Tag Archives: Educational Technology

ETMOOC and Ed Tech Today

Because I hate my free time (or something), I am taking two courses this semester. One is a required course in distance education technologies from the University of Athabasca and the other is a thing called a MOOC (massively open online course) generally themed to focus on the investigation of educational technology.

It is useful for a learner to declare their own learning goals prior to the outset of a course. Even though these might (and, reasonably, should) change somewhat during the course, it’s good to know where you’re starting (if for no other reason than to find out how far you have to go). For me, in terms of both courses, my major goal is to establish a means according to which I as a learner and a learning designer can avail myself of the wide array of existing edTech tools without trying to “keep up with the Jonses.”

As I write this, a brand-spaking new hotrod of a computer is being shipped to me. This will be the first new computing purchase I have made in years. It was a major expense and one that I made with the expressed purpose of being prepared to fully explore the gamut of technologies that exist to make learning easy. This major technological purchase is one that most learners in most parts of the world would not be able to make. Nor will they likley be able to afford expensive software and application suites that I will be using to explore these topics. And so, my purpose is to come full circle…to use this amazing array of tools to find a few principles that will diminish the overhead for learners and designers so that people can just connect and discover together.

Good luck to all and enjoy yourselves!

A purposeful moment of geekdom

Ok.  I am no Apple fan and I have certainly never been a Marvel fan, but take a look at the Marvel app for the iPad.

I love it.  I don’t love it because I love comics and love shiny new technology (ok…that’s a bit why I love it).  I love it because of what it can mean for how we interact with our content.

This month’s issue of Wired magazine features an article about the future of computing.  One of the things discussed is the replacement of the Graphic User Interface with a Natural User Interface…the NUI where we swish, pull, push, and drag our content around as if it were in front of us.  It doesn’t sound revolutionary when you read it like that (mostly because you are reading in your head and can’t hear anything) but, as this video demonstrates, the natural interface can be remarkable for small children and adults alike as they grab and manipulate the virtual images before them.  This ability really dissolves the barrier of the interface and makes working with content so much more beautiful and natural.

And this MIGHT even get me to buy a Marvel comic.  Might.


Wow…this used to take me a whole unit…

The French Revolution

View more presentations from russeltarr.
I have posted other SlideShare presentations and they have been the jumping-off points for conversation.  I wanted to take a minute this time, though, to mention that SlideShare is a wonderful tool for teachers who are looking for starters in the classroom.  Of course, one has to actually go through the slideshows to make sure they are appropriate for your content, but if you find a good one, you are sure to save yourself hours of work.  Also, the second part of the word is “share,” so if you have some great slideshows that you DID spend hours on, pop them up and keep the community humming.
Cheers and thanks to @russeltarr .  If you are a teacher and you aren’t following this man on Twitter, check your head.  Get on Twitter and hit “Follow.”

Putting the iCart before the iHorse?

This article by Frederic Lardinois is a brief that describes how at least two universities plans to furnish all new students with an iPad and/or a small Macbook.

I applaud these institutions for their forward thinking, but I hope this move will provide publishers with the impetus for producing content that is actually designed to take advantage of the new tools.   Lardinois points out that publishers would be wise to leverage the interactivity that is possible with a tool like the iPad.  I would like to go further and say that it’s up to educational professionals of all stripes to take action and be creators of content that actually serves the purpose of education.

Books, for the most part, do what they are supposed to do.  As one student surveyed for this article states, the interaction that is possible with a paper book is exactly what he wants in an educational resource.  There is no reason to move to an electronic tool when the hard-copy works so well.  What smart publishers are doing with their educational content is finding where books are lacking (see the video below) and producing content that is interactive in a way that a print resource cannot be.

As educational professionals, we should be looking at ways that our content is working well and ways that it is not.  The only way to do that is to be constantly aware of the objectives we are trying to achieve.  With that always in our minds, it will be clearer where new tools like the Kindle or the iPad are best employed.

For more information, check out Lardinois’ other writings on ReadWriteWeb.

Games and the Future of Learning

TED presenter Jane McGonigal posits that game play can hold the answers to some of the world’s largest issues.

What I love about this is that her talk combines a few things that I think are vital when looking at education in the 21st Century.  Yes, people like games like WOW but I don’t think we have to turn schools into games in order to be successful instructors.  The things that WOW and school should have in common (but DON’T) are the the four things that McGonigal shows that massively multiplayer games teach really well: Optimism, Socialization, Fulfilling Engagement, and Epic Meaning.  Schools ought to be one of the places that people learn to become “Super-empowered hopeful individuals” rather than meaningless hamster cages (which, sadly, many schools can claim to be).

I am going to try this game, Evoke.  I am going to share it with my students and see if they want to play.  You can see how I am doing here.  I think it could be a really cool opportunity to deepen our discussions of current events in our class.  It is also the first really functional use I’ve seen of Transmedia Narrative construction with a deeply positive social purpose.

What is an EVOKE? from Alchemy on Vimeo.

What I learned from TEDx Edmonton

It was, altogether, a great day full of ideas.  This is the best way I have to describe Edmonton’s very first TED-related event.  Each of the speakers, either because of convergence or design, riffed effortlessly on the themes of sustainability, sharing, and doing what you enjoy.  What’s the most inspiring is that, whether the speaker was talking about printing new hearts or making virtual bubbles collect in your hand, each person was motivated to explore by nothing greater than childlike wonder.

