Your Game Puppet

Flickr Photo by Mark CoffeeGeek from Vancouver

Tweeted yesterday that during a pilot project in Portugal involving 8 and 9 year olds setting up virtual businesses in Active Worlds, they were encouraged to call their avatars, their “toys.”

I just discovered a Tweet-reply from VWassessments (Kathy Landerson).

Interesting -in SL -“avatar”, in WoW players call them “toons” & have main & alts, in Muxlim Pal -it’s ur “pal”, in Spore ur “creature” (Landerson)

I wonder how your term for your game puppet affects your relationship with the player identity and/or the player’s relationship with the game?  I’m sure somebody’s researching that.

For that matter, how does the students relationship with a end product affect his or her relationship with what’s being learned — or how well it’s being learned?

I always preferred being the race car.

Landerson, Kathy. 11 Apr 2009. Online Posting. Twitter. Web: 13 Apr 2009.

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200 Virtual Worlds for Kids

Club Timemachine [click image to enlarge]

I am still working on this article on virtual worlds in education, an ran across this report from January 26, 2009.  According to Virtual Worlds Management, more than 200 youth-oriented worlds are currently live or in development.  This is an increase from 150 known youth-oriented virtual worlds in August of 2008.

I pulled the listing into a spread sheet and did a little inquiry.  Here are some of the things I found:

  • 38 of the virtual worlds products are explicitely intended for children six and younger.
  • Two are being developed in Australia, 2 in Belgium, 8 in Canada, 2 in China, 3 in Denmark, 4 in Finland, 2 in France, 4 in Germany, 3 in Israel, 5 in Japan, 4 in Korea, 2 in Spain, 2 in Sweden, 14 in the UK, and 126 in the U.S.
  • One is in Alpha, 10 are in closed beta, 36 are in open beta, 7 are in concept, and 26 are under development.  Most of the rest are live.

“200+ Youth-Oriented Worlds Live or Developing.” Virtual Worlds Management. 2 Feb 2009. Show Initiative, LLC. 26 Jan 2009 <>.

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21st Century Literacies

My vent about Arne Duncan’s six-day school week kicked up a lot of discussion over the past few days. I can’t remember the last time one of my posts attracted 40 comments. Of course many of them are my replies, but still…

Unrelated: Here are some photos I took yesterday. I just can’t get enough of these dogwood blossoms. They won’t be around much longer. (click to enlarge)

Reading through those comments reminds me a bit of a debate that was held more than 10 years ago at a CoSN conference in Washington, between Judy Salpeter, then editor and chief of Technology and Learning Magazine, and Todd Oppenheimer, who had just written a piece (The Computer Delusion) for The Atlantic Monthly, critical of technology in education.  They both made points — and very effectively so.  But they were both taking aim at different targets — at different visions of what education should be doing for us today.

It’s what I see here.  There is a dramatic difference between what Arne Duncan (and many politicals) probably sees when he envisions appropriate education for today’s children, and what many of us are certain needs to be happening in our students formal education.

I love it when someone smarter than me, says it better than I ever could.  In his opening blog post for Online Instigator, Howard Rheingold explains that our children and grandchildren need to…

…grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else?

In my vision of the formal education that inspires these skills in our children, the classroom plays only a very small part.  These are not just literacy skills.  They are learning skills — and they can not merely be taught.  To do so only insults and irritates our children.  These are skills that must be practiced authentically in order to become habits, not just skills — and the most authentic place to practice them is outside the classroom.

What I’m suggesting is less time in the classroom, not more.

Rheingold continues pressing the point of the importance of these skills when he says that…

The speed, scope, and spread of knowledge might be more critically important at this historic moment than microchips, initial public offerings, business models, 3G networks, Web 2.0 services, or fiberoptic cables.

The nature of information has changed — not in what it does and what it means, but in what it looks like, how it flows and grows, and where and whom it comes from, how we find it, what we use to find it, …  It means that there is still much that needs to be taught.  The teacher and classroom, though I suggest might take up a smaller part of our students’ day, has actually become far far more important.  The library and librarian has become far far more important — if they can re-image themselves to reflect a new information landscape.

