Teaching With 40 Year Old Software

I read an article that mentioned that someone teaching game design was using the old game "The Oregon Trail" as a simple example of game design. I felt a little wave of nostalgia for that computer game that I used with middle school students in the late 1970s on Apple IIe computers.

What can we teach with 40-year-old software?

The game was developed in 1971 and produced by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1974. My school subscribed to MECC and received many software packages on the big 5.25 very floppy disks which we could duplicate.

The original game was designed to teach about the realities of 19th century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. The single player is a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon's Willamette Valley on the Oregon Trail via a covered wagon in 1848. 

But many teachers used it in other ways. In those early day, just teaching students to use the computer and navigate a game was a learning experience. I knew teacher who, like myself, used it was a way to teach cooperation by having players work in pairs or teams and justifiable arguing about choices was encouraged.

I used the game as an example when teaching literature as away to discuss the consequences of actions (draw branching diagram here).
 

Looking at the game again today via one of the several emulators available online (such as https://archive.org/details/msdos_Oregon_Trail_The_1990 and https://classicreload.com/oregon-trail.html), it seems about as primitive in its graphics as it did back in 1975 in my classroom. But it worked. My homeroom students enjoyed playing it just for gaming fun, and I was able to incorporate the decision-making aspects into lessons. I taught English, not social studies, and was less interested in the historical aspects of the game. I did use it briefly in an interdisciplinary manner with a social studies teacher, but having students do research into the real Oregon Trail and that period seemed to kill interest in the game itself. 

Apple IIe screenshotIt was one of the most successful games of all time and “The Oregon Trail” was inducted into World Video Game Hall of Fame in 2016. If you played it a few times, many of its screens are probably etched into your memory. I recall entering my real family members' names into the game the first time I played, and then sadly dysentery them "die" along the trail - probably from dysentery. It had game play moments (like hunting buffalo) and simple animation, but it was mostly text and so involved a lot of reading.

I would have my students work in small groups and map the game both on a real map of the trail, and then later on a decision tree style "map" of the game's options.

For me, the strength of the game in the classroom was in understanding how decisions could change the game's outcomes and their traveler's fates.

I recall that students would argue about the design. They didn't like the random things that would happen, such as a fire in the wagon destroying objects that were worth game points. But that also worked its way into my discussions with them of literature. Things happen in novels - and our lives - that seem random and out of our control, and they have consequences.

The other software that I used back then which was more sophisticated (though not graphically) was made by Tom Snyder Productions. I met Snyder at an educational conference and we talked about his Decisions, Decisions series. The series focused on the best aspects of what I was using in "Oregon Trail." The series included products on politics and the environment and came with printed material to supplement the games, so "research" was easy and necessary to play well.

I had no luck finding online what happened to Snyder and his company. It seems to have been consumed by Scholastic, though the link I found was a dead end.  I did find something on Amazon, but it doesn't seem that the series was continued or updated recently. It could easily be an online or mobile game. 

Can we use old software to teach new skills? Absolutely. Though these software packages seem crude by today's standards, they are also "classic" curiosities. I haven't taught secondary school students since 2000, so my sense of what is acceptable is lost. Certainly some of these games, or similar decision-tree kinds of games are a very viable classroom tool at all grade levels K-20. Maybe someone has already updated them or created new versions. If not, there is an opportunity.

     

Immersive Learning Spaces

CAEE Immersive Classroom Concept

Immersive learning spaces will make use of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) but most attention on those technologies are around consumer use, especially gaming. What will be the other markets? Is education one of those markets?

Microsoft has been pushing its HoloLens AR headset as an enterprise product, but only in industrial applications. Ford, for example, is using HoloLens headsets to improve its design process, allowing modifications of both its clay models and real cars to be viewed and modified on the fly, without having to re-sculpt or rebuild anything. ThyssenKrupp has been equipping service technicians with HoloLens headsets that show the faults they're trying to diagnose. Engineers remotely can can annotate the physical infrastructure technicians are seeing and guide maintenance and repairs.

A recent EDUCAUSE article predicts that in another decade, "immersive technology will become nearly ubiquitous and virtually unnoticeable, embodied in our eyeglasses and other wearable devices. But before we get there, we have the exciting opportunity to build our understanding of pedagogical frameworks, design new physical and virtual learning spaces, and create transformative learning experiences with immersive technologies."       

VR and AR are found in some makerspaces in libraries and media centers, but thinking more creatively about their use in the design of learning spaces is still at an early stage.

Innovative spaces include both formal and informal opportunities for learning. Some of this requires physical spaces, but it also includes simple design choices such as offering a swivel chair for 360 degree viewing. 

For education, pricing is an important factor for adoption and VR headset pricing is slowly but surely approaching costs that will make them more attractive for schools.


FURTHER READING
VR and AR: Transforming Learning and Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences

Virtual Reality Devices – Where They Are Now and Where They’re Going

VR and AR: Driving a Revolution in Medical Education & Patient Care

AR and VR in STEM: The New Frontiers in Science

What Happened to Digital Humanities?

Remember digital humanities? It's not gone, but it's not thriving. It is an academic field concerned with the application of computational tools and methods to traditional humanities disciplines such as literature, history, and philosophy.

Do you recall the slide that Steve Jobs often used to close a presentation?

JobsJobs said that "technology alone is not enough - it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yilds us the result that makes our heart sing."

In "The Digital-Humanities Bust"  Timothy Brennan, a professor of cultural studies, comparative literature, and English at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, says that "After a decade of investment and hype, what has the field accomplished? Not much."

