Gamification: Let the Games Begin

As part of an online course that I currently taking with CSU (Charles Sturt University), we are currently looking at the integration of technology into teaching and learning. This provides me the perfect opportunity to dive into the topic of gamification. Over the next two months I will be exploring the concept of gamification in order to identify and implement gaming mechanisms and evaluate how they can establish and support an environment for learning. In my current role as a Learning Coordinator, most of my work will involve supporting teachers in their own professional development, however if this investigation remains focussed on the learning process then arguably the findings could apply to all learners.

Why Gamfication?

I would not consider myself an avid “video gamer” but I did play my fair share of video games growing up. After a lengthy departure from gaming, it was the iPad and iPhone that brought me back to this form of entertainment and I now find myself getting back into some console gaming as well. In rekindling my relationship with video games, I have also made a few observations:

– there are a lot people (young and old) who are currently playing video games (E3: Who plays video games? The numbers might surprise you)

– there is a move to involve social media and social interaction in modern video games (Social aspects of video gaming drawing in more users and revenue)

– video games can be engaging in the way they instruct and guide the player (Manual labor: Why we don’t need game manuals anymore)

– video games can be responsive to the user (How responsiveness affects players’ perception in digital games)

Monopoly: Here & Now: The World Edition is a game for the iPad that has finally taught me the proper way to play Monopoly!
Monopoly: Here & Now: The World Edition is a game for the iPad that has finally taught me the proper way to play Monopoly!

These observations have ultimately brought to me the topic of gamification and its potential in the classroom. If video games are any indication of the level of engagement and interactivity that students (both young and the young at heart) currently enjoy and expect, then I think I may need to step up my game as a teacher.

Over the next couple of months, I will continue to explore the topic of gamification and attempt to implement gaming elements in my work to support teachers and students. I intend on using this blog as a way to document my learning throughout this project.

Stay tuned and let the games begin…

K. Takahashi

Five More Things To Consider About The Surface RT In The Classroom

Adding to my initial assessment of the Surface RT tablet, here are some additional thoughts on the RT after having a chance to use the device more extensively.
1.  If you need a Touch Cover keyboard it is an additional $100 to your purchase ($119 if purchased separately). You can opt to enter text using the onscreen keyboard but keep in mind that the built-in kickstand will not allow for easy onscreen typing which leaves you to type with the tablet lying flat on a surface (or lap) or with the user holding the device and thumb typing. There are cheaper case options for the RT (Best 15 Cases for the Windows Surface RT Tablet –  Computer Shopper) and one may provide a more comfortable and stable stance for touch typing.
2.  The built in kickstand and Touch Cover design severely limits the RT’s ability to be placed anywhere but on a flat surface. Unlike the laptop, the Surface design does not easily allow for placement on uneven surfaces like someone’s lap or in situations where you would like to adjust the angle of the screen.
3.  Although you may have a desktop, you do not have a full copy of Windows. Any piece of software that you wish to add to your Surface RT needs to come from the Windows Store. As a result, the desktop mode is really a mystery to me as I have found very little reason to access my apps and content through that interface. If anything, the presence of the desktop only serves to confuse the consumer into momentarily thinking they have a full version of Windows.
Looks like good old Windows but just try to install some programs and you will see it is not Windows.
Looks like good old Windows but just try to install some programs and you will see it is not Windows.
4.  Windows SkyDrive is an important supporting piece to the Surface RT and Windows just made it better. Paul Thurrott (Supersite for Windows) recently posted that Microsoft has improved the implementation of SkyDrive on the Surface Pro and Surface RT. My concern with SkyDrive being only accessible through the SkyDrive app has now been addressed. SkyDrive is now integrated into both the “Metro” and desktop modes of Windows RT. This now adds to greater value in having students log into the Surface RT using their own Windows Live account.
5.  Consider the future of the Surface RT. Although Microsoft confirms that it is moving forward with this platform, recent news on Microsoft’s failure to meet its sales expectations of the Surface RT resulted in a loss of nearly $900 million. Obviously, this explains the drastic price reductions for the Surface RT and one has to question what Microsoft will do with future versions of the tablet to keep this product line alive. If new versions of the Surface RT are released will they try to maintain a lower price point? If so, what will the cost be to the specs and hardware? Perhaps a reduction in the size of the tablet is in store?

