LET Kyushu-Okinawa Presentation

On June 9th I was lucky enough to be able to go down to Miyazaki for the 42nd Kyushu-Okinawa Chapter LET Conference held at Miyazaki Municipal University. I had a great time there at the small but interesting conference, meeting up with some old friends and colleagues, and meeting some interesting people.

My presentation was titled Crossing Cultures and Aiding Learning: 105 Years of Treasure Hunting. The whole presentation was recorded for Ustream and is available here. The (abridged) slides are available here. And links for all the tools and websites mentioned in the presentation can be found here.

Many thanks to the organizers of the conference for the interesting content and their kind hospitality.

Garr Reynolds on Making Lectures More Engaging







Last month at TED  in Osaka, Garr Reynolds gave this presentation on how to make lectures (lessons) more engaging. The talk is only about 20 minutes long but it is full of wisdom and presentation wonderfulness. The themes of engaging visuals for presentation and interaction in learner activities are very nicely dealt with.

But here is the problem: teacher-centeredness. Most teachers (in Japan, the main source of examples for Mr Reynolds, but also in other places) can see a presentation guru up on stage at a TED or other event and draw a direct connection to their own situation. Adding more visuals, better coordinating your slides and your message: these are things that the type of teachers who attend this type of conference can transfer fairly easily to their own classroom situation. The harder part, the really really hard part, is making a shift toward a more learner-centered, creative learning environment. Mr Reynolds offers some nice ideas, chiefly making higher ed classes more similar to elementary school classes. That will work for college-level higher ed, but it seems to be a hard thing to transition into for jr. and sr. high school teachers for many reasons (time, tests, training, expectations, teaching culture, infrastructure, to name a few). In a previous post, I described the present norm as I see it in English language classes at high schools and some of the reasons why this norm is accepted when it should be unacceptable.

Harnessing the Wave: BJ Fogg on Motivation

This audio and slide presentation from a recent keynote extends BJ Fogg’s work on motivation and habits. If you are unfamiliar with his ideas and resources, take a look at his group’s website, particularly the resources page (and particularly the Behavior Model and Behavior Grid).

The talk here focuses on leveraging periods of higher motivation.







I have seen graphs showing the motivation of students learning English in Japan. There are peaks and there are troughs (mostly one big peak at the beginning, followed by one long depressing trough. If BJ Fogg is right, then it means that teachers should be doing some very important things at the beginning of term, especially with first year students. I wonder how many make the “mistake” of putting off instituting new behaviors and actions that will facilitate future behaviors in the those first precious weeks of April.

Steven Thorne at IATEFL 2012: New Media and Language Learning

Steven Thorne’s March 22 plenary is available online (thanks to the British Council).

Here’s the description:

Awareness, appropriacy, and living language use

There has been a great deal of research and pedagogical experimentation relating to technology use within second and foreign language (L2) education. This presentation broadens the scope of inquiry to examine entirely out-of-school L2 digital engagement in environments such as social media, fan fiction communities, and online gaming. The presentation argues first for the efficacy of a usage-based model of second language development and the benefits of explicitly addressing genre awareness and pragmatic appropriateness as core assets in the language learning process. I then present a pedagogical framework designed to increase the relevance of instructed L2 education through the structured juxtaposition of digital vernaculars with more formal ‘classroom’ genres of language use, an approach I and colleagues are calling bridging activities (e.g., Thorne & Reinhardt, 2008). In conclusion, an argument is made for the continued exploration of new media genres of language use and their selective inclusion into instructed L2 pedagogy, processes, and curricula.

Here’s the link.

For me, there’s a lot to like in this presentation. The world of the web provides great (language) learning opportunities for both social and linguistic reasons. Everything is in place: technology, access, digital skills. Bridging learners from the classroom into the real world should be part of any language program, anywhere. For that to happen, real questions about the  “content” of courses needs to happen, and teachers themselves must break out of a very established culture of what language teaching and learning is and what it is for.







