Creative Writing Games for Stage 3 and above

I don’t like ‘ice-breakers’ as a rule. They tend to be far too pushy for people who are naturally introverted. So as I thought about kicking off a new set of Year 7s this week, I opted to create a simple writing game which later we’ll use as the basis for art making – drawings made from text. This is an example – and great for getting people who think they can’t draw to write (and then make a drawing). The game is designed for table work, so I’d suggest 2-8 players. It lasts about an hour. You’ll notice in the games that there are objects. For my purpose these things are simply concepts, but they could be physical things or even mathematical formulas etc., It’s a pretty low tech game, but I guess you could do this online.

The aim of the activity is to get students to think creatively and to critically follow rules to re-frame their original position. Let me know if you use it or modify it! Creative story writing game.

Accessbility? Why to do it, how to do it.

One of the common questions people have in preparing learning materials is also the one they tend to skip over when no immediate yes/no is to be had.

Why accessibility matters to all teachers

Creating content comes with responsibility – The Australian legislation pertaining to equal rights of access for all is the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1992. The Blind Citizens of Australia site has an online copy-and-paste email format for lodging an inaccessible web site complaint under the DDA to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC). The applicability of the DDA legislation to internet websites was tested and proven back in 2000, with the case of Bruce Lindsay Maguire v Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games which Maguire won. The ‘industry standard’ guidelines for web accessibility is conformance and validation to W3C accessibility checklist guidelines.

How to create accessible content

PAC is a recommended set of criteria from World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0

  1. Document is marked as tagged
  2. Document Title available
  3. Document Language defined
  4. Accessible Security Settings
  5. Tab follows Tag-Structure
  6. Consistent Heading Structure
  7. Bookmarks available
  8. Accessible Font Encodings
  9. Content completely tagged
  10. Logical Reading Order
  11. Alternative Text available
  12. Correct Syntax of Tags / Rolls
  13. Sufficient contrast for Text
  14. Spaces existent

There are several common problems with documents, most often in PDF documents which are the most widely used form of electronic distribution to students. Abobe has an excellent guide for authors which is free to download.

In addition, there is a pre-flight checklist which can be used before your course materials are presented to students. Why bother? Well, besides the legal and ethical requirements – many teachers have no idea whom will finally enroll on their course. Using a inner-self probability strategy is a bad way to address these responsibilities.

Pre-flight checklist

  1. If the document contains scanned text, apply Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
  2. Add author, title and subject and set the language in the document properties
  3. Tag the document to provide structure for remediation and support for bookmarks
  4. All documents should be structured so that an accessibility statement is the first text to be read aloud, to ensure the reader does not have to try and find it.
  5. Verify accessibility (see tool below)
  6. Verify and correct the Reading Order
  7. Add descriptive text to images or mark them as background
  8. Optimize the file size and set compatibility
  9. Redact all personal and private information
  10. Add bookmarks
  11. Verify accessibility (use software or contact someone who knows how)
  12. Does the linking page contain a link to download Adobe Reader
  13. Form fields, if used, are accessible.
  14. Descriptions must reflect the nature of the input and tab order must be set in a logical sequence.
  15. Security settings, if used, do not interfere with screen readers.

Test your PDF Documents

You can download this free tool to run over your documents, which will give you a report.

Game Based Learning – Start Here.

This post presents there ares of consideration, and what to consider when thinking about using a computer or video game as the technological environment for game based learning. It might help you think of how to evaluate various games in pre-selection. Please note that I don’t believe game based learning needs a video game at all, but many people have asked me “which games” and on what devices and platforms, so I hope this helps to start a conversation and thinking critically about the options you might have. To me, making games ‘okay’ is a win – but there’s little cudos in using educational games alone – so really here I’m talking about commercial titles.

