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Education, Technology, and Society: Altering Environments

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alesnick's picture

Welcome to the course pages for Education 255: Education, Technology, and Society: Altering Environments, a course given at Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2012.  Students, colleagues, and visitors are invited to join in conversation about online networked experiences and -- and as -- learning. 

syllabus, Part 2/Take 2


about the instructor


hweinstein's picture

Minecraft connections

During class, someone said that in Minecraft "like in SIMs, you are a person and you are creating a world" while trying to sum up the satisfying appeal to the game.  I completely felt this as well while playing.  There was something satisfying to being able to control my environment and decide my own course.  This is a freedom I don't always have in everyday life because of time constraints, responsibilities, and money.  These constraints don't exist in this game.

This comment also reminded me of a project my placement teacher did last year in his geometry class.  The assignment was similar to a geometry assignment I've seen many times: design your dream house.  The twist was that the class was to use google sketch-up, a google software used to make 3D models (when I worked in a blackbox theater, the set designer did his designs on this).  Using sketch-up, the students would make a virtual 3D model of their (roofless) house, and then decorate it.

besanradwan's picture

Working in the classroom, outside the classroom

Camtasia; it's the name of a program that my host teacher liason Mrs. X gave me to work on. Camtasia is a program that allows you to video record your momevement on a computer screen as well as anontating what you do on screen both orally and with video graphics. Mrs. X thought that a lot fo the teachers at school M were not tech savvy enough and did not even know how to do the simplest of tasks such as creating and editing a word document. For this reason Mrs. X put me to work on creating video recordings of how to do everyday computer tasks. This frustrated me immensely seeing as previously Mrs. X had promised me an opportnity to work in the classroom. I felt like even though I was making an impact on how teachers better used technology, I was not getting to see the impact of that technology, or the lack of impact of technology in the classroom.  

leamirella's picture

FIELD NOTES - Post Halloween...


I think I'm getting to the point in my placement that I can expect how the day is going to go. But today, it seems as though the students had a lot of energy that I attributed to post Halloween sugar rushes. Thus, while the students followed the schedule as per usual, it was a little bit difficult trying to keep up. 

In the technology classroom, the students had the choice of either playing a game that involved building monsters and going on an adventure, or playing a game online that was meant to help them with their maths skills. 

So what?

Coming out of last week's discussion, I was more attuned to the choices that students were making about which choice they made the technology classroom. I assumed that more boys would pick the math option whereas the girls would choose to play the monster game. However, this wasn't the case. There did not seem to be any preference by either gender.

this exercise made me realise that there was a mass inequality in the class that I am observing. There are more boys in the class which makes me wonder if that has any effect on the way that the girls feel as though they can assert their own gender identity. Also, it was interesting to me to see that it was the girls that were more excited about technology class, rather than the expectation of it being the boys. In fact, the girls even came up with a chant as they were lining up to go. 

Now what?

couldntthinkofanoriginalname's picture

Oregon TRAIL!!!!!!!! :DDD


Julie Mazz's picture

Field Notes


At school X, the teachers rarely have printer paper, so instead of printing out essays for their teachers, the students email them or add them to Google Docs. This is also because most of the students can't afford printer ink at home. There were a few teachers who would force their students to print their work, so they would run over to my teacher's classroom, or the classroom of another teacher and ask to print their work there so they wouldn't get in trouble. Recently, the administration made a rule that you have to be able to email your work instead of printing it. 

So what?

Forcing the students to print out their work when a printer isn't easily accessible is not promoting equality at school. While some students may have a printer at home, this leaves out the students who can't afford one. Additionally, for my teacher and the others that help out the students who are forced to print end up with a smaller supply of paper. My teacher said that when he hears there's been a paper delivery he hunts it down in the school to claim some for himself. 

Now what? 

Hopefully the new rule will stop those teachers from forcing the kids to print their work. Additionally, it's just better for the environment. To tie this in with my journalism class, the students received their first article assignment, and some students are covering the new rule for the newspaper!

besanradwan's picture

Minecraft? Tetris?

