Tag Archives: digital

Trial and Error

When I started using computers and they stopped working in some way, I would get terribly frustrated. I would call a computer-wise friend or relative who would tell me not to get so upset. Then they would give me directions such as hit the percent key while you hold down the shift key, then a5(39H)490873, and enter.

If that didn’t work, I would become even more frustrated. But my helper would just take it in stride and say, ok, try this, hit settings, tell me what it says, ok, hold the d key, now try refresh, and on and on. At the end they would tell me, “You see, it works. No big deal. You need to calm down.”

I had many responses to that, but in most cases I would say, “Do you understand what you just did? It took us half an hour of random acts that might as well have been ‘Turn around three times, hop on one leg, hit 4 keys,  and touch your nose with your tongue’ to solve the problem.” That always got a laugh because it’s partially true, but the technology generation doesn’t care. Their love for technology includes fixing the glitches. What is frustrating to me is just part of the process for them, a process of trial and error.

Trial and error involves applying different possible solutions to a problem until one works. It’s often perceived as a primitive method of problem solving associated with practical or mechanical achievements. Young children use trial and error to discover the world around them. It takes a lot of time and patience. Thomas Edison is said to have tried at least a thousand different materials as light bulb filaments before he found one that was economical and relatively safe to use.

Those of us learning Tech As A Second Language℠ like to think that problem solving is the product of great thinking based on solid principles and experience. We don’t want to hear that if you just keep putting different things in a socket, you will succeed. To be fair, Edison didn’t just try anything; he learned from each attempt. That’s how trial and error works.

The technology generation has embraced trial and error. They would rather try different clicks to get where they want to go than read instructions. They don’t mind the moments of failure; they are confident that they will eventually succeed.

This makes sense because technology is a young, practical science. By the time you read the handbook, if there is one, it’s changed. For those who are not tech savvy, trial and error levels the playing field. Anyone can find a way to succeed. And, the more time you spend clicking, the more you learn which clicks work best for each function; the clicks are not as random as they seem to the uninitiated.

So next time your technology stops working or you need an answer to move forward such as “How do I bookmark a website?” get over your feelings of inadequacy and Google for help or start clicking. You will look tech smart and you may be surprised at how many times you can solve the problem on your own.

TSL℠: Do You Speak It?

I’ve specialized in applying learning principles to print content in higher education for over twenty-five years. Of late, the major part of my focus has been working with technical people to transition from print texts to digital.

I’ve participated in conventions, webinars, courses, meetups, and anything that will get me quickly up to speed in the digital world. I couldn’t have started this blog without a class I took from Molly Ford at General Assembly. (Thank you, Molly.)  All of this re-education has contributed to my continuing success.

My most recent learning adventure involved signing up for the edX MOOC, Design and Development of Games taught by Eric Klopfer, MIT. I got through the first two weeks, overcoming significant challenges including learning Gameblox so I could create a simple game in which a sprite knocked out coins. I felt empowered.

Then I hit Week 3. After five hours of watching videos, reading assigned materials, and getting a review of narrative video games from Jordan, my daughter’s fiancé, my head was exploding. Still, I felt confident that in the morning I would be able to do the assignment: analyze a video game.

Only I couldn’t. Even after reviewing, Mitgutsch and Alvarado’s Serious Games Design Assessment Framework, a very much needed construct. When I tried to apply it to a game, my mind went blank. Why? Very simply, I was too new to the genre. I needed to spend a lot more time playing and experiencing games before I could analyze them.

Somehow this realization started me thinking about my parents who came to America after surviving the Holocaust.  I remembered their accented speech and that sometimes I had to translate official letters and documents for them. No matter how much they assimilated they would always be immigrants, non-native speakers.

Then it hit me, now I am an immigrant, an immigrant in technology land and like any immigrant, I have to learn and keep learning a new language, TSL℠(Technology As A Second Language℠). Does that make me a second-class citizen or in this case, a second-class digital educator? I remember a story Anna Frajlich, a Polish immigrant and poet, told me about an early ESL course she took:

Anna’s assignment was to write about a story she had read. She chose to discuss Franz Kafka’s The Trial in which the main character is referred to as Joseph K. or K. When she got her essay back, her ESL teacher had commented that her English was improving, but “in America, we write out last names.”

The ESL teacher’s ignorance is a reminder that even if something does not immediately make sense in the digital world, it can still make sense and add value. If we accept that learning from each other across cultures is positive, then learning across education generations is a no-brainer. Native speakers and non-native speakers dialoguing and collaborating can only strengthen the digital education landscape.

What’s in a Name?

