Tag Archives: Education

A Legacy of Education

My dad died two months ago. Since then, I have been reflecting about transition and my own life purpose. When considering my father’s influence on my life, I came to realize what an impact he had on my life as an educator.

My dad encouraged independence in deed and in thought. He  exposed me to radical thinkers and authors. He demanded that I question “facts” that the news presented and he encouraged me to see alternate views and sources, not to simply accept prevailing thought or opinion.

My dad was a dedicated peace activist and fought for equity and justice. He taught me that the powerful were just people– and that it was okay to question them.

My dad’s work on civil rights and his housing refugees exposed me to cultures and conditions that many of my peers never saw. Simply living life with people who were outwardly different than me, made me realize that they too were people as well, having the same wants and desires as all of us.

My dad and I both received our Master’s from the Curry School of Education, even sharing a professor. While we didn’t often sit down to formally discuss pedagogy or educational philosophy, his opinions and actions left a firm imprint in me and how I view education. I learned to question the mores of the educational system and to reject the assumptions that it might make about learners.

My dad educated me by questioning and challenging me. It wasn’t always comfortable to defend my assumptions, but it taught me to stand by decisions and opinions that I felt were right, and to yield when shown to be wrong. I too have a reputation for direct talk and questioning. I now see it as a sign of respect to treat an individual as a person worthy of serious debate, no matter their age or status.

Bob Covert, the professor who Dad and I shared, hammered into his students the importance of acknowledging their own biases and histories as they taught and researched. What are your stories? Who influenced you to teach? What are the underpinnings to your own educational philosophy?

An introductory Tom Joseph reading list:


Skills, not Content at the DML Badges Competition

Earlier this month we were lucky to get to share portions of the Computers4Kids curriculum at the Digital Media and Learning Badges competition. As I’ve mentioned, C4K didn’t win the money prize, but we were thrilled to be included. C4K offers training, one-on-one mentoring and college and career transition guidance to low-income youth in 7th-12th grades. With the exception of training, which has a clearly defined set of objectives, the C4K curriculum provides an intensely individualized program which accommodates the needs and interests of both our students, and our volunteer mentors. The challenge has been to provide a meaningful measure of what our students are achieving.

The DML Badges Competition asked organizations to create badge systems that validate out of school learning. We chose to present the college and career transition aspect of our program, Teen Tech. When students come to Teen Tech they focus on academic, job readiness, technology and/or service projects. As they attend over their high school years, their interests and needs change depending on school or family obligations, their age or other extra-curricular activities. Teen Tech’s curriculum needs to be flexible to accommodate our students’ changing priorities, however, our metrics need to capture what the students are learning so we can monitor their progress, uncover their challenges, and review the data to inform how we evolve the curriculum.

In this situation we can’t focus our measures on what content is being learned. On any given day, 10 students may be in the lab, working on such diverse tasks as Trig homework, mixing a new song, writing an English essay, practicing Photoshop in preparation to teaching a workshop.

All of this is why we do focus on broader, recognizable and valued skills. We work with students to fit their work into one of 5 learning domains and then map them onto ISTE-NETS for students. The table below demonstrates that alignment for some sample activities.

Badge Tasks Selected Skills (ISTE-NETS)
Plan -Identify tasks and final goal
-Create timeline
-Adjust  plan to reflect feedback from critique
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
(Use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.)
Learn & Apply -Identify and Perform 15 new technology skills in Adobe Dreamweaver Technology Operations and Concepts (Demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems and operations.)
Create -Create, assemble and organize all components of your website, including images Creativity and Innovation (Demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology
Reflect & Revise -Perform self-evaluation before formal critique
-Participate in formal critique
-Revise products according to feedback received
-Write final summary of the project
Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making 
Present -Upload website
-Advertise it via social media
Communication and Collaboration

I think this kind of thought, investigation and analysis is what sets Computers4Kids apart and why the DML Badges Competition judges selected us out of a pool of 500 teams submitting content and frameworks. Multiple people have asked, how could they award such large institutions like Disney-Pixar, Microsoft and Intel in a competition intended for small non-profits? I’ve come to realize that the competition had nothing to do with awarding the most needy, or the smallest, or most efficient. We were competing toe-to-toe to demonstrate that we could reach the widest audience with international companies that have huge resources, instant name-recognition, and deep pockets of personnel. Our six employee organization got into the room with them and showed that we’ve got the goods as well.

