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Your Brain on Learning

Seed Brain about NeuroplasticityIntelligence is forming and developing throughout our lives. The concept is called neuroplasticity, a theory that was developed in the mid-1800s and researched in the 1990s. Kurt Fischer, education professor and director of the Mind, Brain, and Education Program at Harvard University explains “The brain is remarkably plastic. Even in middle or old age, it’s still adapting very actively to its environment.” Sara Bernard supports this in her article for Edutopia Neuroplasticity: Learning Physically Changes the Brain “All those little brains in your classroom are physically growing and changing every time they learn something. And there are ways to keep that happening.”

Cells that fire together, wire together
Neuroplasticity means that if you perform a task or recall some information, that causes different neurons to fire in concert. It strengthens the connections between those cells. Researcher and middle school teacher Judy Willis, in this same article, wrote that she saw that her students were more motivated when they knew that they were all fully physically capable of building knowledge and changing their brains. She provided a few tips to create a learning environment that encourages students to learn:

    • Practice, practice, practice. When students learn content in different ways, repeat an activity and then retrieve that memory they build thicker, stronger, more hard-wired connections in the brain.

    • Put information in context. Tap into already-existing pathways by recognizing that learning is the formation of new or stronger neural connections. Stop rote memorization of isolated facts. Facilitate students connecting the dots and how the concept they are learning is related to past experiences and the real-world.
    • Let students know that this is how the brain works. Intelligence is not predetermined especially for students who believe they are ‘not smart.’ If students realize they have the power to change their brains, they will be empowered to learn more and in different ways.


Brain remodels itself on experiences

Use it or Lose it

A 1998 landmark study found that the human brain had the ability to develop new brain cells. This research challenged the prevailing theory that the human brain was a rigid system with no ability to generate new brain cells. Neurologist Arne May and colleagues at the University of Regensburg asked 12 people in their early 20s to learn a classic three-ball juggling trick over three months until they could sustain a performance for at least a minute. Another 12 were in a ‘control’ group who were not asked to learn how to juggle.

The jugglers showed a significant increase of gray matter in brain area V5 that is an area implicated in the processing of visual movement. In order to investigate what happens when newly acquired skills are allowed to stagnate, the participants were asked not to practice their juggling skills and were scanned for a third time after another three-month period. The amount of gray matter in V5 had reduced, supporting the idea that the brain operates in a use-it-or-lose-it fashion.

Draganski and colleagues showed that extensive learning of abstract information can also trigger some plastic changes in the brain. They imaged the brains of German medical students three months before their medical exam and right after the exam and compared them to brains of students who were not studying for the exam at this time. Medical students’ brains showed learning-induced changes in regions of the parietal cortex as well as in the posterior hippocampus. These regions of the brains are known to be involved in memory retrieval and learning.

Making New Connections

Dr. Doidge wrote “The Brain that Changes Itself” and that all of us can rewire our brains. Main ideas he writes about include:

    • Learning and brain exercises slow age-related mental declines. New information and new branching increases the volume and thickness of the brain that would otherwise decline with age. So read, play games, challenge yourself no matter what age.

    • Physical exercise promotes the creation of new neurons in the brain. Walk, exercise and get physical education back in schools.
    • Specifically designed brain exercises have been shown to improve brain function in children and adults with learning disabilities.
    • The brain undergoes measurable, physical changes as we go through the thinking and learning process. Computer technology can now use these measurements and changes to allow paralyzed people to moves objects with their thoughts. This is where research is going to find ways to utilize our thoughts with technology.
    • Researchers at UCSD have used imagination and illusion to restructure brain maps and ‘trick” the brain into managing phantom pain and some forms of chronic pain.
    • Performance can be improved through visualization because action and imagination can activate the same parts of the brain. People have learned to play the piano or achieve greater results in athletic endeavors through mental practice. To lose weight, visualize yourself eating instead of eating.

Neuroplasticity, School, and Learning
The idea that brains are plastic and can change means that students can drive their own learning. If students are passionate about learning something like how to play a guitar and then are given the freedom to experiment, practice, get feedback from others, play, take risks, practice some more, they will want to learn. They will want to learn. The learning environment plays a large role. Schools today assume everyone in the classroom learns at the same time and at the same rate. If we take the idea that brains can change and students all come into a class at different levels, then it is important to change the learning environment to encourage experimentation, risk-taking, and learning from each other.

