What if Curriculum was an Adventure?

Rules, in game play, are traditionally static — printed on the lid of the box. Is this so in real life? How many innovations are rule-changers?

I had the opportunity last week to participate in a conversation that was arranged by ISTE, exploring some of the potentially pivotal emerging issues in the ed tech and broader education domains. I was asked to go first, as I would not be able to stay long — and was consequently put on the spot, to think quickly, and clearly articulate ideas to some really smart people. So I blubbered something about a niche for some new and compellingly relevant digital and networked learning platform that will so effectively, efficiently, and elegantly facilitate all of the education philosophies that we are all so urgently trying to describe that it will change education as we know it.

Peggy Sheehy, being Peggy Sheehy (and rightly so) intercepted my fumbled explanation, campaigning for games as an integral part of that platform. I understood where she was going, said so, and she acknowledged it — because we’ve had the conversation before.  But there is a frustrating problem with Peggy’s mission.  Most people still see games as play and learning as work — and although many of us have become convinced of the learning potentials of video games  and begun to promote their use, the game is still what happens after the teaching.

Periodically, I’m asked to do a presentation called “Video Games as Learning Engines,” which is an introduction to video games (mostly for non-gamers) and an attempt to show how games are actually a form of pedagogy.  Yet, I suspect that what most attendees are actually looking for directories of flash-based educational games designed to help students master their multiplication facts or identify parts of speech. Those games are certainly out there, but they do not interest me.

One of the lingering mysteries that continues to intrigue me, in the waning years of my very long career, is what makes it a game — or more to the point, what makes it fun? ..and can we unfold the elements in such a way that they become handlebars in that learning platform I was trying to describe, from which we can hang more engaging learning experiences for our students.

I guess that a learning platform, integrated with games and play would be characterized by
More Less
  •  Surprise Predictability
  •  Rules that change, can be changed and are inability Static and constraining
  •  Focus on accomplishing personal goals Focus on achieving institutional goals
  •  Frequent, meaningful and empowering rewards Scheduled, symbolic rewards

For instance, one interesting quality of the games our children play is that they do not require you to learn the rules before you play the game. Learning about roles and rules is part of the playing, and they are often a surprise that has to be earned.  They’re a secret. In solving a puzzle or simply exploring, the player finds a magic coin, potion, or relic.  As a result of the find, she is endowed with new powers of flight, invisibility, or speed. The powers are a surprise and they change the rules.

Ewan McIntosh recently described a very simple but explicit illustration of this, concerning a school he is working with in Sydney, Australia.  There is a fairly nondescript and unreferenced book in a classroom that when moved, releases a switch that turns on a light.  Students find it by exploring the environment.  They explore because they expect to find secrets.  It’s an example of what McIntosh calls Secret Spaces, one of Seven Spaces of Technology in School Environments (watch the video).

So what if this learning platform held hidden information switches, such that when a student references a particular document in his work, he is suddenly endowed with new powers, an opportunity to visit previously blocked resource or tool, or an invitation to formally explore a topic of personal interest, or awarded points or admin rights to further configure his profile page with options and colors that were not available before.

What if curriculum was an adventure, and learning was the reward?

Games and Rules

When I was young I played baseball and football (wasn’t fast enough for basketball and couldn’t jump with a flip). Soccer hadn’t arrived in small town America yet, and rugby was just another word for football, we thought — and we didn’t even know that football was just another word for soccer. But I digress.

I played these two sports. I knew their rules and developed skills based on those rules — and played them for years. We also played Checkers, Go Fish, and hours and hours of Monopoly. We learned the rules and played the same rules for the duration of our childhoods. The rules didn’t change.

Fast forward to my children, the millennials. My son was telling me about a brand new video game he’s purchased. It is another immersive world game with its own set of rules, goals and game dynamics. This particular game is a sequel to another game whose rules he can only deduce since he’s never played it.

My point is this. I and my generation grew up playing a highly defined and culture-defining set of games, whose rules stayed constant and stayed with us. My children’s generation is growing up constantly learning new games, learning new rules, and achieving new goals. If this observation is correct, what are the implications. Does this contribute to some of the uniquenesses of this generation, both good and bad.

