The Gamificaion of Education

November 18, 2013

I remain very intrigued by the idea of the gamification of education – using game like rules, incentives, thinking / strategies to increase student motivation, learning and success. I have no hard data to back this up but I do have a lot of personal experience. Games and/or apps that integrate spelling, math, and even ethic / moral dilemmas into a game-like role play not only captures my children’s attention, but my own as well. In and of themselves, they may be nothing more that a quick fix for a little adrenaline. But when used as an opportunity to engage your children, and each other, in a discussion about the importance of math and spelling, or “real world” challenges like sharing, bullying, and fairness, I have found it to be invaluable.



November 4, 2013

I find the concept of syncopation to be powerful in terms of serving as a metaphor for being a catalyst for change – a Socratic Gadfly. But syncopation by itself is insufficient. We have “disruptions” in our lives on a daily basis, but we either fail to recognize them, or when we do, we treat them as nuisances, Rarely do we choose to see them as opportunities for change. Those of us with young children are often confronted with syncopation when they ask questions that draw into question the very taken-for-granted, socially constructed world in which we live and work. I think about it when I’m in line at DMV (or some other horrid bureaucracy) and I think to myself, they organized this to be efficient? Or when I think about the fact that with respect to capital punishment, they sterilize the needle before they give a lethal injection. Maybe I’m a little on the weird side, but these are the things that I have always occupied my time. In sociology, I was drawn to Ethnomethodology, which is both a theory and a method for studying our socially constructed world. A central element to this perspective is the “breaching experiment.” This is used to compel the average “Joe public” to question that which we have silently taken for granted. For instance, the next time you enter an elevator, bunk the unspoken elevator etiquette and face the other occupants and acknowledge their presence (in lieu of turning around and facing the door and ignoring everyone else while you watch the floor lights go by). Again, this happens all the time by people who are not necessarily trying to be disruptive. What typically happens is that people engage in what ethnomethodologists refer to as “Aligning actions.” These are behaviors that are designed to cushion the disruption (like a disclaimer, humor, or tact), repair the disruption (like an excuse, justification, or an apology), or even deny that a disruption ever occurred (like a white lie). The point is, the very group of human characteristics that has allowed us to co-exist (deception, denial, delusion), also serves to perpetuate the social order. Imagine how social we would be if we actually saw things as they are, and/or spoke honestly and openly all the time! My point is, just as the out-of-beat drumming eventually returns to order, so does our own everyday behavior unless it is quickly replaced by (1) a compelling alternative and (2) a commitment to seeing the alternative to its logical conclusion.


The Human Connection

October 28, 2013

I continue to obsess about the human connection. To me, the human connection is paramount if we are to realize our potential as individuals, and as a species. For me, it isn’t really about connecting with other humans, it is deeper than that…it is about connecting with what makes us human. In my journey, both academic and personal, I can boil it down to the mind and the heart. I am not referring to the organs, I am referring to the faculties that these have in our lived experience. We are born with both, just as all (or most) of the animal kingdom. What is different is that we spend the better part of our lives trying to cultivate the mind and the heart into what arguably makes us different from all other life. If you think about it, of all the animals, we are born the most dependent and remain the most dependent until we leave home about the age of 33 : – ) We spend that time trying to expand our experience, making sense of our experience, and ultimately, share our experience in ways that help us reach our potential a bit earlier than the preceding generation. My point is that although computers can help us connect with other humans in ways and in places that exceed and transcend previous generations, Computers by themselves do not help us become more mindful and more heartful…only other humans can. Spending quality time with my Dad as he dies and with my kids as they live have been the most powerful experiences I have ever had. Computers can certainly help me connect with them, and others going through similar experiences, but what is most important (to me) is that regardless of the medium through which we interact with each other, we should be as mindful and as heartful as possible…otherwise, we are wasting our time, neglecting our selves, and jeopardizing our future. Computers can assist us in this endeavor, but only when they are used as vehicles for developing both the mind and the heart. Math, spelling, and information retrieval seem rather trivial in the whole scheme of things.