I am looking for research on neuroplasticity with school children similar to the other research studies. How are they learning? What is happening to their brains on CT scans? Has anyone done this?


Failure is No Longer an Option

Think of your students working at their own pace. Teachers are overwhelmed as they try to meet the needs of all their students. With our current one-size-fits-all system, many children are being left behind and dropping out.

A competency-based system means students address standards in the way that meets their needs instead of waiting to learn something when it comes up in a chapter in a textbook or when it is being taught to the whole class. Competency-based pathways are a re-engineering of our education system around learning: a re-engineering designed for success in which failure is no longer an option. Competency-based approaches build upon standard reforms, offering a new value proposition:

By aligning all of our resources (in schools, the community, and online) around student learning to enable students to progress upon mastery, our country can increase productivity in the education system, while simultaneously raising achievement levels overall and reducing the achievement gap.

[Source: Competency-Based Pathways]

So a competency-based system accelerates the pace of learning based upon a student’s abilities, needs, and interests, while other students may require additional support and alternative types of instruction until they master the content. The current system expects proficiency of a standard before advancement while a competency-based system monitors progress in meeting a standard. Competency-based design principles [shortened] from Competency-based Pathways:

Design Principle 1: Students Advance upon Mastery

    • Students advance by demonstration of mastery, not age.
    • Students are appropriately challenging.
    • Students are evaluated on performance.
    • Some students complete courses at different rates than others.

Design Principle 2: Explicit and Measurable Learning Objectives Empower Students

    • The student and teacher relationship changes.

    • Learning becomes modular.
    • Learning goes beyond the classroom and can be anytime, anywhere.

Design Principle 3: Assessment Is Meaningful and a Positive Learning Experience for Students

    • Schools focus on formative assessment.

    • Teachers collaborate to develop understanding of what is an adequate demonstration of proficiency.
    • Skills or concepts are assessed in multiple contexts and multiple ways.
    • Attention on student learning, not student grades.
    • Summative assessments are adaptive and timely.

Design Principle 4: Students Receive Rapid, Differentiated Support

    • Students progress at their own speeds and students that are proceeding more slowly will need more help.

    • Personal learning plans identify learning styles, context, and interventions that are most effective for each student.
    • New specialist roles may develop to provide high quality interventions when students begin to slip behind.
    • Online learning can play an invaluable role in providing feedback to teachers on how students are proceeding.

Design Principle 5: Learning Outcomes Emphasize Include Application and Creation of Knowledge

    • Competencies are designed so that demonstration of mastery includes application of skills and knowledge.

    • Assessment rubrics are explicit in what students must be able to know and do to progress to the next level of study.
    • Examples of student work that demonstrate skills development throughout a learning continuum will help students understand their own progress.
    • Lifelong learning skills designed around students needs, life experiences, and the skills needed for them to be college and career ready.
    • Expanded learning opportunities are developed for students to develop and apply skills as they are earning credit.

Businesses, Universities, Community Colleges, and Technical colleges are looking at competency-based systems for career bound students and job seekers. There is a need to address and accept existing knowledge and skills people have no matter what age.

What about providing a system in K-20 for learners to challenge a course or test? This could actually be a way to move people through a competency-based system where life skills and background knowledge mean something. It will be interesting to follow innovative practices where schools take risks to address each students’ needs and learning styles.

It is time to “think out of the box” where failure is not an option anymore. We cannot leave one child behind. Every child is important. This is their future and right now — today — isn’t looking very promising for them. Schools have to change. We cannot look back anymore and say “if it was good for me, it’s good for my child.” That doesn’t work anymore. The world is different. We tried the “one size fits all” now for a long time. We have more children left behind than ever.

Let’s look at personalizing learning and competency-based system models. How about learning modules that are available when a student needs an answer or a question? How about teachers as personal learning coaches?

I am going to showcase different schools and innovation centers where the focus is on learning and meeting the needs of each student. Are you with me?

I submitted an idea for the Grand Challenge about Designing Creative Learning Environments. Check it out. Vote. Comment. Leave a comment here.


