Should We Be Disappointed? Or Should We Be Challenged?

Summer time use to be dull and boring for those of us who spent work hours on the Internet.  Teachers went home, schools closed, and Net traffic slacked.  That’s all changed now.  Think back to a couple of weeks ago, to the National Educational Computer Conference, and the almost constant stream of blog postings that emanated from that even and from people who were responding to that conversation from points around the globe.  Technorati logs 833 blog posts tagged with necc07Google Blog Search lists 1,119.  Flickr hosts 2,131 uploaded photos tagged with necc07 or with necc07 in the title or description of the photo.

This week, we have a double whammy, two amazing conferences, neither of which I will be attending, but both of which I will be watching.  Alan November’s Building Learning Communities, which starts today (or by all accounts yesterday), and the Lausanne Collegiate School Laptop Institute, which started yesterday.  You can follow the Laptop Institute on Hitchhikr at, and BLC at

I really couldn’t help but chuckle, when Steve Dembo Twittered for someone to try to Skype him while he was on the BLC cruise.  Then almost immediately Twittering again, “Stop Stop, Please Stop!” as people were pinging his Skype account from all over the world…

But that’s not what this post is about.  Last week saw some pretty exhilarating mind activity at the Games + Learning + Society conference in Madison, Wisconsin.  While there (literally), I had the pleasure of sitting with Jenny Levine (The Shifted Librarian),  Glenn Webe (History Tech author and social studies consultant at ESSDACK), and Cynthia (don’t remember her last name), who is a professor at a university in Chicago.  At the end of our lunch, I recorded a conversation we had about our reactions to the conference and especially about the upcoming ALA conference on video games in Chicago (wish I could be there).  Hopefully this recorded file will survive the repairs currently being done to my Mac and will appear as a podcast sometime soon.

At the end of our conversation, I asked, “What has surprised you at this conference?”  Glenn, whom I respect and who has contributed a great deal to the conversation about video games in education, expressed a disappointment that although the conference explicitly advertised itself as a games and education conference, very little was shared about integrating video games into our classrooms.  We all agreed, and this issue was brought up on several occasions during sessions I attended.

However, I’d like to take another stab at this idea from a different direction (my forte).  If we look at efforts to apply games to education as a bridge we are building between the island of video games and the island of today’s classrooms, I suspect that video games, as discussed at the GLS conference, have pretty much built half of that bridge.  Enough evidence has been generated that video games can help students learn a variety of skills and content and how that happens. 

Perhaps it is our part to close the gap, to build the rest of the bridge, to think about, talk about, and work toward restructured classrooms and learning experiences that can adaptively harness the power of video games for the sake of learning standards that are relevant to our children’s future.

This is not merely a suggestion for teachers.  This challenge applies to principals, central office administration, state departments of education, school boards and superintendents, legislators, and a caring visionary national leadership — and even the students.  We have to move into the 21st century, not just sit back and wait for the 21st century to recognize us.

Image Citation:
Louie, Steve. “Fremont Bridge.” The_get_up_kid’s Photostream. 16 July 2007. 16 Jul 2007 <>.

Games • Learning • Society [classroom strategy guides?]

[Written yesterday at the airport]

Some educators take a break at the conference to play games.

I’m back at the airport, Madison, Wisconsin, on my way back home for a few hours and a good night’s sleep.  Then off to Louisiana.  I just saw Deborah Fields walking down the concourse and was reminded of her talk, at GLS, about cheat sites.  These are web sites created to collect and make available strategies and shortcuts for playing various video games.  The ones that she has studied were developed by youngsters who play Whyville, a MUVE for tweens.

I often suggest to teachers that they help their students to collaboratively create their own test study guides, using a wiki, instead of handing out teacher-made study guides.  They would work on their wiki pages as an ongoing part of the progressing unit of study.

While I was watching Deborah’s presentation, it occurred to me that study guides for tests are a lot like strategy guides for video games.

So, if I might take this to what some might say is an absurd conclusion, might my students gain something useful, if I allowed them to collaboratively create an online study guide for their test, and then allow them to use that web site as they take the test — and open-web test, so to speak.

OK, it will never work.  Too easy for the kids.  But I would suggest that if allowing students to create a strategy guide to use when taking their test would make the test too easy — perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions on the test.

MORI Survey of UK Teachers & Commercial Games

Angela MacFarlaneI just sat through a session of presenters that, although they each shared interesting and valuable information, was disappointing, because we did not have time in the end to ask the questions that the entire session was intended to teach — what we learned in the process of developing our games.  The presentations were mostly about the games.

The last presentation was the exception, by Angela McFarlane of the University of Bristol.  She gave an excellent presentation from the perspective of FutureLab, with which she appears to have some connection.  What floored me, almost literally, was a recent MORI survey, which asked questions about teachers use of commercial video games in their classrooms.

