The Franklin Institute Inspirations #educon

photo-jan-26-2-33-01-pmThe Franklin Institute in Philadelphia contains great instructional designs. Museums, by their nature, offer an immersive learning experience, and many combine technology with physical objects and interactives that intensify the experience. But the Franklin Institute is especially clever. A couple exhibits’ designs were specifically interesting.

Brain Scan

Here, there is a model of an MRI scanner. The visitor moves the scanner up and down to change which specific section of the brain is scanned. Obviously, this isn’t happening in real time. The simulation gives agency to the learner, both in that the learner is able to pace the content delivery and by putting the visitor in the role of the neuroscientist. Empowering squared!

While I can’t think of a face-to-face classroom application that doesn’t involve some savvy technology skills, there is a direct way to incorporate this idea into e-learning. A slider bar is placed over a model. Each change in the trigger value changes the display image.


Modified: “The three types of BMC shell proteins” By Seth Axen, Markus Sutter, Sarah Newnham, Clement Aussignargues, and Cheryl Kerfeld –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Facilitating Discussions

The last room in the exhibition space featured a VR movie describing how doctors use VR to interact and view 3D models of brains before operating on them. I suspect this room can become crowded with people waiting for available viewers. To accommodate visitors, there was a discussion station so people could talk with each other as they killed time.

Many of the exhibits asked visitors to complete an activity with a friend, but this one caught my eye as specifically good for classroom integration. Essentially, each discussion card is a self-paced nugget of information or discussion prompt, except for one card, which has a story specific to that stack.


A similar design could be used to share case studies, math problems/graphs, or primary documents. Going further, the stacks could exceed five cards and use game mechanics to prompt participants to draw more information, discussion questions, etc.

Two designs definitely worth sharing!

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Notes on “Learning in the Making…”


maker3To contextualize our field trip to the Invention Studio, my professor had us read “Learning in the Making: A Comparative Case Study of Three Makerspaces” by Sheridan, Rosenfeld, Litts, Brahms, Jacobs-Priebe, and Owens (2014). They study three self-identified makerspaces:

  • Sector67, a member-based makerspace located in Madison, Wisconsin, and comprising mostly adults;
  • Mt. Elliott Makerspace, a community makerspace located in Detroit and comprising primarily youth; and
  • Makeshop, a museum makerspace located inside the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and comprising largely young children and families visiting the museum, whose making is facilitated by adult makers. (p.507)

They use a constructionist perspective and a community of practice lens to frame their study. Additionally they “leverage MRC [‘metarepresentational competence, the understanding of how tools support communicating an idea, when to invoke certain tools, and for what purpose’] to understand learning through making across a range of project scales, levels of support, and stages of completion using a wide variety of tools, materials, and processes” (p. 508). Initially, they use studio structures to suggest makerspaces are also learning environments, but they drop this idea in their discussion. They explain, “we came to realize the diversity of learning arrangements within each space was a marked finding about learning in these spaces. Thus, we shifted our analytic focus to describe and examine the impact of that diversity in each learning environment. (p. 511)



  • A well-articulated description of constructivism vs. constructionism (p. 507):
    • Constructivism, a long-standing perspective in the developmental and psychological sciences that holds knowledge as actively constructed by learners through experience and that sees learning as the ongoing construction and revision of mental representations
    • Constructionism extends the theory of constructivism to focus explicitly on how the making of external artifacts supports learners’ conceptual understanding: “the artifact itself functions as an evolving representation of the learner’s thinking.”
    • Personally, I’ve struggled to understand the difference (emphasis my own).
  • They conclude that the typical disciplinary boundaries within formal schooling is inauthentic to makerspace practice.
  • Makerspaces could be described as having a studio structure. 
    • Although they abandon their studio structure, the article does offer descriptions of the four activities that define such a structure:
      1. in demonstration-lectures, teachers pose open-ended challenges, show exemplars, and demonstrate processes to engage and inform students,
      2. in students-at-work, students work on their art and teachers circle the room observing and giving “just-in-time” instruction,
      3. in critiques, the working process is paused as the group collectively reflects on student work, and
      4. in exhibitions, students’ work is shared with a community beyond the studio classroom. (p. 508)
    • The makerspaces offer workshops and classes at a beginner’s level to expand participation and membership, and specialized classes are offered on specific tools or projects. When in the space, members are frequently – but not always – at work. The article, however, focuses less on the types of critiques and the method of exhibiting work, but they do mention evidence of each. During workshops, “facilitators gave feedback on work,” (p. 527), and exhibitions of work happen informally as members see work-in-progress and formally, when projects are shared with the community, like Sector67’s high-altitude balloon wired with a microcontroller to take photographs of the earth entered into a public competition.
  • The article is less helpful for understanding how to create a makerspace learning environment. Time and again, the authors focus on the community as central to sustaining the space. One participant notes, “And it was only after we had a building with nothing in it except for like two tools that I realized the equipment doesn’t make any difference at all. That people will show up no matter what if there are other good people there that are doing interesting things” (p. 513). This echoes what we heard Tuesday. Informal learning depends on networked knowledge and a train the trainer model. For example, at Mt. Elliott there is an expectation that once youth acquire skills, they pass it on. One participant speculated she taught more than 200 people how to solder after learning herself (p.525). Following this study, there should be research on how knowledge spreads and how networks grow and change within makerspaces.
  • Regarding learning itself, the article offers little for formal educators in schools faced with teaching academic standards. While “the multidisciplinary design work often seen in makerspaces is inspiring to educators,” (p. 506), and while schools are integrating aspects of design and technology in response to the Next Generation Science Standards, this article does not challenge future researchers to create fluid, interdisciplinary frameworks for academic standards.

