Could a robot be grading your homework?

Artificial intelligence has become an increasingly big issue for education – not least because many tech companies and publishers are circling around the huge commercial opportunities. Especially with the possibility of the new chief at the USDOE coming on board soon.

One of those companies is Vantage Learning the industry leader in Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing Technologies. They were the first company to reach human level accuracy in their scoring engine and have patents on the world’s best artificial intelligent engine (Intellimetric) that automatically scores essays and provides prescriptive feedback to students globally.

To date the engine has scored more than 125,000,000 essays including many large-scale essays such as the GMAT, MCAT, SAT and ACT to name a few.

When thinking about the bigger picture in education though, could students really get their answers from a robot rather than a teacher? They are already receiving prescriptive feedback, and having their papers scored more efficiently than teachers can currently score. This leaves more time for intervention, content acquisition and remediation.

Donald Clark said it was a mistake to think jobs in education would not be automated, and I agree although, if technology can replace the teacher, then it should as that teacher is not doing their job, because teaching is more than technology and scores. It is about passion, choice and shaping our future as a country. You can decide for yourself and read this article. (

Dr Tarek Besold, speaking at an educational technology conference in Berlin, said a joke-writing computer showed how robots could be creative as well as carrying out repetitive, factory-floor tasks.

And he highlighted experiments already taking place in using artificial intelligence in teaching.

Digital teacher

This summer, Georgia Tech, a university in Atlanta in the US, deployed a teaching assistant called Jill Watson for one of its postgraduate courses.

Except that Jill Watson was really a robot, which helped students and answered their questions in an online forum, without revealing her cyber-identity.

The only thing that students noticed was that Jill Watson answered questions and provided feedback much more quickly than other teaching assistants.

Dr Besold, from Bremen University, said such robotic teachers were becoming increasingly sophisticated and had advantages over human teachers. I am still wary of this as a model, being a teacher I know the reality of what it takes to be a teacher and a pseudo-parent at times.

They were always ready to respond, they were never bored, tired or distracted.

But such clever computers could also be stupid.

While they could be trained to operate for a particular task or set of questions, they couldn’t easily adapt that knowledge to a different setting.

For example; Peter Murphy, the CEO of Vantage Labs said “a human who was good at chess would be likely to be able to play other games that required a complex thought process; while a chess computer would struggle, unless it had been specifically programmed. This also holds true for the computer that beat the Japanese strategy game “Go” as well”.

Will robotics and automation take more professional jobs?

There are also more subtle questions about online help from a robot. Would you feel the same about positive feedback if it came from a machine rather than a person?

What about the pastoral side of teaching? Could a robot offer empathy as well as factual insights?

And academic instruction is often not about “right” or “wrong” answers, but teaching how to think and investigate. It is about teaching critical thinking and empathy. Can a robot or cognitive computing engine actually perform these tasks of teaching or leading students to critically think and problem solve?

Destroying jobs

Donald Clark, a professor at Derby University and an education technology entrepreneur, said it was a mistake for anyone to think that education would be exempt from the impact of automation.

“Are we really saying that accountants, lawyers and managers can all be replaced by artificial intelligence – but not teachers?”

Can a robot truly appreciate a creative student’s answers?

Clark argued that artificial intelligence would change office jobs and professions in the way that automation had already transformed production lines.

“Artificial intelligence will destroy jobs – so why not use it for a social good such as learning?” he asked.

The acceleration of big data and more powerful computer systems meant that more and more sophisticated tasks could be automated, said Prof Clark.

It is already ebbing around the edges of education.

Online tutors

The name of Georgia Tech’s robot teacher – Jill Watson – is a reference to the underlying Watson computer system, developed by IBM to answer questions in ordinary language.

The Watson system is also being used in an experimental project from education companies. There has been AI used in education by Vantage Learning for the past 15 years and they developed the first automated scoring engine to reach human level accuracy. (

The use of artificial intelligence is growing in the workplace.

It’s not going to replace a conventional teacher, but it’s an indication of how online courses and revision tutorials could develop, with testing and feedback all wrapped up together.

But there are skeptics who see this as another wave of technology over-promising.

“We’ve been here before – with radio, television, computers, the internet,” said Stavros Yiannouka, chief executive of the Wise project, run by the Qatar Foundation.

“Technology in itself doesn’t revolutionize anything,” he said. Change in education is driven by public policy decisions, he said, not computer software.

There are also questions about whether automation will create a social divide – with stripped down, low cost, semi-automated courses, for those who cannot afford a traditional taught course.

Entrepreneur Nell Watson said that despite describing herself as a “happy clappy evangelist” for artificial intelligence, the role of teacher would not be replicated by a robot.

Cultivating the whole person and helping them to “blossom” was not something that was going to be achieved by an algorithm, she said.

And she doubted whether a computer could appreciate the work of an innovative student who thought outside the conventional questions and answers.

But automation is advancing.

The Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, said this month that 15 million jobs in the UK could be automated, including middle-class professions.

Changes in technology would “mercilessly” destroy jobs, he said.

So could it be “Goodbye Mr. Chips” and “Hello Mr. Silicon Chips”?

For more information on Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Computing or Natural Language Understanding reach out to me, I am always looking to discuss the future of the world we live, play and work in.

Ever wanted to learn a language…Here’s how!!


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Study says “Art Students Perform Better on Standardized Exams”

West Virginia high school students who take more than the required amount of arts classes scored better on math and reading portions of the Westest than students who did not, according to a study scheduled for release today.

“Students who earn 2 or more arts credits during high school were about 1.3 to 1.6 times more likely to score at proficient levels for mathematics and reading/language arts,” the study states.

Conducted by the Office of Research within the state Department of Education, the study includes information from 14,653 public high school students between 2007 and 2010. Researchers considered any music, visual or performance arts courses for the study.

The study also found students with more arts credits performed better on the ACT PLAN exam, a preparatory test before students take the actual ACT.

Researchers couldn’t say why the correlation exists. State education officials, however, are confident the arts are linked with better academic performance.

“The WVDE believes that a broad curriculum that is arts-rich (as well as having foreign language, movement, etc.), does lead directly to higher student achievement, as indicated by measures such as the Westest2,” Superintendent Jorea Marple said in an emailed statement.

