The Epic Adventure: Year 1

With the new school year upon us or started already, there is much for a new teacher to do not the least of which is to find a way to fit into the new school culture. I have spent a lot of time looking at and thinking about what technology tools to use in the classroom. I know I want to gamify my religion classes, but what tools will help me make class more efficient for my students as well as help them be more successful?

The first thing I started with is Google Classroom. Classroom helps me to keep track of assignments made, assignments that students have turned in, and I can add links to materials to supplement the course.

Google Classroom

Google Classroom Logo

I started using Google Forms and I was surprised when student responses were automatically gathered into a Google Spreadsheet. The only thing that we have to figure out is how we can take a Google Document have students write something and then turn it in to one central location within Classroom. I think that this tool will become my learning management system and will eventually aid students and myself to find and use class information more efficiently.

For back channel discussions or even posting and responding I am thinking about using 81Dash. I can create different rooms for my different classes thus keeping discussions organized.

81 Dash Logo

There are many more tools I could use, but I need to start with a manageable few and add or make changes as we go along. Oh, I also need to get my kids writing reflective blog posts that can be read and commented on by the world.

I did give my juniors the opportunity to show how they can incorporate Dr. Tony Wagner’s 7 Survival Skills into their life by giving them access to The Periodical Table of iPad Apps by @sjunkins. Most, if not all of these apps, can also be found as android apps. I am really looking for them to incorporate the skills into their lives and get creative about showing how they will or have incorporated those skills.

I will be using a Google spreadsheet created by Mr. Michael Matera at Teachers Pay Teachers to keep track of student levels and experience points (xp). Michael is a pro and my mentor when it comes to gamification.

picture of Mr. Matera

Mr. Matera – Gamification Sherpa

My badging system will most likely take the form of physical card stock type of badges about the size of baseball cards. Using this system of badging students are responsible for keeping track of their badges (which they can easily do with one of those three ring binder sized plastic baseball card holders).

The most difficult part of this journey is coming up with a story line. I know I will have my students time traveling from the present to the past and back so that they are taking a look at the biblical stories and then applying them to life in the present in their lives. I’m not quite sure what role I should have in the story? I’m going to have students divided up into groups called tribes and these tribes will need to find an appropriate name. Solo Quests, small group quests, challenges, and adventures will await tribes as they complete their work of journeying through the bible. Stay tuned for further updates.


Reflective Teaching 30 Day Blogging Challenge, will you accept?


Level Up Your Game with eBooks

I love, love, love reading books on my Kindle and through any app on my iPad mini, with one caveat: the book I am reading must be for enjoyment not for learning. I have the first and second generation Amazon Kindles as well as a Kindle Paperwhite. I also have an old Sony eReader that was supported by the now defunct Borders, and I have one of the early generation Barnes and Noble Nooks. I really enjoy reading books on a dedicated eReader because the device only needs charging about once a month with active reading, it automatically saves your page (no more dog eared pages), and there is no eye strain in different lighting conditions. eReaders are also very portable in that they are lighter and thiner than the average Tom Clancy (may he rest in peace) novel.

Picture of hand holding a 2nd generation Kindle


Why Kindle?

My second generation Kindle is my eReader of choice. It stays on my bedside table for night time reading and it travels with me around the globe. I have a larger library with me when I travel than half of the Medieval nobility had in their very homes. I need a light source (like a lamp at night) in order to read my Kindle as it doesn’t have internal lighting like the Kindle Paperwhite. I have had so many problems with some of Barnes and Nobles’s eInk eBooks in the past that I don’t even bother with owning one or buying anymore for my Nook tablet. The Nook tablet has been relegated to my kids who use it to watch Netflix and play games.

I like the speed of service and the lack of problems with Amazon’s Kindle. Although there is no physical store to walk into whenever I have questions, I have never had any questions because my Kindle has always just worked. Sometimes, if something works, don’t mess with it!

Why fiction only?