Choosing your game

  • Browser compatibility? – Which browsers can they be played on? Many of your students will want to play the games you’re offering on their desktop and laptop computers. If the game you wish to use is accessed from a browser, you need to check that students have access to it – and it functions beforehand.
  • Plugins or software required? – You’ll want to know just how complex the game is. Do students need to download software in order to view them? Will the game pass through the firewall (the number one reason games are kept out of learning). Does the game need to authenticate to the Internet – even if it is actually installed on the local machine.
  • Device compatibility? – Not all games can be played on all devices. You’ll want to know which devices can be used so that you can prepare to support them. For example: Minecraft on the PC is quite different to Minecraft on an Ipad or Xbox. Many ‘app’ games, designed for mobile platforms have no equivalent on the PC or OSX Apple platform. So consider when and were the game will be played – what group sizes, level of supervision and so on – this will help you select the best device for you to use as a game platform – it might not be the one you think of first.
  • Do they play games? – Many students don’t play video or computer games. Some don’t like them, some are not allowed – you can’t assume all kids love video and computer games. Find out what games they do play … you may find from this you decide not to use a video game at all, but start to think about using your classroom as a game-space, and in doing so might create a role-play, use dice … all manner of alternatives. Don’t assume games based learning means video and computer games.
  • Data Collection? – Consider what data the game will collect (be that a video game or not).  Computer and Video Games collect a stack of data – some of it more useful than others. Consider, when choosing a game – what metrics you need and what would be great to have. This is one reason I like Minecraft on a server – it’s dripping in data, where as on an ad-hock LAN or iPAD, I get far less data – almost none in fact. Next consider what data the game is sending where. You need to make sure your students don’t accidentally push data to public spaces, if your school is against it (and in reality, most have no policy or idea about game-data)  yet.


You’ll want to get to the heart of things by asking specific questions about the features and functionality that  your students need. I see game based learning emerging most strongly from a social emotional learning perspective, so the functionality I think matters most looks like this.

  • Can students play without overt supervision? Learning in GBL is fundamentally about trust between the teacher and the student. If you don’t feel you can trust them – then let me assure you they will not trust you when you say they are going to learn by playing games. It’s a total deal breaker – if kids can’t play without overt supervision in the game and platform you choose – then the experience will be always be less.
  • Is the role for the teacher as a ‘trusted adult’ or as a supervisior?Can you afford the time to police a game inside or outside of it? What is the imperative you MUST be there (and that is a MAJOR question, as I don’t believe you should be in THEIR game – but I’ve worked out how and why over a few years, so you’ll need to resolve it too).
  • Single player Mutli-player cop-opt or Multiplayer use? This ranges widely according to e-Book vendor. Some packages offer unlimited use of e-Books meaning that any number of readers can view and download the same e-Book at the same time while others only offer single use of e-Books, similar to a print title being checked out. There are also variants that will offer a limited number of users at once.
  • Sales/Pricing Model? – can I buy bulk licenses for the game? Do I need to get game cards? How to I manage user accounts? Does the school own them? Do the kids own them? Are there educational pricing (warning educational games are not the BEST examples of games at all)
  • Game fees and Server costs (Annual, one-time, etc.) – There is most often a platform fee and it’s usually annual or monthly so you’ll want to find out how much this is. Don’t get caught by ‘free’ or ‘self-host’. Take Minecraft for example, to self-host is indeed free only, but when you cost in the time it takes to build, manage and stay in tune with modifications and changes, buying into managed hosting will work out substantially less in my experience.
  • Cost of the game Games are on many platforms and devices, all with very different price points. I have created games using cheap 20 sided dice and free online Interactive Fiction creation sites for a few dollars – I’ve also created them using virtual worlds with server rentals of thousands of dollars. There are many games, such as Myst or those on the game platform Steam which cost a few dollars – so in may ways games are inexpensive compared to other classroom software.

Training and development.

Game Based Learning is not one thing and there is a lack of agreement in what it is. This is not surprising, as for decades scholars have also disagreed what games and what they do. There are workable taxonomies, ways to plat a series of lessons, how to create wonder, foster creativity, self-discovery and so on. The best training you can do is to play games – seriously – download something like World of Warcraft and play the entire free trial. Block out a day and grind away – taking notes about how the game is teaching you. This process can take a while – so think about getting someone to come and do some training and development – take a short cut. You will still need to play, but knowing why and what to look makes it easier. DO NOT GO TO ONE OF THESE DIDACTIC COMMERCIAL COURSES EVER. They are hopeless, only there to make money – and are a total waste of money.