Reflecting on my Reflective Practice – Making the Implicit Explicit

As I write this reflective blog post, I sit in an airport awaiting my flight. With technology, having the ability to quickly document my thoughts and feelings as they occur may be a critical piece in allowing me to capture my reflective practice as it happens.
As I write this reflective blog post, I sit in an airport awaiting my flight. With technology, having the ability to quickly document my thoughts and feelings as they occur may be a critical piece in allowing me to capture my reflective practice as it happens.

Over the next year I will be completing a series of online courses through Charles Sturt University. During this time of course work I will be engaging in reflective journalling and with my personal interest in technology, I want to be able to draw upon a number applications and platforms that may help facilitate a deeper and more consistent practice of reflection. The practicality and integrity of these electronic methods will also be reflected upon as I try to determine the most effective way for me to journal my reflections.

In general I do not schedule in times for personal, professional reflection. For me, I find that moments of reflection are spontaneous often fuelled by an event or experience that either challenges my current beliefs, contradicts my expectations or yields surprising or unexpected results. Currently, my process of reflection is not formalized in any way as I do not subscribe to a particular format or timeline. Up until now documentation has been in the form of an occasional brief note to myself, a blog post or tweet. Many times my own reflections remain to be a process where my thoughts are never really articulated in writing and/or documented for future reference.

Having said that, I do not believe that I am new to the practice of reflection. My process may be less formal without the consistent use of an organizer and platform for documentation but I have come to truly appreciate the improvements that reflective practice has provided me as I improve my work as a teacher and educational leader. However as I try to stretch my own development to be more explicit in my reflective practice, I do stand to engage in self reflection that is more focussed, influential and pervasive. Investing in a record of reflection over the course of the next year will provide me the opportunity to see where I have come and hopefully the improvements and learnings I have encountered.

Windows Surface Pro in the Classroom – part PC, part Tablet

Pictured here with a keyboard cover that is an additional purchase.
Pictured here with a keyboard cover that is an additional purchase.

A previous post explored the Windows Surface RT as a classroom tablet. More recently, the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet / computer is now making its way into stores. Tablet and PC choices for the classroom continue to grow with Microsoft now entering into the fray. However if you think the Surface Pro is merely a spec bump from its Surface RT sibling, take a look at some of the important factors inherent with this tablet PC.


1. It is a PC. The Surface Pro runs a full version of Windows 8 and for teachers and students who want to access and install all the programs that they would normally use on their Windows 8 desktop PC or laptop, the Surface Pro will be able accommodate this need. This is great for schools and school districts who have already invested in Windows software titles. Furthermore, with a touchscreen you now take full advantage of the new Windows 8 metro-style desktop which is designed for a touch interface. The USB 3.0 port will offer the expandability that we have come to expect from our computers, allowing for the easy connection of peripherals, storage, hubs, etc.

However offering a PC experience on a tablet requires some compromises to the tablet experience.

2. Battery life is limited. Tablet owners are used to achieving 8 to 10 hours of battery life on their respective mobile devices. However with the Surface Pro offering the functionality and performance of a full Windows PC, the battery life inevitably takes a hit. There are reports of 3-4 hours of Surface Pro use from a fully charged battery. This becomes a significant factor for schools and classrooms who anticipate using these devices over the course of a school day.

Micro SDXC slot provides the option to quickly expand storage on the Surface Pro.
Micro SDXC slot provides the option to quickly expand storage on the Surface Pro.

3. Windows 8 takes up drive space. Early reviews reported that the 64GB and 128GB capacities of the Surface Pro actually offered 23GB and 85GB of usable storage respectively. Not surprising if we think about these devices as PCs housing a full operating system rather than your typical tablet or mobile device. Once more, it is something for schools to carefully consider when assessing the potential purpose and use of this technology. Having said that, the presence of a mini SDXC card slot and USB 3.0 port provide solid options to expand the storage on your Surface Pro.