And I wonder if having to constantly cultivate new leaning schemes and communities to adjust to new information environments is exactly the kind of childhood necessary for inheriting a rapidly changing world.

Examining Your PLN

I’ve been struggling over the past few weeks with a complete redesign of my PLN presentation. I am keeping the title (A Gardener’s Approach to Learning), since that’s what I called it for my ISTE proposal, some distant months ago — and for other more obvious reasons. I’ve delivered versions of the upgrade at other conferences recently, and, well, it’s not ready yet.

One element I would like to add is pruning your PLN or learning garden. The best I have done so far is to suggest some philosophical guide lines, but little of practical value. So I spent much of yesterday searching for tools that enable us to more scientifically analyze our learning networks, specifically our Twitter communities (or megalopolises). I was starting to get rather depressed at failing to find what I was looking for — and inspired. You see, when I’m looking for a technical solution to a problem, and I can’t find it, then I start wanting to build one. This is not good, because I am desperately trying to simplify my life here/now at the tail end of my career.

But building a new tool? Wow! What fun that would be.

Anyway, I found the right search expressions this morning (4:00AM). It’s amazing how much a good four and a half hours of sleep can do for the old noggin. Of course, this serge of cognitive magnificence will last for only about an hour and a half.

follerSML-20110610-080833.jpgSo here are a few of the interesting tools I found. To start with, let’s say that you’ve run across a blog entry that’s caught your interest and you are considering a click of his Follow Me link. You have to wonder if this educator actually limits his work thoughts to his blog, and reads and tweets for his favorite Twitterlebrities. To see, just paste his screen name into foller. You are rewarded with the blogger’s basic specs (number of friends, followers, status updates, etc.), a word cloud of most tweeted words, recent hashtags and mentions. You can also view a map indicating his geographic reach (see right).

Another tool for measuring the potential of a new deep thinker is Klout. Probably more of a vanity oriented tool, Klout does do a nice job of breaking down a person’s influence by topic.

Another tool with a potential to help us cultuvate our learning gardens is Twolo, which allows you to enter keywords of interest and receive a list of Tweople you might want to follow. There is a fee after four days, which is not surprising considering how important social media has become to the marketing industry. No worries. Twitter has recently incorporated the same service with Who To Follow.

Refollow_-_Twitter_relationship_manager-20110610-095603.jpgOf course adding new members to your network is not pruning, is it? One of the most interesting tools that I happened upon was refollow. When you link in with your Twitter account, you get a wallpaper of the deep thinkers whom you follow. To cut back your network, you can sort the layout of avatars by their last tweet, tweet count, follow count, and friend count. It’s reasonable to assume (though not always appropriate) that the people who are most paid attention to, or are paying attention to other deep thinkers , are the most useful for your own learning. This is certainly not always true, but it is a measurable aspect of one’s networking. I found that I was following eight people who hadn’t chirped a single tweet and several who’d not tweeted for 8, 10, and 15 months. There’s more that you can do, but to actually act on your community (follow or unfollow) there is a fee — reasonable if I were engaged in marketing an important brand.

If gaining and keeping a following is important, then TweetEffect might be useful. Essentially, you enter your Twitter screen name and it scans your most recent tweets and aligns them with your follower activity. In other words, which tweets seem to have attracted people, and which made them turn tail and run. I learned that in my last 195 status updates, I lost followers seven times and found new one eleven times. It seems that my announcement that I was finally adding Oklahoma (48) to the state’s I’ve worked in, compelled eleven people to leave my friend list. Still trying to figure that one out.

– Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

More on the Value of Social Networking

Flickr Photo by Jukebox909 ((Jukebox909, . “Polls show distrust of public opinion.”Flickr. N.p., 16 Nov 2006. Web. 12 May 2010. <http://bit.ly/7Xouzr>.))

I have long felt that the greatest value of the social web is in the content that it generates. I suspect that the content’s value compared to the value of “nearly now” ((A term coined by Stephen Heppell)) social idea sharing depends on the person. I’m not a chatter. I procrastinate phone calls. But I love to mine the conversation for ideas, knowledge, and resources that I need right now.

An interesting example of this comes from a Carnegie Mellon University study (pdf) indicating that analyzing data from Twitter posts can yield the same results as conducting a public opinion poll, perhaps costing less and irritating far fewer people.

