Tech Doesn't Teach… But it can Help


I have been following the Gamification course on coursera for the past couple of weeks. It’s taught by Kevin Werbeck of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. I’m interested in this course for two major reasons (each with questions):

#1: What is gamification? 

              How does it work?

              What’s the evidence that it actually provides a benefit?

              What are its best practices?

               Can I apply these ideas to my Biology course?

#2 Does Online education work?

                I like codecademy, but is online education limited to programming or similar problem-based classes?

                Can I actually learn from this course?

                 Is it motivating to come back to for a whole semester?

                Can I apply what I’ve learned here (technically) to make my own classes better / more integrated with multimedia?

So far, the answers to most of these questions are positive. I do feel like I am learning something and I do think that I can apply the elements I learn both about online education and gamification to my own work. I intend to write more thoroughly about this once I’ve gone a little further in the class.


Online Education

I know for a fact that I killed my chances at getting hired at a 2-year college because I gave an honest answer to their question of, “How do you feel about online education?”

To be honest, I totally flubbed the sample lecture as well – but this question made me immediately aware of myself in the present. I stood there knowing that I had two possible options before me: I could give them the answer they wanted to hear –

-“Oh, they’re great. I’m very excited about the possibility of bringing education to people wherever they live and whenever they have time. (Actually, a lot of this is true. I do feel this way)

or, I could speak my true feeling on the matter. 

I chose the latter. I don’t like to lie, especially in an interview. And even more so because saying that this was something that I would be interested in would mean that I would have no way out of it when they asked me to do it. So, I said, “To be perfectly honest. I think it’s a decent idea that I’ve never seen done well. In fact, the experience that I’ve had with it suggests that it’s actually worse than a bad idea. I’m sure it makes money for the institution, but I’m not sure that anyone actually learns anything.”

Great answer, huh? I actually said that. What was I thinking? 

I can tell you. I was thinking exactly what I said. 

Now, a year or so later, I think the world is changing. Kahn Academy is firing on all cylinders, I’ve said all the time here or on the downhousesoftware.wordpress blog, that I am simply in love with Codecademy. And since I’ve had that interview I’ve also been hearing more and more about Coursera.

I don’t know who first put Coursera on my RADAR, but it was probably 6-9 months ago. Since then, I’ve been trolling over the site now and again, wondering if I could take a class there. There are plenty of subjects that interest me: Math, Biology, Programming. But I worry about the time I have for such a project. Between teaching, these blogs, codecademy, my physical programming class I go to, trying to launch products from DownHouse Software and all the home responsibilities I have – not to mention that I really need a real fulltime job badly – how can I honestly say that I can add this new responsibility in and give it the time and attention that it deserves?

If you don’t know much about Coursera, the website is Coursera.orgImage

and there was a recent article in FastCompany about the the creators, Former Stanford Professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, and what they hope to accomplish. Image

If you have any experience with Coursera or other services similar to this (there are actually too many to mention, but MIT’s open courseware does come to mind as a less structured approximation), let me know what your expereince has been. 

If you don’t have any experience with this, but would like to, perhaps we can try our first course together. I’m considering joining the Introduction to Interactive Programming in Python course ( starting October 15). I’d be happy to go into it knowing that there is someone else there that I can email/ chat with.


Classroom app followup

Big Nerd Ranch’s eClicker App

I’ve still been looking to find a good classroom app.

Today I found a short video demonstrating eClicker from BigNerdRanch that made me think that this might be a decent app for my classroom. I’m not asking for much – just a simple way to poll a class in real time to see how they are following the material we are covering. I just talked to the staff to see how I can get this app onto our machines. Once we do that, then I just have to deal with the limited bandwidth that we have here in the school….

Here’s the link to the website:

here’s a link to the video:

Classroom app for iPad

II’ve been looking for an app to use in the classroom to get feedback from my students (something in the same vein as the clicker devices). I expect that there is at least one good one out there, but there also seems to be a number of inferior apps. I was wondering if anyone of you out there use something of this kind. And if you do, what is your assessment of the app you are using? has it been a valuable addition? A distraction?

I appreciate any help that may be provided.



Oh Balls – Kansas is not Eastern Standard Time

I’ve been waiting all day for the 4pm webinar on “Measuring the Educational Value of Games: How to be a better advocate for GBL” from edWeb. (

But, as it turns out, my expectation that all times are  given as EST and that’s where I live.. was wrong. I keep forgetting that I’m in Kansas now. And Kansas is NOT on the East Coast.

As the founder of DownHouse Software, I’m interested in learning how to go from designing and making a game to actually putting it to work in a classroom and determining not only whether it works, but why does it work – or why not. Also, does using a game as a means for teaching substitute for classical lecturing? does it complement it? Does it detract from it?

