Archive for Digital Media Course

Building Our Values and Mission: Minecraft Design Challenge

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This quarter, I’ve been using Minecraft in Digital Media. For this project, I wanted to give them a design challenge related to the mission and values of our school. Their presentation is below, and if you have a chance to watch it and leave feedback, we would appreciate it!

Design Challenge: Create a world in Minecraft which reflects U Prep’s Mission Statement and Values.

To begin with, the students had to unpack both the Mission Statement (“University Prep is committed to developing each student’s potential to become an intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizen of the world.”) and Values (“University Prep believes that integrity, respect, and responsibility are essential to accomplish its mission and to sustain its vision.”) From there, they brainstormed what kinds of things could be built into Minecraft that would communicate, further or demonstrate those values both for themselves as well as other players who might join their world.

After the mindmap, they did two rounds of prototyping: first drawing a map of their own proposed world, then having to assemble all of them as a class into a physical prototype in our Maker Space. After that, they went to their in-world build. Finally, they presented their work for some of our staff and faculty for feedback. Their presentation is below (~8:00, direct link to slides). If you watch the video, please take a moment and leave feedback for the students on their feedback form. Thanks!

At the end,

When the LMS Won’t Budge: Project Management and PBL

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In many ways, a robust LMS is a boon to Project-Based Learning. Many limiters or barriers to PBL center around a teacher having to multitask management of groups needing different resources and support at varying points in time. By shifting many of the resource and check-in steps to an asynchronous/blended model, we can eliminate some of the friction points where multiple groups are vying for attention or need direct intervention. A teacher can load resources and materials into the LMS, for example, which groups can access at the appropriate time. The use of discussion threads and electronic submission can let groups work at their own pace and check-in at major stages as they reach them, while still having some unifying process that each group follows so that the teacher can keep up.

Where the LMS model breaks down for group project management is once groups leave the central “everybody must” stages. Do all groups have the same steps to their project? Should they? If all projects in a class are “on the same rails,” arriving at the same tasks in the same order (albeit at different times), what does this reveal about the degree of student planning and design in the project? From another perspective, if we want students to generate their own project design (with support, of course), and we allow enough freedom in the PBL design for students to envision an authentic outcome, won’t each group come up with a different task list? Here the LMS fails us– while many LMS’s (including Schoology, which we use) allow you to direct assignments to individuals or groups, this is a huge amount of work for teachers to enter an entire class’ worth of project groups and deadlines. To truly reflect a diverse Project-Based environment, we need a better scheduling/task management tool.

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Reflective Journaling in Schoology with Discussion Threads

Turning on the "Individually Assign" icon opens up the "Assign to:" box.

Reflection is a crucial element of many modern pedagogical systems. Whether explicitly stated, as by Dewey, or implicitly embedded as part of a process in systems such as Design Thinking and PBL, modern pedagogies place a high importance on the ability for students to self-assess and build metacognition through reflection. I use a variety of reflective activities in my classes, and often they are built-in to a project design cycle. Aside from these more task-oriented reflections, I have students run a reflective journal that is more free-form. I will often ask them prompts which I hope strike a balance between being guided towards critical thinking while being open-ended enough to encourage personal, not formulaic, response. My staple, borrowed from a mentor early in my career, is the every-Friday “What Did You Learn This Week?” (and added to by another, “…and How Did You Learn It?”).

When I started with weekly or daily reflections, I would have students write a couple of sentences on scraps of recycled paper and hand them in. This was relatively quick to set up, although reading those scraps was a) hard to manage and b) somewhat unsatisfying in its closed nature: I could not ask a student to expand an idea or give more context or information. Especially with Friday reflections, I would have to remember to circle back to a student on Monday to ask more, at which point we both may have lost the context or even the original idea.

I’ve developed some guidelines to use online tools for reflection, and now use the discussion threads in Schoology (our LMS) as my basic reflective tool, and am very happy with the system I’ve concocted. Here are my guidelines on the reflective writing setup that I use, and how to build it within Schoology.

Some Guidelines

While different situations may call for differing types of reflection, I default to some basic conditions. Standard reflective activities in my classes are:

  • Private between student and teacher. Reflection is primarily an introspective activity, and students should be able to critically discuss failures and “what went wrong” as well as what went right. Especially early-on as students are learning to reflect critically, this should be visible to the teacher, but not to other students.
  • Able to start conversation/prompt follow-ups. If reflection is a skill to be developed, then giving feedback and asking follow-up questions is an important component of the teacher’s role in reflection.
  • Not graded/assessed. Reflective writing is often free-form and encourages brainstorming. I don’t want these to be assessed activities (although there are cases where I will assess larger, more structured reflection/self-assessment).
  • Chronological/Archived. Students should be able to see past reflections to identify trends and common occurrences, or to remark upon growth.
  • Contextual. Students should be able to connect reflective writing directly to learning activities or resources.

