Minecraft “crafting table”

The genius of Minecraft is that the game does not specify how this is done….The game’s core activity is the creation of new materials and objects through the arrangement of more basic substances in specific patterns on a “crafting table,” represented in the game as a matrix of cells….
To play, you must seek information elsewhere. by Robin Sloan

An example of Cooperative learning at it’s best; Connected learning motivated by the learners themselves.

I’m in the process of developing a digital “crafting table” for faculty learning to teach in a networked, connected space. This place is intended to entice people to join the conversation about teaching and learning in the “open”. Not a course, but a resource hub— A place to tinker with possibilities to judge if the change would make a dramatic difference in the way students learn.

The most important ingredients will be examples of the open concept and platforms for participation, annotated with design notes and reasons to use one tool [software, ebook, discussion board] instead of another. These examples of workflow, production, and communication technologies need dynamic, searchable information directly connected to a current conversation about these ideas and strategies, based on scholarship. Changing an established workflow for designing, developing and teaching a course means changing your mind and learning new skills. Changing teaching practice requires a solid obvious purpose. Examples help.

And a connection to people asking the same questions, tinkering with similar ideas, and open to collaborating — a community of practice. I’m looking forward to the conversation.

Toolkits for Inquiry

What happens, then, is that each individual develops a certain repertoire of process capabilities from which he selects and adapts those that will compose the processes that he executes. This repertoire is like a tool kit, and just as the mechanic must know what his tools can do and how to use them, so the intellectual worker must know the capabilities of his tools and have good methods, strategies, and rules of thumb for making use of them.

Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework by Douglas C. Engelbart, October 1962


We now have tools to help us imagine the real, create the imagined, explore in a simulated space, practice taking risks with ideas, think out loud and connect with other learners.  Those tools help us collaborate and exchange ideas, through multiple media formats and contexts.

The ability to share our imaginings in real time with more than text — music, image, symbols, speech, and especially video — with such ease was the goal, my own “dream machine”. And we’re here! We can make our thinking visible with tools that change handwritten notes to standard typeface. We can write mathematics with a “pen” and watch the equation change to a dynamic graph that adjusts as you change values. We can talk about an idea and automate the reformatting of the speech to text, and then share both media for collaboration with others. We can create and post our own video! We can imagine and learn, together, across physical space. Of course we must have individual study, focused thinking about an idea we’re learning about, and tools to support our study. But  the “collective IQ” created by collaboration extends and deepens understanding. It’s definitely worth the effort.

I’ve been fascinated by the evolution of tools that support thinking since 1981. I began my study then, using code and key punch cards to interact with a computer. Calculators changed the way we learned – and I taught – mathematics. By 1991 I was creating a computer lab for students and teachers – the first in the school.  Students learned to create digital books together. Desktop publishing was the new tool for writing because students could add images and text together on the screen rather than paper. The ability to type and edit simultaneously made all the difference, especially to those learners not keen on spelling and grammar rules. A decade later, students and teachers were communicating in online courses, sending assignments as digital files by email. They had just-in-time access to libraries to support their studies. And easy communication with their professors when questions emerged about their study. Reformatting print into digital media created access to our shared knowledge base. Websites became our classrooms and libraries. Connected communities of inquiry and practice emerged, eliminating boundaries around courses.

Compstudentsuters as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking by David H. Jonassen, Chad Carr, Hsiu-Ping Yueh, TechTrends, v43 n2 p24-32 Mar 1998. Mindtools is another term for tools that support intellectual work and is part of my continued inquiry project. Now we have apps, touch screens, and the cloud! As we continue to reshape the tools we need to support our intellectual work, the reality of a connected, networked, distributed space with access to whatever you are curious to learn is still amazing to me.
My toolkit examples — Workflowy, Gliffy, WordPress, CamtasiaTweetDeck, … help me continue my inquiry project — finding ways to create effective learning spaces. As much as I still love the feel of pen and paper when I create, I am intrigued by the [unexpected, extraordinary, surprising, unconventional, … ?] possibilities our expanding toolkit will provide.

Mentored Simulated Experiences

Learning, I will mention one more time, involves doing, which involves trying and failing, and which is best done under the guidance of something called a teacher (who helps you improve your work.) If a computer and the web are to be involved we need to build Mentored Simulated Experiences, where doing actually takes place (and where there are no lectures.)
Do you agree? What do these look like?
Now that we have the ability to guide as teacher with just-in-time audio and video for direct teaching, social media for discourse by a group, and a research base telling us the essential characteristics of effective quality instructional media [fun! engaging=uses the imagination, believable, accurate, personalized, learner controlled,…] we should build them — Mentored Simulated Experiences.

Improved Thinking

Severe problems are posed by the fact that these operations have to be performed upon diverse variables and in unforeseen and continually changing sequences. If those problems can be solved in such a way as to create a symbiotic relation between a man and a fast information-retrieval and data-processing machine, however, it seems evident that the cooperative interaction would greatly improve the thinking process. Man-Computer Symbiosis, section 3.1, by J.C.R. Licklider

Being able to retrieve information with just-in-time online searches to inform the thinking we are doing at the moment is an amazing improvement to the process. But even with this immediacy, the step of analyzing and synthesizing newly retrieved information is still the necessary step to making sense of new knowledge with our thinking. We are more efficient, with the machine to help us gather and organize the thinking of others, but it’s still up to us to make a conclusion, or to choose to continue to research our question.

