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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Free Agent Learner," What a Concept!

T.H.E. Journal's Dave Nagel posted an excellent summary of Project Tomorrow's recently releasedSpeak Up 2008 Report--the result of "more than 281,000 students, 29,000 teachers, 21,000 parents, and 3,100 administrators and involved 4,379 schools from 868 districts in all 50 states." I wasn't very good at Statistics in college, I admit; but I'd say data issuing from a survey that broad deserve some consideration. Jill Evans, PT's CEO, was quoted laying down some pretty heavy observations about the "digital disconnect" between perceptions in the surveyed camps about how well schools are preparing their students for a new global economy. There are other gems in the article. "For example, students and teachers were asked which technologies they would include in the 'ultimate school.' More than twice as many students as teachers chose online classes; more than twice as many students as teachers chose gaming; nearly three times as many students chose Internet access; and three times as many students chose mobile devices."

...perhaps the most significant trend in education technology, Evans said, is the emergence of the student as a "free agent learner": Students want more control over their own learning experiences through technology and want to define their own educational destinies and determine the direction of their learning.

"This free agent learner is one that is technology-enabled, technology-empowered, and technology-engaged to be ... an important part of driving their own educational destiny. To some extent they feel ... it's a responsibility. They also feel it's a right to be able to do that. So technology has enabled this free agent learner. We have the opportunity in education to make sure they're on the right track and to be supportive of their learning experiences."  READ MORE...

Dave Nagel"Students as 'Free Agent Learners'," T.H.E. Journal, 4/24/2009,

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Evaluating Games for Learning--Education Week Live Chat

Just attended a great Education Week webinar featuring Richard Van Eck, an Associate Professor and the Graduate Director of the Instructional Design & Technology program at the University of North Dakota (UND), sharing his views on the topic of  Evaluating Games as Instructional Tools, and I have my homework cut out for me. I thought I'd share out the wealth of resources Van Eck tossed out for us right at the start of his talk. Later, as I assimilated all he had to say, as described below, I was particularly impressed by this piece of his advice:

We do have to be conscious of our audience. There is a big assumption made that all kids under 18 are a frequent game players. This is not true. Many kids do not play games, and even when they do, that does not mean they all like them equally, nor that they like the same kinds of games. Of course, the same is true of books and movies, and we don't worry about that when designing curriculum.

I'm not a huge fan of this text-only distance learning medium, since it doesn't lend itself to multi-tasking I generally need to be involved in in order to get anything done. Sitting and watching text plop into a CoverItLive screen is not my idea of a fun time. Don't get me wrong: I love the topic, really liked the presenter, and I'm a big fan of text archives. I lost--not interest--the ability to sustain my textual mode after only a few minutes, and I switched to another browser to get work done.

A cool thing happened though. When I'd finished my other online work, and in fact after a class of kids had come and gone, I went back to my EdWeek browser and the whole thing was there. I whipped out my Notepad, copied and pasted the text into a text file, then spent 90 seconds stripping the timestamps out manually. Then I opened my copy of ReadPlease Free and copy and pasted the spiffed up text into that. I'm now listening to a pretty nice podcast from the talk, all mine, all mine, mwahahahaaaaa. I'm not going to redistribute it, but here's a link to the event, with the transcript and embedded CoverItLive. What I do want to do is to give readers the links Van Eck shared out, which I hope will be useful in their own investigations into the dense topic of games and learning. What a fun mine-field of exploration!

Here's a snippet from the dialog:

Moderator: Katie Ash:  Great - let's start with a question that many of you are interested in - where to find resources for games

[Comment From Vera] 

What are some of the best resources available for games at all levels from elementary through 12th grade?

Richard Van Eck:  This is a big question, to which I can only give you a partial answer....

Richard Van Eck:  I have several sites that are a good place to start for K-12 and education in general:

K-12 Games Resources

Moderator: Katie Ash:  Excellent!

Richard Van Eck:  Here are also some organizations that can point you toward some good research and other resources:

Richard Van Eck:  And finally here are some of my favorite sites for games and related technology for educational purposes:

Games & Tools
(see Simbionic and Task Tutor Toolkit)

Moderator: Katie Ash:  

Wow - lots of resources.

Moderator: Katie Ash:  These links will be posted in our transcript after the chat, too, for anyone who would like to check them out afterwards.

Here's the "money-shot," the final series of sentences from Van Eck that I hope will drive you to investigate further:
One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to assume that "Playing games=learning"

While you will get many good skills by playing many games, the best use of games for learning will occur when we as educators take a careful look at different games and make our best efforts to develop meaningful lessons that employ games. That takes work and time, and in any case will only ever be a part of what we do in the classroom.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Computer Addiction, Revisited--Game Time by Bob Sprankle

I've been thinking a lot about "Balance" lately. I've been jotting some notes that with luck may turn into something bindable and of interest. Today through a completely unrelated process I came into contact with two very interesting articles that both lean heavily on the "B" word.

