Gaming in education: ‘We don’t need no stinking badges’

Educators and game designers say gamification is not about adding games to classes, but designing classes as games


When video game designer and writer Lee Sheldon designed a physical fitness class called “Skeleton Chase,” he didn’t ask any students to climb into a sewer drain.

Yet, one student, who saw it as the best means to attain his goal, did so, anyway. Sheldon showed a photograph of the student climbing into the tunnel to a small gathering of politicians, educators, and industry leaders May 16 on Capitol Hill. “If you get a student to do that,” he said, pointing to the photo, “you have engagement.”

Sheldon was one of a handful of game designers to speak about gaming in education as part of the launch of Excelsior College’s new Center for Game and Simulation-Based Learning.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans play video games, according to the Entertainment Software Association. Nearly 70 percent of parents of children who play video games believe that video games provide mental stimulation or education.

At Friday’s event, Sheldon stressed that gaming in education does not mean simply adding video games into a classroom.

Sheldon, an associate professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is renowned for his work in video games. He’s written and designed dozens of them, including Star Trek: Infinite Space and a series of games based on the mystery novels of Agatha Christie. He’s designed several computer games for students, including a game that teaches engineering by helping an Irish family emigrate to Mars.

But in many of his own courses, the games are decidedly low-tech, making use of basic sets and actors in place of computer graphics.

“It’s not a game added to a class,” Sheldon said. “It’s a class designed as a game.”

(Next page: Why Sheldon says digital badges are unnecessary)


How to Get the Most out of Assessments

SunGard200In this white paper, you’ll learn four reasons why performance-based tasks make excellent formative assessments; four “big ideas” about assessment; three steps to overcoming the challenges of student assessment; and more.


30 apps for educators and students

Apps can target an immense variety of educator and student needs

50-appBy now, apps have cemented their place as valuable resources for students, teachers, and administrators. But these apps go deeper, helping educators transform teaching and learning while promoting essential skills such as critical thinking and collaboration.

“There’s no one app that’s better than all the others,” said Michelle Luhtala, head librarian at New Canaan High School in Connecticut, while presenting a list of 50 apps that educators and students might find useful.

Luhtala featured apps that have been crowsourced by a handful of her colleagues and students. The apps promote and target 21st-century skills such as collaboration and creativity.

(Next page: 30+ apps for educators and students)


New STEM app seeks to combat ‘summer learning loss’

A new app aims to counter the ‘summer learning loss’ by piquing student interest in science and math and helping inform parents about STEM education

STEM-app-summer-lossNext month, students across the United States will toss aside their books for relaxation and outdoor summer activities.

However, many parents and educators are concerned that summer vacation spent away from dedicated learning leads to learning loss known as the “summer slide.”

The Wheelock College Aspire Institute may have found a unique solution.

The STEM Activity App, a new free web app specifically designed to engage families with elementary-age students in STEM activities, provides engaging experiments for parents and children to learn more about science, tech, engineer and math.

Barbara Joseph, the innovator of the STEM Activity App, is a two-time recipient of the Silvia Earl Innovation award. Joseph created the app for 3rd-6th graders to make learning math and science fun and to boost interaction between parent and child.

So how does it work?

(Next page: Using the STEM Activity App)


11 ed-tech tools emerge as SIIA Innovation Incubators

These emerging ed-tech services were recognized for their impact and potential in spring 2014


‘Mosa Mack: Science Detective’ was one of two Educators’ Choice winners.

A “discovery engine” that uses a personalized search service to help professionals find reputable online degree programs from accredited universities, and an assessment application that allows teams of instructors to grade documents online, were among the new ed-tech services recognized for their promise by the Software and Information Industry Association’s Education Division.

The SIIA’s Innovation Incubator Program identifies and supports ed-tech entrepreneurs in their development and distribution of innovative learning technologies.

The program is open to applicants from academic and nonprofit institutions, pre-revenue and early-stage companies, and established companies with newly developed technologies. Ten finalists and one alternate were recognized during the SIIA’s 2014 Education Industry Summit in San Francisco May 12-14.

Summit participants chose Ranku as the service Most Likely to Succeed. A “discovery engine” for online degrees, Ranku uses personalized search through LinkedIn and Facebook to help adults find reputable online degrees from accredited nonprofit universities that struggle to attract students.

Crowdmark was the ed-tech service judged Most Innovative. It’s a web-based application that facilitates the collaborative assessment of documents on a large scale. Crowdmark makes it easy for instructors to assemble and manage teams of qualified markers for large classes such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Two services tied as the Educators’ Choice: ClassFlow, a free software program from Promethean that facilitates collaborative teaching with technology, and Mosa Mack: Science Detective, an online library of animated science mysteries for middle school students. These inquiry-based activities are designed to empower all students, but especially underrepresented populations such as girls and minorities.