So what does this all mean? Basically, if teachers and administrators are considering the Surface Pro, we need to weigh in the benefits and compromises that this hardware offers with a full Windows 8 operating system. Is the device appropriate for the age and ability of your students? What types of tasks do you hope to have students complete with this hardware?Are there additional peripherals (keyboard, external drive), accessories (cases, covers) and support (wireless access, training) that you will require for this device?

In the end, choice is a great thing and the Surface Pro provides another compelling choice for schools and classrooms. If you are curious about other Windows 8 hardware offerings have a look at these options:

1. Surface RT – similar form factor to the Pro but runs on a mobile Windows operating system that does not offer a full Windows 8 experience.
2. Acer Iconia W5 – a series of Windows 8 tablets complete with keyboard dock
3. Asus VivoBook – a series of touch screen Windows 8 laptops from Asus

10 iOS Features Every Teacher Should Know About (Part 2)

6. Photo Stream

When sharing your Photo Stream publicly, it will shared as a URL.
When sharing your Photo Stream publicly, it will shared as a URL.

Why? Photo Stream uploads your photos to the cloud so they are synced to other devices. iOS 6 also introduces Shared Photo Streams where users can select and share photos with others. This feature can serve as a fast and easy way for students to select photos from their classroom iOS devices and quickly share them with others. As students use the iOS camera to document learning, record observations and capture visuals as well as text, these images can now be immediately shared with other students and teachers. Furthermore, Photo Stream will allow you to share any images saved to the camera roll including exported works from other applications.

How? In order to turn ON Photo Stream and Shared Photo Streams, you will need to first go to the iCloud menu and turn ON Photo Stream. Next, navigate to Settings and select the Photos & Camera menu. Within this menu you can choose to turn ON either Photo Stream or Shared Photo Streams or both. Once activated, Photo Stream will work automatically and begin syncing every photo or image that is saved to the Camera Roll. Shared Photo Streams are started when you choose to share photos in your Camera Roll. Selecting Photo Stream will allow to create a new Photo Stream or add it to an existing Photo Stream. You will then have the choice to name it and to share it as a public website.

7. Switching iTunes Accounts

Switch iTunes AcctWhy? As iOS devices continue to find their way into schools and classrooms, it is conceivable that different departments and teachers will purchase specific apps under different iTunes accounts. As iPads are distributed and used around the school or across departments there may be the need to upload applications purchased from another iTunes account. By switching the iTunes account connected to the iOS device, the user can upload applications from a different account on to the same device. This is a helpful tip for those teachers who may have purchased their own apps that they now wish to use on a different iPad attached to a different iTunes account.

How? Starting in Settings, navigate down the list of menu items and select iTunes & App Stores. This will open up options iTunes and Automatic Downloads and at the top of this screen you will also notice the Apple ID that is currently associated with the device. Selecting the account will open up some options including the option to Sign Out. Selecting this will now prompt you to enter another Apple ID and Password. Once you have signed in with a different iTunes account, exit out of Settings and head on over to the App Store and access your Purchased apps using the navigation button at the bottom. You will see a list of the apps you have purchased with this current account and by selecting the Not on This iPad button at the top of you screen, you will see all of the apps that you currently do not have installed on your current device. Simply selecting an or app will start the download process.

8. Folders for Apps and the Dock

Use the iOS dock to hold folders or apps that you want to quickly access.
Use the iOS dock to hold folders or apps that you want to quickly access.

Why? Although this feature is not unique to iOS 6, it is an efficient way to move and arrange large numbers of applications (apps). For those of us who are not particularly diligent in continually grouping and organizing apps into folders, we are often left with pages of random applications. Even those who already group apps may find that their sorting system is no longer useful and may now want to create a new grouping convention. Teachers may want to group apps according to subject, grade level or function alternately there may be a folder that contains all the apps that pertain to a particular assignment, activity or task. Fortunately, considering the endless ways to group apps the process is made easier thanks to folders and the application dock in iOS.

