PLAYBACK: Nurturing Student Interest Through Digital Tools


4.8.11 | Reading World of Warcraft; How online courses can promote deep learning; Peer critique on the Lauryn Hill/ Charlotte Perkins Gilman mash-up; and what kids say is their biggest obstacle to technology in school.

Education’s Trojan Horse: “Teenage guys in America are really suffering,” Constance Steinkuehler says in a new video from the Pearson Foundation’s New Learning Institute. “And they are definitely falling out of school and disaffiliating with school at a rate that’s really alarming.”

When you study games, as Steinkuehler does as an assistant professor in educational communications and technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you inevitably spend a lot of time around teenage boys. And as such, Steinkuehler is becoming increasingly interested in how these boys behave when they’re engaged and care about something as much as they do about video games. Educators, she says, should take note.

“Games are just a Trojan horse for studying interest-driven learning,” she says. “In schools, for example, we have the luxury of ignoring interest. Because we say simply: ‘Well, you must,’ rather than, ‘Here’s why it’s inherently compelling’.”

In the video, Steinkuehler describes her two-year experience running an after-school gaming program. She and her colleagues found a massive disparity between the reading comprehension levels of students in school and what the students were able to understand when reading gaming-related texts after school.

When they choose the text, when they care about it, they actually fixed their own comprehension problems more than two times as often as when they don’t care about the text. It’s kind of stating the obvious, but we forget it in schools all the time—that if you care about understanding the topic, you will sit and work through, you will persist in the face of challenge in a way that you won’t do if you don’t care about the topic.

Watch the video below. For more on Steinkuehler’s work read “Great Books, Great Games” at Spotlight.

Quality Matters: The New York Times examines the debate over online courses in K-12 classrooms this week. Advocates say they give schools flexibility to offer makeup courses to struggling students and to diversify electives and advanced placement offerings. But teacher’s unions and others warn that these options are being used to cut corners in tough fiscal times. Writes Trip Gabriel:

Nationwide, an estimated 1.03 million students at the K-12 level took an online course in 2007-8, up 47 percent from two years earlier, according to the Sloan Consortium, an advocacy group for online education. About 200,000 students attend online schools full time, often charter schools that appeal to home-schooling families, according to another report.

The growth has come despite a cautionary review of research by the United States Department of Education in 2009. It found benefits in online courses for college students, but it concluded that few rigorous studies had been done at the K-12 level, and policy makers “lack scientific evidence of the effectiveness” of online classes.

The fastest growth has been in makeup courses for students who failed a regular class. Advocates say the courses let students who were bored or left behind learn at their own pace.

But even some proponents of online classes are dubious about makeup courses, also known as credit recovery — or, derisively, click-click credits — which high schools, especially those in high-poverty districts, use to increase graduation rates and avoid federal sanctions.

Several thoughtful responses on the Times’ Room for Debate blog cut to the core of the issue, pointing out that quality media tools when integrated well into classroom interactions can result in deep learning. Educator Gary Stager says the real power of online learning is the opportunity it offers kids to do things in new ways “unimaginable just a few years ago. Done well, online learning could supplement classroom instruction, offer experiences otherwise impossible, support 24/7 learning and break down barriers of geography, wealth or culture.”

An online instructor for many years, Stager describes how his students are able to learn from online collaboration and critique and how when students work alongside their peers online the quality of the work itself often improves.

Stanford University Associate Professor Brigid Barron points out students of this age already use technology for learning on their own time. They can benefit a great deal from mentoring and guidance for their own projects as well as for school assignments.

“If they know where to look,” Barron writes, “they can access rich online communities that foster their imagination, offer informal mentorship and resources for learning.” Barron also says online courses can be powerful for assessment and professional development for teachers.

Re-Imagining Learning: One of the most engaging speakers at a panel discussion on 21st Century learning in Chicago last week was 12th-grader Shani Edmonds, who talked about her experiences learning online.


Shani Edmonds

Edmonds described practicing for her Spanish class via Skype chat with people in Barcelona and creating a music video for her advanced placement literature class that mashed up Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” with music by pop artist Lauryn Hill.

A student in Chicago’s Digital Youth Network after school program at the time, Edmonds shared her work on the iRemix Learning platform, a social network designed for learning where students can view and offer feedback on each other’s work.

“You post your work up there and it’s really nice to post it in a place where people are also into media and have a critical eye and can get me structured criticism,” Edmonds told the crowd.

She spoke as part of a panel discussion at the Spertus Institute on re-imagining learning in the 21st Century. The event also featured film clips from Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century, a new PBS documentary that also features the work of Edmonds and her peers in Chicago. 

Edmonds was definitely more comfortable discussing technology than Chicago’s Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who joked about needing help from his kids to turn on his Blackberry. Emanuel praised Chicago’s newly planned games-based charter school, Chicago Quest, set to open this fall, and said he hoped to be able to expand the site to other neighborhoods in the city.

“We have to adapt to how kids learn,” he said.

Plus: If you missed the event you can listen to Chicago Public Radio’s coverage here, or watch the panel discussion in its entirety in a video at MacArthur’s website.

Students Speak Up About Access: Surprise—students want more access to the internet at school.

According to a new national education survey by the nonprofit group Project Tomorrow, “71 percent of high school students and 62 percent of middle school students said that the number one way schools could make it easier to use technology would be to allow greater access to the digital content and resources that Internet firewalls and school filters blocked.”

Results are based on the Speak Up 2010 online survey. More than 379,00 K-12 students, parents, teachers and administrators from 48 states answered questions about how they’re using technology for learning. The national findings were released this week during a congressional briefing.

“The New 3 E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered – How Today’s Students are Leveraging Emerging Technologies for Learning,” (pdf)—the first report in a two-part series—identified three key trends: mobile learning, online and blended learning and e-textbooks and digital content. The survey also found:
• 67 percent of parents said they would purchase a mobile device for their child to use for schoolwork if the school allowed it, and 61 percent said they liked the idea of students using mobile devices to access online textbooks.
• 53 percent of middle and high school students reported that the inability to use cell phones, smart phones or MP3 players was the largest obstacle when using technology in school.
• And nearly 30 percent of high school students have experienced some type of online learning.


Game for Change in NYC: It’s already time to register for the 7th annual Games for Change Festival taking place June 20-22 in New York City. The festival is the international gathering of those with a passion for gaming for the social good and draws everyone from game designers and publishers to academics and thought leaders in education and global development.

The 30-plus hours of keynotes, presentations and panels will include live play sessions and a “Game Arcade,” highlighting the nominees for this year’s Games for Change Awards. And they’re offering a 30-percent discount on registration fees if you register by April 15. Sign up here.

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