January 1, 2014
Teachers Talk - Some Recent Findings, Musings and Questions?
Colin Hill, SDACC TDEC Representative & Director of Computer Services, Canadian University College, Lacombe, AB

Rather than having a single topic to write on for this month’s technology column, I thought I would just share some thoughts and questions that I have had over the past few weeks. 
 
I am sure you have all heard of Google Glass, the technology Google is now preparing for release to the masses that places a computer, complete with a display screen, in a set of eyeglasses. One of the sessions I attended at this year’s Educause conference was presented by a person who was participating in the beta testing of this product, and I was able to see the technology in action. By observing how technology is evolving, it should be no surprise that in a few months some kid will show up in your class with an Internet enabled computer worn on their face.
 
At first, it may seem like any other new technology, and you may create new rules to deal with it. I remember the dilemma over having calculators in the exam room. First, they were banned, then allowed. Then programmable calculators and ones with graphing ability came along, and the rules were changed again; at first they were banned, and then allowed with the specifications that only certain functions or models were allowed.  And I imagine the same reaction will now happen with the introduction of Google Glass.  Will it be allowed in a classroom or test?  How can you allow a student to have unlimited access to the Internet in an exam? 
You may be able to ban the wearing of the first generation of Google Glass, but one thing that this presenter related is that Google is now working with regular eyeglass manufacturers to incorporate the Glass technology right into the mainstream frames they are producing.  So, will you be able to tell a student that they are not allowed to wear their prescription glasses in your exam? With some of the other wearable technology soon to be released in clothing and other personal items, how are you going to be able to detect and control the access to these?  It seems to me that the solution can not be in the rules we may make to control and limit access, but in changing the way we teach and test.  For better or worse, I don’t think we have much choice.
 
A couple recent studies have broken new ground in showing that the use of mobile computing devices (tablets) have made a significant positive impact on learning in a variety of classroom settings.  This is worth noting because most recent studies have concluded that there was “no significant difference” between classrooms with heavy technology use and those without. Students were followed for a year, and were allowed to take the devices home, and were provided with Internet access on and off school grounds.
These studies found that students did not engage in "bad behaviors" as a result of having access to mobile devices at home, as some may have expected. Are we now finally entering the era where the technology has evolved to the point where the promises we have all heard are finally becoming reality? Or will these studies be shot down by a future ones that uphold the “no significant difference” sentiment? Either way, one thing we cannot deny is that change is happening faster and that rate will not slow down. Teachers must be increasingly open to adapting their methods. And with some ammunition like these studies to back up the advantages of their use, mobile devices are here to stay, at least until they are replaced by the next wave of whatever it is.
 
One of the adaptations I have learned about in a recent CBC radio interview involves the use of gaming in the classroom. For years, there have been very positive advances in game theory and the use of gaming in education.  “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing” and “Sammy’s Science House” (among many others I am sure you can name)  have been staples for years.  But ClassCraft has taken the classroom and game theory to a whole new level.  Patterned after World Of WarCraft, ClassCraft does not focus on the content, but enhances any class by “increasing motivation, teamwork and classroom behavior, all while being really fun.”  Students gain various types of points (experience points (XP), hit points (HP), action points (AP) and power points (PP))  by their actions during the class. For example, if a student helps another student with homework during the class, they will gain 75 XP, or arriving late will gain 10 HP. Points can then be traded into powers, skills and weapons. For 15 AP, a student may hand in a paper one day late.  The classroom is divided into teams of 5 or 6, and then these teammates work together, each with different roles, and compete against the other teams.  It is reported that the teacher (or gamemaster) takes about 5 minutes per hour of class time to administer the game.  Shawn Young, the inventor of the game, wrote his masters thesis on the use of online platforms in high school education for the creation of a learning community.  While game participation is voluntary, he reports very positive gains in class participation, engagement and increased learning. 
 
With this particular games use of roles like Mage, Warrior, Healer, and actions like death and rebirth, spells and other such actions, I doubt that it would be found in any Adventist school, but maybe a ‘vegified’ version will be created that would be acceptable. I believe the theory is sound. Make the process engaging, personal and experiential, and the content will be better retained. Considering amount of revenue made from role-playing and computerized games, it is obvious that these techniques work, so why are we so hesitant to bring them to the classroom?  It will be interesting to follow ClassCraft and see if other variants start to make an impact on the traditional classroom. 
 
I hope I have exposed you to a couple new thoughts even if I didn’t provide any answers.  I am sure I don’t have complete answers, but that shouldn’t stop us from exploring, asking, and adapting.
 
Resources:
 
Google Glass: http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/news/google-offers-glass-developers-133098
 
Making Learning Mobile 1.0 reports::  http://www.kajeet.com/4u/education/MLM-form.html
 
ClassCraft:  http://www.cbc.ca/quebecam/eastern-townships/2013/11/20/worldofclasscraft/
                    http://classcraft.com/en/