Thursday, September 29, 2005

It's all about the context...

I attended a workshop on reusability the other day. Reusability is a big thing. We have 10 thousand middle school science teachers spending time and resources to come up with a better way to teach Netwon's laws of motion. Why not create one really good way and let everybody reuse it?

But Robby Robson, the leader of the workshop, made an interesting observation. He said that, "context is the friend of learning and the enemy of reuse."

For example, if I say that John Smith is the Homer Simpson of learning theorists, in a few short words and in a few short seconds, anybody familiar with the Simpsons will know that John Smith is not a very good learning theorist. Context is a very powerful learning tool. If I can describe or teach something within a framework that is already understood by the learner, then they will learn the information quicker, they will be able to recall it for a longer period of time, and they will likely encode it at a deeper level. Context is a beautiful thing to a teacher or an instructional designer. But if something is deeply embedded in context, the usability is drastically reduced. For those unfamiliar with the TV show The Simpsons, the above comment would mean nothing. It will take me more time and more words to describe John Smith the learning theorist.

So the obvious question becomes, do you design your learning artifacts to be efficient or reusable?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Laughing Points

I couldn't help but post this. The Authors Guild, the folks suing Google, have written up talking points so that you can back them up if you happen to go to a dinner party this weekend (their words, not mine).

Listen to this little gem.

"Google is digitizing countless texts, your books, in their entirety -- every sentence, every carefully chosen word -- without your permission."

It sounds like you should tack on, "and taking lunch money from small children" onto that sentence.

Lessig weighs in on the matter with a nice article over on his blog.

If you can't sell books, sue Google.

The authors guild, and several other authors are suing google. I think it only proper. I mean, why flood the earth with books and information that could benefit the world? There is always a chance that your book that went out of print 50 years ago suddenly roars back into public demand. Then the dollars are going to come rolling in.

That last sentence was dripping with irony, just in case it wasn't apparent.

I personally wrote to the guild and expressed my thoughts on the matter.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Problem-Based Learning...

I'm becoming a fan of PBL, but after reading a study I've got a question.

The study found that students who went through a PBL course didn't score any better on final tests, but felt that PBL was a more nurturing and enjoyable experience.

So, if you're thinking about moving to PBL, do you do it? If it's not going to increase tests scores, is it worth the headache? Just so that students can feel warm and fuzzy?

I suspect this person might have one answer, and this person might have another (I love the look of the kid in the red shirt. He looks like he might need a Jolt soda or something. And then the other kid in the red shirt is attempting to use his heat vision or something on the first boy.)

If students are learning just as well, does it matter if they are happy?

A Good Thing...

Interesting article on Google's further attempt to organize the world's information.

Is your calendar marked?

Today is the day. I'm not sure why, or what it means to you personally, but the fact still remains, that today is the day... matie

Friday, September 16, 2005


So, I've been audited by the great state of Utah. Great here meaning, "freaking idiots".

I guess I owe Uncle Sam, wait, that's federal... I guess I owe cousin Earl about $500. I called the auditor today to try and figure out what happened.

Apparently we claimed that my wife stayed home with the kids... which she did. But we have to make less than $50,000... which we do. But one of the kids has to be less than 12 months old... which he was.

So where did we go wrong? Well, apparently the kid has to be born in the year that you claim it. But in 2001 I distinctly remember not claiming it because it said something about caring for the child at least 6 months. And since boy number three was born in November, I didn't claim him in 2001, but did in 2002.

"Well," I said, "That is easy. We'll just file for an additional refund for the year 2001. We just made the mistake of claiming in the wrong year."

The auditor laughed. I kid you not. He laughed right into the phone. Not a wholesome chuckle like your grandpa does. A laugh like the school bully does when you pee your pants on the playground because you're right in the middle of a good game of freeze tag, and you're not sure if it's legal to leave the playground when you're frozen, even though you really have to go.

"You can't go back and reclaim in 2001, you can only go back 3 years."

I know this guy is only doing his job, but had I been in the same room with this guy, I think I would have promised a game cube to the first one of my children who bit the man in the shins. I would have thrown in a few extra games if there was blood letting.

Ok, probably not. I'm not a violent man. But I'm quite irked at the whole matter.