The department is releasing the study as Marple visits several arts programs across the state. She is scheduled to be at an art class at Magnolia High School in New Martinsville today. More stops in Wetzel, Marshall and Ohio counties are scheduled for the week.

The study focuses on high school students, but officials believe the same results would be found at any age.

“The research data indicate that arts participation is positively associated with academic outcomes, meaning as participation increases, so does achievement,” Marple said in the statement.

“We do not contend that participation in arts causes those outcomes, but we know they are related in a positive way and that the relationship is statistically significant.”

West Virginia high school students are required to take one arts credit to graduate. Elementary school students must take music and general art classes every year.

Both chorus and band must be offered starting in sixth grade, and middle school students must take a cumulative of 18 weeks of music and art classes before going to high school.

The study looked at high school students who took two or more credits, and examined Westest and demographic differences.

For reading, the relationship between arts and higher test scores was consistent across all study groups, researchers found. The trend held true in math only for students not from low-income families and without disabilities or students only from low-income families. Overall though, the study states any student’s odds of scoring “above mastery” or “distinguished” on the Westest go up somewhat if they earn additional arts credits.

All studies have limitations: Researchers measured arts credits for the student group into the 12th grade, although the Westest is not taken beyond 11th grade. There’s a similar limitation for the ACT PLAN test, which is given in 10th grade.

The study also assumed a correlation between arts and improved test scores exists. Several national studies are also referenced, but researchers noted most focus on slightly different aspects.

(c)2012 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.). Visit the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services.

The 50 Best Videos For Teachers Interested In Gamification

Image by Sezzles via Flickr Creative Commons

Gaming in education is a really big deal, and a very fun way to get students more involved and interested in education.

Board games, video games, even active outdoor games all have an important place in education, and these videos share more about their role in learning.

Check out our list of 50 awesome videos for gaming teachers to discover what experts, teachers, and even students have to say about using games for education.

Gabe Zichermann: How games make kids smarter:
Check out Gabe Zichermann’s TED talk to find out how video games can actually make kids smarter and better problem solvers.

Johnny Lee demos Wii Remote hacks:
Check out this video to see how you can turn a cheap Wii Remote into a sophisticated educational tool.
Professor Henry Jenkins on games-based learning at SxSWi 2009:
MIT professor Henry Jenkins discusses why he thinks games are great learning tools in this video from SxSWi 2009.
Game-based Learning:
This video offers an excellent introduction into the idea of game-based learning, exploring how digital games can share enriched learning experiences.
Games and Education Scholar James Paul Gee on Video Games, Learning, and Literacy:
Learn about game learning from expert James Paul Gee, who explains the idea of situated and embodied learning, and how to helps students learn about problem solving.
Katie Salen on Game Design and Learning:
Quest2Learn’s Katie Salen explains the philosophy of using game design for learning in the classroom in this video.

John Hunter: Teaching with the World Peace Game:
John Hunter explains how he puts all of the world’s problems on a plywood board and uses the “World Peace Game” to encourage his 4th graders to solve them all, engaging them in learning and teaching complex lessons.
Game for Good Design Camp:
Gaming in education comes full circle in this video from Generation Cures Game for Good Design Camp. Students learn about science, technology, engineering, and math while they design video games that help others learn.
Immersive learning: it’s game on!:
Find out how immersive gaming environments can be useful for students and educators.
Stuart Brown: Play is more than fun:Dr. Stuart Brown discusses his research on play, explaining that gaming and play are important to healthy childhood development into adulthood.
What is Game Based Learning:
Check out this video to find a brief introduction to game-based learning.

Game On! How Playful Learning Works:
MIT’s video explains how playful learning works in an anywhere/everywhere state of play.
Teaching with Games: GLPC Case Study: Joel:
This video case study explores Joel Levin’s work as a school technology integrator, following him as he shares MinecraftEDU with second graders in New York City.
Game-Based Learning:
This video explains the application of game-based learning with video presentation and resources.
Classroom Game Design: Paul Andersen at TEDxBozeman:
Paul Andersen’s classroom is a video game, and you can learn how he puts video games to work in AP biology.
Video Games and the Future of Learning:
Jan Plass and Bruce Horner lecture in this video, explaining the research and science behind video games and their future in education.

Game Based Learning in Special Education:
Andre Chercka discusses his experience with game-based learning and how it can be applied to special education in this talk.
Steve Keil: A manifesto for play, for Bulgaria and beyond:
View this talk to find out why Bulgarian Steve Keil thinks play is so important to education and society, and how we can reinvent learning to better share a sense of play.
Mission Impossible Physical Education Game:
Check out this fun physical education game to see how kids can come together to think critically and work as a team.
The Gaming of Education:
In this video, you’ll see how gaming can help kids learn and engage more deeply, and enjoy “The Great Brain Debate” as experts question whether gaming in education negatively contributes to digital information overload.
Brenda Brathwaite: Gaming for understanding:
Game designer Brenda Brathwaite discusses how she created a game to help her daughter better understand the concept of slavery.
EdmodoCon 2011: Game Based Learning:
Watch this video to see how high school teacher Hyle Daley integrates educational gaming into curriculum.
Integrating Games-based Learning: A Conversation with Tim Rylands:
In this video, you’ll learn how to integrate games-based learning in your classroom.

Tim Brown: Tales of creativity and play:
Designer Tim Brown explains how important play is to creative thinking, offering great ideas for bringing play into our lives and classrooms.
Teaching with Games: GLPC Case Study: Lisa:
Check out this video with 4th grade teacher Lisa Parisi as she uses freely available games from BrainPOP and Manga High to challenge them in math and science content.
Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world:
Jane McGonigal’s talk explains how we can harness the power of gaming to solve real-world problems.
Nolan Bushnell Talks About Making Learning a Game:
View this video from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell as he talks about changing the way kids learn in and out of school with gaming.
Game-based learning: what do e-learning designers need to know?:
What makes educational games different? This video takes a look at what e-learning designers have to do differently when it comes to learning games.
Dawn Hallybone, Teacher, Learning Without Frontiers, London:
In this video, British teacher Dawn Hallybone shares her strategies for bringing commercial video game technology to learning in order to motivate her students and improve educational outcomes.
Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!:
Sir Ken Robinson shares his ideas for a radical shift in learning, bringing personalization and creativity to education, and allowing kids’ natural talents to grow.
Games and Learning in the Classroom with Teacher Prantika Das:
Follow this Microsoft Most Innovative Teachers Forum winner as she explains how she uses games to stimulate learning in her classroom.