As we may think, together

Machines with interchangeable parts can now be constructed with great economy of effort. In spite of much complexity, they perform reliably. … The world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it.

As We May Think By Vannevar Bush

And here we are, communicating with this complex system of machines about our shared responses to one man’s thinking. These purposeful connections among our ideas is the hoped for result of our platform for participation. We hope, believe, that if we think together out loud over time about important ideas, something extraordinary is bound to come of it. That’s why we built it.


Changes in Course Boundaries

With unlimited time, unlimited money and unlimited resources, of course you might do something differently. But your project is defined by the limitations and boundaries that are in place when you set out to accomplish something.

You build something remarkable because of the boundaries, not without them.

Seth Godin, Embracing Boundaries

What’s different about teaching and learning in a connected, networked world? What are the changes in the boundaries of a course?

My first response is about timing. Scheduled communication changes to conversations occurring when the question is first asked by a student. A response comes from anyone in the network rather than only during class time. I can ask a direct question of my instructor when I’m thinking about the ideas. The instructor can connect to several sources of information and examples in context that answers the question more fully, when they have the time to reply.

What else changes?

Design a Platform for Participation

One role of faculty is to design their course. Some focus on content delivery. Others create assessments necessary for certification. We hope we design for our students.

Designing information so it is easy to navigate and use as an individual student is part of that course design process when teaching online.

A brief checklist of essential questions you might ask yourself as you make decisions about your own unique context and course goals.

iBook format is found by opening iTunes, Books,

Search for Course Design Process by Joyce Kincannon

The following is the same information in pdf ready to download


Innovation and a Teaching Naked Philosophy

I attended a Summit this week at University of Virginia with my colleague, Britt Watwood, about Innovation in Pedagogy. He’s written a great description of the event in his blog and we have a shared podcast about our response to the presentations.

The message by José Bowen, keynote speaker at the Summit and author of Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of the Classroom Will Improve Student Learning , is not necessarily new but perhaps a new perspective for many faculty who see their teaching as presenting content.

Learning results only from what the student does and thinks; influencing what students do and think is teaching.

The rest of his enthusiastic talk became many examples of a teaching perspective that changes what happens during class time. What can you do in class besides talk to students? Contact time could be spent doing problem-based learning, peer instruction, interactive discussion, or other engaging, active learning activity.

  • Recognize ways to capitalize on the fact that knowledge is no longer scarce. Find relevant, open content for your course. If someone else has already done a great job of explaining the concepts, why not encourage your students to access this material outside of contact time instead of reteaching it?  You need to know what’s out there for resources – YouTube, TED talks, library archives, Google search… and use them to your advantage.
  • Create something to share beyond the class boundaries. Record mini-lectures for students to watch prior to attending the face-to-face meeting! Send reading prompts with twitter. Share more examples that describe a concept in different contexts.
  • Teach using stories. Stories are hard wired as a way for humans communicate. The story breaks down barriers.
  • Talk in a way beyond the right answer. Teach with uncertainty. Use terms like “Mostly”  “Often” “Usually” rather than focusing on one right answer.
  • Teach empathy as a value. And curiosity.
  • Find different ways to interpret a text by asking if it’s opinion, fact, or judgement.
  • Teach your students how to change their minds.

Examples of tools he suggested that support this active perspective: Catme.org to organize student groups.  smashfact.com game format to create more time on task. questionpress.com for polling students between and during class.

His talk was a passionate presentation of his philosophy about teaching and specific ways to make learning happen. He is adamant when he says, “Who you are is more important than what you teach. Faculty-student interaction is most valuable to your students. Relationships make all the difference to your students’ learning.

teachingnaked.com  for more teaching ideas and information about the book José Bowen has written. If you’re looking for more ideas about this perspective of teaching, read on!



What’s Different about Teaching?

They require people to not just do old things slightly differently but also to change their beliefs and perceptions.

“Real school must support both the rules and the playing. And the greatest of these is the playing.”   from Gardner Campbell’s blog.

Teaching has been organizing a set of readings [books, journals, texts] written by experts. We asked learners thought provoking questions about what they read and heard in our lecture. We asked them to practice solving problems related to real cases we had encountered. We asked them to respond in writing to explain, describe, interpret, persuade, so we could tell if they were making some reasonable sense of the information, making that information become knowledge.  We hoped the process was at some level enjoyable for our students — serious play.

What’s different about Teaching now that we have these tools for connecting, cooperating, collaborating with all the people in the world thinking about the same questions and issues? What’s different when books, journals, texts, newscasts, movies, webcasts, images, music, … are organized already and instantly accessed? What do we do to support learners when they can contact the author and researcher directly?

We create a place and set aside time to talk together, play with the ideas, have discourse, make connections and relationships, and ask better questions, so we continue to change our beliefs and perceptions.

Asking better questions will make us more innovative, and more effective.