But I've already started the red tape. By golly if they are going to suck me for a further $500 dollars, they are going to pay for it. I'm going to balk and waver and hamper and stall and dilly dally and quibble and put off and hinder and waffle until I feel I've gotten some entertainment out of the whole matter.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

This is a free speech zone...

But spam is a lunch meat.

Somebody asked me about the two comments I deleted. I never thought that the perception might be that I delete comments from my blog because maybe I don't like what was said. I have been on discussion boards with a 'censor' and don't like the experience as much as I do those that are a bit more... 'open'.

The two posts I deleted were spam. One said something like, "I love your writing style. If you ever want to host an online casino..." The other said something similar. Buttering me up by commenting on the blog, then posting an ad.

Spam is the only type of comment that I will delete from this blog. I'm hoping I don't have to turn on the feature that makes you fill in the text before posting. I've been running this blog for over a year and those two pieces of spam were pieces number 2 and 3. I've only had one other instance.

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled blog. Today's uncyclopedia word: Numpad

Have an extra car laying around?

You could try to do something like this.

The claim is that it took 606 takes to get it right.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Game walkthroughs...

A 'walkthrough' is document that helps you get through a game. Zelda, Half-life, MYST, all can be confusing games. But with a bit of help, they become more managable for those that don't want to spend a lot of time on the game, but still want to finish it.

I've always been impressed by the voluminous walkthoughs out there. Sometimes there are documents that are well over 200 pages long. All written by fans, and made available for free.

So, it is no wonder that Wikibooks is a good place to put these documents. Why not let others share in the work? Or if you know something that is not in a particular walkthrough, it's easier to edit one already written, than write your own.

But, while I was searching through, I found a 'walkthrough' for Space Invaders. Really. Space Invaders.

I'd like to meet the person who asks for a walkthrough of a game where you have a joystick that only moves left and right, and a single button that fires your cannon. :)

Sunday Cooking...

I have always loved to cook. I think it's because my 'real life' is so complex. School takes 4 months to complete. Work projects often drag on for months at a time as well. But there is nothing so refreshing as starting a project in a clean kitchen, and then two hours later you end up with a clean kitchen, plus some morsely treat. When I am at home, I probably do 90 percent of the cooking. It is a wild challenge to start 6 things a-cooking, and orchestrate it such that by the time you are done, all 6 dishes are done at the same time. I usually can manage to do this without messing up the kitchen. I clean as I go, so that when dinner is on the table, the only dishes that need to be cleaned are those used in the consumption. My wife and I have an unwritten rule that if you cooked the meal, the other person cleans up. So when I sit down to those 6 steaming dishes (maybe an apple crisp is just starting to cook in the oven), I know that when I'm done eating, I can wander into the other room for a quick nap.

Anyway, this afternoon the boys and I made cookies. This little baby has about 60 cousins piled on a plate on top of a clean counter. Frosty milk is in the fridge.

I'm a happy fellow, trying not to think of all of the chaos that waits for me on Monday.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Dissertation Thoughts

I'm taking a class this semester on Problem Based Learning. I took the class because one day I observed, to nobody in particular, that writing is nothing more than a series of problems. When you write you are solving problems. You solve big problems like setting, character, conflict, time line, story structure, etc. etc. etc. You also solve little problems like grammar, punctuation, dialog, etc. etc. etc.

It can be a difficult task. In fact, David Jonassen categorized this kind of problem as a 'design problem' and says they are "the most complex and ill-structured kinds of problems that are encountered in practice."

So, writing is extremely difficult problem solving, and students don't like to do it, right?

Well, look at fan fiction. There are literally tens of thousands of stories out there written not for credit but for fun. Why is fan fiction so popular? I personally think one of the reasons is that part of the "most complex and ill-structured" problem has already been solved.

Think about it. If I go and write a Seinfeld episode on Fan Fiction, the character problem has already been solved. The setting problem is solved. The conflict between George and... well, almost everybody, already exists; it's been solved. I can focus on smaller problems.

