Category Archives: Edtech

Flopping the Classroom

flickr photo shared by volker-kannacher under a Creative Commons (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

I can still remember my first blended learning class experience.

It must have been 2002 or 2003, and I was taking early coursework toward a Ph.D. in Information Science at University at Albany. My professor, Dr. Tom Mackey, had the students do a short reading outside of class and write a public blog post as a response to a question about the reading (Note: he also provided a rubric for the post). This was due at 5pm the day before the class. Then, we would have to read at least three other student blog posts and comment on two of them.  The comment could extend the idea or could be a question, but it always began with a positive statement and ended with a positive statement (A comment sandwich?). This method was great for getting comfortable with online collaboration and supporting each other, while practicing digital literacy skill and etiquette. As a student-centered method of collaboration, we all learned from each other and improved as we became more and more comfortable with our online writing and interactions.

The next day we would all come to class. That is where the real magic happened.

Imagine having a class where everyone in the class had already thought deeply about the reading, prepared written, public opinions or statements, and had considered some of the thoughts of others in the classroom and commented on them. Everyone in the class came prepared for discussion, but more importantly, had already engaged in critical thinking and reflection. It was impressive how the work we had done online in the public blogs now was benefiting the in-class learning, and making the entire class experience better.

These in-class discussions were some of the most enjoyable of my college career. Dr. Mackey facilitated thoughtful discussions and created a respectful environment where the students were prepared and eager to contribute.

I never really knew what to call this method of teaching and engagement in the classroom. Years later I would hear it called “blended learning”, but that didn’t really capture it. It seemed like it was more than just blogging. It was purposeful and utilized the technology of the day to enhance pedagogy and dialogue, in a very real way.

Flopping the Class?
Yesterday, I came across Derek Bruff’s post on Flipping the Literature Class. His post reminded me of my experience. I then saw Kyle Bowen’s comments on Twitter mentioning that maybe what was happening could be called a flop, in reference to some of the in class activities mentioned in Derek Bruff’s post and a play on flipping the classroom. I was curious about what a classroom flop could mean, so I looked up some definitions of flopping. One of these had to do with jumping over a fence. I liked the metaphor, so I ran with it.  I could see flopping as bringing some aspect of the course and making it public, or hopping the fence of the traditional classroom to bring some discussions/writing/commenting out onto the open web. The experience that I highlighted above would be an example of flopping the classroom. Based on my experience, I believe that deliberate activities like this can help students develop key digital literacies around public scholarship, digital identity, and digital citizenship in addition to enhancing the in-class discussion.

Public Scholarship
Sharing your thoughts and comments in a public sphere is different from sharing comments within a learning management system discussion or private blog. In one, your audience is the teacher and the class, and in the other, the audience is the world. In this way, you are engaging in public scholarship. By bringing your thoughts to the open web, there is the opportunity for the public to engage in the conversation in addition to your classmates. While in practice, public comments may not happen very often, I have seen this public scholarship be very effective in courses that actively include the class but also have an additional group of folks following along online (one example is DS106). There is an opportunity for other faculty to participate in the courses as well, by commenting on the student posts, especially if a course is team taught. Overall, the collaborative opportunities are greatly enhanced by making things public.

Digital Identity
Another aspect of this type of public scholarship is that these interactions become part of your digital identity that you actively create. The more you write and share online, the more comfortable you become with your writing and your online interactions. These are important digital literacy skills. By curating your own professional interactions online, you build the body of work that people searching for you online will find. As students practice adding their reflections online, and positively commenting on others thoughts, they build a professional representation of themselves interacting online.

Digital Citizenship
Finally, a digital literacy that can be developed in writing online is what I like to think of as digital citizenship. It involves giving other people credit for their writing and ideas through hyperlinks, and also gets students thinking about the appropriate use of images and copyright. Teaching students where they can find Creative Commons images, knowing and understanding usage rights, and learning how to appropriately give the photographers or artists credit for those images (I like Alan Levine’s flickr cc attribution helper  used above) are useful digital literacy skills. Learning these skills can help students understand the greater digital ecosystem and how to act responsibly with digital content.

In applying the flopping analogy, you are hopping the fence of the classroom and entering your thoughts into a public sphere, where all of these digital literacies can be modeled, taught, developed, and practiced. This was what we did back in 2002/2003, and in my experience it led to a transformative educational experience.

How can we as educators help to improve learning inside and out of the classroom, inspire engaging classroom dialogue, while also guiding students to curating their own digital identity?

Based on my personal experience, “flopping the classroom” could be part of the answer.

Credits: Thanks to Aaron Kendall and Neale Donovan for their feedback on this post.

Everything I need to know in life I learned at Games in Education 2013


With some serendipity and luck earlier this week, forces aligned for me to attend Games In Education 2013, a multi-day conference focusing on the intersection of games and learning. What helped was that it was being held in my backyard, Malta, NY, at the beautiful HVCC TEC-SMART campus. Additionally, a great slew of sponsors helped make it happen, including Tech Valley High School, Capital Region BOCES, 1st Playable, WMHT, Pastime Legends, and Microsoft. And yes, there was a free lunch in this game.