Rheingold continues…

And don’t swallow the myth of the digital native. Just because your teens Facebook, IM, and Youtube, don’t assume they know the rhetoric of blogging, collective knowledge gathering techniques of taggers and social bookmarkers, collaborative norms of wiki work, how to tune and feed a Twitter network, the art of multimedia argumentation – and, by far most importantly, online crap detection. (Rheingold)

Our children know how to play the information.  They still desperately need us to teach them how to work the information.

I have to smile when I consider that the fellow who shares such insight into our children’s education still wears tie-died shirts — but so be it.

Education researcher, James Paul Gee, writes (article) in the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research that…

We live in a high risk world of interacting complex systems. A world subject to dangerous global warming, a now melting high-risk global economy, and massive destruction due to unchecked poverty and population growth.  Natural systems are no longer independent of human beings.  Urban environments and human energy seeking now affect temperature and storms.  Things that were once “acts of God” and are now also “acts of man.”

In my view, in the twenty-first century we need the following—and we need them fast and all at once together: embodied empathy for complex systems; “grit” (passion + persistence); playfulness that leads to innovation; design thinking; collaborations in which groups are smarter than the smartest person in the group; and real understanding that leads to problem solving and not just test passing.  These are, to my mind, the true twenty-first century skills.  We will not get them in schools alone and we will never get them in the schools we currently have. (Gee)

We need to reinvent education, not just prolong it!

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Gee, James Paul. “Games, Learning, and 21st Century Survival Skills.” Journal of Virtual Worlds Research 2. 1. April 2009 Web.11 Apr 2009.

Rheingold, Howard. “21st Century Literacies.” [Weblog Online Instigator] 10 Apr 2009. Web.13 Apr 2009. <>.

Let’s just put them all in jail 24/7

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

This is one of those posts where I might have gotten a bit carried away.  But that title about jail comes from one of the comments I got when I posted some quotes from Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, on Twitter and Facebook yesterday.  The national education leader visited two Denver schools on Tuesday, and to an apparently unsympathetic room of about 400 middle and high school students,

Duncan said American schools should be open six days a week, at least 11 months a year, to improve student performance. (Gandy)

According to the a story, entitled “Education Secretary says kids need more school,” Duncan said to the teenagers,

You’re competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; 11, 12 months a year.

I do not know enough about the school (Bruce Randolph) that Duncan seems to be holding up as a model for the nation, for an opinion.  But the two statements, attributed to the education leader, not only make my blood boil — but they are simply “Dead Wrong!”

Arnie Duncan was nominated to the Secretary of Education post by President Barack Obama in mid-December last year, and smarter men than me immediately called foul (See Gary Stager’s “What Do Arne Duncan & Paul Bremer Have in Common?).  I wanted to give Duncan the benefit of the doubt, but all doubt’s gone now.  We’ve gotten no where and we’re going nowwhere, especially if we are going to extend the sentencing of our children.

One commenter of my Facebook posts said,

..the competition we have vs. India and China (2 Million …  Read MoreMinutes) is an impossible task to overcome. Those are the best of the best compared to our better kids.

I would extend this mismatch to suggest that it isn’t simply that we’re comparing their best apples to our better apples.  First of all, you’re not going to win the blue ribbon at the county fair by leaving your apple pie in the oven longer.  And secondly, why not grow oranges instead.  Doesn’t a global market place need diversity of talents and skills — not everyone trying to best each other on the same narrow array of standards.

Isn’t this what we’re doing to our children?

But we’re not talking about fruit are we?  We’re talking about our children. ..and let’s face it, we’re talking about nothing less than institutionalizing “child labor” to satisfy a failed belief that higher standardized test scores will reliably lead to a stronger economy, more prosperous citizens, and a vibrant democracy.  What it leads to is boredom, ca lapsing morale among our best teachers, children without passion, children dropping out, and a growing and prospering testing industry.

