in the way that blogging has. And even if it does, nobody yet knows exactly what it will achieve or where it will go – but the road ahead beckons. [Hammond, et al.]

[Web 2.0 bag tags]

I think one of the challenges for me about using social bookmarking was that it’s just a link with little reference besides a tag. And the whole tagging phenomena was not something I was familiar with in the web context. Tagging is new for me. Yes, I’ve used it a bit on my blog, but I didn’t really have much of a sense of it’s value. I’m gaining some new perspective on tagging just in my one week’s use of delicious. I think the concept of tagging may be one of the challenges for many people to use some of the social bookmarking tools available. I would say that I agree with the second reason that Jon Udell gives as to why social bookmarking has not caught on like blogs or other web 2.0 tools.

Collaborative annotation

Collaborative annotation is another new tool for me. I’ve opened a Diigo account and played with it a bit. I can see collaborative annotation could be really useful in any kind of group or team work. The idea that you can annotate text as a group seems powerful.

Learning curves and web 2.0

One thing that strikes me with the web 2.0 technology is the learning curve involved. As in any technology, I find that I have a learning curve before I can really say that I am an adept user. It used to be that I was most conscious of that when I installed new software on my computer. I might say to myself, ‘oh, here goes again. another new tool. How much am I going to use this? How much time will it take for me to be really able to use this effectively?’ There are many applications that I have installed with an interest to use, but never really moved past the steep part of the learning curve to the point of comfort and capability. Some of those applications I still have on my computer, but they are somewhere out of sight in my application menu. Others I found enough interest and invested enought time to have integrated into my portfolio of tools. Some of the installed applications I have since delete.

Searching the desert sands…

Filtering the many grains of web 2.0 sand…

With Web 2.0 I no longer have to download any applications. I just have to register by giving my email, logon, and a password. The applications are all online. But that doesn’t eliminate the learning curve piece of the equation. There is still an effort to gain familiarity and competence before I can say that I am a user and then actually use one of these tools regularly. For me this speaks to the issue that some of the social bookmarking/annotation sites address, how to filter the vast ocean of content/potential that might be lying behind the three letters www… Will I find some silver, gold, or a jewel somewhere in that ocean or amongst the many grains of web 2.0 sand???


Rabbit holes, pancakes, and web authenticity

With the multitude of attractively decorated doorways to other worlds (potentially bright or not so…), forks-in-the-road, sometimes less noticeable but plentiful alleyways that the current web experience offers; I, too, find myself running down rabbit holes on occasion and wonder about the depth of my exposure to media content versus a skimming of the surface. Carr’s article in The Atlantic on the impact of computer/internet media on our thinking habits struck some harmonics with me. While it is incredible to have access to the world that hyperlinks offer, it can be a daunting task to stay focused. At times I’ve found myself somewhere down a rabbit hole and wonder how I arrived there, or how long I’ve been traveling, or perhaps falling…, and is what I’ve found really of value or interest??? Or have I just been tumbling through fields and forests pulled by some force…

When I read a citation of someone’s ideas or thoughts that interests me and have the opportunity (immediately, or at my leisure) to go directly to that source for deeper perspectives, it is a different experience than reading a book or print article and then having to go and search for and locate one of the references. With this practically unlimited access to information, am I thinking less deeply? Am I turning into a pancake? One thing that I notice is that in the web environment the number of choices immediately in our face in such a concentrated area is probably 10-30 times greater than most media. How do we discern which highway or byway to take? What is valid and credible and what is out to hook us unknowingly into something that may not be in our interest. Yes, we are responsible for our choices, but are we aware of the implications? I think it’s important to have the dialogue about credibility and authenticity.  I knew a bit about the search methods of Yahoo’s and Google’s from some friends who work in the tech world. However, it’s helpful to have further background and dialog about practices and meaning of using various internet search and media.

Scientific Management and dignity, meaning, and community

Carr talks about Taylor’s ‘scientific management’ and how it seems to be the underlying drive behind the web and Google’s efforts to create artificial intelligence. It’s interesting to me to see Taylor’s mechanistic view and methods to have such a continued impact on today’s world. I learned more about Taylor’s contribution in relation to organizational management last semester in my HRD overview course. It was also fascinating to realize that since Taylor the next movement in organizational thinking has been to move towards whole systems thinking which includes the human part of the story that Taylor left out. If you’re interested further in this, “Productive Workplaces Revisted – Dignity, Meaning, and Community in the 21st Century” by Marvin Weisbord is an excellent source. Weisbord weaves a very readable tale of the history of organizational development and his own experience including key contributors to organizational and systems thinking such as Lewin, McGregor Emery & Trist, and others.

Measurement = wisdom?

Is Google’s measurement mentality really going to replace intelligence? Is intelligence just about the choice between higher or lower on a scale? To me, the ability to measure is not the same as the wisdom to choose. I think choice involves more than a purely rational mechanism. I believe the human being is more than a purely rational being. Science has yet to tap deeply into the mystery of consciousness. Some in the science world say we’re just selfish oranisms, while others espouse a view of a living connectedness. While I might be waxing metaphysical here, I do believe in the possibility of conscious connection with a our finer or higher self… I see the challenge of the evolution of the world and technology is to find a balance between the rational measuring approach of Google’s world and the human, intuitive, compassionate, and even spiritual side of ourselves.

I have also noticed that when I write on the computer versus writing by hand my message is different. I very seldom write by hand anymore, but I have noticed that I feel more connected to my intention when I do. I can’t say that I can explain it or understand it. Perhaps it’s the influence of the media as Carr suggests.

This seems to lead into Hargittai et al.’s findings on how young adults evaluate web content. How do we make the choice? One point is understanding the web and need for evaluating, but then what gives us the insight and wisdom to choose?

Links that may be of interest:

Eszter Hargittai’s blog: http://www.esztersblog.com/

An article from the NY Times – Learning By Playing Video Games in the Classroom (this focus is on K-12, but I found it relevant in the discussion of digital media and learning

A presentation from Dr David Levy called, “No Time to Think”- With the increase in efficiency technology brings do we need to consider where to find those moments in space/time where insight, inspiration, and creativity dawn?

Gillian Laub for The New York Times

Class Media Nicole Dodson, Dakota Jerome Solbakken and Nadine Clements, students at Quest to Learn, a New York City public school, play a game they designed.

One morning last winter I watched a middle-school teacher named Al Doyle give a lesson, though not your typical lesson. This was New York City, a noncharter public school in an old building on a nondescript street near Gramercy Park, inside an ordinary room that looked a lot like all the other rooms around it, with fluorescent lights and linoleum floors and steam-driven radiators that hissed and clanked endlessly.

Ask the Expert

James Paul Gee, the guru of the games-and-education movement, answers reader questions. Read Part IPart II and

The Education Issue

See all related articles in The New York Times Magazine.

Gillian Laub for The New York Times

Screen Test A Sports for the Mind class. Instead of grades, students receive report cards with levels of expertise like ‘‘novice’’ and ‘‘master.’’

