Educreations and Explain Everything: Teaching and Learning on the Small Screen

 I hit the “Play” button on the video post and the voice of a virtual calculus student comes over my computer speakers as I stare at the snow-white screen in front of me. 

 “Hi Calculus class! This is Daisy, and here is my problem.”

“So you have a hill” – a down-sloping black line appears on my screen – “you’re going to have two gates, a blue gate and a red gate” – the blue gate appears uphill and the red gate downhill.  

“You have a skier at the first gate right now, and his coach is standing perpendicular to the second gate…” – two stick figures appear at their respective gates on the hill, then Daisy walks me through some mathematical formulas before letting me know the following: “We are looking for ‘dx’ over ‘dt,’ which is going to tell us how fast the skier is going.”

As Daisy walks me through the problem, explaining the steps along the way, I hear her mental wheels turning as I see the solution unfold on my computer screen. 

Educreations – the iPad application that this particular Calculus student is using to record her solution to the problem she was tasked with solving for homework – is a prime example of how one-to-one iPad programs deliver on their promise to move us in the direction of more active teaching and learning environments. Using Educreations or Explain Everything (a more fully featured version of Educreations), teachers can screencast and post instructional videos to virtual spaces such as YouTube for the benefit of their students, and students can show their mastery of the material presented through their own iPad screen castings. 

Said Daisy: “The interactive aspect of the project is really helpful to my understanding of the material. I think it helped everyone in the class to have to actually think through the process of the problem, instead of just doing the math mindlessly.”

Daisy’s recorded explanation also affords the teacher invaluable insights:

The recorded narration of the problem-solving process helps me to truly see and understand the students’ thought process as they are working through the problems, and to identify where, if anywhere, the break-down in reasoning occurs. On the students’ end, using the iPad seems to really enhance their engagement in the assignment and their investment in the learning process.” – Steve Ascher

You can watch and listen to Daisy’s solution to her related-rates 
calculus problem at


Moths to Flames, or Artfully Augmented Reality?

ImageListening to Katherine Isbister of the NYU Game Innovation Lab on NPR’s Science Friday called to mind the divide that exists among educators today over technology integration.

One caller complained of the “atomization of human interactions” that he sees from “people running around looking at screens.” He said he didn’t see the point in GIL research that could further encourage our addiction to our (mobile) devices.

Another caller wondered about how the GIL’s research could apply to help rural schools that have taken advantage of federal funding initiatives to put more of those same screens in our students’ hands in an effort to keep them from being further atomized by virtue of the isolated physical space they inhabited.

This is a healthy debate to have, but, for the most part, the debate is over and we have moved collectively and decidedly in the direction of greater technology integration in schools, rural and urban. The reality of that move is much more complex than either atomization and isolation versus vastly greater and healthier interconnectedness.

I used to drive a particularly introverted student to and from school, and he would tell me about the massive multiplayer on-line games that he spent a great deal of time playing when he got home. I sometimes found myself wishing that this student were required to participate in athletics, and, yet, I knew that athletics would likely not be an area that would leave him feeling good about himself.

Talk to students today who play massive multiplayer on-line games and they will tell you stories of interactions they have regularly in virtual spaces with people in faraway countries. Through these interactions, they have learned simple words and expressions in other languages, made new friends, and learned valuable (perhaps painful) lessons about cultural stereotypes. Without access to those games, would students like these go outdoors and have consistently healthy interactions with peers in their own communities? Would they have gone out and gotten in trouble, and learned from those experiences? Would they have spent that gaming time in front of the television watching SpongeBob Squarepants? Who is to say, really?

Talk to people who first met in virtual spaces and are now moving in together and planning futures together, as is the case with one of my close friends.

The reality of what Ms. Isbister called our “moths to flame” tendency is that we’re really interacting much more often with many more people through increasing access to virtual spaces made possible by new technologies.

It is no longer really about whether to further integrate technology in education, it is how – as Ms. Isbister so eloquently put it – to artfully use new technology to improve learning outcomes and quality of life.

I celebrate the Game Innovation Lab for thinking of artful ways to enhance our virtual and physical lives as well as our education. I find it fascinating that new research about “power poses” is informing research at GIL on ways to help students deal with math anxiety to improve learning outcomes.

The Game Innovation Lab has the minds to make a difference in education, to keep us away from the flames and steer us in the direction of artful integration of technology. Thank you, GIL!

The Roman Goddess of Wisdom Will be Watching

For a few social media entrepreneurs, fortunes have been made off of our love for sharing our thoughts and photos in virtual spaces. 

It is refreshing to see that some of that money is being put toward transforming higher education models. 

Snapfish CEO Ben Nelson has put his financial resources behind for-profit Minerva University, and the school will open its doors in San Francisco in the fall of this year with the promise of offering an Ivy League-caliber education for a fraction of the cost: $10,000 per year, not including travel costs associated with a global immersion graduation requirement that will have students changing world locations (as yet unspecified) every semester. 

While for-profit education models have not yet yielded the desired results, even those within the ranks of higher education are starting to see the end of the current higher education paradigm. Just last week, Clay Shirky of New York University published a blog post forecasting “The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age.” 

Shirky says that tenured professors have been complacent at best or complicit at worst as state funding cuts have led to skyrocketing tuitions and caste systems on college campuses that exploited graduate students or non-tenured colleagues. You can essentially hear Shirky argue in favor of something along the lines of what Minerva Institute is pledging to offer at various points in his post, including the following: 

If we can’t keep raising costs for students (we can’t) and if no one is coming to save us (they aren’t), then the only remaining way to help these students is to make a cheaper version of higher education for the new student majority.

While Minerva’s Web site qualifies its existence as “*Pending WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) Approval,” there is plenty to lend it credibility in scholarly circles and in competing for the best and brightest in the college admissions arena.

ImageMinerva Dean Stephen Kosslyn is a former Harvard University Dean of Behavioral Sciences. The school will essentially be run through the Keck Graduate Institute, part of the highly respected undergraduate liberal arts group known as the Claremont University Consortium.

After their first year in San Francisco, students will study in a different location in the world each semester. Presumably, much of the content would be delivered online through both LMS and other virtual spaces, with a small number of teaching faculty facilitating the learning process on site. 

Shirky’s blog post is a shot across the bow, to say the least, of higher ed as it exists today. Nelson’s resources make it possible for him to do much more than blog about the need for change in higher education. And, even if he hopes to capitalize off the venture, Nelson has made a decision to put his financial resources into something that offers the promise of transforming higher education to better suit the means and needs of the overwhelming majority of today’s students.

They will be competing in a global economy when they graduate. Having had a variety of cross-cultural, immersive experiences will certainly work to their advantage. Having accumulated a lot of debt along the way will not. 

On Super Bowl Sunday, I celebrate Nelson, Kosslyn, and all the others working to make Minerva succeed. I feel certain that the Roman goddess of wisdom will be watching to see how this unfolds.