Gaming in the classroom

I was recently interviewed on gaming in the classroom by WHQR radio. It was about a teacher implementing classcraft in their classroom. You can read the full interview here

Here is the transcript:

In a Wilmington classroom, students transform into some surprising characters—healers, mages, and warriors. WHQR’s Isabelle Shepherd reports that a virtual game is preparing fourth grade math students at Alderman Elementary School for the realworld.

Toth: “Alright, let’s take a seat real quick because we have a busy day.”

Students: “Yay! Yay! I like busy.”

Unlike digital games like Diablo ll for which one could easily get legit gems and weapons on, Classcraft is a role-playing game, designed to be used as a classroom management tool. By working game mechanics into an educational setting, the virtual program has real world consequences and rewards for students.

Brian Toth, the math instructor at Alderman, recently implemented the game in his classroom.  He’s currently the only teacher using it at the school.  Toth becomes the Game Master in Classcraft.  When his students answer hard questions and do well on homework assignments, he can grant them experience points, which kids can use to cast spells.  These spells are rewards for the students, providing various perks, such as going to lunch early, using their notes on a test, or protecting their teammate from damage caused by bad behavior. Damage hits can lead to consequences like silent recess.

According to Toth, Classcraft takes up minimal time—about three minutes at the beginning of class and one or two minutes at the end when he totals up the students’ points.  The day’s lesson begins with a random event.  Toth says this engages the students immediately:

“They sit there, they cross their fingers, because some of the random events are positive, some of them are negative where people can lose health points or people can lose experience points. So, they never know; it’s just a random event.  They look forward to that at the beginning of the day. Right after that, they get to use their spells that they can get from leveling up. So they all raise their hands and I’ll go one by one, and they can use a spell, whatever spell they have. So they’re looking forward to that.”

Toth: “We are going to, uh, do our Classcraft stuff first. So we’re going to do our random event of the day. Alright, ready? 3, 2, 1… Human Shield: A random player takes all the damage for the class but gains 300 experience points.”

Students: “What? Yay! That’s a good one. That’s a good one.”

The random event does more than help focus students. It teaches them a life lesson. That’s according to Dr. Raymond Pastore, a UNCW professor who researches computer-based tools and gaming in education:

“Well, it teaches them that things aren’t always going to be equal, that there are random things that are going to happen. And that’s no different than real life. And that’s what happens when you’re playing a game. Sometimes things are going to happen that are out of your control, that are unlucky, and what it teaches you is, “How do I deal with this? How am I going to come back from this?”

Patrick Harrison, the technology assistant at Alderman, has a tattoo of an autobot from Transformers on his arm. He says he’s seen this life lesson about bouncing back play out in the classroom:

“There’s one student that is a perennial complainer that got silent recess as his random event.  It spun up, that’s what he got.  Even him, as a kid that will complain if you look at him funny, he just sat and was there for recess, and didn’t complain, didn’t get upset, just did it.  Later, he said, ‘That’s part of the game.  That’s how it works.’”

Individual rewards and consequences are just one component of Classcraft.  In order to succeed in the game, the whole team has to work together.  Instructional technology professor Pastore says Classcraft promotes cooperation, which is valuable in a corporate context:

“If you go into any corporate, large company, any Fortune 100 company and you ask them how important teamwork is, it’s going to be at the top of the list, way at the top of the list because playing politics, learning how to deal with people, learning how to pick up the slack for people is huge. Learning how to communicate with all kinds of people is a huge skill that, I don’t want to say it’s not taught, but it’s only taught through teamwork and experience.”

But students will inevitably move on to classes without Classcraft.  Will they still be motivated to succeed without the game?  Harrison says it’s like any other strategy teachers use; they just have to hope that some of the lessons stick:

“That’s your hope with anything that you’re teaching. Any teacher has got their methods and their ideas and their things that they’re going through, that they’re pushing. And all that we can do is hope that some of it will sink in.”

Rapid E-Learning

This is the topic we are talking about tonight in one of courses. First, what does this mean? Well that depends who you are talking to. I have it broken down into 2 parts – tools and process. Some people are referring to quick development tools and some are referring to a modified process and some are referring to both.

