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Literacy App Series #2: Grimm’s Red Riding Hood

Photo Credit: Me

Grimm’s Red Riding Hood – is an animated, interactive storybook for young kids that features some of the coolest use of the accelerometer (for the background shots) that I’ve seen in a kids app. You can read at your own pace or have a narrator read along with you. After each page or two, you are shown a wonderful, 3-D ‘pop-up book’ scene that goes along with the story and has games within it or interactivity to enhance the story for the reader.

Pros: Great animation, graphics and sound. The story is a classic, and is smoothly narrated when that option is selected. The pop-up scenes are fun to interact with and some even feature built in mini-games that help advance the story. The user-interface is slick and bug free and quite intuitive for kids: you can either use the arrows along the bottom of the screen or just drag the pages forward and back, as you would a real book.

Cons: It would have been nice to have a few more ‘game like’ features in the app to keep kids attention and allow them to interact more with the story.

Score: 4 and ½ out of 5 paperweights

Price: (as of March 1, 2012) Free


Literacy App Series #1: “Sleuth”

Sleuth, aka: 5 minute mysteries, bills itself as the “The world’s first interactive educational ebook game”. It is an app that is also a book of short-stories that is also a game. Thanks to the clever use of a “clues” page and a “solve” page, the app is able to be 99% pure text yet feel like a real ‘game’ at the same time. After reading a story, or case file, the reader can proceed directly to the “solve” screen to try to solve the caseor can utilize the “clues” page which zeroes in on specific, pertinent clues and details that were sprinkled throughout the story.

Pros: This is a truly great app for what it is built for. The main purpose of this app is to get users reading and enjoying stories. By adding in the ‘interactivity’ of clues and a solve feature, it turns a story into a game. The stories themselves are short, well-written, and logical enough to satisfy many an armchair sleuth. The sound effects are nice and only used sparingly, which is to good effect in a text-based environment, so that the senses aren’t overwhelmed. Though it may not look like much (mostly just text on a screen), this app represents something very exciting to me: a way to get kids reading and enjoying reading more.

Cons: Though it is great to think of kids, teens and adults reading several pages of a story and enjoying the process purely for itself, adding a few nice visuals or even a well animated cut-scene at the end of each clue or case could go a long way for this generation’s digital kids. Also, there are some spelling and grammar mistakes that I’ve seen in a couple of the stories, but none that interfered with understanding.

Score: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 paperweights

Price as of February 2012: $0.99  (Though there is a limited FREE version I think you can try)

iPhone / iPad Apps and Games for Literacy!

Photo Credit: Mine all mine!

After scouring the app store for four hours (literally) I was able to identify and download 15 apps that I thought (and hoped) would promote literacy and a love of reading for kids and teens that used the apps.

This was initially a homework assignment for my “Mobile Phones and Learning” class at Columbia, but I found myself wanting to go far beyond the required review of a single app and look at as many as I could find.

The BAD news is that there really aren’t that many apps out there that focus on literacy and reading, especially when you consider the amount focused on math and other subject areas. There are, of course, many apps devoted to teaching kids the basics of phonics and letters, but few apps or games were to be found that helped or encouraged older kids to read and to love reading and find it an enjoyable past time.

The GOOD news is that I *did* find a few apps that I consider to be amazing and would wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone with kids or who teaches reading or English.

So…in the coming days and weeks, I will share a review of each of the apps I test out. Hopefully you will be able to benefit from the reviews in a variety of ways, even if it’s just learning what app should be on your ‘must have’ list for your kid’s upcoming birthday.

Stay tuned: the first review will be out tomorrow!

Australia Tweaks One Laptop Per Child’s ‘Drop Off’ Deployment Model

OLPC australia

Photo Credit: The Australian (National & Business News)

I found the following link on Twitter (see previous post about the awesomeness of Twitter as a learning tool) and wanted to share it with all of you:

The One Laptop Per Child program’s model of “drop off technology and hope the kids learn” deployment has deservedly been under fire for years. Despite the, I believe, truly good intentions of Nick Negroponte and those working on the OLPC project, there have been many, many problems with the program over the years. A lot of those problems stem from the way they view the device and ‘install’ it into developing country schools around the globe. In a nutshell: OLPC has a relatively ‘cheap’ kid-friendly laptop (with a new tablet coming ‘soon’) that they convince education departments in developing countries to buy. After that, they may or may not provide technical support and other services. The main thing is the thing itself: the XO laptop.

So Unlearning Blog’s article about Australia’s twist on the usual model is refreshing and hopeful. Please check it out for yourself and see how they intend to get buy in from the local level and train teachers first, before paying all that money and having the laptops sit around in corners or have the entire program deemed not worth continuing (as it was in Alabama in where 15,000 laptops were ordered but only used for a year, since the project was shut down).


Let me know what you think of it!

Video Games = The Present Future of Education?

I have to admit, after seeing the reading list this week, I squee’d like a little girl and ran right to the Kurt Squire article (“Open-Ended Video Games: A Model for Developing Learning for the Interactive Age”). I am a recent convert to the idea that gaming can be transformative in the education sphere, but like any good convert, I’ve imbibed more than my fair share of the Kool-Aid.

I’m currently taking another class at TC called “Video Games in Education” that has looked at a lot of Squire’s work (along with Salen, Jim Gee and the other gaming in ed ‘gurus’) and I have to say, I’m convinced. Not *every* iteration or implementation of gaming in education is on the mark, of course. But then, neither is the inclusion of technology in general a panacea or even a boost. I can’t tell you how many Smart Boards sat unused for *years* in my old school because no one knew how to use them and none of the teachers were ever trained in how to make the use of them relevant and new for students.