I was impressed by the well thought out conference program and the amazing volunteers. Whenever I had a question there was someone there to help. Shout out to 1st Playable who had a slew of summer interns helping out, many of which are attending the RIT games and media program. I interacted with a couple of them and they were great.

Here are my Top 6 Life Learning Lessons from Games in Education 2013

1. Walk a mile in anothers’ shoes to understand them. To truly understand someone, you need to experience what they experience. So, to understand our kids, we need to go where kids are to relate to their world. This was stated in Lucas Gillespie’s keynote, and it really struck home for me. This is great advice for teachers, but also for parents. If you are along side your child experiencing it with them, when they get stuck they will turn to you for help. If you aren’t there, you miss out on this opportunity. This leads in perfectly to my next point.

2. Jump in, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in admitting that you are new in a space, and by acknowledging this, you open yourself up to the opportunity of mentorship (even if that mentor is a fifth grader.) As teachers and parents, it’s ok to be vulnerable and let others see that you may not always have the answers. Thanks to Seann Dikkers for helping to make this point. So, the natural next question is where to start. Some suggestions from the Day 1 keynote were MinecraftKerbal Space Program, WoW, GuildWars, Portal2, Civilization V, and SimCity4.

3. Learning is about the journey, not the destination. This directly relates to a theme in education that I have been hearing more and more about, BADGES. I’ve heard people talk about “badifying education” and “gamification.” We must not lose sight of the most important thing, the actual learning experience and the opportunities for connecting with others as we learn. Badges are not a golden ticket that will make everything better. If you think badges can make poor educational content palatable to students, think again. Badges on a poorly designed learning experience may make it even worse. Focus on great content and learning activities, and only add badges to make this great content even more fun. Badges will only motivate if used properly, and we can learn a lot about motivation from what has been done in video game research. It’s clear that Kevin Miklasz has done some great thinking about badges and education and is inspiring great science activities at the curiousity machine.

4. Failure is your friend. The idea of failure came up multiple times in the conference. In the first context, it had to do with jumping in to new games. Failing is OK for learning a new environment, in fact, it is healthy and can be a motivator to do better the next time.

We need safe environments for failure for today’s students, where they can have the ability to learn from their mistakes and try again. Customizing learning environments and challenging students in a safe space can allow for new kinds of growth opportunities.

“Fail early, fail often” may be a mantra for rapid learning. So jump in, and don’t be afraid to fail. Learn from it and improve the next time.

5. We live in the most extraordinary time for learning. Be a leader. Lead kids by showing them how to use computers to learn, create, make and play. Not all screentime is bad. When you use a computer to learn how to fix something, program a robot to dance, or create a new video game, you are learning real skills. Teachers can even learn from other teachers! Even social skills can be developed in team-based video games and in using technology for collaboration. It’s not about the screen, but how you use the screen. Teachers and parents need to become aware of amazing resources for inspiring creativity, imagination, and programming. Erynn Petersen shared some of her wisdom as she finds just the right formula for introducing coding to kids in rural America through her project, Station082.

6. Find meaning in what you are doing. While this takeaway stirred some folks at the day 2 keynote, and it resonated with me. If you find personal meaning in what you doing, then you should continue doing it. If you don’t, you might want to consider something else. How much time each day are you spending on things that are meaningful to you? Can you up that percentage tomorrow? Business coach Marshall Goldsmith challenges everyone to help define their own definitions of personal meaning.

Finally, I just wanted to list a few more of the resources that were shared.
Ingress (Android only)
SimCity for FutureCity Competition
Mission US – History Through Interactive Gaming
Vital NY Resources
Ready Player One, Cline
Brain Based Learning, Jensen
Brain Rules, Medina
Ender’s Game
Ender’s Game (Nov. 2013)
Minority Report
Leap Motion
XBox One
NAO Robot
Game Development/Introductory Programming:
Code Maven and Code Monster

What did I miss at Games in Education 2013? Let me know in the comments.

ELI 2013 Analytics: Learning From Our Connections

Top 25 Words Used In Tweets in the Final Days of ELI 2013

In this post I am using Twitter analytics to learn about the major themes, discussions, and resources which emerged at the Educause Learning Initiative Annual Meeting held in Denver, CO, Feb. 4-6, 2013.

First of all, I did not attend ELI 2013. I was on the sidelines, watching from afar as the presentations happened, the conversations were had, and folks were discussing the state of teaching and learning today.

I feel privileged to have technology today, such as the Internet and Twitter, to be able to “listen” in from the outside as people become inspired to share publicly online. I did this primarily by following the hashtag #eli2013 on my computer as I sat in my office in Upstate NY as the conference unfolded. As I monitored the “real-time” Internet I caught glimpses of what was going on in the moments I sat and paid attention to it.