The 4Cs Gives Students Wings

There are two lasting bequests we can give our children.
One is roots. The other is wings.
Holding Carter Jr.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) and FableVision just released the animated film “Above & Beyond” created by Peter Reynolds to emphasize the value of 21st century skills in education. This original animated film is designed to spark conversations about the essential innovation skills needed for students to be successful – and the U.S. to remain economically viable — in an increasingly challenging global economy.

P21’s nationwide coalition of business and education leaders have spent years creating a framework for integrating 21st Century Skills into education, and are now promoting a bundled subset of skills called the “4Cs”:

  • communication
  • collaboration
  • critical thinking
  • creativity

These skills are cited by industry as the keys to innovation and invention and essential skills for all employees. P21 will use the film, along with an online digital toolkit that includes a downloadable poster and support resources, in a nationwide campaign to make the 4Cs a household term and promote the integration of 4Cs across all subject areas.

New York Times best-selling children’s book author, illustrator and FableVision founder Peter H. Reynolds (The Dot, Ish, The North Star) created Above & Beyond to tell an allegorical story of how the 4Cs help students move beyond foundational “3Rs” to acquire the 21st Century Skills that industry demands.

This animated film tells the story of two school children who compete in the school’s engineering contest – one of whom can’t move beyond the boxed kit – and the other who is an “out of the box” dreamer and visionary. The students join forces – and use communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity to win the race. The allegorical fable helps show that content mastery without the 4Cs skills won’t give students the “wings” required to meet the demands of higher education, career and life in a global society and world economy.

To download a free 4Cs poster, go to

For more information on:

Partnership for 21st Century Skills, visit and connect with P21 on Twitter @P21CentSkills.

FableVision Studios and FableVision Learning, visit and connect with FableVision on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn


Explore Photo Safaris with Larry Anderson

When I heard that Larry Anderson wrote an eBook Lead your Own Photo Safari, I had to download it right away. Larry is offering this eBook free for you. I was blown away with the amount of work and collaboration that was put into this endeavor. I’ve known Larry for years and am so impressed with the research and information that he shares with the world. I asked Larry if I could interview him to find out a little more of the whys and hows that went into the development of this eBook. He graciously shared with me his answers to my questions (in bold text) below so I could share them with you:

Photo Safari

1. What is a Photo Safari?
From page 25 of the book:
The dictionary definition of “safari” includes these phrases:

a journey or expedition, for hunting, exploration, or investigation
any long or adventurous journey or expedition

So, we can say that a Photo Safari is an adventurous journey or expedition during which people hunt for, explore, or investigate opportunities to write with light. To this, we can add the notion of creativity. That is, as people engage in this expeditionary activity, they apply their unique, individual creative traits so that the images they capture express accurately how they see the world to which they are exposed during the Photo Safari.

In short, my idea of a Photo Safari is an excursion, during which a collection of friends make photographs of locations, objects, or subjects that appeal to the photographer’s eye.

2. Why did you write this eBook?
I have had such success and enjoyment during the Photo Safaris of which I have been a part, so it seemed important to share my stories with others, in hopes that they, too, could participate in the joy I have experienced. Also, I figured that, if I told my story, someone with more experience might read the book and share some secrets with me and my future Photo Safari outings would be even more enjoyable.

3. How did you get hooked on the Photo Safari bug?
I have loved photography for many years. I enjoy being with other people who enjoy photography. So, when I organized and led my first Photo Safari in Washington, DC, I found out, first-hand, just how fulfilling this could be. So, I have continued to expand my planning efforts with each safari. I was “hooked” upon completion of the first actual photo safari in which I participated (Monterey, CA with Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Vincent Laforet, and a team of Apple Distinguished Educators).

4. When and how did you start your first Photo Safari?
The National Educational Computing Conference (NECC–now known as ISTE) was held in Washington, DC in June 2009. Since I have traveled to DC many times and know the National Mall area quite well, I thought this would be a natural time to conduct my first Photo Safari. Another Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), Craig Nansen, and I collaborated on leading this safari. We had help from John Maschak (Apple Canada) and Gordon Worley (ADE from Florida).

So, we just announced the Photo Safari within the ADE Community and the registration limit was reached quickly. Then, we had a few other people beg to join us, so we accommodated them. When this safari was completed, we knew we had a winning idea. Of course, being in DC on the National Mall all day didn’t hurt!

