Multitasking and Internet Overload


I’ll be honest – while I’m writing this I currently have five Internet tabs open, a Microsoft Word document open, and two different email accounts open.  That’s not to mention the smartphone sitting on my desk just a short reach from the keyboard and my Kindle charging next to my computer.  I am certainly a multitasker.  Before watching the PBS Digital Nation video, I, like the MIT students interviewed in the video, thought that I was good at multitasking.  According to the research presented by the video, we are actually terrible at focusing when we’re attempting to multitask.  The professors in the video claimed students today wrote paragraphs when they used to write essays in the past.  They claimed that the students would write a paragraph and then check their email, or write a paragraph and then hop on Facebook.  One student said his paragraphs were always “awesome”, but disconnected.  The thinking is, the Internet and multitasking are making it so we cannot focus our entire attention on one task for an extended period of time.

I was surprised to see the professors at MIT standing in front of a room of students, lecturing.  I would have thought at a school with students that are so digitally savvy, that the school would have thought of more interesting ways to engage the students.  Are colleges not discussing ways to flip their classrooms?  The professors were talking about only the downsides of allowing students to use their laptops in class – such as not focusing on the lecture and watching YouTube videos instead.  But what if the professors made it so the students had to use their laptops to participate in class?  They could have a twitter feed for the class open and displayed on a SmartBoard.  They could have polls periodically throughout the class that the students would use their computers or smartphones to answer.  I’m sure there could be many creative ways to engage the students using the technology they use on a daily basis.

Personally, I’m not too worried about the fear of Internet overload.  According to Lehrer in his New York Times article, Socrates was upset about what damage the invention of books could have on the human mind.  Now we’re upset that the internet is taking time away from reading books.  I read books and articles both in print and digitally.  My husband reads the New York Times daily, via his computer, smartphone, or tablet.  He said he never read the Times before reading it digitally.  In the past when I would read a word I didn’t understand in a paper book, very rarely I would look up the definition unless I needed.  Now, while reading texts on my Kindle, whenever I come across an unfamiliar word, I highlight it and can instantly find the definition.  The Internet is not making us dumb, in fact it has the capability of broadening our minds.

Even though I am a digital native and appreciate today’s technology, I acknowledge there are times when we need to purposefully power down.  We as a society need to teach our youth how to power down, though.  I read an idea recently about going out to dinner with friends and having everyone put their phones on a pile in the center of the table.  The deal was, whoever reached for their phone first had to pay dinner.  This game forced the diners to enjoy each others’ company without distractions.  There could be a similar game played in study groups or dorm rooms during exam time, in which the first person to tweet or update their Facebook status had to buy everyone a pizza.  If we model the proper use of technology, our youth will learn from us.

One professor in the video stated that he could not assign a 200-page novel anymore, claiming that his students have shorter attention spans than students of the past.  I have friends who can play video games for hours on end without interruption, so I don’t believe it’s an issue of attention span.  That professor should not make his classes less rigorous due to a perceived attention deficiency in his class, but should assign that 200-page novel.  The students who are serious about their education will put down their smartphones and turn away from their computer screens in order to finish the book.  I’ve had to power down in order to work on assignments, and so have my children.  If we model when and how to use our electronics and when not to, our youth will follow.


21st Century Frameworks for Education


There are three overarching frameworks for 21st century learning as found in Chris Dede’s Comparing Frameworks for 21st Century Skills (2011).  These are life skills, information and communications technology literacy (ICT literacy), and inventive thinking.  Dede looked at frameworks from several sources to compile his list, such as from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).  In my visual representation, life skills is the largest framework that encompasses the other two frameworks.  The next framework is ICT literacy, and within these two frameworks is inventive thinking.



Life skills are overlooked in 20th century education.  Since these are not assessed on standardized tests, many schools (or policy-makers) believe they are not necessary skills to learn or to teach.  Life skills include leadership, ethics, accountability, adaptability, personal productivity, personal responsibility, people skills, self-direction, and social responsibility (Dede 2011).  They are just what they say they are: skills that are needed to function in life.  I’m sure there’s the argument that these are skills that should be taught in the home and not at school, and also that if these skills were taught in the classroom that it would take too much valuable time away from learning other skills and disciplines.  In my experience teaching in urban, poverty-stricken schools, many of these life skills are not being taught in the home and valuable time is being wasted in the classroom anyway due to the lack of life skills.  If schools took the time to teach and reinforce these skills, our students and our teaching could only benefit from it.  The life skills framework encompasses the other frameworks because I believe it is the most important for academic and life-long success, and also because without this framework, the other frameworks would be difficult to master.