Smart Science, a series of interactive, video-based online science labs for students in grades 4-12, was voted the runner-up in the Most Likely to Succeed category. Nepris, an online platform that connects STEM teachers with industry experts in order to expose students to real job skills and role models, was the runner up as Most Innovative new ed-tech service.

Here are the other four Innovation Incubator participants:


Audio technology you don’t realize you need

Colorado school district improves hearing, listening and comprehension with innovative audio solutions

audio-technology-benefitsIf students can’t hear, they can’t learn. It’s that simple, which is why lead audiologist Dr. Donna Massine has spent the past 23 years working hard to make sure the students in the Douglas County School District (DCSD) just outside of Denver, can hear their teachers, peers and the multimedia used in the classroom.

Massine and three other audiologists support the district’s 300 students with hearing loss. They also work with principals and teachers to ensure students are able to clearly hear allowing them to fully engage in learning.

Watch how the new Lightspeed Flexcat system works:

(Next page: How students benefit from new audio systems)


12 big technologies on the education horizon

These technologies, with impacts ranging from immediate to future, have big K-12 implications

horizon-technologyMuch of technology’s potential remains untapped in today’s classrooms, but the more stakeholders know about how technology tools can transform learning, the more those technologies can truly influence education.

Larry Johnson, founder of the Horizon Project, outlined the emerging technologies that will impact education in one to five years, as included in the 2014 Horizon Report K-12 Edition, set for release this summer.

These technologies will be narrowed down to six, but those six will be revealed when the report is formally released.

(Next page: The 12 up-and-coming technologies)


3 ways to solve data and communication shortcomings

How do we collectively help schools manage all this data?

data-communications-solutionsData Security. Big Data. Personalized Data. Data Breech. We all have been inundated lately with the growing complex conversations around data management including the critical information collected in education.

One fact not to lose focus of when you pick up that publication touting the numerous perceived educational data shortcomings or fears: Schools have been in the data management business for decades.

Each year we force schools to expand their expected core competences past their traditional charge of preparing future citizens for life, further education, or entering the workforce. Schools are now psychological, pharmacological, marketing, nutritional, social and, yes, even correctional systems hubs for numerous “non-core” competence.

One of the latest and highest profile new deliverables is safe and effective management of administrative, operational and learner data. Keep in mind that over 86 percent of American schools have less than 5,000 students enrolled and many times the local data, educational technology, networking and IT management falls on the shoulder of 2-3 period a day classroom math and/or science instructor!

This lack of personnel bandwidth is probably one of the reasons for the influx of large data initiatives like those being seen from foundations, venture capitalists, marketplace providers, and even government entities. We all think that we can help these schools “get it right.”

It is critical for schools to address data and communication shortcomings as parents and students living in this “Information Age” have unprecedented access to data in all other aspects of their lives, whether it’s ordering products, banking or accessing technical support in real time with the click of a button.

So with that, the question remains: how do we collectively help schools manage all this data?

(Next page: 3 ways schools can manage data and communication shortcoming)


Math and science videos from BLOSSOMS

Free videos and lessons for high school math and science focus on enhancing students’ engagement

math-scienceBLOSSOMS video lessons are enriching students’ learning experiences in high school classrooms from Brooklyn to Beirut to Bangalore. The Video Library contains roughly 100 math and science lessons, all freely available to teachers as streaming video and internet downloads and as DVDs and videotapes.

The lessons intersperse video instruction with planned exercises that engage students in problem solving and critical thinking, helping students build the kind of gut knowledge that comes from hands-on experience.

While MIT faculty members and partnering educators in Jordan and Pakistan created the first BLOSSOMS lessons, today educators from around the world create and submit BLOSSOMS modules, a large number available in Arabic.

During a visit to a rural school in China, BLOSSOMS founders Richard Larson and Elizabeth Murray watched as a videotaped lecture enlivened an otherwise cold, bleak classroom. The teacher paused the lecture from time to time to engage with the class. The interruptions worked, but awkwardly, prompting Larson and Murray to wonder what would happen if they created video lessons that were designed to be interactive. They envisioned video lessons dovetailed with engaging activities for teachers to do with their students.

So inspired, Murray and Larson set out to create BLOSSOMS (Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies), a series of freely available interactive lessons presented in a widely accessible video format. BLOSSOMS video modules supplement the standard curriculum with virtual lessons led by educators from around the world and activities led by local classroom teachers.

The BLOSSOMS project is sponsored at MIT by LINC (Learning International Networks Consortium), a global consortium of educators interested in using distance and e-learning technologies to increase access to quality education worldwide. BLOSSOMS is an “Open Educational Resource,” a web-based collection of materials offered freely and openly for re-use in teaching, learning and research. OERs such as BLOSSOMS help make education a right rather than a privilege by providing schools around the world with access to quality educational tools.