I was so incredibly lucky to have gone to school when I did.  Even though I did poorly on tests, was not conscientious about homework, blah blah blah (we didn’t diagnose leaning disabilities (diversities) back then). I had wise teachers who said, “He’s bright and he can learn anything he wants to learn.”  My parents didn’t worry.

My son, who’s not A.D.D., still performed poorly, because he was bored.  He didn’t care.  He wasn’t drinking the kool aid.  He spent his time and attention with his music.  I remember when a middle school math teacher refused to sign off on his enrolling in more advanced math classes in high school.  She urged us to keep him out of math.  The cynic in me is convinced that continued poor math performance wouldn’t have been good for the school.

We put him in Math and he performed poorly — until he approached his senior year and realized that his grades would prevent him from earning that music scholarship he need for his music school of choice.  So during his senior year, he out-performed, in calculus, classmates who’d already been accepted at MIT.

Now if you think that the moral of this story is “making kids want to do well in Math will result in better performance,” then you’re wrong.  The moral of the story is that if my son finally wants a job, where he needs to know Calculus — then he’ll learn calculus.  You see,

Anyone who can master something that he or she is passionate about,

Can learn anything!

Bring passion back into education — and kick out the standards!

..and while you’re at it, kick the amateurs out too!

Gandy. Sara. “Education Secretary says kids need more school ,” 9News.Com 8 Apr 2009. 9 Apr 2009 <>.

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Podstock in May…

I’ve known about this one for some time and not sure why I haven’t promoted or even mentioned it before now.  Perhaps it’s because I watched a bit of Woodstock last night from VH1.  Kind’a embarrassing, though great to see Santana and CSN’s performances again.

That’s not what this is about.  In the words of Podstock organizer, Kevin Honeycutt

Podstock is a brand new conference designed to bring podcast creators and those who see the real value of podcasting as creators and consumers together.

We’ll have breakout sessions on podcasting for beginners, as well as sessions for and by seasoned pros. We’ll explore podcasting as well as many other web 2.0 tools that can enhance learning and communication in your world.

Here are the particulars:

Time: May 1, 2009 to May 2, 2009

Location: Hotel at Old Town

Street: Wichita

City/Town: Kansas

Website or Map:

Event Type: mentorshipart-of-peace, edutainment, collaboratory
Organized By: ESSDACK Education Futures Forum
Latest Activity: Feb 24

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How do you measure your social network?

I’ve been working on a new presentation over the past several weeks/months.  Until now, it’s mostly been in my head.  But I’ve promised to have it ready for the One-to-One Computing Conference the end of the month in State College, PA.  Also delivering keynotes will be Chris Lehman (founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy), Cole Camplese (director of education technology services for Penn State), and an old friend of mine, Kyle Peck, whose job description is far to unwieldy to list here — it seems to get longer every time I see him.

I love this picture from the conference web site

The conference is in its fifth year and is designed to help educators, teachers and administrators, prepare for one-to-one learning environments.  From the conference site:

On February 8, 2006, Governor Ed Rendell announced his proposed budget that included the “Classrooms for the Future” initiative. Governor Rendell proposed that “by 2009, every public high school classroom used to teach the four core subjects will have an Internet-equipped laptop computer on every student’s desk … as well as … a multimedia technology unit at the teacher desk. What’s more, we will invest in professional development for Pennsylvania teachers and school leaders to teach them how to use the new technology that will boost the skills and knowledge of our students.”

My goal for the address is to talk about some of the qualities of our students’ outside-the-classroom information experiences, compelling characteristics of that native experience that may be significant catalysts for informal learning — and may be pedagogically valuable  as we retool the classroom with networked, digital, abundant, and hyper-connected information. 

One of the ideas that I am interested in is how assessment fits.  I know that I lot of ideas have been shared about how assessment is an integral part of most video games (see this interview with James Paul Gee).  But I wonder about our students’ communications.  Is there any way that it is measured.  I know that many of us measure our writing by hits or links-to.  But do our students measure their Facebook pages?  I posed that question a few days ago on Twitter and here are the answers I got.

