How do I evaluate technology to use in my classroom?
ISTE-nets-c objective 3.f requires teachers to be able to "select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure." I have met this objective by examining several games that I hope to integrate into my classroom.
When I evaluate a piece of technology for the classroom I look at seven general aspects:
When I evaluate a piece of technology for the classroom I look at seven general aspects:
- Does it come from a reputable, trusted source? It is important to ensure that students aren't exposed to websites that have inappropriate ads (no ads is best), viruses, or trick visitors into giving away personal information or money. What will the company do with the students' information? Is there any obvious political or ideological bias to the resource, and if so, is it one that will be obvious to my students, or will I need to point it out to them?
- How easy is it to set up? Does every user need an account, or is it available to use without logging in? How fast does it load, especially on slow connections?
- How easy is it to navigate/play? Can students use this resource independently or will they need teacher assistance?
- What is the academic level of the content? Often educational resources will say what grade level the tech was designed for, but that level might not match my students' actual level of knowledge.
- What are students going to learn from this/do with this? On p. 28 of Mobile Media Learning: Innovation and Inspiration, the authors set forth three guiding questions to frame the design of an MML experience. I think these three questions can be repurposed into an evaluation rubric: What is the connection? What experiences or knowledge do I want students to obtain from this resource? What is the desired result? Deeper understanding of a concept? Vocabulary acquisition? Cooperation? What are the students going to do and how will I know they've done it? How will students interact with the technology? Will they make something with it or use it for receiving knowledge? How will I know if they are making progress?
- How will I integrate this into my classroom? Do I know how I can incorporate the technology into a lesson or do I need to do research?
- Is it fun?
Branches of Power - iCivics game
The purpose of the game is to act as all three branches of government (the President, a legislator, and a Supreme Court justice). Together, you must gather support from the public and pass ten laws in thirty minutes in order to win the game. I played through twice, but I only managed to pass seven laws during one game.
I had never heard of the iCivics website before, but I’ve played online games in the past, so I was familiar with the routine of registering an account, using my mouse to click through the help screens and directing my avatars to where I wanted them to go. The primary software challenge I encountered is that I couldn’t click past responses from other characters, which was frustrating because it is a timed game. However, I realized that I probably read faster than the average middle school student. I also don’t know how well it would run on computers with slow internet access.
I think this game would be a very effective teaching middle school and even high school social studies. For middle schoolers, it is a fun way to strengthen understanding about how the three branches of government work together to create laws, and what makes a law constitutional. I would use this game as bonus content. After teaching a unit on the branches of government and their powers, and making sure my students understood how they worked, this game would be a good way to have students put the ideas into practice. I would have the students play the game in the computer lab, so they could ask me questions if they got confused about some of the concepts. At the end of the session, I would have the students take a screenshot of their endgame or email it to me (if this is an option). Ideally, the students would be able to play the game at least twice. Afterwards, we could have a class discussion about what the students thought were the hardest part - writing a law that would pass through Congress? Judicial review? Getting support for the issue from the public? It could also be interesting to play the game as a class and get input from everyone about how to proceed with each step.
For a high school student, I think the lawmaking part would be a little too easy, because it is pretty obvious which choices are unconstitutional. But playing this game could be a fun way to refresh the students’ prior knowledge before starting a civics unit, or it could be used as a recovery lesson for a struggling student. They could play the game with support from the teacher, who could explain why some choices were unconstitutional. The Town Hall portion of the game that requires the player to act as a legislator and seek out public opinion would also be valuable. It puts the player into the position of a politician who must juggle conflicting viewpoints from the public and how they relate to their own personal values. When it comes time for the legislator to make a law, the player has to keep in mind the public opinion about the issue. I think it is a good way for students to learn how to empathize with both lawmakers and politically engaged citizens. Also, one of the glaring absences of this game is that there are no special interest groups lobbying and giving money to the legislator, so that would be a lesson that I could teach after the students had played the game and seen the idealized version of the legislative process.