Problem-Solving Play

Part 2 of a 6 part series reviewing examples of the 6 activity modes.

A review of Problem-Solving play:

Problem-Solving play is commonly encouraged via inclusion of puzzles, both in educational games and in commercial titles such as Myst. Here, there are specific rules for the activity sequence and the solution to the challenges. Even if there are a number of challenges within a given game, they are generally well defined, and undertaken independently. The problems may be hierarchical, requiring one problem to be solved before moving on to another, or the problems may be parallel and unrelated. Problem-solving may be fast-paced and reliant upon hand-eye coordination, or it can take a slower form where logic prevails.

Factory Balls 2 I lurve this game. Using a variety of tools, the player transforms white balls into 30 colorful variations with stencils and paints. Players must perform the transformational steps in a particular order in order to create the proper effect, but are not pressured by any time limits.

Little Wheel Here you look for a series of step by step puzzles hidden within the scenery. Like Factory Balls there is a particular sequence of steps to follow, but the ingredients and elements are hidden. I never can fathom these games.

Meta Games: This is the Only Level, Obey the Game and Take Something Literary play with the notions of game play and require players to solve puzzles that are fluid and require the knowledge of gameplay conventions. Novelties or deep exploration of game play? You decide.

Balance games: Tons and Tons of these. Red Remover, Super Stacker 2, Splitter 2, and  Perfect Balance 2 are just a few of the different ones where the player attempts to balance or unbalance objects in a worlds with consistent physics. These may have time constraints or not.

Light-bot:Use programming commands to cause a robot to follow different sequences of action. Like the Logo for this decade.

Matching games: Bejeweled and Bubble Shooter are two of the most famous, but most feature matching 3 more objects with like characteristics often with a time component.

There are tons more games with problem-solving activities. Game rules are typically fairly simple and straight forward. Problem-solving is easily combined with Active, Strategic and Explorative activities.

Don’t be Half-Assessed

Assessment is used to measure learning outcomes, but if you see it only as a testing tool you’re missing half its value. Assessment should not be punitive; it should uncover the learner’s strengths and help identify areas for improvement. Well planned and integrated assessment creates opportunities for learners to reflect on their learning, apply new skills and knowledge, and also enables the institution to recognize the value on the learning intervention. Adapting existing models can take you much further than re-creating the wheel. In this post, we examine some guiding principles for effective assessment.

An excellent example of assessment as a way to support learning goals is Adobe’s Certified Associate practice tests. Learners can take a certification exam without any structured practice, but there is also an unlimited certification prep test package. The practice test closely mimics the structure of the final exam. Both combine multiple choice questions and simulations of the Adobe environment. The multiple choice questions require the learner to demonstrate knowledge of design concepts and the production process. The simulations require the learner to complete a task within the simulated software application interface. Keyboard shortcuts are disabled, but otherwise, learners can use any correct method they choose to complete the task, using menus or panels as appropriate.

Another good example is the Sun (now Oracle) Java certification paths. Each path contains a test prep “kit” that includes preparation recommendations, additional resources, a practice test, and a re-take policy. Each path is designed to prepare the learner to achieve a specific level of certification, and used as a benchmark against industry standards. These certifications are recognized by employers and can advance a person in their career.

Accreditation or certification can be used to validate mastery of a topic, but this is not the only way that assessment can be useful. By seeing assessment an integral part of instruction, we can support the learner’s career development while measuring true performance for the business.

Factors that make an ASSESSMENT tool also a useful INSTRUCTIONAL tool are:

  • Authenticity
    • The learner performs the task in context, not recalling theory, but actually demonstrating competency.
  • Open ended
    • Because the end product is assessed, not the method used to get there, learners are able to use whatever menus or panels they choose.
  • Learning while doing
    • Learners use contextual clues and critical thinking to complete tasks. They may not know how to adjust alpha levels in Photoshop, but they may know to investigate the color panel to find them.
  • Self-reporting
    • Learners can mark questions that they’d like to return to if they have time or opportunity.
  • Cumulative time
    • The test is timed with one master clock, not with individual times for certain sections or items.
  • Feedback
    • Learners receive feedback on each item, with notes about the correct answer.
  • Tracking
    • Performance from one practice test to another is tracked.

Assessment is not something that should only occur in a testing situation, indicating pass/fail rates, but it should be integrated throughout instruction to allow the learner to know how they are doing, so they can learn more effectively. You don’t want your learner to leave half-assessed!