Pragamatic Chaos: The Physics of Culture

Sometimes things cluster. They appear close enough together that patterns emerge. Today I would like to introduce a cluster of items that I’ve recently come across courtesy of Yahoo movies, TED, and the BBC.

Let’s start with Yahoo movies, where I regularly go to watch the previews for upcoming movies that I will mostly never see. I feel each chew of my lunch with my headset on as I run through tw0-minute introductions to horror flicks, kid movies, chick flicks, made-to-be blockbusters, and occasionally very interesting movies whose titles I hopefully will recognize in a year or so when they show up for rental here in Japan. Among the few previews I watched a few weeks back was Moneyball, more because it was there than because it stars Brad Pitt, is about baseball, or is the story of Billy Beane–a list with two didn’t-really-cares and one didn’t-know. But to my surprise, the topic and the movie grabbed my interest. Because of this:  Sabermetrics. Sabermetrics is the use of empirical statistical evidence to evaluate past success and predict future success. In my understanding of baseball, it is a game of statistics, and so a movie based on a book based on a  team that uses a new statistical approach to get phenomenal results with fractional investments made me interested in the topic of how someone could effectively use more stats, different stats, in a world driven by stats, and make a big difference. It is a merging of cultural self-awareness and math that allows for the seeing of things that are there but had not been noticed, because people lived with a different culture and because they didn’t do/ read the math. The stats people watched had been based on old thinking about the game, knowledge and norms amassed over generations–prevalent and flawed, or at least incomplete.

And then yesterday a BBC article steered me toward a TED talk. Skim the article but watch every moment of the presentation. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Kevin Slavin begins to explain the physics of culture. The talk is mostly about Wall Street and the algorithms they use to play the market and the infrastructure being built to give those algorithms a few milliseconds headstart to do their job, but his comments about culture and algorithms brought me back to Moneyball and how things people think of as esoteric (and by esoteric I mean knowable only by a select group that does not include many people and all machines) are knowable, convertible into algorithms, and effective on you. Did you know that 70 % of choices made on Netflix are the result of suggestions made by an algorithm, one called Pragmatic Chaos? Or that algorithms are helping to decide what movies get made at all?

This is a challenge to culture and I do not mean big “C” culture, but rather the way we view what culture is, who creates it, and what it means for all of us. The BBC article sounds practically ominous:

…our electronic overlords are already taking control, and they are doing it in a far more subtle way than science fiction would have us believe. Their weapon of choice – the algorithm. Behind every smart web service is some even smarter web code. From the web retailers – calculating what books and films we might be interested in, to Facebook’s friend finding and image tagging services, to the search engines that guide us around the net. It is these invisible computations that increasingly control how we interact with our electronic world.

In typical hyperbolic  fashion this confuses the point with the fear. It is not only about our electronic worlds, and if we have overlords it is by virtue of not understanding ourselves and our own culture(s) very well, not because some new type of insidious new electronic overlords have recently been put in place.

Jesse Schell: Games and Authenticity: When Games Invade Real Life


In the previous post I wrote about Jane McGonigal and her views on how gamers can save the world. Well, Jesse Schell, game designer, teacher, and author, has a slightly different take on the increasingly prominent role that games will play in the future in a spring 2010  DICE talk (available here via TED). He draws a line from the recent spate of reality-fudging games like the Wii Fit, Guitar Hero, and Mafia Wars (indeed he takes Facebook games as his starting point) to a future where game-like point systems are in place for everything from brushing your teeth longer to taking public transport to getting to work on time.