PBL – A code for students

Project Based Learning demands students communicate with each other. Contemporary project design requires the teacher to provide a climate for students to do this – with each other – and there are numerous ways to achieve it. Many PBL classrooms use wikis, blogs, forums and my personal favourite, Edmodo or Schoology. I also encourage classrooms to have a third space, where students can break-out and be – students.

These spaces should be owned by the students, and the teacher should consider themselves a guest, providing facilitation and support for the project development.

Having spaces for students to communicate, does not require the teacher to Tweet it, or publish it online – unless the project has a specific goal to do so. I am a firm believer that the role of the teacher in PBL is to provide a safe, trusting, learning environment to encourage discussion and sharing of ideas, but not overtly police or publish them.

To be effective as a communication space, it is important to develop a code of conduct – rules and expectations that will further the learning experience.

Here is a baseline code s to work from. Not every conversation will take place online – so the code should be developed to foster a spirit of participation in both face to face and online communication activities.

Code of Conduct

  • respect each other
  • criticise ideas instead of people
  • listen actively
  • seek to understand before being understood
  • contribute to group discussions
  • keep an open mind
  • share responsibly
  • attend all meetings
  • return all messages

This should be considered a ‘living document’. It should allow students to address and articulate other shared concerns they might have. At the end of a lesson or group meeting, they should use it to assess their performance and identify areas for improvement. This encourages a philosophy of continued improvement, using shared principles and criteria that matter to the student – and not just the ‘rules’ of the teacher or school – which have often involved to manage poor behavior and effort, not optimise better performance.

Over time, students develop a code of conduct that they believe optimises group performance. Initially they tend to focus on punitive statements, driven by past experiences of working in groups under the rule of teachers. The teacher should pay close attention to this, and strive to resolve and remove ‘deal-breaker’ rules whenever possible.

How games teach students to work in groups

In massive multiplayer games, the code of conduct is often spelled out in a fairly simple group charter (Guild Code). Players in the game come from many Guilds, but when playing with others, they are acutely aware of the ‘core’ expectations and standards that will be enforced during the game. In Warcraft for example – high level players have learned the social-rules though hundred of hours of play – and experience. No one sets out the rules at the start of a ‘raid’ – everyone knows them and the group will ‘kick’ anyone who acts outside of them as it impairs the group performance. The goal is always driving group behaviour.

Give students a way to assess themselves and their peers that is meaningful

Another way of encouraging this in PBL, is to provide students with a self-assessment plan – and build it into the assessment (don’t make it less than 10%). Use a rubric – very often, often, occasionally, rarely, never. You can evoke self or peer review at any time. This is often a great way to resolve conflict within groups.

  1. I try to get to know my classmates
  2. I study with other students in the project
  3. I work with other students in informal groups
  4. I assist other students when they ask me for help
  5. I tell other students when I think they have done good work
  6. I discuss issues with students whose background and viewpoint differ from mine
  7. I offer to serve as a tutor, advisor or resource person when I am knowledgeable and can share skills with others.

PBL encourages students to take direct responsibility for their own learning. These two tactics foster, but also give a clear guide to students of your expectations. If you replace the word ‘student’ with ‘colleague’ – you might discover that this approach is not limited to the classroom – but to the whole community.

Giving students better, more meaningful feedback

Many people I meet in professional development sessions believe that the ‘tool’ is predominantly for the use of students to undertake some activity. This can be true, however if you are working with newcomers, it is more productive to focus on the teacher. This avoids a stream of questions in which the teacher usually tries to predict student issues, behaviour and attitude – all of which is entirely hypothetical, subjective and leaves plenty of room for them to mentally dismiss the entire session. Instead focus on something that all teachers and students can benefit from easily – feedback.

Yes yes, lots of tools can give feedback. Consider however that your new found friends are used to marking, grading and annotating. Giving feedback on paper can be very rewarding, the hand written comments bringing a degree of reality and personalisation to their typed up, turned in documents.