According to the Mashable blog post I learned this from,

A CMU team from the computer science department looked at sentiments expressed in a billion Twitter messages between 2008 and 2009. The researchers then use simple text analysis methods to filter out updates about the economy and politics and determine if the overall sentiment of the update was positive or negative. The CMU team found that people’s attitudes on consumer confidence and presidential job approval were similar to the results generated by well-reputed, telephone-conducted public opinion polls, such as those conducted by Reuters, Gallup and pollster.com.  ((O’Dell, Jolie. “Could Twitter Data Replace Opinion Polls?.”Mashable. 11 May 2010. Web. 12 May 2010. <http://bit.ly/cZa2y8>.))

CMU Assistant Professor Noah Smith thinks that for at least some topics, this kind of passive information gathering could work.  Mashable blogger Jolie O’Dell quotes Smith as saying, “With seven million or more messages being tweeted each day, this data stream potentially allows us to take the temperature of the population very quickly.”

Twitter data tends to be noisy, as any tweeter out there knows.  But so too is even the most carefully polled data.  Researchers learn to filter out the noise, the extraneous data, and round out the results to reveal trends and indicators.

Twitter, as a source for opinion trends, certainly isn’t going to work for just any topic, and the data collected via Twitter tends to fluxuate more on a daily basis than does formally polled data, as discovered by the study.  But I often make the point that we will continue to need to refer to authoritative, scientific, and formally vetted information to solve many of our problems.  But in a time of rapid change, we need to also develop the skills to cull out timely, experiencial, and community shapped information to answer some of our brand new questions and solve some of our brand new problems.

Added Later: From this, one might say, with an increasingly conversational and participatory web, who needs public opinion polls?  Certainly the issues involved are far more complex than that.  But I can’t help but wonder if teaching and learning might come to take place in a more networked, digital, and info-abundant environment, and we might continue to develop data mining capabilities, if we might reach the point where the obvious question would be, “Who needs tests?”


10 Ways to Promote Learning Lifestyle in Your School

A Learning Commons ((Lower Columbia College. “Learning Commons.” Flickr. 19 Feb 2009. Web. 19 Jan 2010. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/lowercolumbiacollege/3293381635/>.))

On the 14th, I wrote a blog post (Applying PLN — a Continuing Question for Me), questioning some of my own assumptions about expecting educators to embrace learning practices — cultivating personal learning networks.  I wrote about my feeling stumped by administrators in Colorado last week, wishing that I had the answers to their questions about promoting more relevant learning in their classrooms. In truth, like most of the rest of the session, some excellent ideas came out of the conversation that erupted, after it was revealed that I had no easy answer.  The thrust of the discussion was the culture of the school, and the expectations that the culture places on its members.

So, what does that culture look like?  What do we see in the school and classroom where learning lifestyle pops to mind?  I think that we see is conversation — and not just conversations between teachers and students.  There is a much broader conversation that permiates the entire building and beyond, about new learning and about learning new things.  It is a school that says, out loud,

“We go beyond the basics.”

“Standards are the starting place for what’s exciting here, not the end goal.”

“This is where learners of all ages are not just memeorizing facts and mastering skills — but working with new knowledge, constructing new knowledge, and impacting others through their work.

Here are just a few suggestions for administrators for promoting these conversations:

  1. Hire learners. Ask prospective employees, “Tell me about something that you have learned lately.” “How did you learn it?” “What are you seeking to learn more about right now?”
  2. Open your faculty meetings with something that you’ve just learned – and how you learned it.  It does not have to be about school, instruction, education managements, or the latest theories of learning.
  3. Make frequent mention of your Twitter stream, RSS reader, specific bloggers you read.  Again, this should not be limited to job specific topics.
  4. Share links to specific TED talks or other mini-lectures by interesting and smart people, then share and ask for reactions during faculty meetings, in the halls, or during casual conversations with employees and parents just before the PTO meeting.
  5. Include in the daily announcements, something new and interesting (Did you know that a California power utility has just gotten permission to start buying electricity from outer space?).
  6. Ask students in the halls what they’ve just learned. Ask them what their teachers have just learned.
  7. Ask teachers and other staff to write reports on their latest vacation, sharing what they learned – and publish them for public consumption.
  8. Ask teachers to devote one of their classroom bulletin boards to what they are learning, related or unrelated to the classroom.
  9. Include short articles in the schools newsletter and/or web site about research being conducted by the teachers – again, related or unrelated to the classroom.
  10. Learn what the parents of your students are passionately learning about, and ask them to report (text, video, Skype conversation, or in person to be recorded).
    —————————————- added later ————————————–
  11. Find ways to be playful at your school — and perhaps feel less grown-up. (see Do Grown-ups Learning?)

