EdCamp Lesley is Coming this November!

edcamp_lesley_logoHave you heard of the “un-conference” movement that’s been spreading across the country and world since 2010? They are akin to a “collaborative conference,” where the conference attendees help to build and create the experience. EdCamps are ad-hoc “unconferences” organized by and for educators. In an article last fall, Justin Reich and Dan Callahan stated, “Edcamps are responsive to the needs of participating teachers, free to attend, inexpensive to host, free of vendor presence, and organized around the belief that attendees each have knowledge worth sharing.”

I have attended several EdCamps so far and made three primary observations. For starters, it is a marvelous movement that truly makes learning and professional development come alive when every attendee is empowered to offer their knowledge as opposed to being a passive participant. Secondly, a vast majority of first-time attendees often state that they wish more of their graduate education programs and district/school professional development offerings were as interactive, engaging, and timely. And lastly, as a former teacher and administrator in the Boston Public Schools, I did not see very many teachers from the local city schools participating in this movement.

So, we are going to host our own EdCamp here at Lesley on Saturday, November 2nd. It is free to attend and we are encouraging faculty, students, alumni, and other educators to attend. The morning will start off with some informal networking and we will all “build the agenda” together. I know it sounds quite frightening, but it truly is a wonderful experience. You can learn more about the EdCamp model via the EdCamp Foundation or the EdCamp wiki. There are also several videos online that can provide more context.

You can register today to reserve your seat at: https://www.lesleyelis.com/edcamplesley.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

29th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning

distance conf banner 2013Instructional designers Sarah Krongard and John McCormick of Lesley’s eLearning and Instructional Support group (eLIS) will be conducting a three-hour workshop on the design of online collaborative learning activities at the 29th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning in Madison Wisconsin this summer.  Recognized internationally for the quality and integrity of its program, the conference provides an exchange of current resources, research, and best practices that are relevant to the design and delivery of distance education.  Last year’s conference included over 800 attendees and representation from 21 countries.  Sarah and John look forward to sharing the ideas and new thinking gleaned from the event!

Advice for Your First Web Conference

Advice for your first web conference
The first time your class meets virtually can be daunting. If you’re not practiced at web conferencing, it may feel awkward and foreign. You probably felt pretty nervous the first time you walked in front of a classroom of students, too. Here are a few tips to turn you into a web conferencing pro:

Create a sketch of the session
List your main goals and how you hope to accomplish them. Create an outline or “storyboard” of your session. Consider what features of the web conferencing software you will use and make note of any additional resources you will need such as links to websites, images, etc.

Keep it simple
Don’t try to use everything. You don’t need to use every tool in the software. Pick a few key ones and then focus on the content and communication. You don’t want your meeting to be about the tool. Don’t try to do too much in one session. If it’s your first online class meeting, your students may need to adjust to a different way of interacting. Keep your main goal in mind.

Include interaction
You may not be in the same room with your participants, but you can still interact with them. Consider including an icebreaker activity at the beginning of the session. If the group is small, give everyone a chance to introduce themselves. Ask them questions. If there’s a polling tool or emoticons, use it to get quick feedback. Avoid too much text and use graphics that work with your content.

Managing participation
Plan in advance how you will manage questions or comments from participants. Is there a “Raise Hand“ to request the microphone or get your attention? Will they type in the chat window? Send you a private chat message? Let participants know how they are expected to participate at the outset of the session. Being clear will help ease any confusion.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Do a dry run of your session using all the tools you will use in the real session. Treat it like a dress rehearsal. Invite a friend or colleague to be your “student.” The more comfortable you are with the virtual space and its tools, the less you have to think about them. This allows you to focus on your students and the presentation material.

Do a little self-reflection after the session. What worked? What didn’t? Why? What might you want to do differently next time? It’s easy to skip this important step, but don’t. Review while the session is still fresh in your mind.

eLIS Staff Present at Northeast Regional Learning Analytics Symposium


Instructional designers John McCormick and Sarah Krongard presented at the Northeast Regional Learning Analytics Symposium in Southbridge, MA on January 25th. NERLA is part of NERCOMP, a regional arm of EDUCAUSE.Their presentation was titled Visualizing Interaction: Learning Analytics to Improve Online Discoursehighlighting exploratory action research on the use of an analytics tool that shows real-time visuals of online discussion interaction patterns. Learning analytics is an emerging field in education highlighted in the Horizon Report as 2-3 years from mainstream adoption, along with game-based learning.