How? If you are new to the process of creating folders on your iPad, it is as simple as holding an app icon until it shakes or wobbles and then drag the app icon on top of another app. This will automatically create a folder, where the iOS will attempt to automatically label it for you. If you wish, you can tap on the folder name and enter in your own custom title. Continue dragging in applications into the folder as you see fit and press the home button to return you back to normal operating mode.

You can also move the folder within and across the different pages of your iPad desktop using the iOS dock located at the bottom of your navigation screen. The dock is the row of applications that lie at the bottom of your screen and remain there for quick and easy access irregardless of the page of apps that you are currently viewing. Providing there is space, you can place any folder onto your iOS dock where you can then essentially have it available to you as scroll across pages of apps. This is a great way to move large numbers of apps across pages of your desktop and/or to quickly populate a new folder as you pick and choose apps from other folders on different pages. A huge time saver!

9. Privacy Settings

iOS 6 offers a quick way to assess and change your privacy settings across the apps of your iPad.
iOS 6 offers a quick way to assess and change your privacy settings across the apps of your iPad.

Why? iOS 6 has improved its privacy settings by grouping them together under one menu icon. The Privacy menu allows you to better control the level of privacy across different iOS features and allows you to set the level of access for individual applications. This is an important feature that every iOS user needs to check out. At the very least the Privacy menu gives you a sense and appreciation of the different types of information that your apps are currently trying to access from your iOS device. What’s more, if you do not want a particular app having access to your location information or contacts, etc. you can quickly and easily toggle OFF that connection.

How? In Settings, find and select the Privacy menu. This will open a list of iOS features including the recently integrated services of Facebook and Twitter. Selecting an item on this list will reveal the apps that have requested access to that feature. Consequently, you can choose to either allow or restrict application access to a feature by toggling between ON & OFF. Access to Location ServicesContactsCalendarsPhotos and even Bluetooth Sharing can all be controlled from the Privacy menu.

10. Restrictions

The variety of options offered under restrictions is worth checking out.
The variety of options offered under Restrictions is worth checking out.

Why? Considering the vast array of services and features available to the iOS user, the Restrictions menu can help to manage and maintain these settings on your iOS device. Teachers can allow or restrict access to the browser, camera, iTunes as well as the App Store. Teachers will also have the ability to restrict certain types of content as well as the ability to change privacy settings. Similar to the Privacy menu, iOS users are encouraged to check out the Restrictions menu as there are a large amount of options available to the classroom teacher.

How? In Settings within the General menu, find and select the Restrictions tab and select the button to Enable Restrictions. You will be prompted to enter and confirm a Passcode that you will use to access Restrictions settings again in the future. Once you have entered your Passcode, you will be able to allow and restrict the list of features and content found within this menu.

10 iOS Features Every Teacher Should Know About (Part 1)

1. Automatic Downloads

Found in Settings under the iTunes & App Stores menu
Found in Settings under the iTunes & App Stores menu

Why? This feature allows you to simultaneously sync the purchase of apps (free or paid) if you have more than one iPad, iPad mini or iPod Touch attached to the same iTunes account. Downloading an app to one device will automatically initiate the download to other similar devices attached to the iTunes account. This is a huge timesaver and saves you from having to repeat the install process across several devices.

How? Navigate over to Settings and then scroll down the list of items along the left hand side of your screen and select iTunes & App Stores. It will reveal a number of settings on right side of your screen including iTunes Match and Automatic Downloads. Under Automatic Downloads, you can choose to automatically download Books and Music as well as Apps. Make your selections and you are done. You may be asked to re-enter your iTunes account login and password as a final step. Keep in mind that you will need to do this for each device that is currently attached to your iTunes account.

2. Back up to iCloud

You can find Storage & Backup settings under the iCloud menu in Settings
You can find Storage & Backup settings under the iCloud menu in Settings

Why? You have the choice to back up your iOS device to iCloud or to your PC through iTunes. By default every iCloud subscriber is entitled to 5GB of free storage with the option to purchase more storage for an annual fee. Backing up to the cloud allows you to restore or set up an iOS device wirelessly and without the need to connect it to a PC installed with iTunes. This could be a big timesaver for a classroom teacher looking to restore an iOS device on the spot providing they have connectivity to the internet. Keep in mind that teachers and schools under the Volume Purchase Program will make use of a different process to restore their iOS devices.