Net Gen Ed: Game-based Learning:This video from Net Gen Ed explains the fundamentals of game-based learning and how to use games for educational purposes.
A Vision for 21st Century Learning:
Check out this presentation on game based learning to better understand the ideas behind immersive learning environments.
Ali Carr-Chellman: Gaming to re-engage boys in learning:
How do you get boys interested in learning? Encourage them to play video games. Ali Carr-Chellman’s talk explains a great plan to engage boys in the classroom by bringing video games in.
Gaming in Libraries Class:
See what Paul Waelchli has to say about teaching through game learning in this Gaming in Libraries course.
Ian Bogost on Serious Games:
Get gaming expert Ian Bogost view on what serious games can do for education and beyond.

School Mods: Gaming the Education System:
Jonathan Schneker’s talk is all about how video games can actually help us learn.
Education & business find uses for Serious Games:
This piece from Euronews explains how computer games are breaking beyond entertainment and moving into the education and business world.
Game based Learning-How computer games and their design can be used in schools:
Watch this video from the Festival of Education explaining why computer games are an essential part of 21st century curriculum.
James Paul Gee on Learning with Video Games:
Gaming expert James Paul Gee shares his insight into why video games make great learning tools.
Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain:
Watch Tom Chatfield’s TED talk to find out how games engage and reward our brains to keep us going for more.
Consolarium on BBC News: Gaming in Education:
Scottish educators explain how the Nintendo DS is making a difference in engagement and educational attainment for Scottish students.
Dr. Paul Howard-Jones – Neuroscience, Games & Learning:
Dr. Paul Howard-Jones discusses the science of game-based learning as he explains how gaming engages the brain in education.
Welcome to the Digital Generation:
This series of videos from Edutopia explains great ideas for teaching today’s digital generation

The Money Game:
In this financial education game, students learn basic money management and wealth creation principles, making personal finance education fun and easy.
Brenda Laurel:
Brenda Laurel’s talk on games for girls offers interesting ideas for getting female students more engaged in game learning.
Game-Based Learning in Higher Education:
Game-based learning isn’t just for kids. Watch this talk from the USC Center for Excellence in Teaching to find out why and how game-based learning can be used for higher education.
James Paul Gee on Grading with Games:
Game-based learning expert James Paul Gee explains how kids can learn, and be graded, with games.
Teaching with Games: GLPC Video Case Study: Steve:
Technology instructor Steve Isaacs discusses how he uses video game design and development in 7th grade curriculum, developing 21st century skills and helping to motivate students.
Douglas Thomas on Video Game Learning: Interacting with Media:
Watch this video from the MacArthur Foundation to find out how video games can serve as powerful learning tools for students.

Designing a classroom for the 21st century

It’s not enough to take a traditional K-12 classroom and fill it with technology. The smart classroom requires a more methodic approach that factors in the design of the basic shell, the teacher’s space, and the students’ independent and collaborative work areas.

Schools that ignore this step, said Issac Herskowitz, director of New York-based Touro College’s instructional technology program, will wind up with smart classrooms that fall short of their goals. “Designing classrooms for today’s learners requires a different approach than what’s been traditionally employed in K-12 settings,” said Herskowitz.

Here are six design elements that should be incorporated into the 21st Century classroom.

1. Desks and furniture that support collaboration. The days of the single desk and chair are gone, according to Herskowitz. He said he envisions a time when all K-12 classrooms are developed around the concept of collaboration–between student and teacher and among the students themselves.

“You want students to be able to do discovery learning and to work together on projects and problem-solving,” said Herskowitz.

To support that concept, he said, furniture should be able to accommodate multiple learners and then be repositioned for independent learning (such as testing). “When you start with this foundation,” said Herskowitz, “the collaboration comes naturally.”

2. Ample electrical outlets. Not all students will come to class with their iPads and laptops charged up and ready to go. To make sure 21st Century learners have the power they need to engage in classroom activities, Amber Golden Raskin said her school uses a combination of electrical outlets, some of which are integrated into the classroom furniture, and power strips that are distributed through the classroom.

3. A “smart” teacher lectern. Teaching in a smart classroom requires a “smart” lectern, said Herskowitz, who advised schools to put time and money into the structures that teachers will use as their home bases. USB ports that allow for easy document camera connections, interactive whiteboard equipment controls, and other features should be incorporated into the fixtures.
“You really want to make everything accessible for the teachers that are using the technology,” said Herskowitz. “If instructors are comfortable in the space and able to use all of the tools that you put in front of them, half the battle is won.”

4. Lighting that’s easy to control. With audiovisual technology becoming more advanced and even more useful in the K-12 classroom, the need for lighting that’s easy to dim or enhance is imperative. The student sitting furthest away from the projection screen, for example, must be able to see the workspace clearly and without interference from shadows.

“Factor in the natural lighting, the fixtures, and the controls,” said Herskowitz, “and focus on accessible lighting controls that allow the teachers to adjust quickly.”

5. Physical space that goes beyond the single classroom. Who says the 21st Century classroom has to be a single room? At SVCi, a four-year-old charter school, Raskin said holes were intentionally punched in classroom walls to help create a collaborative environment that expands beyond a single room. “Students and teachers can go in and out of the openings, which are covered by curtains when not in use,” said Raskin.

The strategy works particularly well when teachers collaborate on interdisciplinary projects. “Being able to share across classrooms is a big deal here,” said Raskin, “and something that we strived for when designing our learning spaces.”

6. Fewer expansive gathering areas. The traditional, campus-wide auditorium didn’t have a place at SVCi. Instead there are several mid-sized gathering areas designed to accommodate three or four classrooms full of students who need to come together to share, collaborate, or watch a live presentation.

