Reflections on NCTIES 2011

Early Registration at NCTIES in Raleigh

Last week was the NCTIES conference.  NCTIES (North Carolina Technology in Education) is the ISTE affiliate for my state.  They use to be NCAECT, and I understand that there was another acronym before that.  But Thursday they launched their 40th conference, and I do not remember being a part of any anniversary conference with a number that high.

Before the conference, I lamented on all the people I’ve worked with from across who I’d miss because they have certainly retired.  But I was surprised at the number who were still at it, mostly informing me that they were retiring in May or August  or some other of the next 9 months.  But it was also trilling to see the folks who were back for the 40th anniversary.

But on to my reflections.  It occurred to me this morning that I can tell when I have been fully engaged in an education technology conference by the number of times I remember asking, “But why?”  Here’s a typical exchange.

“We’ve bought iPads for our alternative school kids.”

“Cool!  But why?”

“We’re trying to get them to read more, and we believe they will read more if its on an iPad.”

“Why do you think they’ll read more with an iPad.  Is reading what’s cool about using an iPad?”


“Why do you want the students to read more?”

You get the gist — and I know that I am doing a lot more reading since I got my iPad.  But it’s not because the text glows.  But that’s a different blog post…

Another thing that was interesting about this conference was my ongoing and often playful quest for the next cool thing — the next “buzz.”  It’s more of a game for me, a cool hunting sort of thing.  After all, most cool things in educational technology grow cold, hopefully before we start to integrate and effect instruction.  Anyway, I got an inkling of two cool things here at this conference. One was the topic of my session on infographics and data visualization.  Of course, in my preparation for the session, I realized that there is nothing new about this stuff.  We’ve been doing data visualization for years through geographic information systems or GIS with products like ArcGIS.

It was my first planned presentation on this topic, and it did not go as smoothly as some of my more practiced topics — as a number of demos didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped (starting to justify the purchase of Camtasia for my Mac 😉.  What got me wondering about the impact of this is the fact that Kathy Schrock, one of the other featured speakers of the conference, was in the audience and she told me that she is planning a similar (better) presentation on the same topic for an upcoming large conference (A Picture is Worth 1000 Words: Using Infographics as a Creative Assessment”).  If I think it’s cool and then Schrock sees it’s pedagogical value as a learning tool, well, you’ve got something there…

Jason Standish Timothy Smith
Talking about QR-Codes

The other cool thing that seemed to be buzzing throughout the conference was QR-Codes.  Part of it was the interesting way that the presenters, Jacob Standish and Timothy Smith of Charlotte Mecklenberg Schools preceded the conference with QR-Codes in their conference wiki page and their YouTube video introduction (blogged about here).

QR-Codes have actually been around for more than a decade, and I have used them on presentation slides for over year, though, until recently, only recognized and used in Singapore and Hong Kong.  But the buzz in Raleigh was palpable and it was contagious.  During their session, you could feel the excitement in the packed presentation room, and the scurrying of educators rushing up with their smart phones held up, and seemingly bowing down to this new great thing.

It was exciting and more than a little funny.  It’s like I told my son (who attendeed the last day of the conference), “You’re going to be with people who are passionate about what they do.  They don’t have jobs — they have a mission.  You don’t see this everyday, and I double you’d see it anyplace else in the field of education.”  And it was certainly true NCTIES.

As for QR-Codes and infographics, only time and our capacity to innovate will tell.  I have some big questions about QR-Codes, and one of my next articles will likely take a more critical, but certainly not a dismissive look at this application.

Learning about World of Warcraft in Education with Lucas Gillispie

Here are some fairly rough notes from a workshop I attended on video games in education, presented by Lucas Gillispi. My comments are boxed and italicized.

On top of everything else that was new to me with this session, I got to operate an Alien computer.

I’m sitting in a session about World of Warcraft, being facilitated by Lucas Gillispie, from Pender County Schools (far eastern part of the state). His blog is EduRealms, where he talks about games and learning. Lucas has worked with Peggie Sheehy, who started with SecondLife and is now exploring the learning that happens in games like World of Warcraft.  Their guild in WoW is Cognitive Dissonance.

“Education needs a Cataclysm,” he says. There’s double entendra here. See this. In the traditional classroom, its about teacher, textbook, and workshops. WoW has built-in resources, fan sites, blogs, facebook, and twitter feeds, WoWWiki (second largest wiki in the world), custom apps, etc.

I wonder how many of those game-resources would work for formal learning. – dfw

In formal education, mastery must occur within allotted “seat time.” Achievement is constant in games such as WoW. The traditional classroom is about “No Talking!” In the game it’s about collaborating and sharing. Everyone’s talents bring something to the team. Slackers will fail and will fail their team.  Guilds provide a larger community. Plus the game is differentiated. You choose the style of play (learning) that works for you. “World of Warcraft players crave assessment,” rather than dread it. In the traditional classroom, failure is punitive. In games, failure is expected. Failing at a quest means you re-try, as often as needed.

So what makes it engaging. Gee says that its in your regime of competence — hard but doable. (see this summary of Gee’s principals of learning.)

So “What if school was more like a game?” Gamification is term being used to make. Look at Epic Win, as a way of turning everyday tasks into a game.

Hmmm!  But isn’t school actually like a game?  Students who do well are not always your brightest and most resourceful, but they’re the ones who play the game well.  I’d rather suggest that we change the rules of the game, and perhaps even the rule of the schooling game, to include some of the pedagogies of WoW and other compelling and deep games. – dfw

Gillispie and team were recently contacted by a philanthropic organization from Washington state who’d been watching what they were doing through his blog and twitterings.  They asked him to submit a proposal for funding for gaming laptops (Alienware). “look kids,” he’d told the students, “Here’s someone who is paying attention to you and what you are doing.”

It occurred to me, then, that Pender County is not, to these students, the same place that their parents grew up.  For many of them, it was a padded world that was effectively insulated from the outside world (I speak from experience from having grown up in a similarly rural area.)  Because of their experiences with WoW and other networked learning experiences, Pender County is a gateway to a much broader and richer world.  ..and that richer world is available to them, even if they choose to always live in their rural community.

The theme of their project is “A Hero’s Journey.” Students are “Heros,” teachers are “Lorekeepers,” and grades are “experience points.” Interesting that experience points, which are is almost like currancy that is accumulated.  You start out your experience with the game as a poor and weak character, gaining in strength and skill, resulting in more wealth.

A question immersed from the conversation that I think was quite important.  Why do we not grade our students in the very same way?  Why have we not always graded our students in the same way?  Why not have grades (or what ever we’d call it) that reflect learners growing wealth of knowledge and skill, rather than measuring discrete sub-knowledge and sub-skills? We couldn’t answer that question. – dfw

Here are some of the things they are doing as part of the class:

  • Character Tweets: Students tweeted from the perspective of non-player WoW characters. They’re projecting into another character and determining perspective For instance, there’s a girl who wonders a specific road selling bread. What does the world look like to her.
  • Propaganda/Ads: Students used photo editing to create ads aimed at WoW characters.
  • Research and argumentative writing: So what would happen if Hobbit characters (which they’re required to read) were living in WoW.
  • Fan Fiction: Writing a story from inside the plot of the game.

Very cool session!