Monday, June 21, 2010

Thinking about Technology Integration...

As the course that inspired, instigated, and influenced this blog comes to an end, it is worth revisiting the Topic At Large -- that is, the integration of technology in Social Studies (or any other school "subject" for that matter). There are Big Questions of course: Can technology be integrated? Should technology be integrated? How? What kind of technology?

As one who is relatively reluctant to embrace technology of many kinds without a Darn Good Reason, I am often cast as a Luddite by my teenage son, a self-described techno-geek (and proud of it too!!). This is slightly unfair, as I am fully computerized at work and at home, use my laptop daily, keyboard at 60+ wpm, own and use a Smartphone, an iPod Shuffle, and an iTouch. I have a Facebook account, text message fairly often, used a template program to design an educational website for the museum, Google like crazy, and am learning to write for a web-enabled Smartphone app. I even know what a web-enabled Smartphone app is!!! Surely that counts for something...?

But in the world of my techno-geek son and his equally techno-geek or at least techno-saavy and techno-connected friends and peers, I cannot compete. This is a fact - he and they have literally grown up on technology and all it can do, and they embrace the new and advanced and faster and smarter and more functional with aplomb. They will always be more advanced, more interested, and more ready-and-willing to dive into the deep end and swim for it. I would prefer to dip my toes in, maybe sit on the edge and just watch for a while. I suspect that there are many, many teachers out there who feel the way I do, and are completely unable to contemplate integrating technology in the classroom. Who wants to set themselves up as the Luddite teacher to a gaggle of techno-saavy teens who will not hesitate to gleefully point out and celebrate your shortcomings?

This scenario certainly does not apply to all teachers, maybe not even to the majority of teachers, but this digital-divide reality, combined with the realities of educational today, can make technology and schools seem like an impossible combination. These realities include a society and its government that under-values and under-funds education; schools that lack technology resources altogether, or have such old or inadequate resources that they are virtually useless; a skills-driven, factory-mentality curriculum that relies on high-stakes testing; and a lack of technical knowledge and support at the school level, as addressed in my colleague's previous post. So much has to change, on so many levels. Schools need the best equipment, the top-tier support personnel, and the opportunity to re-envision and reconfigure the school as The Most Important Investment our society can make. Until that happens, we have to find ways to work with what we have, and maybe allow those techno-geek students to teach us sometimes. Will it be different in another generation, when the techno-saavy students of today are the techno-saavy teachers of tomorrow?
As technology becomes integrated into so much of daily life in so many places around the world, we must find a way to integrate that World into our schools. Perhaps then technology will have a chance to follow.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Technological Dependency in Schools:
Can It Happen?

Being that this is my final blog posting I wanted to talk about technology and schools in general. At the exponential rate that technology is growing at, school administrators and teachers are going to face a situation where eventually those they teach are 100% technology dependent or close to it. Many teachers already have a love hate relationship with technology, but what happens when the time comes that they have no choice but to face their inner tech demon? Are schools capable of becoming completely technology dependent? I think the answer is yes, but it's going to take careful planning and strategizing to meet that eventuality with some form of success.

One main issue to overcome is simply the access to technology. Asides from funding, which in the future will not be much of an issue considering the economies of scale with respect to computers, one of the central issues is making computer access manageable. Access to technology is an important issue for teachers and students and so to make the best use of limited connections and equipment, schools can explore strategies for allocating computers ( There are five strategies that can be used: Computer in Labs, Mobile Computer Labs, Incremental Roll-out and School-Within-a-School. Each one offers a different solution to an array of school limitations which would make access to technology much more manageable.

Quite possibly the most important aspect of technology in schools, and one which I have recent memories of, is technical support. Without continuous technical support, technology integration in the classroom will never be satisfactorily achieved ( This is probably the biggest worry about switching to a technology dominant school set-up, the potential for total equipment failure. There is nothing that will steer teachers away from incorporating technology faster than equipment failure, complex software, and data loss. This is totally understandable because what the hell do you do if you encounter a technological problem and you have an entire class staring at you with nothing to do. That's why schools have to seriously look at their tech infrastructure and make any repairs and or upgrades prior to even contemplating full blown technological dependency. This is going to go hand-in-hand with just-in-time support. Teachers need immediate help when the technology fails, "if technical problems arise frequently and teachers have to wait hours, days, or weeks to get them resolved, they will abandon their efforts to incorporate technology" ( That's why you have to have the tech staff available to respond on a moments notice. That way, there are no delays to getting the technology back up and running and teachers, as well as students, do not lose their faith, nor their minds.

