EdTech 531: Blowing Up The Gradebook

By no means am I new to this notion of “Blowing Up the Gradebook” presented by Dr. Chris Haskell in the video.  Over time the concept of learning of the sake of learning has intrigued me more as an educational philosophy then the first time I heard this concept presented.  As Rick Wormeli has discussed in several of his education books, the concept of what is fair for one student doesn’t mean that it is equal or the same path that his or her peers need to follow.  Students should get what they need when they need it in order to be successful.  However, the current educational system that many teachers are “encouraged” to function in doesn’t always accommodate that model in a fashion that is manageable or accessible for all students.

I agree with Dr. Haskell to a degree with the concept of at home practice being a challenge for many students.  The home environment can greatly impact a student’s ability to be successful in at home practice without access to teacher assistance.  With stated in the ideal world where there was no digital divide, this would be an excellent opportunity to utilize the concept of a flipped classroom.  Where students can view teacher instruction, modeling, or acquire background information from a video in order to prepare them for in class practice with access to the classroom teacher while they are working on academic practice activities.

I have found that in a quest based model students that have choice of assignments and point goals strive to achieve greater than if they just had paper and pencil homework.  In fact, the first time I launched 3D Game Lab in my social studies classes I couldn’t stop students from completing practice work.  The concept of choice and unlocking new pathways had students addicted to something new – Learning.  Instead of struggling with students to practice social studies concepts, they were asking for more work and even giving suggestions of assignments that could be incorporated into the quest based system.  Empower students to aid in exploring their interests and even letting them aid in the quest based assignment creation lead to amazing Ziggurats of Ancient Mesopotamia recreated in Minecraft with video tours.  Even when I switched my position mid-year to become the computer science teacher, students continued to quest despite the fact that my replacement wasn’t running the quest based model.
I agree that the metrics of schools needs to change.  However, the change game in education is a slow process.  There is a mentality among people that education they way it was for the previous generation worked fine so there isn’t a need to change it.  I know as a parent that I am perpetually leveraging choice for my own children.  They feel more empowered when there are options.  There is a greater sense of ownership when you choose the path to the outcomes.  The path of the learning can still be carefully crafted with prerequisites prior to unlocking new learning opportunities and challenges.  We want our students to be lifelong learners that continue to learn beyond their school years.  We need to find ways to maximize engagement in the learning process and student choice is a very powerful component as is flipping classroom instruction.

“IP11: Chris Haskell – Blowing up the Grade Book.” YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2015. <http://youtu.be/atMlkVgzx-Y&gt;.

EdTech 531: My Alt, My Avatar

Virtual Reality has made great improvements in the last decade.  As with any new development that has an impact upon our educational system, research has been conducted in order to evaluate the impact of avatar behaviors in virtual reality environments.  After viewing a lecture by Jeremy Bailenson given in 2011 at Stanford University, I have drawn several conclusions:

As a population, we spend a great amount of time absorbed in consuming digital media.  One of the most interesting facts presented by Dr. Bailenson was that “In 2005, outside of schools kids were using 7 hours of digital media per day outside of school.  In 2010 this goes up to 8 hours per day.”  Given this information, how do we as educators maximize students immersion in digital media to engage them in the learning process outside of school.  As a for the last 15 years, I can honestly say that the vast majority of educators are not having students access digital media outside of the school day.  Even with the movement of flipped classroom environments there is a large contingency of educators that are not leveraging the power of digital media with their students.  In part this is due to the digital divide in the state in which I teach where there are still portions of our state that are unable to get adequate connectivity to the digital world around us.  Dr. Bailenson states that of that time using digital media two hours of it are spent interacting with an avatar.