This is very important to newcomers. Offering digital feedback feels un-natural. The fact it might be more efficient isn’t considered until after this feeling is psychologically resolved. Remember that for many – encountering online software at all is a revelation. Research suggests that 90% of teachers don’t stray from Word processors, spreadsheets and presentation software. Their use of ‘the internet’ is to crudely search for information which they hand out liberally as a digital-reading list. Conceptually the internet and software is seen as a dichotomy. I tend to favour working with assessment over any other component of teacher-activities. This assures them, that no matter what occurs during digital-learning, they will be able to assess it.

Reviewbasics, is an excellent tool to use is this respect. It is very clear about what it does from the outset.The home page needs resonate immediately – given them a clear message as to what it is for. ReviewBasics is a great way to start working with teachers. It allows the teacher or student to upload multiple page documents, video, images, web documents, schematics etc., It allows them to use pre-existing materials – PowerPoint, PDFs etc, so they can immediately use it for very little effort. One feature that I like is the ability to organise work into project folders.

So far so good, nothing scary here … language newcomers can understand. At this point you can talk about uploading course materials, and how it is rather like storing them on a flash drive or shared drive – but unlike those devices; you can invite students to use them to (in assessment).

After making a project folder it allows the upload of familiar file types. Don’t overlook this. People like to upload documents. It feels very affirmative and deliberate. You might also like to point out the file size limit. In many cases distributing large files by email is problematic – as they can bounce or take forever to arrive. (Heads will nod).

You can also capture a webpage. Trying to scrape webpages into Word or print them out is a basic activity of the newcomer, so show them how that can work to their advantage. This is simple to do, just paste in the URL of some resource that might be of interest to them.

Now you have a couple of simple resources to work with. So far you are about 15 minutes into the session. You’ve proved to people that they can add content to the internet. So take a moment to de-brief and celebrate.

Now we can get people to start working in pairs. Ask them to invite each other to review a document of webpage. Keep it simple – we are trying to get them familiar with the idea of sharing – easily. If any questions arise at this point over privacy etc., just explain that you will be talking about that later. These questions are genuine concerns, but subconsciously it can be an opt out point, so smile and complete the step.

This screen is important – it firstly looks fairly familiar – as it has 99% of the tools they ever use in a word processor anyway, and has a clear option that allow privacy. Remember the situated learning context here is assessment and student feedback, not mass collaboration (which is far more scary).

IMPORTANT: As them to log-out of ReviewBasics and check their email.

ReviewBasic will have sent them an invite (check spambox) to review the document(s). The sign in with an auto-generated password, and will be promoted to change it. This is good – it denotes security. They change it and move on to see this screen. You can see not only what to review – but gives you a time! – You can actually account for the time you are spending with a student! – This is a great feature, and exposes to a wider audience – the amount of time you spend with students – digitally. You can show the instructions, see the documents … and get reviewing.

Now let’s see what kind of feedback can be added. At this point, allow your learners to experiment – and wander around asking about what kind of feedback they like to give – and point out ways to transfer that happyness to this activity. Allow about 10 minutes tinker-time. Invite people to grab a drink – it makes the experience seem more relaxed and takes the focus off you for a while.

Review basic uses a system of call outs to give feedback. This is great! They are all clearly colour coded with specific actions – highligher pens, line drawing, selection of areas etc., but they are also use a taxonomy. The student will immediately see the kind of feedback that is given. Students can’t judge the tone of your penmanship, nor to ticks and statements like ‘good work’ have any meaning. This is cognitive organiser for both teacher and student. As we are trying to develop critical thinking, we need structures to help us do it.

The way ReviewBasics allows you to look though multi-page documents and give organised feedback will, in my view, make it more clearly understood by the student.

There are so many tools here, that teachers who like to tick, line or write extended responses will be satisfied, as the operate like post it notes. If you now want to draw a bow and shoot Word – ask them how many people can do this in Word already? You will get a tiny proportion raising their hands, and if they do – ask them to share an example. (I can’t I don’t have it on me). Kerzam, ReviewBasics overcomes that.