Musings from the Futures of Entertainment Conference – Part 2: The Challenges of “Gamification” and the “Shiny New Object Syndrome”

gamificationPrior to attending the event, I explored the lineup of presentations and noticed a session on the Future of Video Games. Panelists included the following: Ed Fries, architect of Microsoft’s video game business and co-founder of the Xbox project; T.L. Taylor, Associate Professor of Comparative Media Studies at MIT; Yanis Varoufakis, Economist-in-Residence at Valve Software; Christopher Weaver, founder of Bethesda Softworks and industry liaison to the MITGameLab. Games producer and Futures of Entertainment Fellow Alec Austin moderated the panel. As an educator, I was particularly interested in the ways in which technology can improve and facilitate the learning process. I was excited to hear what experts had to say about the potential commingling of games and education, but unfortunately, the panelists did not delve deeply into this topic. When confronted with a question on the trend of “gamification,” the panelists seemed to utter a collective, audible groan. Although I was disappointed that the panelists did not engage in conversation on the potential commingling of games and education, their very visceral, negative reaction to the mere term “gamification” was enlightening for me.

My understanding is that the rejection of “gamification” comes from the interest from a variety of fields (including education) to take a concept that is basically unfun and mask it with game-like qualities (hilarious avatars, motivational badges) to trick and seduce an audience. While I understand the desire to steer clear from the shallow and overused term “gamification,” I honestly felt a bit disheartened when the panel chose to completely dismiss the whole idea. From my perspective, there are exciting opportunities for learning and play to become intertwined, and many in the field of education use this term “gamification” to discuss this concept. Perhaps the language should change, but in order to simultaneously avoid jumping on the “gamification” bandwagon in education and still acknowledge the potential benefits of connecting learning and games, I propose educators think about the following questions….

  • To what extent can educators learn from games without buying into the superficial platitudes, hype, and banalities that seem increasingly inherent in the term “gamification”?
  • How can educators integrate fundamental principles of game-experiences to improve student learning in both formal and informal environments? Some of these principles/qualities could include the following:
    • Ongoing, Iterative Feedback: Games provide immediate and continuous feedback loops that provide the user/player/learner with tangible ideas on how to improve their performance in future iterations.  The process is ongoing, and the concept of “failure” is reconsidered….
    • Rethinking “Failure”: Our culture often adheres to binary thinking – good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, success vs. failure.  In order to encourage resiliency and risk-taking among learners, educators may want to rethink how “failure” and “failing” is communicated to young people.  In games, failure is merely an opportunity for formative assessment that a player uses for continuous improvement
    • Rewarding Creativity and Collaboration: In traditional schooling, much of what could be considered collaboration and creativity in games would be considered cheating.  Educators ought to value and reward effective collaboration and expand the learning process to include the ability to creatively learn with and from one another.
  • To what extent can educators capitalize upon the engaging and captivating qualities of games by integrating content from popular games into curricula for learners? How can we encourage students of all ages to reflectively examine the images, signs, and messages being communicated through popular games to foster critical thinking and thoughtful analysis?

Author James Paul Gee has written extensively on the ways in which education can learn from games. I highly recommend his book “What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy.” For his ideas on learning principles that are integrated in good games, check out his paper “Good Games and Good Learning.”

Another related session during the conference was titled Curing the Shiny New Object Syndrome: Strategies Vs. Hype When Using New Technologies. The panel was comprised of the following: Todd Cunningham, Futures of Entertainment Fellow and television audience research leader; Jason Falls, CEO of Social Media Explorer; Eden Medina, Associate Professor of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University; Mansi Poddar, co-founder of Brown Paper Bag; and David Polinchock, Director of AT&T AdWorks Lab.  The panel was moderated by Ben Malbon, Managing Director at the Google Creative Lab.  Panelists began by defining the phrase “shiny new object” which generated the following words and phrases…

  • Expensive
  • Modern
  • Futuristic
  • Everyone is using it!
  • Hyped
  • Human bias toward the new

The major motivator driving the “shiny new object syndrome” was to create the appearance of being innovative and cutting edge. Another motivator included the “human bias toward the ‘new.’” However, panelists noted what is consistently missing when adopting a “shiny new object” is the reflection on goals. What are the high-level objectives driving the use of the tool/idea/program? Instead of blindly adopting and implementing these new, attractive technologies, practices, or concepts, panelists emphasized the importance of first identifying authentic goals for why and how this tool will be used. The “shiny new object syndrome” can be cured by continuous reflection on the end goal – the tool, or the means, is secondary.

Gamification could potentially fall under this category, as an exciting concept that has become quite a popular, and often empty, buzzword. The recent obsession with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) could possibly be considered another example of an idea that has recently fallen victim to the “shiny new object syndrome.” The reason I use the word “possibly” is because of the importance of intent.  Are MOOCs being implemented to increase access to education and facilitate deep learning experiences for all learners? Reading Larry Cuban’s recent blog post MOOCs and Hype Again reminded me of this discussion at FoE6. Cuban expresses concern about the increasing media noise surrounding MOOCs and the potential impact on the main goal – student learning.

Exciting ideas like MOOCs and “gamification” have the potential to be designed in ways that support incredibly valuable end goals, but again, we must think critically about the overarching goals and consciously avoid getting caught up in this “shiny new object syndrome.”

[Image via Graphic Design Junction]