An avatar is a graphic representation of someone or something else.  For example, when you play Minecraft the user takes on the avatar on one of the miners.  As graphics have improved over time, the appearance of these graphic representations becomes more real and life like.  When exploring virtual reality spaces the user has the opportunity to interact with other users.  As with any interaction be it digital or real life, there are certain social cues that gain greater results.  Having the ability to control these social cues in a virtual interaction can create a greater impact upon the users we meet because we can apply the code or the rule to all other individuals we meet.  In the example given by Dr. Bailenson, he states that he can have the avatar representing himself in a virtual environment appear that it is always making eye contact with the other avatars he is meeting with in a virtual space.  The implications of this as derived from studies he conducted are as follows: the other user has a greater sense that they are being listened to and are more likely to pay attention because of the direct eye contact their avatar is receiving.  In a virtual educational environment, this sort of action can be created to replicate optimal “Transformed Social Interaction” increasing student attention which would therefore also impact student acquisition of new knowledge.   In a traditional brick and mortar classroom environment with only one human teacher, having 100% eye contact would be impossible to achieve unless you were working in a one to one situations with a student.  The avatar kinect uses cameras to create a more realistic representation of the user’s avatar movements.  With more realistic movements and graphics the users feel more immersed in the virtual environment making it look and feel more realistic and therefore more engaging to the end users.

Another aspect of avatar behavior that was analyzed was the action of mimicking behaviors of those you encounter in a virtual space.  The educational impact of having an instructional avatar mimic behaviors of its students creates a greater sense of connections.  As we all know as educators, the first step in being able to educate another individual is creating connections and trust.  The act of mimicking a nod when someone is talking in either face to face or virtual environments has the same effects.  It has the other individual human or avatar looking at you more because they feel a greater connection and trust.  When someone displaces similar actions to you and appears to agree with you, you are more likely to pay attention to what they have to say.

As with any technology there are pros and cons.  The “Persuasive Power of Symmetry” study although interesting also has some scary implications to it.  I imagine we are programmed to identify with people who resemble us.  After all, most individuals natural instincts is to identify with people in similar age groups, gender, and appearance whether this is a conscious decision or not.  Given the study conducted by Dr. Bailenson, on merging images of study participants with the image of a political candidate to create a similarity between the voter and the candidate, in order to influence voter results I find unsettling from the point of view that this could impact the democratic process in our country.  From an educational standpoint, it makes sense that a participant would identify with someone that shares similar characteristics as themselves.  Given this information, if your class in a virtual environment in predominately male you may want to take on a male persona in order to aid students in feeling a greater connections.  This power of “Persuasive Symmetry” is not a new concept by any means applying it to a virtual environment to maximize impact to the masses under the right circumstances can create an optimal educational environment where all students feel that they can identify with their instructor creating a greater sense of trust, attention, and likeliness to help out in cooperative learning experiences.  This would lead to greater immersion in the virtual learning experience which would translate to an improved understanding by students in such learning environments.

Implications of this research upon my own teaching practices in virtual environments at this point are challenging to identify.  As the schools in which I have worked are not at the point of moving towards the utilization of virtual environments in the learning process.  However, I have used virtual environments to create machinima videos to introduce a topic.  These videos are much more engaging when the camera angles are pointed to give the appearance that the avatar is speaking to you rather than following the avatar around a looking at its back.  Creating an avatar that resembles someone the students already know makes them feel more connected to the video presentation.  When possible, having the avatar’s mannerisms resemble that of a real person adds the element of reality to the learning experience.

Bailenson, Jeremy. “Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life and New Worlds.” YouTube. YouTube, 29 Aug. 2011. Web. 24 Aug. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=3627&v=lvGyK6vKIPE&gt;.

EDTech 542: PBL Course Reflection

After completing this course I now have a greater understanding of Project Based Learning versus just assigning a project. In a project based learning model the instructor acts more like a coach and the students are finding their path through the content through discovery. The process of creating a PBL approach to instruction involves a lot more planning on the part of the teacher than a traditional model of instruction. As the teacher needs to anticipate the various paths that their students may travel and how to coach them in the direction that will be most meaningful given the driving question and the learning objectives. I feel that the most challenging part of PBL was creating a broad enough driving question. Getting that aspect of the PBL model is an area I still feel I need more practice with in the future.

