Thursday, November 20, 2014

#EdTechBridge in Action - Software testing for BrainPop

#EdTechBridge is all about collaboration.  The notion behind the community is to develop authentic relationships that are mutually beneficial to developers and end users.  As #EdTechBridge evolved it became clear that most developers do understand the value and were looking for opportunities to create these relationships.

A few weeks back, Katya asked if BrainPOP could do some software testing with my game design students as well as Matt Farber's (@MatthewFarber) Social Studies students.  For my students, this is a great opportunity as one of the key elements of my course is iterative design (the process of designing, beginning development, product testing, receiving feedback, and continuing development based on tester feedback).  It is also important for my students to understand the importance of peer testing.  The visit from BrainPOP was incredibly valuable for my students and an authentic testing environment for BrainPOP.  This is what #EdTechBridge is all about.

Katya, Scott, and Will came to visit two of my classes yesterday.  Katya is the lead on user testing, Scott is a project manager for in house games developed by BrainPOP and Will is one of the game designers.  

One class was my 8th grade video game design and development class.  They worked with  paper prototypes of the game.  There were two variations of the prototype to test certain mechanics that brainpop is considering for the game.  It was great to see students make comments playing one version that affirmed the value of the added mechanic of the other version.  This whole exercise was especially valuable for me as a teacher and a learner.  Prototyping is an important part of the design process.  My students create design documents and sketches of levels, but rarely create and test games with a true paper prototype.  It was great for me to see the process.  Likewise, it was great for my students to experience and served as a natural springboard to discuss the process as it relates to their games.  

My seventh grade game design and digital storytelling students played a digital version of the game.  This group will be going through their first iteration of peer testing soon so it was great for them to experience the process and provide valuable feedback.  There is no doubt that their experience with peer testing will be enhanced from having had this experience.  Observing the students playing the games and commenting on the game mechanics, periodic glitches, etc. was great.  I think they were able to understand the true value of their contribution.  



Matt Farber teaches middle school social studies.  He uses games and simulations to authentically model real world events.  His students entire school year has been framed by the Game Theory BrainPOP video, in which Tim and Moby explained how rational people make important decisions—just like in a game.
Farber uses digital and tabletop games to support his project-based curriculum.  His students have playtested games from GlassLab (SimCityEDU, Argubot Academy) and E-Line Media (Historia)—both companies that also playtest with teachers and students.  In mid-November, Farber’s class tested two versions of a new BrainPOP game: two variations of a paper prototype and one version of it digitized.  Both were multiplayer games.  Like GlassLab and E-Line, BrainPOP brings in teachers and students early on in the design process.  Because students knew that their input mattered, the BrainPOP playtest gave everyone an increased degree of engagement

Aside from resolving technical glitches, the iterative design process helps designers create fun and meaningful experiences.  Playtesting with intended users sheds light on issues that designers may have overlooked.  For example, one of Farber’s students pointed out that when she dragged a digital object onto a part of the screen, a box with a red outline appeared.  The student informed the design team that the color red looked as if she was doing something wrong—even though her action was correct.  This detail would not have been noticed if BrainPOP did not playtest with student users.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Open Ended (Open Educational) Resources: A Guest Blog Post by @TeacherTabitha

This week. the #EdTechBridge chat topic is #OER or Open Educational Resources, also referred to as Open Ended Resources.  Teacher Tabitha (@TeacherTabitha) will be joining us as a co-moderator. I couldn't help but ask her after catching her tweet this morning, 

Following is the blog post written by Tabitha.  She asks some very important questions that will certainly come up during our chat on Wednesday.  Below the post are my thoughts in response to the original post.  

