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.

Is School Really a Game?

I have sometimes heard life referred to as a game. Well, there actually is the game called LIFE. I’ve heard people say they’re gaming the system, jumping through hoops, she’s playing the field, if you play your cards right, make sure you have all your bases covered, he’s a real winner/loser. Life is filled with game references, or is it that games are full of life? 

GameLife      I often wonder if school is a game? According to Dr. Jane McGonigal, in her seminal book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World, all games essentially have four main components: “a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation.” Many other bloggers have written posts about the components of games, but I want to point out that these game components are with us throughout life’s different stages.

School is a Game

Have you played the game of school? Now I don’t mean pretending to be a teacher in the basement with your friends type of game. I would argue that school is a game we all played or are playing. Are you skeptical? Ready to stop reading because this seems ludicrous? DON’T!

Reality is Broken

Think about it for a minute. The goal of school is to graduate. I know this is simplistic, but ask any senior right now, and they just want it to end. We have rules in school. Classroom rules, school rules, playground rules, writing rules, math rules (even rulers here). Rules, rules, rules! Most schools have a feedback system called grades. Oftentimes these grades represent A, Excellent; B, Above Average; C, Average; D, Below Average; and F, Failing. Speaking of failing, I would posit that one of the problems with the game of school is that of voluntary participation. Many kids simply would not choose to go to school if they were given the choice. So, school has all the main components of a game, but it’s not a very good game.

I am sure that you can find the four components of games in other life endeavors. What changes would you make to the game of school to make it a game that all students want to play?

Are Teachers and Admins Ready for Change?

Some of you might be wondering why I might be frustrated and writing a blog post about it? I know, it’s a bit of a risk, but hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do. It is what it is. Take it or leave it. I am frustrated over a game, the interview game. My most basic needs are not being met and it is frustrating. I am, by calling, a teacher. Add to that the fact that I’m certified in secondary social studies and many of you right now are rolling your eyes and saying to yourself, “good luck man, you’re never going to find a place in this economy, or social studies teachers never leave, or you’re way too intimidating for my likes.” And you will stop reading now. You have no interest in me as a person, what my interests are, how I can engage kids, and that I learn and adapt. Would you ever think of treating your students that way? I am and ever will be a teacher of students. Who ever ends up hiring me is going to find me to be the kind of person that never gives up on kids. You will find out that I truly believe my role as teacher is to serve my students as a guide directing them to ask questions and to follow their passion. That the true goal in education is to help kids sustain a love of learning and to remain curious about the world around them. If we can do those two things for kids, then they will learn all kinds of content along the way, whenever they need to know something they will find out.

To be quite honest, many teachers and administrators out in the world are playing the status quo game. A game of don’t rock the boat, don’t upset the turnip cart, don’t cause waves. I used to know a teacher who would pull out his master copies of worksheets from ten years ago and on the first day of teacher in-service, before kids came to school, would have the copies run and the whole first unit or two would be ready for him and his students on the first day of school. Is this really the game that many administrators and teachers play EVERY year? Unfortunately for our kids, you know that the answer to the question is yes. And, another year rolls by. When are the majority of teachers and administrators going to finally stand up and state, “I put students first,”

Used with permission.

with conviction and honesty?


Am I perfect? Far from it. Do I know what I’m doing? Not all of the time. Do I know how to build knowledge about topics that are interesting? Yeah, that would be true. I will let you in on a little secret, I know how to LEARN. Since January of this year, I have learned about game based learning and gamification. These are two powerful ways to engage students in any classroom and if I have questions about the research or about certain aspects of using either in my classroom, I know the experts who I can turn to for help. Some of those experts are nearby and others are on the other side of the globe, but I know who they are. I even made a proposal and presented on the topic of gamification at the Iowa 1:1 Institute and at three EdCamps.

If you have made it this far and you do not know what an EdCamp is then please read these articles:10 Myths About Edcamp, It Made Me Tweetless, and EdCamps: What Could I Possibly Learn?.

Since January of this year I have been involved in free professional development via twitter chats. IT’S FREE professional development folks. If you’re serious about adding relationships and knowledge of educational pedagogy to your talents, then you must learn how to engage in the use of social media. I have included the articles, Twitter and Educational Chats  and Twitter EDU.  I have met people from all over the world via twitter chats, Google Hangouts, and other social media sites. I get my education news delivered to my Feedly reader, tumbler blog, rebel mouse blog, reddit, FlipBoard and Zite. 24/7 learning anytime anywhere is the norm now. How many of you are being left behind professionally because you fear social media? You have to build your digital footprint, check it, nurture it, and be sure that you believe in every word you put out there. Oh, and you need to be a risk taker. You need to be okay with trying and failing. If you are perfect right out of the gate, I’d like to sit down and talk with you. Send me an E-mail.

I have learned about the benefits of and co-presented about 3PBL (Project/Passion/Problem) Based Learning. Got a question? Want to know something? Want to help other people? Ask the right questions and work toward learning, helping, growing. I am also learning about electronics and the maker movement. Why? Because, I’m interested and I know that kids like to build things. I also know that this is a great time to be involved in education. We are on the cusp of greatness, testing new waters and finding out what is best for kids. Let me give you a scenario. Not too long ago, I ran across a student teacher who was running classes on her own. She was contemplating what to do with her students the next day because class time had been extended from 40 minutes to 65 minutes. The first thing out of her mouth was, “I don’t know what I should do? I can’t lecture to the kids for 65 minutes, I mean it’s bad enough when I do it for 35 minutes, but 65 minutes is crazy. Maybe I can find a good documentary for them to watch?” WOW! It’s 2014 and the student teacher and the university that she attends have not figured out that even with high school social studies students even 35 minutes of lecture is crazy? I’m a substitute teacher in a couple western Wisconsin school districts and worksheets, lecture, note taking, and power points are the best that most teachers can come up with! Unbelievable, but honest to God truth. 

Administrators, you must start shaking the trees or your students will suffer and not be prepared for a future of uncertainty and change. I say this to everyone who will listen, we must quit worrying about content. We must start helping students learn how to learn and how to adapt to an ever changing world. If you truly believe that your content will be remembered ten or twenty years down the road, you are fooling yourself. The jobs that sixth graders might have twenty years down the road are going to be vastly different than those we know about today, many of them haven’t even come into being yet. But, if a kid knows how to learn and adapt, then they will be ready for life-long learning and solving the problems that the future holds. 

Now this is very important everyone, do you want to continue to be part of the problem or part of the solution? There are pockets of teachers and administrators in the world who are working to change education by putting students first. I am very fortunate to be one of those teachers. I have a vision, passion, and excitement for what is possible for our kids to do. Our kids can do great things if their teachers and administrators are willing to take a risk, step back from center stage, and let the kids lead through inquiry. I know, that’s very scary to many of you, but step back and watch. Kids can do amazing things if teachers and administrators would just get out of the way and help them learn how to learn. The game of life or school doesn’t need to be boring drudgery, drill and kill, lecture and worksheet packets. Learning and life should be joy filled and exciting, like a good adventure.