Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Making a Case for Interactive Fiction - Part II

After a decade long push for “proficiency” in education, the transition to college and career ready standards is quickly working through school districts across the country.  In my district, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication has become the central focus in every classroom; it is these skills that students need most to compete in the academic and business worlds they will encounter when they graduate from high school.  And in my opinion, there is no better time to turn our attention to interactive fiction. 

The majority of today’s top selling video games have some sort of multi-player component.  And in many cases, the multi-player component is the primary reason players buy the game.  Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, for example, made a billion dollars after only 16 days when it was released in late 2011. 

So what’s the draw?  Communication and collaboration!

Games like Modern Warefare 3 or World of Warcraft provide players with opportunities to communicate and collaborate in an environment that is unlike the one they live in every day.  Players can communicate and collaborate with other players from around the world to carry out objectives and reach goals. The players are forced to use clear communication skills in order to sustain team objectives and initiatives.  (In my world this sounds like a professional learning community!)

In the end, it is these types of communication and collaboration skills that colleges and businesses are expecting our students to know...and video games are teaching them!

While one argument against interactive fiction is that it limits the creative capacity of the players because the world is already created for him/her, games like Minecraft give players an unlimited amount of resources to create a brand new world.  

Minecraft allows players to create items and objects to use in the game world with only the resources that they can harvest in the game.  As many RPG games allow players to craft items, Minecraft provides players with an opportunity to truly stretch the limits or their creativity to populate a new world.
Similar arguments can be made for the multi-player components of games like Halo: Reach.  In many of these types of games, players can create maps for use in multi-player games.  With trial and error, players create maps that are both challenging and enjoyable and stretch the limits of their creativity.

Critical Thinking
There are many times that I sit down to play a game to simply allow myself to be immersed in a new world.  However, there are other times when I sit down to play a game and want to think critically.  With games like Portal 2, Myst, or World of Goo, I get the opportunity to think deeply about how to solve difficult puzzles and problems.  

These games give players a chance to solve difficult puzzles and problems within the confines of the game world.  While there may be more than one way to solve the problem, players use trial and error to find a solution that works to advance to the next level.  This type of critical thinking, along with immersive interaction, is what keeps players engrossed in these types of games.  

With all this said, it's time that we meet our students where they are.  We know they go home at night and play video games.  Let's begin to use their knowledge of interactive fiction to teach collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.  It's time to start making the case for interactive fiction! 

Questions Matter More

Attribution Some rights reserved by Stephen Brace
by Sean Wheeler

Currently, education is an answer-based culture.  We do all kinds of things with student answers.  We measure them, we grade them, we cross them out, we comment on them, we graph them, chart them, mine them, sort them, and report them.  We also use these answers to measure our effectiveness, our failures, and our growth as teachers.  Districts use the answers to allocate funds, make curricular decisions, and build a successful staff.  Politicians use them to set policy, budget, and law.  Parents use the answers everywhere from deciding where to live to whether or not their son or daughter is grounded on the weekend.  And probably most importantly, students use them as a measurement of their potential and worth.  An answer-based culture makes a whole lot out of what it sees under a very small microscope.  There are questions involved, of course, but they are questions we ask of the data not the people who gave the answers in the first place.

However, the internet is made for questions.  The whole reason that Google exists is because people open their browser with a question in mind.  While Yahoo! Answers might do what the name implies, it's the questions that are asked in the first place that matter most. Wikipedia has revolutionized our ability to easily access answers (much to the chagrin of answer-based teachers), but it wouldn't exist if weren't fueled by questions. And feedback, which is a conversation based on the question, "How are we doing at what we say we're doing", is quickly becoming the most valuable asset for businesses and organizations that seek to improve their customer satisfaction by carefully listening to the answers and suggestions their customers provide them.

We want to tap into that question mindset, replicate it within our students, and then hold conversations about the answers we find.  The value of asking great questions is on the rise and if we aren't teaching our students this skill, even though it's hard to measure, we are surely doing them a great disservice. Asking a question comes from within, while too many of our students are led into answers due to some extrinsic motivator (points, tests, etc.). Exploration starts with a question every time. "How Did School Do?" is as much an exploration as it is a destination. We honestly don't know what people are going to say in their feedback videos, and it is precisely this reason that makes this a valuable learning opportunity for our students.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"How Did School Do?" - Here We Go!

by Sean Wheeler

“How Did School Do?” : A Social-Media Qualitative Research Project Designed to Acquire Feedback on the Relevance of Our Education Systems

Currently, we judge the effectiveness of our education system by endlessly measuring the progress of our current pool of students.  But as suggested in Shelley Blake-Plock’s article, If School is Not Relevant, this need not be the only way we can measure the relevance of the education that we provide.

Imagine if schools were judged not by how well students achieved while they were in school, but in how well they achieved once they left. If schools saw their worth not in how many kids got accepted to college, but in how many kids went on to live meaningful and engaged lives and who would point back to their school years as the point of relevancy that was the foundation of it all.”  

The “How Did School Do?” Project  seeks to solicit and gather feedback from post-k12 adults via a social media call for video responses.  The respondents are invited to participate by uploading a 3-5 minute video to their own Youtube channel that answers the question, “How well did your K-12 education prepare you for your life?”.

This project is being launched via a wide-variety of social and traditional media formats, with the aim of collecting the largest pool of feedback on education’s relevance ever.  The pool of videos will be openly available for viewing, independent research, and analysis by communities and schools.  The project will also serve as a significant contribution to ongoing discussions about school relevance and effectiveness.

Research will be conducted from a post-positivistic stance, as will be appropriate due to the nature of video collections and the subjects themselves.  Dr. Sharon Kruse, of The University of Akron, has agreed to partner with us in coding the research and developing methods to sift through the data.  Another key aspect of creating this pool of videos will be the ability of independent researchers and commentators to use the information contained in the videos for their own research purposes.  This is a significant step towards social-media driven research, and the possibilities of such a pool of data seem numerous.  Lakewood High School students will use this data to develop research questions of their own, and to analyze various aspects of the research.

While much of our work will be shared on TeachPaperless, this blog will focus more directly on our students and how they navigate the project and begin conducting their research. We'd love to hear from all of you both in your video and in comments and conversations via our numerous social media venues. Please follow @teachinghumans on Twitter, and feel free to email us at We welcome your input, partnership, and help in spreading the word about the project. 

Please visit and lend your voice to this important opportunity to be heard.