Gillian Laub for The New York Times

Game Controller Jungle Proponents of using games in classrooms assert that they can help children think in inventive and sophisticated ways.

Marvin Orellana/The New York Times

Master Chief Kai Goree played his fi rst computer game at 18 months. He posts homemade videos on YouTube and uses Twitter, but gave up his blog because it took up too much time.

Doyle was, at 54, a veteran teacher and had logged 32 years in schools all over Manhattan, where he primarily taught art and computer graphics. In the school, which was called Quest to Learn, he was teaching a class, Sports for the Mind, which every student attended three times a week. It was described in a jargony flourish on the school’s Web site as “a primary space of practice attuned to new media literacies, which are multimodal and multicultural, operating as they do within specific contexts for specific purposes.” What it was, really, was a class in technology and game design.

The lesson that day was on enemy movement, and the enemy was a dastardly collection of spiky-headed robots roving inside a computer game. The students — a pack of about 20 boisterous sixth graders — were meant to observe how the robots moved, then chart any patterns they saw on pieces of graph paper. Later in the class period, working on laptops, they would design their own games. For the moment, though, they were spectators.

Doyle, who is thin and gray-haired with a neatly trimmed goatee, sat at a desk in the center of the room, his eyeglasses perched low on his nose, his fingers frenetically tapping the keyboard of a MacBook. The laptop was connected to a wall-mounted interactive whiteboard, giving the students who were sprawled on the floor in front of it an excellent view of his computer screen. Which was a good thing, because at least as they saw it, Doyle was going to die an embarrassing death without their help. Doyle had 60 seconds to steer a little bubble-shaped sprite — a toddling avatar dressed in a royal blue cape and matching helmet — through a two-dimensional maze without bumping into the proliferating robots. In order to win, he would need to gobble up some number of yellow reward points, Pac-Man style.

“Go right! Go right! Go right!” the students were shouting. “Now down, down, down, downdowndown!” A few had lifted themselves onto their knees and were pounding invisible keyboards in front of them. “Whoa!” they yelled in unison, some of them instinctively ducking as Doyle’s sprite narrowly avoided a patrolling enemy.

Beauchamp, a round-faced boy wearing a dark sweatshirt, watched Doyle backtrack to snap up more points and calmly offered a piece of advice. “That extra movement cost you some precious time, Al,” he said, sounding almost professorial. “There are more points up there than what you need to finish.”

“How much time do I have?” Doyle asked.

“Nineteen seconds.”

“Thanks,” said Doyle, his eyes not leaving the screen. He added, “See, us older people, we don’t have the peripheral vision to check the time because we didn’t grow up with these games.”

For a few seconds, it was quiet. Doyle pinged through a row of reward points and then, hitting a little cul-de-sac in the maze, he paused. His avatar’s tiny yellow feet pedaled uselessly against a wall. The students began to yowl. A girl named Shianne pressed her hand to her forehead in faux anguish.

“Go! Go! Turn around. Don’t slow down. What are you waitingfor?” someone called out.

“How much time do I have left?”

“Thirteen seconds!”

Doyle smiled. “All the time in the world,” he said, before taking his sprite on a deliberate detour to get even more reward points. The move, like a premature touchdown dance, put his students in agony.

“To the goal! To the goal! Al, run to the goal!”

And as the clock wound down and the students hollered and the steam radiator in the corner let out another long hiss, Doyle’s little blue self rounded a final corner, waited out a passing robot and charged into the goal at the end of the maze with less than two seconds to spare. This caused a microriot in the classroom. Cheers erupted. Fists pumped. A few kids lay back on the floor as if knocked out by the drama. Several made notes on their graph paper. Doyle leaned back in his chair. Had he taught anything? Had they learned anything? It depended, really, on how you wanted to think about teaching and learning.

WHAT IF TEACHERS GAVE UP the vestiges of their educational past, threw away the worksheets, burned the canon and reconfigured the foundation upon which a century of learning has been built? What if we blurred the lines between academic subjects and reimagined the typical American classroom so that, at least in theory, it came to resemble a typical American living room or a child’s bedroom or even a child’s pocket, circa 2010 — if, in other words, the slipstream of broadband and always-on technology that fuels our world became the source and organizing principle of our children’s learning? What if, instead of seeing school the way we’ve known it, we saw it for what our children dreamed it might be: a big, delicious video game?

It is a radical proposition, sure. But during an era in which just about everything is downloadable and remixable, when children are frequently more digitally savvy than the adults around them, it’s perhaps not so crazy to think that schools — or at least one school, anyway — might try to remix our assumptions about how to reach and educate those children. What makes Quest to Learn unique is not so much that it has been loaded with laptops or even that it bills itself expressly as a home for “digital kids,” but rather that it is the brainchild of a professional game designer named Katie Salen. Salen, like many people interested in education, has spent a lot of time thinking about whether there is a way to make learning feel simultaneously more relevant to students and more connected to the world beyond school. And the answer, as she sees it, lies in games.

Quest to Learn is organized specifically around the idea that digital games are central to the lives of today’s children and also increasingly, as their speed and capability grow, powerful tools for intellectual exploration. Salen, a professor of design and technology at Parsons the New School for Design, also directs a research-based organization called Institute of Play, which examines the connections between games and learning. Working with Robert Torres, a learning scientist who is a former school principal, and a small team of curriculum and game designers, Salen spent two years planning Quest to Learn in conjunction with the education-reform group New Visions for Public Schools. Her work was financed by a research grant from the MacArthur Foundation, which is pouring $50 million into exploring the possibilities of digital media and learning in a variety of settings nationwide. The school was approved by New York City’s schools chancellor, Joel Klein, as one of a handful of “demonstration sites” for innovative technology-based instructional methods and is part of a larger effort on the city’s part to create and experiment with new models for schools.

Quest to Learn is now beginning its second year, with about 145 sixth and seventh graders, all of whom were admitted by a districtwide lottery. (The intention is to add a grade level each year until it is a 6th-through-12th-grade school; Quest to Learn recently relocated to a larger but equally unmodern building in Chelsea.) Operating on a public-school budget but powered by additional grants from the MacArthur Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, it is a well-financed and carefully watched educational experiment concerning children, video games and the thrumming, largely unexplored force field between them.

Salen and Torres are at the forefront of a small but increasingly influential group of education specialists who believe that going to school can and should be more like playing a game, which is to say it could be made more participatory, more immersive and also, well, fun. Nearly every aspect of life at Quest to Learn is thus designed to be gamelike, even when it doesn’t involve using a computer. Students don’t receive grades but rather achieve levels of expertise, denoted on their report cards as “pre-novice,” “novice,” “apprentice,” “senior” and “master.” They are enlisted to do things like defeat villains and lend a hand to struggling aliens, mostly by working in groups to overcome multifaceted challenges, all created by a collection of behind-the-scenes game designers. The principles are similar to those used in problem-based learning, a more established educational method in which students collaborate to tackle broad, open-ended problems, with a teacher providing guidance though not necessarily a lot of instruction. But at Quest to Learn, the problems have been expertly aerated with fantasy.