Information and communications technology literacy (ICT literacy) is the “ability to use technology to develop 21st century content knowledge and skills, in the context of learning core subjects” (Dede, 2011, Kindle Location 1594 of 9753).  ICT literacy also helps students think critically, solve problems, use information, communicate, innovate, and collaborate.  Within this framework, I also include visual and information literacies, multicultural literacy, global awareness, and digital citizenship.  Digital citizenship teaches students to practice safe, legal, and responsible actions while using information and technology.  Today’s students use technology on a daily basis and would benefit greatly from becoming ICT literate.  Again, the argument against teaching these skills could be time-restraints or perhaps believing these skills only need to be taught in a computer or technology class.  However, in 21st century classrooms, technology should be used frequently, and again these are skills students need to master in order to properly function in a digital world.

Inventive thinking skills include “adaptability, managing complexity, and self-direction; curiosity, creativity, and risk taking; higher-order thinking and sound reasoning” (Dede, 2011, Kindle Location 1610 of 9753).  Also included in this framework is critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and communication and collaboration skills.  This framework contains the skills that many business owners are looking for in prospective employees.  These skills will not only help students in school, but in their future careers as well.  If we want to help create holistic learning environments and well-rounded, life-long learners, we need to ignore complaints of time constraints and include these skills in our curriculum.

A major distinction between 21st century schools and most schools today is how they assess their students.  Schools, such as the one I teach in, still rely on standardized tests as the main method of assessment.  Any other form of assessment is seen as unreliable and too much work placed on the teachers.  In schools such as New Tech High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, students learn through project-based learning projects.  The assessments, then, are much more authentic and give the students and teachers a clearer idea of student success and improvement.  Standardized tests are created to test the student after the learning is over, but authentic assessments are intended to test the student during the learning process, so the teacher can adjust the lessons to better help the student succeed.  I worked in a school, Rise Up Academy in South Bend, Indiana, for a year that used project-based learning and other 21st century learning methods.  Creating the school-wide themes and multidisciplinary projects was a lot of work and took a lot of planning, but in the end, the students really seemed engaged in their learning.  For once in their academic lives, they wanted to come to school and wanted to work.  They were not simply completing worksheets or answering questions in the textbook, they were working on projects that were relevant and meaningful to their lives and their community.  I no longer work at a school that uses project-based learning.  I wish I could get my co-teachers and administrators to see the benefits of project-based learning, but I bet they wish they could get me to see the importance of standardized testing.  Collaboration and communication are also 21st century skills that some schools are starting to emphasize.  These are great skills to learn since they important not only in school, but the life outside of school.  Students need to practice these skills in school.  This can be done through group work and group discussions.  In 21st century schools, the individual and the group both play important roles.  As Sir Ken Robinson (2011) says, “None of us is smarter than all of us. The purpose of collaboration is to benefit from the stimulation of each other’s expertise” (Kindle Location 4073 of 6198).

I’ve often thought about what my ideal school would look like.  My ideal school would involve project-based learning projects.  The entire school would be gamified; the students would earn experience points in their classes and would level up in the “game”.  The classes would be interconnected and there would be school-wide themes that all the lessons and projects fit into.  There would be an emphasis on the arts and arts integration.  There would also be an emphasis on technology.  The school would be wireless, and all the students and teachers would have iPads.  The classrooms would also have SmartBoards.  The projects and lessons would contain real-world applications and would also be meaningful to the students.  Some school projects would result in improving the community, such as painting murals, maintaining a community garden, or re-purposing discarded household objects (such as a couch) and selling them to raise money for school functions or charities.

Dede, C. (2011). Comparing Frameworks for 21st Century Skills. In J. Bellanca, 21st Century Skills: Rethinking how students learn (pp. 51-75). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Robinson, K. (2011). Out of Our Minds: Learning to be creative. West Sussex, UK: Capstone Publishing Ltd.

I Symbaloo, Do You?


I just found out about a neat online tool, Symbaloo EDU.  With this tool, you can create a page that has can hold up to 52 tiles linked to websites, articles, RSS feeds, blogs, etc.  You could create a symbaloo with links and such related to any topic.  I created one titled “Teacher Tools”, which has links to teacher blogs, websites, and helpful online tools.  These tools are not content specific and can be used by teachers of any grade level.  I think I’ll create an art teacher symbaloo next.  Click on the image below to check out my “Teacher Tools” symbaloo EDU.


Free Online Courses From Harvard and M.I.T.?