  • Not a student, but it would have to be a clean yet wacky profile. Opinionated. Profile feed should not be filled with lame apps.
  • IMO (I’m 24) a good page is unique and answers all the important questions (status, good quotes, etc).
  • There’s also no real measure of “success”-not like a regular site where many hits=success
  • Just asked six 8th grade girls. Top answer – lots of pictures! Other answers – bumper stickers and frequently updated statuses.
  • From a teacher’s eyes, good student FB pages need evidence of deep personal interests BEYOND Halo and World of Warcraft!
  • I’d also like to see evidence of developing connections to experts or organizations in those areas of interest combined with…
  • evidence of early attempts to take action to learn more or to drive change in those areas of interest.
  • A profile that is constantly updated with engaging content because it keeps people coming back to see what you’ve added

This list was enlightening.  Being teachers, most responded with rubrics.  Even the 8th grade girls listed features they looked for.  I guess the question I was trying to ask was,

“In maintaining a Facebook (Myspace, Beebo, etc.) presence, what do you strive to accomplish?  What is your measure of success?”

It could be that I got the answer already.  But I’d love more input.  If you have the time and opportunity, ask some of your students.

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Solutions for Dropout Prevention

Wes Fryer posted in his blog yesterday (Missing Choices…) a list of solutions for this country’s (embarrassing) high school dropout problem.  I’ve included the list to the right.  Attendees for a dropout summit in Oklahoma City were asked to rate the solutions by one of the event’s sponsors, America’s Promise Alliance.  Wesley live-blogged the event here.

  1. Make accurate graduation and dropout data readily available.
  2. Tie high school graduation requirements to the expectations of colleges and employers.
  3. Support greater parental engagement in their children’s education.
  4. Provide students with a safe learning environment.
  5. Raise the compulsory school age requirements under state law.
  6. Give schools information about scientifically proven strategies to improve education.
  7. Make increasing high school graduation and college/workforce readiness a national priority (ex. engage policymakers and national leaders in better understanding the problems and common solutions to the dropout problem).
  8. Develop individualized graduation plans for each student.
  9. Establish an “Early Warning System” that identifies youth who are struggling academically early.
  10. Expand college level learning opportunities in high school.
  11. Provide students with adult advocates who help identify academic and personal challenges early and get students the support they need.
  12. Other

Fryer drew out numbers 3 (parent envolvment) and 8 (individualized graduation plan), suggesting that they were the most important and valid.  I agree.  He also suggested two additions:

  • Expand alternative graduation and credit options for students
  • Focus the learning culture of schools on student engagement, project-based learning, and authentic assessment.

But even with his characteristically thoughtful reflections, the activity continued to irk me.  I copied the list into a personal little blog that I keep for things I may want to consider in the future and inserted some comments, mostly pithily mocking and ill considered.

The list continued to stay with me until this morning, when I woke, understanding why it bothered me so (I can be kind’a slow with these things).   The problem is that attendees appear to have been asked to rate each solution, comparing them with each other, side-by-side.  They each have their value, or else they would not have been included in the list.  But, as with many things, their value increases in combination.

It seems more useful to me to consider the items as a collection of solutions, combined logically to achieve what Wes calls a learning culture for the school. 

So I spent a little time this morning, posting the items on an Inspiration file, and then linking them together in a way that made sense to me.  To the far left is the realization that this is a problem demanding a solution, — not just a committee.  As a jibe from my customary (way) outside the box position, I suggested that rather than raise the compulsory school age, we lower it, challenging schools to treat their students as customers with a choice, instead of inmates serving time.  I know, a bit harsh!

Click to enlarge, or click here to pull out as a separate image.

I, like Fryer, put the individualized graduation plan at the center of the diagram, with expectations, intervention, and a lot of input from staff, parents, and the student — establishing a meaningful high school experience.  Follow this evolving plan is an emerging teaching and learning culture, drawing from the safe learning environment, opportunities from local colleges and universities, parents, research,  and the addition of local community services and resources, and passion-based extracurricular activities.