Once it has been worked over by game designers, a lesson doesn’t look like a lesson anymore. It is now a quest. And while students at the school are put through the usual rigors of studying pre-algebra, basic physics, ancient civilizations and writing, they do it inside interdisciplinary classes with names like Codeworlds — a hybrid of math and English class — where the quests blend skills from different subject areas. Students have been called upon to balance the budget and brainstorm business ideas for an imaginary community called Creepytown, for example, and to design architectural blueprints for a village of bumbling little creatures called the Troggles. There are elements of the school’s curriculum that look familiar — nightly independent reading assignments, weekly reading-comprehension packets and plenty of work with pencils and paper — and others that don’t. Quest to Learn students record podcasts, film and edit videos, play video games, blog avidly and occasionally receive video messages from aliens.

They also spend significant time building their own games. Sometimes they design board games using cardboard and markers and ungodly amounts of tape. Most of the time, though, they invent games for the computer. Salen’s theory goes like this: building a game — even the kind of simple game a sixth grader might build — is equivalent to building a miniworld, a dynamic system governed by a set of rules, complete with challenges, obstacles and goals. At its best, game design can be an interdisciplinary exercise involving math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. If children can build, play and understand games that work, it’s possible that someday they will understand and design systems that work. And the world is full of complicated systems.

Does this educational approach actually work? And is it something that can, or should, find its way into schools in other parts of the country? As we fret about the perils of multitasking and digital distraction in adult life, the question arises: should a school provide practice with or relief from those things? It is still too early to say. But the introduction of Quest to Learn is tied to a continuing and sometimes heated national dialogue about what skills today’s learners most need to prepare them for success in a rapidly evolving, digitally mediated world. There is, at least, growing support for experimentation: in March, Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, released a draft National Educational Technology Plan that reads a bit like a manifesto for change, proposing among other things that the full force of technology be leveraged to meet “aggressive goals” and “grand” challenges, including increasing the percentage of the population that graduates from college to 60 percent from 39 percent in the next 10 years. What it takes to get there, the report suggests, is a “new kind of R.& D. for education” that encourages bold ideas and “high risk/high gain” endeavors — possibly even a school built around aliens, villains and video games.

SALEN IS 43, reddish-haired, hyperorganized and a quirky dresser. Some would consider her an unlikely prophet when it comes to education. Among Quest to Learn students, she is clearly beloved. Unlike most authority figures they know, she is a gifted player of Guitar Hero and has been spotted playing her Nintendo DSi on the subway. Until a few years ago she knew little about educational pedagogy and was instead immersed in doing things like converting an ice-cream truck into a mobile karaoke unit that traveled around San Jose, Calif., with a man dressed as a squirrel dispensing free frozen treats and encouraging city residents to pick up a microphone and belt out tunes. This was a community-building sort of game — or as Salen describes it, “an interactive play-based experience” — as was the race she helped design in Minneapolis and St. Paul, in which randomly organized groups of people carried 25-foot-high inflatable playing pieces modeled after those used in the board game Sorry through the streets of the cities.

A game, as Salen sees it, is really just a “designed experience,” in which a participant is motivated to achieve a goal while operating inside a prescribed system of boundaries and rules. In this way, school itself is one giant designed experience. It could be viewed, in fact, as the biggest and most important game any child will ever play. To this end, Quest to Learn has three full-time game designers supporting the work of the school’s 11 teachers — a ratio that reflects a trend more familiar to the business world, where designers and design-thinking have ascended to new and voguish heights.

Salen, like many designers, views things in terms of their ideal potential and also the physical space they occupy. She is thus less apt to refer to a school as “school” but rather as a “learning space” or a “discovery space” or sometimes as a “possibility space.” She and her colleagues are wrapped up in the idea that technology is doing for learning what it has done for pretty much every other aspect of living, which is to say that it has dismantled the walls between spaces. As anyone who has ever checked e-mail from a bathroom stall or browsed eBay from a chairlift can attest, what once occurred in just one space now happens in practically every space. This has revolutionized design, media, most workplaces and especially the lives of children, who routinely tap into vast social and information pools outside school. Yet, generally speaking, it has hardly touched public education.

The traditional school structure strikes Salen as “weird.” “You go to a math class, and that is the only place math is happening, and you are supposed to learn math just in that one space,” she told me one day, sitting in the small room at the school that served as Quest to Learn’s operational headquarters. She was dressed in a purple skirt with a hot pink scarf knotted around her neck. “There’s been this assumption that school is the only place that learning is happening, that everything a kid is supposed to know is delivered between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and it happens in the confines of a building,” she said. “But the fact is that kids are doing a lot of interesting learning outside of school. We acknowledge that, and we are trying to bring that into their learning here.”

WAITING IN THE HALLWAY LINE to go into Sports for the Mind class one day last winter, I met a boy named Kai Goree. He was dressed in a red T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. He had a puckish mouth, vivid brown eyes and short dark hair, pieces of which had been dyed in vibrant shingles of blue and green, not unlike what you might expect to find on the roof of a fairy-tale house.

Kai was 11. He sometimes got into trouble with teachers for talking too much. In the next 10 minutes, as we wandered into class and found seats and waited for everybody else to settle in, plus a few minutes beyond that, Kai relayed the following bits of information: he lived with his parents and older brother in an apartment on East 56th Street. He was a huge fan of professional wrestling. At home he sometimes filmed and edited his own wrestling-­news commentaries or demonstrated wrestling moves on a giant plush gorilla he had named Green Gangsta. Then he put them on YouTube, where he had several personal channels. At home, his family had a “very awesome big computer.” He also had an Android phone, but at that point was lusting after a Flip camera and a MacBook as well. He preferred OS X, but his dad, alas, was “a die-hard Windows fan,” so the prospects for a Mac were unclear. If I was interested, I could follow him on Twitter. (Sample post from Kai: “I AM SO ANGRY. My mom is not letting me get a coolatta from dunkin donuts…”) He used to have a blog, but it took too much time so he dropped it.

What he cared about most was games. “Games and games and games,” he said. He had been playing games since he was about 18 months old, when his mother, who is a college professor, introduced him to a computer game called Reader Rabbit, intended to teach literacy skills. Like many of his friends, as he grew, he migrated from educational computer games to hand-held games to the Xbox 360.

At the start of middle school, Kai was almost a full decade into his digital life. This might have put him slightly ahead of his peers, but also, arguably, it made him more like the sixth grader of the near future. Research shows that, on average, children who have access to computers have mastered pointing and clicking with a mouse by the time they are 3½. They are also, thanks in part to mobile-phone apps, playing more games earlier in life. According to research by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an arm of the Sesame Workshop that explores the educational potential of interactive media, 60 percent of the top-selling iPhone apps on the education store are made for toddlers and preschoolers.