I cannot get used to using an eBook to learn from. When I am reading for information or learning something new I must have the physical printed word in front of me. I know it’s kind of weird because much of my life depends on digital devices. I have my system of highlighting, dog earing, writing in the margins, and tagging with colored sticky tabs (are sticky tabs even a thing?). These things can all be accomplished in an eBook, but I just can’t get past my old ingrained system. I don’t think I’m set in my ways yet, but I think I need someone to teach me how to make the change before trusting myself to actually do it. Maybe Vicki Davis could do a webinar on that?!

Picture of a tabbed book

Dog Ears Galore

My oldest daughter is a reading purist (I think I just made that up). She refuses to read on any device. Check that, she refuses to read books in any electronic format. She reads lots of things (Pinterest, Facebook, and texts) on the computer, her iPod, and phone, just not books. I really don’t think she would even read the greatest everyone’s talking about it book if it was only offered in eBook format.

Students can publish

I know that I have to get past my antiquated ways because I will eventually want my students to publish eBooks. Heck, I would even like to publish an eBook some day (The Great American Novel). But seriously, what better way for students to write than to chose an audience, write, and then publish for that audience. Students could then market their eBooks through various social media, people read the book, then write to the author, and walla Bob’s your uncle. What better way to get authentic feedback and constructive criticism. No longer are we bound by the walls of the classroom. No longer are students writing for just a teacher and forgetting the piece after they get it back with a grade on it. I can see a mad dash of students wanting editors in the future as they finally figure out that spell check doesn’t correct usage errors or grammar errors.

Don’t forget to have conversations about copyright and citing sources properly. Plagiarism in this forum could lead to legal action, but there is a lesson to be learned in that too. As for me, I will always counsel the use of some sort of creative commons attribution. CC SA ND. If you don’t understand that last sentence go to  and


Hats off to Green Screen Magic

Today I was wondering about the magic of the green screen. I was asked to submit a photo of myself, without a hat on, to the office at the new school I will be working at next month. Well, if you know me very well, you will know that there are a couple very good reasons why I wear the hat. First, as my children like to say, “what hair dad?” Secondly, I supervised the kids waiting for their buses after school for a few years when I taught middle school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. One gorgeous fall day we had a bomb threat and the entire school evacuated to the football field. The sky was bright blue not a cloud in the sky and it was great being outside (I wish the circumstances would have been better). But, by being outside that day for just shy of three hours, I got the worst sun burn ever right on the top of my noggin. That’s right a shiny red head! And later that night I was in agony. I vowed to never, ever venture into the out of doors without a hat on my head. So, whenever I give presentations on gamification (indoors), whenever I leave a building, and whenever I have my photo taken I grab for the nearest hat.

What a lead in to today’s topic that has me wondering.

I wonder. . . . . 

how is it that with some green fabric behind me, a photograph, and another image I can appear to be anywhere? I have been experimenting with, and getting better at, using iMovie and my green screen. For the photo I submitted to my school today, I simply dragged the image from my desktop into the iMovie maker and suddenly I had four seconds of video. I then had my two oldest daughters take some standard head shots of me in front of my green screen. I selected one of their photos as a jpeg image and dragged that onto the top of the previous image, clicked a button marked adjust, clicked a drop down marked green screen, and walla I had a four second video of this

Next, I uploaded the video to YouTube then I paused the video and using Skitch I was able to take a screen shot that I saved as a jpeg file. The following image is the final result.

A photo of Tim Scholze without a hat in front of a bookshelf

Fall 2014 No Hat Photo

The only way I can explain how you take this

Photo in front of green screen

Original Photo by Kat



    and this   PlaybraryLarge       

                                                                                     to come up with this,

A photo of Tim Scholze without a hat in front of a bookshelf

Fall 2014 No Hat Photo


                                                                                                                is M-A-G-I-C!


I Wonder…..

