Nomic: Games in Adult Basic Education

Glass Bead Game novel cover. I have not posted here in a while. I have moved back up to Washington State, set up an education consulting business, and am, gratefully, back teaching again. I have been very focused on my teaching at Green River Community College where I am teaching ABE (Language Arts/Social Studies and Language Arts/Science). I have always loved teaching at this level because this is where teachers can make a huge difference in the lives of others. Teach students how to read “The Compleat Angler” and you have fed them for a day. Teach them how to write an effective cover letter for a job and you can feed them and their families for a life time.

One of the cool things that I have had the opportunity to do is to update the Nomic game I used to use in English 101 and 102 for ABE. If you are not familiar with Nomic, I have posted here a few times earlier about it. I had the help of Jacqui Cain, who has a certificate in reading, my own humble experience, and the assistance of three students who read it for our three C’s: clarity, cohesion, and conciseness. The link to the old posting will give you the old game. The new version can be downloaded here from my site.

Okay, so I am interested in two things – any thoughts you may have on this game AND if you are using games in ABE or developing education in your classroom, I would love to hear about it.

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CmapTools for iPad

Concept map

Concept map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have used Cmap on nearly every computer I have owned or worked with. It is a very useful tool and, I think, very under-rated. I used to think it was difficult to work with until I had a conversation about Cmaps at a conference with Cable Green. He said that my issue was with using the connecting verbs between the concepts: while I might feel that the connections might be forced, it might be cause my thinking about the concepts is not complete. This represented a real break-through in my work with concept maps. It was also very humbling because I was presenting on concept maps at a conference at the time! Nothing like having to rethink your positions at the last minute, but that is why I go to conferences.  If you are not familiar with the tool, it is an open source concept mapping tool:

Cmap software is a result of research conducted at the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC). It empowers users to construct, navigate, share and criticize knowledge models represented as concept maps.

I am interested in concept mapping as a tool for writing and creating drafts but also for group projects and exploring ideas with others either in the same room or remotely. I have written about concept mapping previously and it looks like I need to update that posting!

I have not seen Cmap for iPad yet. I am looking forwards to working with it. It seems like a natural fit. “CmapTools for iPad is the best concept mapping App for the iPad. It is the perfect tool to rapidly construct concept maps and share them via the Cmap Cloud.

Source: CmapTools for iPad – Cmap

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Cleaning Up WordPress Tags

English: WordPress Logo

WordPress Logo (Wikipedia)

I woke up very early and couldn’t get back to sleep so I decided to clean up the back end of this site. When I imported this blog from Blogger.Com, WordPress converted all of my tags to categories. I had over 900 categories. I started to delete them a few at a time and I realized that was going to take a long time. Then something hit me – I had the default category set to “uncatagorized” which is not very helpful. I thought since the default topic of this blog is “education” I decided to make that the default in WordPress. To do that, you need to go to Settings > Writing and use the pull-down menu to select a new default. That was pretty easy. Then I was at the Categories page deleting things that should not be categories when I noticed at the bottom of the page there is a “category to tag converter” which will list all of your categories on one page and allow you to convert them all at once. I have finally gotten them down to a manageable, useful list. I could have asked someone about this but I wasn’t sure what I was asking for at first – this is a common tech issue!


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GIMP: Can I have my MFA now?

An animated gif of a cat walking up right like a human.I taught myself to make an animated gif in GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) today. I followed the brief tutorial at eLearnHub. GIMP is a great open source replacement for Photoshop. In fact there is a version that is set up a little more like photoshop called GIMPShop that has the menus placed in an arrangement more familiar to Adobe users. Both sites have extensive tutorials for pretty much anything an instructional designer. instructor, or artist would like to do with GIMP or GIMPShop. Animated gifs can be used in tutorials and demonstrations – anything that would benefit from a brief animated example. I pulled the images of the cat walking from a selection from a 1963 book called “Animated Movie and TV Cartooning (“magic-animator“) by Paul Robinson. This is from a series of publications called the “Cartoonists Exchange Post Graduate Course.” I clipped the cat pictures out of the PDF using Jing which I have been using for years as an image/screen capture utility to build tutorials. Okay, I think I have proved my artistic chops. I am ready for my Honorary Degree…


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Virtual TA: Online Student Success and Retention Issues

Here are a few articles for our bot project:

“Issues of isolation, disconnectedness, and technological problems may be factors that influence a student to leave a course.”

