Sunday, March 30, 2008

My Digital Portfolio + Project

The links on this post will take you to the various components of my project and digital portfolio.

A. The Final Project
( description of my curriculum tool.)
a) The theory that underlies my project.
b) My planning journey.

B. Digital Portfolio
(1) My three "best example" posts:
1. First: Remediating my practices.
2. Second: Changes in objects associated with digitization.
3. Third: Convergence in Media Culture and Education
The "philosophy" write-up (Pestalozzi)

(2) A write-up of the group project. (Team RKPG)
(3) FYI, a pdf download of this blog's contents.

C. Self-Evaluation
My personal growth.

My Planning Journey: Virtual Library Tour.

Choosing a project.

My first contact with students is in grade 8, during their library orientation. I enjoy showing them around the facility, but I’ve noticed that students who arrive late to the school never seem to know where everything is. Since the orientation is delivered orally by the teacher-librarian (me), students who are absent have no other way of getting this information. I decided that the best “curriculum tool” would be a virtual tour of the School Library Resource Centre that students could go back to at any time. Because we have been focusing on multiple affordances, I wanted to inform the students visually, textually and with sound.

How I created “the tour”.

My plan was to create a graphic map of the library facility and place a number of “hot spots” on the map. Each clickable spot would open an image, text or audio file that would “speak” to the students. I also wanted to create a QTVR movie that would let students get a 380° view of the library.

I arrived early in the morning with my digital camera. I took pictures from every conceivable angle, and some close-ups of student artwork as well. Thinking about my QTVR, I stood in the middle of the room and took a number of pictures as I turned in a circle. (I learned later that it is important to use a tripod – I didn’t – and take 12 equally spaced pictures – which I did by fluke – otherwise, the final product won’t look right.)

Once I had all my pictures, I downloaded them to my laptop and began creating. Stitching together the 12 pictures for the 360° view was a bit of a challenge initially. I downloaded a number of free and demo packages designed to create the panorama I needed to make the QTVR. No luck. After a couple of hours of fiddling, I found a reference on a photographer’s forum to software that comes with the Canon digital camera I own. I checked the CD, and “lo and behold”, the program did the trick. I did have to redo it a couple of times because the final product was too big and took too long to load and view. Three exports later, I had my finished VR movie.

Next, I had to work on my map. I had initially hand-drawn a sketch, with some labels and numbers to indicate hotspots. My first thought was that this might lend a fun, funky feel to the map. Wrong. It looked very amateurish. So I asked my library technician if she could find an architect’s drawing of the library from our renovations a few years ago. She scanned it in and emailed it to me. Perfect. Using Photoshop, I cleaned up the image, and then added a few details. Some study carrel graphics, computer pics, and circled “i” icons were added to liven up the final product.

The next step was to set the hotspots on the graphic map. I remember presenting this a few years ago when I taught Electronic Communications 11, in an HTML unit I had developed. I ended up checking out the Maricopa html tutorial which reminded me of the principles. Once I knew what the tags looked like, I had to hunt and peck to line up the coordinates for the clickable areas with the icons on the graphic map. (Think “Battleship”.)

I linked the QTVR tour to the center “i” icon. The other points, I linked to a close up picture of each spot in the library. In order to provide some variety, I also inserted audio files on a couple of the pages.

A challenge

I did run into a challenge that I was not able to overcome. I wanted to use “green screen” technology to place a video of myself in an exotic locale. I bought some fluorescent green posterboard to create a “green screen” backdrop. I videotaped myself speaking, and selected an appropriate backdrop jpeg to insert. All I needed was to merge the two sources. This required downloading a third party plugin for iMovie. (I could have used Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere CS3, but they were both prohibitively expensive.) I tried a number of plugins and was able to get the effect to work with a still picture, but merging a video with a remote background pic stumped me: the clip was visible, but would not play over the background. I saved it as a still picture and added some audio for interest and linked it to my graphic map. (I still plan to tackle this problem at a later date.)

The final step was to hide some “Easter eggs” (hidden links) on the library map. I wanted students to stumble across some concealed hotspots and feel a little thrill of discovery. I had planned to add a number of them, but the current version only has four, just to show what could be done.