As I was thinking about topics for this blog post, I realized that I forgot my copy of Vicki Davis’s book Reinventing Writing in my classroom in Iowa City. You might be thinking well just run over there and get it. Whoa there Nelli! That would be 7 hours round trip on the road, not to mention a tank of gas. So, in lieu of writing my weekly post on learnings from Reinventing Writing, I thought I might start a new series of posts titled “I Wonder…..”

We are all called to be like the little children. I guess that would mean that we should ask questions, think creatively, wonder, and play. Of course, having fun and laughing is implied. I guess I got the idea for this from @coffeechugbooks Aaron Maurer and his Teacher Tinker Time. In future “I Wonder…’ posts, I am just going to put I wonder… as the heading and bold the text of the things I am wondering about. If you would like to help out, just leave something you wonder about in the comments or tweet me or shoot me an Email. My hope is that by wondering, we might engage our collective creative juices flowing. Follow the hashtag #IWonder and we will see what we come up with.

I Wonder…..

how someone ever came up with the jackalope. My friend @SKwikkel was recently out in South Dakota on vacation and reminded me of this creature that I learned about on my childhood family trip to SD.

Picture of Jackalope postcard from Wall Drug

Courtesy Wall Drug

how do green screens really work? I’ve used them a few times in my career, but how exactly do they work? I had my daughters take Fall photos of me in front of our green screen and I was able to put that together with a picture of Carson Park in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Wave the magic wand and I’m standing in the outfield!

Fall Photo

Fall Photo Using Green Screen – Photographer Kat

why do teenagers complain so much? Yes, I’ve been teaching them for over fifteen years, but now I live with one and I guess I never noticed it so much before. My daughter says it’s in the teenager handbook (I really need to find that handbook).

when do adults tend to lose their sense of wonder? It seems that as we progress in age that we become detached from wonder and awe. Why is that?


why, since Google is so successful, don’t all places of business try to model their fun-loving model of engagement? From what I have seen, the GooglePlex looks like a huge playground for adults.

Comfortable seating at the Googleplex

Image Courtesy bryanesque



why May Flies come out in July? I was driving on the pike between La Crosse and La Crescent last night and my car became spattered with bug juice and there were so many of them crushed on the highway that it was actually slippery in spots!

An emergent Mayfly

Image Courtesy La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Office

will I be the best teacher for the students I have this year? I want so badly to help my students become excited about learning how to learn but I often-times doubt myself and my abilities. Is this normal or just me here?

What do you Wonder about?

My Brain is Full!

Arrggggh! My brain is full! In my corner of the technoverse I am feeling pulled in too many directions at one time. Getting the kids to their summer activities, keeping up with social media, completing two online courses, following #NotAtISTE14 and #ISTE2014 blog posts, trying to find a new home, the #summerLS challenges, Voxing with new friends, and trying to do some PD reading along with trying to create new curriculums . . . Who was that person that said teachers never do anything in the summer? My summer is full, self inflicted, yes, but full none the less. 


Today (Saturday), I had to complete vocabulary that was due Friday and an essay that was due yesterday for a Mexican history course I am taking. Now don’t get me wrong, I love learning and I have been taking online courses since 2009, but how do people learn by merely reading professors notes and textbooks? It’s interesting that the only things graded for this course are a dozen vocabulary words each week and a weekly essay. Sounds pretty easy until the professor expects that 10-15 hours a week should be spent reading and no sources except the course notes and the textbook are allowed to be referenced in either assignment. This is done merely to check for understanding of assigned reading material. I can’t spend 2 hours a day reading! I’m a father with a wife and four kids. Kind of flies in the face of what we are trying to have our 21st Century pK-12 students do. Is this really what college has become? A mere regurgitation, in paraphrase, of the course materials.history-mexico-dvd-cover-art

Acceptable Use and Large Internet Companies

I cannot put Vicki Davis’s (@coolcatteacher) book down.