Tech blogger Bob Sprankle last week published a thoughtful article about video game addiction that I would love to share out here with parents and educators who may have missed it. Entitled "Game Time," the article gets right to the point of the controversial topic, internet addiction and video game obsessions. The topic was raised in a recent research report described in this Washington Post article by Donna St. George, in which researcher Douglas Gentile from the University of Iowa concludes that "8.5% of American youths ages 8-18 show multiple signs of behavioral addiction."

It's funny how the Web is woven: Sprankle's article was an entree for me to the Post story and, through it, to the Gentile report. I likely wouldn't have seen the  report at all had I not been surfing for some grant information related to teaching with technology. 

At any rate, Sprankle's contributions to the discussion are worth noting--citing Marc Prensky, he suggests that parent and teacher involvement, through honest and interested (not condemning) dialog, might be the strongest contributor to child health and safety. Here's his conclusion (but go read the whole blogpost!!!):

Can gaming be addictive? Can it be a negative experience? I’m sure. But Prensky’s advice of being a part of the conversation has the power to make a world of difference in your students’ use of games. Don't start the conversations with students with the worry or "diagnosis" of addiction. Start with authentic interest in what they're doing with their games. Ask them to show them to you. Ask them the rules. Ask them why they play them. Build that bridge first, and they'll be listening by the time you get to helping them find balance.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Vanderbilt Web Jam!

I had the pleasure of joining several dozen other invited guests on Thursday afternoon at the Vanderbilt Center for Better Health, for episode number two in what the VU Medical Center "Web Council" is calling its "Web Jam." The CBH specializes in holding dynamic brainstorming sessions not only for Vanderbilt University groups and organizations but also for large corporations and institutions. 

The Jam was most interesting, taking place over an hour and a half of dry-erase board scrawling, face to face chats (I met a number of folks I'd only emailed in the past), and group presentation and dialog. The time went by both fast-paced and leisurely. At the end, the consensus seemed to be that there needs to be a concerted effort to standardize not only Web presence content but policies. Perhaps Thursday's meet-up will be a step in that direction!

Thanks to Melanie Moran, Vanderbilt University News Service Associate Director, and Vanderbilt Web Spiders for the invite!

Here's a couple snapshots of some of the collective brain-dump to give you an example of the yield (note the sad and lonely single notation of Second Life--wonder who put that one up?:):

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Balance, Anyone?

April 14, 2009, In the wee hours of the morning, while running Twhirl on my laptop, answering email, and working out on a Sharper Image step-machine in my home office, a question occured to me. I twittered it:

Gmorning Peeps? How do YOU perceive "Balance" in your own life, and what are YOU doing in pursuit of it? Just askin'...
about 3 hours ago from twhirl

You can visit the wiki it became and add to the responses I got from twitter!

I am more and more interested in this topic. If you have anything to offer, especially if you are an educator (but ALL comments are welcome), please take a minute to share!

Friday, April 10, 2009

ClustrMaps User of the Month!

Yay! has been chosen as one of April 2009's "Users of the Month!" I'm lovin' it and I want to thank the fine folks at for the honor and for the free upgrade! Yippee!!! See the whole announcement at their website!

User of the month
Every month we will feature a new ClustrMaps User Of The Month, and reward that user with a free ClustrMaps+ upgrade for 2 years.

AUP Radio - Paris
Portrait Sculpture by Blake Ketchum
Stitch and Book teaching, learning, working and playing in the 21st century

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ah SlideShare--GOT ME!

(crosspost from Oh!VirtualLearning!)I got an email from yesterday that read:
Hi scottmerrick,

We've noticed that your slideshow on SlideShare has been getting a LOT of
views in the last 24 hours. Great job ... you must be doing something right.
Why don't you tweet or blog this? Use the hashtag #bestofslideshare so we
can track the conversation.
-SlideShare Team

When I visited the slideshare site to check my view count, I was amazed to see that it had garnered over 20,000 views in less than a month! Wow! I of course got all excited and emailed my Vanderbilt CSO team the great news that my Second Life slidecast, the entire 45 minute online version of my presentation "Why Second Life" had become famous!

Then this morning I visited SlideShare again to find my view count had been reset to its actual (and still moderately impressive, I'd submit) 246. What happened? Ah, I thought, googling "slideshare april fools." The result?

Happy April Fools day
Apr 1, 06:12 am PST
We celebrated April Fools Day with a little prank: views on your presentations have an extra two zeros on them. We hope you find this funny. Your views will be rolled back to normal in a few hours.
You can see tweets about this prank on twitter …
we asked people to mark their tweets with #bestofslideshare
in an email we sent out. We sincerely apologize if we annoyed you … we notice from the reactions on twitter that some people are not amused.
Update: We’ve always loved our users and will continue to do so in future,
the joke notwithstanding. If our prank upset you, we’re sorry.
Update Again: Actual view counts have now been restored. Its all over and back to normal!

Funny! Excepting, of course, for my having to pump out another email to my group apologizing for my gullibility. Ah, well, good job SlideShare!


Gus by Scott Gardner Merrick  I wear these navy slacks I found behind O'Shaugnessy's, in the dumpster there. And they'r...