Podcasting for the New Books Network


Last summer I started co-hosting on the Education channel of the New Books Network (which I wrote about here). It’s taken a little while to get my own set up for podcasting, but I think I’m ready to roll, hosting my first online interview tomorrow morning. Here’s the new set up:

  • Yeti USB condenser microphone – new in the box for $80 on craigslist
  • Sennheiser HD 206 headphones – about $30 on Amazon
  • Skype – free download
  • Zencastr – free, web-based platform, hobbyist account

Today I spent some time prepping my set up. I found some online video tutorials, including one specifically about microphone use, and ones specific to podcasting with the yeti. I’ll admit, I didn’t know which was the front or back of the mic (volume dial should be facing me), nor did I know whether it should be upright or tilted (upright), nor did I know what “gain” is (how sensitive the mic is to picking up sound)! I have no background in recording, so this is all new to me.

My plan is to start the interview via Skype, go over the way the interview will proceed, then ask the other person to mute their Skype mic and audio and open the Zencastr link. Zencastr creates two audio files, one for each person, then zips them together once the recording is over. This avoids the audio “hand off” jumps that happen in regular video chats.

Continue reading “Podcasting for the New Books Network”


Book Notes & Thoughts: A New Literacies Sampler (2007)

a new literacies

Edited by Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear, Free PDF here

Like reading Communities of Practice, this work is a foray into new perspectives for me – always interesting and usually completely disruptive to my current, constructed understanding of the world. I have read bits and pieces (and reflected here and Discourses here), but I wanted to read the entire compilation this summer. This reflection is after reading the first three chapters.

The works in this book are firmly in the constructivist paradigm and use a sociocultural perspective on literacy. This latter parts means that “reading and writing can only be understood in the contexts of social, cultural, political, economic, historical practices to which they are integral, of which they are a part.” (p.1) Understanding literacies in this way is the foundation of calling them “new.” It is more than just reading and writing (i.e. encoding and decoding print), but it is the “relationship between human practice and the production, distribution, exchange, refinement, negotiation and contestation of meanings.” (p.2) It is seeing the acts of reading and writing encompass norms, attitudes, values, meaning-making – all of which are as social practices. Continue reading “Book Notes & Thoughts: A New Literacies Sampler (2007)”

GLS11 – Reflections

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I FINALLY made it to the Games+Learning+Society Conference! I heard about it probably 4 or 5 years ago and it was always held right at the end of the school year. GLS was a big reason that I wanted to come to Madison to graduate school.

My takeaways:

  • I love the people and the ideas and discussions they have. Game designers, academics, teachers, and lots who bridge all three communities. That said, games are not a core piece of my research, so I was able to do the “slow conference” thing: not rushing to every session, picking sessions at the last minute, not furiously taking notes to remember everything that was said.
  • My reading list just got longer. First, Seymour Papert’s Connected Family. Also, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (on audiobook narrated by Wil Wheaton???). And maybe, The Game Believes in You, by Greg Toppo.
  • Definitely a thread running through the conference about whether schools are the answer or the problem. Clearly some have given up on schools as a place to create change, which is disheartening. (Someone said: “[It’s] such a pain to get technology in the classroom.”) My question to them: If you don’t think schools, then who? You? The game design companies? Maybe schools aren’t universally where we want them to be, and goodness knows change is hard, but I still think they are a critical player (pun intended) worth paying attention to in making society better.
  • The keynotes were great – Sean Dikkers on Tuesday, Nichole Pinkard on Wednesday, and Brenda Romero on Thursday:
    • Seann‘s presentation reminded me that I really need to start crafting my personal story that translates the importance and drive of my professional work. The most compelling talks always seem to come through these personal stories (“When I was a kid…”). I also need to dig out some good (read: embarrassing) pictures of me as a kid.
    • Nichole spoke about her work with YouMedia in Chicago. As I’ve become more interested in the Cities of Learning initiatives, it was exciting to hear her take on using informal learning spaces to create pathways for learning across content and sites. She proposed three questions:
      – How do we follow the opportunities, follow the kids, and try to connect them?
      – How do we understand organizations and how they connect? Because kids can only go to things that exist.
      – How do we know what kids are doing, particularly in out of school time? Digital badges?
    • Brenda was funny, serious, and real. She talked about being a game designer and being a woman. The most interesting part, though, was sitting behind three white guys clearly uncomfortable with how to react or process the (sometimes) rant, particularly when she mentioned breastfeeding, pregnancy, or reproductive parts. There were eye rolls and sideways glances to each other while they read their email and surfed the web.

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Continue reading “GLS11 – Reflections”

My first Wikipedia edits!

For one of my classes this semester, we are writing a wikipedia page. Although I’ve read about how Wikipedia works, I’ve never actually done this. Very excited to learn how to contribute.

Turns out, it’s pretty simple. While in a class yesterday, I was looking up different labels for types of jobs, blue-, white-, and pink-collar, and found out that there is also green- and grey-collar jobs. On wikipedia, however, some link to each other but not to all. This seemed like a perfect first step!

I started with the blue-collar page, went down to the “see also” section, and added some links. Toute simple.

My first Wikipedia edit
My first Wikipedia edit

I got excited and started searching through how to add content. I found a video that I’d taken while in Florida this January from our trip to the Everglades. So I uploaded it to the Wikimedia Commons and put it on the American Alligator page.

Actually, I accidentally put it on the American CROCODILE page, and as I was blogging it, realized my mistake. I learned how to find how to UNDO a change!

Reaction 10: Questions of behaviorism and identity in ed-tech

Reading this week:

Bailey, J., Carter, S. C., Schneider, C., & Vander Ark, T. (2012). Data Backpacks: Digital learning now!.