Now here is the kicker in ReviewBasics. I am proposing that this tool is student centred. By that I mean it is a tool that student would use as an electronic submission of work to the teacher. Students can send work to you (be that on the web in their wikis) or a printable. You can then write all over it. Why is they FANSTASTIC – because even in Ning, Wikis, Blogs etc., it is very hard to give pointed feedback as constructive as this.

The is of course no reason why you would not share a collection of websites and ask students to write all over them. Really? I hadn’t thought of that! Always allow the audience to offer expert advice to you. Focus on the student sending you work, and at least half the room will turn the tables and suggest ways to use this for mass collaboration. You can then show them how on the right you can see the comments of each student, so you can use this to evaluate any web session that you run in class. How many times do students spend an hour on the computer, ‘searching’ or looking at resource – and the teacher has NO IDEA what they understood as they sat doing it? – A plenary at the end, just before the bell? Give it up! – Make them review the learning BEFORE they leave or for homework!

Finally – after you have scribbled all over the students work – you can leave a closing comment. If it is the students collaborating, then they can leave a series of summations – so you can work over a document (middle order thinking) and at the end request a higher order conclusion.

This tool alone would transform a classroom, especially those in 1:1 laptop situations – or where teachers are providing web-content. This is just to ‘touch’ on how to use the the tool – in a simplistic way, and perhaps takes an hour of a morning workshop.

The rest of the workshop we would be talking about deeper uses – strategies and under-pinning the role of the teacher as a collaborator and facilitator of learning – and provide a lot more ‘teacher’ information about how to go about using this one tool – while at the same time dealing with issues of assessment itself.

I hope that this gives you some ideas – not just on a great tool, but also about professional development of teachers – who are very tricky bunch. Love to hear your feedback if you use it.

How to evaluate the best toolkit for your class

How’s your Web2.0 compass? Are you panning for gold; or still looking for the stream?

I often think of Web2.0 as like gold-panning in a flowing steam.

One person finds a spot using a method and pan that works for them. Before you know it, everyone either wants to be in that spot or use the same pan. Some leave the goldfield – winging that they can’t quite replicate the success in the spot they are in, with the gear they have.

I am prepared to accept that I can’t replicate or improve on everything I see others doing, but try to do the most with what I have in the place I am in. I do notice what others are doing; but I’ve long since stopped running up and down the stream looking for a better spot.

There are three core-components needed in effective teaching strategy.

  1. an outcome (what you want them to learn)
  2. an activity (what you going to do the help them learn it)
  3. evaluation (how do you know they learned it)

Classroom teachers should approach using technology from an evaluation perspective, but suspect many use an activity angle – BBBBzzz.

Students want to know – what is it exactly that you want me to do with this?. Why is it important or worthwhile enough for me to pay attention to it?

Nothing Web2.0 is vaguely interesting to youth-online unless it connects them to their friends or builds their personal reputation in spaces that their friends see as important and worthwhile.

When building a toolset for learning – be prepared to see them used for at least a term – consistently. The novelty of using a new app, soon wears thin, and there is no magic app to gain their attention. Stop looking for it.

Be very explicit in telling students what these tools are for – not just what you want them to do. Give even the smallest tool – meaning and purpose in a realistic, personal context

I’ll unpack this using Diigo as an example, but you can use these 5 steps for anything.


How does it

1. give me an insight into children needs
2. help me to identify what works well, so I can build on it
3. help me to identify what doesn’t work so well, so I can address it.
4. promote participation of parents, teachers and the wider community, encouraging them to reflect on children’s educational needs and their own belief and attitudes towards education
5. help me highlight problems and potential solutions which help us to influence education policy at many levels (locally – in our own context, organistations – both nationally and internationally)

Next consider the student perspectivelet them know what they are expected to do with it, using your belief statements. Test your hypothesis.


1. This will allow you and I to share references of websites and information
2. You will be able to show me which things you think matter and together we won’t waste time on less important things.
3. It helps me give you feedback and help; even when we are not in the same room.
4. We can share all our ideas with the class, and the school – so that in the future, other people will know about your work.
5. You can show you parents how and what you are learning – and that helps them better understand why we are using this technology.