Community – Formerly Known as Audience

A bridge is a sticky connector only if people need to get to the other side (( Leszczynski, Janusz. “Alexandria Bridge.” Janusz L’s Photostream. 28 Aug 2009. Flickr, Web. 23 Nov 2009. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/januszbc/3865004558/>. ))

It appears to have started with a Facebook status update from Science Leadership Academy Principal, Chris Lehmann.

When having audience is no longer novel, simply having one is no longer motivating.  We still must help kids have something powerful to say.

Saskatchewan educator, Dean Shareski, continues the point in a blog post, Why Audience Matters, followed by fellow Canadian (Snow Lake, Manitoba), Clarence Fisher in his post, Those Formerly Known as the Audience.  Finally, it all came to my attention, when Jeff Utecht tweeted a link to his installment on the conversation, Audience as Community.  I strongly recommend you read all three of these blog posts because, together, they cover a wide range of reasons why audience is important to student learners.

My immediate response to the whole issue was a mild disagreement with Chris’ initial post.  He may be right, and he’s certainly in a better position than me to see it first hand.  But I’ve had numerous Class Blogmeister teachers say that “classroom” as audience seems to be just about as motivating as arranging for people around the world read and respond. 

I suspect that the world-reach thrill of blogging might be novel and might wear off.   But it occurs to me that the true power of working within an audience, as opposed to performing in front of an audience (writing to the teacher, what you thing the teacher wants to read), is the power of conversation.  It’s knowing that somebody (even the guy in the next row) is reading what you are writing (not measuring it), and that the reader may respond to what you’ve written, pushing you to rethink and respond back.

It’s the potential of adding something valuable to somebody else’s thinking — the potential of becoming valuable.

I usually mention three qualities of personal learning networks when I do presentations on the subject — that PLNs are:

  1. Personal — They’re shape and function is completely up to the the ongoing needs of the learner.
  2. Both Spontaneous and Directed — Some learning experiences can result from careful cultivation of the network, and some simply happen because you are connected.
  3. Connective — The network of people and sources are held together not by wires, routers, and HTML links.  It is a network of ideas.

It’s this last one, connectiveness, that I think may be pertinent to this conversation.  There has to be something between the network nodes besides the concept of audience.  There has to be something sticky there, something that helps, something that offers value, an intrinsic reason for the conversation.  If you are connecting your class to another class in Scotland, then there needs to be something in the perspective or experience of those Scottish students that helps your students accomplish their goals, and it must be a goal that is more than academic or schoolie.  It has to be a goal your students identify with — that they want to accomplish.

This network of ideas is one of my favorite aspects of personal learning networks.  The people I am connected to are not part of my network because we look the same, speak the same native language, follow the same religous doctrine, or share identical cultural traits.  We connect through our ideas, because what we do provokes us to share those ideas, and we all benefit.  Even the photo that I include at the top of this post comes from a temporary PLN connection with Janusz Leszczynski, simple because he (she) once took a picture of a bridge and labeled it bridge and I, months later, was looking for a picture of a bridge to symbolize connection.  The ideas were experienced at different times, but the ideas’ stickness lasted on.

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The Future in Edmonton

Ready to Record
About to get underway.  The presentation was piped to students in five high schools across the district.

Most of this was written during my flight home from Edmonton on Tuesday.  I had spent Monday in Edmonton, Alberta, working with about 250 educators from the local school district, some neighboring districts, and the local Catholic schools (also publicly funded in Alberta).  Similar to many of the districts I’ve worked with lately, the Edmonton Public Schools have been focused on improving student performance, as measured by the province — for which Edmonton has been especially successful.  But they are now looking to the future, realizing that much has changed in recent years, for which their schools have not kept up.