The New York Times article, “Harvard and M.I.T. Team Up to Offer Free Online Courses”, explains that there is a new academic race, one in which elite universities are partnering with a new nonprofit, edX, in order to provide free online college courses to students all over the world.  The class-size is huge for these classes – M.I.T.’s first free online course had 120,000 students with 10,000 passing the midterm.  Students who take these new courses will be able to receive a grade and a certificate of completion (if they pass the course), but will not be able earn college credits.  So, I guess not a free option for PGP points for teachers licenses, but an interesting way learn something new… from Harvard.  The class content is not watered down, but is the exact same content you’d find in the classroom.  My husband thinks this will be fun, and will be signing up to take a class in the fall.  Here is a video of the presidents of M.I.T., Harvard, and edX talking about this new venture in online education: edX Press Conference.

Will Teachers Be Replaced By Computers?


Diane Ravitch wrote in “The toll of school reform on public education” for the Washington Post that since 2009:

“Nearly one-third of teachers—1 million teachers—are considering quitting. That’s a 70 percent increase since 2009. Who will replace them?”

She answers this question by writing:

“Teaching will become a job, not a profession. Young people will typically spend a year or two as teachers, then move on to other, more rewarding careers. Federal and state policy will promote online learning, and computers will replace teachers. Online class sizes will reach 1:100, even 1:200; the job of monitoring the screens will be outsourced, creating large economies for state budgets.”

So, will computers replace teachers in the classroom?  Will schools be empty and students log in online to learn content found on standardized tests? 

Technology is creeping its way into the classroom.  Textbooks are being replaced with iPads and laptops.  Chalkboards are being replaced with SmartBoards. Even a gymnasium can be reduced to a Wii or Xbox Kinect game.  These older tools are being replaced with newer digital tools.  People are harder to replace.  There are some things that teachers can do that technology can’t.  Teachers can be mentors, friends, sometimes even a surrogate parent to students; computers just can’t attain that kind of personal connection.  Teachers can carry on communications.  If a student types a question into Google, it may take him a while to sift through all the irrelevant and incorrect information to locate the answer.  If he asks that same question to a teacher, he’ll probably get an immediate and knowledgeable answer.  Teachers can motive students and encourage them to do better.  My computer has yet to shout words of encouragement to me as I work on completing an assignment.  Teachers provide the human interaction that students need.  Technology should certainly be utilized in the classroom, but only alongside a real-live teacher.  Computers cannot fully replace teachers, but can supplement live-teaching.

I got Pwned by a couple LOTRO digital natives


This last weekend I killed some wolves and looted their fur (which is a little strange for a vegetarian to be excited about).  I also walked back and forth from a town to a farm on a dirt path.  I swam in a lake and fought spiders three times my size.  I received some new armor and learned how to whack my opponents over the head with my wooden shield.  I did all this while my two sons (ages 10 and 13) followed me around and kept asking me questions like “do I want them to make me better armor”. 

Well, actually, I sat in front of my computer and clicked a mouse and typed some keys on the keyboard.

I decided to play my sons’ favorite online game Lord of the Rings Online, or LOTRO.  LOTRO is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) set in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world of Middle Earth.  I’m a big fan of Lord of the Rings.  I’ve read the books and watched the movies too many times to count.  I’m also a big fan of MMORPG’s.  I was addicted to World of Warcraft (WoW) for a few years until I got married and decided that forking out $180 a year for a game was not such a great use of money.  I obviously decided to play this game for educational reasons, never mind the fact that after I sent the boys to bed, I played until past midnight. 

LOTRO, like I said earlier, is a MMORPG, which means a lot of people play this game online (more than 1.5 million people, in fact).  It’s also a role-playing game in which the user gets to create a character and play as that character in the game.  I chose to create a hobbit; I love hobbits.  LOTRO is a complex game, meaning it requires many hours of playtime to master the game.  In games like LOTRO, though, you can get your character to the highest level, but there’s never really a finale to the game.  Often in MMORPG’s, the game is so complex that players don’t read the “instruction manuals” until after they’ve been playing for a while.  I chose to play this particular game for a number of reasons.  First, I knew I’d score major step-mom points with the boys (and I did).  Second, I thought the game would be fun (it was perhaps too fun).  And third, it’s free to play.  Players may subscribe to LOTRO for about $15 per month and receive special benefits in the game, such as free points and extra accessories for their characters. 