“We went with smaller common areas rather than just one big assembly room,” said Raskin. “Our goal was to get students exercising the ‘expression’ muscles in smaller groups that lend themselves to more participation and collaboration.”

At its core, Raskin said, the modern-day classroom’s design should revolve around the idea that students should no longer be sitting alone at desks “spitting out answers” to a teacher who stands behind a podium. “In the last century we were a factory-driven society and schools were designed around that concept,” said Raskin. “Today we must create spaces where students can collaborate and participate in real-life environments where they can learn how to work on teams; that’s what they’ll be doing in the work world.”

Gamification in Education


Kendra is a sophomore taking an introductory course in forestry. Professor Sievert divides the class into teams of six students each and hands out a list of 100 plants found in the nearby national forest. Each team is responsible for finding photos and information about these plants, familiarizing themselves with them, and ensuring that they can identify them on location. The teams have two weeks to collect all the information they can and to quiz one another on plant recognition.

Then, two weeks from Friday, Sievert explains, teams will compete in a contest in a specified area of the nearby national forest to see which team can provide the most and best identifications in a two-hour window. Teams will win “identification points,” and the team with the most points will win tokens allowing each every member to turn in any one paper up to 48 hours late during the term.

Kendra and her team gather with their cell phones in hand half an hour early on the day of the contest. This gives them a few minutes to look over the rule sheets as Sievert distributes them. Rules are fairly straightforward. “Correct identification” consists of a photo of the plant with a team member standing beside it, sent by cell phone to a designated dropbox. These photos must arrive with a message giving the name of the plant and appropriate metadata. A standard plant on the list is worth 10 points; one marked “rare” is worth 25. There are also 5-point bonuses for a plant photographed in bloom, one correctly identified as suitable for human food, or one identified as toxic. Any misidentifications will subtract the number of points from the team total they would have added had they been correct.

Kendra’s team decides to separate into three groups of two each. When the starting whistle blows, Kendra and Jacob set out as partners to find, photograph, and identify. The cell phones are busy snapping pictures, receiving images from other team members for confirmation, and submitting photos to the dropbox. There are also several calls to coordinate team progress. At the end of two hours, the teams meet back at the gathering place. The unofficial tabulation suggests Kendra’s team has won by 5 points. She’s glad to learn that her team will be competing in similar contests throughout the term.

1. What is it?

Gamification is the application of game elements in non-gaming situations, often to motivate or influence behavior. In business contexts, gamification is used to create an engaging dynamic—such as the points system created by Weight Watchers— and to build brand loyalty. It also has wide currency in organizations where it may be used to encourage member or employee interest in projects or organizational efforts. In academe, gamification typically employs elements such as points, badges, or progress bars to engage or motivate students in the learning process. Whereas building a full-scale game requires the design and construction of a holistic, systematic environment to house the project, successful gamification can involve no more than the employment of a few feedback or reward elements. That said, the practice is most effective as a pedagogical tool where it forms part of a well-planned strategy to encourage research, inspire creativity, teach basic principles, or hone problem-solving skill.

2. How does it work?
Many instructors implement gamification because they

believe the rewards or the spirit of competition will spur students’ concentration and interest and lead to more effective learning. On the surface, these rewards may include items such as physical tokens, badges, or points toward a long-term goal. Students may strive to “win” recognition among their peers or the larger community or engage for personal satisfaction or a simple sense of accomplishment. But beneath these game-like prizes lies another level of reward that may include relevant feedback, learning reinforcement, and a lively and collaborative class environment. While technology is not essential to gamification, it can make management simpler. Many faculty use technology to track accomplishments, total points, and aggregate results. In addition, gamification elements can happen both inside and outside the classroom.

3. Who’s doing it?
The use of gamification is wide ranging in higher education, whether adapted from publicly available applications, designed by individual instructors, or created by departmental staff. Students at Pepperdine University’s business school, for example, are currently piloting a free web-based gamification tool called Veri. The product invites participants to test themselves on course topics using questions the instructor has entered. Game-like overtones include immediate humorous feedback and a running scoreboard for students to track their success. As they progress through various levels, a leader board sparks competition by showing who has the highest scores. In an economics course at Penn State, an instructor-designed example that ties content to play asks “So You Want to Be a Millionaire?” The syllabus notifies students that grades are for sale and explains that the primary way to acquire capital is by answering multiple-choice questions correctly, in this case on the course exams.

Not every use of gamification in academe is tied to coursework. Metadata Games at Dartmouth College arose from a critical need in the college archives. Vast photo repositories were being left unused by researchers because they lacked metadata necessary for effective searches. In response, a Dartmouth design team built a game-style interface that invited students to tag archived images either as a solo activity or in two-player game-like scenarios. The pilot phase alone netted over 6,000 image tags from players, suggesting that this kind of implementation may have intriguing potential for archivists and curators.

4. Why is it significant?
Adding game components to a course can result in several real benefits. Simulations can help students sharpen an ability or work out a novel solution, while a game-style patina may present coursework more as a challenge than a chore. But perhaps the most commonly cited benefit of gamification is that it fosters student engagement, often cited by the National Survey of Student Engagement as a key to increasing student retention. Where it functions well, gamification facilitates the formation of learning communities, giving new opportunities online or during course discussions to socialize or work as teams. In this sense, gamification has the potential to help build connections among members of the academic community, drawing in shy students, supporting collaboration, and engendering interest in course content that students might not have otherwise explored.

5. What are the downsides?

Some stakeholders feel any introduction of game elements trivializes learning content. At the same time, students may see game elements as condescending or feel disappointed and frustrated when their application is not successful or does not yield the kind of satisfaction from winning that they expect. The competitive element that intrigues some students may discourage others, particularly those who have trouble with course content. They may feel the competition introduces another level of complexity or that it will reveal their difficulties in understanding the content to the rest of the class.

Gamification can be deceptively difficult to employ effectively, and examples of failed efforts are not hard to find. For example, awarding points to students whose blog entries garner the most responses might encourage some bloggers to enlist their friends to comment, without regard to quality, their drive being the extrinsic rewards rather than the quality of the work they submit. In addition, careful thought must be given to the administrative details of gamification lest instructors be overwhelmed by the workload of tracking student progress through points, tokens, badges, and other game elements.