In the evenings, once he met the requirements for parental face time and homework, Kai could be found riding an armored dune buggy around a post-apocalyptic African landscape, blasting his machine gun at squads of alien jackals (Halo 3) or catching and juking for a touchdown (Madden NFL 09) or maybe adding wikki wikki scratches to a Jay-Zyoga. I came to learn that Kai could dissect, analyze and recommend video games with the acuity of a French sommelier. He was waiting anxiously, he said, to hear back from “some people at Lucas” who may or may not use him to beta test a multiplayer Star Wars game that wasn’t yet on the market. tune (DJ Hero). Sometimes he fired up the family Wii and did virtually assisted

Kai’s passion for games was unusual, but only a little. Earlier this year, the Kaiser Family Foundation released the results of a national survey in which 60 percent of children 8 to 18 reported that a typical day included playing games on hand-held or console devices. Their average daily investment was about two hours. According to Kaiser’s data, the percentage of children playing digital games has increased by more than 50 percent in the last 10 years, and the amount of time they spend playing games has almost doubled. This follows research showing that the more time children spend playing video games, the less time they spend on homework. For educators, it’s a sorry equation and one that mirrors a larger paradox when it comes to the divergent and often competing paths of children and their schools.

Even as technology spending in K-12 public education has risen steadily in the last 20 years, student performance — as measured by test results — has improved only incrementally. Meanwhile, children are proving to be wildly adaptive when it comes to using media outside school. They are fervently making YouTube videos, piloting avatars through complex game scenarios, sampling music, lighting up social networks and inventing or retooling (or purists would say, bludgeoning) language so that it better suits the text-messaging pay plan on their cellphones, only to show up to school to find cellphones outlawed, Internet access filtered and computers partitioned off from the rest of the classroom — at least in many cases. Michael H. Levine, who directs the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, acknowledges the conundrum. While there may be sound reasons behind limiting things like Internet browsing and social networking at school, he says, it does little to teach students how to live in the 21st century. It also may contribute to a broader relevancy issue. A 2006 study financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation set out to examine the reasons that almost a third of American public-high-school students fail to graduate with their class. Researchers surveyed high-school dropouts in 25 cities, suburbs and small towns across the country, where they were told again and again that school was boring. The final report recommended, among other things, that educators take steps to “make school more relevant and engaging.”

One way to do this, according to Levine, would be to stop looking so critically at the way children use media and to start exploring how that energy might best be harnessed to help drive them academically. “Kids are literally wearing digital media,” he says. “It’s present everywhere in their lives, except for in the learning environment.” A game-based approach like that used at Quest to Learn shows a lot of promise, he says, in part because it capitalizes on something kids already love. He is careful to note that there will be “huge challenges” in bringing the idea to schools nationally. Clearly, not every community is going to have the money for interactive whiteboards, laptops and PlayStation consoles. Someone will also need to figure out how to train teachers, develop curriculums, establish assessment measures and decide to what extent the focus on systems thinking and design skills used in game-based learning should be tied to common standards — and win over parents. “Odds are it will take a long time,” Levine says. “But I don’t know what the alternative is. My view of it is that we will never get to the holy land in terms of educational performance unless we do something about the engagement factor.”

Often, watching the students and teachers at Quest to Learn, I was struck by how enviably resource-rich the school was, with its game designers and curriculum specialists and a full-time technologist wheeling carts of netbooks up and down the hallway. Salen recently told me that she is hoping to find a corner of the school where she can set up Rock Band — a video game in which users play drums, guitar and bass — “for teachers to unwind around.” The school functioned with the intensity of a high-stakes start-up. It was clear the staff members worked long hours. Still, if Quest to Learn was a “possibility space” — a sort of laboratory for the future of learning — you could also see how those possibilities might feel entirely out of reach to an educator working in a more typically cash-strapped, understaffed school.

Yet with the federal government focusing more on innovation, and given the deep pockets of similarly focused corporate foundations, it may be feasible to implement game-based learning, even modestly, into more schools. But not before it has been proved to work. Quest to Learn students who took federally mandated standardized tests last spring scored on average no better and no worse than other sixth graders in their district, according to Elisa Aragon, the school’s executive director. Valerie Shute, an assessment specialist in the educational psychology and learning systems department at Florida State University, is working on a MacArthur-financed effort to develop and test new assessment measures for Quest to Learn, which are meant to look at progress in areas like systems thinking, teamwork and time management. The federal government is likewise sponsoring an overhaul of standardized tests to be introduced in the 2014-2015 school year, with added emphasis on “higher order” thinking and problem-solving skills.

Quest to Learn’s most innovative piece of technology was set up in a corner of one classroom, looking something like an extremely wired stage set. This was the school’s $18,000 Smallab, which stands for “situated multimedia art learning lab,” a system now being used in a handful of schools and museums around the country. Created by a team led by David Birchfield, a media artist at Arizona State University, it is a 3-D learning environment, or in designspeak, a “hybrid physical-digital space.”

In Smallab sessions, students hold wands and Sputnik-like orbs whose movements are picked up by 12 scaffold-mounted motion-capture cameras and have an immediate effect inside the game space, which is beamed from a nearby computer onto the floor via overhead projector. It is a little bit like playing a multiplayer Wii game while standing inside the game instead of in front of it. Students can thus learn chemical titration by pushing king-size molecules around the virtual space. They can study geology by building and shifting digital layers of sediment and fossils on the classroom floor or explore complementary and supplementary angles by racing the clock to move a giant virtual protractor around the floor.

As new as the Smallab concept is, it is already showing promise when it comes to improving learning results: Birchfield and his colleagues say that in a small 2009 study, they found that at-risk ninth graders in earth sciences scored consistently and significantly higher on content-area tests when they had also done Smallab exercises. A second study compared the Smallab approach with traditional hands-on lab experimentation, with the group that used mixed-reality again showing greater retention and mastery. As it is more generally with games, the cognitive elements at work are not entirely understood, but they are of great interest to a growing number of learning scientists. Did the students learn more using digital mixed-reality because the process was more physical than hearing a classroom lecture or performing a lab experiment? Because it was more collaborative or more visual? Or was it simply because it seemed novel and more fun?

HERE ARE SOME DIFFERENCES text messages between Kai and me: Kai hates Justin Bieber whereas I only dislike him. Kai sends and receives about 50 a day. My average is about 4. My idea of leisure involves wandering aimlessly and anonymously through the local bookstore whereas Kai — “not a fan of books” — can be found hanging around the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, where he is on a first-name basis with employees. When I am sick with a cold, I sit at home flipping through magazines and not really wanting to be seen by anyone. When Kai is sick with a cold, he sits at home and makes YouTube videos. (“If I sneeze during this video,” he tells the camera, “don’t yell at me.”) We also feel very differently, it turns out, about the game Halo. Kai sees it as having amazing graphics and a great story line and violence, “but only against aliens,” he says. I see it mostly as violent.