The use of technology in class has to provide meaningful and engaged learning. If it doesn't then what's the point? This is going to involve the teacher re-envisioning their pedagogical approach in a way that improves teaching and learning. There are several tools that school administrators and teachers can use to map effective use of technology so that students are challenged to new levels of thinking such as: Learning With Technology Profile Tool, and National Educational Technology Standards. Both offer guidelines for implementing technology in schools as well as planning for technology-based activities in various grade levels (

There is one last thing that has to be taken into consideration before schools can become technology dependent and this is the role of the teacher. Teachers have for centuries planned lesson plans and lectured their students. In order to gauge their grasp on relevant topics, they have quizzed and tested their student's in order to quantify their level of retention. With technology, the teachers role goes from lecturer to facilitator. At first this might create obstacles for the complete integration of technology within schools, mainly because teachers have always held authority over the class and this would seem to take some of that authority away. However, as students become more self-directed, teachers who are not accustomed to acting as facilitators or coaches may not understand how technology can be used as part of activities that are not teacher-related ( This situation may be an excellent opportunity for the teacher not only to learn from the student but also to model being an information seeker, lifelong learner, and risk taker (

So there is no doubt that a school can become completely technology dependent but it is going to take careful thinking, teacher participation and a re-envisioning of how students are taught. This could be a perfect scenario to utilize an Appreciative Inquiry process in order to map out all the concerns, fears, and potential pitfalls that a complete technological dependency move is bound to create, in order to create an effective strategy that will work.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Michelle Perz plays video games for you part 1.

In the spirit of our workshop brethren, Danielle and Jonathan, I have decided to post a vlog showing a simulation of a surgery from a game called Trauma Team. In the game, there are six different characters which the player can choose: head surgeon, endoscopic surgeon, orthopedic surgeon, first response, diagnostician, and forensics investigator. In this case, I will be playing the head surgeon on the very first level so the controls are basic and my skill level is fairly beginner-ish as well.

While I enjoy this game, I think there is some level of utility in its game play. For one, the anxiety level which is present in these surgeries makes for a realistic pressure-filled situation. If you can't stand the pressure in a video game which allows you the ability to fail, then medical school may not be for you. Games like this can also improve hand-eye coordination, balance, deduction skills, and memory. Therefore, without further ado, I give you part 1 of my video game playing skills. I will be posting a couple more of these in the next week or so.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Library Blog

Monroe County Library System: The teen blog
So, in my last post, I talked about the greatly expanded resources available digitally on the Monroe County Library website. This week, I look a little closer at one feature of the website: the teen section. Now, as previously discussed, teens and libraries don’t often mix. While there are certainly teens that use the library, those that really like going to the library are probably in the minority. This is reflected in the lack of interaction that takes place between libraries, and their potential teen patrons. In Monroe County, they are trying to reverse this trend.
One way in which the Monroe County Library system is trying to change this is by harnessing the (relatively) new popularity of blogs, and using them to their advantage. Unlike the rest of the county website, which consists of articles and resources, the teen site — find it at — is much more interactive. When you get to the Teen page, you encounter a format similar to many of the popular blogs that are popping up all over the web. Blog posts the length of short articles, with spaces for comments, are found in the center of the page, and various toolbars, links, and a calendar line the borders. The blog posts are a mix of items clearly relating to the library and its resources (“Chili Library’s Junior Friends Newsletter), and those that have little to do with libraries, but are supposed to be of interest to teens (“Youngest person to sail around the world”). In fact, most of the posts have very little to do with traditional library fare. “Book Lists,” “Books,” “Events,” “Music¬¬_& Videos,” and “News” are all sections of the page, and there are a lot of polls that bloggers can participate in. Finally, there are several sections at the top of the page that have links to other teen library pages, booklists, and even sites for homework help.
This webpage/blog is clearly a big step forward in trying to make libraries (and their websites) more teen friendly. The creators of the blog obviously realize that they are going to have to change their tactics if they wish to attract more teen interaction. Realizing that you aren’t simply going to “hook” teens by having them wander around the stacks, they have brought the library system into the mainstream and made it more 21st century compatible. This being said, it seems as if the webpage is not used as much as they would like. I didn’t see a single comment posted on the blog. Because blogs are meant to be interactive (notice the exciting banter on our page- (thanks Jonathan!), comments and reader participation is are pretty much essential. This clearly isn’t happening on the library blog, so I think this section of the site is a “work-in-progress” to say the least. It would be interesting to see if (or how) much teen input went into the development of the site. Also, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any advertising for the site, so I’m not sure how many teens actually know about it. Hopefully the page can get some more activity on it, but I’m not sure the best way for them to achieve this goal. If you can think of anything that might work, post your thoughts in our comment section (slightly more used than the libraries!)…
Tom Andrews