When I first told my friends that I had to play minecraft for one of my classes, I got a look of jealous glares. Everyone thought that I was so lucky, until one of my friends said something interesting; she said that she loved playing minecraft, but if someone had told her to play it, she probably wouldn't. That struck me as surprising, and then it made me think. How are we going to using minecraft as a tool to enagage students, and make them feel like this isn't "typical" HW or school work if we still make them play it for a few hours.

besanradwan's picture

Field Placement Notes

My Field placement at school X has been very hectic. So far, I have been trying to coordinate with the person they put me in contact with about working with a teacher inside a classroom, because I feel like that would help me gain some insight for this class and be better versed in the actual implementation methods in the classroom. However, the person they put me in contact with wanted me initially to work with her in an office figuring out iPad apps. We have since reached consensus about what our goals are, however, she has yet to get back to me about when I can come in and actually work with a teacher.

dcenteio's picture

Minecraft Experience

This was a very interesting and frustrating experience for me because I could not get the original Minecraft to open on my computer. There were plugins to download and even after it all it did not work. After searching around other websites and realizing most demo games were only meant for PC's I finally found a site that let me play on my Mac. Needless to say I did not know what I was doing and after ten minutes of building and collecting wood I somehow reach game over. I'm assuming I was killed in the game or maybe the time ran out I'm not sure. :(. I'm sure I need tons more practice and a little more guidance before I can remotely call myself a Minecraft gammer. Gamming for me presents a level of knowlege and skill into a program and I don't think I possess neither of those qualities in my attempt in Minecraft. 

MGuerrero's picture

Field Placement Observation

On a given Friday, the professor will begin class with the overhead projector displaying vocabulary. He asked students how they interpreted the words, and then reviewed last class’s vocabulary words. The professor does not negatively enforce, or discipline his students. When they do not seem to be doing the work he will command a response from them. He simply calls on the students and expects them to answer. Later on in the class, he plays a song and asks students to identify the instruments creating the music.

The song we are focusing on today is John Legend "imagine." The professor wants the students to write about real versus fake things in their life or discuss something in their life that happens in stages. The professor uses his smart board to show the students their lyrics to the music and then editing it. 

When teaching the students the different music notes, the professor writes on the smart board and then explains how to clap along to the music notes. He reminded students to take notes and encouraged them by saying that; "it's your paper so mark it up all you want." If there is one thing that happens well in this course, is that the students are being encouraged and pushed to use their own ideas to move forward in their writing. 

kcharris's picture

Field Notes


The history teacher at my placement is a huge supporter of technology. She even has her students bring in their personal laptops to class everyday because all of their work is online. At my last visit, she was encouraging her students to use their school email addresses to communicate with each other instead of using Facebook as a means of communication because not everyone has a Facebook. Her point was that it isn't fair to use social media when communication via that means isn't accessible to everyone. However, she proceeded to tell her students that they should take out their smart phones and sync their school email to their phones.

So what?

This stuck out to me because I found it to be odd that this teacher was willing to accept that no everyone has a Facebook but she then made what seemed to be a generalization about smart phones and the ability to sync email. It made me think about how we think about Facebook now. In class, I recall we marveled at the fact that everyone in the class had a Facebook or at least enjoyed it. My placement teacher applauded those who didn't have a Facebook because they are off the grid and colleges/employers won't be able to see anything about them online. I just found it to be interesting that she was happy that not everyone has a Facebook but she made the quick assumption that each of her high school students had a smart phone.

Now what?

jwang's picture

Field Placement Note 1


After talking to the teacher and observing in class, I think the level of students in the class can be very different. How comfortable they are with technology can also be quite different. Several students brought their own laptop to class. When the teacher asked them to work on the assignment, some students started coding right away while others spent most of the time reading instructions.


So what

This is almost inevitable for the school since there is only one class about Java and students who want to learn computer science do not have much choice. The teacher said that in order not to leave any student behind, he purposefully slowed down a little and made the class a little easier. But is this necessary a good thing? How about the students who are more advanced?