“The authors point out that pedagogy and support structures must be enhanced to ensure the success of students who avail themselves of online learning options.”

One of the principles of good practice in undergraduate education is prompt feedback.

A virtual TA can help resolve tech issues and point to solutions to tech problems. It can connect students to campus support that may already be online. Virtual TAs solve the problem of how to provide students with immediate feedback.

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Being Sentient Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

Deutsch: Phrenologie

Deutsch: Phrenologie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am reading the Stanford Report on AI. This statement from the report brought back on all the things I had read about AI growing up: “Contrary to the more fantastic predictions for AI in the popular press, the Study Panel found no cause for concern that AI is an imminent threat to humankind. No machines with self-sustaining long-term goals and intent have been developed, nor are they likely to be developed in the near future.” With that said, I love hearing about breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. They are usually accompanied by breathless timelines, e.g., this break-through means that within 10 years, robots will take the place of x workers, or even more dire predictions, like Elon Musk’s, for instance – declaring AI as an “existential threat to humanity.” The AI is not the threat, it is our misperception of the nature of technology and consciousness. If we think that machines can make decisions, and we rely on those “decisions,” you can bet we will be extinct in 100 years. We will be destroyed not by the machines but by our misplacement of power and trust to those machines.  The folks programming AI and those employing it have no idea what intelligence really means.  It is not playing chess. It is not driving a car. One has only to drive down any metropolitan freeway on any weekday between 4 and 7 PM to know that intelligence has nothing to do with driving. I know about this first hand because my Android phone and my wife’s iPhone have both sent us dangerously down one way streets. Does that make the technology evil? Evil implies some sort of intention. Maybe the phone planned that or intended to do so? These two things I think the phone can’t do, planning and intention, why do we think they can drive?

Intelligence is not even making music because making music requires self-reflection, inspiration, a life-long relationship with music and all of the experience and history that would imply. I will believe that computers can really make music when a robot drops out of college, moves back into his mother’s (creators?) garage to become a drummer. But modern computers do not have that kind of agency or motivation. No computer has ever leaned back in a chair and said “I am restless. I am going to the park to play chess.” No computer has ever felt compelled to create.

Learning agent, based on Artificial Intelligen...

Learning agent, based on Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The science of cognition is still in its infancy. How do you go about making something “artificial” when you don’t know what you are making an artifice of? My generation grew up on Disney films where all one had to do was get electrocuted by a computer and all of a sudden, you are super smart. In the early 80s, I remember that the TRS 80s at the college library had Eliza on it and that primitive code sent people out asking questions about AI. There are so many talking computers and robots in the media that I think we think that intelligence is somehow inherent in technology.

The computer folks do not have the background in the humanities to sufficiently define “intelligence” and the humanities folks do not have a sufficient background in technology to understand the programming. Both camps think they are talking about the same thing and they are not. The Turing Test does not measure intelligence, it just records whether or not someone has had a conversation with a computer sufficiently inane that one could not tell if it was with a computer or a person.

Descartes and Spinoza are completely unaccounted for in the current discussions of AI and intelligence. I know that there is a lot going on in the cognitive sciences and AI right now, but in going back to basics, as simple as they are, would reveal a lot. I would dare anyone to ask an modern AI program to give some account of its existence, or stack Spinoza’s three kinds of cognition next to any database and say we are even close to the complexity of human thought. Am I intelligent because I know something? Does a database of information really know something? Does a program that relies on branching-tree metaphors really “understand”? Am I intelligent because I speak French or English? Many idiots can speak French or English and often do so with great eloquence. And if you have been following the great conversation about intelligence and consciousness and the nature of the mind at all for the last 2500 years, you would know that embodiment is a huge deal in thinking about consciousness. None of the issues that are two and a half millennia old are really settled yet, we let a car, programmed by someone who is not aware of or cares about what has been said about ethics or consciousness in even the last 30 years, put one of these contraptions on the street.

