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Intel Teachers Engage

5 Posts authored by: jess-sanders

In this election cycle, the mainstream media frequently publishes stories about the more inflammatory tweets put out by the two candidates for president of the United States. More often than not, the most outrageous tweets garner the largest amount of attention, which is exactly what they are intended to do. Paying attention to outrageous tweets has been called “feeding the trolls,” in reference to an online phenomenon known as “trolling.”

To understand what it means to be “trolled” on the Internet, it helps to understand what the term means in the physical world. Two weeks ago, I traveled to Newport, OR with my family, to see live fish in the Newport Aquarium and eat fresh fish in the restaurants. We rented rooms in a condo hotel on the marina. My 19-month son loved looking at the fishing boats docked right outside our hotel room patio. Many of these boats had a specific design — they were equipped with outriggers, poles which allow a boat to tow multiple fishing lines through the water without tangling. This method of fishing is called “trolling.”



So, you see, troll is not a noun, it is a verb. And, just like fishing boats troll with bait to catch fish, some Internet users troll with bait to “catch” other Internet users. The history of trolling online goes back to the early 1990s, as in the phrase “trolling for newbies.” Veteran users in a newsgroup might make a post on a topic that had been discussed a lot already, then sit back and wait to see who responds. Long-time readers of posts in the group would recognize the name of the poster and the stale, or overdone, topic, and leave the post alone. But new subscribers to the group would take the bait and respond.


An important lesson in “digital citizenship” is to appreciate diversity online. Merriam-Webster defines diversity as “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” Internet users reflect the same diversity we see in “meatspace” (the non-digital, un-mediated world). Some people, including political candidates, may use the Internet for “trolling,” and if other Internet users don’t understand their motivations and intentions when “trolling,” they just might find themselves “hooked.”


Your students spend many hours of their waking lives each week navigating the oceans of Internet culture, sometimes skimming the surface, and other times diving into the depths. These digital seas contain a diverse group of other people, and the dangers they pose are real. In the public areas of the Internet, the trolling hooks rarely find their mark. But, in other, more exclusive communities online, such as multi-player games or chat rooms, unsuspecting “newbies” can feel the pain of getting caught, and not even realize what has happened.


As much as possible, teachers and caring adults need to become informed about the diversity of online groups, and engage students in productive conversations about the dangers of getting hurt while participating in online culture.

What conversations are you having with your students about trolls, and Internet trolling, particularly as it relates to political figures and the coverage they receive from the media?

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking can be a powerful mindset for problem solving in any discipline. To put it simply, design thinking is a structured approach to generating and developing ideas. It is human-centered, collaborative, optimistic, and experimental. The design thinking process (also referred to as “human-centered design”) begins with empathizing with people to understand their needs and motivations. Teams work together in the process, bringing multiple perspectives to solving a challenge. Team members share a fundamental belief that we all can create change. Along the way, the team will make mistakes, and these failures provide opportunities to learn and come up with new ideas.


Why Does The Design Thinking Process Begin With Empathy?

Empathy helps design thinkers solve problems by building a solid understanding of the beliefs and values of the people they are designing for. Design thinkers empathize with people by observing, engaging, and immersing. Watching what people do and their behavior in a real-life context reveals information how they think and feel, as well as what they need. Engagement with people frequently involves encouraging them to tell stories in both scheduled interviews and short, unstructured interactions. By engaging with people directly, design thinkers seek to uncover needs that people have but may not be aware of, identify the right users to design for, and discover the emotions that guide their behaviors. Finally, design thinkers seek to experience the situation their users are in through immersion. As much as possible, design thinkers try to step out of themselves and into other people’s shoes, to see with a fresh pair of eyes and gain unexpected insights that will inform the generation of innovative solutions.


Watch the following videos to learn more about empathy and why it is an important part of the design thinking process.



Empathy in Design

These two videos do a good job of defining empathy, and explaining why should it be a part of design.

In particular, watch for a description of the difference between empathy and sympathy.


Human-Centered Design for Rural Myanmar

First Step of Design: The Discover Phase

These two videos do a great job of depicting the empathy mode in action.

Watch for how design thinkers engage people in the context of their daily lives.


What are some methods for practicing empathy for design?

Method #1: What? How? Why?

This tool can help your students move from concrete observations to uncovering the potential emotions and motives at play in the observed situation. In the activity, your students will look at a photo of a particular situation and answer the following questions:

  • What are they doing in the photo?
  • How are they doing it?
  • Why are they doing it this way?


