The Anti-Gaming Game is Up! (Part 1 – Confession)

Nobody Expects The Spanish Inquisition
Photo Courtesy of Alejandra Ramirez

Confession time. I was an anti-gaming teacher.

For 6 years, I set up classrooms and taught a variety of content. I facilitated learning to a fair degree, conceived of a wide variety of learning engagements, and tried to offer my students many pathways to reach our learning objectives, often based on learning style preferences that the students themselves identified or I observed. I became more thoughtful in varying the kind of thinking I expect from students by drafting learning objectives based on Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Thinking, planning engaging activities using Project Zero’s Visible Thinking Routines, and by making use of Tony Ryan’s Thinker’s Keys for diversity.

But I never planned actual online gaming experiences into my lessons, and failed to consider that such experiences could be extremely beneficial to student learning.

Now, before I completely present myself as an overly self critical education flagellate, perhaps I should backtrack. I should soften my initial statement. It’s not that I was an anti-gaming teacher. I mean I was open minded to the possibility of using online, multi-user games, but never realised it would be possible to modify these games to bring them in line with my content objectives and the inquiry process. Based on recent understandings and excellent examples of game based learning designed by our ISPP Ed Tech Coach, Matthew Dolmont, I am changing my thinking on computer gaming in the classroom and plan to geek out in order to learn how to develop games, lessons related to these games, and systems of assessment for game based units of study.

Firstly, I must clarify the types of games I see being of most value in the classroom. I’m talking about developing gaming situations that:

  • allow students to interact with real life concepts we have focused on during previous instruction;
  • provide students with the potential to inquire into concepts and ideas that normally would be impractical or impossible during normal school time for reasons of time, space, materials required, etc.;
  • encourage the use and development of higher order thinking skills with a digital focus;
  • give an instructor a perspective on the students’ understanding of concepts by allowing for a collection of data in the form of chats, anecdotal notes, screen shots, post gaming blog post reflections, etc.;
  • establish an environment in which students can practice geeking out, being part of an online learning community, and collaborating on a digital project.

Based on what I have learned so far about gaming, it seems that the most useful types of games to develop would be simulation, role playing games, possibly with real time strategy elements and always with an educational purpose in mind. I’m not thinking about action, combat, and first person shooter (FPS) games that as educators we often find with math kill and drill type games, although these definitely have a place in the classroom as well.

Please tune in for part 2.

Lange Nacht der Computerspiele 1.JPG
By Die SchreibfabrikOwn work, CC BY 3.0,

Making Connections to Connectivism

We ARE connected…Jondi and Spesh knew this long ago…


As Week 2 comes to a close in my COETAIL Cohort 6 existence, I’m starting to become more familiar and comfortable with the amount of information we have been taking in, aided by my Feedly, Twitter, and Flipboard accounts and my general increased organisation with my use of Google Chrome, Zotero, and iCloud accounts to sync bookmarks, information source lists, and notes across home and work computers, and mobil devices. Diigo is a new one for me this week, but the very first article in our COETAIL section of this aggregator proved to connect strongly to issues around my information consumption in the past two weeks.

This article, about a Dutch journalism platform called De Correspondentdescribes how links added to blog posts and other web based publications can distract readers from an article and what systems De Correspondent has set up in its publications to allow readers to read distraction free, while still being able to tailor their experiences based on prior knowledge.

I wish I had read the article earlier and will seek to follow De Correspondent’s methodology in my own blog posts, as I realise, I have been continuously going off on reading (and learning) tangents and may have caused others to do this. For example, it took me about an hour to read Time to Redesign Curriculum for the Digital Age due to my following of links in an effort to determine to what extent my own teaching meshes with education that was required during the age of industrialisation (think 19th and 20th centuries). At the very least, I will try to make sure that I give readers some information about a link before I offer the choice of a clickable diversion. Hopefully, those of you who started reading this section are still here…

Hello? Anyone?

(Note to previously addressed readers…I’m going to deviate from De Correspondent’s method of not distracting readers through use of in-article hyperlinks here. This is partially because I’m not a De Correspondent writer and thus do not have immediate access to their “info cards” linking system that present tidbits of information within the same web page itself if you want to know more about a topic discussed in an article of theirs.)

I took another look at George Siemens’ A New Learning Theory for the Digital Age which outlines his addition to theories of learning that teachers trained in western education pedagogy have usually inquired into as part of their requirements for licensure. From the outset, I found it useful to once again orient myself to the theories that Siemen’s is grafting his on to, and the coordinating theorists, namely:

Ok, thinking back, I remember it all…Skinner – Behaviorism, conditioning and positive reinforcement. I never thought much of this learning theory, but it seems to make most sense in the field of animal husbandry. Piaget – Cognitivism, right! Schema and brain is like a computer making connections. With this theory, we started to see a bit more optimism and independence in learners. Constructivism – Vygotsky! Yes, now we are really cooking. People learn best in the company of others. Zone of proximal development. Gotcha.