What continues to make me itch is the suggestion that we “Give schools information about scientifically proven strategies to improve education.”  First of all, it’s out there.  We should expect educators to be skilled in finding, evaluating, and utilizing that research.  I would also add practices in “action research,” that true learning cultures reflect on themselves and share what they learn.

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What Does Broadband Mean?

A lot of the stories I grazed through early this morning on my iPhone were about the U.S. stimulus package and, specifically, how a significant portion of that money was going to the tech industry.  One of the expressed concerns  was that much of the money would be going to large corporations, such as IBM, Cisco, and AT&T — and perhaps at the expense of innovation.  I have to agree with this concern, though innovation is only part of the intent of stimulus, and many of the projects (problems) in my country are huge.

Flickr user, Keith Lam, posted this picture of the Cotton Bowl playing on his laptop — in the airport.  He posted the photo to Flickr via e-mail.

One such huge project (problem) is broadband expansion — making broadband information (The knowledge economy) available to all U.S. citizens.  One of the questions being struggled with is, “What is broadband?”

Congress has earmarked $7.2 billion in stimulus aid to deploy broadband in underserved parts of the USA. But what does that mean, really?

The Federal Communications Commission is trying to come up with answers. At the request of lawmakers, the agency is in the process of defining “broadband,” “underserved” and other terms. The FCC is advising the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will make the final call on how stimulus money gets doled out. (What’s ‘broadband’?)

Definitions vary wildly.  AT&T, according to the story, suggests a tiered approach, saying that 200 kilobits per second is a good starting minimum for a definition of “broadband.”  Intel, on the other hand, says that 100 megabits is more reasonable.  Considering how much of the content flowing around the Internet today is multimedia (i.e. YouTube), I’d side with the 100 megabits.

The challenge is getting it out to rural areas — and so much of the U.S. is rural and underserved by access to information.  According to the story, the median download speed in the U.S., as of 2008, was 2.3 megabits.  That rate was provided by a Communications Workers of America survey (see State-by-State Bandwidth Ranking).  Of course some states are much lower, Montana mentioned with only 1.3 MB.

The story then attempted to compare the U.S. broadband with that of other industrial countries, by listing the mean bandwidths for Japan (63mbs), South Korea (49mbs), France (17mbs), and Canada (7.6).  I have put together a data table that includes a number of factors that make achieving higher mean bandwidth easier in some countries than it is in others.

This is no excuse, however, for not bringing people into the knowledge age with all haste, and my country has floundered too long.

So, my question to you is, “What is broadband to you?”  I’m not interested so much in numbers, as I am in what kind of access to information should citizens from any country expect to have in the 21st century?  What do we need to know and what does that information need to look like?

Thanks in advance.

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Third Edition of MLA Style Takes Effect

Last summer, The Modern Language Association released it 3rd edition of the MLA style guide. It takes affect this month (April 2009). There are two major changes with regard to citations.

  1. Web URL are no longer included in standard Citations. I have programmed them out of Citation Machine. If there is a reason to include them in your MLA submission, simply add the URL, enclosed with angle brackets , at the end of the citation and close with a period.
  2. Title are no longer underlined in the citations. Instead, they are italicized. This change, also, is included in Citation Machine.

Another Text Visualization

Many Eyes Visualization
A Phrase Net visualization of the U.S. Presidential Inaugural Addresses.

I thought of this one just after posting that last blog about visualizations.  I discovered it yesterday, and it is so powerful, I decided to post it as a separate blog entry.  Phrase Net appears to be a new addition to the very powerful (and sometimes ornery) IBM Many Eyes project, which features a wide range of data visualization tools.

Arrangement of word based on “at” as the connector

Phrase Net acts like a tag cloud, accenting words through size and color based on their frequency of use.  But it also connects those word to each other based on the connect that you choose.  The arrangement to the right is based on “and” as the connector.  Changing the connector to “at” produces the arrangement on the left.  Click the image for an enlargement.

Again, this is another way of examining information in a time when there is simply too much information to read.

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