Monthly Archives: April 2012

Will Teachers Be Replaced By Computers?

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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.

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I got Pwned by a couple LOTRO digital natives

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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

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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 Tycoon.com

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.

Pencil Me In, But Don’t Forget to Use Spell-Check

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   I recently read Pencil Me In: A Journey in the Fight for Graphite, by John T. Spencer.  It was a very quick read, but also entertaining.  The story follows a fictional teacher, Tom Johnson, as he tries to integrate pencils in the classroom in the late 1800’s.  Some of Johnson’s fellow teachers and administrators are skeptical or even leery of the new pencil technology.  They wonder if these new technologies could be dangerous.  They fear students writing to pedophiles on the “pen pal network”.  They see students playing with pencils and paper and wonder how they could get the students interested in using these tools for education.  “Pencil Me In” is an allegorical story of technology in education.  Like the internet filtering at my school, guards are placed around the city to deny students access to “sites” that could be used improperly.  At one point in the book, Johnson has to sneak a phonograph through the backdoor due to limited band width (the width of the hallway used by the school band).  While the story of pencil integration is amusing, there is an underlying message to the book.  The story shows not only the great ways technology can be used in the classroom, but also the struggle the teachers have to endure to get the technology to be a help and not a hindrance.  This is not a book giving you the top ten reasons why you should use technology in the classroom, but human story of humility that shows how difficult teaching can be with all the successes and failures that go along with the job.

                While I enjoyed the author’s thoughts on technology integration, reading his book made me cringe.  Thankfully I read his book on my Kindle Fire; otherwise, the book would have been marked up with my red pen and turned back in to Spencer for revision.  It is very obvious that he did not re-read any of what he wrote before it was published.  There are way too many spelling and grammar errors in a book about teaching.  Also, the dialogue in this book seemed very contrived.  It reminded me of my style of writing in middle school.  I was very surprised to find out this was not the first book he wrote.  I would be more likely to recommend the book to someone else if the spelling and grammar errors were corrected. 

                What I did like about the book was Spencer’s thoughts on teaching and schools.  I certainly agree with the comparison of our current schools to factories.  Spencer writes, “The whole system is built like a factory from worksheet packets to school bells to students in tidy little lines marching mindlessly to class”.  I also agree with Spencer’s sentiments on school corporations spending tons of money on curriculum and school reform.  He asks, “What if we stopped investing in curriculum and started investing in our children’s minds?  What is we quit treating the students as a resource that we own?”  He also writes about the teaching profession, “teaching is a really hard gig and no amount of techie tools will fix that”.  I also agree with what he writes about what makes an effective teacher, “Avoid the thoughts about reform.  If you want to be effective, teach well.”  While this book had some great one-liners on education and technology, it did not really increase my interest in the subject. 

                The reason, I believe, why “Pencil Me In” has received as much attention as it has is due to social media.  Spencer wrote a blog called “Adventures in Pencil Integration” and eventually turned it into a book.  Then, once people read the book, they started a discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #pencilchat.   This discussion, which is still going on, consists mainly of educators venting their frustrations over schools lack of technology use and budget cuts.  By starting out as a blog, “Pencil Me In” shares the thoughts and stories of many educators.  I am in the same boat with these educators and would like to see technology integrated in education.  I would just like educators to spell-check their work before letting others read it in a book.