Setup: Divide a sheet of paper into three sections labeled “What,” “How,” and “Why.”

Start with concrete observations: Ask students to use descriptive phrases to describe the situation in the photograph.

Move to understanding: Use guiding questions to help students understand how the people in the situation are feeling. Some possible questions include:

  • How are the people doing what they are doing?
  • Does it require effort?
  • Do they appear rushed or pained?
  • Does the activity appear to be impacting the people’s state of being positively or negatively?

Step out on a limb of interpretation: Ask students to make informed guesses regarding the motivation and emotions of people in the photographed situation.


Method #2: Interview for Empathy

It is important for your students to plan and prepare for their interviews with the people they wish to design for.


Preparation: Ask students to begin by generating a list of potential questions, and then group the questions by themes or subject areas. With the questions grouped, the students should put them in an order that will allow the interview to flow naturally. Students may need to take out redundant questions or questions that seem out of place. Remind students that they should leave room in the plan for asking “why?” as well as questions directed at how the interviewee feels.


Some things for student interviewers to keep in mind:

  • Ask about specific instances or occurrences, such as “tell me about the last time you…”
  • Get people telling stories
  • Pay attention to nonverbal cues
  • Avoid questions that can be answered in one word
  • Keep questions short
  • Avoid suggesting an answer
  • Allow for silence
  • Interview in pairs, with one person taking notes, or use a voice recorder


If you would like to learn more about the design thinking process and how you can facilitate it with a group, take a look at this toolkit from Stanford’s d. School.


Can you think of a time that empathy helped you to solve a problem? Share your experience in the comments section below.

Images courtesy of Stanford d. School

iconsRPG.jpegIn September 2009, Lee Sheldon, a video game writer and designer-turned-college-professor at Indiana University, decided to try something different with his game design course. In Sheldon’s class, students needed to earn “experience points” to build their “score” up from zero towards a passing grade. The system mirrored video game scoring, where players start at zero and “level up” by completing missions, collecting coins, etc. But, using an alternate grading system is just one piece of the complete transformation of Sheldon’s course from a traditional model to a class delivered as a game.


The professor was the Game Master, students became players organized into guilds, and assignments were presented as quests to complete. An engaging narrative tied the quests together, culminating in a final exam that took the form of a tension-filled interrogation experience for the students.


Sheldon modeled his re-conception of the traditional class experience on a complex live-action game format known as an Alternate Reality Game (ARG). In a typical ARG, players work collaboratively to discover clues and solve puzzles scattered across both digital and physical environments. Early examples of ARGs were used to market movies, albums, video games, and other products.


An ARG developed to market the movie A.I. Artificial Intelligence involved over three million active participants from all across the globe. The game designers spread clues through email messages, fake ads, websites, faxes, and voicemail messages, engaging players in an elaborate murder mystery that ran for three months. Other products marketed through ARGs included the Xbox game Halo 2, Audi’s A3, Valve Corporation’s game Portal 2, and Nine Inch Nails’ album Year Zero.


In an article for EdSurge, English teacher Chris Aviles answered the question “Why Construct an ARG in the Classroom” this way:


“I started the ARGs with two goals in mind: get my kids to come to class, and make the ARG and related game-mechanics so fun and exciting that they will be more engaged and motivated around the material. Since starting my ARGs, as part of my gamified classroom, my students’ attendance has gone up almost 20 percent. In my bi-monthly surveys, my kids consistently report that they love coming to class and that the ARG makes them pay more attention, because they don’t want to miss a clue. Since engaged students learn, overall averages have gone up around five points, and have increased more dramatically with minority and male students who benefit from the ARG and a gamified classroom the most.”


Aviles admits that ARGs are hard work to set up, but the results are worth the effort. He believes that “placing an interactive narrative overtop of student learning will be a game changer in schools.”



ARGs are just one example of a broader category of game-based learning called “transmedia storytelling.” An exemplary of this genre, with its mash-up of digital narrative, movie, and gaming elements, is a ‘born-digital novel’ called Inanimate Alice. The narrative of Inanimate Alice centers around a young girl named Alice who aspires to be a game designer when she grows up. By playing the games Alice creates, students develop multimodal literacy and problem solving skills, as well as cultural diversity and awareness, social-emotional skills, and spatial visualization skills.




Below are several helpful links for teachers interested in learning more about ARGs and how to use them in their teaching practice.