Schell’s vision of the future seems more plausible than McGonigal’s and in that sense it is more frightening. But both actually  see their visions as ultimately leading to improvements–using gamer energy and ideas to solve problems in the case of McGonigal, and using increased monitoring by sensors to improve personal behavior in the case of Schell. Interesting ideas and interesting optimism. Of course, one might succumb to a moment of skepticism and point out the many weapons that were meant to end wars or gifts to mankind that ended up causing more problems than they helped, or refer people to the darker versions of state and/or corporate control contained in books such as 1984. But it’s probably better to be optimistic about the future since we (collectively) don’t exactly have the option of whether to go there or not.

Jane McGonigal’s Thoughts on Gaming

Global gamers

On February 3rd, Jane McGonigal appeared on The Colbert Report. This woman has an opinion that you might be interested in. Because it is weird. Count. Er. Intu. Itive. Interesting. Weird. She is a game designer and wants the world to play more games and thinks that if people play more, this will contribute to solving the world’s problems. Let’s unwrap this a bit, starting with some statistics she points out in her TED talk of March, 2010.

People in the world play 3 billion hours of games each week.

World of Warcraft players have logged in 5.93 million years of game play to date. The average WoW player plays for 21 hours a week.

The average young person “in countries with strong gaming cultures” will spend 10,000 hours of time playing games by the age of 21.

Let that soak in for a moment. Then think about this: 10,000 hours roughly equals the total amount of time we spend in school K-12. Gaming, she says, represents “a parallel track of education.” And 10,000 hours is a term widely being used as a rough estimate of how many hours of effortful study are required for mastery of a skill (I first heard of it in Scientific American’s The Expert Mind written by Philip Ross in August 2006, but if you Google “10,000 hours of effortful study”, you’ll see how widely used this number has become).

Back to Jane. She says, gamers are getting good at or have developed a bond with 4 things:

  • Urgent optimism (or extreme self-motivation to tackle obstacles immediately, coupled with a belief in success)
  • Weaving a tight social fabric (playing games together builds trust)
  • Blissful productivity (gaming is actually “hard work” and gamers are willing to do it)
  • Epic meaning (the feeling of working towards meaningful goals–i.e., save the world)

Gaming creates “super-empowered hopeful individuals.” How can these people and this energy, this time, and this skill be put to use in improving the world? That is her question. She thinks it is possible and she is working on it now. By getting people to play games about life-connected issues, you can effect change. She thinks that challenging immersive experiences can be life-changing. Here is her TED talk. And here is Evoke, one of the games she helped develop.

Jane McGonigal’s blog

Edward Castronova’s blog (Indiana University professor of Telecommunications with a focus on games and social issues)

Aug. 3 LET 50 Presentation


The venue for my presentation had neither a computer nor an Internet connection. But it actually fit nicely with the theme of the presentation, making use of the Internet even when your classes are not connected. Below is a link for the presentation I would have shown if the classroom had been connected. It also contains all things I introduced to the participants.

Presentation Software: Prezi


The ubiquitous presentation software PowerPoint is so common that it would be hard to imagine watching or giving a presentation without it (apologies to Mac users who have been living happily without PP for years, but I’m speaking mostly to PC users here). And though PP abuse is rampant and a whole generation of learners is coming through the school system now having experienced content organized on slides, usually more for the benefit of the presenter/teacher than the learners themselves. Having a visual element in a presentation offers countless options and benefits if done right so let’s be clear: good PP=good, bad PP= bad. And by good I mean not only eye-catching, but organized and constructed in a way that makes the content easier to understand and harder to forget. But PP is so commonplace these days that it has lost much of its power to grab attention. Indeed it probably has more of the opposite effect on people. So strong is this that when you see a different style of presentation it can be really impressive. At an Adobe conference last year I saw a Flash presentation that featured items floating in space and the screen zooming in on them one after another. It was impressive, but it was out of reach for anyone but someone with advanced Flash skills. But now there is Prezi. Prezi lets you create presentations much like that Flash presentation I saw. You put all your “slides” on one large sheet and zoom in and out of individual items. It’s kind of hard to understand unless you see it. Take a look. Give it a try and impress everyone at your next presentation.