Dream Machine

October 18, 2013

For better or worse, I think of myself as more of a journey man, an observer, sent to this planet at this time to observe. As a human, I can’t help to evaluate but by and large, I simply take not of what I see, hear and experience. I have often been criticized for not taking a stand on something–which isn’t true by the way, I am just much more private with my activism because I want it to be about the cause and not me.  That is why engaging in blogging, tweeting, and other social media in general is beyond my interests right now. that could change, but for now, I observe and participate at the periphery. In fact, I have been quite fond of the concept of legitimate peripheral participation (Lave and Wenger. 1991) as it relates to communities of practice but in my case, it is probably more appropriately referred to as legitimate Perpetual Peripheral Participation because that is how I find myself able to maintain my perspective and identity. To be both a part of, and apart from, is my “raison d’etre”…which is why I gravitated to sociology probably. Anyhoo, that being said. I find the debate regarding a totally “wired” educational experience vs. the totally techless experience to be so interesting. I can easily see both sides of the argument and can see how both have certain advantages and disadvantages. For me, it is simply a matter of being mindful of the implications (opportunities and consequences) of both and making an informed decision as a parent of a school aged child, or as a self-determining adult in post-secondary schooling.   Technology, computing, is not inherently good or bad…the value is based solely on how you use it.

Which brings me to another confession. I don’t believe in intellectual property. I know that Wenger and Lave coined the aforementioned term – legitimate peripheral participation…however, I feel confident in saying that they were not the first to think of it, and probably not the first to make the “concept public” they are just the first to “coin” the term in publication. I have ideas that are both completely original (to me) and yet, are the result of the collective wisdom of zillions of others who came before me, and the thousands of others whom I have met during my life journey. It is all collective!!! Perhaps the computer age, coupled with a burgeoning participatory global culture,  will eventually shatter our fixation on “property” and intellectual property in particular.


The next communist meeting will take place next saturday.

I’m just sayin’


Evolution, Revolution, Devolution

October 18, 2013

Evolution, Revolution, Devolution


If you click on this link, you’ll see an interesting depiction of human history…for better or worse!


Augmenting Human Intellect

October 10, 2013

In my academic journey, I have been particularly intrigued by the idea of mental evolution, or perhaps more accurately, consciousness raising. There was a time in our history when we, as a species, lived primarily in a world of simple consciousness. This relationship with our environment can be best described with the stimulus response equation. The physical things (stimuli) in our environment have natural qualities that we respond to–many people have referred to these natural qualities as signs. For instance, a sign of fire is heat or smoke. Children from 0 – 3 often interact with the world around them in this way…they drop things on the ground to see what kind of a noise they make, they put things in their mouth to see what they taste like, etc. However, through social interaction and language they come to learn that they are one of the physical things in the environment to which other people respond…and they have a name. Furthermore, people are responding to more than the body that is in front of them but the person within the body…at this point the self is born and self consciousness begins (at least, so we think). The theory of mind is a wonderful way to conceptualize this process through some relative simple but provocative activities. In addition, children begin to interact more with the symbolic world and less with the world of signs. This doesn’t happen automatically. Just because we are wired for self consciousness doesn’t mean that we will automatically acquire it…it must be nurtured in very careful and deliberate ways. Brain damage, neglect / abuse, disease, and social isolation can all prevent, or retard the development of self-consciousness. Nonetheless, if we can raise consciousness from simple to self through social interaction and language, then it stands to reason that we can raise consciousness even more in the same way.

By the way, I did my masters thesis on the New Age movement and it was predicted at the time by its proponents that the human species was at the dawn of a new era (or new age), the “Age of Aquarius.” The implications are interesting to me…from simple to self consciousness, from self to social or global consciousness, from global to cosmic ???? Also, what forms of communication and interaction will facilitate the process of consciousness raising in this new age? If symbols helped us transcend form the physical world and the present time, what will help us transcend our selves? Will faculties like extra-sensory  perception (ESP) become more prominent? We have fairly reputable psychics working in healthcare and criminal justice at the moment. Moreover, I find it very interesting that while some scientists were predicting and forecasting this future, so were humanists and spiritualists!