Available on Facebook.com and iPhone and Android
I had no problems setting up the game, although if I used it in the classroom I would make sure to give a lesson about online privacy and marketing schemes before letting the students use a Facebook account to play. This is important to cover because as Hargittai points out, although students are digital natives, they are not necessarily knowledgeable about safe online behavior (p. 93). One of the factors that increases a person's net savvy is years of experience using the web, (p. 108), so it is vital that teachers account for this when planning lessons that utilize online resources. This is especially true for games like Farmville that exist to make money and constantly push sales at players.
Another way to play could be to use classroom tablets. One thing I did notice was that the game took a long time to load (well over a minute) and it seemed to eat up up my browser memory. I’m not sure if this is due to my internet connection or my computer though. But it would be something to consider when using school resources.
The gameplay is easy and the basic tutorial goes by very quickly. I think an elementary school student would be able to understand how to play the game. In a nutshell, you raise crops and animals on your farm, and then either sell your yield immediately or use your raw goods to create more refined products like flour or lemonade. The game also features a cooperative element where you help out your friends and neighbors for rewards. You can also spend money to purchase items that you haven’t unlocked through gameplay. In fact, to fully take advantage of the game, you MUST participate in the social aspects and spend money for exclusive items.
As for how the game could be used for teaching, I think there are many applications. For example, you could use the buying and selling component of the game to teach math skills to younger students.
For older students, I think it would be interesting to have them analyze how the game operates and use the game as a media literacy and marketing lesson - how does the game get people to continue playing and spending money? Another way to use the game would be to build it into a longer unit on civic duty or social welfare and have the entire class play the game cooperatively with each other. Of course, you can also take the opposite approach and have every student play competitively and give awards to the student that made the most money, or had the prettiest farm by the end of the month. I think the easiest/fairest way to do this would be to have the students only play the game at school, although I’m not sure how this could be enforced.
One other aspect of the game that I quickly ran into is resource management. You have only a limited amount of water, and once you run out, you must either ask your neighbors for more or wait for 3 hours. So I could see this game as a way to introduce a lesson on water shortages like the drought they are having in California.
Win the White House - iCivics game
Just like the other iCivics game, gameplay was very straightforward, and in this game actually easier because you are not in control of an avatar. All the player has to do is click on dialogue boxes to continue through the game. Unlike Branches of Power, this game is not timed, and it took me over an hour to finish it. This is something teachers should keep in mind when planning lessons based on the game. Fortunately, there is a save feature, so there’s no need to complete the game in one sitting.
The player has 3 difficulty levels to choose from: elementary, middle school, and high school. I chose high school, and it was about as difficult as expected. The game is a good simulation of running a presidential campaign: the player must strategize about where to fundraise, where to run ads, and where to make a campaign appearance based on the issues that each state supports and how well they match with your candidate’s values. Along the way, the player collects electoral votes, with a goal of reaching 270 by election day. One thing I wish the game had was a few more surprise elements. As it is, the only real challenge is making sure you pick the right strategy each round, so winning is pretty much assured once you know how to strategize. It would be less predictable and more realistic if your vice presidential candidate had a random scandal half way through the game, or if you got a surprise donor and extra cash for a double campaign round.
I think this game would be a great supplement to a unit on presidential elections. It touches upon every major issue in campaigns such as fundraising, polling, advertisements, and speeches. Plus it emphasizes how important is for candidates to stay on-message and cater to their audience. I think it would be hard to work this game into a regular lesson, just because it takes so long to play. I do think it would appropriate to assign this as a homework assignment or extra-credit, because it does take serious application of knowledge to win. It could also be used to help a struggling student understand the electoral process during a one-on-one tutoring session.
Mission US: Flight to Freedom
In this game, you become Lucy, a slave at the King Plantation in Kentucky in 1848. You not only have to plan your escape, but once you win your freedom, you have to dodge slave catchers, learn about becoming an abolitionist, and try to get the rest of your family to freedom. The game is very immersive and does an excellent job of helping you see the world through Lucy’s eyes. Finally there is a lot of replay value, because you are given many options as you progress, and each option you choose has consequences later.