One night at Kai’s apartment, we turned on the Xbox and played Halo 3 as teammates. He played the role of Master Chief, the ultimate superwarrior, and I was a friendly alien who liked to fight. It started like this: I sat on the couch, and Kai sat on the floor in front of the TV. He said, “You get the machine gun, and I’ll drive the car.” I’m not really sure what happened after that. I would call it a nine-minute-long, jackhammering bloodbath, in which we (me poorly, Kai deftly) killed a lot of bad aliens until my lack of experience almost cost our team the game, and — a little sweaty and yes, totally excited — I handed my controller off to Kai’s 14-year-old brother, Sam.

It was, for me, a reminder of how confusing it can be to think about video games and schools in the same frame. Not only has excessive gaming — much like excessive TV watching — been associated with obesity and depression, but playing violent games has been linked in some studies to an increase in aggressive behavior. Advocates of game-based learning concede that these games can be spectacularly gory, amoral and loud, even when they are artful and complicated. They like to point out that the majority of games sold commercially are not particularly violent and are rated “E” — for “everyone.”

And then this: Brain researchers have found that playing first-person shooter games like Call of Duty does seem to have some neurological benefits, including improving peripheral vision and the ability to focus attention. The playing of shooter games has also been shown to enhance something called visual-spatial thinking — for example, the ability to rotate objects in one’s mind — which, it turns out, is a cognitive building block for understanding concepts in science and engineering. Women, who tend to score lower when tested for visual-spatial skills, apparently gain more from virtual machine-gun outings than men: a 2007 study done at the University of Toronto showed that women who played just 10 hours of an action-oriented video game (Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault) not only improved their spatial attention and mental-­rotation abilities more significantly than their male counterparts, but the game-play also appeared to substantially reduce any sex-related gaps in visual-spatial thinking abilities. Five months later, the effects still held. (Bad news for pacifists: a control group that played a stimulating but nonviolent 3-D video puzzle game showed no measurable improvement.)

Unsurprisingly, no one I spoke with who works in the field of games and learning says that first-person shooter games are the key to building future scientists and engineers. One topic under discussion is the broader question of “transfer,” whether a skill developed by playing a game actually translates to improved abilities in other areas. They also note that we are only just beginning to tease apart the mechanisms that make game play so powerful. And inside those mechanisms, there is at least potential to advance our country’s educational aims — if only we can sort out how we feel about games. Even the first family has sent mixed messages: President ObamaMichelle Obama has criticized video games for displacing family time and physical activity — urging parents, for example, to “turn off the TV, put away the video games and read to your child” — but he has also encouraged the development of new games to bolster the all-important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills in young Americans. In March, helped introduce a government-sponsored design contest to reward those who create mobile-phone games and apps to combat obesity, lamenting at a national Parent Teacher Association conference that “we know our kids spend way too much time with these games,” but that at least the time could be spent more productively. The cognitive dissonance is likely familiar to any parent: she has also admitted, cheerfully, to owning a Wii.

WHEN IT COMES TO CAPTURING and keeping the attention of children, game designers appear to be getting something right that schools, in many cases, are getting wrong. James Paul Gee, a professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University who grew interested in video games when his son began playing them years ago, has written several seminal books on the power of video games to inspire learning. He says that in working through the levels of a complex game, a person is decoding its “internal design grammar” and that this is a form of critical thinking. “A game is nothing but a set of problems to solve,” Gee says. Its design often pushes players to explore, take risks, role-play and strategize — in other words putting a game’s informational content to use. Gee has advocated for years that our definition of “literacy” needs to be widened to better suit the times. Where a book provides knowledge, Gee says, a good game can provide a learner with knowledge and also experience solving problems using that knowledge.

Slowly, this idea has won some unlikely converts. The retired Supreme CourtSandra Day O’ConnorHarvard Justice recently introduced a Web site called iCivics, which features a series of interactive games meant to animate and revive the lost art of learning civics. “She was relatively hostile toward games,” says Gee, who collaborated with her on the project, “and now she’s a fan.” E. O. Wilson, the renowned evolutionary biologist, has lauded digital games for their ability to immerse and challenge players in vivid, virtual environments. “I think games are the future in education,” Wilson said in an interview with the game designer Will Wright last year. “We’re going through a rapid transition now. We’re about to leave print and textbooks behind.”

In a speech given the day before the start of the 2009 G-20Google, offered his own tacit approval, suggesting that playing video games, especially online multiplayer games, fosters collaboration, and that collaboration, in turn, fosters innovation — making it good training for a career in technology. “Everything in the future online is going to look like a multiplayer game,” Schmidt said. “If I were 15 years old, that’s what I’d be doing right now.” economic summit, Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of

All this goes back to the debate over what constitutes “21st-century skills.” How do schools manage to teach new media without letting go of old media? Is it possible to teach game design and still find time for “The Catcher in the Rye”? One afternoon at Quest to Learn, I sat with Al Doyle in an empty office. Doyle had been teaching Sports for the Mind for only a few months — and at the end of the school year, he would end up leaving Quest to Learn to teach game design at a private school elsewhere in Manhattan — but the experience was causing him to think differently about what schools should be teaching. His students were building 3-D computer games and had also just finished a unit on podcasting. “Ten years ago, it would have taken a week to get kids to learn the difference between ‘save’ and ‘save as,’ ” he said. “Now I show them GarageBand” — a digital audio sequencer produced by Apple — “and five minutes later they’re recording and editing sound.” Doyle made a point that others had also made: whatever digital fluidity his students possessed, it hadn’t been taught to them, at least not by adults.

Here, perhaps, was a paradigm shift. As Doyle saw it, his role was moving from teaching toward facilitating, building upon learning being done outside school. He talked about all the wasted energy that goes into teaching things that students don’t need so much anymore, thanks to the tools now available to them. Why memorize the 50 states and their capitals? Why, in the age of Google and pocket computers, memorize anything? “Handwriting?” Doyle said. “That’s a 20th-century skill.” Realizing this sounded radical, he amended his thought, saying that students should learn to write, but that keyboarding was far more important. He took aim at spelling, calling it “outmoded.” Then he went back to podcasting, saying that after a student has written, revised, scripted and recorded a podcast, “it’s just as valid as writing an essay.”

I must have been wearing the shocked expression of an old-guard English major, because Doyle tried to put a finer point on it. “We feel like we’re preparing these kids to be producers of media — whether they become graphic designers, video designers, journalists, publishers, communicators, bloggers, whatever,” he said. “The goal is that they’re comfortable expressing themselves in any media, whether it’s video, audio, podcast, the written word, the spoken word or the animated feature.” He added: “Game design is the platform that we can hook them into because this is where they live. Video games are more important to them than film, than broadcast television, than journalism. This is their medium. Games are this generation’s rock and roll.”

SPEND TIME AT a middle school — even a hyperinnovative one like Quest to Learn — and one thing becomes immediately apparent: Being a sixth grader is a timeless art. Kids chew gum when they’re not supposed to. They ask for hugs from teachers when they need them. They get rowdy in gym class, dip Oreos in their chocolate-milk cartons at lunch, pick bits of food out of their braces and shout things like, “Hey, your epidermis is showing!” There is little they like to do quietly.