Finally, we come to a new theory, Siemens’ Connectivism which builds on where Piaget and Vygotsky left off and adds the unforeseen element of technology to human learning. From a very basic perspective, this new developing theory sounds to me a lot like Constructivism, but taking into account the massive capabilities, possibilities, and endless networking potential of the internet and all of our gadgets that run off its incessant streams of information, data, and human innovations.

In his manifesto, Siemens poses some questions. I thought a useful starting point for my diving into Connectivism would be to see if I had any natural beginnings of my own answers to his questions. Mr. Siemens, here you are:

  • “How are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner?”

I would think they stay the same. People still learn things in a rational manner. People still learn loads from other learners and people (thus we have our blossoming Cohort 6).

  • “What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval)?”

Well, I would think that memory becomes less important…unless it comes to having a conversation, for which you need to keep track of your own knowledge while processing new knowledge from another learner. But what is more valuable? A fleeting conversation where the ideas disappear? Or a lasting conversation on a blog?

  • “How can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology?”

Well this course has begun to answer it…by being part of a Cohort of learners, or a community and reflecting on our learning with a group of other chaos-nauts exploring the world of the internet together. Also, by using available tools which help organise and filter the information and feed it to us. (Such as Feedly and Twitter, apps I’m currently using.) However, I’m making a guess here that there are many learners out there who are NOT staying current.

  • “How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?”

This is an interesting question…I sometimes jokingly refer to it as channeling…being able to, on a moment’s notice, get as complete a picture of whats happening and act on it. This happens a lot in music. However, I would think that as learners, we grasp at continuously emerging information. Perhaps information that is coming out second by second. Our minds, with training in order to avoid shutting down, continue to attempt to reach understanding while being open minded and flexible enough to not panic in the absence of complete understanding.

  • “What is the impact of networks and complexity theories on learning?”

I think one impact is that we have more experts to choose from. Also, there is a higher possibility of getting the right answer or confirmation of new understandings through similar responses from others all over the network.

  • “What is the impact of chaos as a complex pattern recognition process on learning?”

I would say all learning is making patterns out of chaos. To a child, the alphabet is chaos and makes absolutely no sense…but within a few months of development, usually around preschool or kindergarten, the human brain can recognise and make connections necessary to link patterns of lines, sounds, and images sufficiently to understand and use the alphabet. Perhaps the first “network” was the first text created. Or…the first time anybody left something around for someone to see or use after the original person was not around anymore…cave paintings? Tools? Fire? Experiencing chaos, I would think, stimulates learning, as long as the learner is not upset in the absence of immediate understanding.

  • “With increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?”

Well, to illustrate my point, I will borrow a diagram to illustrate ecology theory.

Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory of Development.jpg
Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Theory of Development

CC BY-SA 3.0,

I would think that individual learners, while still existing in these systems, learn from sources far beyond the traditional realm of “expert others” that might exist in an individual’s microsystem of school, peers, and family. To a certain extent, I would also think that an individual’s learning need not be circumscribed by the macrosystem as the internet allows learners to go outside their macrosystems and reach expert others who indeed may be embedded in other macrosystems. Indeed, in looking at this diagram of various systems, and if one considers internet to be part of the mass media, then perhaps macrosystems now exist within exosystems; or perhaps the internet should be considered an entirely different system that exists beyond macrosystems.

After beginning to understand by trying to answer the questions Siemens had himself asked back in 2004, I also felt that it would be useful to connect each principle of Connectivism to my own understandings:

  • “Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.”

As learners have to be comfortable with this principle, don’t we? For the minute we start invalidating the opinions of others, or demanding one single answer, or accepting one response, it would seem that we have stopped learning. We are satisfied.

I’m also making connections to this sort of principle and the IB Learner Profile, which posits that learners are “open-minded”.


  • “Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.”

This reminds me of what a member of another learning cohort once told me, “I don’t know everything, but I know where to look to find out.” I’m also seeing this from a non-lurking view point as well. As Utecht states in Reach (2010, p.17) it is important for learners to set themselves up as nodes of information as well in order to increase the power of learning networks and communities.

  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.”

Learning may reside in a blog, or an app, or a device. It is the sum of someone’s learning or it is a demonstration, evolving, of someone’s learning. I like this thought a lot. When one of us in a network, no matter how big or small that network is, has learned some knowledge and shared it in some recorded fashion, it potentially exists to teach another. I also think this is one of the most interesting principles of this theory and where the complete technology tie in comes through.

  • “Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known.”

This is almost antithetical to some traditional views but gels well with some newer ideas of what it means to be knowledgeable. Again, however, I’m thinking about the IB Learner Profile, especially in its description of learners as inquirers.

  • “Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.”

This also connects to the Learner Profile. Learners must be caring and committed to their learning. If we see learning as never-ending, it only makes sense that one must continue to create strong connections to other learners to keep the process going.

  • “Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.”