MORI (?) does annual surveys of teachers across the UK each year.  For a small fee, additional questions can be inserted, and as a result of adding some questions about video games, they learned that:

  • 31% of teachers have used COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) games in their teaching.
  • 59% would consider using them in the future.
  • 63% believe that players learning “higher-order thinking skills” and 62% specific content knowledge.
  • 62% think that games teach stereotypical views and 71% think that they teach anti-social behavior.

I wonder what the finding would be in the U.S.

Passively Multiplayer Online Gaming — The Web

Justin HallI’m going to try to explain this and I may not get it right.  If this doesn’t send chills, then I guess you had to be there.  During one of the panel presentations, yesterday, a 17 year old looking fellow, Justin Hall, demonstrated a game (PMOG) he has developed that involves web surfing.  It only works with Firefox and it involves registering, downloading a Firefox extension, and then surfing — surfing for points.

I suspect that it works something like this.  The extension checks the domains of the web sites that you visit.  The developers have ascribed a valued point system to the game, such that as you visit the site, the extension matches it with any ascribed qualities related to that site on the game host, and then awards points based on what you are looking at, doing, and how you got there.

To add another dimension to the game, players can anticipate sites that their friends will be visiting, and plant bombs there, such that as that person hits the site, they get a message indicating some change in their points (either increased or decreased) or some other effect on their play.

Hall admitted that many people would be hesitant to try this sort of thing because of privacy.  Most would rather get root canal.  But he explained that all of the surfing data (urls) are dropped immediately, and that only the points are and profile are held. 

At the end of the presentations, the session was opened up to the audience (there were three presentations in all) and I got a question in just as the session time was about to expire.  I asked, “Considering that most of the teachers here work in classrooms with certain constraints, but considering session is about games blurring beyond the tradition, do you have notions of how your games might blur in such a way that they can influence classroom teaching and learning?”

Hall took the microphone first and exclaimed, “Absolutely not!”  ..and then continued to describe what were apparently several prickly conversations that he’d had with librarians, who were terrified by the privacy implications of his game.  I certainly understand their concern.  But I suspect, that if we could address the user security, librarians, especially, would jump all over this.

Librarians, as the rest of us, are keenly interested in the skills that our students develop in using the networked digital information landscape to accomplish their goals.  If there was a way to lay over that experience a way of not only tracking their navigations, but also value them, and provide some currency of reward, and make it even more interesting by allowing them to anticipate the routes of their friends and affect them in some way, we might be able to take research, evaluation, decision making, creativity development to a whole new level.

What do you think?

Games • Learning • Society [2]

Slide from GLSHere are a few quotes from the GLS conference for your consideration.  They struck me at some subterranian level and I’m not sure why.  I suspect that there may be something important to us, or maybe not. 

What do you think?

Art is easy to specify, but expensive to product!
Programming is easy to product, but hard to specify!

We’ve established at the conference that we don’t have to ask, “do kids learn in video games?”  What we’re interested in is “how do kids learn?”

There’s probably more learning theory involved in the commercial games than the training simulations.  — Karl Royle

School 2.0 is a Lot of Things + Conversation

Will Richardson posted a wisdom seeking article today on weblogg-ed called, It’s Not Just the “Read/Write” Web.  He says…

I listened to a presentation of late that attempted to define School 2.0 and did so pretty much solely on the grounds that we can have our students create and publish meaningful work to the world. Now I have absolutely no problem with infusing these tools into classrooms to allow kids to publish what they know to large audiences. That’s a great first step. But that’s not School 2.0 (is it?) And in another conversation I had recently with someone who is doing some really interesting implementations of social technologies into her district, the main success was that her teachers and students were now able to communicate more effectively with each other and parents. That’s not it either (is it?)

Go to the post page to partake of the conversation that this article has provoked.  But since I wrote my comment, on my phone, in the airport, I wanted to flesh it out just a bit here.  Actually I think I did a pretty good job at the airport.

Kid at ComputerWhat I seem to read in in his examples was an insistence among educators — traditional and progressive — to work toward final products. Instead of a book report or a graph in colored pencil, it’s a video or a podcast.  In RL, so much of what we do never really gets finished.  For that mater, what do we ever start from scratch. It’s all ongoing.  It’s all conversation.

One of the insights that I’ve gotten from my own children is that they view information as a raw material, something that something else can be done with. Mashups are the most obvious example. I would rather not look at the production of a video or a podcast as the end of an assignment, but as the beginning or continuation of a conversation.

We are so focused, as educators, with what is learned. I wish we were more focused on learning. That’s sort’a what I’m thinking about school 2.0, while waitin for my connetion at O’Hare….