Learning is a complicated process that is difficult to define. We all know it when we experience it. We also know when we don’t. We know the difference between passing a test because we pulled an all-nighter and passing because we really understand and have thought about the material. When I think of learning I think process: explore, discover, connect, invent.

Learning can happen formally in school or in an online course. We also learn through activities, social interaction, and just plain exposure. We can learn from a positive experience such as attending a play, or a negative experience such as getting mugged afterwards. Through learning, we become who we are and develop attitudes toward learning. As I look back, I realize that my love of learning was spurred quite randomly—by my last name, Diogenes.

Diogenes was a Cynic in Ancient Greece who scorned material things and those who owned them. Choosing to live in the marketplace, he slept in some sort of tub and engaged in personal acts in public explaining that one should not be ashamed of what is natural.

Diogenes defended morality, reason, and truth. When Plato defined man as a featherless biped, Diogenes supposedly plucked a chicken and tossed it into Plato’s lecture saying, “This is Plato’s man.” Plato changed his definition.

According to a popular story, Diogenes carried a lantern in broad daylight. When asked what he was doing, he said he was looking for an honest man. So people used to ask me, “Have you found an honest man yet?” I only answered yes once when I called a wedding planner about my ceremony and she asked. I answered, “Yes, and that’s why I’m calling you.”

The inquiries of strangers started me trying to find answers and eventually sent me to the library to do research on Diogenes. I even applied to college as a philosophy major. One professor, who was holding oral exams with each student, began our appointment by saying he had looked at his calendar and wondered if he was interviewing Diogenes about Descartes or Descartes about Diogenes.

Even today I dip into stories on Diogenes. Recently I read a great book, Examined Lives, by James Miller, because it had a chapter on Diogenes. That’s why I picked up the book, but, of course, I learned a lot more. It seems somewhat incredible to say, but it’s clear that I would be a different person if I had been born with another last name. And learning may not have become the enjoyable, gratifying experience it is for me if I were not a Diogenes.

Many people badmouth the use of electronic devices: “Children can’t focus on more than a few paragraphs” “They will never be able to think of anything on their own.” What if we look at it from another perspective? Now young people explore, discover, socially connect, and create through digital devices everyday. One could say that the processes of learning are embedded in their lives more than ever. And you never know which random stimulus can lead to a love of learning.

Gamification and Education

I recently completed an excellent Coursera MOOC on gamification taught by Professor Kevin Werbach, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania. Gamification is the art of applying gaming principles to business, education, fitness, basically any area that is not about simply playing a game.

Both gaming principles and education involve motivation. Motivation is something internal (drive, need, craving) or external (environment, stimuli, rewards) that pushes us to action. Motivation moves us from one psychological or physical state to another usually to enjoy a positive feeling.

Hunger motivates us to get something to eat. Loneliness motivates us to connect with people. Not knowing motivates us to learn. However, it’s not that simple. If you are hungry, but it seems too hard to cook a healthy meal, you might settle for a bag of chips. If you are lonely, but are too shy to make friends, you might not do anything to relieve your loneliness. If you don’t know how to work Smart TV, and there’s a complicated explanation in a pamphlet, you may just give up.

Gamification can boost motivation through digital delivery. If you have an app that keeps track of your food intake, sends you quick healthy recipes, and so forth, you will be more motivated to skip the chips and cook. If you can be social on-line, you will be motivated to reach out. If you can just push a button on your remote to give you instructions, you are more likely to learn.

With digital programs we have the opportunity to motivate more students to learn whether through personalized learning or systems that make it easier and more fulfilling to achieve. Digital formats have already made it more appealing to complete assessments by offering instant feedback on whether students have answered correctly.

There is a lot to learn from gaming without turning every lesson into a game. The first step is to think holistically. Amy Jo Kim, CEO, Shufflebrain, says that good game designers think about the player’s whole journey, both cognitive and emotional: “A player’s [student’s] journey is their experience/progression over time.”

Not only do students bring their cultural, economic, and cognitive experiences to the learning environment, they also bring their digital prowess. A student today starts school using digital products. Exciting digital elements that work well in elementary school may not resonate in later grades.

There is also the journey through the particular program, how the student will progress and connect to the content between the beginning and the end. Some programs are very formulaic such as video/reading content/activity/quiz. The same format that motivates students in Chapter 1 may not in Chapter 10.

Game designers take into account Richard Bartle’s four types of users: Achievers, Explorers, Socialisers, and Killers when creating games. Do these categories hold true for student users? Frankly, we don’t know, but we have resources in place that can help us find out. Much of EdTech’s focus has been to develop programs that produce data profiles of individual students to inform short-term formative strategies and summative outcomes. If we collaborate, we can aggregate individual student data to discern types of digital students. This type of analysis will help us chart successful education journeys.