5. Why is it important to have a leadership team?
While it’s true that a person can conduct a Photo Safari alone, it is just so much more fun when you can share the excitement with others who have amazing talents to bring to the experience. As the organizer of a Photo Safari, it makes the job much easier when I can engage in “division of labor” and ensure that the safari will be much more effective. A good leadership team is made up of smart people with significant talents and time that they give willingly to the event. So, why would I not use them? The end result is that the participants in the safari gain a much more meaningful experience when a strong leadership team is in place.

6. I know planning is essential but you emphasized pre-planning. Why does most of the work occur before the Photo Safari begins?
Any worthwhile activity necessitates good pre-planning. Examples abound of how we plan for significant events before they happen. Therefore, it’s essential that we, the organizer and the leadership team, spend a great deal of time in delineating the details and working to make sure everything comes to fruition by the time the Photo Safari kicks off.

7. How do you choose the best site for a Photo Safari?
Reasons for selecting an ideal venue vary remarkably. The “best” site can be a local venue, as a group of townspeople embark on a Photo Safari to learn more about their hometown. Thus, the “best” site could be a variety of historical, cultural, or neighborhood locations around your town. Or, you may be conducting a Photo Safari in a major metropolitan area. The choices are many….will you choose a site that focuses upon architecture, history, gardening, civic locations, military settings, or any one of a host of other considerations?

Thus, the actual site is selected depending upon the type of safari with which I’m involved. Most of the ones in which I’ve engaged so far have been dictated by a particular location (Washington, DC; Monterey, CA; Denver, CO; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ). So, my leadership team and I selected particular locations because we felt that participants would be fascinated with a venue. And, we’ve had 100% success. We intend to continue this at ISTE 2012 in San Diego. We are already engaged in selecting from a “laundry list” of possible sites for an enjoyable, informative Photo Safari.

8. What are some of the technology tools that you include in a Photo Safari?
My response to this depends upon how one defines “technology tools.” But, as I’ve engaged in Photo Safaris so far, I have used:

  • Email
  • Skype and iChat (for audio and video conferencing)
  • Group texting (to inform participants before and during the actual safari, as necessary)
  • Flickr and other photo hosting sites (as a “holding pen” for the select photos made by participants)
  • Google Apps (for planning tools by the leadership team, for registration by participants, for organizing transportation)
  • Google Earth (to plot safari tour paths)
  • Wikis (as sites to host safari information and resources)

It’s possible that there are more, but these are the ones that come to my mind right now.

9. I have a Nikon D40. Is it important to have separate filters and lenses for the Photo Safari?
As mentioned in the book, “Leading Your Own Photo Safari,” it is not necessary to have “fancy” equipment. Yes, there are situations in which your having special filters and lenses will be of great value. In those cases, we will attempt to notify participants that they can bring these accessories along with them.

For example, in the Rocky Mountain National Park Photo Safari, we encountered several mountain streams. The waterfalls and river flow were natural spots for using neutral density filters in order to help slow down shutter speed so the water would take on that “silky” look during long exposures. Also, at Bear Lake, it was helpful to have that neutral density filter to keep the details of the water on the lake while keeping the bright blue sky from getting blown out due to excessive exposure. In each situation, we used these situations as teaching moments. Even people who did not own these filters were able to use the filters on their lenses, provided that their lenses were of the proper size to accept the filters that screw on.

In some cases, it is helpful to have UV filters to help block out glare. We try to educate safari participants. Even if they come to the safari without such a filter, we will have the opportunity to talk about the filters and show them to all interested participants. Again, we leverage this into an educational opportunity. That makes the participant become a smarter consumer, should the time come when s/he wants to purchase a filter for this purpose.

In the case of lenses, we try to use our pre-safari communications to discuss the use of various lenses. Again, if participants arrive with a DSLR (either Canon or Nikon, since these are the most common), it’s possible to share lenses and let participants try a variety of lenses. So, if the people come with two or three lenses, that simply makes the whole experience more valuable to everybody.

But, the basic answer is that it’s not necessary to have a variety of lenses and/or filters. If you do, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine, too. Your D40 will be a valuable tool on our Photo Safari. We’ll make sure of it! (Even if all you have is a point-and-shoot camera…or even just an iPhone or iPad, we’ll still ensure you a successful venture.)

10. Why is communication so important during a Photo Safari? What are some of the tools you recommend?
It is absolutely crucial to plan for a mechanism that allows the safari leader to communicate instantly with everyone. You never know what kind(s) of situations may arise.

