Tag Archives: educational technology

Why I don’t blog more (but really, really should)

Do you blog? When was your last blog post — Days? Weeks? Months?

I blog about instructional design and technology, so the points made in this post refer to that topic specifically. My last serious set of posts was nearly two years ago. That’s a long time; if I were a dog, that’d be over 10% of my life that I wasted on activities other than blogging. Why? I’ll list my top few excuses; I bet your excuses are similar if not identical.

  • I don’t have time.
  • I have nothing new to say.
  • I’m not a good writer.
  • Blogs are for narcissists who want to hear themselves talk and be some sanctimonious windbags.

Let me address each excuse, one by one, and explain why I’ve now come to realize that I really, really should be blogging more often (and perhaps you should too).

  1. I don’t have time. Time is about priorities. If I want something, I can make it happen. For example, let’s say I want to work out. Instead of sleeping until 7:30am each morning, I could get up an hour earlier and work out. Which won’t happen until I decide that working out is more important than sleep.Same here. You won’t blog until you decide it’s more important that something else. Which means it ought to get you something. If you can figure out how blogging helps you get something you value, then you’ll do it.For me, the practice of writing — organizing thoughts, articulating them, illustrating them with images — is value added to my life. I’m a professor, so I am rewarded for writing. If there is a reward for writing in your world, blogging is for you (some blogs, like Blogger, post ads and share profits with you; money is another great motivator and offsets the loss of time nicely).
  2. I have nothing new to say. Yes, you do. Especially if you are a technology specialist who is ‘in the trenches’. I want to know what you do, why, and how. I want to know how you use technology with K12 students. Because my life is dedicated to researching that. And your blogs help me figure out what questions you want answers to.I promise others want to know your thoughts and practices. So share them. Be brief; be direct; be great. Share. I and others like me want to know.
  3. I’m not a good writer. Neither were the good writers. Until, that is,  they wrote (and wrote, and wrote, and wrote). If you teach kids to write, then you’ll be modeling excellent skills by blogging. If you want to learn to write better, most research says you need to write more to get better.Plus, writing for public consumption is a whole new ballgame. You’ll be told if you suck (And you will bet told that. Often. And it will help you get better.)
  4. Blogs are for narcissists. Umm…well…I, ah…Ok, you got me. I’ve no argument there. I love seeing how many people visit my blog each day, why they are here, and what search terms got them here. But feeding my ( and your) ego is only a small percentage of the benefits of blogging. And it’s a healthier way to feed your ego than, say, belittling everyone you interact with. Keep in mind that the biggest contributing factor to the success of most blogs IS the personality that comes through them. So letting yourself — your true self — out to the world every so often this is not entirely a bad thing…

Yes, there are hundreds of blogs out there written by folks who think their own personal Existential Crisis (and emotions that go with it) are both unique and at the same time profoundly interesting to the rest of the world. Let’s not knock them — perhaps the catharsis that comes from blogging is healing for them, and I’m on board with helping anyone who wants heal do so. (In fact, I did just that, a few times. Then I learned how self-indulgence does not an engaging blog make and moved on. See it here: https://tjkopcha.wordpress.com/2007/11/28/my-own-seldon-crisis/).

I do know that when I follow bloggers who write about what I like, I’m a better person for it. I have more ideas, I see more perspectives, and I think more broadly about the things I’m interested in. If I can do the same for someone else through my own blog entry, then I’ve just found another great reason to blog.

sign language of the word 'blog'I hope you find a great reason soon, if you haven’t already.


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eSupervision prepares teachers 21st century style



The problem? Imagine you are a teacher educator.  Your Dean (or whomever) says to you, “We have to train our student teachers better than we are now. We also have to cut our budget by 10%.” What would your answer be?

Traditional supervision commonly involves having a student teacher work closely with a cooperating teaching in the field. A supervisor from the University will observe the student teacher periodically and monitor progress. The quality of mentoring varies from placement to placement. More often than not, student teachers are rewarded for imitating their cooperating teachers (who often use traditional lecture-style strategies) and learn little about teaching in new or innovative ways.

eSupervision model

eSupervision technology bridges student teachers with other novices and experts

Our solution? At San Diego State University, my colleague Dr. Christianna Alger and I developed eSupervision (http://www.esupervision.net) as our answer to that dilemma. With initial input and support from Drs. Nancy Farnan and Allison Rossett (to whom we owe a debt of gratitude), we developed an online system that improves the supervision of our student teachers while in the field (i.e. clinical experience).