Reinventing Writing Book Cover

She had me hooked from the very first page. So, in chapter two I realized that a school needs to revisit its acceptable use policy (AUP) on a regular basis. I also learned that we all should be reading those things that we just normally click agree to so that we can get to the information or tool we want to access. Some companies, Google and Facebook, to name a couple provide their services for free, but they use our information to their advantage. Facebook just came out in the open about a social experiment that they performed where they manipulated data so that some users got more negative news from friends and others got more positive news from friends. See Facebook and Google can do just about anything they want with the information they access about us.

If you know me at all, I am pretty open about my digital footprint as well as sharing lessons and information with others, but I am getting just a tad bit unsettled by how Google and Facebook as well as other online companies are using and manipulating my online experiences. 

Reinventing Writing

The biggest take away I have from chapter two is that when selecting a digital tool I should always ask the question, “what am I trying to do?” It is pretty obvious that we should not just be using technology for the sake of using something technological, but that we should be using technology to help us do things better or more efficiently. For example, I use the tool Evernote for writing and editing my blog posts. Are there other tools I could be using? Sure there are, but I feel that this one is

Picture of Evernote logo

Evernote App

cleaner and easier than others. I can access my notes from my MacBook, iPhone, iPad, android, or almost any device that connects to the Internet. If I had to hand write and edit my blog posts, then I would probably not engage in this very helpful activity. It’s a tool that helps me in my writing and helps me reflect on the things I have done, I am doing, or I might do in the future.

Another take away for me is that there may be very good reasons for the Internet policies that schools have concerning access. (Cue Adam Bellow’s version of Filter Wall set to the tune Wrecking Ball) On the other hand I struggle with why filter anything with the exception of pornography? If we want our kids to become good digital citizens then we need to teach them to stay engaged in appropriate activities and keep away from inappropriate activities. I wonder how many parents hand their kids a smart phone, let em lose with it all day long, but then expect schools to keep them away from things that are inappropriate? I agree with Adam’s plight in Filter Wall, and I have had the experience of finding something for my students only to have it blocked the day we go to actually use it. Frustrating? Absolutely! Necessary? Absolutely not! When did we get to the point that we have to prove an educational purpose before using a website? Who decides what and educational purpose is? Could I use alcohol, cigarette ads, and games for educational purposes? It may be that good intentions are meant but it seems to be more work for everyone in the long run. Especially when it comes to games. It really rubs me wrong when anything with the word “game” is blocked or filtered. I guess we shouldn’t have fun in the classroom.

What is your favorite tool? What are your feelings about the filter wall? 

Writing and Reflecting: Is Writing Truly Reinvented?

Yes, I may just be a glutton for punishment. I began three classes yesterday! Two classes are for college credit and one class is directed by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) via her new book Reinventing Writing. I know, all of this is self-inflicted but surprise of all surprises the one that matters the most and that will help my students be successful is the one that will not count for any credit. I am taking a political science class and a Mexican history class, both online. These online courses are just like the traditional classes that I took from 1990-1995 in my undergraduate days. The only real difference is that instead of going to a lecture hall, I have to sit at home and read, do vocabulary (in .doc or .docx format only), and take essay exams once a week for four weeks. In one of the courses there is weekly discussion but it’s nothing like spending an hour in an education related twitter chat. In both of these classes regurgitation of factual information will be rewarded with grades. No premium is put on original thought. To quote one of the professors, “I am measuring your reading comprehension and engagement of what I assign.” 8-(  Really, I mean really? NO OUTSIDE SOURCES!

When I reached the end of chapter one of Vicki’s new book, I was revved up and ready to set off on a further exploration of writing. According to my college transcripts, I am a social studies teacher, but in my heart I am a teacher of students and a lead learner. I love learning, especially learning about topics that are meaningful to me and lead by people who are also passionate about teaching and learning.

Reinventing Writing Book Cover

Mrs. Davis asks three questions at the end of chapter one of her book, “Is writing truly reinvented? What is different? What is the same?” These are the questions I will grapple with in this blog post.

