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This week I've been preparing for the Games, Learning, Society 5 conference coming up in a few weeks -- which, embarrassingly, means going through all the flyers, papers, and postcards that I picked up last year.  So this week's reading is GLS + links.

Beyond the jump: academics, academic papers, and transmedia.
I've had versions of this post rattling around in my head for a while because I couldn't come up with the perfect situation to articulate them. I can't keep doing that-- perfect times for things are too rare, and too dependent upon multitudes of imperfect attempts that let you see the right time to move. Cats become good hunters and pouncers by pouncing off the edges of tables when they are kittens. Anyway.

I think that a lot of "educational software" as it stands now is pedagogically moribund, intellectually misguided, or worse. This state of the field means that schools often don't see using software in school as worth it-- they'll have to invest significant time in learning the software, adapting their curricula to it, and arranging the class schedule to accomodate it, only to have it do what the teacher is already doing. Most software out there is supplemental, good for reinforcing what the school is doing or, on occasion, creating interest in something the student could learn more about. More often, it earns the (often derogatory) term edutainment.

Despite the very sound reasons that this state has developed, I don't think that this has to be the case, at all. Much of the software out there that is considered educational is delivering what someone has deemed sufficiently educational content. It's teaching the student phonics, or greek history, or what it is like to live in Sri Lanka today. While those are good things in the right time and place, they're not what computers are best at, according to Steven Johnson (and many, many others).

What computers are good at is process. Computers take input, do things to it, and produce output. As the user varies the input and runs it through the computer, the user learns a lot about the process the computer is putting the data through. As a spreadsheet user gets frustrated with Microsoft Excel and tries different things to get their spreadsheet to turn out as intended, they learn how Excel is manipulating their input. As a gamer tries to ride a horse over hills in Shadow of the Colossus or get from city to city in World of Warcraft, they're learning how SotC or WoW restricts their movement, allows some inputs (actions) and not others. They're learning how to use the rules of the world to accomplish what they want.

Truly educational software, whether or not it's intended or labeled as educational, teaches its user about its processes. Learning those processes and analyzing them looks a lot like what educators call "critical thinking" and laud as a primary goal of enlightened curricula. Kids learn unasked from games, but then are bored by what they're asked to learn in school. Software could be bridging the gap, by giving students rich situations to playfully practice what they're told in school. It's rare to use software in schools in that way, though, and this is one thing that interests me about educational software.

Examples of how that might happen form the core of my interests in educational software. I'm interested in:

  • games that communicate concepts rather than facts or situations
  • games that are sandboxes, space for simulations and safe practice of challenging processes to learn
  • tools that facilitate better writing, reading, thinking, and presentation
  • tools that facilitate or augment what teachers are already doing

I'm going to be writing about many topics related to this in since it's the core of my passion. Sorry if I didn't explain and defend each of the assertions in this post, as many clauses here clamor for comment. I think this will be one of those posts that I end up using to spin off many future posts, a clause-as-link at a time.


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I've been writing about wikis and related topics, so it's time for a collective entry. I've got a wiki definition in the glossary (the first topic herein), but there's more to be said. This is the wiki tool entry, an entry in the directory for wikis en masse as a tool. It will probably collect more subtopics as I write more about wikis later. For now, it's worth relating an email discussion with Ken Tompkins about wikis in the classroom.


A website that allows users to add content and allows anyone to edit the content. "Wiki" also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website. [Wikipedia]

After the cut: a lot of discussion of wikis - in the classroom, finding the nail for the hammer, and more.

I've been reading through the "Reconfiguring Literary Education" chapter in Hypertext 2.0 and the wonderfully expansive margins of my copy are accumulating ideas for teaching with hypertext today.

Landow presents experiences from actual classrooms, but even this revised edition came out in 1997. The web was only beginning to explode. IM was unheard-of. Wikis didn't exist. Blackboard was founded as the book went to press. Some of what he suggests is eminently possible now. Some of it is as remote as Intermedia.

I've come up with some exercises inspired by Landow's writing which might teach students the skills that Landow discusses, critical thinking and rhetorical skills which hypertext work particularly develops. By and large these are skill-building exercises which could be used in any discipline at the high school or collegiate level.

Beyond the cut: classroom exercises

I spent today in a conference at the lovely Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich, RI which was quite interesting in ways which, sadly, have very little to do with my job.

The conference was aptly named "Technology and the Harkness Table" because it was exactly that. We got to see a building that was literally designed around technology and the Harkness Table mode of teaching and saw how wonderful it is when engaged teachers, supportive administration, sensible architecture, and funding all come together. In most schools you might get two of those in any one place at any one time, especially if you're in the public schools. An independent school might get you three. In either setting it's rare to have all of those, and Rocky Hill was doing some impressive things with that setup.

Beyond the cut: Notes on sessions

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Educational Software category.

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