The speakers’ talks are better summarized elsewhere on the web, so I will focus here on the things I left with.  First and foremost, the talks reinforced for me that I can best serve my students by facilitating the things that other schools would call “deviant” behaviors.  Barring those ideas and behaviors that, in my opinion, could cause harm to oneself or others, I can best prepare my students for their post-secondary careers by encouraging alternative approaches to problem-solving.  As Grant said in his talk, he “didn’t know [he] wasn’t supposed to be able to build” some of the things he has created and therefore was not hindered by the idea that he couldn’t.  While he very likely was accustomed to setting his own direction very early, I can help my students best by helping them find their directions and not tell them “no.”

The second thing I came away with is the importance of sharing.  In my professional context, I am one of the most sharing people I know, but that’s like saying that I’m the least-drowning swimmer in the pool.  Education is ironically one of the most proprietary places for ideas.  The resistance to sharing is always couched in the language of “building MY course,” as if it were all for the students, but I have seen more than one set of shields raised when talk of “collaborating” begins.  Early on in my career, I didn’t know that I SHOULDN’T share and so I was always trying to make connections where none existed previously.  I was met by reluctance or polite poo-poohing by other, “more experienced instructors” and I began to follow suit in the development of “MY” courses.  One thing I am happy to say never happened for me, though, was the urge to have “power” over my students by holding back any information or truth that I know.  Conversely, I have gotten trouble from students and teachers alike for talking about things that are beyond my assigned subject area that I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to talk about.  Eventually, it was working with the subject-matter experts at Guru that showed me what a properly functioning learning community could be.  When teachers share ideas and work together towards a common goal of student engagement, there is no one who will say “no” to a good idea.

Finally, and I think the thing that is most personally exciting to me, is the idea of Transmedia Storytelling as described by Sean Stewart.  In a word, this kind of storytelling weaves completely immersible narratives together from the various media fibers we now have available to us.  Modern-day “bards” are tasked with creating various rich universes and then releasing them unto the masses for creative play.  I love this idea and can immediately see ways of making my stories more accessible for people to enjoy.

At the end of the day, I left the conference excited about where our world can go if we all learn to play nice and share ideas big and small.



Last week, I received the sad news that I was not one of the one hundred Edmontonians selected to attend the uber-cool TEDxEdmonton conference.  For those of you who are not familiar with the TED organization, it is a yearly conference that brings together the best and brightest minds in technology, education, and design (as well as entertainment and humor).  The sessions are captured and streamed free from the TED website.

I use TED as a resource regularly in our classroom.  The talks cover a wide range of topics that we can use as springboards for class discussion and engagement.  In fact, our classroom is now known as the one that “watches videos and has discussions everyday.”  I want my classroom to be that classroom…the noisy one with the crazy ideas.  I know that most educators reading this may not see this as all that “crazy,” but in our school it is uncommon for students to really come together as a whole class and talk about something, so I am very happy to see students coming together the way they are.

I like to be active in the communities I discuss in class, so when I found out that Edmonton was going to hold a TED event, I went crazy trying to get into it.  There are only one hundred seats available and these must be applied for.  As I said before, I was originally told that I was not selected.  However, luck has prevailed for me in this case and I have been invited to go in place of another person who could not attend.

The lineup of speakers looks pretty interesting (and happily very Albertan).  I’m most interested in seeing Cameron Herold and Sean Stewart as their fields of expertise (youth entrepreneurship and alternate-reality gaming, respectively) are interesting to me.  I’m also interested to see other applications for smartphones as presented by Shawna Pandya and, of course, the wunder-kind wizardry of Grant Skinner (no cutting-edge Edmonton seminar would be complete without that :0).

At the end of the day, I hope I can share some of the inspiration with the youth at our school.  If nothing else, I will have a good reason to be up early on a Saturday.

I will definitely post a review of the conference here.  Stay Tuned!


Measuring your social influence

An Edmonton-based internet company has developed a very interesting experimental website. It’s called Empire Avenue and it’s a stock market for social influence.  The site is currently in beta testing, but is regularly opening the doors for more people to try their hand at being influential.

At present, I am a bit uncertain about the site’s usefulness in the classroom.  I can see applications in Social Studies and Economics classes, obviously, but I think Language Arts and CTS Media courses might also be a candidates for use of the site.  What may be difficult is working with youth who are under the age of 18 and all the rules regarding information control (it’s likely less dangerous than using Google Buzz if you are worried about that sort of thing).  Other problems may arise in the area of bullying (what happens to people with fragile self-images when they see their stock plummet on the day?)

As a social experiment, it may be nothing more than a very complicated popularity contest.  I, however, would like to see this as a first step in measuring something that has been heretofore difficult to measure: how MUCH more do some people matter in society than others?  That having been said, I don’t see Malcolm Gladwell on here yet.  Maybe next week…

I am currently doing not too badly in the stock exchange and, if you are interested in buying shares, my stock symbol is SCM.

Digital Storytelling

The digital media class I am building at my school is meant to furnish students with the skills they need to be creative with digital media creation tools.  The trouble is that much of the class time is necessarily focused on teaching students about the various tools and how to use them effectively.  Since most of the students are in the course as an option, I rarely get the opportunity to see a student past this necessary but often tedious phase of tool instruction to the place where they can feel confident with the tool enough to focus on creative work.

Silvia Tolisano has recently released a free guide for teachers to use free and simple digital tools for students to build narratives.  Some of the work she suggests in the guide may be like things that you do already, but it is worth noting that she has collected information on a variety of free or cheap solutions in one place along with some great lesson ideas.

I currently use Google Earth as the springboard for verbal storytelling in our homeroom block.  It waxes and wanes in popularity but it seems that the students are most reticent when it seems more formal and “organized.”  If we take the approach of “just talking,” students are much more likely to participate.   I am looking forward to trying some of these other activities in my classroom and seeing how I can encourage more spontaneous narrative-building!