Monthly Archives: March 2012

Blackboard Acquires Moodlerooms; Borg Reevalute Strategies for Assimilation

by Hap Aziz

I admit, with the acquisitions that Blackboard has made over the years, I could not resist the Star Trek reference. However, the ramifications for this latest move by the LMS heavyweight are quite far reaching, especially in terms of the impact it could have on the open source marketplace for learning management systems. Realize, that as large as Blackboard’s market share is, even after the acquisitions of WebCT and Angel, their market share as been decreasing–slowly, but decreasing still. This is the type of move that could be considered a game-changer, as long as there is a commitment on the part of Bb leadership to leverage Moodleroom expertise rather than bury it.

(Does anyone remember the story of Quark and mTropolis?)

From our perspective here at Learning Through Play & Technology, there are some definite upsides as well as some potential bad news from this move. We’ll take a few days to survey the education landscape and present our analysis. In the mean time, we encourage you to take a look at what Ray Henderson has to say on the topic.

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Filed under announcement, education technology, Hap Aziz, higher education, Learning Management Systems

Experiences with GoodSemester

by Dr. Suzanne Kissel

I can’t believe that it’s been as long as a month since I was invited to join GoodSemester.  The email has been sitting in my inbox since February 15th, waiting for me to make the time to attend to it properly.  On March 15th, however, the folks at GoodSemester announced that anyone could sign up for an account, for free, no invite required.

So much for exclusivity.

But exclusivity is not really the point of platforms like GoodSemester.   The platform is designed to take advantage of connections between people and materials to generate knowledge.  For instance, the primary means of sharing content in GoodSemester is through Notes.  Although the types of content supported by this feature are fairly standard, the sharing capabilities inherent in the system are not.   Authors can keep notes private, restrict them to course participants, or make them globally available.  If the later is selected, notes are licensed under Creative Commons, meaning that others can use them with proper attribution.  Under ideal conditions, therefore, the note becomes a collaborative item with the initial author able to see changes that others have made and participate in the conversation.  In GoodSemester, the function most commonly seen as analogous to the classroom lecture is made collaborative; however, any attempt to compare GoodSemester’s notes and notepad to LMS content functionality soon falls apart.  It is like comparing apples and oranges; there just isn’t enough in common to make a worthwhile comparison.

This sparks questions about how we can categorize GoodSemester.  Is it an LMS?  I don’t think so and the folks who created the platform agree with me.   In a recent interview with the company founder Jason Rappaport, Michael Feldstein acknowledges the difficulty of categorizing the product.  He also identifies this as an issue typical of today’s marketplace:

And one of the questions platform developers and teachers alike are asking is how much functionality do you really need? Is it just WordPress? Is it WordPress plus Google Docs? Is it WordPress, Google Docs, and grade book? Is it a simple LMS with only a handful of tools and an app store? There are lots of different models.

He’s right, of course.  It seems that most of the new technologies that I’ve evaluated for teaching are designed to do a few things in a near revolutionary fashion rather than all things as expected.  They pit openness, collaboration, and an individual focus again products that define themselves as system.  If there’s one thing that I know about all of the products that I use to facilitate instruction is that they are not systems.

But the question is that whether all of these products that-are-not-systems relate to the systematic mindset that so pervades how institutions of higher education approach technology.  This is never more evident than in LMS selection process.  Since 2002, I’ve participated in these sometimes very long, very drawn out activity that seems to question everything, other than whether the institution really needs an LMS at all.   The fact that an institution needs a system to take on the complex and increasingly vital operations associated with hybrid and online learning almost goes without saying.

I’m not going to quibble with whether the institution needs a system or not, but the burgeoning of tools reinventing how we teach online begs the question of why schools can’t create their own system?  Rather than embarking on a process to select an LMS, it would be so much more cost effective and efficient to pour that energy into building an LMS from all of the pieces and parts abounding in the marketplace.

It is becoming increasingly clear that institutions need to step away from the apparent safety of buying an all-in-one solution and start exploring the possibilities of building what they really need.

