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Tech Doesn't Teach… But it can Help

Archive for the tag “education”

Gamification

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. http://www.fastcompany.com/3000042/how-coursera-free-online-education-service-will-school-us-all 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.

 

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. (http://www.edweb.net)

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.

 

 

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:

http://www.fastcompany.com/1823819/khan-academy-enters-next-era-ipad-app

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 (http://www.udel.edu/udmessenger/vol20no2/stories/research-poole.html) 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” (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/shakespeares-the-tempest/id516373702?mt=8)) 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 (http://www.fastcompany.com/1843216/apps-thing-shakespeare-rebooted) 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 / Teacher.io 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 (downhousesoftware.wordpress.com). If anyone out there uses this app, please let me know what your impression is.

 

Thanks

 

 

Assessment and Technology

Assessment has emerged as a touchstone in education. Although assessment of the student has always been a central part of education, it has also become a critical measuring stick for whole institutions. With the passing of “No Child Left Behind,” educational assessment changed from determining whether a student had learned enough to merit a passing grade into determining whether whole institutions should live or die.

 

It is valuable to ask what some good reasons for assessment are…

  1. Pace – Assessing whether a class is following a lesson or more time is needed.
  2. Methodology -Determining which teaching methods are more or less effective
  3. Teacher Centered – Assisting educators in refining their art
  4. Student Centered – Ensuring that students take an appropriate level of comprehension from a lesson

 

The first two points concern how teachers manage the classroom in order to ensure that students learn. The third point is really the sum of the first two and helps the educator determine what material should be presented and how it should be done. Further, it is intended to evaluate the skill of the teacher. Finally, the last point is the most important of all, given everything that came before, have students learned the material?

 

It is the second last points that I want to consider here. How do we know what students have learned and what methods get us the best results?

 

“If I could just meet you in the hallway and talk to you once in a while that would be enough for me to know whether you’ve learned all you can here or not. If it were up to me, that would be it. There’s no reason we really need to do the dissertation…”

                                                            -A loose quotation from an academic advisor

 

Knowing what to assess and how to assess it is critical to determining whether a lesson or whole course is working for students. When working one-on-one with advanced students a good assessment can be as easy as the quotation above suggests. The advisor’s point was that objectivity is an illusion and in graduate education, the first three purposes of assessment are often not in question. However, when working with a larger class of introductory students, more quantifiable assessments become valuable.

 

Simply asking a class whether they understand as you go along a lecture or other classroom activity is no help. Teachers know that the answer to this question is, more often than not, a murmur of agreement – only to find that only a small fraction of the class can demonstrate their comprehension (personal anecdote).

 

Why is this? Do students think they understand when they don’t? Do they expect that they can figure it out later? Do they just not care? Perhaps they get the ‘gist’ of a lesson, but just can’t deliver on the details.

 

Pop quizzes are one way to make assessments in these situations. But this method has some drawbacks. First, it requires a substantial break in the class to administer. Second, even if a quiz can be administered without loss of time or the disrupting class, it is difficult to assess the results and move forward appropriately without taking more time out to grade.

 

Technology in assessment

 

Clickers have provided a high tech answer to this problem. Without allowing students to shape their answer by their peers in a call of hands, clickers (or similar feedback) provide a way for educators to poll a classroom and get real-time, honest feedback on specific questions in a way that does not seriously jeopardize the flow of a class.

 

Another way to use technology in support of a lesson and its assessment is to use games that are played within or outside of the classroom. With the advent of new devices, this is becoming increasingly possible. Further, because information can be shared between devices over WiFi, it is now possible to have collaborative games in which measurements can be taken not only of final outcomes, but also of the collaborative steps taken to attain these outcomes.

 

Collaborative peer learning has been shown to be a successful approach to teaching 1, one would expect to see a direct correlation between instances of shared information and final assessment scores. To my knowledge, such ‘real-time’ collaboration assessments have not been made. This could be one avenue to improving student outcomes that could change the way content is delivered.

 

I am still relatively new to teaching having only been at it for a couple years, but I am very interested in improving my techniques. In a recent conversation with a program officer for the NIH, he indicated that making assessments of new classroom materials was vital to obtaining grant money for developing those materials. I am now very interested in learning how to measure this and determining what questions I should be asking in evaluating new technology in the classroom.

 

What assessment tools have you found to guide how your classroom functions?

Other than a strict measure of whether students can reproduce material they have been exposed to, what other questions are valuable in assessing a lesson plan/ strategy / technology?

References

1.         Johnson, D. & Johnson, R. Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom. (Interaction Book Company: Edina, MN, 1991).

Why Video Games Can Achieve Educational Objectives

Video games have several key features that make them attractive as a means to meet educational objectives. Primarily, games are intended to be enjoyable pursuits and video games have achieved this to amazing success leading to $65B of gross revenues in 20115, a figure surpassing that of the motion picture industry which grossed $10.2B that same year.6 In addition to their appeal, video game design has evolved to incorporate a number of features demonstrated to be successful as pedagogy.

