Thursday, September 30, 2010

Which Emoticon Means "I Have to Go Pee?"

This is one of my favorite web comics - Doghouse Diaries - that is published three days a week. A little off beat, but usually dead on the mark when it comes to pointing out the foibles of the modern day human.

It brought to mind an event that happened the other night during an online work session with the members of my group in the Instructional Design class. I happened to be at school Monday night - it's Homecoming week here, meaning I have duties all week long that keep me here later than usual. I decided to do my online chats at school. While working with my group, at about 10:00 PM, I lost connection to the internet.

Wanna guess which school district does its computer upgrades and network fixes during the evening starting at, oh say, 10:00 PM? Mind you not every night - apparently just those nights when I need a connection.

I lost it. I frantically texted one of my classmates Cathy O (read her blog Cathy O's Observations) to let her know what had happened and that I wasn't blowing off the rest of the class. I so wanted to have a web cam of me clicking away at anything that would allow me back online - of course my computer was OFFLINE already so the web cam would have been pointless, but hopefully you get what I mean. I didn't want to be seen as a slacker just because my connection let me down. Thankfully, I have a very understanding group. We'll be at it again tonight - but I'll be at home, safe and sound with my own connection.

I don't really feel like chatting online is better than in person. I don't. I'm a social person, like the good folks in my Instructional Technology Cohort. I prefer the face-to-face chatting. Online education, though, requires it, and most of the time it's a good thing. Most of the time, the internet connection is working. Most of the time, the speed of the chat very close to real-time communication. Most of the time, when someone asks a question, you get to see their question before you see someone else's reply to that question.

Most of the time. Nothing's perfect.

Referring back to the comic, it makes me wonder how many people wander away from the chat to do their biological business, take a phone call, or get a beer (or another beer in some cases). Yes, I have done it, but I'm usually stressed out about it in case someone calls me out on a specific question, so I'm away for just a few minutes. 

What about side-chats, tweeting a chat, or just flat-out doing other things while chatting? Is that multitasking, or is it distracting? I know how I feel about students in my classes using their phones - which is about the same thing as we online students sidechatting or tweeting during class. We just feel like it's justifiable because we are Instructional Technology students. We're supposed to be doing this, right?

BTW, while I was writing this, I had Tweetdeck, Gmail and Wikipedia open and operating. Nobody emailed or tweeted, and I didn't search anything, but by God I was ready!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Who's Up for a Quick Game of Galaga?

I've finally found someone who understands me - the "thirty-years-ago"me.

If you have ever played video or computer games - especially if you are in your forties and spent a lot of time (and a significant part of your college fund) in video arcades - you really need to check out the work of Jane McGonigal.  She is currently the Director of Game Research & Development at the Institute for the Future. Her interest and area of study focuses on how online gaming - in great numbers - creates new collective intelligences. In short, she claims that gamers possess a unique set of abilities culled from their leisure activity.

I'll wait for a moment while you gasp loudly and regain your senses.

McGonigal has developed online games where players put the skills they've acquired while gaming to - wait for it - solve the problems that face our world. REAL problems, not the ones that we all faced while we searched fervently for the chainguns and rocket launchers in our DOOM-iverse. One such game is a simulation called "World Without Oil" in which you have a finite reserve of oil and you play using your own habits of consumption. The idea is to stretch that reserve as far as you can. I have yet to play, but rest assured I will soon.

Is there credibility in the idea of taking the collective wisdom of gamers who have spent a good deal of their lives saving imaginary worlds and applying it to saving the one in which they live? Critics say that the current reality is not shooting aliens, stealing cars, or rescuing princesses. Advocates say it's precisely that mindset and those strategic abilities that we need to substitute "saving humanity from The Covenant" with "saving humanity from its own missteps."

How do you feel about gaming and the potential possibilities of creating a generation of world-crisis problem solvers? Is this reaching out to the Millenials and addressing their needs, as Dr. Z Reflects asks in his current blog, or is it simply an elaborate argument to justify the hours of time spent in front of a game console? See what Ms. McGonigal has to say for herself in this 2010 TEDTalks.

By the way, about the time Jane McGonigal was born, I was likely hanging out in the now long-gone Silver Dollar Arcade in Fairmont, Minnesota, honing my X-Wing fighter skills and making my student loan burden that much bigger. Not that it makes any difference, but there's just something about a person who has made her life's work about my youthful indiscretions. More power to her.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Secret Agent-Of-Change Man

Think about how many times you have heard people say things like the following
  • Change is difficult to accept.
  • You need to get out of your comfort zone.
  • If more people would spend less effort staying in the same place, we would see great things.
  • "Status quo" is a four letter word.
  • "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." - Einstein
Now answer this: who are the people saying these things, or when do we hear these things? Likely it's the people who are promoting change - and their motivations, whatever they may be, are almost certainly seen as suspect by the people who being asked - or forced - to change.

The start of a new school year usually carries with it some sort of initiative or mandate to change something within the district. No Child Left Behind certainly has a major impact upon schools and school districts. Missed benchmarks and uncompleted goals force educators to figure out a way to improve student learning - in this case, raise test scores. Other initiatives that school districts try to implement to better student learning come in all shapes and forms. The assumption is that something has gone wrong, or needs improving - change to the rescue.

I recently spent three days in Minneapolis attending the Solution Tree conference on implementing Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). I had planned to blog about this experience right after the conference, but upon reflecting upon the speakers' messages and reviewing the materials that I took from the conference, I knew I needed more time to digest things. There was one clear and common idea that ran throughout the conference: change is not an easy thing. PLC's require everyone in your "community" to communicate closely, work together often and buy into the program, whatever it may be: developing common assessments, creating an inclusive curriculum, specialized programs designed to raise student achievement, student success initiatives, etc.

Read that last sentence again - I've colored the text to set it off. Are these the sort of things that a motivated teacher would pass up? No. They all sound like they are great things that are aimed at improving student learning. So why would anyone resist?

Change. Change is coming. Change is on the way. Change what you are doing. Change your broad vision. Change your thinking.

There's that damn C word again. Most teachers are the master of their domain - the classroom. Sure we get visited by an administrator every now and again to make sure that there is quality instruction going on, and we create our yearly professional development goals to satisfy the community that we are working to improve every year. We are like cats - creatures of habit (and I suppose you could create a "coughing up a hairball" metaphor somewhere, but perhaps a later blog will do this) who don't like changes in their environment.

So, how did your school year start off? Was there an influx of change that demanded a rethinking of what you do (see my good friend and colleague's blog Cathy O's Observations) or are you the fundamentalist who is railing against change because it's cramping your style and your teaching? Or are you somewhere in between?

And ask yourself: Are you an agent of change?

Image credit: "Boris Badenov," Rocky and Bullwinkle, 1960, Jay Ward Productions