At the beginning, I said that this is evaluation.


What you choose and promise must be judged by your students. You must actively collect data and do more than reflect – you must offer evidence – to complete the cycle of empirical research that most teachers are engaged in – consciously or not. By being aware of the cycle; and focusing on the evaluation – teachers are able to use their data as much more than story telling in conferences.


Write a blog post using your evidence.

Reflective Writing 1-2-3

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‘REFLECTION’ is a word closely associated with 21st Century Learning. I thought I’d write a post on how to improve critical literacy though a 3 step adjustment to read/write activities in the classroom.

Watson (1997) says “Reflection encourages students to – self examine, self-asses and evaluate their own practice. Without reflecting, the student is at risk of practicing in a manner if unquestioned routines, accepted directives and/or rote learning.”

This short observation highlights the need for students to question, not simply to recount or answer declarative questions with read/write tools. There is bountiful research that suggests talking about what they are doing, not just what they or others have done, encourages the conscious practice of discussing the consequences of their findings and actions.

We need to ensure that testing for prior knowledge is more than asking declarative questions at the beginning of a (lesson or tutorial) learning instance. The facilitator should be conscious of three stages of reflection and also consider selecting different tools to achieve this. For example: Use a combination of micro-blog, game and video. This also encourages students to explore a more diverse media landscape.

1. Reflecting before acting – preventing unnecessary errors. Making sure the student is aware of the outcomes being sought. Asking students to predict the activity, talk about their expectations and possible fears as the activity is revealed to them. What can they do already and show you? What skills are they missing that will help them? This can be though a series of microblog posts for example – as the teacher begins to reveal the activity though providing readings or given them mini-tasks to complete – not just delivering content.

2. Reflect during the activity – use methods to monitor their actions during the event in order to maintain contextually appropriate performance and effort. This is often though feedback from the software itself – such as sound, images, scores etc. In a game this is in-built, but in a MUVE it has to be designed. Teachers need to pay close attention to this phase, to ensure the learner is challenged but not frustrated by poor feedback, or not understanding the importance of it in the learning sequence/pattern – from the teacher or the software.

3. Critically review their actions and experience after. This last action is dependent on recall. Technology often allows recall to occur as events are recorded in some manner such as a blog post, or screen shot. Self and peer assessment to deconstruct the learning process should be combined with encouraging the student to record that event and use that evidence to support their critical reflection.

The outcome,  activity and the assessment should not be limited to a predicted performance. “I think they’ll be able to do it” or “I think I can teach using that”. Design the task so that the student can modify it (up or down), to negotiate their curriculum and perhaps explore incidental or peripheral ideas outside core curriculum content. This might mean making a video, interviewing people, performing a role pay together with text based activities.  Pacing the activity also helps, changing the emphasis from one activity to another to allow you to uncover more about the learner. Keep the tools VERY simple, look for ready-to-learn solutions, so that students learn to select their own tools to demonstrate their learning. Consider that when you first start using read/write media – you students will have little idea what to do and the social dynamics are all over the place. Most games will train you to operate effectively individually rather than in a group -which is much more complex. By default you have ‘groups’ of learners … but initially, this is a good way to learn more about them as individuals, which you can use later in wider approaches.

Ref: Watson S. (1997) ‘An analysis of concept experience”. Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol.16 pp 1117-1121.

To feed or lead class?

I read Judy O’Connell’s post in which she describes a colleague who is giving a lecture on the use of Powerpoint in order to give students more than a summary of important points in serial delivery. Judy references the Chronical of Higher Education on the topic. I am not sure it can be removed without leaving a stain. In another recent article, Micheal de Percy talked about the drivers that often promote ‘service and delivery’ at University. I made me wonder about the dilemma teachers between feeding the class verses leading it, and a strategy to over come it.

It doesnt wash off, but washes over.

It doesn't wash off, but washes over.