Now what


Is it better to divide the class into different levels or should it stay the way it is and encourage the students help each other to improve? The more advanced students can show their classmates who are struggling how to do it. I think sometimes it is also important for the teacher to prepare something for the advanced students.

jwang's picture

Much harder than I thought

  Before playing Minecraft on computer, I thought it would easy. I tried the ipad version one or two months ago and quickly lost interest when I was just puting a block here and there. I guess I played it wrong. But anyways, before downloading the game on my computer, I was still skeptical why the simple game can be so popular. I thought it's just like building something with random blocks in different colors. I was wrong. It was so difficult that I couldn't survive the night. I was killed in explosions and by spiders and zombies. I think my experience would be much happier if someone who has played it before would explain what I should do in the game for me when I don't want to read all those online. Overall, I think the game can be interesting if you know how to play it. Maybe I should try to play it again tomorrow.

  I do belief the gaming experience is transferable. The transferable part is probably not a specific skill to make something since people will never have to make ,for example, a pickaxe outside of the game. I don't know how the multiplayer minecraft game works. But other multiplayer games, especially multiplayer online games requires and improves teamwork and communication skills if the players play in team. That kind of skills can be transfered  to other games and outside of the game as well.

maddybeckmann's picture


I could not get Minecraft to work on my computer. It was the most frustrating thing ever! After Mikah (my lovely roommate) started playing I wanted to play too and I spent about an hour trying to download all of these different things. Minecraft ended up not working and so I ended up watching Mikah "struggle". Mikah spend about a good 30 minutes trying to get wood as suggested in the youtube videos. We could not figure out how to get the wood until our friend Ashley came in and called her brother. Later that night, he called and told us exactly how to get wood. Rather than clicking over and over we realized we could just hold the clicker of the mouse down (duh?). Are we too old and out of touch? I felt that I was so lost in technology that I could not even get Minecraft to work on my computer. It's safe to say that Mikah and I have not played it since... If we incorporated this into the classroom, there would have to be a demo and the glitches on certain computer types would have to be figured out! 



hweinstein's picture

Field Notes 1


I saw a lot of personal technology that would definitely not have been allowed in my high school.  There were some students with earbuds wrapped around their ears or sitting around the necks.  There were also cell phones that would appear and then disappear whenever Ms. E came around.


So What?

I’ve always wondered how important these tech-restricting rules were in school.  It seems to me like the students are still motivated and get their work done anyway.  Is it a matter of trust?  Can a teacher trust high schoolers to manage their own distractions and do what they need to do, or will it become the teacher’s problem to compete?  Personally, I’m all about trusting students.  When they’re out of school, they’ll need the skills to navigate life likely surrounded with technology, and hopefully they can navigate it in a productive way.


Now What?

I am very curious to find out about the school’s policy on personal technology and the reasoning behind it.  I already see that this school is very intentional in the way it is run, and Ms. E is very intentional about how she conducts her classroom.  I intend to also inquire about how the theory of their technology limits or non-limits matches up with the reality in the classroom.

asweeney's picture

Minecrafting with experts

My first minecraft experience was quite different than I expected it to be, and likely quite different than my future experiences with the game. I arrived at babysitting as usual, but when I approached the 2 9 year old boys and one 7 yr old boy in the basement, I was greeted by them shouting about minecraft. I explained our class assignment to the boys, and they were eager to help with my "homework" (Jonah--age 7--wanted to know what other colleges have a mincraft class but also a football team:-) and let me play with them on the Xbox......that is after they finished building their "parcore"---which I had never heard of and now understand to be some sort of structure you can build in creative mode of the game. I had to wait basically 2 hours for them to finish the parcore before they started a new world and handed me a controller (watching the game is dizzying!)

emmagulley's picture

Minecraft Thoughts

Once I finally began to get the hang of Minecraft, I was shocked by how demanding it really is!  The players on Youtube make the game seem incredibly easy, and I knew that young kids used the game in class, so I figured it couldn't be to hard.   But I was wrong.  I think it demands a lot of logic and lateral thinking from the player.  You need to manage time, use resources, and manipulate those resources in logical and practical ways.  