In Philadelphia, our large group of photographers divided into four teams. Each team went to one of four specified quadrants of Olde Town Philadelphia. After approximately one hour, each team would rotate to a new quadrant. So, as the safari leader, I sent out a group text to everyone, letting them know that it is time to rotate. Also, I needed to inform everybody when the time arrived for us to gather at the end of the Photo Safari for our debriefing session and to award the “giveaway” prizes. Again, Group Text (an iPhone app) came to the rescue.

I used a free app, Group Text, that worked like magic. It works beautifully with my Macintosh app, Address Book. I merely established a group in Address Book that included all members of the Photo Safari. During registration, I had asked them to indicate the cell phone number they would be using during the safari…and asked them to indicate if they can get text messages at that number. Then, the Group Text app just takes that Address Book group and allows me to send a text blast. Worked like a charm!

11. Is there anything you would like to add about Photo Safaris and your eBook for our readers?
Oh, there are a million things I would like to add. First, I want everybody to know that this activity is more fun than words can express! The advantages of conducting a Photo Safari are innumerable. Teachers can use this in amazing ways with classes of students, but also with parents and other community members. I hope many readers will strive to join us in San Diego at ISTE 2012 for our Photo Safari. Our plan is to conduct it on Sunday prior to the opening keynote….probably an all-day safari, as is our routine. Of course, since this whole idea came from the Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) family, we will offer first registration rights to ADEs. But, we will take as many others as possible. I suspect our registration limit will again be held to approximately 50 people, due simply to logistical reasons.

I really want to encourage any readers of the book to please let me know of your successes as you conduct your own Photo Safari.

  • How did you get the idea?
  • How was your planning process different than what I have used?
  • What tips could you use to share with others?
  • What successes did you have?
  • How did you share your photos?
  • Who was involved?
  • What did you learn?
  • Would you want to hold another Photo Safari as a result of your experience on your first one?
  • How can you imagine that a Photo Safari could be used in schools?
  • Did you have any “Aha!” moments? If so, what were they? What problems did you encounter? How did you handle them?
  • Did you experience any discouragements? If so, how did you handle those?
  • What aids, resources, tutorials would you like to see developed to help you in the future?

  • Should I build a web site, wiki, or anything else that would give you and your colleagues a place to share ideas, experiences, resources, etc.?

And, one more note….there will definitely be an update to the book. Version 2.0 will have many more features. So, stay tuned.

Also, the book will be a central core to a “collection” that will appear in the new, soon-to-be-announced Apple Distinguished Educator channel of iTunes U, so we’ll have more resources to go along with the book…and will give you a broader view of what it takes to plan and conduct a successful Photo Safari.

You can download the free eBook, “Leading Your Own Photo Safari” by going to


Thank you Larry for being so generous and sharing your passion with the world! Here is Larry’s contact information if you have any questions. Please share any comments for Larry below:

Larry Anderson

Dr. Larry S. Anderson, Founder/CEO
National Center for Technology Planning
P. O. Box 2393 — Tupelo, MS 38803
662.844.9630 (Voice & FAX) — 662.321.0677 (Cell)
Assoc. Prof. (Ret.), Mississippi State University
Web Site —
Blog — http://nctpcast(dot)blogspot(dot)com
Podcasts — Think Like A Leader


How Games Prepare Learners to be Leaders

The digital native has been part of the gaming world most of their lives. Can games help prepare them for their future?

From “The Gamer Disposition” by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, I realized that there are multiple characteristics that can also prepare gamers to be leaders in the business and education worlds. The multiplayer online games expect users to be quick, be able to adapt and evolve as games change, and know the rules, tips, and even make the rules as they progress through this new type of social system.

Brown and Thomas share five key attributes as character traits that players bring into their games:

  1. They are bottom-line oriented. Games have embedded assessments where gamers compare with one another where they rank, their title and points, and they share with each other how they can improve their ranking.
  2. They understand the power of diversity. Teamwork is the only way a gamer can work in this social system. They need to talk to each other and determine what strengths each member has on their team so they can improve their score.
  3. They thrive on change. Games are evolving during the game. Gamers have to think on their feet while they make quick decisions and actually have to be in charge of managing change.
  4. They see learning as fun. The fun they experience is learning how to overcome obstacles, seeking out problems and then letting other gamers know the strategies they used to solve the problems.
  5. They marinate on the “edge.” Gamers look for alternative strategies and innovative solutions for a better way to solve problems. They are making it up as it happens so they cannot only understand the game, they can reinvent the game.