Final words

I think the overall concept is a good one. Students who miss the library orientation can get a sense of what is there, students who arrive late to the school can have a virtual tour, and Grade 7 teachers can even use the site to reduce some of the “pre-high school” anxiety. I plan to add some additional talking head links, and if I can get it to work, use the “green screen” technique to liven up the show!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Attentional Economy and "Facepoints"

Castell and Jensen's article on attention ("Paying attention to attention") reminded me of a great set of novels I purchased recently for my library. Scott Westerfeld has written this engaging series about youth in a dystopian world. The 4th book in the series, Extras, takes place at a time where attention and fame are the currency. "Facepoints" are what you earn, and you get them by having a popular web presence, doing outrageous things or being seen in the popular spots. Getting attention and keeping it are the most important requirements for succeeding in this new world. You can see the seeds that have already been planted in Facebook, Youtube and countless other social networking sites. We may be seeing the advent of the "attentional economy" that Castell and Jensen speak of.

There's an excerpt on the Simon and Schuster site that gives you a feel for the book: "face rank", reputation economy, attention.

And, in a spirit of re-mediation, here's a clip of Scott talking about his novel.
(Click on the Windows Media Video link)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day 10: Convergence in Media, Culture and Education

Gaming and the Classroom: a convergence of purpose.

Games provide a rich context for players. Cinematics outline the main elements of the story, and then the player is fed important information as it becomes necessary, or s/he discovers information when it is applicable. Either way, players are working with data they can use. Because they are moving through the game at their own speed, the pacing of their learning is individualized. This contrasts with the way knowledge is delivered in the classroom. Even a teacher who attempts to run individualized programs, for the most part, ends up asking students to work in chunks, and then tread water until the rest of the class catches up.

There is also an important element of control that is present in gaming. Players can chose the order of tasks, the route to follow and in some cases the goals of the avatar. Combined with the ability to "redo" in an unlimited fashion, motivation is very high. This is what James Gee calls the "embodied story", meaning the player is engaged wholly in the experience. (Gee 2003) Unfortunately, the classroom experience can often be "disembodied" for many students: by this I mean "disengaged" from the content. Concepts need to be learned because they are part of the curriculum, not because they have any other personal value for the student.

Intentionally, or not, game designers have become very good at determining what makes for engaging play. And coincidentally, these conditions also make for good learning. As Gee maintains "probe, hypothesize, reprobe, rethink" are key for good games, and are no less essential for authentic learning. (Gee 2003) In an interview about gaming, Gee goes on to say
"[a]s a result, I argue that games are good learning machines. They have a lot of good principles built into their designs to get somebody to learn them and learn them well. Those principles are actually ones that research in cognitive science has shown works, not just in games but also in other forms of learning too, but there not much in evidence in schools." (See full article here.)

I'm not sure if what we need are games to cover curriculum, but perhaps more attention to the runaway success of gaming can help teachers design lessons and environments that engage the learner. For example, Resource-Based (or Problem-Based) Learning seeks to create projects that mimic a real-world situation so that student work is anchored in an authentic experience.

Another key factor is what Gee calls "a commitment to an extended engagement
" with the game. Something must engage the player/student and motivate him/her to persist. As Gee points out, a game may take upwards of 50 hours to master, the same time required to take a half year course. Many players will invest many more hours for the pleasure of the game.

However, it is important to note that games are not the magic solution. As Shaffer et al point out, (2004) these immersive environments have issues with violence and misogyny. And there is the stereotypical isolated teen playing in the basement at all hours. But as many researchers are indicating, there is an important convergence that needs to happen between the best of what video games can offer and effective teaching practices in the classroom.


Gee, J. P. (2003). Situated meaning and learning (PDF)

Learning by Design: Good Video Games as Learning Machines (PDF)

Shaffer, David Williamson, et al (2004). Video Games and the Future of Learning(PDF)

Other Web Resources:

Games + Learning + Society

Summit on educational Games

Some interesting Google Books

Situated Language and Learning (Google Books)

Why Video Games are Good for your soul. (Google Books)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wikis, Podcasts, Sketchcasts and Diigo

Critical evaluation of Technology

(Gordon): I see 4 kinds of use for these technologies:

a) teacher use when preparing the lesson (gathering info)
b) teacher use while teaching the class
c) student use to collect info/study/prepare for class
d) student use to present learning to teacher or class.
(Some of these Web 2.0 tools will be suitable for all 4 uses, some might only be good for 1 or 2.)

Wiki (Used for: a, b, c, d)

Gordon: This is probably the most versatile of the 4 tools we looked at. It allows the teacher to create a space for collecting resources. Once a "page" has been built, the teacher can share this with students and other teachers. The flexible nature of the set-up allows teachers to lock down a page, or open it up to student editing. Students can also use the wiki tool, either to collect info for a project, collaborate with others or to share the results of research with the class.