Final Thoughts and Connections

For the learning in makerspaces to be valued by K-12 schools, standards must be interwoven across disciplines. Makerspaces show how one skill, like circuitry, can lead to many different applications, like sewn circuits or microcontrollers, but what could that look like in school? How might one standard in math be the first step to another standard in science, social studies, or language arts? What is needed is a network of standards showing how they build upon each other. Although vertical alignment provides a progression of skills from kindergarten to 12th grade within disciplines, there should be additional horizontal and diagonal alignments connecting standards.

Networked-standards or standards ecosystems are not new. Game-based learning and game-based assessment developers already focus on how one learning environment teaches multiple standards across disciplines. Also, advances in personalized learning depend on a better understand of how specific standards relate to each other across disciplines so that authentic learning pathways can be created. Research on makerspaces could offer a model connecting skills which could then be replicated and revised for K-12 academic standards.

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Field Trip to GaTech’s Invention Studio

photo-jan-17-6-15-14-pm-1Tuesday evening, I visited Georgia Tech’s Invention Studio; a field trip for my MakerSpace / Maker-Mindset course “Inventing to Learn.”

The space is nestled away on the second floor of the Manufacturing Related Disciplines Complex, which also contains larger labs for research, offices, and educational lab spaces. The lab where we debriefed was set up with speaker parts, designed to simply extraneous tasks (such as putting together amplifier circuits) to focus on the product. I’ll come back to this amplifier later. Continue reading

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Learning Environment Redesign

noun_82692_ccWalk into any learning environment, and you’ll see the theory of learning that created it. The phrase “sage on the stage” is one example. When behaviorism prevailed, classrooms and lecture halls were designed so an audience would absorb the expert’s content. Then when educators started adapting their lessons to more constructivist perspectives, the learning environment became compartmentalized: specific areas were redesigned for social interactions or areas were set aside so students could retreat to construct their own learning. Desks not in rows but in groups. Classroom libraries and maker spaces. Teachers struggle repurposing their classrooms because inventory sheets still require X desks and clunky furniture, and they must manage larger classes, which means more physical bodies with more belongings. Even though many teachers’ lessons incorp
orate constructivism (scaffolding, group work, problem-based learning), their space is haunted by Skinner’s ghost. Creating a new learning environment requires a systemic exorcism.

Beyond the physical space, a learning environment includes the learners, the instruction, and the content. While K-12 and higher education has changed the classroom’s design and offers more constructivist spaces, moving desks doesn’t mean creating a constructivist environment. Continue reading

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The Need for Storytellers


“Storytelling” by Surian Soosay is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One reason for everyone to be more digitally literate is to be able to use media for storytelling. On Friday, I saw Hidden Figures and wept. So many narratives are lost to history. So many unique individuals whose lives historians, researchers, and artists are reanimating through T.V., cinema, and social media. And so many students and teachers can find and share their voice using many of the same tools.

And if you need another reason, here’s a passage from Rebacca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities. I first heard it on this week’s On the Media.

from Rebecca Solnit's Hope in the Dark p. 7

from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark p. 7

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An Update

instagram-1882329_640It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s because my creative heavy-lifting was finishing up papers and e-learning modules. It’s difficult for me to do both.

Now, however, it’s a new semester, my final semester as a GSU ITD Masters’ student. It’s a great program and growing. So naturally, last week I turned in my application for their PhD program. If you were to ask me three years ago about whether I thought a PhD was worth it, I’d have said no. Too many of my teaching colleagues were pursuing advanced degrees from online for-profit providers. Yes, I see the irony. However, I will say that the GSU program has a good record unlike other providers. And I see the PhD program as giving me more time research and connect my interests in open educational practices and digital literacy.