Building the Reflective Journal in Schoology

Using the Discussion tool, we can build individual discussion threads for each student that accomplish these priorities. Since activities in Schoology can be individually assigned to groups or individuals, I can create a discussion thread for each student, which only they will see. I will be able to see all of them, and quickly flip through to look at each student’s work. In addition, since it’s a discussion thread, I can ask follow-up questions, post comments, or even ask students to go back and comment upon past reflections as part of portfolio-building or end-of-unit wrap-ups.

First, I create folder called “Your Reflective Journal” (since students will only end up seeing theirs, I keep it singular).

journalfolder

In the folder, I create discussion threads for each student and title them with the student’s name (e.g. “Journal: Jeff”). When creating the discussion, I choose the Individually Assign option to bring up the “Assign To:” box.

Turning on the "Individually Assign" icon opens up the "Assign to:" box.

Turning on the “Individually Assign” icon opens up the “Assign to:” box.

I can assign the discussion directly to that student. Since the discussions are hypertext, students can embed files or links directly into their reflections. Sometimes our prompts are specific enough to expect an attachment or link, and sometimes students will do that in response to a more general prompt.

When it’s time to read through and see what students have posted, it’s fairly easy and quick to scroll through many in sequence. I open up the first journal in my folder, and skim through. I won’t always post comments or questions (although I do try to comment more in the beginning as we’re learning the skills of reflective writing). To move to the next journal in the folder, I use the “Next” button in the upper-right. While many people miss this navigation button, it makes it very easy for me to flip through my class.

Many people miss this! Go to the next item in your folder, in this case, the next journal thread.

Many people miss this! Go to the next item in your folder, in this case, the next journal thread.

While I haven’t done this in the past, I could go into Course Analytics at the end of a defined period and look at the relative participation levels of each student within their journals by looking at the number of posts. While I don’t assess these outright, using that data could be part of an individual conversation with students who are not participating.

Why Not a Blog?

Students (and all users) can have a blog within Schoology as part of their user account, and blogging is a common platform for reflective writing. As I listed in my priorities, though, I want these activities to be primarily private at this point. Our school settings are such that a student’s user blog can be read by other internal users, and that’s consistent with how I envision the Schoology blog feature being used: to write (perhaps reflectively) for an audience. Blogging is part of our Digital Media course, and students will delve into Social Media as a publishing tool through other activities and structures. As I view the reflection as primarily for one’s self, though, I think that this model (private, embedded within the course) is more appropriate.

How About You?

How do you facilitate reflective journaling or writing in your courses? Do you use a different tool or structure? Would you change something about this model to make it fit your students and course? Please comment or question below!

Getting to Know Students and their Tech Interests

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(img: Raspberry Pi + Lego computer, Flickr: pikesley)

In “The Computer in School: Tutor, Tool, Tutee,” Robert Taylor viewed the computer as serving three potential roles for students: 1) a tutor, delivering instruction to students, 2) a tool, which students would use to achieve learning, and 3) a tutee, which students would instruct through programming and design activities and thus themselves implicitly “shift the focus of education in the classroom from end product to process, from acquiring facts to manipulating and understanding them.” My observation is that most of our current ed tech field focuses exclusively on the first of these roles– viewing computing as a tutor (online/blended instruction, adaptive testing, flipped class, Khan Academy, etc).

Part of the underlying philosophy of a 1:1 program is a desire to expand the use of the computer as a tool, since each student then has a computer as part of their school toolkit. This is especially true in a program such as ours where students own and administer the device, since the students can now customize and develop the tool to best fit their own needs, uses and interests (Do I remember right that in Star Wars, you had to build your own lightsaber before you could become a Jedi?). Our work embedding computer science into math and science classes, as well as our robotics and physical computing projects through our maker space, are explorations into the tutee role of computers, and using the programming as an oblique strategy towards non-computing curricular goals.

In my own Digital Media class this year, I am challenging myself to create as many tool and tutee opportunities for students as possible, so that they may understand and master a concept that I consider to be crucial to modern responsible technology usage: computers are not meant to be accepted “as is” and used off-the-shelf. Modern technology usage must involve the skills and confidence to modify and customize a piece of technology to fit each person individually. While it is quite dated now, I highly recommend reading Neal Stephenson’s “In the Beginning… Was the Command Line,” available as a free download from the author’s website for more on this concept.

Over at A Recursive Process, Dan Anderson shared an activity called “My Favorite” with his math students. The concept is to pick a favorite math topic from anything, and share it with the class. I love this idea, and am modifying it for my first day of class.

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