“I am really sorry it is taking you so long to sit in your chairs today,” an aggrieved Doyle was calling over the din one morning at the start of class. In the brief quiet that followed, he announced that, connected to work they were doing on ancient architecture, each student was to design a game that took place inside either a labyrinth, a pyramid or a cave. This would happen using an online game-making platform called Gamestar Mechanic, which was developed by Katie Salen and a team and is soon to be sold commercially. The platform allows users to learn game-making skills without being versed in programming language.

A hand shot up. It was Ellisa, a diminutive girl who wore her hair in a giant ponytailed puff on one side of her head. “Al, can I do a game with a cave, a pyramid and a labyrinth?”

“Sorry, you may not.”

Another hand. “What about a pyramid with a labyrinth inside of it?”

Doyle shook his head. “Just one,” he said.

Sitting in front of laptops, the students started in on their game-building, each one beginning with a blank screen. They created borders, paths and obstacles by dragging and dropping small cubes from a menu. They chose an animated sprite to serve as a game’s protagonist. They picked enemy sprites and set them marching in various patterns around the screen. They wrote the text that introduced the game and the text that flashed when a player reaches a new level. (“If the entrance to your cave is being guarded by a bear or a woolly mammoth,” said Doyle, sounding teacherly, “you have to tell us it’s a bear or a woolly mammoth.”) They added a variety of rewards and punishments. If the game seemed too easy, they made it harder. If the game seemed too hard, they made it easier. Earlier that day, I watched a girl named Maya make a game. She created a labyrinth, changed all the colors, swapped enemies in and out, changed the background, changed the music and finally set the game’s timer to 90 seconds. Then she played her game and finished it in 75. She adjusted the timer to 75 seconds and played again, this time losing. Finally, she set the timer at 80 and beat the game, but only just barely, at which point she declared the whole thing perfect.

The work appeared simple, but the challenge was evident. Twenty minutes in, the Sports for the Mind classroom was hushed but for the sound of keyboards being pounded and a faint arcadelike cacophony of poinging and bleeping over the syncopated pulse of game music. That night for homework, they would play one another’s games and write up constructive critiques.

The gold standard in class, I was told by nearly every student I spoke with, was to create a game that was hard to beat but harder still to quit. Kai was sitting in one corner working on a game he named What the Cave. It was teeming with robot enemies. “The whole point,” Kai said, “is you want your game to be hard, but you want it to be good.” He studied his screen for a moment. Then using his mouse, he deftly deleted a row of enemies. “What you want,” he said finally, “is good-hard.”

The language of gamers is, when you begin to decipher it, the language of strivers. People who play video games speak enthusiastically about “leveling up” and are always shooting for the epic win. Getting to the end of even a supposedly simple video game can take 15 or more hours of play time, and it almost always involves failure — lots and lots of failure.

This concept is something that Will Wright, who is best known for designing the Sims game franchise and the 2008 evolution-related game Spore, refers to as “failure-based learning,” in which failure is brief, surmountable, often exciting and therefore not scary. A well-built game is, in essence, a series of short-term feedback loops, delivering assessment in small, frequent doses. This in the end may be both more palatable and also more instructive to someone trying to learn. According to Ntiedo Etuk, the chief executive of Tabula Digita, which designs computer games that are now being used in roughly 1,200 schools around the country, children who persist in playing a game are demonstrating a valuable educational ideal. “They play for five minutes and they lose,” he says. “They play for 10 minutes and they lose. They’ll go back and do it a hundred times. They’ll fail until they win.” He adds: “Failure in an academic environment is depressing. Failure in a video game is pleasant. It’s completely aspirational.”

It is also, says James Paul Gee, antithetical to the governing reality of today’s public schools. “If you think about kids in school — especially in our testing regime — both the teacher and the student think that failure will lead to disaster,” he says. “That’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll never get to truly deep learning.” Gee and others in the games-and-learning field have suggested that someday, if we choose to channel our resources into developing more and better games for use in classrooms, the games themselves could feasibly replace tests altogether. Students, by virtue of making it through the escalating levels of a game that teaches, say, the principles of quantum physics, will demonstrate their mastery simply by finishing the game. Or, as Gee says: “Think about it: if I make it through every level of Halo, do you really need to give me a test to see if I know everything it takes to get through every level of Halo?”

One day last spring, Jan Plass, a professor of educational communication and technology at New York University, and I were sitting in a classroom at the Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women, a girls-only public middle school in Brooklyn, where he and several graduate students were conducting research. Plass works at an organization called the Games for Learning Institute, directed by Ken Perlin, an N.Y.U. computer-science professor, that is dedicated to exploring the granular details of what makes games so mesmerizing and effective for learning.

We were watching a small group of sixth-to-eighth-grade girls play a relatively low-tech math game on a series of laptops. The girls played in pairs, solving equations to score points. All the while, the laptops’ built-in cameras recorded their voices and faces, while an imbedded piece of software tracked their movements inside the game. What Plass and his research team were hoping to find inside this data — which was being collected at 12 New York schools — were answers about whether children learn more when playing individually or collaboratively. (In order to measure progress, researchers gave the students tests before and after the game playing.)

Two of the girls were talking and pointing at the screen. “They’re spending time discussing how to solve the problem,” Plass said in a low voice. “They might not solve as many problems. But the question for us is whether the conversation adds to the learning, versus if they spent their time on more practice. Does discourse result in deeper processing?”

A question like this is, of course, as old as Socrates and not at all limited to game-oriented learning. But given that digital games like those designed by Plass and his colleagues allow researchers to capture and examine a student’s second-by-second decision-making, they offer what seem to be uniquely refined opportunities to peer into the cognitive process. What they are studying, Plass said, is the science behind focused engagement — a psychological phenomenon known as “flow.”

Much of this work is still in its infancy. Neuroscientists have connected game play to the production of dopamine, a powerful neuro­transmitter central to the brain’s reward-seeking system and thought to drive motivation and memory processing (and more negatively, addictive behaviors) — all of which could have implications for how, when and what type of games should be used to advance children’s learning. But as it is with just about everything involving teaching and learning, there are no simple answers. Games, for example, appear to trigger greater dopamine releases in men than women, which could mean that game-based learning is more effective with boys than girls. Or, says Plass, it could be a matter of design: ideally, games can be built in such a way that they adapt to the individual learning styles of their players.

Paul Howard-Jones, a neuroscientist who teaches in the graduate school of education at the University of Bristol in Britain and coordinates the NeuroEducational Research Network, says that dopamine sends a “ready to learn” signal to the brain, essentially priming it to receive new information pleasurably. His research has shown that children’s engagement levels are higher when they are anticipating a reward but cannot predict whether they will get it — or, as Howard-Jones put it to me, “when you move from a conventional educational atmosphere to something that more resembles sport.” He is careful to add that games are not meant to supplant teachers nor undermine the value of more traditional learning. “Children need to learn how to read a book,” he says. “They need to learn how to ask questions.” But as our understanding of both cognitive science and game design continues to advance, he says that game play will find a central place inside schools. “I think in 30 years’ time,” he says, “we will marvel that we ever tried to deliver a curriculum without gaming.”