How Games Can Be Used To Teach College-Level Chinese Courses

Down the Rabbit Hole: How To Turn Your Class into an Alternate Reality Game

Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) as Mobile Learning

Alternate Reality Games: The Work Behind the Play

Secret Agent Students: How to Bring an Alternate Reality Game to Your Classroom

What ARGs have you played? Have you tried using them in your classes? Share your experience in the comments below.

robot-tutors-banner.jpgAs technology use increases in the classroom, more data is captured about student activities throughout the learning process. This information can be used to create individualized learning pathways for students. Systems that attempt to automate this process are called "adaptive learning systems" and have the potential to drastically change how we educate students.


The US Department of Education Office of Educational Technology defines adaptive learning systems as follows:


“Digital learning systems are considered adaptive when they can dynamically change to better suit the learning in response to information collected during the course of learning rather than on the basis of preexisting information such as a learner’s gender, age, or achievement test score. Adaptive learning systems use information gained as the learner works with them to vary such features as the way a concept is represented, its difficulty, the sequencing of problems or tasks, and the nature of hints and feedback provided.”


Adaptive learning systems are not meant to replace the teacher. Rather, they can be used to support the classroom teacher. Below are a few examples:

  • Students can use software and online services outside of class to interact with content traditionally covered in lectures.
  • Dashboards and reports generated by adaptive learning products can give teachers aview into class-wide trends and individual progress made by students.
  • Adaptive learning products can function as tutors, providing interactive feedback to learners and recommending learning paths for them to follow.


Adaptive learning systems are still in their infancy. A number of adaptive learning systems are starting to be used in K-12 institutions around the globe, but important challenges still remain:


Teaching more than math: At this point, most adaptive learning systems only target math instruction or other concrete topics. It is much more challenging to create systems for language-dependent learning like writing and reading, where there is no right or wrong answer.


Moving from supplemental to core: Adaptive learning systems are still largely meant to be supplemental learning resources. Teachers may use them occasionally for independent study, but so far at least, they are not viewed as core instructional tools. As a result, it’s easy to view them as non-essential.


Being actually adaptive: Many of these companies say their products are adaptive, but beyond providing some basic interactivity and monitoring student progress through their content, most do not approach the level of actually being an intelligent tutoring system capable of replacing in-person tutoring.


Gathering and interpreting new data sources: In the coming years, adaptive learning systems will also likely be able to gather and interpret new data sources, increasing systems’ validity across subject areas. For example, AutoTutor, developed at the University of Memphis, uses a conversational system to interact with students and is able to understand student-written responses and question. Utilizing new hardware and software, adaptive learning systems will also start to gather “affective” data from students, seeking to interpret students’ emotional response to the learning activities. One possible example of this includes using device cameras to gauge understanding and emotions through facial expressions. Wearables may also record data from learners as they work through lessons and assessments.


Drawing more meaningful conclusions from data: Many adaptive learning systems are improving their ability to draw meaningful conclusions from the data that they gather. As these systems aggregate more and more students, they will be able to make more insights about students, such as levels of engagement and frustration.


What experiences do you have with students using adaptive learning tools in the classroom? Please share your observations and opinions below.


Some days (especially sunny ones), I fantasize about a new job installing solar panels. Outside, working with my hands, saving the environment (and people money!)...what's not to like?

Well, there's more to realizing such a dream than merely sending off a resume to a solar energy company --> 70% of employers surveyed in U.S. energy industries found it “difficult or very difficult” to hire employees with needed skills. This is according to the 2016 U.S Energy and Employment Report (USEER), a first of its kind report that analyzed how changes in energy technology, systems, and usage are affecting the economy, as well as where and how these changes create or displace jobs.


USEER found projected increases in new jobs for the energy efficiency sector, as well as solar energy.  The energy efficiency sector predicted hiring rates of 14 percent in 2016, or almost 260,000 new hires. Solar energy firms predicted 15 percent job growth over the next year. Those are both big numbers.


If you, or someone you know (like a student!!) are interested in working in the solar energy industry, give the following web sites a look, and share them!


ISES International Solar Energy Society: HOMENABCEP | North American Board of Certified Energy PractitionersSEIA | Solar Energy Industries Association
Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 1.39.31 PM.pngScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 1.41.59 PM.pngScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 1.43.10 PM.png


Are young people excited about the bright (hehe!) future of solar energy, or is this technology only cool to children of the 70's and 80's? What do you think?  Maybe one of these crowdsourced green technologies is more interesting to the youth of today?



What are your friends and students telling you? Share as a comment on this blog post!

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