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Filed under colleges and universities, education, higher education, Learning Management Systems, Suzanne Kissel

Gamification of Education: Balancing Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

by Martin LaGrow

The bleeding-edge blogosphere of education is alive and well, and the topic du jour is gamification.  It is a concept that is already being utilized aggressively in other markets, but there is a lot of debate about whether it has a place in education.  As with most new trends, we are dealing with evolving terminology with no pre-established definition.  As gamification takes on different directions in different contexts, no doubt people will be using the term without an agreed-upon understanding of what it is.  Gamification of education is not just the addition of games to academics—that concept is as old as education itself.  We can all think of games we played in the classroom as kids that complemented learning.  Nor does it necessarily speak toward the application of gaming technology to education.  Rather, gamification is the application of the mechanism and structure of gaming to a traditionally non-game focused context—in this case, the classroom.  According to Joey Lee and Jessica Hammer’s insightful paper, Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother?, gamification is “The incorporation of game elements into non-game settings.”  The website GamifyingEducation.org goes into more detail, expanding the definition as it applies to education to include “…the use of game mechanics and dynamics like badges, leaderboards, and actions…for improving motivation and learning in informal and formal settings.”

Before discussing this in the context of education, let’s take a look at how gamification has infiltrated another industry:  health and fitness.  Virgin’s Healthmiles program is a classic example of gamification in action.  Designed to assist employers in promoting healthy lifestyles for their employees, the Healthmiles program exemplifies all of the hallmarks of gamification.  Employee progress toward a healthier lifestyle is quantitatively tracked.  Participants earn badges for various accomplishments, “level up” when they reach certain milestones, and can even compete against coworkers and other program participants through social networking.  Successful attainment of goals is also incentivized with HealthCash.  Virgin has successfully capitalized on the principles that make gamification effective.

Proponents of gamification in education see it as a cure for the malaise affecting our schools.  Students lack motivation.  Efforts to engage them through traditional means are failing.  On the surface, gamification seems like it may be the solution.  According to gamification.org,

“Gamification… doesn’t rely on internal motivation (emphasis mine). Instead, it’s using the oldest tricks in the book: providing instantaneous feedback, egging on the competition, and rewarding even tiny steps of progress. Gamification assumes that the player isn’t especially motivated — at least at the beginning — and then provides barrels of incentives to ramp up that motivation.”  In other words, proper application of external motivation can prime the pump, if you will, of internal motivation and drive success.  While this may be true to a point, it is certainly not a panacea—and some will respond more to this type of motivation than others.

Let’s apply this logic to the Virgin HealthMiles program.  It’s a great notion—after all, who doesn’t want to be healthier?  Who doesn’t agree that exercising more and feeling better about themselves is important?  And this program rewards and incentivizes what we all know we should be doing!  So what rate of participation would you expect in such a program?  Seventy-five percent?  Fifty percent?  According to Virgin, “Our approach…attracts an average of 40% of employees.”  Clearly, external motivation cannot drive success in a vacuum!  While forty percent of employees taking steps (literally) toward a healthier lifestyle is certainly a good thing, what contributes to the 60%, on average, that do not participate in the program?  The answer, in part, is lack of intrinsic motivation.

Applied in an academic context, while gamification can certainly be an effective tool to produce desirable results in some measureable contexts, it is no replacement for internal motivation.  Students need to understand the value of the tasks that they are performing in order to achieve sustainable learning.  A life-long learner is not fostered by extrinsic motivation.  When the motivator is removed, the learner must understand the value of learning for its own sake.

Gamification certainly can and should play a role in the evolution of education.  However, as in all things, it is wise to avoid extremes.  Gamification is rooted in incentive theory.  Understanding this, before any major shift is made toward gamifying education in any context, it is important to understand other theories of motivation (drive theory, humanistic theory, arousal theory, etc.) to best address the needs of all learners.