"...the dream that algorithmic computation might reveal the secrets of complex social and cultural processes has suffered a very public and embarrassing results crisis. These setbacks have also led to some soul-searching in the university, prompting a closer look at the digital humanities. Roughly a decade’s worth of resources have now been thrown in their direction, including the founding of an Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, unheard-of amounts of funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, a parade of celebratory anthologies backed by crossover articles in high-profile magazines, and academic job openings in an era of tenure-track scarcity. So, with all their promise, and all this help, what exactly have the digital humanities accomplished?"

The rise of STEM and the attention and the grant money money that came with that rise made many humanities departments decide to embrace new tools. Okay, that is harsh. I was in one of those humanities departments and it was in a STEM university. But many of us really believe in using digital tools. Brennan even notes that a number of "digital techniques conform beautifully to some types of humanistic work."

Maybe the digital humanities haven't met the hype or the goals that were originally envisioned, maybe the goals were unrealistic, but they are not going away.

 

 

 

Open Everything 2017

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Back in 2008, I first posted here about what I was calling "Open Everything."  That was my umbrella term for the many things I was encountering in and out of the education world that seemed relevant to "Open" activities based on Open Source principles. The growth I saw nine years ago continues. I had made a list of "Open + ______" topics I was encountering then, and I have updated that list here:
access
business
configuration
hosts
cloud
content
courseware
data
design
education
educational resources (OER)
format
government
hardware
implementation
innovation
knowledge
learning
music
research
science
source as a service
source licenses
source religion
source software
space
standards
textbooks
thinking

All these areas overlap categories that I write about on Serendipity35.
David Wiley makes the point in talking about one of these uses -"open pedagogy" - that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.” Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions."
Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 
A colleague sent me a link to a new book, Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science . The book also crosses many topics related to "open": affordable education, transparent science, accessible scholarship, open science, and courses that share this philosophy.
That last area interests me again of late as I am taking on some work on developing courses using OER materials for this fall at a community college. These courses are not what could be labeled as "open courses." They are using using Open Educational Resources. They are regular Gen-Ed courses with the traditional tuition and registration structure.
So, why remake a course using OER? 
Always on the list of reasons to to lower the cost for students by eliminating (or greatly lowering the price of) a textbook and using open textbooks and resources. But there are more benefits to OER than "free stuff." This course redesign is also an opportunity to free faculty from the constraints of a textbook-driven curriculum. (Though, admittedly many faculty cling to that kind of curriculum design.)
David Wiley's warning is one to consider when selecting OER. Is a text "open" if it does not allow the 5R permissions? Wiley would say No, but many educators have relaxed their own definition of open to the point that anything freely available online is "open." It is not.
For example, many educators use videos online in YouTube, Vimeo or other repositories. They are free. You can reuse them. You can usually redistribute (share) them via links or embed code into your own course, blog or website. But can you revise or remix them? That is unlikely. I fact, they may very well be copyrighted and attempting to remix or revise them is breaking the law.
You might enroll in a MOOC in order to see how others teach a course that you also teach. It is a useful professional development activity for teachers. But it is likely not the case that you have the right to copy those mate rails and use them in your own courses. And a course on edX, Coursera or another MOOC provider is certainly not open to you retain, reusing, revising, remixing or redistributing the course itself.
There are exceptions. MIT's Open Courseware was one of the original projects to offer free course materials. They are not MOOCs as we know them today, but they can be a "course for independent learners." They are resources and you were given permissions (with some restrictionssee their mission video) to use them for your on courses.
I didn't get a chance to fully participate in the OpenLearning ’17 MOOC that started in January and runs into May 2017. It is connectivist and probably seems like an "Old School MOOC" in the 2017 dominated by the Courseras of the MOOC world. It is using Twitter chats, AMA, and Hangouts. You can get into the archives and check out the many resources.  It is a MOOC in which, unlike many courses that go by that label today, where the "O" for "Open" in the acronym is true. Too many MOOCs are really only MOCs.

A Digital Ivy League?


Harvard

Harvard Square: Harvard University, Johnston Gate by Wally Gobetz on Flickr



Last fall, Anuar Lequerica, who has been writing about MOOC trends, wrote about "Harvard and the Rise of a Digital Ivy League" on class-central.com. It was apparent in 2011/2012 when the MOOC exploded into a much wider view that many of the "elite" universities were going to be the boldest experimenters. That's still true.

The "digital Ivy League" includes schools such as MIT, University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan. Not sticking to the traditional American Ivy League list, you can include Delft University of Technology and some Australian universities.

And then there is Harvard. The Harvard name still carries a lot of weight and they have been very active in MOOCs. They have 80+ MOOCs taught by more than 120 faculty, with over 4.5 million enrollments from over 1.5 million unique course participants in 193 countries.

Harvard was a  co-founder the MOOC platform edX.

I found it very interesting that about a third of HarvardX MOOC learners self-identify as teachers. Teacher-as-student has been a trend since those early MOOC days. My first looks into MOOCs was to see what other professors teaching courses similar to my own were doing online.  Harvard has recognized that audience and has been developing tools to help teachers incorporate and effectively use MOOC content in their classrooms.

Harvard is also experimenting with offering their MOOCs along with support in community centers.

There are still many people, including myself, taking free or paid MOOCs as students in order to learn something new either to further our professional skills or just for personal interest in growth. This past month I have taken a course on building digital dashboards on the professional side, and a course on Scandinavian cinema for the personal side.

The MOOC has matured.