What if we found another way to help solve some of the problems of writing? We would do so in an attempt to provide scaffolding to students. One way scaffolding could be provided, a way I'm very interested in, is the wiki environment. What if creative writing was created in groups, in a wiki style environment? I'm not talking about the writing exercise where everybody writes a paragraph, and you end up with an awful story that twists, changes voice, and goes nowhere. I'm talking about an instructor or author who writes a story, (you could call it a 'kernel', though it would be a complete story, or chapter), and then let others add to it. The 'author' would have ultimate power over what stays, and would probably re-write much of what is added, to maintain a consistent voice, but I can't help but think, much like what happens over at the wikipedia, the end result would be a positive thing, or at least a fascinating one.

I'm actually quite interested in this idea, and plan to write my second book in such an environment (when I can find a wiki, or build one, that suits my needs). Who knows, maybe I can even write my dissertation on the topic. My secret dream is to write my dissertation in such an environment, but then I might not be awarded a full Ph. D. Maybe I'd only get a Ph, which we know is just the sound an F makes, which might be fitting, when you stop to think about it.

Anyway, if you would like to help write the sequel to Chickens in the Headlights, keep checking back in.

When life hands you a lemon...

...describe it in an e-mail and win a cruise.

Apparently this guy gets fired because he ate 2 pieces of pizza. His co-workers had planned on taking it home. The co-workers (and seriously now, who would want to work with these people), report him to upper management (and seriously now, who would want to work FOR these people) who fired him a month later.

Maybe there were extenuating circumstances, but it's still a funny story, as are the rest of the ones mentioned in the article.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sailing and Diving

I attended a family reunion last week, and had a most enjoyable time. Two things in particular were quite enjoyable.

The first was something I haven't done in over 15 years. We were up at Bear Lake and went to a swimming pool. They had a diving board and one of the sister-in-laws egged us on to do some diving. I don't know why I found it so fun. Maybe because it's not every day that you find yourself flying through the air, your feet above your head. I found out that I can still even do a flip, though not very well.

The second thing I found so enjoyable was something I've wanted to do every since reading C. S. Forester's Horation Hornblower series (I read the books after watching a few of the movies). Oh sure, Hornblower was captain of 45 gun ship of the line boats, while mine was a single passenger Laser. But I managed to not topple the boat while learning the basics of sailing. And Bear Lake is a nice place to learn how to sail because if you fall out of the boat, chances are you're only in 2 feet of water anyway.

Regardless, I found sailing to be every bit intoxicating as Forester made it out to be.

Thursday, September 01, 2005


I was reading an article by Maria Virvou, George Katsionis, and Konstantinos Manos that was quite interesting. It's called Combining Software Games with Education: Evaluation of its Educational Effectiveness. It can be found in the Educational Technology & Society Journal, 8(2), pages 54-65.

While I enjoyed the article, I can't help but disagree with a main premise of the article. The authors' first sentence reads:

"The process of learning is a very complex cognitive task that can be very imposing on students since it requires a lot of effort from them. Consequently, they need a lot of motivation to cope with it."

In other words, learning is so imposing and complex, that students need motivation in order to learn. I agree with that statement. Very much so. But learning is its own motivation. Kids learn all the time in spite of the fact that it's complex and imposing.

It is my opinion that kids love to learn. I love to learn. It's a fun process. Yes, at times it's difficult, but it's exciting, it's exhilarating.

The main problem I have with the article is that they use learning and going to school synonymously. The authors go on to state:

"School children usually have a preconception of educational means as being totally different from entertainment. entertaining aspect of education would be rather unexpected."

That may be true but it's the school that teaches them learning is not entertainment.

Kids spend their first 5 years learning all sorts of fun thing. When any 5 year old runs up to you and says, with his eyes flashing, "Guess what?", chances are he's learned something and wants to share it with you. He's excited. He had a problem, but he's figured something out.

But then we put them in school, where they have to sit quietly (I'm of the opinion the more you're learning, the more noise you're making), you have to do worksheets, you have to stay inside, you can't chew gum, you can't ask your neighbor a question... And then we tell them that they are 'learning'.

I think learning is doing, learning is fun, learning is often play. Schools just are not in a position to do that very well (I can't barely keep up with my 4 boys when they are 'learning' , let alone a school teacher trying to keep up with 30).

Anyway, the conclusion of the article was that when students learned a specific topic in a fun atmosphere, they learned better. With that aspect, I certainly agree.