Earlier this year, I submitted a grant to the National Institute of Health asking for support for the company’s development of the game and assessment within local classrooms. I have a couple simple games that are designed to teach a few core concepts of biology that I was eager to get made and into the classroom. Unfortunately, the grant was not funded, but I don’t give up hope that it could be in the future.

What brings me to wanting to hear this webinar is that when I spoke to the program officer in charge of this grant, his major concern was that I was able to demonstrate -not whether we could make the games – but that we could assess them afterwards.



Infographic: The Internet a Decade Later

Technology (internet) growth in a decade.

shirt yogurt


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Kahn Academy and the Flipped Classroom

From the article on Kahn Academy’s new iPad app:

For the growing number of schools that are adopting iPads, the most impactful potential for the app is for Khan Academy’s “flipped classroom,” in which lectures are watched at home by students, and then assignments are completed collaboratively in class, where a teacher is present. “The teacher is free to do a lot more of the human interaction,” says Shantanu Sinha, President and COO of Khan Academy.

The idea of a flipped classroom is an excellent use of new technology. This enables the lecture part of the course to be delivered at a time that is convenient for the student and retains ALL of the in-class time for questions or other interactive engagements that actually use the professor’s time for the greatest return. The assumption is that most lecturing is one-way communication. If this is true, then there is no need for it to happen in the classroom at all. Lectures should just be taped and distributed. Students watch the lectures when they want to and then come in to class prepared to ask questions.

In my mind, this could work out extraordinarily well IF everyone buys into the idea and students actively engage. I’ve had classes where students engage a lot and I can imagine this working seamlessly. But I’ve also taught classes where I stood in front of the room and couldn’t pull anything from my students if my life depended on it.

Nevertheless, this technique is new, exciting, offers something new with technology that couldn’t be done without it and may actually usher in a new way to make education work.

I’m eager to look into Kahn academy’s material and see if there’s anything I can learn there and if there is anything that I can potentially use in my own classroom.

Kahn Acadedy

I’ve written a lot about how much I enjoy and am excited by Codecademy’s computer online classes. It’s really their approach that I most enjoy. I think that they use a fairly organic way to teach that allows for a lot of hands-on practice. The downside is that since a lot of the educational modules are designed by volunteers (all?), there is a fair degree of variability in the quality and there are some problems in application – meaning that a lot of times, the lessons don’t work right, are quirky or require a high degree of precision in verbiage in order to score a pass.

Personally, I think these problems are minor and will be swept away in the wash over time. Additionally, the faults of the program actually lead to a high degree of community support among people taking the classes. Sure, there’s a lot of griping happening, but there’s also a hell of a lot of good help for new programmers.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about today.

Today, I just found a ‘new’ group joining h=the programming fray – that’s Kahn academy:

Unfortunately…. I have to run, but I’ll be back to discuss this further after a class (in person – beginning programming)

Better than the book?

Better than the book?

I’m always on the look out for apps or other technology that can be used in the classroom that are better than what might otherwise be possible using more mundane means. So I was interested when my undergraduate school’s magazine ( showed up in the mail with just such an app.

Unfortunately, I don’t teach English, but Kristen Poole, professor of English at UD and a Shakespearean scholar, who contributed to an app (called “The Tempest” ( that has at least one of the bard’s plays in a new multimedia format. As any physical book would have, it presents the text. In addition to this, there are also popup footnotes that include everything from historical references, alternate versions of the text or expert commentary on the meaning of the passage and how it fits in the whole. The contributor from the University of Delaware also indicated that it was possible to have the text read aloud by Actors from the London Stage, a touring Shakespeare company.

From the app store description, there also appears to be a way to comment yourself on the text in a way that shares with other readers (and facebook integration for those who would like to share that way).

Another article describing the same app in the magazine Fast Company ( interviewed one of the app’s creators, Elliott Visconsi, a Notre Dame professor of English, who claims that his app will be even more fun than Angry Birds.

For $9.99, the app is a little pricey, but if they deliver all the content that is promised, it would be well worth the investment for anyone studying the play. If they continue to provide additional content – perhaps more plays with the same material, the app could become an entire Shakespeare library and would be of tremendous value.

Should any of you purchase this app, please let me know how you like it. Does it actually add value to your experience? Would you use this in a class if possible?

education, apps, apple, shakespeare, english, technology, book, ebook, ibook

myHomework / application

I just met a founding member of the company that created the myHomework app at a mobile developers meetup in KC last night. I wrote a quick blurb about that on the other blog ( If anyone out there uses this app, please let me know what your impression is.





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