Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Kids and Computers

In an interesting article called Nonsense, an expert from Sesame Street takes on some myths about young kids and computers:
"Indeed, whether a child is two or 12 years old, computer learning is greatly enhanced when parents collaborate with their kids on solving problems and playing games. Success is also more likely when children work together. In one study of 56 fourth-graders, Sesame Workshop researchers found that students working in pairs obtained more right answers and devised more effective strategies than children working alone."

Friday, September 24, 2004

Preschoolers Learning from Games

Since we finally got our PC working at home again, my three-year-old daughter has been asking for games. Seb sent me two hilarious ones:
  • Boohbah, which is really abstract in a Teletubbies kind of way, and quite addictive
  • Evil Clown (for really punk-ass preschoolers)
Gwen also discovered a new one on the excellent Sesame Street site: Oscar's Bumper Cars. To round out the list, these two are a couple of favourite alphabet games from Disney's Playhouse: Mickey's Letter Time and Page's Word of the Day.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Education's Coolhunter

I Want to Grow Up to Be Education's Coolhunter
Well, I don't really, but I thought that the title of the article was interesting. It's actually advice to education vendors about trends and opportunities in education, from market data whizzes MDR. They list eight "hot buttons for education marketers to push in the K-12 school market" this year in the U.S.:

1. The sizzling ELL (ESL) market
2. Specialized communities of learning
3. The successful computer games market
4. Financial literacy
5. Presentation systems
6. Children's safety in schools
7. School construction spending
8. Commercial-transaction post-traumatic stress disorder (CTPTSD)

Some of the value in these kinds of lists are that they remind me that schools have all kinds of disparate needs, limited resources...and thousands of marketers clamoring for their attention.

Great School Web Site

Will Richardson has rightfully become a guru in using blogs in schools. He's not just commenting on the stuff -- he's really doing it and reporting on all kinds of successes and failures. That's not news to anyone who's been paying attention.

After noticing that his school is part of a pilot program for the project I've been working on this year, I checked out the school's site -- it is really impressive, taking the spirit of blogs and infusing it into an institution. For example, the subsection for their education technology committee keeps track of interesting developments in the field, posts their meeting notes, and lets anyone see their techology plan (MS Word). It's a great glimpse into the challenges faced by educators and techies trying to maintain and integrate 1400 computers in a school. Contrast the depth and quality with your average school site and imagine how much better informed the staff, students and parents are about what's going on at Hunterdon. It certainly invites participation.

Hidden Agenda Games

I love this Hidden Agenda contest to create a video game with "stealth" learning so that kids don't even know they're being taught anything. The ratio is key:
"First, game experts and academics will review your game to determine whether it fulfills the contest requirements (teaching and technical). If it does, your game will be judged based on the following weighted criteria – 70% entertainment, 30% education."
Most edutainment probably has the opposite ratio, which is why it tends to be terrible. Kids see right through any attempt to dress up worksheets in multimedia clothing. I also like the explanation they give for the concept:
"There’s a hot concept called 'stealth education' that says it’s possible for people to play a game because they enjoy it and 'accidentally' learn stuff along the way. Unfortunately, the concept has yet to prove its worth with the pre-teen and teen community. But what if educational games rivaled the quality and game-play of today’s top selling video games? There’s a good chance they could teach even difficult subjects to middle school children."
I'm in total agreement with this direction, but my fear is that as a game is seen as less educational and less "accurate" (think history applications), most educators will reject it to cover their butts. Never mind the ongoing issues with getting the required hardware better integrated into classrooms and giving teachers time to learn and implement new ways of learning...it's an uphill battle. Thanks to Joanne for the link.

Monday, September 20, 2004


On the surface, this article about mobile learning in Korea looks like good educational technology news. And there is some good stuff about reduced textbook costs and better learning access, but it's always frustrating for me to see great technology used for delivering the same old boring stuff:
"The PMP-100 is equipped with a 3.5-inch liquid crystal display monitor and storage capacity of 20-40 gigabytes, which can store up to 100 hour-long lectures."
So we've gotten to the point where we can connect everyone wirelessly (although this device is apparently not networked, which seems odd), store umpteen gigabytes of data on tiny hand-held devices, record images, sound and video...and the best educational applications they can think of is to deliver lectures and duplicate existing textbooks?