Consider in the World of Warcraft, a Guild Master has all the fundamentals of a leader. They create a vision with a set of values that attract others; find and recruit players that fit with their vision; they form apprenticeships for new players; they coordinate and manage how the group is governed; and mediates any disputes.

In ongoing conversations about gamers, the question that keeps rising to the top is “are gamers born or made?” Thomas and Brown reframe that question in the context of the challenges emerging for the 21st century workplace. It really doesn’t matter what skills you have to play a particular game; it is how talented you are in attracting the right people to work with you on your quest.

If we take this a step beyond to education and what classrooms look like today, gamers or those with gamer characteristics are lost and their talents are not tapped. This is the same with teachers who think out of the box, who develop an open environment where there are no right or wrong answers and allow creation of questions that encourage more questions. This is happening in pockets within public and private schools with creative and innovative teachers and administrators who are willing to take some risks that demonstrates that this type of learning environment engages students in the learning process and motivates them to want to learn more.

How do we tap teachers’ and students’ talents?

This post is not about using games in the classroom. It is how to identify the characteristics of gamers and transfer those disciplines to the classroom. A teacher can be more like the Guild Master who runs a democratic environment where there is shared leadership and ownership in what is to be learned. Consider that certain games’ characteristics include non-monetary performance incentives, data transparency, temporary leadership roles that give people the chance to practice their leadership skills – make it easier to be an effective leader. [Hemp, 2008]

One implication for real-world organizations and schools: There may be large and untapped reservoirs of leadership talent that you don’t know you have right in your classroom, school, school community, and the global classroom.

So should we think about these characteristics for future teachers and administrators? Will ongoing assessment strategies look like these games so students rank themselves, compare their results with other students, and work collaboratively to help improve the results?

Maybe the same can be true for collaborative professional development. K-12 and Higher Ed is also in a state of flux. Things are going to change. Why? Because of the economy, job loss, changing demographics, and a huge need for thousands of high quality teachers in the next few years. High quality teachers does not mean teaching to the test. Teacher education institutions can be the playground where the faculty and students do the research and development to design these new learning environments. Let’s rethink what is a school. How about a P/K-20 learning work and play center? Maybe consider the school as the learning center for the community open all hours of the day where all stakeholders are involved in the design and implementation of the curriculum.


Brown, J., and Thomas, D. The Gamer Disposition. Harvard Business Review. Feb. 14, 2008. Online. Available. March 9, 2008.

Hemp, P. Does your Leadership Strategy include the World of Warcraft? Harvard Business Review. Feb.19, 2008. Online. Available. March 10, 2008.

This post was first posted on Rethinking Learning March, 2008 and even more relevant today.


Online Learning Challenges

Designing Online Learning Environments that Engage Learners
(first published on OnCUE Summer 2010 Vol. 32 No. 2 p. 10-11)

Teaching online is fundamentally different than teaching face-to-face. The design of effective online learning environments requires rethinking teaching practices. The rapid advances of educational technology encourages the growth of collaborative online learning experiences unconstrained by time and space. Even so, students may not learn from technology alone; they learn with the support of competent facilitators who design learning strategies that support learning goals and objectives.

Online learning technologies were first used to digitize existing instructional materials for easier distribution, to enhance consistency, and reduce costs. Unfortunately, this use of technology did not actually improve instruction. Now there is a shift to more theory-based online learning strategies that use technology to enhance an instructionally sound learning experience that meets the needs of all learners.

“Technology can play an important role in the achievement of learning outcomes but it is not necessary to explain this enhancement with a special account of learning. Rather, the challenge is to describe how the technology allows underlying processes common to all learning to function effectively (Mayes and de Freitas in Beetham and Sharpe, 2007, pg 13).”