When I first signed up for this course I thought it would be more of creating projects that infused technology into the classroom. I hadn’t realized the main goal of the course would surround an overarching learning theory that was this scripted in it’s process for development. I learned the correct process for creating a PBL experience for my students. I’ve also gained a toolkit of resources of where to go to create additional PBL experiences for my students in the future.

I plan on implement the elementary version of the PBL created next week through the completion of the academic year. As I transition into my new position for the fall, I will implement the Middle School/High School timelines for that position in September. I will continue to reflect and make modifications along the way as various elements of the Digital Footprint project are tried out. In the new position I have acquired for the fall the philosophy of the school is project based learning infused with a classical education model. As a result, I believe that I will be looking back at the toolkit of resources frequently to develop curricular units in the future.

Creating a Positive Digital Footprint Project

EDTech 513: Digital Story Project

The above project has been created as a sample to use with my students next year for an All About Me project.  Students are coming into a charter school as 6th graders from several other different schools.  This assignment will introduce students to using Movie Maker to create a video about themselves.  Students will discuss where they have gone to school during prior academic years, their interests and extracurricular activities, their families, and their favorite things.  This will create a digital story about each student that will later be used as an artifact for their digital portfolio.

This assignment demonstrates the personalization principal because it is created with more of a conversation style of writing in order to inform an audience.  It will be used as a kick off for students to learn a little bit more about their teacher in order to build a sense of community and sharing within the class.  In addition, given the personal story I believe that students will be able to better identify with the story as it is presented in a first person account.  I specifically referenced my own experiences as a middle school educator over my teaching career and how each of my choices impacted the next creating a linear story line.

EDTech 513: Personalization Theory

Problem Scenario

You have been working on a script for a narrated lesson. As a teacher, you are convinced that a more relaxed, less formal conversational style is the way to go. However, you need to get this approved by your instructional design team, one of whom is an English major and a stickler for “proper” English and grammar. When you show him your script, he is aghast. How might you respond?


Dear Script Naysayer,


I appreciate your point of view regarding wanting to use “proper” English and grammar to create a professional piece of instructional material.  However, there is research that backs the model for which my script for the lesson narration is based.  We want the learner to engage with our content.  This can be a challenge in a virtual learning environment such as the one we are creating for this course.


According to Clark & Mayer and the Principal of Personalization, “The psychological advantages of the conversational style, pedagogical agents, and visible authors is to induce the learner to engage with the computer as a social conversational partner.” (p. 180).  This can make the learner feel more engages in the learning process rather than in a more formal model where learners feel less connected to the content. Given the cognitive theories of how the human mind works, using a conversational style in a multimedia presentation conveys to the learner the idea that they should work hard to understand what their conversation partner is saying to them (Clark & Mayer, p. 184)    I feel that I have created the fine balance in the script where the conversational partner is both engaging but not so informal that it becomes distracting from the instruction.  We have chosen to have an actual human voice because research states that learners respond better to this that that of a voice that is more computerized.  In addition, we have chosen a female voice for the instruction given the fact that the course we are designing is for teachers which tends to be a predominantly female profession.  It has also been found that learners rate the female narrators more positively and show better problem-solving performance from a female-narrated lessons (Clark & Mayer, p 189).   I feel that if the voice selection will enable our learners to be better problem-solvers of technology use in instruction then this is a solid choice.  I was thinking of creating machinima that was dressed professionally in a virtual classroom that mimics that of the age group of students that the teachers will be instructing.  This will allow elementary teachers, middle school, and high school teachers all to envision themselves as integrating the technology into their day to day instruction better.  In addition, I felt that the narrator and coach of the instruction would be more believable if we used terms such as “I,” “we,” “our,” “we,” “you,” and “your.”  (Clark & Mayer, p. 202).


As you can see the elements included in the design have been carefully considered given sound instructional theory.  I hope you will take a second look given what I have presented with an open mind as we move forward to collaborate on this project.


Thank you in advance for your consideration

Clark, R., & Mayer, R. (2011). E-learning and the science of instruction proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.