Tools: There are many many tools but here are the most basic and common:

  • Captivate

–To teach software

  • Articulate

–Anything but software (as I would use captivate)

  • HTML (web)

–Simple for computer, tablet, phone

  • HTML5

–Advanced for computer, tablet, phone

  • PowerPoint

–Simple, limited interaction, external testing


  • How do you cut the ISD process?

–Process is ADDIE

  • Cannot cut a step out of ADDIE

How do you change the ISD process?

  • First – you cannot replace ADDIE
  • Second – you cannot replace ADDIE
  • Third – There is no ‘defined’ way to do ADDIE
  • ADDIE describes a generic process that should be modified for every single project/client. If you believe ADDIE is only linear or there is one official way of doing it then you learned it wrong and probably have been doing it wrong all along
  • For rapid elearning you are going to create a short design/development cycle to push out your products faster.

–Keep in mind this usually means less interaction, lower quality graphics/interaction, etc.

Are there already modified processes out there?

  • Yes, There are 1000s. The right one is the one that works for your project.
  • One of the most popular is AGILE.

  • Another one is SAM
  • They do not replace ADDIE. And these are two of a 1000 different ways to do it. In fact, I would never use any standard process but create one that works best for my current project and situation.

How do you do this?

  • 1. Analysis should be completed – without a proper analysis the project will fail. 70% of projects fail and poor analysis and management are usually the cause. This doesn’t mean analysis needs to be completed every time you are running a new project – You might know these clients and have done other projects with them so you can take some/all of that original analysis and use it.
  • 2. Constant access to SMEs, Developers, and Graphic Artists (and person who signs off – i.e., client)
  • 3. Project can be rolled out in sections – for instance 1 module can be rolled out by itself without the other 10 modules
  • 4. Already have learning objects from other projects (optional and very helpful – cuts time) – this is not required though but will save a significant amount of time
  • 5. Very limited interactions, graphics, and instructional strategies

See video for details:

Ready Player One

I recently had the chance to read the book Ready Player One (to see what it is about please read the synopsis below). This is a great book for use in gaming and educational classrooms. I will more than likely be incorporating it into my Gaming and Simulation class. The books does a great job of predicting what our world might look like in years to come. While a fiction book the idea behind VR technology and its role in our lives and internet may not be far off. In fact, as the technology progresses I believe its pretty spot on. So I definitely recommend this text to anyone interested in gaming, instructional technology, or in need a fun book to read. I also love all of the 80s references as I grew up in the 80s and loved reading about games like Joust and Adventure – 2 of my favorites from Atari. You can read more about the book here:

Book synopsis:

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. 

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.   

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape. 

A world at stake.

A quest for the ultimate prize.

Are you ready?

Google Glass: A Review

Google Glass Review

So I have now had 2 months to play around with Google Glass, which I believe is enough time to write a good review. Before I write this review I want to make a few things clear 1) Google Glass is still in it’s alpha phase, meaning a lot could change between now and its actual release. 2) The device is only as good as its apps, just like a phone, so at this point in time there are limited apps as the device is not released to the public yet. So keep that in mind while you read this review.


1. Price – We do not know what the price will be when its released. In its current form its $1500 but this is no where near what it will be when its actually released.
2. Comfort – It feels like I am wearing any other kind of glasses/sunglasses. So if you can wear them then this will feel no different.

3. Clarity of image – I think it’s very good. You can move it around a bit (it swivels) so that you can get it into your view. If you need glasses (near/farsighted) you can order glass with your prescription so that it works for you. So they have thought of that issue.


4. Sound – Yes, there is sound. You can take and receive calls as well as video conference. The sound is great when you wear the earpiece but when you do not its impossible to hear. Its like a bad version of speaker phone without the earpiece so the earpiece is a must if you are taking calls.


5. Setting up the device – In order to set up the device you must connect it to either wifi or to your phone’s bluetooth (which uses phone data). I connected mine to my house wifi and Android Moto X phone. It was simple. I have unlimited phone data so I was not worried about my data use. This could be an issue for those that have to pay for data. I did not test this on apple devices.