6. Where is it going?
The use of technology in gamificaiton has given rise to several grants from sources such as Next Generation Learning Challenges and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Such support for gamification is likely to encourage more complex, technology- based, interactive scenarios that extend beyond individual classrooms. In fact, gamification is already moving toward institutional uses, in implementations such as “Just Press Play,” debuting at the Rochester Institute of Technology this fall. This university-wide instance of gamification is structured to involve students in all aspects of the student community experience. They earn badges for activities such as going to the gym for the first time or getting A’s during a term, but the awards are part of an integrated approach to engage them throughout the four-year program. Similar projects employed at a departmental or institutional level might serve many cross-disciplinary purposes to help students construct portfolios, build organizations, or derive artistic or business solutions that could bridge the space between the educational experience and career achievement.

7. What are the implications for teaching and learning?

While the term “gamification” is of fairly recent coinage, the use of game elements to teach is certainly not new. Instructors have long understood that interactive experiences engage student imaginations and increase motivation. Gamification offers instructors numerous creative opportunities to enliven their instruction with contests, leader boards, or badges that give students opportunities for recognition and a positive attitude toward their work. These elements of play take advantage of the human desire to compete and socialize, as well as to measure progress toward clear goals, allowing individuals to compete against themselves. Where they are employed thoughtfully and effectively, game elements can engage and motivate students, encourage exploration, foster independent effort, and generate unexpected solutions to the problems posed by course content.



E School News Top 10 Android Apps

Last year we presented “Ten of the best Android apps for education,” which highlighted some of the best apps for Google Android-based mobile devices. Now, with recent upgrades in touch technology and HD features, we’ve come up with a new list of the best Droid-based education apps for 2012.

This year’s list includes some of the most highly rated apps, both by teachers and by students, and features a range that spans from an innovative and hyperlinked dictionary developed by the Cognitive Science Laboratory at Princeton University to an interactive whiteboard app for tablets.

For every app we’ve listed, we’ve included a brief description, software compatibility, suggested use, features, price, rating, and a link to a more in-depth summary with an option to purchase on Google.

Don’t see an Android app you love on this list? Be sure to let us know—or leave a suggestion in the comment section.

(Apps are listed in alphabetical order.)

1. Name: Advanced English & Thesaurus

What is it? Instead of following the standard dictionary format, the WordNet dictionary is organized with an innovative and convenient approach. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are grouped into sets of cognitive synonyms, interlinked by means of conceptual-semantic and lexical relations. In addition to the straightforward definition, the dictionary shows how each word is linked to other words in terms of synonyms, opposites, and similar words, but also hyponyms and hyperlinks within the group.

Best for: High school students, teachers; Android 2.0 & up

Price: Free

Rated: 4.3 out of 5

Features: Straightforward and precise definitions of over 140,000 words, with more than 250,000 linkss; synonyms, antonyms, similar and related words to help you make your writing and speech more interesting; hypernyms (more generic words), hyponyms (subordinate words), and meronyms (part names); examples illustrate how words are used and show typical constructions and collocations; transcriptions facilitating pronunciation; hyperlinks between different related words; history to see the last 50 words you have looked up; support for memory cards; filters to help you locate the word you are searching for.


2. Name: AnyMemo Free

What is it? An advanced, spaced-repetition flash card learning software with rich functions

Best for: High school students; Android 1.6 & up

Price: Free

Rated: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Features: Improved adaptive algorithm from Mnemosyne, Supermemo, Anki; simple and power saving interface with rich functions; no hidden internet connection, no ads; text-to-speech, MP3/OGG/WAV audio; download millions of flash card db to study Arabic, English, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, German, French, and also Computer, Religion, and more from, flashcardexchange, Quizlet, or StudyStack; download and upload from/to Dropbox; import from StudyStack; import flash cards from Mnemosyne, SuperMemo PPC XML files, CSV, Tab-separated TXT, QA Text files; export to Mnemosyne XML, TXT, QA Text; small size, support APP2SD.


3. Name: HomeWork

What is it? Homework and time table app for students. Widgets for timetable and homework.

Best for: High school students; Android 1.6 & up

Price: Free

Rated: 4.6 out of 5 stars

Features: List with all homework assignments, sorted on date, with counters for the amount of homework not “done” yet; list with all exams, sorted on date; timetable for the current day; timetable for the current week; define your own subjects/lessons; define the start and end times of the lessons; define contact information for each subject.


4. Name: Kids ABC Phonics

What is it? Through different games, kids will learn the alphabet letter sounds and the basics of blending

Best for: Ages 2-7

Price: $3.99

Rated: 4.5 out of 5

Features: Kids hold and turn a picture-filled letter block and hear the ABC phonics being pronounced; children have fun building phonics recognition skills by making their own ABC blocks; while putting puzzles together, kids learn the basics of phonics blending. These skills will be further exercised and expanded in the Kids Reading game. Every section is designed so children enjoy success time after time and receive positive reinforcement from the likable teacher, so they want to keep learning.


5. Name: Kids Numbers and Math

What is it? A fun way for kids to learn numbers and build basic math skills.

Best for: Preschoolers and math; phones and tablets

Price: Free version or $2.99

Rated: 4.4 out of 5 stars

Features: Numbers are spoken in kid-friendly English. The paid version enables the number ranges to be set, with numbers going up to 20. Games include learning number, choosing max/min number, addition, subtraction, find a match, and advanced exercises.


6. Name: Splashtop Whiteboard

What is it? Allows teachers and students to turn their Android tablet into an interactive whiteboard. Once connected to their computer over Wi-Fi, they can watch Flash media with fully synchronized video and audio, control PC and Mac applications, then annotate lesson content from an Android tablet. Splashtop Whiteboard offers users of existing interactive whiteboards—such as Mimeo, Mobi, Promethean, Polyvision, or SMART Technologies—a way to extend their investment by accessing their tools from anywhere in the class without using wireless slates.