I started off with a general keynote address talking about the future, our students, and how the nature of information has changed, becoming increasingly networked, digital, and abundant.  That address was watched, via teleconferencing, by several students from each of five high schools across the district.  These students backchanneled the address using Knitter, the transcript of which was immediately made available to the educators in the immediate audience.  They used this transcribe and their own reactions to fuel small group reflections and conversations.

One of the continuing themes of the students’ conversation was the digital divide and a learning divide. Another was education in general, about which they were fairly conservative in their opinions.

Here are some quotes from the studentss chat:

I do not want to just learn facts, I want to learn why things are said and done the way they are.

..education cant change the only thing that changes is the way its delivered

I say we make Windows and Mac open-sourced. Send the development code to tech instructors at public school boards. See what happens 🙂

As part of a conversation about Wikipedia and the library:

there’s no reason to go with one or the other, but it IS necessary to know how to use both

To the question, “…isn’t technology making us lazier?”

Theres a fine line between lazy and the ability to do more, if the computer can check our spelling, that saves us time to do more

i believe that technology has made the poputaion lazy. but it can also be veiwed as a very positive thing if we learn to use it in a way that is positive for society.

About Facebook:

Facebook may not be completely safe but neither is taking public transport that doesn’t stop us from using it

Random thoughts:

y not cut down on the keeping up and focus on whats important, student learning, there’s always going to be the latest and greatest technological advancement…

Sitting and watching powerpoints for an hour everyday is not as exciting as it may seem

computers are used like typewriters, everything useful is blocked or restricted

why not make the students the teachers..

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A Day in Texas

I’ve been at home for a couple of days doing some planning for upcoming events — and trying to find a better Linux distribution for my netbook.  Linux can be a real time-sink for someone like me, who would really “..love it if my computer could do this too.”  Anyway, I settled on something called Crunchbang Linux, a derivative of Ubuntu with the Kuki (pronounced “cookie”) kernel inserted in.  Kuki has been enhanced for the Acer Aspire One’s peculiarities.  I hope that those last two sentence impresses you.  I don’t understand it worth a flip, but it’s working just great, and I’m blogging on my Netbook right now at Starbucks.

The Athletic & Fine Arts Center.

The buzz from my day (Monday) at Region XI in Texas is still ringing in my head.  I knew that it would be a different sort of day, when I walked into the “Fine Arts Center,” whose sign actually read, “Atheletic and Fine Arts Center.” I walked in, through a wrought-iron gate, across a high cellinged entranceway, through another opening out into a huge football statium.  OMG, I’m going to be soooo late.

I walked back into the entranceway where there was a ticket office, a worker having just entered through the glass door.  I followed her in and asked about the Region XI event.  In typical Texas friendliness, she ushered me out to some double doors, just outside the gate, and up some stairs, where folks were preparing a huge room for the event — the inclined celling echoing the statium seating above.

It was a good day, however, with, by my approximation, between two and three-hundred folks.  The intended audience was library media specialists, but many of them brought teachers, principals, and even superintendents with them.  The topic was contemporary literacy and the information environment that it rises out of.

I took three things away from the event.  One was the graying,  yet rather aggressive school librarian, who launched her hand into the air when I asked the younger educators among us to share their experiences with social networks.  She insisted, and many concurred, that social networking was no longer the exclusive domain of the young.  This rang true, considering a blog I recently discovered, Social Networking Watch.  In a January 14 post, (Older Adults Among New Members on SNS), Mark Brooks graphs Social Network Service members by age, revealing that a full 36% are older than 44 — 7% older than 64.

The second thing I came away with was a story about a fourth grade class who visited the local Rotary Club (May have been Lions Club) to inform community leaders of how they were using technology in their classrooms.  They did their presentation, and then went about talking withmembers during lunch, taking pictures and video clips, and conferring with each other in the back. 

In the back, they were mixing the content they had collected and they ended the meeting with a video conveying what they had just learned about Lions Club International (May have been Rotary Club). The members were so impressed that the local Chamber of Commerce commissioned the class (4th graders) to attend one of their meetings and to create a promotional video for the organization.