The Same Old Words in a New Way

Writing is the same as it has been in my lifetime. I think of words or phrases, put letters together to form words, that are then (I hope) linked into grammatically correct sentences that make a point. When writing with paper and pencil, a person can always erase words and write them over. When using ink on paper if a mistake is made anyone reading it can see there is a mistake unless the entire page is completely rewritten. I remember having to type papers on an electric typewriter in high school. We had correction ribbon but it never quite worked right. So, if I made a mistake, I would more than likely have to type the entire page over again. I could try to use white out, but it wasn’t readily available and it tended to make things look messy anyhow. It seemed that if I ever moved the paper from the typewriter carriage it would never line up with any of the words properly, so it meant retyping a page.

When I was in college, the world of writing had moved into the dawn of word processing programs. There was Word Perfect and various other word processing and computer writing tools, but things began to standardize when Microsoft Word came out. Word is pretty much the world standard for writing papers today, or is it? I write my blog posts into my Evernote account and they are then accessible from every device that has the Evernote app or access to the web. A lot of people that write for a living use Scrivener and many other organizational writing tools. We seem to be moving away from the large ominous corporate behemoths like Microsoft and writing anywhere at any time misstake free!

Writing is the same but we are free to write any way our brains tend to process information. Let me give you a personal example. I hate outlines. There, I said it and I stand behind it. I probably have some old English teachers turning over in their graves right now. I don’t like to free write either. Some people can just write and write without a thought about spelling and grammar as they feel that it frees up their mind and they can go back and correct mistakes after they have their great thoughts down on paper. I process things first (mull things over in my mind for a while- – this can sometimes be for a week or more), then I sit down to write. I edit as I type and there is an inner dialogue that goes on in my mind. I am actually saying the words in my head and at my lips without moving my lips. If I don’t like something, or I type something incorrectly, or if something doesn’t make sense, it gets edited immediately. 

Writing for the World

Personally, I think that the greatest change in writing is that of audience. In my blog alone I am writing for a worldwide audience. I would like to think that most of my audience is made up of other teachers who may be looking to learn something new or teachers who read what I write and come to the conclusion that they can do a better job than that guy, but I also know that there are pre-service teachers who are reading this right now and asking, “can I really take the risk to put something that unpolished out there for the world to see?” Hey, I’m not perfect. I do, however, enjoy writing. I just never thought that I would be writing to be able to understand myself better or that my audience might be other people in the field of education.

I believe that I learn the most from my writing. Writing is my way of reflecting on things that have my mind in a tizzy or ideas that might actually be half-baked. Writing also allows me to see if I understand something clearly and from that see things that I do not understand so clearly. Our students can take their ideas to the world at large to get feedback, constructive criticism, to move people, to persuade people, to understand others in far off places, or to share their understanding of the here and now. Young people today can start a movement through writing. 

The written word is the same today as it always has been, but the words that we write can have a far greater impact without the need to be great or famous. I love the written word! Old or new I love to read the written word. Now, because I can write in a style that is comfortable to me, I love to write. My only hope is that my words make sense and that my words are helpful to someone else.

What do you think about writing? Do you feel that your writing could have a positive impact on someone? Is writing truly reinvented?

The Search for 21st Century Pedagogy and Minecraft in the Classroom

Right from the start I will state that as a teacher and life-long learner I am not an expert at any one thing but that I have knowledge of and interests in many different things. My university adviser used to call this type of teacher a generalist. I would like to eventually get an EdD but try as I might, it would be very difficult to specialize in the general. I hope I haven’t lost you yet.

Doctorate Degree

For the past couple of weeks I have been dwelling on an image that Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) uses in his book Digital Leadership. The image has 21st Century Pedagogy at the center of a web diagram take a look at the image here. I am still wondering what a 21st Century Pedagogy is?

Why is This Important?