I'm a bit behind the times, but I got excited about the A9 search engine today. When I first heard about it I didn't think it sounded like any great innovation, but I shouldn't have ignored it. Perhaps it's my interface-design geekery that gets stoked up, because it is probably the slickest web interface (non-Flash, anyway) I've ever seen. Easy, fast search, and then you get multiple views of your results...all with simple controls that don't require page reloads, even though there's tons of data represented.

If I was teaching a unit on evolution, I think these results would be a great place for students to start -- try viewing web, images and references at once. Not that it's such a huge leap up from Google's results, since you're one click away from seeing related images on Google (for example), but there's something compelling about seeing that sort of snapshot view of a concept. It seemed quite powerful as a way to research a career, giving you definitions, links to related resources, professional organizations, and photos...giving you some context without having to click into anything. Better yet would be if the application would recognize that the query contained a job title and offered a panel for job postings (maybe even in my region) -- you've gotta think that Monster would be all over that.

Oh, and thanks to Marc Canter for the head's up.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

e-Portfolio Platform Comparison

Helen Barrett is on a serious e-portfolio tour of duty these days, creating her e-portfolio in a half-dozen different systems and authoring tools including Maricopa, Blogger, FDU, GeoCities, Mozilla Composer, and WordPress and letting us see the results -- a great project.

Blogs in a Learning Management System

Helen also linked to an interesting paper last week that explored the benefits of using blogs in higher education. I agree with the potential and was mostly nodding right through the second-last sentence:
"In short, blogs have the potential, at least, to be a truly transformational technology in that they provide students with a high level of autonomy while simultaneously providing opportunity for greater interaction with peers."
Hard to disagree with that, right? Anyone who has been blogging for a while can tell you how valuable it is to reflect on your learning and develop a network of likeminded folks. But then I really cringed when I hit the conluding sentence: "A blogging tool would be a valuable addition, therefore, to any LMS." No, no, no, no, NO.

In spirit, blogs are the opposite of a Learning Management System like WebCT. If you lock personal publishing away inside an LMS, it's the equivalent of yet another crappy discussion board in a course. Blogs work because people are engaged in their own interests and can find their network from the entire world. An LMS constrains the topic, assignments and partipants, closing off any potential for authentic outside interaction and personal engagement. It was only a matter of time, I suppose.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Pete's Vision

Pete Hubbard is fired up about integrating blogs, e-portfolios and social software into something that can be used to help people organize their online identities, future plans and networks. He's starting blogs and participating in online forums. He's not really looking to create a product -- he's a retired programmer pursuing his vision, looking for opportunities to combine the best of what's out there into something great.

Design is Easy

I've had Peter Merholz's article saved for weeks: Design is Easy; Organizational Politics is Hard. I had intended to apply what he was saying to instructional design and the educational context, but then found that the Experience Designer had already done it better than I would have. He even pulled out the right quote:
"In fact, design practitioners have figured out a lot about what works, and what doesn’t. For those in the design field, design is easy – developing solutions to problems is a pretty straightforward endeavor. The problem isn’t with design or designers – it’s with organizations whose fundamental structures prevent the good ideas from getting out."
I can only imagine that designers and developers in schools and universities must be facing this obstacle on a daily basis, at least judging by the fact that I still have to use WebCT for my online courses. It sucks so exceptionally badly. I see this in my work occasionally -- the best design solution for the user is sometimes not what gets implemented, usually because of organizational inertia and legacy issues.

She's Had It

By all accounts, Hipteacher is a young, committed, engaged educator with a masters degree and a great attitude. She's even got good taste in music and probably connects better with kids than most teachers, but she's had it with her fourth period class. I don't blame her -- it sounds incredibly frustrating. Luckily, she's also developed an online support network through her excellent blog, with fellow teachers offering their sympathy and wisdom.

The comment I left was probably less encouraging, because her post summons all the painful reasons that I decided not to teach after five years in education. Any system that requires constant conflict and coercion to get people to do what you want has serious systemic problems. That's probably why I identified most strongly with the questions Aaron left over there:
"Maybe its time for teachers to say 'no' to an educational system that isn't set up for learning? How can we expect any given group of teenagers to 'behave', to 'sit in their chairs', to follow rules, when clearly it is not what they want to be doing? What would they rather be doing? Playing sports or video games? Learning how to make their own movies? Doing nothing? What can we do as educators to change this archaic system of education that is in great conflict with the instrinsic factors of motivation in young minds? Why should they be forcefully isolated from what truly interests them?"
All good questions, and he puts some thought into a few good answers (and more questions, of course) on his own site.