One advantage of using games in the academic space is that they commonly employ a self-paced model of ‘concurrent chaining’ in which tasks are first presented in their simplest forms, but gain complexity following each player success. This approach has been shown to be successful compared to other methods of teaching by continuously involving the player in trial and error testing and thus providing more interaction and engagement with the teaching device compared to lecturer-based education alone. 1,2

A second feature of video games is that they specifically engage players by the use of storytelling – an art as old as human culture itself. Story is central to the way that people grasp the events of their lives and as such, it is vital that education be delivered in this form in order for it to make sense and be memorable. 3

However, engagement is only valuable inasmuch as it affords greater academic gains or improves attitudes towards a subject or learning in general. In an assessment of students enrolled in an undergraduate Physics course, learning outcomes were greatly improved by any implementation of interactive learning. 4

The challenge is to provide software that is 1) interesting enough to students for them to actively engage with and explore and 2) of high enough quality that this engagement is not achieved at the expense of the educational purpose. Few games achieve both of these goals simultaneously. Presently, much of the educational software market is awash in flashcard / random quiz question generators that provide test preparation without any attempt at engaging the student. Likewise, entertainment games give short shrift to scientific principles of any kind, instead inventing new rules for nature that serve only the interests of the game without providing any educational content.

 

Together, these features describe a successful means of improving education and, possibly more important, the enjoyment of education. At long last, having ‘computers in the classroom’ may provide a real, measurable benefit aside from assuring parents that technology is being used and that we assume this must lead to some improvement… we hope.

 

 

 

 

 

1.     Graesser, A. C. & Person, N. K. Question Asking During Tutoring. American Educational Research Journal 31, 104–137 (1994).

2.     Peck, A. C. & Detweiler, M. C. Training Concurrent Multistep Procedular Tasks. Human Factors 42, 379–389 (2000).

3.     Zabel, M. K. Storytelling, myths and folk tales. Preventing School Failure 32, 28–41 (1991).

4.     Hake, R. R. Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics 66, 64 (1994).

 

5.      Reuters- http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/06/06/us-videogames-factbox-idUKTRE75552I20110606

6.      Boxofficemojo – http://boxofficemojo.com/studio/?view=company&view2=yearly&yr=2011&p=.htm

 

 

Why Technology in the Classroom Anyway?

The AppCampus Blog is premised on the notion that technology in the classroom is a good thing that educators should embrace, but why?

Here, I argue that technology (and gaming in particular) is a central part of many people’s lives. Games are the most embraced part of technology by younger generations and, over time, older generations have accepted gaming into their lives as well. Leveraging this interest to teach STEM subjects is vital to engaging students and improving global competitiveness.

Game use has increased not only in absolute number of users, but also in penetration of older age-group markets and amongst female users. A Pew Foundation report on teens and video game-play found that “nearly one-third of all 12- to 17-year- olds report playing video games every day or multiple times each day, and three-fourths report playing at least once a week.” The reach of video games greatly outdistances the number of students graduating with STEM bachelor’s degrees and may thereby extend the penetration of science instruction outside of the classroom. 1,2          Further, the reach of videogames into the older demographics has climbed such that more than half of all adults play video games of one kind and seniors are reported to play, on a daily basis, more often that all other demographics. 3

The public’s embrace of technology and gaming provides an opportunity for STEM education to reach out to students and the public at large. There exists an opportunity to seize the opportunity that mobile device technology offers to engage students of all ages in a form of entertainment that integrates education into the game seamlessly into an integral part of young people’s lives.

Despite the primary role the US has played in many technological achievements of the 20th century (including developing nuclear power for war and peacetime use and putting a man on the moon), the US is no longer a leader in STEM subjects. The 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) report found that the proficiency of US students in Math is lower than many other developed nations including Iceland, Estonia, Poland and Slovenia. 4

Improving performance in STEM subject education will improve competitiveness in the world market. This connection is no hypothetical assumption lacking objective evidence, data from Hanushek et al shows a direct correlation between academic performance and Gross Domestic Product, suggesting that further improvements in education can have beneficial economic consequences. 5Considering the primacy of technical job skills in the current labor market, it follows that STEM education may be a driver of this relationship.

The use of interactive, multiuser games promotes not only collaborative-, but also active– learning. Together, these techniques improve student involvement and retention by instilling a sense of personal responsibility for the material. 6,7 Further, using mobile games immerses students in science and meets them in a technology that is a central part of their lives.

 

Alltogether, games-especially those played on mobile devices- should be part of a comprehensive approach to education because they engage students in science in such a way that is vital to capturing the imaginations of scientists-to-be.

 

 

                       

 

References

 

1.     Mayo, M. J. Video Games: A Route to Larger-Scale STEM Education? Science 323, 75–79 (2009).

2.     Lenhart, A. et al. Teens, Video Games, and Civics. Pew Internet and American Life Project 1–76 (2008).

3.     Lenhart, A., Jones, S. & Rankin Macgill, A. Pew/Internet: Adults and Video Games. Pew Internet Project Data Memo 1–9 (2008).

4.     Peterson, P. E., Woessmann, L. & Hanushek, E. A. Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete? 1–48 (2011).

5.     Hanushek, E. A., Jamison, D., Jamison, E. & Woessmann, L. Education and Economic Growth. Education Next 1–10 (2008).

6.     Bonwell, C. C. & Elson, J. A. Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ERIC Digest. 1–5 (2012).

7.     Johnson, D. & Johnson, R. Active Learning: Cooperation in the College Classroom. (Interaction Book Company: Edina, MN, 1991).

 

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