I know that many of you might be thinking, don’t worry about it, just go with the flow, or golly gee willakers man it’s summer! Well, for me and the students I will be serving in the future it is very important. Is there a true 21st Century Pedagogy? What is going to help me help my students become the best that they can be? Along with Mr. Sheninger’s book I have been reading Dr. Steve Wheeler’s (@timbuckteeth) posts on his blog Learning with e’s. Steve’s last fifteen posts each center on a different pedagogy. There are so many different pedagogies that my head is spinning just trying to keep them all straight. Add to that the Digital Overload I blogged about last week and, BAM! Instant headache Batman.

MinecraftEDU in My Class?                                                                    MCEDU

Why not? I believe that Minecraft (MC)  can and should be used in at least one class per year. The pixelated block sandbox game designed by some Swedes is super awesome! At my house the two youngest kids (ages 6 and 8) have been playing the game for about six months. The impact it has had on my kids as consumers of information and creators is nothing short of amazing. The conversations that we have around the supper table have changed. We now hear words like spawn, ether, mobs, biomes, armor, health, creation, design, recipe, and creeper. The kids are also researching videos to learn about others who have embraced MC (these of course have to be approved by mom or dad). Their spelling has improved. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing my six year old so excited about her “creation” that she is showing me, except when she gets to introducing me to her tamed wolves and self corrects the spelling of the name she gave to one! My son is so excited that we spend time looking for family friendly servers to play in multi-player mode, and he wants to create MC videos to put on YouTube.

Minecraft EDU is a version of regular MC that can be controlled by and designed by teachers. It also has a store house of lesson plans and its own Wiki. As a humanities teacher, I love the World Of Humanities lessons as it is a ready built world that kids can be directed through and teacher created creativity can be added. 

But I Heard You Were Teaching Religion

Yes I will be teaching religion, but I will still use MC or MinecraftEDU. How? I haven’t figured out the particulars yet, but I have this vision of my kids going through the Book of Exodus and designing and collaborating on designing the world as Moses and the people of Israel saw it. But, you don’t want to turn religion into a game. I know, but what’s wrong with using a game that has kids using 21st Century skills and tools to better understand the BC world and scripture? Nothing. 

Of course, the results will come out this coming school year and I will have to process through the entire process, standards, and assessment pieces, but I’m still going to use it to get kids hooked on sacred scripture. What are you going to do to get kids hooked into your class?

Digital Overload: Have I Reached My Potential?

I am a digital leader and a teacher or lead learner and I need help finding my niche in the educational universe. I feel overwhelmed by information. This coming fall, I will begin teaching full-time again after a five year hiatus. I can use and share any web 2.0 tool because I’m not afraid to take risks, try them out, and learn how to use them in the classroom. I skim through A LOT of information on a daily basis. My twitter feed is constantly notifying me of updates, I check Feedly every morning as I enjoy my cup-o-Joe. I re-tweet things that sound interesting and favorite things that are neat, cute, or should be followed up on later. I have IFTTT shunting information around from various accounts to various repositories (Diigo, Pocket, and Evernote) with the idea that I will follow up on it later. The thing about all of this is that I am never able to get around to revisiting my “saved for later” materials.

Left Unchecked and Floundering check_mark_green* Public Domain

With that being said, I rarely get around to checking Facebook, Google+, my Scoop.It information,, Pinterest, Rebel Mouse, Tumbler, Zite, Flipboard, reddit, Goodreads, or various podcasts. See, I know how to use all the tools, but I just do not know how to manage it all. I don’t know how the #EduRockStars out there manage all of their incoming digital media sources. This may be exactly why many teachers and administrators are fearful of getting involved with social media. It can definitely be stressful and a bit daunting.

A couple of nights ago I was involved in one of the regular weekly edchats and I remember stating to my colleagues that I have given up things that I used to enjoy doing like fly tying or working with medieval miniatures, to engage in educational research via social media. Now don’t get me wrong here, I love learning, it is my passion, but I am beginning to wonder if we can succumb to a passion too much? Am I trying to do too much in the limited time that I have, or do I simply need to have someone teach me how to manage it all? I really hope that someone can offer to teach me how to become a better manager of my social media information work flow and maximize my learning potential.