Pam: I can see myself using wikis for my students as a discussion forum where different forms of multimedia are incorporated for the various learners

Ken: I currently use wikis at work to organize all of the training materials for students - Captivate and PowerPoint, as well as links to other online resources. The downside of the wiki is the reliability of what might get posted there. The requirement for moderation - but this is minor.

Al: Love the collaborative aspect that allows a group to do work and the individual to be accountable bth to the group and the teacher and - individual contribution is verifiable through the "history" tab.

Poornima: I have a wiki on WetPaint set up for a bunch of technical communicators to collaborate on trends/best practices, etc.

Mohammed: I will use Wikispaces to let my students coollaboratavely create their own textbook chapters and course content, same stuff they will be examined on at the ed of the course

Alicia: I think in my case (since i teach little 6 and 7 yr olds usually) this would be more appropriate for my peers maybe as a staff development tool

SketchCast (Used for: b, d)

Gordon: Both teachers and students can use this tool to present a topic to a class. It also has great potential to create mini-tutorials. Teachers have the ability to create simple "how to's" and place them on a website or wiki for consultation whenever needed.

Ken: I might use sketchcast to draw a network diagram while I explain a certain network concept. The downside is that it has to be done all in one go. In a later version, I would add the ability to stop and start, as well as being able to upload an image and sketch on top of the image - now that would be very useful. I think I might check out more of the other sketchcasts that are posted there because they are really funny! I loved the example we viewed in class. Just hilarious.

Kiran: The one reason I may not use sketchcast is that it seems to require a bit of talent in producing something "good".

Poornima: I could use a sketchcast to explain a system procedure by showing rather than telling.

Pam: I will definitely create tutorials/ review sessions using sketchcast. Now that I have a better idea of how to use this, I can't wait to try it and see how my students respond. Eventually, I would want my students to create their own sketchcasts to help other students...hmmm maybe this can even be utilized as an assessment piece or bonus?

Al: Love the creative possibilities here. I fear that I'd be wilting in ironspike's creative shadow. Like any skill, with practice, this technology might allow me to imrpove my communication skills and clarify my thinking

Marzieh: It's a good easy tool to model my ideas whenever thay come to my mind, particularly at work and busy times.

Mohammed: I do not see any role in face to face but excellent role in distance education, I can use it when I reply to a student.

PodCast (Used for: b, d)

Gordon: Teachers could certainly place excerpts of presentations on-line. Full lectures/explanations would also be useful. This means that if a student misses a given lesson, s/he could catch up via the podcast. Podcasts could also contain extension material. For students, this would be an interesting was to demonstrate learning.

Kiran: I am thinking of creating an audio letter (instead of email) for my friends who are going to school somewhere else. This way, its more personal.

Poornima: I could embed audio podcasts into software applications at the field level instead of traditional help systems outside of the software like a user manual or online help system.

Ken: I might use podcasts to set up instructions that network administrators can follow while they work at a server. The downside is the lack of visuals, but this would be really useful in situations where you want to walk people through a procedure, and they need their hands free to work.


Diigo (Used for: a, b, c, d)

Gordon: In much the same way as the wiki allows teachers and students to aggregate information, Diigo is a great way to bookmark and annotate useful sites. Teachers can keep a "crumb trail" of sites they are using to resource their lessons, and can even share this with their students. Students can do the same thing, creating a virtual endnotes document to show their learning journey to the teacher or the class.

Kiran: I am planning on using Diigo to annotate websites that pertain to the trip I'm planning on taking. This way, my friends can track the attractions I want to visit.

Ken: I would definitely use Diigo to annotate technical documents and indicate howthe various points relate to a given lesson. The downside to Diigo is that everyone has to have an account, and that the bubbles don't stay where you put them.

Al: This would be a reat way to peek into the minds of my students. How are they "consuming" the text Hw do I know? The next step here would be to develop assessment tools to go with it

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The WorldWide Telescope: A new way of seeing

We've been talking about the amazing potential of technology to provide us with new ways of teaching and new ways of learning. One of the criticisms of the tech craze is that the teacher may often end up doing the same-old, same-old with fancy new tools.

And then, I stumble across something like this:

The WorldWide Telescope, a project by Microsoft labs, gives us the universe, served up in all its stellar glory. I think once you watch the video clip, you will be impressed. This could change the way we approach the teaching of astronomy. I see this an example of the kinds of new resources we've been talking about. Take a look. You'll be amazed.