The game was designed for grades 5-8, but I think it is advanced enough even for high school students to play without getting bored. It does take a long time to play, well over an hour to play through completely, so teachers would need to plan several lessons around it. With younger grade levels, I think the students would need even more teacher support, because there are a lot of decisions that have to be made, so progress would be even slower. I think it would be useful to allow students to play independently or in pairs, making decisions about what Lucy should do and keeping track in a journal. Students could also reflect on how they felt while playing the game, because you get very emotionally invested in Lucy’s journey. At the end of the game, students could write a report about Lucy’s life, what they learned while playing, and what they might do differently next time. Since the game doesn’t let the player share progress, this would be the only way to show the students’ learning. The game really does teach a lot of concepts and vocabulary words, so I think that teachers could use it with only a short introductory lesson to ease students into it.
I highly recommend using this game. There are a ton of historical details, like slave songs in the background while working at the plantation, documents from the time like free papers, magazine advertisements, and fliers. I also really like the fact that the game doesn’t end once you are free, in fact, that’s only the first part. In my experience at least, there isn’t a lot of time spent in school teaching and learning about what happened after a slave made it up north, so even I learned something while playing. This game definitely fills in a gap.
This game supports many of Gee's points from 'Are Video Games Good for Learning?' The player has an avatar, Lucy, who becomes their surrogate, and the player must learn Lucy's goals in order to succeed (p. 2). Through Lucy, the player must figure out what will count as a 'win state' and "carefully consider the design of the world and consider how it will or will not facilitate specific actions they want to take to accomplish their goals" (p. 9). And the game also has a vocabulary acquisition component, as the player helps Lucy learn to read by collecting words in dialogues with other characters. This gives the words situated meaning and helps comprehension (p. 17).
I’ve heard a lot about Minecraft through cultural osmosis, but I had never played it before, so I thought this class would be a good opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. I downloaded the game easily from the website and had no trouble setting it up.
I chose single-player survival mode, because that seems to be the default way to play. And I dove right in, figuring I could pick it up fast. Little kids play this game after all. This was a mistake.
First I couldn’t figure out how to move, but I sort of cobbled something together by randomly hitting my keyboard until my avatar moved. But since I had no real control, I fell into some water and drowned. So I accidentally killed myself in the first 2 minutes of playing. Once I respawned I decided I needed to know how to move, so I looked it up on my phone. That made exploring a little bit easier, and pretty soon I was busting flowers and I even killed a sheep. Then I fell into a cavern and it took me at least 10 minutes to coordinate my jumping skills to get out of it. This is almost exactly what is described on p. 26 of Teachercraft, "you'll fall in a dark square hole, get stuck, and decide to move on to other games in complete frustration." After I extracted myself, I was able to explore more, and gathered more supplies, but since I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I couldn’t even figure out how to eat the meat I had picked up from the sheep, so eventually I starved to death.
At this point I decided I needed to do a little research about how to play the game. I watched some youtube videos and read a short guide online, and now I understand how getting wood works, so that I can make some tools, and how to build a crafting table so hopefully I can eat my food. I also plan on reading chapter 3 of Teachercraft so I that have a better sense of purpose.
6/15/2015 Update: After reading Chapter 3 of Teachercraft I felt empowered so I logged back on…and then spent 10-15 frustrating minutes punching and punching at trees but unable to get any wood to drop. Obviously, I had done it before, but I couldn’t remember how. So, I went back to the internet and re-learned from a forum that you just need to hold down the left mouse button, not click it repeatedly. Wow! It worked!!! I was finally able to build a crude shelter and and crafting table, and I was able to craft a shovel, pick axe, and farm hoe! During the night a spider tried to come eat me, but my shelter worked! Now that I’ve learned the basics, I feel like I am ready to explore.
I still don't feel like I have nearly enough expertise with Minecraft to feel comfortable using it in the classroom. But I thought World of Humanities described on p. 97, and the CivCraft game described on p. 105, where the students played through the the technological innovations of the stone age, iron age, and bronze age, sounded really interesting. And I was really intrigued by the description on p. 96 that connected how the students raided villages on a newly discovered island with how Europeans acted when they colonized the New World. I wonder what kinds of discussions this prompted. Did the students feel guilty, or did they try to justify their actions? This is a powerful way of personalizing history.