What did we do? Using the open-source course management tool called Moodle, we developed a technology-driven cognitive apprenticeship. Cognitive apprenticeships consist of a number of elements that technology has the potential to support, including modeling, scaffolding, coaching, reflection, and community. With technology, the benefits of social constructivism and distributed cognition (see also computer-supported collaborative learning) can be more fully realized.

Supervisors engage in less face-to-face observation and more online coaching, support, and guidance. A lot more. Online discussion boards. Video. Modularized, self-paced instruction. Just-in-time support. Individualized feedback. Participation in a community of learners. We took the well-known, research-based uses of technology and pedagogy that improve student teacher supervision and blended them together in an online environment.

The results? Awesome. eSupervision students perform as well, if not better, on average than students who receive traditional supervision [we used a quasi-experimental design with matched control group]. Many eSupervision students report larger gains in self-efficacy that those who receive traditional supervision, and attribute it, in part, to greater coaching and feedback from a wider variety of experts and peers.

If you are thinking about moving towards eSupervision at your own institution, or with your own group of student teachers, please let me know how I can help. We’ve been honing eSupervision and our research on it for the better part of the last four years; I’m happy to consult or share my thoughts in greater detail.

Related publications

  • Alger, C., & Kopcha, T. J. (in press). Technology Supported Cognitive Apprenticeship Transforms the Student Teaching Field Experience. The Teacher Educator.
  • Alger, C., & Kopcha, T. J. (2009). eSupervision: A Technology Framework for the 21st Century Field Experience in Teacher Education. Issues in Teacher Education, 18(2), 31-46.
  • Kopcha, T. J. (accepted 2011). Technology as a tool for increasing self-efficacy knowledge during the field experience. Paper accepted for presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.
  • Kopcha, T. J., & Alger, C. (accepted 2011). The impact of technology-enhanced student teacher supervision on student teacher knowledge, performance, and self-efficacy. Paper accepted for presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

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Putting the Point Back in Power Point: The Golden Rule

Dear Power Point Presenter:

Your slide should not be your cue card - if it is, it's for you, not your audience.

I’m the person in your audience who you just noticed yawning. Who is checking my IMs, Tweets, and my Google Reader while you talk. Who is about to walk away from your talk without the slightest chance of remembering you or anything you have said for the past 30 minutes.

Want to know why?

I’ll give you a hint – think about the Golden Rule. I seriously doubt you want done to you that which you are doing to others.

Powerpoint Law: Your power point slide show is NOT supposed to be for you. It’s supposed to be for your audience.

Let that sink in. Those slides that you are reading from, word-for-word? You built them for you. They are high-tech cue cards. Either that or all that dense text is about you trying to prove something to us — that you are smart; that you did your homework; that you are ‘the real deal’. Either way, we don’t like it. Stop doing it to us, it doesn’t work.

If the presenter reads what's written here, no one will remember a thing. Too much text, too many ideas, too many images.

We cannot retain anything when we simultaneously read the exact same words that we are listening to; it goes against how our brains work (more on the issues of split attention and cognitive load and split attention effect). How much do you think we’ll remember when you present your third slide in a row that contains two paragraphs of dense text that you expect us to read while listening to you while also thinking about what you are saying while also thinking about why you even bothered to put all this in a slide in the first place.

Present one idea at a time, visually, while saying those words you normally want to type out on your slide. Here, the idea is why we accept the new over the old.

Want to build your slide for the audience? Then stop splitting our attention. This is my golden rule. Here’s how:

  1. For each slide, boil your point/idea down to one brief statement.
  2. Present that statement in a text box.
  3. Support that idea with a relevant, powerful image or related images.
  4. When the time comes to present, simply talk over the slide (this is all the stuff you wanted to say from #1 above but didn’t because the rule was to use only one brief statement).

Here's the second idea presented in the earlier, text-dense slide. It's OK to have more slides if you spend less time per slide, especially if they have a strong visual component.

There are several great resources out there on making your slides more visual, and more focused on one idea at a time. I’ve included them here for your enjoyment.

I’m sure there are more out there, but these do a nice job of reinforcing my point. Be forewarned — moving to an audience-oriented presentation is not easy. But you will find the challenge interesting, and one you pursue for years to come.

And that will bring you one step closer to putting the point back in Powerpoint.

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Interactive Fiction in Action

One of my students used Interactive Fiction in his classroom and has good things to report. Read more here:


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You can lead a horse to Twitter but you can’t make him tweet

My Twitter PageI’ve asked, begged, bargained, goaded, and just about hunted down many friends and associates imploring them to try Twitter, but to no avail. I say “Try it. You’ll like it!”. So they try it, and in a week or two I stop seeing tweets. Why? Twitter has all the elements of a great social tool — it’s fun, it’s easy, it’s avoids the socially awkward formalities that meeting people in the real world entails, and it’s highly informative. What gives?

