Binary Games and Self Control

2048It took me almost two weeks. It was a simple game. 2048. I had just been writing a short passage for my students about binary numbers, and how important they were to programming. Did you know that a kilobyte is really 1,028 bytes, and not 1,000 bytes? Or at least you can debate that. But I digress.

This game works with powers of 2 (2n), and when you slide them across the grid, they combine if they are of equal value. It took me a half dozen times to figure out the two simple rules that lead to a win.

This game is truly addictive. Some malefactor, a friend, sent me the link. I was in the middle of writing, so I told myself, “You play until you lose. Then wait until the next day.” Kind of binary in itself.

Because of the addictive nature of this game, I am more proud about holding to that schedule than I am of solving the puzzle. It permitted my getting other work done, and still allowed me to look forward to a nice thing to end the day on, even though it was failure after failure. Normally, I would have hammered at it hour after hour until it was solved.

Being able to spread out addictive activities is a real skill. I think they call it self-discipline. I used to think that throwing yourself fully into some activity was a kind of discipline, but sometimes you need the other kind.

The nature of games is wonderful. Fitting them into your life is even a bigger game. Now the question I am asking myself, which tack do I take with the wireless connection to the new printer? Slow or fast? I hate printers. Six hours today on this one. Still not solved. Love games.

Living the Dream: What’s it like teaching a class where every student owns an iPad?

logo-1As a language teacher who loves to incorporate mobile technology into my lessons, I often find myself wondering how cool it would be to be able to teach a class where all students have the same mobile device. Such a situation would enable me to forget about compatibility issues between different platforms and manufacturers, and more importantly, if all students were experienced using the same device, students would be able to support and collaborate with each other more effectively.

At the Paperless learning conference last month, I met a teacher who was living my dream.

Meet, Renaud Davies, 0a lecturer from Hiroshima Bunkyo Women’s University (HBWU). In an effort to increase university enrollment and equip students with technical skills which they can use after graduation, the university started issuing iPad minis to all faculty members and students in April, 2013 (Runnels & Rutson-Griffiths, 2013).

The following are Renaud’s responses to a short interview I conducted via email.

Do the students have objections to using an iOS device? (e.g., they have an Android phone or tablet & they prefer to use that platform)

There have been no objections that I am aware of. Many students own Android phones and these tend to be the main tool for social networking, listening to music, etc. as they do not need to rely on a Wi-Fi network like they do with the iPad minis. To learn more about why we went with Apple iPad Mini, you can read this article written by two of my colleagues.

Is the iPad component being driven by another department and the EFL program jumped on board or is this iPad strategy being driven by the English language department?

The decision to introduce iPads to all incoming students was part of an information technology strategy created by the HBWU administration to raise competitiveness and enrollment. iPads were distributed to all faculty members and incoming students in an attempt to better prepare students for life after graduation and to support faculty in enhancing curricula. The Bunkyo English Communication Center (BECC) has been spearheading this with our paperless lessons. Continue reading

Coursera MOOC on EFL/ESL

Click on image to go to course.

Click on image to go to course.

Elizabeth Hanson Smith, Jeff Magato and Deborah Healey are hosting a five-week MOOC on teaching EFL or ESL at Coursera starting April 7. It is free and a great way for teachers to learn about MOOCs as well as polish their skills for the classroom. I will post more as the course starts. But do, join in.

I just finished one of the top 3 MOOCs I have ever taken (been doing this 6 years now) at Coursera, History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Ed, lead by Cathy Davidson, about tech and education. This was put together well, as well as the one on Gamification, by Kevin Werbach.

The other of the top 3? ETMOOC, in 2013 and the original Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (CCK 2008). These last two are what are called cMOOCs, that rely more on participation and self organization.

Someone said that the difference between xMOOCs (like Edx and Coursera) and cMOOCs (connectivist MOOCs) is that in xMOOCs you watch a video. In cMOOCs you make a video.

Depression and a Family Conference Call

HangoutsI was just nodding off, one of those rare afternoon naps. The phone rings. Daughter Nicole (Nick) calling from Portland. “Hangout,” she says. I know the drill. I hang up. Move to Google+ page, and select hangouts. We’d done one with the whole family last week, so I clicked on that one. Set off ringing at my wife’s computer (she was out shopping), and Nick’s older sister Julia, in Waikiki.

Turns out Nick has a research paper proposal due tomorrow for her college freshman writing class, and wants to brainstorm. Something about mental illness. Julia graduated last year and did a lot of work in sociology and cultural psychology, so they got started right away. Nick needed a research question, some description, some probable outcomes, and some resources for her proposal. Continue reading

Vocabulary.com has new App

vocabularydotcomappRebecca Greenfield over at Fast Company points us to a new App (iOS only so far) from vocabulary.com to improve your handle on words in English. It is adaptive, learns from your mistakes, and employs what looks like Spaced Repetition, or the Leitner system (or perhaps the Pimsleur’s graduated interval recall). Those without iPhones or iPads can access the same software through the web.

Twitching Monkeys and Shakespearian Pokemon

SONY DSCRemember the first Game Boy? The monochrome screen somewhere between the size of a stamp and a pack of cigarettes? And the game cartridges, about the size of a pack of matches? Don’t smoke? Here are some pictures.

Now take one of the most popular games for that original Nintendo Game Boy. Port it over to the Internet, and configure it so that anyone part of an IRC channel can call out instructions. In this case, which of 4 buttons to push. An IRC channel is an ancient version of a chat room. This one was run by a company aptly named Twitch.

GameBoyCartridgeNow if you can imagine thousands of players trying to beat the game, all with pretty much random instructions. The ported game took the first instruction it was ready for, each couple of milliseconds. IT is like a monkey bashing at the buttons. So all this mayhem starts just before Valentine’s Day. Word gets around. More than 80,000 people try it out. At least 10% send in instructions: A!, right!, left! B!.

Twitch_plays_pokemon_animatedThings go slowly. Trolls try to take over, blocking advancement. More people get involved. In the end, over 16 days, more than a million people get involved. At one point, near the end, 121,000 people are watching online at the same time. With a total of 36 million views, the people beat the game.

Just think what we could do with something like this applied to learning something. Cue Clay Shirky and how time spent on Wikipedia is a rounding error compared to TV. Use that Cognitive Surplus.

At one point in the game, when things got stuck because of trolls, a new method of choosing instructions was introduced. When Anarchy did not work, a majority overcame, in Democracy mode. But by far most of the game was played in Anarchy. Democracy was just too slow.

Check out the Ars Tehcnica article and the Wikipedia article and Dorkly, and the This Week in Tech episode that talks about this.

How Cloud Computing should be Changing our Pedagogy

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One of the most amazing technological advances in recent years, in my opinion, is cloud computing. However, as teachers we have only just begun to see its implications.

For those of us in homogeneous EFL environments, like Japan, getting students to communicate with each other spontaneously using the target language is one of the biggest challenges we face. And yet, we have opportunity to circumvent this obstacle using technology.

Imagine an ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) environment where students from different countries are being matched within a project group. Target language communication would be a must in this situation. Impossible?

Continue reading