Educators face a bloated syllabus (which are a summary consensus view of the discipline). Students often say they want revision notes and powerpoint summaries (it sustains their often successful surface learning strategy). External exams are designed in ways that teachers can almost predict questions and game the system focused on results and competitive performance. They provide students with model answers and strategies to pass the test. It happens and we’ve all seen it. “If you want to access the band 6 marks, this is what you need to include and how to do it”. Enquiry gives way to rote learning, which is why enquiry and group work is often afforded lower percentage points in summative assessment. This will be perpetuated as governments insist on drawing up league tables. Yes we have ‘in-course assessments’, but these are usually  internally designed and marked; unlike the almighty HSC exam – everyone knows the exam is the deal breaker here; and powerpoint is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself.

Teaching is an essential input to a product (the qualification). It is not simply a service. Qualifications issued by universities are supposed to indicate the capabilities of graduates. Over-relying on student satisfaction (as the main indicator of quality) encourages a service culture which is not entirely appropriate to the teaching role. Michael de Percy (ABC News)

Leading the class is much more of an ideological challenge than a technical one. Many teachers use a very limited toolset. Summising of content in powerpoint is perhaps 50% of their ability – and is often cited as a ‘desirable’ when it comes to student satisfaction. Yet Powerpoint was designed for techies to give summaries to marketing people back in the day. They wanted to spend least amount of time and effort explaining key things, so made Powerpoint. It was not a ‘learning tool’ – but a presentation tool. Over the years it just got more bloated, but still does what it was designed to do. I’m not even getting into BAD Powerpoint; simply by recognising it’s purpose is to talk, not listen – then we can start to think more about developing two-way engagements with learners.

Should we abandon powerpoint, or equivalent Web2.0 slidedeck application entirely?

If we actually want present a summary, then use it. If we want to lead students to deeper or wider thinking, not just remembering, no – dump it. – To lead learning at a deeper level, we should present a range of possibilities and influencers, not a summary. We can still use something visually impacting, aligning with the outcome intended, but we MUST avoid drawing a line between the resource itself and the summation of knowledge. That is what powerpoint is spectacularly good it. We are often so poor at formative assessment strategy that we give students no chance to make that connection – as the summary is on the powerpoint – we draw the line – asking the question and then giving the answer moments later.

I maintain that you can transform learning and teaching using a very limited number of tools. I return over an over to Diigo as the edu-webs killer application.

What is an alternative strategy?

Adapting an aggregator and using in a familiar teaching mode – using Diigo. Diigo provides a way to provide lecturers and teachers with the powerpoint backdrop to present ideas and components of the discipline, but does it in a way that discourages reading dot points. How so? by using Diigo’s list feature and tagging content. The lecturer can collect a mass of content and tag it to represent syllabus content – what is it I want them to know (the outcome). They can reference their own resource or those of others directly. This compiled list is then presented as a webcast in Diigo (example: here). It allows the lecturer to move between areas (links), and encourages them to talk about, not read them. Students no longer receive a 20 page powerpoint to remember, but 20 links, related to the discipline that they have to constructively align to the outcomes though guided enquiry (the activity).

We know if they are learning though assessment. Students need to be asked questions about the discipline and to use the Diigo List as the learning pathway. They can reference that content; or better still – use Diigo to comment directly on the page. Diigo of course allows teachers to set up a ‘class’ account and envoke collaboration. In effect, they draw all over the pseudo-powerpoint! – involved at a meta cognitive level almost immediately – and exploring, comparing, negotiating – as well as remembering. A massive shift in pedagogy, using a very simple tool.

Consider the two options presented – and decide – adapt of ignore. Try or deny.

One option is to provide 1000 students with a summary in powerpoint; the other is to provide interactive content that allows a 1000 students to socially construct a shared, consensus view. The problem is not which is better learning – but which do students see as more effective at getting the qualification. The former. I think convincing students is just as important as convincing lecturers of the perils of powerpoint. This plays out is student satisfaction surveys – ‘a good powerpoint is like gold’.

How do we encourage a change in behaviour?