What we don’t get is that the AI is us. We are the AI. We created AI for every reason that the AI is not intelligent: our intentions, fears, planning, vision, inspiration, intellect, culture, history, everything that constitutes our being creates AI. AI is another poem. It is a religion. It is art – bound to its time and culture. It is not a science. The science of AI is a game. It plays with every current conception, misperception, and convention of intelligence. The computer scientists are so sure there is a formula and the humanitarians are so sure that there is magic, and we alone determine intelligence. How do we measure it? How do we assess it? Will a computer one day ask “what was my original face before I was born?”

Maybe a computer will one day be able to say “I think therefore I am,” but we have to decide whether that statement is true for that computer or not. Does a recording of those words on a cassette tape mean my stereo is sentient? The fact that I can create narrow, mechanical conditions where a computer makes such a declaration has more to say about my definition of consciousness than the consciousness of technology. The nature of sentiency is unclear at best. We are clever enough to make computers mimic human activity, but that is far from being intelligent. And I am not just a blind sceptic, I know we can accomplish a lot through AI, analytics, and cognitive science – I just think we need a real definition of intelligence before we declare something intelligent.

I am writing a short story in response to these issues because I think a 20 page research paper is a lame response to a situation as ridiculous as this. Only art can capture the sublime absurdity of these questions. I am basically an autodidact: as a technician I am a good artist and as an artist, I am a good technician. Watch this space…

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Start-Up Weekend Education: Coming to Seattle and a Classroom Near You!

Seattle Central Library by architect Rem Koolh...

Seattle Central Library by architect Rem Koolhaas, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Start-Up Weekend Education Seattle 2016 is coming Nov. 18-20 at the Seattle Library. It is sponsored by the Seattle Library Foundation – which kind of figures because so much innovation in education has been coming out of libraries. I was at a meeting last night at Galvanize, a start-up work space, community, and learning hub. We met together faculty, entrepreneurs, representatives from the library and volunteers and organizers for the November event. The meeting was ran a little like Start-Up Weekend: we were all asked to answer questions about our dreams and gripes about education on large whiteboards. We then saw a presentation about how Start-Up Weekend works: people get together and they have 60 seconds to pitch and idea or a problem, people vote on the problems, and then form teams to come up with solutions. Start-ups are formed from these teams. There are coaching sessions and mentoring. It is an amazing opportunity. I met some interesting people with some great ideas and a lot of creative energy. I am really looking forward to November.

So I came home last night, very energized by the evening and Jacqui, who is a college English teacher says, “that is really interesting – how do you bring that level of engagement into the classroom?” So after talking and thinking about it for a while, I thought that I had seen pieces of this method in some classes. Classes where there might be some outcomes (students will learn how to use Photoshop, etc.), but the way the students get there can be something that they work out for themselves. I am thinking that in instructor could help the students understand the goals and/or outcomes of the course, and then have the students decide how they would like to meet those goals. The instructor could provide broad topics, the students could then pitch ideas to the class, the students could then vote on the ideas, and then form teams around the top ideas. The project might be a film, a report, a series of presentations. This could also be an opportunity for the teacher to model “agile development” techniques.

Several courses I have participated in (rather than “taken”) included elements of agile development such as George Siemens and Stephen Downes Connectivism and Connective Knowlege where self-organizing groups itself was a critical piece of instruction, and DS 106 where the students create the lesson bank.

This is one of the questions I was the most enthusiastic about last night: how do we increase student collaboration in the classroom? How do we make it easier?

I know that others have been working along these lines, if you have some examples that you would care to share than post in the comments below or contact me on Twitter @geoffcain.