The third thing (and their may have been a fourth, but I can’t remember) was a conversation that we had at the event and that I am starting to have with myself — about project-based learning (PBL).  What got me started on PBL was another conversation I had with a superintendent from California recently, where he reminded me that PBL is outlawed in his state.  All instructional techniques must be directly related to standards and research based — and project based learning was not allowed.

I remember when this happened and it was years ago, so I’d figured that this edict had faded away — and most certainly there are many inventive educators in California who have found ways to include PBL in their classrooms.  But I wonder if there is some distinction about what that Texas educator did and what many of us usually think of when we have students doing projects.  My notion of projects has been to have students take a topic that is curriculum related but something that they have a genuine interest in, and then asking them to research, become an expert, and then prepare some sort of presentation for the class.  It might be a personal performance, a multimedia product, or just a report.

The distinction I wonder about is the difference between project-based learning, and job-based learning.  In this example, the students were working on a project, making themselves experts, and producing an information product that might be of value to other people.  Another example, I heard from Rowland Baker of TICAL, whom I worked for last week in Arkansas.  The EAST Project (Environmental and Spatial Technology)

…focuses on student-driven service projects through the use of the latest in technology. EAST schools are equipped with classrooms containing state-of-the-art workstations, servers, software, and accessories, including GPS/GIS mapping tools, architectural and CAD design software, 3D animation suites, and much more. Students find problems in their local communities, and then use these tools to solve them.

Rowland told me about an Arkansas school where students, involved in the EAST project were saving their county millions of dollars a year.  One of the students wanted to learn how to use GIS and GPS, so he started studying how the local farmers used water (552,000,000 Gallons a year).  He learned, through his study, that with a series of reservoirs, ditches, rises, and pumps, farmers to recycle more water instead of having to drill new and deeper wells. [link]

This is a pretty dramatic example.  The simple difference that I see is that a job-based learning activity produces something of value to others and its value/impact extends beyond the walls of the classroom or school.

There is NOTHING new here, and I am not suggesting a change in educational terminology.  It’s just that the idea of learners using their education as a tool for benefit or change is one that deserves repeating every now and then.

You can learn about the water project and others from this TICAL podcast.

Pre-Conference Ning’ing…

I have a quick question for you.

If you were considering going to a conference, might you decide not to attend, if the conference put its handouts up on a Ning prior to the conference, or opened the Ning up for conversation?

If you were trying to decide between two conferences, would the conference that offers a Ning for pre-conference resources and conversation, lose points for that reason?

I look forward to your response?

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Three-way Keynote

The three of them, each hold a Flip Video camera, recording each other in a casual conversation.

I’m finally watching Alice Barr (High School Technology Integrationist), Cheryl Oakes (K-12 Collaborative content coach), and Bob Sprankle’s (Wells School District Integrationis) keynote… “How Can I Become Part of this ReadWriteWeb Revolution?” (video)  I was totally impressed with the opening, asking, “They’re teachers!  How did they do that?”  Then it occured to me.  They were using Animoto.  Excellent, I’m reminded of the very interesting act of making a commercial for learning.

Then I’m even more impressed with their technique.  Basically, the three of them, all Maine’rs and distinguished (shall we say, “famous”) educators, are holding Flips up to each other and videoing each other as they talk.  They’re having a conversation, and collecting it, three-way fashion, where, I assume, they edited it together afterward.  This is so powerful, and so easy to do.  I’m still mystified that in all the tech stores I visited in Hong Kong and Shanghai, I couldn’t find a single Flip.

They talk about the 21st century Literacies, which now include media literacy, communication, Collaboration, innovation, information literacy, digital citizenship, ethics, civics, these are new information literacies.  Of course, in a panel discussion I’ll be involved in at Friday’s TechForum in Palasaides, NY, David Jakes, our moderator, will be asking if there are, indeed, new literacies.  What do you think?

Alice also talks about creativity (my preference is inventiveness), invoking Thomas Friedman.

“So how do you do that, when you’re stuck in a classroom…?” Bob asks.

Their vision is, “Don’t do it alone!”  Find a Cheers!  They are actually doing the keynote in an out door cafe.

I like Cheryl’s quest to make the classroom like an ongoing homecoming.  On top of some many things that means, it attracts the involvement of the community — because the community has been there.  We’ve all been there, in the classroom, and we remember — and we can be inspired to be a part of the “revolution,” as they call it.

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