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Filed under computer games, education, education technology, games, gamification, Martin LaGrow, simulation

Game Developers’ Conference 2012: Wrapping Up from an Education Perspective

by Hap Aziz

The Game Developers’ Conference (GDC 2012) has reached endgame here in San Francisco, and there are many thousands of weary game developers, producers, artists, designers, investors, educators, and miscellaneous interested parties bugging out and heading home. I’m one of them. What I thought I would do over the next several posts here is take some of the session descriptions and provide some commentary on the relevance and relationship of the topics to the landscape of teaching and learning. I’ve seen many interesting potential connections between the game industry and education during my attendance in years past, and this time around was no exception. In fact, I saw greater engagement and participation from educators during this year’s conference than I have before. That’s quite heartening to those of us who see the potential for gaming techniques and technologies integrated with the mission of education.

More to come, so keep watching this space!

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Filed under announcement, colleges and universities, computer games, creativity, education, education technology, games, Hap Aziz, simulation, technology

Education Engagement: Smartphone Robots and Interactive Learning Could Make an Awesome Combination

by Hap Aziz

Over at Engadget is an interesting video showing SK Telecom’s new “Smart Learning” robot in action. Designed as a next-generation educational tool, these work through a Bluetooth-connected Android smartphone that functions as both the robot brain as well as its display. There are quite a few possibilities for interactive learning (and play), as an SDK will be released that will allow developers to create all sorts of applications for the technology involved. Click here to head on over to the video on Engadget.

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Filed under Android, computer games, education, education technology, games, Hap Aziz, robots

Game Developers’ Conference 2012

by Hap Aziz

The Game Developers’ Conference is taking place in San Francisco this week, and I’ll be in attendance from Wednesday through Friday. I’ve been a regular attendee since the late 1990s when I served on the board of the Computer Game Developers’ Association. Back then, David Weinstein of Red Storm Entertainment (who served on the board of the International Game Developers’ Network) and I were charged with merging the CGDA and IGDN. We did, and that’s how the International Game Developers’ Association was born. Attending the GDC is a homecoming of sorts, where I get to connect with some of the wonderful folks I’ve met since I started developing software for the Amiga computer many years ago.

My interests now aren’t purely about game design, but I value the opportunity to apply game development techniques to the teaching and learning experience. I expect I’ll learn quite a few things this year, and I hope to bring back some great news and information to share in this blog. For those of you that plan to be at the conference, let me know, and perhaps we can meet and swap notes. And for those of you unable to attend but interested in something in particular, shoot me a note and let me know; I’ll be happy to do some research for you!

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Filed under announcement, computer games, creativity, education technology, emerging technologies, future technology, games, Hap Aziz, simulation, technology, video

Michelle Rhee, and Superman’s Long Fall from the Clouds

by Hap Aziz

Given her role as he chancellor of schools in Washington, DC, from 2007 to 2010, I am somewhat disappointed in this article on Michelle Rhee in the New York Times. This, especially after having seen and appreciated the documentary Waiting for Superman. It is important to know that the Inspector General in the Department of Education under Arne Duncan’s has been investigating whether Washington school officials cheated to raise test scores during Ms. Rhee’s tenure, but that does not mean that A) any cheating had actually occurred, or B) that Ms. Rhee was involved in the cheating. Still, it leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth for a number of reasons.

Two things trouble me from a fundamental perspective about our education system personnel infrastructure. The first is the whole concept of integrity (or lack thereof) when it comes to reporting actual performance measures for student outcomes. Is the thinking among the cheating educators so skewed that they don’t see that inflating test scores hurts the students moving forward? Surely, that must be clear. The other troublesome thought is related to compensation: are our educators concerned about pay increases so much that they are willing to commit wholesale fraud for it? Even being charitable and admitting to the possibility that cheating is done primarily to preserve their own jobs in a more “competitive” environment, that simply leads me to question the educators’ faith in their own ability to do good work.

One of the underlying themes to the whole issue is the idea that teacher evaluation either should or should not be in some way tied to student performance. Is it possible to evaluate teachers in some objectively fair manner, or should seniority be the sole (or primary) driver for security of employment? That question is certainly worth a deeper discussion, and perhaps we’ll approach the topic here at a later date. Let me know what you think!

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Filed under accountability, education, Hap Aziz, high school students, learning outcomes, standards