But we must be cautious of the quantitatively-driven concept of student-centeredness where it detracts from the quality of the qualifications – in essence, the outputs which university teaching creates. Michael de Percy (ABC News)

Through educational leadership at the policy level. The job of education leaders is not to do easy things like buy IWBs and Netbooks (thats a purchasing officer), but to transform the standards of education sufficiently that teachers feel confident to stop feeding and learn new ways to lead. Equally students know why this is important to their attainment, and are not simply buying a service. Teachers and students can’t climb the learning ladder, unless leaders allow and encourage it to be extended. Powerpoint or otherwise – and right now the oppositional polarity being demonstrated by political policy is not exactly helpful to this change process in my view. Regrettebly, most leaders get their key-facts and briefings from powerpoint. We create out own reality.

5 ways to get some PD traction

FIVE things that you can do in your community to encourage people to take a step forward. These five things use five different approaches – so if you are trying to build a professional learning community, these are approaches that address the behavioral motivators of staff  and reduce the push-back. I’ve found that covert methods are far more effective than head on training, so I try to address behavior not skills when working with a new group of educators.

Context – hit up heads of departments with this one – find out what they are struggling to do; just ONE thing. “Which would be your priority”.

Peer Support – helping friends connect and share as individuals

Personal Aspects – Photobooks are tactile; go make one at SnapFish or BigW; and share something about your family or interests in the staffroom. This is great to draw in the reluctant.

URL Shortners – great staffroom/meeting demo – shows them how a simple tool can train students how to take down an big URL or give you one. This helps improve the perception that computers are rubbish.

Screen Demos – don’t waste your time trying to rally people to lunch-time meetings, take the time to sit and read your Feedly. Provide PD via email; as elevator conversations. It takes 10 minutes to make and spam the office. It also put you at arms length from the critics and sabateurs.

1.    Context – Don’t show a tool, solve a problem in their own backyard – or invent one which they can add value to or improve; don’t ‘train’.
2.    Peer Support – Show technologies that will connect them better to peers that they like working with.
3.    Personal Aspects – Photobooks and online storage! – Make a photobook using Snapfish and show them. They’ll want one too.
4.    URLS shortners– show them how them in unit outlines or write them out faster for students – it demonstrates how to save time, not waste it.
5.    Make screen demos – keep them 2-4 minutes; and don’t edit them! Make them short and conversational and pitch them at absolute novice; newcomer; beginner; intermediate … don’t teach experts (they can teach themselves). Spam your community via email with your channel.

Uncover some hidden treasure in learning

GAMES are part of the mash-up, and effective, motivating, accessible resources for the classroom. Many are free to try or peanuts to buy – saving the teacher a great deal of time and giving them a motivation power-up that ignites learning.

While many continue to explore ‘web2.0’, they are often not exploring the diverse and rich media being produced for playful learning.

Picture yourself as a student – about start using this game to learn.

“Fresh from a successful exploration of the wreck of the Titanic, the Hidden Expedition Club will pit one of its stellar members against a formidable group of opponents in a race to the summit of Everest. Other groups will battle you to be the first to summit Mount Everest. Expert Everest climber Ed Viesturs will assist you along the way. Explore mysteries of the world as you find hidden clues. Race to the Roof of the World!”

Sound exciting? – Maybe exciting enough to do a couple of hours work deconstructing this text? Using Google Earth, History sites maybe drawing the character; writing a story even. My point here is that games often have an instant narrative, instant motivation to which teachers can subtly add outcomes. It almost doesn’t have to feel like learning at all.

Hidden Treasure is a very slick example of hundreds of games that are available to teachers online.  The demo alone has been downloaded over 8 million times. The game itself allows for a lot of classroom fun, but also allows wider exploration of some of the under pinning themes and concepts that a skilled teacher can weave around it. For under ten dollars; there are numerous puzzle, adventure and discovery games to explore online – allowing playful learning. Just like Web2.0, we have to adapt games into learning as a mash-up. We don’t need to use an instructional CD-Rom, just go online.

Games online have perhaps made leaps forward than ‘websites’ yet are often still viewed with a prejudicial 1990’s lens – where games were predicated violent behaviour and arcades were for drop outs and gangsters. Games, like the rest of the web have come a long way and await discovery in the classroom.