Best for: Teachers or high school presentations; Android 3.1 & up

Price: $9.99

Rated: 4 out of 5 stars

Features: Have complete control over the applications, such as Keynote or PowerPoint on the classroom PC. Slowly reveal text or images to keep your audience focused using the Screen Shade tool, or use the Spotlight tool to keep the attention on just one part of the screen. Use gestures to draw, highlight, or write over any content. Take snapshots of the screen and save them to the gallery, then print or eMail the snapshots to students, parents, or colleagues. Use different colored and sized pens, stamps, highlighter, shapes, lines, and text tools over existing content or Flipchart backgrounds. Use the digital flipchart tool to create pages with different backgrounds. All video and audio are played in high definition on your Android tablet. Play Adobe Flash content, iTunes music, DVDs, CDs, etc.


7. Name: Star Chart

What is it? This virtual star chart allows users to point an Android device at the sky to determine exactly what they are looking at. Using state-of-the-art GPS technology, an accurate 3D universe, and all of the latest high-tech functionality, Star Chart calculates—in real time—the current location of every star and planet visible from Earth and shows you precisely where they are, even in broad daylight.

Best for: Astronomy, STEM classes

Price: $2.99

Rated: 4.4 out of 5 stars

Features: Just point and view; look around the sky using finger gestures; allows you to view the night sky whilst holding your Android device at any angle; accurately depicts all the visible stars of the northern and southern hemispheres; displays all the planets of the solar system, plus the sun and the moon; displays all 88 constellations, with constellation imagery based on the artwork by 15th century astronomer Johannes Hevelius; includes entire Messier catalogue of exotic deep sky objects; tap on anything in the sky and get the facts on what you are looking at, including distance and brightness; installable on an SD card.


8. Name: Teacher Aide Pro

What is it? Take attendance and grades with easy eMail and text features. Winner for Best Android Teacher App for the 2011 Best App Ever Award.

Best for: K-12 teachers; Android 2.1 & up

Price: $5.99

Rated: 4.9 out of 5 stars

Features: Supports 90 students per class; import student names via CSV file; export data via CSV-generated file and send via eMail; one-click text to students and parents for tardy and absent students and for missing assignments; one-click Random student generator. Voice to text speaks student’s name; grading options use categories/weighting; bulk eMail and texting. Send messages to all students or parents with a few simple clicks; Student Photo gallery so you can learn their names quickly.



9. Name: United States History Free

What is it? Facts on U.S. history

Best for: Elementary to high school history classes; Android 1.5 & up

Price: Free

Rated: 4.6 out of 5

Features: Contains a large amount of historical information, including: Constitution (broken down by Article), Federalist Papers, Anti-Federalist Papers, Bill of Rights, Presidents, Important Documents, Flag Code, The Star Spangled Banner, The Pledge of Allegiance, Articles of Confederation, Random U.S. Facts, and The States.



10. Name: WolframAlpha

What is it? Get answers and access expert knowledge. Remember the Star Trek computer? It’s finally happening. Across thousands of domains–with more continually added–Wolfram|Alpha uses its vast collection of algorithms and data to compute answers and generate reports for you. Parts of Wolfram|Alpha are used in the Apple Siri Assistant; this app gives you access to the full power of the Wolfram|Alpha computational knowledge engine.

Best for: High school students; Android 2.1 & up

Price: $2.99

Rated: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Features: Domains include mathematics, statistics & data, physics, chemistry, materials, engineering, astronomy, earth science, life science, computational science, units & measures, dates & times, places & geography, people & history, culture & media, music, words & linguistics, sports & games, money & finance, and much more.



E School News Top 10 Apps for Apple Devices

One app teaches young students about cyber bullying.

Last year we presented “10 of the best apps for education,” which highlighted some of the best apps for iPhones and iPods. However, with new upgrades in touch technology, HD and 3D features, and the debut of the iPad, we’ve come up with a new list of the best Apple-based education apps for 2012.

This year’s list includes some of the most highly rated apps, both by teachers and by Apple, and features a range that spans from simple math games to a revolutionary special-education app, and from 3D imaging of the elements included in the periodic table to secure file sharing for students and teachers.

For every app we’ve listed, we’ve included a brief description, device compatibility, suggested use, features, price, and a link to a more in-depth summary with an option to purchase on iTunes.

Don’t see an app you love on this list? Be sure to let us know—or leave a suggestion in the comment section.


Name: Edmodo

What is it? Edmodo makes it easy for teachers and students to stay connected and share information.

Best for: High school students; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: Free

Rated: 4+

Features: Send notes; submit assignments; post replies; check messages and upcoming events while away from the classroom; teachers can post last-minute alerts to their students, keep tabs on recent assignment submissions, and grade assignments; students can view and turn in assignments and check their latest grades.


Name: Frog Dissection

What is it? This app is a greener alternative for teaching dissection in the classroom. It’s suitable for middle school students who are learning about organs and organ systems as part of their life science curriculum.

Best for: Science; Biology; iPad

Price: $3.99

Rated: 4+

Features: 3D imaging; step by step instructions with voice over; accurate simulation of the wet lab dissection procedure; content validation by subject matter experts; anatomical comparison of humans with frogs; comprehensive information on frogs’ organs; classification, lifecycle, and organ functions of frogs; interactive quiz on frogs; information on types of frogs.


Name: Grammar Up HD

What is it? Improve grammar and vocabulary with this multiple-choice quiz system featuring more than 1,800 questions in 20 categories.

Best for: English/Language Arts; iPad

Price: $4.99

Rated: 4+

Features: More than 1,800 multiple-choice questions; choose number of questions you would like in each test; shows test results in HTML format; eMail yourself the test results and track your progress; “Progress Meter” keeps track of how you are performing in a particular topic; choose your own timer settings.


Name: History: Maps of the World

What is it? Browse high-resolution maps of the world from various periods throughout history.

Best for: History, Geography; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: Free

Rated: 4+

Features: Wide variety of historical displays; support for Category/Era view; keyword search; displays the source about each map; zoom in/out (zoom in/out with pinch, zoom in with double tab, and zoom out with two-fingers tap); free screen rotation; does not require a network connection.


Name: iStudiez Pro

What is it? Organize your class schedule, keep track of homework assignments, record your GPA, make to-do lists, and more with this app created for a busy student’s life.

Best for: High school students; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: $2.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Students are able to follow up with homework; summarizing schedules and assignments; tracking grades and GPA; push notifications; backup data options.