My work at the GaDOE continues to excite me daily. While I’ll be shy to share many of the specifics, there are a few projects that overlap with my work at GSU.

So going forward, I’ll have several themes going on in this blog.

  • Digital Literacy and how I’m running a professional learning community
  • Maker Spaces, STEM, and the Maker-Mindset
  • Open Educational Practices
  • Weekly reflections that connect my work tasks to my GSU studies (I have to study for comps somehow)
  • #Fragments because frequently I’ll listen, see, or hear something to share

And at some point I’ll work organize posts so one can find posts that relate to my past experiences as an online teacher.

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“Seamless Integration” isn’t possible with neon-yellow thread

"the badass Hippo :-)" by Malada on Flickr

“the badass Hippo :-)” by Malada on Flickr

As I continue my reading in GSU’s Fundamentals of Instructional Design and Technology, there seems to be a theme.

As Deborah L. Lowther and Steven M. Ross point out in Chapter 21 of Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology , “The goal is to seamlessly integrate these new competencies into the curriculum rather than using “add-on” activities and courses” (213). That seems to be an argument for computer literacy as well as for instructional technology.
Yet, I wonder to what extent we, tech-enthusiasts, pop culture, the media, and education work against this goal.

As I understand it, technology tools (“the computer as a tool to solve problems…” p. 211) and instructional technology are means to an end. We use tech in schools because that is what students will need to use as adults. We use tech because that’s what our culture and society use. Not to mention how efficiently computers perform calculations, store information, and make data accessible. This echoes previously made arguments that technology is effectively integrated when we no longer think about it.

Yet, we don’t treat technology like it’s a tool. We gossip about improvements and new features (iPhone 7, Twitter, Facebook). We debate whether and to what extent technology impacts our behaviors, makes us more or less social, human, stressed, or happy. We stress coding languages and coding boot-camps without focusing on computational thinking. We agonize over STEM (or STEAM), praise innovation, and give little credit to maintenance or the service industry. Finally, we idolize successful technology sector CEOs and CIOs to such an extent that they are almost our modern-day super-heroes, and those who develop new products are geniuses. Even those who fix our broken gadgets (isn’t that maintenance?) work at a “Genius Bar.”

Is it any surprise then, that when we try to bring technology into classrooms, that some teachers reject it because they believe it will be too hard, too time consuming? We make it seem hard partly because we talk about technology in elevated terms and partly because we place unrealistic expectations on technological solutions. We can’t have “seamless” integration if we insist on using neon yellow thread to hem dark slacks.

One thing that’s missing from discussions about integration is toning down the rhetoric around technology. “Let’s not talk about technology, let’s talk about teaching. Oh, and by the way, here’s the gizmo we’ll try out.” Whichever integration model one selects should include some guidance on implementation. As Jacquie McDonald writes, “the ability to interact effectively with faculty staff, and ‘sell’ ID theory…is a key ID skill” (221).

To help teachers, schools, and districts teach 100% of the future (thank you James for that video!) using technology, we should consider personalized learning and competency-based standards. Both strategies acknowledge a continuum of learning and allow learners to pick and choose the tools they are comfortable using.

My question: What might personalize-technology integration and competency-based computer literacy look like in professional development? (other than perpetual head-aches for the school’s IT)

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A Model for Lasting Tech Integration

My last post dealt with how designers should use instructional technology, specifically performance supports, also known as job aids or just-in-time learning. While I’m a fan of performance supports in most cases (there’s always exceptions), some of the discussion board comments contained some resistance.

Which brings me to the next topic….

Once the instructional technology designer chooses a technology, how can she ensure buy-in from stakeholders?

To me, chapter 12 “Teaching with Technology” and chapter 15 “Integrating Technology into Activities and Tasks” in J. Michael Spector’s Foundations of Educational Technology complement each other.

First, both revisit ways in which educational technology has not lived up to its hype, nor, as we would say today, “disrupted” educational institutions. In “Teaching with Technology,” Spector’s perspective is broad, and his words temper ed-tech’s enthusiasm: “What is happen is an evolution not a revolution,” before throwing cold-water on promises of dramatic improvements: “This simply has not happened expect in isolated cases.” In “Integrating Technology,” Spector focuses on the integration of the interactive whiteboard in schools and how it did not necessarily make instruction more interactive. For those who may tire of headlines like “X is the new Uber for education” or most recently, “X is the Netflix of Education,” Spector’s realism is refreshing. It also creates a need for a better model of technology integration.