A version of this post originally appeared in The Total Learner Experience in August 2011.

Word Vine

While there are plenty of games that get it wrong, I thought I might review a couple of games that get it right. Word Vine is one such game. It’s premise is simple: link words to create inter-connected compound words on branching relationship. An easy level uses tree, sauce, apple, trunk. I’m stuck on a hard level with time, tower, prime, bell, cow, cash, machine, gun, minister, ivory, tower, zone. So what do I like about this game this morning (and last night, for a really long time)?

  • Simple task– It is well within my skill set to make compound words and to click and drag small icons onto a hotspot.
  • “Educational”– I’m not shooting stuff. I wouldn’t be anyway, but I like figuring out this little verbal puzzle.
  • Visual– Solving the harder puzzles requires tapping into some region of the brain that handles visual relationships; it’s difficult to solve the harder puzzle (at least for me) without physically (virtually) dragging the word shapes onto some of the twining branches.
  • Aesthetics– It’s pretty. I like the soft greens.

I’m always trying to figure out how to combine content and gameplay. I can envision a social studies content game which links concepts, dates, and historical figures. How about a branching vine of German philosophers or early 20th Century artists?


10 Ways to Use Facebook for Training

This post first appeared in December 2009 on The Total Learner Experience. Although dated, I think it still has value. 

Bwc Brandon: You know as I work to create social learning micro-sites on the internal corporate network, it sometimes hits me that in a lot of ways I’m just re-creating what Facebook has already hit a home run with. So, Dolly, the question for you today is: How can I leverage Facebook for training?

DrjDolly: What content is best suited for Facebook? Is Facebook for content or is it for social networking and engagement?

Bwc Well it seems that technical training, soft skills training… really any type of learning content would work. The power of the platform seems to be around the integration of peer-to-peer dialogue and sharing with the context of learning. Facebook users are collaborating by default because they are exchanging comments and creating dialogue interactively. What we need to do is make this engaging activity applicable to work/training.

Drj Shall we brainstorm? What are the features of Facebook are conducive to training?

Bwc OK, so let’s make it a contest. Let’s list 10 ways we can use Facebook for training. I mean we’re professionals right? With imaginations like ours, we should be able to easily list 10 ways! Here’s one way:

1. Discussion threads. People seem to love engaging in dialogue about relevant subjects. A simple discussion board functionality is key in attracting learners to a higher level of engagement.

DrjFacebook recently took out the updates about when people commented on others’ walls. I liked that and was sad to see it go. It allowed me to see what my friends were saying — even if it was directly relevant to me AND it often introduced me to new people that I liked. You never know what tidbit of seeming off-topic information will inspire a new idea.

Bwc  2. Class notes and links to supporting information. In academic settings I’ve seen many professors, trainers and facilitators add their syllabi, notes, and links to websites. I’m using Microsoft Sharepoint now to create a wiki where I will host pre-work content and activities for a workshop I am designing. A Facebook-like platform is great for this, although versioning control would be a nice-to-have.

Drj Sharepoint?

Bwc Sharepoint is Microsoft’s collaboration platform. A lot of people are using it for collaborative learning environments. Check out more about it here.

Drj 3. Course feedback. Students can provide feedback about their favorite or least favorite aspects of the training.

Bwc This is where a “two-way” information stream can provide excellent near real-time feedback. An instructional designer could easily move to a more “agile” design process by using Facebook’s social utilities to gain “instant” feedback on instructional content. I’ve been using similar methods for several years by building database systems. Facebook has this functionality built in!


4. Student Reflection. Students are required to post some “takeaway” from any training that they just completed in their status, which can help their community at large.

5. Events. If you can get out of the whole departmental competition thing, it could be really interesting to have online “events” that everyone was invited to facilitate cross-company brainstorming for new initiatives.

Bwc 6. Build your personal network/brand. It’s important for individuals to be able to broadcast their expertise and interests. Facebook-like platforms could become similar to an “auctioning” of skills. IBM does this now with their internal Blue Pages. Employees are encouraged to list their skills, expertise, and availability. People can search using keywords to find suitable candidates for their projects.

Drj I like this idea. We haven’t talked about LinkedIn, but it seems like this might be an internal version of that.

Bwc 7. Post-classroom events (extended learning). We used this recently on a leadership training program. Although the primary component of the training course was a 3-day classroom experience, we designed pre-work activities for the cohort to participate in online, and, to ensure retention and reflection we also designed post-classroom activities. The cohort remained engaged, and continued to work on the post-class activities. One benefit were the “breadcrumbs” left behind by the cohorts… subsequent cohorts could learn from them.