It could be some lofty, esoteric thing like: Hey, man, they just don’t dig the paradigm shift and since they aren’t digital natives, bra, they never will. That just seems improbable though. My spidey-senses tell me that it’s probably something more basic than that. More like: Hey man, all I ever hear about is someone telling me about the incredibly banal details of the past hour of their life . I guess I can’t necessarily argue with that. Well, I could try…

So I’ll end this post with a thought for all you folks on Twitter who, like me, hope to convert the masses from nay-ing (or neighing, to keep with the metaphor) about the idea of Twitter to tweeting like birds who flock together (Ok, I’ve pushed the whole metaphor too far now, haven’t I?).

My thought? A big part of adopting the tool is trusting that you’ll get if you take the time to give. So I think us Twitter-lovers out there should do our best to tweet more about things we do that other people can use. In my area of interest, educational technology, I try to tweet about what tools I use and how I’m using them. If we all keep doing something that, I think that will help those we lead to Twitter begin to sing like canaries themselves.
Personally, I also love hearing about how a little bit of basil in your lemongrass soup made all the difference at the local Thai place, the latest in politics, or how you can’t help but wonder why ‘woot’ ever came to be. But that’s just me. Maybe that’s why I love the idea of this tool, and I love using it. Maybe t it’s tweets like those that turn others off to the tool — I don’t know. Until the whole thing gets sorted out, though, I ask you to try Twitter (if you haven’t already) and give what you want to get in return.

If that just doesn’t work for you, you can tell me why below. I really do want to know.

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Rain on my Interactive Fiction parade

Ok, so I’ve been hitting the interactive fiction sites pretty hard over the last few days. I still love them — turns out, though, there are some glaring errors that tend to make the sites — well — challenging to use. Especially in educational settings. Here are the main issues…

  • Some of the Scott Adams Adventures just don’t work. I verified this by checking a walkthrough — the program just didn’t let me go where I needed to go. Very odd.
  • None of the save options worked.
  • From what I’ve found, the downloadable versions of Zork I, II, and III only work on the Mac Classic OS.
  • Language barriers. The older games are too word-specific. I said “Dig”. It said “How?”. I said “With Hands”. It said “Can’t”. Turns out “Use Hands” was the proper command. Needed a walk through to find that out.
  • The text disappears on some computers when you scroll the main window

However, I have not lost my fervor for using these in the classroom. Especially when they are so much darn fun! I’ll post more about that later…

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Interactive fiction and learning (or I’m a Zork dork)

zork.jpgOk, I admit it. I’m a dork — in the kindest sense of the word. I love interactive fiction. Back in the day, I used to call them text adventures, but it appears that they have since upgraded their status. I can still remember the first time I played once of these games. I had a TI-99 4A computer (this was my second computer…my first was a Timex Sinclair 2068 – I did not remember the number until I looked up the image) and I had this game by Scott Adams called “Savage Island”. I had to load the game from a cassette recorder to the computer’s RAM to play it. Man, that game frustrated the heck out of me. I don’t think I ever made it very far in the game, but I loved playing it.

Interactive fiction is a game that contains no graphics, just text. For example, in “Savage Island” you are stranded on this island with little idea of what to do or how to do it. The game uses simple commands like ‘go volcano’ or ‘climb tree’ to interact with the world. Fun to explore and interact with. Eventually my TI-99 soon gave way to a Commodore 64, and I left “Savage Island” behind for the greener pastures of Zork, Trinity, and Leather Goddesses of Phobos. These are more complex text adventures with a form of interplay that was a bit smoother than the earlier adventures and with a bit of humor thrown in for the mix — these were made by Infocom.

Now that I’m all grown up (sortof…), I see tremendous potential for these games in education.

What I love most about these adventures is that they are similar to reading a book, but one you interact with. It is intrinsically satisfying when you figure out how to combine items to solve a problem, and when you discover new and unknown areas of the game. I think these would make a great practice, reward, or enrichment for students in middle or high school. They are free, available online, and combine reading, writing, and problem solving skills. What more could you ask for?

Below are two links for these games. There are loads of games at these sites, and they should get you and your students started. (Note that, like all online content, it is always good to play the games a little before allowing students to view them. Leather Goddesses of Phobos contains content of a sexual nature, so be forewarned on that one. The others are likely to be more innocent.)

There’s plenty here to keep a Zork dork like me happy for a long time. I’m disappointed, though, that I cannot find a game called ‘Trinity’ online yet. This one was fantastic. I’ll keep looking for it — hmm, all this hunting for an old game is like a…it’s like a real-life text adventure!

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