One day last winter, I watched students at Quest to Learn playing with a different sort of technological tool — a newly introduced online social network for the school that had been built by Salen and her team of designers and was open to students, staff members and parents. The network, called Being Me, looked like a starter Facebook. In the coming weeks, mostly through the school’s wellness class, students would work on learning things like how to tag photos, update their status, credit the work of others, comment meaningfully on blog posts and navigate the complex politics of “friending.” It was another effort on the school’s part to look at the things kids are already doing — social networking, playing video games, tinkering with digital media — and try to help them do it with more thought and purpose, to recognize both their role and their influence inside a larger system.

Being Me had been online for just one day, but it was already zinging with activity, as most of the students seemed to have logged on overnight. Isabel posted a video of herself riding a horse. Clyde put up a survey querying everyone on whether PlayStation 3 was better than Xbox 360. Charles blogged about a new restaurant he tried. (“I had the Caprese pizza. The tomato had a lot of flavor.”) Kai posted a video — now being watched by practically everyone in the class — of himself dressed in a pink wig and a red raincoat, pretending to be a girl he called “Heather.” Comments began to pile up. “Cool beans,” a girl sitting nearby wrote. Then another from a boy named Nuridin: “Dude, stop making me die over here. LOL.”

Seeing this as learning required a kind of leap — the same way it required a leap to watch students build digital mazes and load them with plinking cartoon sprites and imagine it might make them more successful as future adults — that it would possibly help them untangle and rebuild whatever broken systems we will have left for them. The electric pencil sharpener buzzed from a corner.

I watched a long-haired kid named Akahr pull up his profile on Being Me and spend a moment pondering what he would do for his first official status update. By design of the network, every status update began with the words “I am . . .” after which students could choose from an array of designated verbs and objects listed on drop-down menus. Most of the sixth graders were mixing and matching with a kind of frenzied abandon, playfully testing every last variation, posting their updates and waiting for a peal of laughter from somewhere in the classroom — a sign their status had been read. There was, “I am dancing Godzilla” and “I am hugging my bed.” Akhar clicked on his menu and pondered his options. Around the classroom, there were students respecting eggs and creating soy sauce and reading glitter and looking for Paris. Was this learning or a distraction from learning? Serious or not serious? Or was it possible, somehow, that it was both? Word by word, Akahr made his choices: “I am . . . imagining . . . the future.”

Sara Corbett is a contributing writer for the magazine. She wrote about the publication of Carl Jung’s “Red Book” last year.

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On bloggin’ as a reflective practice

Seth Godin’s comment on what matters in blogging is “the humility that comes from writing it… the metacognition of thinking about what you’re going to say”  struck me. When I first began blogging for my first adult learning class, I was a bit anxious for various reasons – just what will I say? What if someone else reads it? What will they think of what I write? Will anyone comment in a destructive or constructive way? and so on… However, after some time and perhaps with some bruising of my ego (is that how we become more humble?)  just from the mere effort of expressing myself with the idea anyone with access to the web might possibly come across my blog and see what a fool I am…, I began to realize that, yes, I am the one who benefits from writing my blog – the process of thinking about what I’m going to say really takes my learning/understanding deeper. I do believe blogging has supported my reflective practice. It has helped me gain insight into how I am seeing/thinking/understanding things along my journey of learning.

I have also found that when I read other’s blogs and comment, it further develops my thinking about how I think. I also consider that that blogging has also helped me become more authentic. I can’t say that I am truly authentic, but the process of reflective practice that goes on in writing a blog has also helped me to know myself better – to see some thinking that I might not have seen before. It’s also quite a process to actually put out some ideas or thoughts into the public. It helps me when I write to consider that whatever I put out is valid and real for me, at least as best as possible at that moment. I know that when I look back at some of my earlier posts I see some flaws in my thinking or flashiness of some sort sparkling through my postings. And that’s interesting to even be aware of a change.

One of the points that Downes makes is that blogging can be a way to participate in a wider community and really starts by reading.  I have not really ventured so far into the blog world to post many comments on blogs outside of fellow members of the adult learning program. However, I will say that I do read several blogs on different topics. I have found them to be of interest. I was using Google Reader to aggregate blogs that I have found interesting, but I just set up a Netvibes.com account within the past week and have been creating several different dashboards. It interesting to see how different topics can be feed to one location where I can access them whenever I need or want. It does take a bit of time to set up, but I can see it will be useful for some things for me. One area that I have set up is collecting various sources that list job opportunities into one place.

One of the points that Tom Peter’s (in the above video with Seth Godin) says  is that a blog can help to establish one’s personal presence or brand. I have not moved this far into the blogsphere yet. I’m not so comfortable with that for now. A question I’ve asked my self from time to time is whether I will continue to blog after finishing my adult learning program next spring. At times I have thought of starting a blog outside of my adult learning blog, but haven’t yet. If I were to do so, I would want it to have a purpose and meaning and not just be blather about this or that… I will say that my experience of blogging as a part of my graduate education has opened the possibility of continuing to blog.


Learning in the digital age

Personal Learning

I’m excited about gaining deeper insight into learning and digital media. I would say that I have a decent exposure to the possibilities and a fair level of comfort with some of the Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis, skype, …), but there are some I haven’t a clue about (don’t have a Facebook or Twitter accts, …yet). One thing that I hope to incorporate into my use is the idea of a personal learning network or environment (PLE). On reading about the concept (Downes, 2007), I would say that I have a unconsciously assembled a PLE of sorts. I think it’s the unconsious part that strikes me. One of the biggest challenges for me seems to be how to pull things together from various digital sources. This seems to be a common theme in the Downes article and a focus of some of the new technologies — aggregators of various sorts. I look forward to developing a PLE that is more organized and easy to access.

I’m quite on board with the idea that learning does not only reside in formal learning institutions. While my recent experience with my adult learning graduate program has contributed greatly to my knowlege base, I think a significant reason for that has been due to the learning from many experiences I have encountered outside of formal learning. I am quite sure that the majority of significant learning for me has occured outside of formal settings. The web has played a significant role in the knowledge that I have discovered and used in my work and some of personal life.

Open systems

I also connect with the idea of moving away from LMS systems to more open systems like wikis, blogs, etc.  I guess I can see some limited use of a LMS in a university context, or maybe corporate, – posting course content, grades, etc, but I find that almost all the things blackboard can do one can do on a wiki (perhaps, except grades – although I’m sure grades could be done but they wouldn’t be integrated into the university system.) The LMS is top down, control oriented, and from my perspective, hinders learning. That’s what the literature seems to say too (I don’t think I’m an original thinker on that, but perhaps just in sync with the vast majority who are consciously or perhaps even unconsciously moving towards more open tools and networks online.

Knowledge-able

The other thing that struck me from our reading is the idea that content is no longer king, but rather the question is how we acquire knowledge or content – form of learning over the content (Wesch, M. 2009). I can understand the crisis of signficance and see that there are many who continue to teach in ways they learned and do not make efforts to adapt. It also seems like learners in such environments stagnate and perhaps wither. I can understand that if learners are not engaged in compelling ‘why’ that is relevant, they will very likely not be engaged in learning.