..and it’s what I continue to think after a day at the Games • Learning • Society conference.

Games • Learning • Society [1]

Mia ConsalvaDeborah Fields talking about cheat sites created by kids to help each other cheat? be resourceful?

I’m at a I’m at a video games conference in Madison, Wisconsin.  Having woken up in Vermont, I was unable to get here for James Gee’s opening keynote, nor the first session.  However, after arriving, I found a seat in the very front of a session on the politics of cheating — the only seat left in the conference.

It was an intriguing panel presentation of folks (mostly very young researchers — non looked older than 17) who have conducted various research on the phenomena of cheating in video games.  What resonated most with me was a section in Mia Consalvo’sDeborah Fields look at cheat sites, web sites created by players to consolodate cheats and cheat strategies.  She was looking at the online game, Whyville, so the sites that she examined were mostly set up by 13 and 14 year olds.  It seems that what these kids do, to collaboratively produce an information document (web site) to help people accomplish something, involves exactly the sorts of information skills we want them to develop.

Now they are developing their site to cheat, but Scot Osterweil asked a question at the end of the session (pre-empting the question I wanted to ask) that I think cut through to what was swirling under the surface of my mind.  Are we talking about cheating?  or are we talking about a lot of other things, that perhaps need other names?  One of the researchers indicated that even the kids, the subjects of their research seemed to have difficulty working around the word cheating.

Much of it is resourcefulness and changing the rules.  My question was going to be, “How do teachers restructure their assignments so that they invite this kind of resourcefulness?”

Perhaps an answer will reveal itself as the conference progresses.

Last Day in Vermont

A grand day in Vermont yesterday.  I did my session on Web 2.0 to School 2.0, and it seemed to resonate.  I did it a few weeks ago for the SETDA group at the Leadership Symposium at NECC for the first time and talking about the differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, within the context of teaching and learning (1.5 ;-)) seems to resonate right now.  So it was a fun session to do yesterday, and then to interact with the leadership teams as the continued to vision and continued their plan writing was a real treat.

I had a great evening as well, with the organizers of the conference and a couple of folks, Jeff Sun and his associate Jean, who are consultants from Massachusetts (Boston area).  It was fun sharing stories on folks we know mutually in North Carolina.

There seems to be no real reason for this blog, so I’ll just mention that there was one idea that seemed to come to mind and to my lips several times yesterday, as I talked with small groups of school leaders, as they struggled with the direction of their schools.  It was a shift from a world of information scarcity to a world of information abundance.  What does teaching and learning look like — what does a classroom and text book look like, when we have access to so many resources and so much information — so much that we can waste it?

Click Here!

School FashionThis was waiting in my e-mail box this morning, posted by a prominent clothing fashion store in a mall near you.  It spouts in white, red/orange, and blue text,

25% OFF

So, how might a spam ad from your school read, inviting kids back to the classroom from a summer of sun, fun, and friends?  What’s the discount?  What precedes, “What’s not to love?” 

What are they going to see when they “Click Here”.

A Day in Vermont

Bernie Dodge Presenting in VermontI had a good day at the LEAD-IT conference, where school district teams, consisting of a superintendent, tech director, tech integrator, and school board member from across Vermont are meeting and working together to write action plans for moving their schools into the 21st century.  There were lots of conversations and an excellent presentation on education and project-based learning from Jim Moulton during the day.  Yesterday evening, Bernie Dodge did a great presentation about technology trends and learning with technology.  He described his formula for learning power:


My notes from Bernie Dodge’s presentation…

Wesley Fryer recorded the notes much more clearly in his January 10 blogged notes on a Bernie Dodge presentation, Engaging Brains Through Games and Simulations by Bernie Dodge.  After that, he and Jim Moulton and I did a panel discussion, that, quite frankly, amazed me.  It was 9:30 PM already, we’d just eaten huge dinner, and sat through an hour-long presentation.  I think it’s a testament to Bernie’s performance that so many people wanted to ask so many very thoughtful questions.  They were questions about ethics and information, evaluating the flood of content, school governance (that was a toughie), the new NETS, and many more.  I left energized — then I crashed in my dorm room.

I think that the high point of the day was a conversation I had with Jim Moulton.  I’m not sure that he was a social studies teacher, but that’s what we were talking about, how history seems so irrelevant to students, and that merely saying that we learn from the lessons of the past means almost nothing to them.  Then this idea hit us both, one that probably occurrs to every history teacher, but…

Why not teach history backwards?

Why not start your first day of class, asking students to read the news paper and then come back with on question. Use recent history to answer the question(s), but present the recent history in a way that it provokes more questions, that call for more history. 

Maybe it’s the Vermont air!