Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Evidence Keeps Rolling In! Why Can't This Happen Everywhere?

Image of wordle
On the evening of October 5, while reading blogs of students in a graduate course on Social Media taught by Alec Couros (@courosa) at the University of Regina), I realized that several of them might benefit from a short demonstration of the power of blogs. So I put this collection together for all who might be interested in why blogs and blogging are so important, I think, to all teachers and students. I have also posted this on the EDM310 Class Blog.

The whole exercise should take about 30 minutes to do.

The Power of Blogs and Commenting on Blogs:

Read and listen to this exchange with Room 10 at Pt. England School, Auckland, New Zealand to understand the power of blogs:

1. I had my students comment on kids blogs as a result of Mr. William Chamberlain (@wmchamberlain also see #comments4kids) and the wonderful teachers who join him At The Teachers Desk". Many of my students visited Room 10 and left comments there.
This is the Thank You that the third graders (yes, 3rd graders!) sent to me and my students: Thank You Dr. Strange! Read my post which contains a thank you from the teacher. Then click on either the picture or the link provided and you will go to Room 10's blog. Read the post there and watch the wonderful movie Room 10 sent me. I was crying by the end of it!

2. I also got an email from Ms. Dorothy Burt (@dorothyjburt) which provided me with some very important information about Room 10, Pt. England School, and the kids who go there: An Email From Dorothy Burt.

3. I have now replied to Room 10. In my reply you will find the students in Room 10 are now known to many, including the President of the University of South Alabama. Watch My Reply to Room 10.

Not convinced about the power of blogs?

Well, watch this exchange of blogs and comments:

A blog by a three year old (her father is the medium through which she posts):
Dear Kaia

Mr. Chamberlain on his blog titled Dear Kaia: Voicethread and Video

Kaia's Father Muses: Intrepid Teacher: Singing Hearts

I could add many more wonderful examples. Here are two additional links to stir your interest:

Point England School, Auckland, New Zealand. Kids can often show you the way!

Pt. England School Never Ceases to Amaze Me!

Finally, look at this post of Anthony Capps, one of my students this fall: You Are Creating Your Intellectual Trail - And It Can Be Googled!.

I would love to have your reactions after you watch and look at this series of blogs. Leave comments!

Digital Storytelling - ECI831 October 13

Readers of my blog and other friends know that I am taking a course for the first time in 45 years. It is Social Media (EC&I 831) taught by Alec Couros(@courosa) at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Yesterday I posted my reactions to the class on October 20. Today I am writing this post about last week's class on Digital Storytelling. We watched 9 short videos, most from YouTube or Vimeo. A complete list (plus three additional videos that either I missed or were added after the class) can be found on Amy Perry's post Digital Storytelling.

I enjoyed the movies and considered them as examples of different ways of presenting information. That is what my students are working on right now: telling the story about some technology/program/approach that we do not have time to cover in EDM 310. I have urged them to explore new storytelling techniques and I showed them three of these videos as examples of techniques they might adopt as well as urging them to visit Amy's blog.

But what fascinated me the most was the difference in my reaction to the videos and the reactions of the other students in the class. (I am MUCH older). I have no context in which to place these videos. I rarely watch movies. I never watched YouTube until I began teaching EDM 310. I have no historical context of visual materials in which to place these materials. This also happened when I watched the movie Moulin Rouge. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was glad I watched it. If fact, I even watched it a second time with my son-in-law who, throughout the movie, contributed a running dialogue on what movie stimulated this scene, what song was the inspiration for this dialogue or musical rendition, what history was evoked by this or that approach taken in the movie. I had none of that context, and was amazed how "out of it" I was when attempting to understand the full meaning and impact of Moulin Rouge. My children have been telling me that for a long time, especially since I admitted that I have never watched a complete episode of Saturday Night Live, even in the middle of the Sarah Palin "appearances". The same was true in class on October 13.

My intellectual context is books. I do well there. But my students don't. I surveyed them at the beginning of the semester (148 respondents) and at midterm. Most never read a newspaper, or do so only occasionally (59%). Only 10% read a newspaper every day. As for books, 59% read less than a book a month (not counting class assignments). At midterm (109 respondents), 98% said their primary method of gathering information for school work was through Google searches, only one person reported using books or print materials in a library. Twenty nine percent of the students in EDM 310 responding at midterm said they had never been to the University of South Alabama Library for any purpose. Seventy-nine percent said they had not gone to the University Library this semester in order to make use of library materials.