This blog summary is to force myself to try to grasp the major themes and resources using some analytics generated for free using the tool TweetArchivist, and to think and reflect on these findings.

MOOCS are here

First of all, it is fairly clear that the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) were the main theme of the online conversation. Out of 25 top words gleaned from Tweets in the final days of #ELI2013, 4 of the words were MOOC-related. One of the curious terms I was interested in is “MOOCMAP.” Upon further exploration, this was a session at ELI which was titled “Roadmap to Launching A MOOC, Collaborating Across Units, Rethinking Faculty and Technology Services.” This session was put on by Cassandra Volpe Horii and Leslie Maxfield.

Andy Salterelli shared a nice blog post on key points to consider when launching MOOCs.

Rounding out the top 10 were some other key trends. Learning was by far the most used word, and rightly so (it’s also in the conference title). Yet, in the context of MOOC’s, learning is more student driven and self-directed, possibly signaling a shift toward personal responsibility for one’s own learning. Students and faculty are also included in the top 10.

Online, Mobile, and Badges were other topics of conversation. Online learning is still an active trend, as is mobile, and they have been for years. The badge conversation, in my view, is a relatively new one. Let’s explore that.

Experimenting With Badges

In doing some research, it seems that the conference was actively experimenting with badges for this conference. Here’s the “7 things you should know about” on badges”. I see this as a very proactive move on behalf of the ELI conference committee to build awareness of badges by using them at their conference. I had not heard of credly before this conference, the service used to manage the badges. The badge conversation in higher ed should be one to watch this year. There must be a potential NITLE prediction market question about badges we can come up with to track these developments.

Top 25 URL's Referenced at ELI 2013

Next we can look at some of the top URL’s referenced at ELI. I personally find it fascinating to see the two “maker” community referenced links. Maker, to me, is a shift back to creating physical things, using our hands, tools, and technology. This certainly bucks the powerful online MOOC trend at the conference. I’ve been aware of Makerfaire for a couple years, but I had never seen a clear connection to higher ed. Does this movement have legs in higher education?

What does Maker mean in the context of technology and learning? To me, the eloquent Audrey Watters may have been taking a contrarian off-line stance as a reaction to online MOOC fever. I can see a profound back-to-basics interest in college students these days, with interests in farming, sustainability, building, and this is right in line with the Maker movement. Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of a paradigm shift toward pragmatism in higher ed, and John Dewey would likely approve of the Maker movement being brought into this conversation. Or, perhaps, the Maker movement is right in line with MOOCs, as they are both examples of self motivated learning…just in different mediums.

Truly Amazing Resources, App Finder, EBook Roadmap, Etc.

As far as some of the other noteable links, one was an amazing roadmap to ebook publishing by Edward R. O’neill. A great App Finder website by the Tenessee Board of Regents is worth a try next time your are looking for an app. Kyle D. Bowen shared some presentation graphics at Another popular link was for the ELI public webcasts, so you can catch up on a session that you missed from the comfort of your own computer. Additionally, a Gallup/Lumina Foundation Poll that calls for a Need to Redesign Higher Education may be worth checking out. There was some mobile gaming, with a very interesting storytelling platform called ArisGames. (I’ll be checking this one out.)

Interestingly, the first resource with a MOOC focus is Derek Bruff’s article on starting a Coursera Initative at Vanderbilt, valuable reading if you are considering a digital learning initiative. There’s an article from 2006 on how Second Life is the future, and a new book on social media for educators by Tanya Joosten. Stanford has a website that looks to be a hub for discussing education’s digital future. Mikah Jenae on her blog has a Digital Storytelling Toolbox and outlines the tools available for telling different types of stories online. There is a link to a study on how students are using digital learning resources in their learning. Here is the Educause Social Media Constituent Group if you want to join. InBloom looks to be a learning analytics solution sponsored by Gates/Carnegie foundations which seems to be an initiative worth following. Finally, nextgenlearning hopes to transform education by connecting innovators, innovations, and funding.

Top Twitter Users Mentioned at ELI 2013


To conclude, just a note on the people sharing the conference online. While MOOC’s was a theme, the Maker movement popular, and the experiment with the badges novel, at the end of the day it is about personal connections. The above list of folks, and everyone else sharing and conversing online, made this post possible. If you are looking for a great group of open, sharing individuals to connect with, I suggest starting with the folks listed above.

It is clear to me that ELI 2013 serves as a valuable venue for ideas and connections in teaching and learning, and even adds to the conversation by enhancing the in person experience (badges, webcasts, etc.) Thanks to all of you who presented and shared, and to ELI 2013 for creating the opportunity for them to do that. I am deeply grateful for all of this online content, and I look forward to catching up on the sessions online.


UPDATE: I took everyone from the top mentions in the graphic above, and I created a twitter list called Online Leaders #ELI2013. If you have a Twitter account, you can subscribe to this list. One stop shopping! I also created a sweet online newspaper using The Tweeted Times for one stop shopping that will take the most mentioned articles from the list above and promote the top ones, daily. Check it out. 🙂