How? In Settings select iCloud from the navigation menu. If you have not already activated iCloud on your device you will be prompted to do so at this stage. Scroll down to the bottom of this screen and find the Storage & Backup button. On the following screen, turn ON iCloud Backup. Navigating back to your previous screen, you can now select the features and files you would like to sync and backup. By default backup will occur when your iOS device is connected to your AC charger while also connected to the internet.

3. Dictation

Dictation is accessed quickly through the mic icon on the iOS keyboard
Dictation is accessed quickly through the mic icon on the iOS keyboard

Why? Speaking to the device and having your speech converted to text can be extremely helpful when the use of the virtual keyboard is too cumbersome or time consuming. Dictation is also an empowering tool for students who may be more adept at demonstrating their learning through speech and dialogue. The practice of dictation may also prove to be a powerful exercise in recognizing grammatical structure, voice and proper punctuation. The process of converting voice to text is fairly quick and the need to see if the Dictation feature “got it right” encourages the discipline of proof reading written work.

How? When you call up your virtual keyboard you will notice a microphone icon located to the left of the space bar. Tapping once on this icon will call up the microphone where you will then be prompted with a beep to begin your dictation. After you have finished your dictation, select the Done button and your text should appear on your screen. As this feature is connected to your virtual keyboard it essentially allows you to access this tool across all of your iOS applications.

If you do not the see the microphone icon on your keyboard in iOS 6 be sure to check that Siri is set to ON and if your Restrictions are enabled, review them in your Settings menu and ensure that Siri is set to ON. (Within Settings access the General menu, find and select the Restrictions tab and ensure that Siri is not being restricted) For those using iOS 5, you can turn on/off dictation under the General menu where you select the Keyboard tab and look for the Dictation option.

4. Guided Access

Once Guided Access has been enabled, simply click the Home button 3 times to activate it within any application
Once Guided Access has been enabled, simply click the Home button 3 times to activate it within any application

Why? Guided Access allows teachers to lock the home button of their iOS device as well as disable areas of the touchscreen. For young children and students with special needs, Guided Access can be a very useful feature for iOS 6 devices. However this utility can prove to be useful for all students in all classrooms depending on your use and purpose for the iPad, iPad mini, iPod Touch, etc. in your classroom. For example, you can now lock an iPad to a particular application when assigning iPads to specific learning stations. Guided Access can help prevent students from navigating away from a particular resource or task that they are to specifically access or complete.

How? Using Guided Access is a two step process that begins with activating the feature in Settings under the General menu. Once in the General menu, find and select the Accessibility tab. Under the Learning subheading, you will find the option to turn ON Guided Access. Upon activating this feature you will be asked to set a Passcode that you will be prompted to enter each time you begin and end Guided Access. After setting your passcode simply exit out of the Settings menu as you have now completed the first step.

The second step involves initiating Guided Access which takes place when you are in the app of your choice. Initiating this feature involves tapping the home button three times. This will call up the Guided Access control panel and allow you to identify areas of the touch screen that you wish to disable simply by circling those areas with your finger. You also have the option of disabling the screen rotation feature as well. Once you are satisfied with your settings simply select the Start button at the top right-hand corner of the screen to begin the Guided Access viewing mode. Stopping this viewing mode involves tapping the home button again three times. You will be prompted to enter in the four digit passcode in order to view the Guided Access control panel where you can then choose to End the Guided Access viewing mode.

5. Multitasking Gestures

Swiping, pinching & expanding with 4 or 5 fingers on your iPad screen will allow you to quickly access your iOS dock as well as navigate between applications
Swiping, pinching & expanding with 4 or 5 fingers on your iPad screen will allow you to quickly access your iOS dock as well as navigate between applications

Why? Multitasking Gestures is a carryover from iOS 5 but it bears repeating again for anyone who is not familiar with this feature. Simply put, Multitasking Gestures is the movement away from the physical home button through the use of 2, 3 or four finger gestures on the touchscreen. Although it may seem arbitrary at first, Multitasking Gestures provides an easy and efficient way of navigating between applications. For students and teachers, the ability to quickly switch between two or three applications helps to best make use of the multitasking abilities of the iOS device. For example quickly switching between a web browser and a word processor with the use of a four finger swipe to the left or right is a faster alternative to the two taps of the home button in order to reveal previously viewed apps at the bottom of the screen.