Confessions and Observations

February 16, 2010

I’ve had a number of thoughts / feelings swimming within me lately. Some of them concern my work at the CTE, some from teaching (which I don’t consider work), and some from my home life. I’ve been tempted, even compelled at times to write about them … but I, too, remain very anxious about this medium as this is my first real attempt to integrate it into my teaching (and learning) as well. I am the kind of person that speaks from the heart and that can get you in trouble. I have authored a couple of posts recently late at night or early in the morning and decided not to actually post them because I am literally afraid of how they might be interpreted, misconstrued, miss-communicated, or miss-represented. In fact, it has taken me more than an hour to write this paragraph (a few days for the post)!

Confessions aside, one of the themes that’s been running through my work and this class is the idea of scholarly teaching (or evidence-based teaching). If you recall, this was the theme of the 2010 Lilly Conference on Teaching and Learning. The issue of how we can make informed decisions regarding our teaching and course design in order to improve student learning came up a couple of times (both in class discussions and in the learning journals) –So how can we trust the science on how people learn since it is inherently “squishy?” It would be nice if the social sciences were as predictable as the natural sciences. Perhaps we could have a periodic table of teaching methods on the wall of each classroom! The fact is, one needs to be a critically reflective practitioner to be able to explore, innovate, and discover what works best for you and your students, with your discipline/subject matter, in the classroom that you were assigned, at your institution, at a particular time of day, and with the appropriate use of instructional technology. You can either wing it…relying heavily on what feels right for you. Or you can ground everything you do in what has been demonstrated by others through either a scholarly process or legitimate research on teaching and learning. For both my own welfare, and yours, I want to take a stab at distinguishing between scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning

Scholarly Teaching

Many of us will come to the realization at some point in our teaching that there is a persistent problem (challenge) that just doesn’t go away. Or, you catch a glimpse of something that seems powerful or compelling in terms of how your students are learning and you want to explore how to (1) eliminate or reduce the challenge or (2) bottle the magic!  So you go to your colleagues and / or the teaching and leaning literature. Richlin (2001) states that the practice of scholarly teaching includes the following steps:

  • Identifying a teaching/learning problem or opportunity
  • Documenting baseline activity
  • Studying what others have done with the problem / opportunity
  • Selecting the best pedagogical method to help
  • Applying the new method
  • Documenting the outcomes
  • Analyzing the outcomes
  • Reflecting on the process

By employing a scholarly process in your teaching / course design, you are by no means guaranteeing anything. However, you are making data-driven decisions, which is what scholars do! Ideally, you will become more pedagogically savvy, which when coupled with your content expertise, provides you with the pedagogical content knowledge that is likely to increase your effectiveness as an educator.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

The term scholarship of teaching (also known as the scholarship of teaching and learning or SoTL) comes from the work of Ernest Boyer (1990), in his monograph entitled Scholarship Reconsidered. The fact is, many faculty have questions (challenges / opportunities) that have not yet been explored—at least not well. This motivates some faculty to conduct research on their own teaching (or student learning) in order to contribute to the T & L knowledge-base. The primary differences between scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning is the level of scientific rigor and the way in which it is made public. For SoTL, the scientific process and methodology must be more sound and rigorous for both the IRB review (Internal Review Board who oversees all research on humans and animals) and the peer review board for publication. Assuming the “science” passes through each review, then the research and findings become public via a reputable journal or publishing outlet. Scholarly teaching approximates the scientific process and often remains somewhat private. When faculty do share their scholarly teaching efforts it is often through informal conversation or more formal presentations in the form of workshops or conferences, etc.. So in a sentence, scholarly teaching uses evidence to inform a scholarly process whereas SoTL generates this evidence and makes it public.


Boyer, E. (1990). Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching: Princeton University Press.

Richlin, L. (2001). Scholarly Teaching and the Scholarship of Teaching. In C. Kreber (Ed.), The scholarship of teaching: New directions for teaching and learning, No. 86 (pp. 57-68). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.