The concept of subjectivities instead of subjects looks interesting to me. I would be more likely to be engaged in such an approach that is “an introspective intellectual throw-down” (Wesch, M., 2009, p. 7) to students. That’s an interesting phrase,  … a challenge that is both intellectual and introspective. I think that much of the traditional forms of learning are much less introspective. The introspective part leads me to think that there could be an examination of current beliefs, values, or assumptions. This steps into the transformative arena, as I understand it. Wesch (2009) says that learning subjectivities can be painful because one has to unlearn viewpionts that are a core part of our self.

A key concept for me that Wesch suggests to helps to manage the challenging learning environment is to “love and respect” the learners. Ah, and then there will be trust…!! Love, care, and respect lead to trust !!

___________________________

Reference

Downs, S. 2007, Learning networks in practice, British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, http://www.becta.org.uk/research, ISBN: 1 85379 467 8

Wesch, M., 2009, From knowledgeable to knowledge-able: Learning in new media environments, Academic Commons, http://www.academiccommons.org


HRD Learnings

ADLT 620 – HRD Overview – Final Refelction

Engagement in learning

One thing I enjoyed about the class this summer is that the size allowed for plenty of opportunities for dialog and discussion. I think I felt most engaged during these times and for me, I realize that I actually learn more or, rather, my learning seems to take deeper roots when I have an opportunity to dialog about reading. It also helps me to hear perspectives and experiences of others in the class, instructor and fellow learners. I would also say that I was quite engaged in Weisbord’s text. His stories made all the theory come alive for me. I also really enjoyed reading about the historical perspectives getting to know more about some of the giants in the field.

As far as the time I felt most distant from the learning experience was often when the learning was less active. For me, this is often during a PPT presentation. It’s not always that I find myself least engaged during a presentation. I think that when the presentation is broken up and questions are asked and connections are made to the instructor’s or fellow learner’s experiences and view points, then I become more engaged. However, when a presentation is mostly just presenting/summarizing readings then I find myself less engaged. I think that I was also less engaged with the Gilley text, too. To me it was a bit dry, like reading a long list of bullet points with little connection to practical use.

Learning about myself

I think that one thing that I have realized more clearly from this class is that I really enjoy gaining insight into theory and thinking behind ideas/concepts, particularly in relation to small and large group dynamics/interventions as well as understanding more about how my own self/psychology and things to be more aware of when working in groups. One example is my fascination with Lewin’s work, as well as Trist and Emery, Lippit and others. I think I had a number of vicarious learning experiences through the stories of their experiences.

In particular, the story of Lippit measuring the reactions/responses of different leadership styles on young boys really struck me. It helped me to gain some insight into why I prefer a participatory leadership versus coercive or autocratic. It seems that participatory leadership respects the potential of the individual to contribute to the purpose of the group. In my view, this respects a basic human potential. When such respect is there, trust seems to naturally grow and bring about connectedness and cohesiveness. I think that one thing that I think I can apply to my life is to be even more conscious of my leadership style when working in groups. I have tried to use a facilitative approach when I have been in a leadership role, but I think I slip sometimes into an autocratic/unilateral functioning, especially when there is stress.

My best work

The criteria I would have for my best work are it would be highly engaging, highly relevant, focused effort, significant   learning about myself as well as learning that can be applied to other situations, quality outcome, and of benefit to others. The reasons for these criteria are that if I find the work relevant, I will automatically become more engaged. It’s important to me to learn about myself as well as something that I can use when working with others because the more I know and understand myself, the more I feel I can be effective when working with others. Quality outcome is important to me because I have high standards for myself (fortunately or unfortunately – sometimes it can be a hindrance, I think!). I also feel it’s important that my work can be of some practical use to others, either to help others learn or benefit in some way.

The one thing that I think represents my best work in this course would be the interview I conducted with a HRD professional. I think that the interview went well in itself in that I felt it was quite relevant and also that the position she held was something that I didn’t know much about – talent management and performance management. I also felt that I  could relate some of the learning I had from the class and reading directly to the interview. I also found that I often referred back to the interview throughout the rest of the semester and found connect and relate our readings and learning back to it. I also think that my sharing in class hopefully helped others to have some insight into what I learned from the interview.

Personal learning needs

There are several personal learning needs that I have identified from the HRD overview class. One is to learn more about performance measurement and management. I have actually never been in an organization where there was a regular performance review (PR). The business or government jobs I had quite a years ago had not implemented PRs at the time I was there. And the nonprofit I worked with for 18 years was so small that there was not a standard formal process of performance review. I did attend a leadership workshop where I had to solicit 360 feedback from my fellow workers and then write about what I learned from it. That was very helpful for my personal learning and development.

So, I feel like I need to learn more about this. One way I plan to do this is to research articles that I can read from the VCU online databases.

Another personal learning need I discovered is to have a better understanding of some of the different aspects of psychology and some other organizational theories – particularly change theory. One way is to continue reading on these topics and another would be to take a class. I am considering taking a class in psychology (although I’m not sure what kind quite yet – child psychology, social psych, or …).

I enjoyed this class greatly and have found that there are many areas in which I would like to deepen my learning besides the few I mentioned above.

HRD Leadership & Corporate U’s

ADLT 620 – HRD Overview – Session 8

HRD Leaders, Chief Learning Officers

It looks like a leader in HRD needs to have a bag full of tricks… Well, I guess to be an effective leader in any organization, you need to have a pretty rounded set of competencies. The thing that strikes me about a leader in HRD is that besides some general leadership qualities, another set of competencies around learning need to be included. A key competency that surfaced for me is the whole idea around building partnerships and collaborative relationships in an organization. This also involves a PR component. And ultimately, it seems quite essential to be able to understand how HRD can impact the org strategies/goals to increase productivity or effectiveness.

I think back on when I was a co-team leader of an educational team for a nonprofit organization and I realize that the various roles Gilley describes were ones that I fell into, some without fully realizing, and in some cases, not at all realizing that was a role I was playing. Well, there is nothing like OJT… eh? Some of the roles I learned on the job, whereas others only afterward, reflecting on things that didn’t work out and why. I can say, I wish I had more clarity about the roles that were a part of that position, but I think that my lack of knowledge and resulting experiences helped to propel me into my current trajectory of adult learning with a focus in HRD.

Corporate U’s

It was interesting to hear our guest in the last class talk about the corporate university in the company she works. It struck me that she considers her setting to be a learning organization. Hmmm… I imagine it would be an incredible environment in which to work where a key focus is on learning. Ah, to be in a mutual learning environment. It would be quite a challenge, I imagine, to always keep learning in mind. But, I imagine, there might be a great community that develops, too. Instead of looking for blame, there would be a setting where everyone realizes they might not have the full picture and would make efforts to expand their pool of knowledge by including others, as much as possible. I think this could be an environment that moves towards the meaning, dignity, and community that Weisboard so often mentions…