A better model may be created by incorporating Bruner’s nine tenets of culture and education into the eight technology integration principles. And here’s why. Continue reading

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Ed-tech: solving problems or creating problems to solve?

This week J. Michael Spector’s quote, “Tools and technology strongly influence our habits of thinking, and that should be recognized in the world of educational technology” struck me (123). Quite frequently, we think about how technology affects our behaviors: from exercising more while wearing Fitbits to feeling compelled to multitask (a myth) when we plug into multiple devices. The recent rise of audiobooks sales suggests more of us are using these services while doing other things (running, driving, laundry). We also wonder how technology affects our health: whether we spend more time indoors in front of screens, and how the constant exposure to screens affects our eyesight and sleep cycles. We care about how these changes impact the development of children, and some scholars, most notably Nicholas Carr of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, pontificate on how technology impacts our memory, reading habits, and productivity. More rarely do we really stop to think how our process of learning has changed through technology. We forget to ask how technology has impacted what it means to know and what it means to learn.

Whether the goal is to learn or to solve problems directly impacts the technological solution and how instructional designers choose instructional technology. One technology might be best for reinforcing knowledge, whereas another might relieve cognitive load by providing on-demand information, thereby sidestepping the need to think. Continue reading

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Two inventions and how they might impact the classroom

Last week MIT and the University of Kentucky shared two exciting stories:

  1. “MIT Teaches Wireless Routers to Know How You’re Feeling”
  2. “Modern Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Damaged Biblical Scroll”

Now, it’s only a matter of time before each is applied to the classroom. Here’s how I think it will happen.

First, here’s the opening paragraph from Dian Schaffhauser’s article in Campus Technology:

A team of researchers at MIT believe they’ve created a way to recognize basic emotions with signals transmitted from the closest wireless router. The technique relies on measuring small changes in somebody’s breathing patterns and heartbeat and doesn’t require body sensors or facial recognition. The potential applications are far flung: The technology could be used for medical diagnosis, marketing and entertainment, or even controlling the home or office environment.

Now, in K-12 education, the classroom environment strongly influences a student’s motivation to learn, ability to concentrate, and performance on assessments. Consequently, classroom environment regularly appears on teacher evaluations. (For example, this post addressed to teachers who want to “nail” their evaluation.) Also, an new(ish) trend is schools’ efforts to build students’ grit, mindfulness, growth mindset, and/or emotional intelligence. Then, there is the “Innovative Assessment Pilot”; from iNACOL:

Once ED finalizes the rules, states would have the opportunity to apply for funding in three priority areas:

Developing innovative assessment item types and design approaches;
Improving assessment scoring and score reporting; and
Inventory of state and local assessment systems.

My question is how long before these three things: emotion-reading wireless routers, classroom environments, and innovative assessments come together?

The result could be one step away from a surveillance state, but it might also teachers identify students who need to know someone cares. [find article]

Second, computer scientists at the University of Kentucky used CT scans to read an ancient (almost 2,000 years old) scroll that is too brittle to unfurl. From The New York Times:

The writing retrieved by the computer from the digital image of the unopened scroll is amazingly clear and legible, in contrast to the scroll’s blackened and beaten-up exterior.

Methods like CT scans can pick out blobs of ink inside a charred scroll, but the jumble of letters is unreadable unless each letter can be assigned to the surface on which it is written. Dr. Seales realized that the writing surface of the scroll had first to be reconstructed and the letters then stuck back to it.

He succeeded in 2009 in working out the physical structure of the ruffled layers of papyrus in a Herculaneum scroll.

He has since developed a method, called virtual unwrapping, to model the surface of an ancient scroll in the form of a mesh of tiny triangles. Each triangle can be resized by the computer until the virtual surface makes the best fit to the internal structure of the scroll, as revealed by the scanning method. The blobs of ink are assigned to their right place on the structure, and the computer then unfolds the whole 3-D structure into a 2-D sheet.

The suite of software programs, called Volume Cartography, will become open source when Dr. Seales’s current government grant ends, he said.

Not only is it possible to read a text without opening it, but the software will become open source when the grant ends.

Now, right now, it might be unthinkable to apply this level of technology to the classroom, but what if…

What if plagiarism sites, like TurnItIn, that already offer automatic grading develop a device or app using this software. Imagine how many teachers will sign up to test an app that lets you scan a stack of essays and grade them. Imagine how such an app might work with the local school’s LMS, so teachers do not even need to record grades themselves.

Yes, most schools are moving to digital essays and skipping paper altogether, but perhaps there will still be an instance where schools have one foot in the 1900s and the other in the 21st century.

What future ed-tech application do you see with these stories in mind?

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