6. Installing software – Once you set up the device you install an app on your phone that allows you to download apps. The apps are limited at this point. There are around 20 that do various things to show you the functionality of the device. These apps are very easy to install. Now there are many other apps you can download and install around the web and on the google play store but these require you to do a hard install which means you need to download the Android SDK, go into Unix, and install the apps from your computer to the device. This is not something a beginner could do and it could lead to a broken device (although there is a built in reset but I would not rely on it). It’s really for the person who understands how to edit and modify android or has rooted a phone/tablet in the past. I did it and once set up it was easy but it was not fun.


7. GPS – The gps is awesome and not so great. For driving I thought is was really cool. Its just like my gps on my phone for the most part except it was in my line of site so my eyes were never off the road. I loved it for driving. I tried it for jogging and biking but did not have much success. I blame the app I was using though. The app just would not work right for this so I believe once there is a good app it will work well. First the app required me to sign up for all kinds of stuff and an account (10 minute process) and then was not user friendly and just didn’t work. This is the only app available at this time so there just not options yet (but they will come in time).


8.  Camera – This is awesome. The camera for photos and video worked really well. You can take pics or video whenever you want and upload them directly to your phone or cloud service (google drive). I really liked the camera on the device.

9. Usability – There is a small learning curve to the device.  While I found some people were able to pick it up and use some of the basic features, some people did get frustrated. Its not hard to use its just that I would encourage someone to take an hour (or a day) to get used to the device before feeling comfortable with it.


10. Augmented reality – Well that is really the point of the device and on that front it works nicely. For instance there are apps that when you look at a movie poster can show you the trailer. Or show you were stores are and such. Facial recognition also seems to be something that is coming and this could be very beneficial (and scary) but I was not able to experience that feature yet.




Education – Overall I do not think this is something that K-12 schools are going to run out and buy. I really think its geared more towards older students/workers. That is not to say it will not happen but I just don’t see it for a while. On the college front, I could definitely see students using it to record lectures, which would be awesome. You could even snap a shot of the chalkboard and such (your phone does this too). This could also be useful for virtual fieldtrips where a teacher was viewing something and talking about it and students could watch/listen.


Corporate – I think this device would be awesome in corporate culture assuming the facial recognition software works well. Imagine being in a conference room and knowing everyone’s name, what their position is, etc. This could be very useful. It could also work that way at conferences. Since you can video conference you could use it for that as well.


Government – Obviously the same as corporate but the big one is military. Soldiers will be able to use this without having to take their eyes off of the battlefield. Now I understand that there are devices that do this somewhat but Google Glass is a step above that so there is much potential with this.


Overall – This device really is just your cell phone on your head. So if you have no problem using your phone for everything, then you probably do not need this. If you are a person that likes to multitask and wants to take a picture on your bike ride without needing to take out your phone, then you will absolutely love this device. Its really just designed to keep your phone in your pocket and save you time, which it could do in the right situation. Now, one final issue, and this is what will keep me from ever using a device like this, and that is radiation. Whenever you put your cell phone on your head (or Bluetooth device) you are essentially microwaving your head a very tiny bit. It’s the same frequency as a microwave oven, which is why your head feels hot after using your phone for a while. The research on the health effects of this appear mixed but lean towards it being safe. Personally I am more cautious and choose not to put devices like this near my head for long periods of time (ie using speaker phone). So Google Glass is probably not something you will see me wearing for the duration.


Evaluation for an instructor led course (the materials)

Evaluation for an instructor led course (the materials)

The following is a guide for evaluating materials for an instructor led course. This is not a guide for evaluating a person teaching the course.

Criteria Description Scale
N/A Comments
Working memory/Cognitive load


Learners can hold 5-7 concepts in their working memory at one time. Does this content ask learners to work with more at one time (per screen/topic)? Thus screens should have limited text/bullet points.


Multimedia principles


Images and text (or narration) that explain for one another are better for learning and communication then just one by itself. Thus PPT or lecture should follow this model.