With funding cuts, districts are looking at creative ways to provide courses not offered at their site. Students are becoming more proactive along with their parents on what they need to meet their learning goals so they graduate with appropriate credits. The number of K-12 students taking online classes is growing exponentially.  University students take it a step further. They not only search for learning opportunities at their school and online, they know a good online class. These students are picky about which classes they sign up for and will drop a class if the teacher is not effective. They are the new, savvy consumers of online education. In response to their higher expectations, designers of online education are incorporating increasingly sophisticated instructional approaches such as animations and simulations that address the challenges of presenting dynamic content to learners.
I asked online learning providers from my PLN (Personal Learning Network) how they design an environment that engages and motivates the learner to actively participate in the learning process. The top answers included:

  • Posting syllabus with due dates
  • Providing timely feedback
  • Individual support and coaching
  • Face-to-face meetings

All of these answers work to nudge the learner to logon, participate, and complete an assignment. Yet, even experienced curriculum designers are rethinking how to deliver instruction online so students want to be engaged in the learning process. Survey respondents also shared that about 10% drop out. Top three reasons presented were technology issues, not able to do assignments, and motivation. As educators with limited budgets and resources, we may be trailing the world of instructional design. Today’s students are different than five years ago. They are used to instant information, cell phones, games, and simulations. It is going to be difficult to keep them engaged with traditional education.

Virtual University Class

Dr. Scott McLeod

Teaching online class

Scott McLeod, Ph.D., associate professor in educational leadership and policy studies at Iowa State University, communicates with his students via web cam. McLeod is teaching two sections of Educational Law and Ethics wholly online for the first time this February. Each of his students were given a webcam to allow face-to-face interaction without having to leave their homes.

“The technology side of distance education is an add-on to the instructional content,” McLeod said. “…when students have lived in this online community for a semester, they start making connections back to their schools and translate these educational practices to their students and staff…”

Google Reader, Adobe Connect, and Moodle are also integrated into the course. Students are able to use Google Reader to keep abreast of new developments in their field, even after the class is complete.

“This enables them to continue learning, far beyond the classroom,” McLeod stated.

Professors who find they need to promote their courses are experimenting with social media and new technologies. Universities around the world are building virtual classrooms with Second Life, designing interactive programs and games, and posting free online courses.

Experience History as it Happens

Apollo 11

Launch of Apollo 11

Maybe we need to find content that lets our students experience how historical events really happened such as the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum’s We Choose the Moon ( At this site, users listen to the actual commentaries from Houston as Apollo 11 is launched. Users can watch and hear what happened on their own time by clicking through the stages and on different galleries.

Virtual Museums and Galleries
Schools are cutting back on field trips because of limited funds. Students now can navigate around exhibits right from their desktop with videoconferencing and links such as:

Learn by Doing
There are numerous online activities where learners of all ages can learn by involving themselves in hands-on activities.

Virtual Dinosaur Dig

Go on a virtual dinosaur dig

Play while Learning
Most students play games, so why not introduce games into your learning repertoire?

Interact with Videos and Audio
Reach those students that are auditory and kinesthetic learners with multimedia.

You as the teacher can be the instructional designer creating a learning environment that is engaging and challenging. You can set the pace and rhythm, vary the format of the instruction you deliver, give the learner control, and make learning fun: fun for your students and fun for you.

I recommend teachers building their own PLN with other teachers and instructional designers where everyone collects rich curriculum and learning activities to share with each other. Use social media and your network to learn about new resources, bookmark and tag them in or Diigo, and then share them with your students in an organized way that enhances your instruction. There is no reason to reinvent learning activities if they are already available.

Cited Sources
Beetham, H. & Sharpe, R., 2007. Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing and Delivering E-Learning 1st ed., Routledge.

Rydell, M. Online learning environments enhance education for Cohorts. Iowa State University news, February 11, 2010


You can be a Constructivist

I am at ISTE 2010 and attended The Constructivist Consortium with Tech4Learning, Fablevision, GenYes, LCSI, Ispiration, and I had so much fun I wish I could share the excitement I felt. Well, maybe I can by sharing what I created with Frames by Tech4Learning.


Constructivist Consortium

Constructivist Consortium

I’m still new at WordPress and cannot figure out how to play the video right from this post – I hope you click on the link to check it out. What I learned from Gary Stager is that making things is the best way to learn. More and more we will see books, TV shows, craft events, websites about making stuff. When you do something learning is not passive.

Gary showed us a video from that was inspirational – please check it out and share. Talked about books we have to read. I’m buying Making Learning Whole by David Perkins for our book club. Never heard of before.

Will be sharing more and adding more to this when I learn more.