U.S. Department of Education. (2012). Enhancing Teaching and Learning Through Educational Data Mining and Learning Analytics: An Issue Brief.

Hill, P. T. (n.d.). Finance in the Digital-Learning Era. Creating Sound Policy for Digital Learning: A Working Paper Series from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

What problems are we trying to solve?

  • “The current way student records and transcripts are managed is insufficient to meet the evolving needs of teachers, students, and parents” (Bailey et al.).
  • “Our system doesn’t fund schools, and certainly doesn’t fund students” (Hill).
  • Policymakers and administrators need to understand “how analytics and data mining have been—and can be—applied for educational improvement” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).

What vision of education are we working towards?

  • “Each student’s account would, in a sense, constitute a ‘backpack’ of funding that the student would carry with her to any eligible school or instructional programs in which she enrolls. The contents of the backpack would be flexible dollars, not coupons whose use is restricted to a particular course or service” (Hill).
  • “The most important [adantage] is individualization and rapid adaptation to what a student is learning, leading to the possibility of more rapid and consistent student growth” (Bailey et al.).
  • “Making visible students’ learning and assessment activities opens up the possibility for students to develop skills in monitoring their own learning and to see directly how their effort improves their success” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).
  • “A study contrasting the performance of students randomly assigned to the OLI statistics course with those in conventional classroom instruction found that the former achieved better learning outcomes in half the time (Lovett, Meyer, and Thille 2008)” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).

What limitations might there be or what questions should we ask?

  • Who are the designers of the platforms and how are their biases in them? This is not a new question for educational materials, but still one worth considering.
  • “What children learn would then depend on the quality of their parents’ choices” (Hill). How would kids fare whose parents were not able, for various reasons, to keep up with choices?
  • Programs could be prevented from use “only after some children had been demonstrably hurt by them” (Hill).
  • “All such investments are meant to benefit children but they also benefit private parties—the teachers who use new skills to make higher salaries, the vendors who sell professional devel-opment services, etc.” (Bailey et al.).
  • “Unlike educational data mining, learning analytics generally does not emphasize reducing learning into components but instead seeks to understand entire systems and to support human decision making” (Data Mining and Learning Analytics).

How might the changes in personalization, finance, and data foster a participatory culture of learning?

I recently watched and blogged about Audrey Watters’ keynote from the C-Alt conference, titled Ed-Tech, Frankenstein’s Monsters, and Teacher Machines. She talked about how ed-tech is full of behaviorist technologies, citing notifications, nudges, gamification, which is built in to many of the platforms written about in this week’s readings. She tells the story of Alan Turing asking if a computer could think, but that he really meant asking whether a computer could exhibit behaviors that could fool a human into thinking it was human “enough.” I see learning more from a constructivist point of view, where students build their knowledge on what they already know, as we read about in “How People Learn.” Are behaviorism and constructivism at odds in a learning ecosystem or could they coexist for building different skills? I see a participatory culture as being fundamentally constructivist, where learners’ own interests and experiences drive affiliations and personal expressions. Does a system based on behavioralism preclude authentic participation?

The idea of authenticity also brought me to questions of identity. This infographic compares “team transparency,” led by Mark Zuckerberg, and “team anonymity,” led by Christopher “Moot” Poole, founder of 4chan. How does having your identity (or a notion of a fixed identity) as a learner tracked from birth affect a person’s own identity formation? How does the platform reward or require a certain identity? (Kimmons, 2014) In working with middle schoolers, I saw the importance of kids trying on different identities as a way to understand their world. A learner profile that follows them year to year and school to school may smooth learning opportunties but it may also lock kids into always being “that kid.” Furthermore, if we have take a post-modern understanding of identity as one that is never fixed but is created in relation to others and situations, what impact (good or bad) will this big data mediated, educational enviroment mean? How will the designers be training certain identities? How will this impact divergent thinking? Will these redesigns mean more creative thinkers? These are geniune questions, not meant to be particularly optimistic or pessimistic, though I think people will see them in one way or the other based on their own inclinations.

Kimmons, R. (2014). Social Networking Sites, Literacy, and the Authentic Identity Problem. TechTrends, 58(2), 93–98.

Reaction 8: Computational Thinking

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Articles this week:

Grover, S.; Pea, R. (2013). Computational Thinking in K-12: A Review of the State of the Field. Educational Researcher. 42(38): 38-43.

Berland, M., & Lee, V. R. (2011). Collaborative strategic board games as a site for distributed computational thinking. International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 1(2), 65-81.

Resnick, M. (2012). Reviving Papert’s Dream. Educational Technology. 52(4): 42-46.


Since I’m familiar with computational thinking, I also read Berland & Lee’s article about students playing the board game Pandemic, and I went back to a Scratch project I haven’t worked on in awhile and attempted a little debugging.

My favorite quote was this: “None of the groups understood the rules by reading through the guidebooks without attempting to play through the rules” (Berland & Lee, 2011). The idea of “playing through the rules,” I realized, is how I have approached learning with students because it’s how I approach my own learning. If it’s science, I need to see or do something. If it’s Twitter, sign me up and write a few tweets. If it’s Tinkercad, drag and drop a few objects, then ask why or how it works. I learn rules by interacting with them, not by thinking about them.

This low barrier to entry (sign up and start) is the idea of “low floor, high ceiling,” which has been “one of the guiding principles for the creation of programming environments for children … since the days of LOGO.” (Grover & Pea, 2013) Whether it’s Tinkercad or Pixel art, programs or suites of programs have embraced an easy entrance and seemingly unlimited complexity. (As an interesting aside, this might be an interesting antidote to what Sennett negatively describes as our modern passion for consuming incredibly powerful devices that we never use to their full potential. We might Continue reading “Reaction 8: Computational Thinking”