No extra details – only what is required Extra images, text, or colors distracts
Highlight important information


Use of cues or color coding for important concepts
No busy screens/backgrounds/fonts


These distract learners
Objectives are clear What is the point?
Content is inline with objectives Does the site do what it says?
Assessment is inline with content Is there an assessment and does it asses each objective?
Flow Introduction, content, ending
Learning strategies Are learning strategies apparent and appropriate?
Motivation Are motivation (ARCS) applied?
Learners apply/problem solve (ie case studies) Are the learners actually learning more than factual information?
Sources To back up claims
Is there an assessment?
Assessment measures high level knowledge Does the assessment measure more than factual information?
Is there a satisfaction survey?


These should be standard throughout
Colors Should NOT be more than 2-4 colors on screen
fonts Are fonts legible


Grid and organized
Simple and natural dialogue


Speak the users’ language – informal is better than formal for learning


Rule of thirds


Does the screen utilize them?
Audio Sound/voices volume, background noise, easy to understand
File formats Are they compatible with all hardware
Video Does it play well/take a while to load?
Develop for the output technology


Resolution – is the resolution look correct or pixelated?, colors look right on screen, golden ratio/rectangle (organization and layout look correct)
Instructor Guide
Time How long does it take to complete each section?
Narration Does it tell the instructor what to say?
Notes Are there notes for the instructor?
Materials Are all materials provided for the instructor?
Facilitating/teaching Does the instructor guide contain enough information that one could pick it up and teach the course (assuming they have all the materials, know the content, know how to teach)?
Student Guide
Schedule Do students know the schedule of the course and topics?
Objectives Do students have the objectives?
Content Do students have a copy of the PPT/Materials to take notes and follow along?
Materials Are student materials included in this guide?
Job aid Is there a job aid for students to take with them to help them transfer knowledge from course to job?


Should toddlers be on your phone or tablet?

Here is an article about this topic:

Personally, we do not allow our 3 or 1 year old to use our devices. The reason why: We are scared they will break them. They do watch TV so I cannot say that is any better or worse than the tablet. Having said that, neither of our kids show any interest in our devices either. If they were interested it might be a different story but at this point they do not use them. My advice to parents is that technology can be good or bad – you just need to set limits and know what your children are doing. And this goes for everything, not just technology.

College Tuition

Complaining that college tuition is too high and going to a school that is 60k a year is like owning a ferrari and complaining that cars cost too much. Just as there are new cars for under 10k, there are colleges that cost around 40-50k for the entire 4 year degree.

Amazon TV

Amazon TV was just announced yesterday. This device seems pretty cool. It has games, like minecraft, which is pretty nice (but its the android version). It also has amazon prime, which apple tv doesnt. It does not have hbogo though:( Here is a breakdown:

Amazon Fire
Amazon Fire TV
Roku 3
Roku 3
Apple TV
Apple TV
Google Chromecast
Google Chromecast
Pricing $99 $99 $99 $35
Form Factor Box Box Box Dongle that sticks into TV
HDMI Compatibility Yes Yes Yes Yes
Voice Commands Yes No No No
Processor Quad-core Dual-core Single-core Single-core
Memory 2 GB 512 MB 512 MB 512 MB
Video Apps Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Crackle, Showtime Anywhere, Bloomberg TV HBO Go, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Crackle, Showtime Anywhere iTunes, Disney Anywhere, HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, YouTube, Bloomberg TV, WatchABC Google Play, HBO Go, Netflix, Hulu Plus, Crackle, YouTube
Music Apps Vevo, Pandora, Vimeo Vevo, Pandora, Vimeo, Spotify Vevo, Vimeo, iTunes Google Play, Vevo, Pandora, Rdio, Songza
Sports Apps Watch ESPN, NBA League Pass Watch ESPN, NBA League Pass, MLB.TV, NHL Gamecenter, Major League Soccer Watch ESPN, NBA League Pass, MLB.TV, NHL Gamecenter None
Number of Games 100+; “thousands” more coming Less than 100 None None
Remote Voice search, physical remote (no line of sight needed) Physical remote, iOS app available Physical remote, iOS/Android app available (no line of sight needed) App controlled
Gaming Controller Yes; $39.99 (sold separately) No No No