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June, 2012:

Immune Attack Review

After reading my introduction to learning and video games, it is quite appropriate that I follow up with a short review of a game. Below is a trailer of Immune Attack, a game that teaches players about basic immunology. The game puts the player in the role of a nanobot traveling within the body of a person who is afflicted with disease. The player’s vehicle allows them to attack bacterial/viral infections as well exploring the different cells and their functions. The game itself is a bit dated but it does integrate elements of the learning principles such as probing and exploring areas of the body to complete objectives as well as actively learning about the various functions of the cells that the player encounters. It is also a great way to reinforce certain concepts that players have learned in class. The game, produced with collaboration between the NSF, the FAS, and several universities  is available to download for free.

Coursera & New Open Education

It seems that every week, a new open course program is established and announced. We aren’t complaining though–these open courses are revolutionary for education and provide opportunities for students around the world. But Coursera.org, a new site, sets itself apart from the others.

Officially launched on April 18th, Coursera is the middle ground between online institutions and prestigious 4-year universities. Instead of offering online courses for credit at a high cost or offering free lectures for no credit, Coursera is aiming to provide for-credit courses for under $100. Upon its launch, Coursera offered 40 courses in various subjects and have since had over one million students enroll. Additionally, students will earn a certificate of completion upon passing the course(s).

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Teaching and Learning with Video Games

When you think of video games what comes to mind? For many, video games are often thought of as purely for entertainment purposes. However, more in depth analysis by researchers such as James Paul Gee into how video games teach players and how educators can adapt these techniques are changing the common perception of video games as only for entertainment. In his book What Video Games have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy, Gee describes how all successful games incorporate specific learning principles regardless of the genre. GMU has published a list of the 36 learning principles along with short descriptions of each of these principles.

By utilizing these learning principles, games can disseminate  a large of amount of information in a relatively short period of time to the players. Players then filter out or absorb information based on cues given in the game along with some repetition in order to find the best solution to reaching the objectives of the game. Gee’s book provides much more information and examples of each of these learning principles using games not traditional thought off as “educational” such as shooter or adventure games.

Perhaps the most important point that Gee is stressing in the book is that learning is something that should be interactive and engaging rather than the dull, monotonous task of rote memorization. Video games are good models for this because they encompass many aspects of this. They provide a virtual environment where the  player can learn and practice techniques without major consequences (tutorials or beginning levels) as well as repetition in certain instances to help reinforce concepts (losing and restarting a level) that are important to winning the game.

While the idea of using interaction to engage students is not new, the use of video games in teaching and learning is an emerging area that is accumulating a large amount of interest from educators precisely because it works. Instead of viewing video games as a disruptive activity that discourages learning, educators should look at video games as a way to provide the interactive learning experience that many traditional teaching methods cannot offer.

Better Student Access To Technology Means Better Student Writers

Why do you use technology in your classroom? To many instructors, it’s because of convenience. Technology allows instructors to go paperless, enhance a lecture with a video, create a blog to supplement the class, and countless other things. But can technology teach students as well? In the case of digital writing…absolutely! In an article published recently by Emerging EdTech, guest poster Neven Jurkovic discusses ways in which 1:1 technology can help students become better writers. The new medium of web-based writing has changed the way we write, view and interact with text. Here are some of the key points he discusses:

  • Writing in digital spaces” – Now that so much writing is done in digital spaces (blogs, web sites, social media), many of us don’t even think twice about how different it is from traditional paper-and-pen writing. As I write this blog post, I have many options for conveying my message to you: I can hyperlink words, embed multimedia, and easily format my text in different ways to add emphasis and voice. It’s very important to have skills in both traditional writing and digital writing, as they are two different formats. By providing students with easy access to technology, we are allowing them to build their digital writing skills. Skills that, for many generations, were not necessarily taught in K-12 education.
  • Writing for real audiences” – When students publish work on the Internet, they are immediately opening access to it that extends beyond the classroom or even an academic setting. This forces students to think critically about how they categorize, tag, and attract readers to read their full post. Academic writing generally doesn’t have to worry about these things, but now that writing on the Internet is usually accessible to anyone in the world, it’s something writers should be aware of.
  • Collaborative writing and peer editing” – Digitally, students can collaborate on papers and projects in ways that were not possible in the past. Google Docs is a prime example in this case, the popular application that allows multiple people to edit a paper online at once. Additionally, instructors can look back and see the paper from start to finish–what revisions were made, who worked on what, how students helped each other, etc. Using collaborative writing tools, Google Docs in particular, allows instructors to see not only the finished product, but the entire writing process.

At the end of the article, Jurkovic argues that digital writing is an essential skill to learn–it involves far more than writing the essay you would on paper. Students need to be taught to be good digital citizens, and can achieve this through learning proper digital writing skills and access to the technology that allows them to learn.

iPad + Dropbox + Airsketch = Cheap & Easy Interactive Whiteboard

Have you ever wanted to annotate pictures, slideshow presentations, class readings, or any other files during a lecture? For example, say you’re examining a work of art that is full of visual symbolism. When discussing this art work, it would be helpful to highlight the symbolic objects in the painting for the whole class to see, right? Now, using only an iPad, ePodium, and two apps…you can very easily do this!

The video below shows the process of turning your iPad and projector into an interactive whiteboard. Before you get started following the tutorial, you will need to download two apps to your iPad: Dropbox and Airsketch. Note that you will need to create a Dropbox account. You will also need to convert the file you wish to annotate to PDF format and upload the file to Dropbox. Here are links to tutorials from the Learning Technologies website that will guide you through this process:

Full transcript available here via Google Docs