How? By default, Multitasking Gestures should be turned ON, however if you need to activate them you can turn on this feature by accessing Settings menu and then selecting the General tab where you find the option to turn ON/OFF Multitasking Gestures.






What Surface RT Does Right as a Classroom Tablet

During the holidays I finally had some hands-on time with the Microsoft Surface RT Tablet. Up until now, purchasing Microsoft’s hardware offerings have been limited to their online and boutique stores/kiosks. Most recently they have started rolling out to the big box retailers.

What is Microsoft Surface RT?

The “RT” badge indicates that this Windows OS (operating system) is designed specifically for tablet and mobile use. Similar to the iOS platform from Apple Inc. that runs on their iPhones and iPads, Windows RT users can extend the functionality of the tablet through the download of applications from the online Windows Store.

“Surface” is the line of tablet hardware from Microsoft. Currently there are two versions of Surface hardware. As mentioned above there is the Surface RT and in early 2013 Microsoft will release the Surface Pro. Surface Pro is essentially their Surface tablet running a full Windows 8 operating system. Programs and software that you would run on a Windows PC (laptop or desktop) could technically run on this line of tablets.

But for this blog post, lets focus squarely on the Surface RT.

What Microsoft Surface RT does right…

1. Skype, Bing and Skydrive are important and welcome pieces of this platform puzzle. Finally Microsoft can bring to bear the assets it has been developing and acquiring over the past few years onto one platform/device. Speculation over the possible integration of XBOX elements and perhaps more importantly Kinect (motion capture) into subsequent versions of Surface are fascinating in their use as interactive teaching tools.

2. Microsoft Office is included on these tablets. Arguably the flagship consumer software title for Microsoft, the inclusion of this popular suite is a very compelling addition to the Surface RT tablet. Again, the ability to use this productivity suite in conjunction with Microsoft’s Skydrive as a cloud storage and syncing solution is very attractive. For students and teachers who are currently using the Office software in their classrooms and labs, the RT platform aims to complement and bridge the gap when working between PC and tablet.

3. The Surface RT has a USB port! The lack of USB ports and SD card slots on Apple’s tablet offering can be a point of contention for some in the market for robust tablet hardware. Looking specifically at the Surface RT the USB port allows for the quick connection of peripherals such as a keyboard, mouse, printer, external drive, etc. However, it is important to note that not all USB devices will work with RT. Similarly the SD card slot provides a convenient and quick way to add storage to the tablet as well as upload photos and media without the need to use an adapter or dongle. There is hopefully the potential to connect other USB devices such as probes, thermometers, sensors, etc. For more information regarding USB peripherals check out this ZDNet article from Mary Jo Foley.

4. Multiple User Accounts is a substantial feature over Apple’s iOS particularly for classroom teachers that want to be able manage and customize the device when it is used with different students across different classes. Accessibility and security features can be tweaked and customized for different users or for a variety of different uses.

What Microsoft Surface RT needs to improve upon

1. The price of the Microsoft Surface tablet is very much in keeping with Apple’s offerings. For a tablet new to this crowded market of mobile devices, Microsoft needs to garner some much needed attention to its own line of hardware. More specifically, the Surface protective covers that conveniently house a keyboard are a compelling feature for Microsoft’s tablet. Unfortunately, they do not come standard with the Surface tablet and they are not a cheap add-on purchase.

2. It would be unfair to expect Windows to offer a huge selection of RT apps at launch but they need to find ways of attracting developers to their platform… and quick. As an educator, the sheer variety and depth of educational, creation and productivity iOS applications has drawn me into Apple’s line of products and at this point competitors will have to provide a compelling alternative in order for me to switch to another platform.

For more thoughts on the Surface RT tablet, check out this info graphic and series of articles from Paul Thurrott – Why Surface RT?