21st Century Pedagogy

All of this pales in comparison to trying to understand 21st Century pedagogy. Here are a few things that I know about and want to implement in my new teaching role:

     1. Standards Based Learning/Grading
     2. 3PIBL (Project, Passion, Problem, Inquiry Based Learning) – Thanks @SKwikkel for the 3PBL
         idea, I modified it though.
     3. Gamification
     4. Game Based Learning
     5. Personalized Learning
     6. Portfolios
     7. The Maker Movement
     8. Coding
     9. Minecraft EDU
     10. Digital Citizenship

When I started to write this, I had no idea that I would be coming up with one of those “ten lists” that come up in various blog posts throughout the year. This has put an idea into my mind about the possibility of blogging about my understanding and resources for each topic over the course of this summer. Will this year be perfect? Yes and No. Yes it will be perfect because I get to spend my days touching the future, but no it will not be perfect because I do not have a firm grasp on the pedagogy. I know going in that I will struggle, and even (gasp) fail at something. After all I cannot do everything and I am far from perfect. I guess that the best I can do is model perseverance, model my thought processes on learning, and try to have as many meaningful/authentic experiences for my students as possible.

I don’t even want to get started on listing all the books on my summer reading list. They are all, with the exception of one, based on content, pedagogy, or leadership. My reading of science fiction and fantasy went out the door last year when I never completed the list and pile of books I accumulated for my summer PD reading.

Where is the Pedagogy?

I joined a book chat a couple weeks ago centered around Eric Sheninger’s (@NMHS_Principal) book Digital Leadership which is awesome, but I became confused by the following diagram:

21st Century Pedagogiesby-sa_2.5_80x15
What exactly is the 21st Century Pedagogy or is it the information I listed in one through ten in the above section? And, do learning experiences need to include all of these ideas EVERY day? I have many more questions than answers. I am reaching out to my PLN. If you have any answers please, please reach out and offer your advice.

University Fail: Students First is Not a University’s Concern


Empty Desks


Today I was researching the possibility of online PhD and EdD programs in digital media, specifically the study of gamification and game based learning. Now, one would think that in this day and age a Big Ten University like the University of Wisconsin would be all about providing or at least pioneering an online version for PhD candidates in digital media. The answer I received from the school was, “you have to be a student on campus. We do not intend our doctorate program to be a distance ed program.”

Wow! Talk about behind the times and inflexible. The reasons I was given for this “sit in the seat lecture only program” was that it encourages collegiality, it allows students to work together on projects, students need to physically attend lectures, it’s the experience of belonging to and working with a community. 

Let me take issue with each of the above reasons one at a time. 

Collegiality defines collegiality as, cooperative interaction among colleagues. As many of you know, this does not need to take place on a campus. Skype, Google Hangouts, shared documents, message boards like padlet, Voxer, discussion forums, Google+ groups, twitter and Wikis are all effective ways to foster collegiality. Fourteen years into the 21st Century, why does an institution of higher learning believe that collegiality can only take place on campus?


Students and teachers of any persuasion can use Learning Management Systems as well as any of the methods I mentioned in the preceding paragraph as collaboration tools. One does not have to meet face to face in order to collaborate. In fact, I would posit that most collaboration today does not take place in situations that are face to face.


Great. The old college standby, lectures. Do we really learn much from being lectured to? Research has pointed time and again that lecture is the least likely way for learning to occur. Where did much of this research take place? At universities. Even though research points out that lecture is the least likely avenue for meaningful learning to occur in, universities still use it as their main delivery style. Well, lectures can be recorded as podcasts, live streams, or video on a LMS. And one would think that those involved in doctorate programs in digital media would know this, embrace this, and use this knowledge to attract even more learners to their programs. Plus, do I really want to sit through even more lectures? NO WAY!


Again, I turn to for a definition. 
1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
2. a locality inhabited by such a group.
3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the):
“the business community; the community of scholars.”
4. a group of associated nations sharing common interests or a common heritage:
the community of Western Europe.