Prof. Lesnick, I know what you mean when you say, "when I "achieved" learning to make my first pickaxe in MC, I felt I'd accomplished something, learned how to do something." When I was able to make a "house" (i.e. shelter) for the first time and survive the night, I, too, felt like I had accomplished something and was proud of myself, even though I knew other players had achieved much more, and even though I knew it was "just" a game.  

emmagulley's picture

Field Placement Reflections

I observe two middle school technology classes at an all-girl's private school on the Main Line.  I've had three or four placements there so far, and I've been continually impressed by the teacher's patience as well as the inter-personal relationships between the girls themselves.  (From what I've seen, there aren't any "queen bees" or "mean girls"--they really all do act very sweetly with eachother, which has been so heartwarming to experience.)

While the students at my school are lucky enough to have a new, well-equipped technology suite, there are still a number of overarching questions to contend with.  For example, however beautiful their new machines are, it seems like every class begins with 50% of the girls not being able to log onto their accounts, the teacher calling the IT department, and the girls spinning around on the chairs as they wait for the IT department to log them in.  Furthermore, there are always little technology hiccups and confusions that interrupt the class, and the teacher has to spend her time dealing with little maintinace issues (i.e. email passwords, log-on issues, etc) rather than teaching to the "entire" class.  To top this all off, the students apparently aren't allowed to get homework for their computer class since the rest of their classes are so demanding.

leamirella's picture

"All The World's A Stage"

1. Who are we when we play a game? And what should people who want to teach other people things understand about this? McGonigal says we are purposeful, optimistic agents convinced of our capacity to make and impact and conjoin our activities with others to increase that impact.

In her book, "Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other ", Sherry Turkle begins by stating that "Technology proposes itself as the architect of our intimacies. These days, it suggests substitutions that put the real on the fun". After playing Minecraft for an hour (unfortunately, unable to get very far), I could see how easy it would be to get fully immersed in a gaming experience. And Minecraft is a game that simply requires the player to sit in front of the computer. With the emergence of what the Re:Humanities working group is calling "pervasive gaming" (the Silent History App as a prime example), I have very little doubt that gaming is/will become something that forces individuals to fully engage and immerse themselves into.

mfarbo's picture

Minecraft STRUGGLE

It all began when I went to download the application and had to download another plug-in that my computer was missing. Once I finally got all the downloads configured and set up an account, I logged in and began playing. I vaguely knew what to do from the video in class the other day. 

The first thing I tried to do was gather wood--I went up to a tree and punched it A LOT and got nowhere. I went online and watched a YouTube video and it showed punching the tree. I returned to the game and tried punching the tree. Again, continuous punching and NO wood. I went to another tree and FINALLY it worked! I got one block of wood. I continued punching the tree and couldn't get any more wood. At this point, I had been playing for about 25 minutes and was yelling at my computer. I had to stop because I was so frustrated. 

I may go back and attempt to continue playing but right now, I'm too annoyed. I'm unclear on the purpose and focus  of the game. I know that when you pause there is a bar for achievements but what is the ultimate goal? I'm hoping that the panel on Tuesday will help enlighten me on 1) how to play and 2) the purpose of playing and 3) the ultimate goal. 


maddybeckmann's picture

Gaming Panels Snippets of the Fishbowl ideas

Gaming Panel

Issues in Gaming in the Classroom: 

"I am disappointed in the lack of education as it is, I would rather use resources to better the improvement of reading" 

"My son spends too much time playing game at home that are non-educational" 


"Too many kids in the classroom" Will gaming take away from the personal attention of each child? 

"How and to what extent should gaming be involved?" 

"Learning and gender difference" ADD? How can we account for learning difference? 

Test scores and funding ? 

Positives in Gaming: 

"Don't you want you kid addicted to learning" 

"Could games change identity in a different way? Positive social interactions online" If a students could make decisions online maybe they could use this confidence in making decisions  in the "real world" "Shouldn't parents and teachers help to determine boundaries" 

I interact with people outside of the school community to learn and connect could this be more useful than gaming

I don't like school, games keep me engaged