Related Readings:

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NWeLearn: Using Gamefication to Increase Engagement

Centralia College

Centralia College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, I was at the North West eLearning Conference in Eugene, OR. I highly recommend the conference. What I like about it most is that there are usually few presentations by vendors and a lot of sessions by teachers and education professionals. I was fortunate enough to make it to Erin Baker’s presentation called “Using Gamefication to Increase Engagement – Myth, Magic, and Reality.” And what you think should be a no-brainer at a conference on elearning, but is often exceptional, instead of telling us about it or reading off her paper, she had us actually do things. It was as much a hands on workshop as it was a presentation. Erin is an Education Technologist from Centralia College’s eLearning Dept. At the beginning, our “ice breaker challenge” was a scavenger hunt where we were meant to find others in the room and answer 8 questions about them which ranged from who had used gamefication before to funny questions like “name five pokemon” or “can you sing all the words to the theme song from ‘Gilligan’s Island.'” Her presentation also utilized scenarios on various facets of student engagement (or disengagement) and the room broke up into groups to come up with solutions. There were fill in the blank note sheets for getting down the ideas of the presentation. We were given an sheet that was an “Objective Bingo” which you could fill out as you met the objectives of the presentation. And if all that wasn’t enough, she had stayed up until 3:00 AM to make us all a series of ten collectible cards that she used as awards. We were given the opportunity to get complete sets at the end, but that required us to spontaneously organize into groups of sorters. If you could not make it to the session and would like to talk to her about it, she is on Twitter @erinanddelijah. The session was informative and inspiring and the cards alone were worth the price of admission.

So I have used games in my English comp classes before (a version of Nomic, for instance), but they were always separate events or assignments, not something built into the classroom or assessment. I learned a lot from using Nomic in the classroom – there can be a lot of positive, unintended consequences for using games in the classroom. The philosopher Peter Suber wrote about the game in his book “The Paradox of Self-Amendment: A study of law, logic, omnipotence, and change” in 1990 where he defines Nomic as “…a game in which changing the rules is a move. In that respect it differs from almost every other game. The primary activity of Nomic is proposing changes in the rules, debating the wisdom of changing them in that way, voting on the changes, deciding what can and cannot be done afterwards, and doing it. Even this core of the game, of course, can be changed.” This game teaches the students more about politics, communication, and getting things done in one day than they can learn in four years in college. But what I liked most about using a game was it brought out the voices from the back of the class, the introverts in the back realized that the three or four extroverts in the front were getting all the points, so they started to get together to create voting blocks and even passed a rule that said that anyone with more than 400 points had to give half back to everyone else! Now what I think Erin is getting at is that the kind of engagement I found in that one assignment can be part of the design for the whole class.

Some of the connectivist MOOCs I have participated in have gamefied elements. There are elements of gamefication in classes like DS 106 where the students have the ability to create their own assignments and the entire curriculum is in the spirit of a “choose your own adventure” game.

I did not have a chance to post about this over the weekend, but I did manage to read more articles about it – that to me is the sign of a good conference experience and what I mean by “inspiration” – I am led to explore and experiment more. Any way, these were some articles of interest to me. If there are some essentials I am missing let me know in the comments or contact me online via Twitter @geoffcain. The first three participants may be entered into a contest to possibly win a brand, new car! See? I just gamified my blog!

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NWeLearn: Revisiting Presence and Community in the Online Classroom

Revisiting Presence and Community in the Online Classroom

Patrick Lowenthal, Assistant Professor at Boise State University

Online educators love to talk about social presence and community. In this talk, Patrick will review some of his recent research on social presence and community with the goal of encouraging the audience to not only revisit but challenge current assumptions held about presence and community in the online classroom.

He calls himself an educator, researcher, designer, and developer. He has been teaching online since 2002.

He is excited about hating learning objectives and Quality Matters.

He discussed the history of social presence. “The Social Psychology of Telecommunications.”

He gave a continuum of social presence.

“Given enough time, we will find ways to connect even with email.” (Walther)

Community of Inquiry – The Education Experience: social, cognitive, teaching presence. He reviewed the lit around social presence and communication, and the community of inquiry.