After I created my character, Holbytla (which means “hobbit” in old English… perhaps I’m showing my nerdyness a bit?), I was shown an in-game movie involving my character and other characters from Middle Earth.  After the movie was over, I was told to follow another hobbit around as we fought spiders and walked to other sites.  I assumed this was to help me learn how to move around in the game.  After the introduction to the game, I was off on my quests.  In MMORPG’s, each player is constantly working on completing quests in order to earn money or experience points.  I quickly leveled up my character.  In just a few hours, my hobbit was level 6 (out of 75).  I found myself not reading the windows that popped up when I was offered a quest, but instead skimming the story for the important details of what I was supposed to do in the quest and where I was supposed to go.  Then, I closed the window and continued playing.  During one point in the game, I kept running back and forth between a town and a farm, attempting to find a certain plant to bring back to a woman in the town for a quest.  I couldn’t find the plant anywhere.  I stopped playing for a minute and started typing in emotes into the chat window to see what I could get my character to do.  I typed in /chicken to see if my character would cluck like a chicken.  The game told me I cannot use that emote yet; apparently I’ll learn to use that later in the game.  Then I typed in /dance; my hobbit started dancing in the middle of the dirt road.  I played around with the emotes for a few more minutes until my frustration was lowered.  I ran around some more with no luck.  Then, I did what I promised myself I wouldn’t do.  I IM’d my sons and asked how to find the plants.  They reminded me that if I typed the “M” key on the keyboard, it would bring up my map.  I did, and was able to find the place I needed to go to collect the plants.

While playing LOTRO, I learned that I don’t do what teachers are always telling their students, “Read all the directions carefully”.  Instead, I scanned to find the important details.  I also first tried to solve problems on my own, and when that didn’t work out I asked others for help.  I took breaks from my challenging questing to have a little fun in the game.  I also set goals for myself.  I kept telling myself, “Okay one more quest and then I’ll go to bed.”  But then, I’d be so close to leveling, so I changed my goal to “Okay, reach the next level and then I’ll go to bed.”  But then the next quest was so interesting, and I constantly moved my goals to just out of reach so I could continue playing.  Games like LOTRO are exactly what all the writers and conference speakers are talking about when they’re discussing game-based learning.  These are games that suck the player in and make them want to challenge themselves.  The game is neither too hard nor too easy for every single player, no matter their skill level; talk about individualized instruction!  The game is challenging, and the player wants to be challenged.  This is a strange concept in the classroom, a student who asks to be challenged.  The game also allows the players to play solo or group up to complete a task.  Players can even get in groups of a hundred or so characters to all battle together.  Games like LOTRO could be great in the classroom as a way to get kids engaged and challenge themselves without realizing how much time and effort they’re putting into their education. 

Game-Based Learning MentorMob


When I’ve read about games being used in education in the past, I read mostly about educational games being used by elementary school kids.  These games were made for a specific educational purpose and are usually pretty low in quality and low in fun.  Recently, though, I did some research into using video games in the secondary classrooms and was pleasantly surprised at how far video games have come.  I created a playlist on MentorMob, which is a website that allows users to create “playlists” of videos, websites, articles, etc. of a specific topic.  Each playlist contains the best that the web has to offer for that topic.  MentorMob also allows users to collaborate on the playlists.  I created a playlist about “Game-Based Learning for Secondary Education”.  There are ten steps to my playlist. 

The first step contains a video explaining game-based learning and how it’s used in the classroom. 

The second step provides a list of helpful resources for learning with video games.  The resources include videos, articles, and website links that educators should find helpful. 

The third step is a video of Richard Culatta giving a lecture on why teachers should use games for learning.  This video is very entertaining and helpful in learning about how games make us think. 

The fourth step contains an NPR article and audio news story about a school that uses video games to teach thinking skills. 

The fifth step has an article about a middle school teacher who uses Yoostar, a green-screen system that works on computers and gaming consoles.  While the students don’t exactly play video games in class, they use a gaming consol to create projects. 

The sixth step includes a video of a student playing the Sims on an iPod touch.  The middle school class that this student belongs to is learning about the elements of fiction through playing the Sims game. 

The seventh step is an article about how a math teacher used gamification to help her at-risk students learn math.  While this teacher’s game is not digital, MathLand could easily be made into an online game. 

Step eight highlight’s MIT’s “Lure of the Labyrinth” game, an online game for 6-8 grade students using math and problem-solving skills.  This game is an online challenge that runs until June 16, 2012, in which the students can win prizes while playing. 

Step nine includes a lengthy lesson plan involving Karma Tycoon, an online game created by the Do Something organization in which the student attempts to make the world a better place by creating and maintaining nonprofit organizations.  The actual game can be found here: Karma

And step ten contains the website for Quest to Learn, a New York school that uses game-based learning.  I wanted to start my playlist with the basic introduction and end it with an example of game-based learning being utilized on a large-scale.