Name: Monster Anatomy

What is it? Explore 384 contiguous MR slices in the three anatomical planes with this interactive lower-limb radiology atlas.

Best for: Biology; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: $8.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Navigation with multiple shortcuts; display of images in the three anatomical planes; 3D image volume (VR) allows precise location of slice position; over 500 different labels in accordance with the “Terminologia Anatomica” and current literature references; more than 10,000 tags; the five different display modes available (bones, joints, muscles, blood vessels, and nerves) facilitate label visualization; high image quality with a zooming tool.


Name: Motion Math

What is it? Motion Math HD follows a star that has fallen from space and must bound back up, up, up to its home in the stars. Moving fractions to their correct place on the number line is the only way to return. By playing Motion Math, learners improve their ability to perceive and estimate fractions in multiple forms.

Best for: Math; iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Price: $1.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Problem hints; intro level, practice of improper fractions and negative decimals; beginner, medium, and expert modes; bonus levels.


Name: Professor Garfield Cyberbullying

What is it? Teach kids anti-bullying messages and strategies for dealing with cyber bullies with the help of Garfield and friends.

Best for: Internet safety; elementary students; iPad

Price: Free

Rated: 4+

Features: Understand the meaning of cyber bully; learn to recognize different forms of cyber bullying; learn different strategies for dealing with a cyber bully; learn the importance of enlisting the help of a trusted adult when cyber bullied.


Name: Proloquo2go

What is it? This easy-to-use alternative communication solution offers an extensive library of symbols for those who have difficulty speaking. It provides natural sounding text-to-speech voices, high-res up-to-date symbols, automatic conjugations, a default vocabulary of more than 7,000 items, advanced word prediction, full expandability; and extreme ease of use. For anyone who cannot afford spending thousands of dollars on an AAC device and yet wants a solution that is just as good if not better. SLPs, teachers, and parents recommend it for children and adults with autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, developmental disabilities, apraxia, ALS, stroke, or traumatic brain injury.

Best for: Special education; iPhone, iPod, iPad

Price: $189.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Listed above; educational institutions can get a 50-percent discount on Proloquo2Go if they purchase 20 or more licenses through Apple’s Volume Licensing Program for Education.


Name: The Elements: A Visual Exploration

What is it? Learn about the periodic table in a hands-on way. Choose any element—copper, for example—and see various copper objects: a Persian weave chain, a brass ring, a Chinese bronze … and then rotate them with your finger to get a 3D view.

Best for: Science; Chemistry; iPad

Price: $13.99

Rated: 4+

Features: Sharp HD images that can rotate (available in 3D); columns of facts and figures with each element; Wolfram Alpha computational knowledge engine.


BYOT Implementations are Literacy Projects

Are these your literacy standards?

From an educator’s perspective there are a few places that we can turn for a concrete look at the standards.  The best resources for modern literacy standards are the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Let’s start with NCTE.  The Definition of 21st Century Literacies listed below was adopted by NCTE in 2008. While you look at the list below,  think about how many educators in your community are comfortable in these areas.

  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

As educators, we need to be able to start to list concrete examples of how we meet each of these standards and then assist our students in doing the same.

What about the ISTE standards?

Like NCTE, ISTE also provides us clear standards to help schools better prepare students in the digital age. Unfortunately, the vast majority of educators look at the ISTE standards as technology standards when in reality they are learning standards. As the introduction to the standards states on the ISTE website, “Technology has forever changed not only what we need to learn, but the way we learn.”

Like the NCTE standards, ISTE’s contain six focal points:

  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Research and Information Fluency
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Technology Operations and Concepts

As with the NCTE standards, I question how many of these our staff members are comfortable with at this point.

Is this even on our radar?

So as we look towards the new things on the agenda for schools throughout our country like common core implementation and new teacher evaluation methods, I am worried that the integration of technology is still looked upon as a detached task that will have to be kept on the back burner.  The reality of the situation, however, is that if we understand how to utilize the vast array of collaborative resources out there that we can accomplish our tasks more effectively. But we cannot even start down this road if we do not provide access.

There is a great quote about technology in Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great”: “Technology alone is not going to move an organization or an individual from Good to Great. However, technology that is thoughtfully deployed can help us move a bit faster. ”

In closing, I have to mention the seven survival skills that Tony  Wagner discusses in his book “The Global Achievement Gap,” skills that our students need whether they are going on to college or the workplace.

  1. Critical thinking/problem solving
  2. Collaboration/leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and analyzing information
  7. Curiosity and imagination

We cannot get where we need to go, if we as educators do not model these skills and we cannot model these skills if we do not provide learning environments where staff and students have access to digital resources that allow them to experiment and discover the power of being a connected learner. We are at a point where we have to consider whether or not those who are learning in “disconnected” environments can be called literate by today’s standards.

So as you are thinking about whether or not a BYOT or one-to-one initiative is right for your school, you need to ask yourself the following question: Is it important that students in our school are literate?

What’s the difference between PBL and Design Thinking | Great Post by Ewan McIntosh

Bianca Hewes and some others were last night asking some good questions to seek out the difference between design thinking and project-based learning (PBL) as techniques for use in the classroom. These kinds of questions we explore through out workshops with educators around the world, and there’s an explanation developing in a book I hope to release soon. In the meantime, here’s a quick and dirty take on the question from me:

For much of the past three years my colleagues and I been working through a specific innovation process with educators on the one hand, and non-education organisations on the other: media groups, technology startups, fashion companies, the UN, political parties… The process is design thinking.

When we work with creative, government or political organisations, the approach is a logical extension of what they’re doing, a welcome structure through which to explore a wider scope of a given challenge.

When we work with schools, we’re taking the Design Thinking process and marrying it with what we know from research about what makes great learning. However, there’s a piece of vocabulary that often gets in the teachers’ way of seeing what design thinking might bring to the learning process: PBL, or project-based learning. “It’s just PBL”; “This is the same as CBL”: the understanding of a model which is close, but not quite the same to design thinking, makes it harder to spot the differences and additional elements that could help enrichen practice.