Focusing on definition 3, I would say that a community of scholars can be established in disparate locations. I am a member of several on-line communities. Again, physical attendance in a particular location should not be a barrier to community. Again, any of the tools mentioned above under Collegiality can and should be used to foster a sense of community. All of the tools I have mentioned are common everyday tools that anyone in higher education has access to.

Now I know that there are other universities around the world that offer online doctorate programs in the fields of education and curriculum & instruction, but I want to attend a Wisconsin state university because I have GI Bill benefits that will cover the costs of my tuition. It is truly sad that in the 21st Century institutions of higher learning are not leading the charge to change education to fit the needs of their students.

What would you do in this situation?

Student Voice and Choice

I recently had an administrator ask me what I meant by student voice? I was taken aback by the question because it is one of those terms that I just know what it means. I had to pause and really think about how I could best explain this to a potential supervisor. My first thought was, “you have got to be kidding me!” But, as I reflect back upon the question, I now realize that not everyone is well versed in the lingo and research that is presented daily via twitter, blog posts, and other social media venues. Most of the world thinks of social media as just that, social. Whereas I have used social media to grow as an individual and to learn from leaders in the field of education and educational technology.
Statue and Students
Student Voice

So how did I answer the question about student voice? I said, “student voice means letting kids explore things they are passionate about, and reflecting via audio, video, or writing to a global audience. If we have 400 students in a grade level and only their teachers are reading what they have to say, then those students are not getting the richness that a global audience can provide.” 

As I sit here reflecting, I realize that in today’s world I would literally be robbing my kids of a fuller educational experience if I were the only person who saw and gave feedback to what they produced in class. Also, I do not want my students to be writing for me. I want my students reflecting for the sheer joy of looking back on their accomplishments or giving voice to their thoughts and ideas while having someone more important than me giving them feedback and constructive criticism.

Student Choice

Since voice and choice seem to go hand in hand, I would like to state that kids should have choice over what they learn and how they want to learn it. Gasp, you want the kids to have that kind of control? YES I DO! I am I teacher which means that I am a powerful influence in the life of kids. What I want my kids to do is become life-long EXCITED learners who can learn on their own about the things they are curious about. 

Choice, to me, implies inquiry based learning. I know that many of my peers in secondary education out there think that they have too many students to be able to do this with. Well, I don’t believe them. I truly think that even if I see 130 students a day, that I can stay abreast of what the kids are inquiring about. Am I encouraging a free-for-all throw my hands in the air style of teaching? Not at all. But I see my role of teacher more as that of a Sherpa or guide. If I allow my students time to pursue their passions and have choice in what they learn and how they learn it, then I am helping them to become better learners and we can begin to have a different type of discussion. A discussion about how to learn versus you have to learn this and I’m the expert on this.

A Room Full of Experts

Many of the students we see every day know things that surprise us, or surprise us that shouldn’t surprise us. Our students are experts on something they are passionate about. I consider myself an expert teacher and an expert on pedagogy and coaching. Am I an expert on video games? No, but I know I have students that have studied video games and by high school have developed more expertise than I have. Every year I have at least one girl who loves horses, owns a horse, and knows everything about horses. I am not a horse person. I see horses as hay burners and accidents waiting to happen. From whom would you rather learn about horses? Some of my former student’s passions include; programming, skateboarding, medieval literature and fashion, raising and showing Belted Galloways (cows that are black with a white belt around the middle), dirt bikes, ham radio, civil air patrol, military history, computer history, Harry Potter, LEGOS, art, baseball, the Salem Witch Trials, Samuel Adams, Civil War reenactment, fishing, hunting, and the list goes on. I have seen kids in the news lately that have found a way for the government to save hundreds of millions of dollars by switching to a different font type, to students having an impact on cancer research, and some teens who attended a start-up weekend and pitched solid ideas to venture capitalists and their only qualm was that they would have liked coffee to have been served!

If we let them, kids will enjoy learning and do wondrous things.