But my students do watch and listen. Ninety-nine percent report that they watch videos with 44% reporting that they watch more than 4 hours of video every week. Fifty-one percent say they listen to music more than 2 hours a day, 27% listening 3 or more hours a day. So the culture of our students is now a listening/watching culture rather than a reading/writing culture, a point that I made in 1995 in my article "A Cultural Revolution: From Books to Silver Discs" which was in the Summer 1995 issue of Metropolitan Universities, a journal of which I was guest editor for that issue.

What is the import of this cultural change? In 1995 I urged my readers to begin to involve their students in the "writing" of multimedia. That is beginning to happen today. In fact, Richard Miller, Chair of the English Department has demonstrated in a marvelous and exciting video exactly how writing with multimedia can be done, providing us with a concrete example in his (what else?) YouTube video This Is How We Dream (Scroll down to see Dr. Miller's two videos.)

What should we learn from the above? I think we must learn that instruction must involve the use of video and audio materials. The reading material we use should be electronic. And portability is essential.

All of this from a delightful and entertaining class on storytelling!

Games and the Educational Establishment

Last night in ECI831 we heard a presentation by Sylvia Martinez on Mobile Games & Learning. Here are my comments:
1. I have always believed that games can be used effectively to attain desired learning outcomes.
2. I think that there are three difficulties in attaining that objective.

  1. We start the discussion of games and learning in the wrong place: with games. Instead, we should first get our thoughts straight about the learning objectives we wish to attain. Then we can examine a variety of ways in which we can achieve those objectives, including games. This means the questions that we ask about games will not be Which are "good" (with no definition of good for what)? or Which are "bad"? or Which can be implemented with little "political" difficulty? Rather we ask: What outcomes are facilitated by which games? Then we have a better chance of "selling" the games to the political system with which we deal. My main argument here: When we start the thinking with the outcomes desired rather that the processes to be used, we concentrate on the product, which is appropriate. Otherwise we would be like a car manufacturer that says design what you think best for something which we will combine with other ideas and declare to be a car. To stay in business the car manufacturer instead says: Here are the specifications of a car that we will produce. Design the components to result in that outcome. We should do no less as educators. But that is not how we normally operate. We think about what we will design as part of a package that will be called "learning" rather than asking what should those who purchase our goods and services know, be able to do or have experienced (more on that in a later post).

  2. As educators, we tend to want to include, or "package" games within our courses. We own the "courses" (the building blocks with no end product objective). Instead, we should recognize that games can be played within and without our courses. If games are effective learning devices, then the outcomes we desire (assuming we have modified our behavior from that described above) can be assessed without regard to whether we included the games in our instruction or not. We thereby reduce, or maybe even eliminate, the political issues that normally surround games.

  3. Even when we specify objectives and identify games which will move a student toward those objectives, or we have a large body of evidence that students have played games and have achieved some or all of our specified learning outcomes, we are often faced with a very serious problem: We may recognize the attainment of valued learning objectives through the playing of games, but the student does not so recognize them. I call this the failure to "own" the competencies attained. This often happens when competencies are attained through activities and procedures which are not culturally approved for learning, i.e. learning was attained through a means other than sitting in a class, listening to information, burping the information back to the deliver of the information to prove that it was retained (at least for a short while), and then rapidly forgetting that information if it is not used. So now I have introduced another argument: that learning outcomes are too often specified as "knowing" what the teacher knows (and therefore thinks is important) rather that meeting the overall learning objectives which should be the focus rather than the objectives that are specified by "courses" whether or not they contribute effectively to an end goal.

So... let us focus on what is important: the end outcomes, the car. Then we can address the issues associated with how we build the car successfully rather than starting with the manufacturing process ("courses") which tend to be the primary focus of educators which "own" those courses and gain their respect and rewards from them.
And... let us not forget that games can be effective learning tools. Our task is to determine whether learning outcomes have been achieved. If games seem to be effective in furthering the attainment of those objectives, we should encourage their use - inside or outside the educational establishment. And not only do we have to certify the attainment of the desired learning outcomes through games, we also have to assist students in acknowledging that the attainment of those objectives is real, even though they were attained through "non-traditional" routes to learning.