I’m wondering here, can we sometimes see connections that make no sense…or connections that are phantasmal? Or perhaps this is the nature of innovation. In the Primary Years Programme, we stress the importance of understanding the concept of connection and encouraging children to make and look for connections. Also, as teachers of literacy, we ask our young readers to make connections between texts and themselves, their worlds, and other media.

  • “Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.”

This also makes sense if knowledge itself is seen as an endlessly morphing and developing entity.

  • “Decision-making is itself a learning process.”

In this principle, I see so many connections to my own understanding of learning. Learners should demonstrate independence. I see science inquiries and how choosing different ways to proceed can alter an experiment, for example.

And here I am…living the connectivist dream. Leave me a comment! What do you see in these principles and how would you answer the questions?


Where Am I in Web 2.0?

As I read Jeff Utecht’s treatise, “Reach” I reflected on my own personal learning experiences regarding the advent of web 2.0 and my relative feelings about this event. In fact, I distinctly remember back in 2009 or 2010 cramming into my small international school’s secondary computer lab with 30 teachers where the computer teacher discussed how web 2.0 had arrived, what it was going to look like, and how we teachers were going to be amazed at the possibilities for students and for us to create content on the internet.

Having just finished teacher training, I had used Wikispaces to collaboratively write documents, had chatted and messaged on Skype, had used web based “classrooms” like Blackboard for distance learning, had posted items on a digital portfolio platform, and had seen amazing Prezis, Moodle systems, and research ideas presented by my peers. I had even created a webquest about fossil fuels and had tried my hand at website design using Arachnophobia.

I, however, would never have believed back in 2009 what I and students would actually be capable of doing in terms of sharing our learning, interests, and lives online. I would also not have guessed that blogs, and the near infinite information available to all internet users, were going to redefine learning far beyond the confines of the classroom. I also, similarly, would not have guessed that just as I was beginning to teach in my own classrooms, that I would be having to think far beyond those four walls in terms of my own learning and the learning of my students.

When Utecht referred to  Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), I immediately thought about and examined what I have identified as my own learning communities, a similar concept. I wanted to know, in my own learning have I demonstrated connectivism learning theory. I like to test theories like this by examining my own learning.

Scroll around the grounds until you feel at home…

I see that I am probably less technologically connected to many media platforms than learners a few years younger than myself, but I still make a good deal of connections with other learners through digital means. As I have inquired more into technology, I have found forums to be extremely useful in helping me to solve all types of computer related problems. I have also used sites like to increase the functionality of my computer that I would have never dared before. In this way, I perhaps I am proving that “Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.” (Siemens, 2004). I learn about my far away family and friends, as they do about me, from Facebook. I learn, for examples, montuno rhythms and guitar strumming patterns over You Tube.

I am definitely, at this stage, a lurker, or someone who is just observing and learning from most professional network communities in which I’m involved. I would have to say, these include Google communities even from my international school. I’m aiming, as a result of my participation in this COETAIL cohort, to become more of an active participant in these communities.

I do admit, that I find some aspects of technology and connectivism a bit terrifying. When Utecht described, for example, the case of the young IBM employee based in Shanghai who he felt had been employed because of a developed talent to “learn, unlearn and relearn quickly” (2010), I both admired the man’s ability but also got nervous. I know, we are all lifelong learners. I could learn music, a hobby I have picked up over the ages, from now until the day I die, but it makes me antsy and uneasy to know that my professional knowledge, especially regarding technology, needs constant updating and flexibility. Just when I have BEGUN to get comfortable with one app or in teaching that app, along comes a new one to try that needs quick evaluation, experimentation, and a methodology for teaching it to children. Or, as in my case, when I became very comfortable with teaching older students how to collaborate with Google Apps for Education related apps, my job necessitated a move to working with very young children who would not benefit necessarily from my preexisting knowledge. Or would they?

Or even beyond the technological realm, just realising sometimes that a teaching method we are using might be outdated, but we have not had time to keep up with latest developments in order to update our practice; these situations cause teachers to be constantly on edge and looking for new information. I mean we are dealing with the learning of people everyday, and this is not a matter that any of us take lightly. We want to be using methods that others have tried, tested, and can testify about.

I really appreciated Utech’s suggestion on using technology in the form of RSS feeds, such as, in my case, Feedly, or social network apps like Twitter to do some of the work of searching for this new information for us. As I lay my head down to sleep this evening, my first blog post somewhat finished, my Twitter and Feedly apps are quietly listening for new methods of teaching reading to early elementary students which, hopefully, I will read over breakfast and coffee in the morning.





Hello to the COETAIL Cohort 6!

Hi everybody! My name is Jon Banules and I’m an EAL teacher at the International School of Phnom Penh, in Cambodia

I’m very excited to start blogging, sharing with, learning from, and collaborating with all of you here in the COETAIL Cohort 6, especially since I got started on my technological travels at least in part due to what a friend of mine was learning in a past COETAIL cohort. He was so jazzed about the ideas flying around in his courses that he inspired me to go get my own Google certification.

Today, I’m taking it a step further and actually going down the COETAIL path myself. Pleased to meet ya!


Pirate of the Khmer-bbean