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Strategies for Implementing Video Games in the Classroom

The idea of using video games as part of a learning experience is something that is becoming ever more popular with educators today mainly because the amount of students who actually utilize video games outside of school life is pretty substantial. It also gives the educator the opportunity to present his/her material in a much more captivating way. Let's face it, how boring is it to have to constantly read pages of text to then answer questions, over and over? It's sucks! Video games put a spin on that "boring" approach and actually makes learning fun.

However great it sounds one has to approach incorporating video games into the classroom with caution. There are many pitfalls with video games that can turn a great learning experience into a disaster and so it is essential that as an educator you do enough pre-planning and research as possible. For instance, one has to first realize that incorporating video games in a learning environment is not quick, easy, or inexpensive; that games are not a Panacea for Technology-Based Learning; that any game can/should be used for problem-solving and motivation. (Gikas, Eck)

The reality is that incorporating games into the classroom can be difficult and so it becomes imperative that you do your homework prior to doing so. Games are not for all topics, learners, or environments. In addition to this video games in the class can only be successful if it has content integrated with the game.

So how do you do this? Well, Joanne Gikas and Richard Van Eck, PH.D. from the University of Memphis have put together a great pdf entitled, " Guidelines for Planning and Implementing the Use of Commercial Games for Learning," which has a detailed approach to incorporating video games in the classroom as a learning tool.

This pdf can be accessed at:

The great thing about the Gikas and Eck guidelines is that it really makes clear that implementing video games in the classroom is just not as easy as it sounds and that a lot of thoughtful thinking in to how one is going to incorporate lesson plan objectives alongside a video game is very much needed.

God of War for Greek Mythology?


Age of Empire's, Civilization for History?

Which one to use? How to use? Will it work?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Virtual Field Trips in the Social Studies Classroom: Real Opportunity or Red Herring? Part 2

As we discussed last time, the appeal and intention of virtual field trips is to afford students the opportunity for an out-of-school, immersive, curriculum-extending experience, without the expense of busses and lost classroom time. Sounds great, doesn’t? And Great it can be, but as we will see, it does take a bit more than a mouse and a screen to fill the bill.

Stoddard (2009; Figure 1, p. 417) describes the requirements for a truly enriching, authentic learning experience, whether the field trip is an actual or virtual one.

Clear objectives for the field trip
In order to get permission for an actual field trip, many teachers are required to submit real, often substantive documentation of the trip’s academic value. These may include lesson plans, appropriate state curriculum standards, connections to subject areas, etc., all in addition to any paperwork for busing, arrangements for lunches or other classes that students will miss, collecting permission slips, and recruitment of chaperones. While we can gleefully claim that virtual field trips eliminate many of these cumbersome complications, the need for authentic academic value remains. Teachers need to clarify the purpose for the experience: what is the Golden Nugget, or the Big Idea, that students should gain from this trip, and what specific activities will get them to that goal?

Logical connections to and timing for the curriculum
A big part of the objectives for the field trip experience should enhance and extend the curriculum. The timing for the trip will both depend upon and influence the objectives and their connections. Is the field trip a warm-up activity, setting the stage and getting students excited about an aspect of the curriculum? Or is it a culminating activity, winding up the students’ learning with a form of hands-on, brains-on application of their knowledge? Or the field trip experience may come in the middle of the students’ studies, both using their prior knowledge and building new knowledge through experience?

Student and teacher interactions with “experts’ as part of the field trip (substantive conversation)
As with any extension activity, the “extension” may occur on the part of the teacher, as well as the students. Be they re-enactors in character as at historical sites like Colonial Williamsburg (or a more close-to-home example, Genesee Country Museum), docents or other guides at museums or zoos, or pre-assembled materials like the World Religion exploratory kits recently introduced at the MAG, teachers and students should be able to count on authentic give-and-take with experts.

Instruction is inquiry or problem based in order to engage students in higher order thinking
The knowledge give-and-take on a field trip experience can challenge students to higher order thinking and authentic learning. Bloom’s Taxonomy includes skills such as classify, solve, demonstrate, articulate, analyze, explain, illustrate, prioritize, speculate, validate, predict, assess, and justify in its highest levels of critical thinking. Authentic learning occurs when students have the opportunity for the hands-on, brains-on experience that requires them to tap into their own knowledge, the knowledge of others, and to synthesize it all in a problem-solving or exploratory inquiry.