Drj  8. Games. We could do a post of different types of games. But clearly all sorts of games are popular on Facebook. I don’t play, but I know that Mafia Wars, Farmville and the like have some real appeal. I could see seeking out people who had certain skill sets to form your teams. You and I play Scrabble and its knockoffs. Facebook serves as a portal to every kind of game imaginable. I could also see some scavenger hunts for content and personnel.

Bwc How many games on Facebook are designed for learning though? Quite a few I think… it’s just not real obvious.

Drj I FIRMLY believe that every activity people participate in teaches or reinforces some learning or knowledge (even if only a physical response). Even if games are not designed with education/instruction/learning in mind, they still have features that can be exploited and minded to fold in formal/planned learning opportunities. I mean, somehow they have made the most inane, tedious tasks on Farmville completely compelling. Who knew? Which leads me to think about another way to use Facebook for training:

9. Quizzes. What kind of programmer are you? What does your desk say about you? What kind of cubicle mate are you? While these are humorous, I could see some actual useful ones, like providing Myers Briggs profiles and the like. Oh, and here’s the 10th (I beat you to it)!

10. Fandom. I was interested to see that the number one corporate identity on Facebook is Coke. Their presence was first created by a zealous fan. The page has become their corporate identity, and hugely popular. A lot of times employees can be the biggest fans of a company and hold the most knowledge. Creating a safe environment to tell the positives of the company can offset some of the griping that we all need to do sometimes.

Bwc Yes, but some companies are paranoid about their “intellectual property” being made public. It’s akin to the music companies obsessing over DRM — the one thing a company needs to understand about today’s information revolution: you can’t control everything … so focus on influence rather than control. Comcast learned this quickly, and adopted Twitter to broadcast network statuses to its customers. Now it uses Twitter for customer support.

Drj  I see we keep returning to the theme that companies need to have a more flexibility in this era of accessible info.

Bwc Well there are 10 ways… but there are many more. The big question for companies: are you going to build internal social platforms, or leverage the public ones? It seems like many companies will want to keep their social networks behind their firewalls. This may work in the short-run, but newer generations of workers (Millennials and the 2020 Gen) will want to be able to blend their public and work networks and profiles. That will make for an interesting dialog… maybe we can discuss that one soon?

IBM CityOne goes live

I was a bit excited this morning to see that IBM’s CityOne had finally launched. I’m always a fan of innovative games with real life applications and I am currently searching for activities to use with my high school students. Billed as a SimCity-like experience, but with an educational side, I was expecting to have some fun building a city to my specifications and doing some high level problem-solving.

That build-up would indicate some disappointment– and indeed there was. The glossy cityscape I viewed was inviting and attractive. A small icon indicated my first problem to solve. I clicked, exposing the specific city-planning issue related to water. Three solutions were presented with various pricetags. I choose the most expensive, most comprehensive solution and was presented with some boilerplate response. Mousing and clicking over the screen to find my next challenge I determined (perhaps incorrectly) that I had no more challenges. I ended this first of ten rounds thinking that I couldn’t make much progress if I only had ten challenges to solve.

I made it to turn 7, barely. By this round I had begun to have challenges from all 4 areas (water, energy, retail and banking), but they all had the same basic format. There were few of the identified game attributes– little challenge, no suspense, I had no idea what I was competing for or against and I didn’t know how or why I could fail– and I didn’t really care.

I was attracted to the game because of this line from Gizmodo: “The idea here, presumably, is that it’s always a good thing to educate the populace about the these sorts of problems, and, hey, who knows, someone might unwittingly stumble on a solution we can actually use.” This is hard to see how that could happen  because all of the activities are call and response. There is no room or opportunity for players to create their own innovative solutions.

This seems like a marketing/training tool go awry. To launch the game I had to enter detailed personal info– not surprising– but the limited options for industry or occupation indicated to me that IBM had a  target audience in mind. One of the follow up questions asked you to indicate if you were a software purchase “decider”. Many of the game solutions included using software (presumably developed and marketed by IBM) to clean up a variety of perceived major city issues.

It’s disappointing to me that this game is so lame. I have no problem with companies reaching out through games– I just want them to be fun. There was no fun to be had.

This post originally appeared in October 2010 on The Total Learner Experience