So what are the key differences between a PBL project and one where design thinking is mashed with what we know makes learning great? (N.B. Following some criticism on Twitter, I feel it is worth pointing out that these reflections are just that, reflections on practice I’ve either observed first hand or have researched online. Don’t get mad: comment and take part in the discussion).

0. Important point: there’s probably less of a #PBL vs Design Thinking distinction to make, but rather, how can design thinking add to existing well-kent pedagogies of PBL?

1. A PBL project tends to explore a relatively narrow subject area, with a narrow essential question
In many, if not most PBL, projects I’ve seen, the project is defined by the essential question(s), which often sound like curricular checkpoints, or which funnel learning down a particular pre-defined path. In many, the groupings of students and their activities are defined (the film crew, the researchers, the presentation-makers, the event organisers).

In Design Thinking, the goal is to explore the widest possible area(s) for longer, to offer a good half-dozen or more potential lines of enquiry that students might end up exploring. The essential question(s) come much later in the process (as much as half-way through, in the synthesis stage) and…

2. In Design Thinking, the students, not the teacher, write the essential question(s)
In PBL, the teacher does a lot of the learning for the student: taking a large potential area of study and narrowing it down into a manageable project question. The teacher often delivers a “brief” for learners through two or three essential questions, much in the same way as a client delivers a brief to a design firm.

In Design Thinking, the teacher avoids asking a question at all, and comes up with what we call a generative topic (from David Perkins‘ work), a curiosity-mongering statement that opens up an area of study, doesn’t narrow it down. The questions that come from this investigation are the ones that students will go on to look at in more detail, come with ideas around solving or presenting.

Design firms like IDEO and our own web designers at NoTosh often take a brief from a client and then through their research, they change it. However, in learning, the use of a generative topic from the start speeds up the process, and teaches this skill of “helpful disobedience” of the brief. There’s little difference, in fact, between a traditional project-based learning experience and a deep design thinking experience if the educator is giving a brief: design thinking merely adds some structure to PBL, a new vocabulary, and, it seems from every workshop I spot online, lots of LEGOs, pipe cleaners and post-its. There is more to Design Thinking for learning than this utilitarian service-improvement model that’s currently getting big airtime!

A large part of our work with educators is working on how to develop higher order questioning skills in students. So many Design Thinking projects we observe elsewhere at the moment are based around relatively lower order questions, or on just school/community improvement. Design Thinking can be so much more than this, but it takes the marriage between Design Thinking as a creative industries process and the best educational research we can find. It’s hard to find people teaching Shakespeare, religious studies or mathematics through the process, the very things we’re seeing educators through our work begin to achieve. Core to raising that ambition is raising the quality of questioning in both teachers and students, something that remains untouched in most schools.

3. The ideas of what students will produce in PBL are often set by the teacher.
In Design Thinking students make the choice about what their prototype will be. Prototype or product ideas for learning are often set in advance in a PBL project (“you will produce a film”, or “you will be able to use multimedia and text”).

In Design Thinking the decision about which medium to use to show an idea lies entirely with the students, and again comes later in the process, when they know more about the initial exploratory topic.

4. Design Thinking provides a set of vocabulary that increasingly makes sense to employers in the creative, financial and governmental and innovation sectors.
The biggest challenge with PBL is that it was invented for education by educators. Design Thinking was created 30 years ago by a product design outfit (IDEO) as a way of working and thinking, to help provide better solutions to clients. The process helped bring about the graphical interface and computer mouse. It’s now coming into the language of many large firms as they seek a more structured way to innovate.

The language PBL uses is, by contrast, inconsistent and not usable outside the classroom. So, using a process that encourage deeper, wider thinking AND helps develop a life skill provides great value to learners.

5. And what about Understanding by Design..?
When we first came across Understanding by Design, or UbD, it felt, in the words of those harnessing it, very similar to their first impressions of design thinking. However, there’s a key difference. UbD involves the educator deciding on a final view of success and working back from that, designing learning towards the final goal. Design Thinking does it the other way around.

UbD almost tries to give students the impression they have choice, responsibility for their learning, real things to create in order to learn, but in fact, it fails to respect the choices learners make, as tangents are a) less likely to appear (the immersion phease of research at the beginning is narrower by design) and b) less likely to be given time and resource by the teacher when they do appear (such tangents are off the goal that the teacher has already set in mind).

Although controversial to say, I feel that UbD and many project-based learning approaches do nothing but disempower the learner, or at least not empower them any more than traditional coursework and chalk-and-talk. It’s maybe less the approach that is wrong (since depth and higher order thinking is a staple of most guides to project-based learning) but the practice that ends up occurring as people find themselves pushed back into the status quo of assessment accountability and content coverage fear from their superiors. As a result, many design thinking projects we see are too narrowly designed around school or community improvement, something Emillio Reggio and Montessori schools have been doing (better?) for scores of years. Why are we not seeing PBL or Design Thinking taking place across whole school curricula, from Shakespeare to science, school canteens to Cantonese?

It’s time people look more seriously towards the amazing work done by educators in Europe and Australia, where design thinking is truly stretching the scope within which learners operate. There. I said it! 🙂 And I promise that over the next six months we’ll share even more of those amazing learning stories.

This is a brief outline of five key differences between the two approaches. As I wrote above, there is a new book coming out soon from me outlining the amazing work done by our Design Thinking Schools and creative clients around the world. This will provide the depth that some folk might want after this briefest of explanations. We also run intensive workshops for educators and creative firms, wherever you are in the world, that help enthuse staff and set them out on the journey towards more student-led learning. If you’re interested in one of those, just get in touch.

August 16, 2012


“My results…” Care less about what everyone says

In England and Wales today, and in Scotland last week, youngsters have been receiving their examination results. All those months of hard work, well, work in any case, pay off in about the 10 seconds it takes to open an envelope and take a glance over the final scores. Some people even choose to do it in front of the TV cameras – you’d have never found me wanting to do that!

At that point in time, the effort, the learning that went on, and the lessons to carry on into later life all disappear into distant memory. It might as well not have happened.

But a tweet this morning from London’s friendliest entrepreneur Oli Barrett sent me seeking out the pre-envelope-opening tweets, all those people talking about “my results” on Twitter. The search string has been fascinating, particularly in the early morning.