In this week’s article, Squire points out that “Video games, like any emerging medium, are disruptive, challenging existing social practices, while capturing our dreams and triggering our fears.” I think that is the perfect distillation of people’s opinions on gaming: they recognize them for their potential disruption (which I believe is a GOOD thing where our monolithic education system is concerned) and/but also fear them at the same time. Squire also points out that gaming shows what education COULD be like–full of exploration and discovery and *fun* (gasp! How did THAT get in there?)–if we would only let it happen.

To close, I’ll provide a brief anecdote. I stayed up until 3am on Black Friday to score a Play Station 3 bundle for a song on Amazon. I only made this purchase (the first ‘real’ gaming system I’ve bought since the Nintendo 64 I wore out while playing Zelda) to play one game and only that game: SKYRIM. I have since logged more hours playing Skyrim than I am comfortable admitting when it is finals season, but all that playing *has* given me a look into what education / schooling could be like if we thought outside the box like game creators do on a daily basis. See, Skyrim is all about exploration and NOT following the beaten-path. “Students” could get a few tutorials (lessons) and then go on their way, allowing their interest and understanding to guide their quests (activities, homework, etc.) and come out at the end just as “educated” as someone who followed the main “storyline” (curriculum).

So, in a nut shell: Games have some of the answers and we just need to open our eyes and pick up our swords!  …so to speak.

The Next 25 Years in K-12 & Higher-Education

Just reading the title of Facer & Sandford’s 2009 article–The next 25 years?: future scenarios and future directions for education and technology–had me excited, and I’m very glad it was on my chosen reading list this week. Though case studies and in-depth analysis of trends and findings tend to be more ‘useful’ as far as research and learning go, I find the broad-view, speculative nature of articles such as these to be just plain fun to read!

A paper from the UK-based  Beyond Current Horizons(BCH) programme, “a 2-year project tasked with interrogating potential socio-technical futures for education which brought together over 100 academics from disciplines as diverse as computer science, demography, psychol- ogy, and sociology of childhood, and involved contribu- tions from over 130 organizations and individuals from industry, practice, policy and research” forms the basis for the author’s conclusions and projections.

The researchers posit that in the near (25 years, give or take a few) future, Moore’s Law will continue, with the price of tech production going down and “massive increases in computing power” becoming available at cheaper and cheaper costs to more people, which will (hopefully) help continue to bridge the digital divide. The authors, like many others recently, have projected that 3-D printing and human-computer (biological / external) interfaces will become much more prevalent and important in the near future.

When it comes to education, though, what does it all mean? Well, that is less clear. The authors lay out several scenarios (based on projected future economic, social and cultural developments) and within those roughly-defined scenarios, paint a few different ‘types’ of education, from the highly atomized to the totally integrated. Some of their ‘predictions’ (at only one year old as of this reading) are already old news, such as their hunch that people will begin to take control of their own learning resources instead of looking to institutions for the content (“weakening of institutional boundarie”) and organization of said resources (read: Personal Learning Networks, NINGs, Scoop.It, etc.). Other predictions are still definitely ‘future-istic’–such as the deep immersion of technology in our lives and bodies, but it is definitely on the horizon rather than a sci-fi novel.

Perhaps the happiest ‘finding’, in my opinion? “Silver bullets” are not expected to be the cure-all for education in the future. Instead of mass standardization and robots helping to ‘teacher proof‘ schooling, in the future we will view the problems of the day as the complex, tangled webs they really are…or so the authors say…

This Is Your Brain On…Tech?

A 2010 New York Times article entitled “Attached To Technology And Paying a Price” explains how, yes, our brains have been changed by technology. And not just our brains, but our habits, our views, our relationships and even our lives. When we, in the 60’s consumed only 4 hours of media, and now consume a staggering 12 hours of media a day (counting media we consume at the same time on its own timer), there has obviously been a radical transformation afoot in our culture. It is difficult to know whether we are driving the technology or the technology is driving us.

In the article, Matt Richtel also debunks the notion that our brains are capable of true multi-tasking–a “finding” that I am rather disturbed to hear, though this isn’t the first time I’ve been exposed to such findings. The reasons I am upset to ‘learn’ it is because it’s something I’ve feared for years now: I’m really not as productive when I’m doing two (or ten) things at once.

My daily habits do involve bouncing between Twitter and Facebook and CNN and CNET and a million other sites and apps, and though I feel I give a good deal of attention to each when it matters, I never find myself able to give anything 100% of my brain. I seem physically incapable of it, in fact, which makes me tend to believe the ‘science’ behind such findings. I even downloaded a Google Chrome extension called “StayFocused” to help me limit my time on “my sites” each day…but I’ve already done my best to disable or limit its power to limit me.

In the article, everyone from Stanford researchers to learned doctors and scientists gets in on the act of speculating whether or not we’re wired for this time of response to stimuli or if it is, indeed, an evolutionary thing: there is definitely no consensus. As one Stanford professor pointed out, he has a near Pavlovian response to hearing the ‘ding’ of the bell indicating a new message in his inbox…and I doubt he is alone in this response. Though for many youth today, it isn’t their inboxes but the vibration or sound that indicates a new text which they cannot ignore. Indeed, I honestly can’t recall seeing any of my adolescent family members or any of the hundreds of my former high school students ignore an incoming text save for those rarest of occasions.

**As an aside, the husband/father depicted in the article who literally seems incapable of putting down his tech-toys, be it for a vacation with family or his own honeymoon is a disturbing commentary on our culture that I hope doesn’t become too widespread, lest the divorce rate climb to 100%…

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