Field trip site provides guidelines or materials for teachers
The teacher interaction with site experts may come in the form of preparatory materials for classroom use. Often these materials include various goals and objectives available from a site visit, pre- and post-visit materials that introduce or synthesize student experiences, and scaffolding questions and guidance for teachers to customize the experience for their students based on curriculum needs, local connections, and grade level.

Media or artifacts (online or objects) used to enhance the curriculum
More and more field trip sites are embracing the multi-modal learning experience, enhancing their actual and virtual field trips with a variety of sensory opportunities and interactions. These serve to engage students (and teachers!) on many levels, address different abilities, and make cross-curricular connections.

Teachers engage students in work to prepare for and debrief field trip –
to work towards deeper knowledge
As described above, many sites offer pre- and post-visit materials. Use of these materials to prepare students for their visit – ranging from simple “museum manners” to introductory “what we might see there” images to open-ended questions that address issues or aspects of the visit’s subject – can have highly beneficial effects on student learning. Docents at the MAG have consistently remarked on the differences between student tour groups that have participated in the pre-tour materials available for teachers, and those that have not. Prepared students arrive excited to see “familiar” objects, are able to readily describe and explain what they see using enhanced vocabulary, make more frequent connections to their school studies, and are more willing and able to engage the docent in analysis and inquiry, the give-and-take with experts that makes the experience more authentic for all.

Teachers collaborate with field trip site personnel to enhance student learning
While the site experts are indeed “experts,” the knowledge and experience of the classroom teacher is invaluable. An individual teacher’s class will undoubtedly benefit from the teacher’s work with and consultation with the site educators or other experts, but the benefit does not end there. All visitors, school and otherwise, reap the harvest of such collaboration.

Stoddard, J. (2009). Toward a virtual field trip model for the social studies. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(4), 412-438. Retrieved from

Critical and Creative Thinking - Bloom's Taxonomy. Accessed at

Friday, June 4, 2010

Games that improve social skills? Surely, you jest!

So, while I wrangle with the techno gods to let me upload my vlog, I'm going to talk a little about how games can help improve social skills. I know what you're thinking...centaurs? But, the answer is that, yes, games serve more of a purpose than for fat, balding guys with carpal tunnel to escape to day in and day out. Wait a second, you say. Why should improving social skills be construed as good or even necessary? Well, for some individuals, social skills are not second-nature. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders, for example, often struggle with social cues and interactions which typically developing people take for granted. Counselors in both academic and non-academic settings work with individuals with autism to help improve recognition of these cues, but what about games? What can they do?

Online games like World of Warcraft and even first-person shooter games that have online functions may serve as a medium for social interaction. Unfortunately, the text-based comment functions do little to increase knowledge of how people should interact on a daily basis, especially when the act of decoding the online text might be difficult in and of itself. Even utilizing the team-speak function isn't wholly useful if you aren't comfortable with interaction anyway. What if, however, you have a game that tests you on your ability to form social links?

Well, in Persona 4, the main character cannot advance the game unless they form a variety of social links.

This screenshot shows the details of the main character's new relationship with Chie Satonaka. In order to get to the point of being in a relationship, the main character (whom I named Fumiko Obu) needs to hang out with Chie several times in order to rank up and become gradually more intimate. Of course, the beauty of this game is that you can refuse to hang out with people when they ask you and just go home and go to bed, but that doesn't really improve social skills or the quality of the game. In fact, if you don't level up your relationships with friends or girlfriends, then the battles become exponentially harder.

This screenshot shows how the weather affects gameplay. You cannot hang out with friends on rainy days so it is best to level up social links on sunny days. Rainy days are reserved for working jobs which can also help your personality profile.

Then, of course, there is the school aspect of the game. During gameplay, players are actually tested on lectures which are given in class. If you get the highest score in the school, then you are rewarded through a series of social link boosts. In this world, being the smartest gets you some serious street cred.

This screenshot shows you the personality traits you must level up. In order to qualify for some jobs, your understanding, knowledge, or diligence may be required to be at a certain level. In order to level these qualities up, the character must join a social activity like band, drama club, or a sport. Being persistent with these social activities will help you gain higher levels of personality.

Of course, this is just a cursory examination of the game and its functions. There are many other aspects which test the player's ability to form links within the game. While this may be a large leap to make, I think that seeing the benefits of improved social links in a virtual setting may also help in a real-life setting as well. In part two, I will reinforce that notion with some more information.