His definition of social presence in an online course: real, there, connection, belonging.

He says that social presence is not the same thing and learning community.

Books he recommends: Situated Learning (1991) & Communities of Practice (1998)

What does an online community look like?

He says that there are benefits to community and social presence – but there is an “over-emphasis.”  

The Atlantic “When Schools Overlook Introverts.”

Does not like Quality Matters because?

It does a good job at scaffolding or creating an template.

His argument is that we need to be better than QM. We have to expect more.
He says we don’t need “virtual hugs” which I am not sure what he means by that. He also says that no student says that they were impressed about the assessments are aligned with the learning objectives. I disagree with this point – when they are not aligned they will definitely let you know.

Quality Matters and templates help solve problems.

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NWeLearn: Student Makers & Publishers

These are some random notes from a very exciting presentation on alternative assessments and student driven work. The notes are not a complete account but reflects my own interests and distractions:

Student Makers & Publishers

Amber Lemiere, Instructor of English
Mark Gaither, Instructor of Business Technology
Nicole DiGerlando, Instructor of English & Literature
Lucas Myers, Instructor of Biological Sciences at Lower Columbia College

We got bored accepting assignments, essays, tests, and projects for our eyes only: products of student learning that will eventually be filed away and forgotten about. So did our students! In this presentation, we share how we have started empowering students to become makers and publishers by designing and re-designing course work for a public audience, and using a variety of approaches and tools. Join us, four instructors in a variety of disciplines, to find out more about what our students are making, how we are getting them published, and what our vision is for a campus-wide, cross-discipline publishing culture. Show up with a traditional assignment, and leave with an idea for how you can engage your students by empowering them to make and publish their work, too!

Transitioning from trashcan assignments to something that is meaningful and from their own experience.

The editor of the Salal Review has the students look at other journals from other colleges and ask why it was edited that way.

The students are taught layout and how it presents the art and poetry. There is a technologist that comes in and talks about fonts. They have two workshops: one on Photoshop and the other on InDesign. The webmaster puts up a PDF of the journal.

Nichole teaches a variety of levels of English. In Eng 102 she decided to a class on vampires. The produce a physical journal, 10-12 page research paper, and they are gathered up. She also has students produce a zine.  She uses Prezi as well for the students to put up presentations.

Mark uses “self-organized learning environments.” The students are teaching themselves. SOLE Reviewer Student (Mitra, 2013). He had the girls make a “cookbook.” The entire class is working as a 40 person team producing one product. They used Word, layout, images. The students raised the money for producing the cookbook. The students are teaching themselves. “As an instructor, I didn’t have to do anything.” He just stayed out of it. He also worked with other instructors to have the students work across disciplines. The students are using Lulu for publishing. They sell the books for $40 a piece. They raised the money from a bake sale and a pie in the face contest. SOLE is a community process – it is self-policing.

This is based on the work of Sugata Mitra

Amber wants to create assignments that are empowering via multimedia. Multimodal Texts: Linguistic, Audio, Visual, Gestural, and Spatial

New London Group was cited. She initially asked students to create a mutimodal object for an extra 10 points. She then asked the students to make websites using all five elements of design. The students are using blogs and commenting on one another’s blog.
In response to the idea that writing connects writers to the ecosystem of ideas. “Digital spaces are places.”

Lucas talked about Pedagogical Transformation. Students are 1.5x more likely to fail in a traditional lecture oriented class than courses with a focus on active learning. (Freeman, 2014). Science is taught as if it is a body of facts and not a process of knowing. He had the students build websites. They needed to take what they are learning and put it up as a multimodal object. Some had family members use the material to help them through high school science. Students are designing their own experiments. They are not using the cookbook labs but creating, writing, posters, peer-reviewed, and published.

In one assignment, the students have to design a cancer-proof cell. They create videos for their websites.

Students are creating peer-reviewed undergrad research journals, epublications, and mobile apps.

Multiliteracies Wheel

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