Image Grabbed From:


First, I have to admit that I had no idea what #OER meant a week ago. After participating in #EdTEchBridge‘s discussion last week, the discussion leader, Katya Hott (@katyamuses) proposed talking about #OERs or #ECE next week. I’ve been in the education world enough to know that #ECEstood for Early Childhood Education, but I am so glad I asked what it meant because I got several responses back from not only Katya, but also Karen Fasimpaur (@kfasimpaur), K12 Open Ed (@k12opened), and Alex Kluge (@AlexVKluge) as well as encouragement from Steven Isaacs (@mr_isaacs) to return again. After their explanations and a little Googling (I found this article) I felt like I was truly apart of a community where we could discuss ideas and I could contribute. Thank you guys for pulling me in, I hope this gives encouragement to other lurkers to join in on chats they are following.
I have a Love/Hate Relationship with #OERs. I use them all the time, in fact when I was asked to start a technology class at our school, that is where I gathered and curated the vast majority of my curriculum from. In fact, my class (or my sanity…or my job) would probably not exist without them. I agree completely with the concept that knowledge should be given freely and that learning should not cost you a thing. The problem that I have is that peoples time, your time, is finite and should cost a premium. Finding the balance in this equation, knowledge gathering/giving vs. time it takes to create resources to learn from, is my (although maybe selfish) problem.
I know that if it were not for other educators and developers that created resources that were free to me, I would be out of a job or have a very poorly designed course for a lack of materials and resources. People that develop games and tools that actively engage my kids are truly some of my favorite people. I strive to be like them for others by learning new skills (currently working on learning HTML/CSS/Javascript) to help develop resources for myself that I can then share, but then I become selfish.
Why should all of the time that I spent developing this, be free for others to consume without some form of compensation for my time? I will gladly give you the resource, but the time I spend is valuable and that is what needs to be compensated.
As a specialist teacher at a private school I make well below (about 15k-20k less than) what the average (public school) teacher makes in our area. I say that not to throw myself a pity party, but to say that if I could use the skills I acquire to help supplement my income so I’m not living paycheck to paycheck and better myself and my families financial standing, shouldn’t I?
Most developers of the content that I use are paid in some form or another. Maybe the content they provide is free because they have advertisers ( comes to mind), they are a developer and are paid through grants ( comes to mind), they charge a fee to use their content ( comes to mind), or they might work for a company (Google) whose purpose it to create and spread knowledge freely to the masses, but they (the individual developers who contribute) are all compensated for the time they spent to develop the materials.
As a private individual, is the only way to develop something while still being compensated to have advertising on the product, work for someone else, or to simply give it away?
Then other questions arise. How to I get the product out to the masses? How to I help and serve those using the product while still maintaining the full time teaching job that I love?
What are your thoughts on #OER?
Have you developed something, if so what was your experience like?
Have you used #OER from others? If so, do you know if they were compensated? Was the #OER that you used something that you could change and develop further or was it simply a free tool?
I would love to hear your thoughts!
@TeacherTabitha is a private school technology teacher and school technology coach in Texas. She lurked on Twitter for almost a year before deciding to actually participate in a chat, got pulled in and loved the experience. She is passionate about becoming a #ConnectedEducator and trying to pull in other newbies as she begins. Follow her on Twitter @TeacherTabitha.

Thank you for posting this as it raises such great questions and certainly can spark our discussion for Wednesday night’s #EdTechBridge chat!
I will gladly respond to your questions…
What are your thoughts on #OER?
I am in complete favor of #OER! I believe that education should be free and we should share our ideas and resources. I am a firm believer in the power of constructivist learning. I learn from others all the time. In turn, I find that I have much to offer based on my areas of expertise and often this extends the learning to include my contribution. As such, we are learning together. I believe that I would be in quite a bind if it weren’t for freely available resources. In turn, I appreciate that I can contribute to the growing body of learning resources. Of course, there are many takers out there and quite honestly that doesn’t really bother me. If I can offer something and it is helpful to others that’s great. If it can further the teaching and learning of game design and computer science in an authentic way, that’s great. My contributions help me to be a leader in the field and that continues to lead to wonderful opportunities for me.
Have you developed something, if so what was your experience like?
I have developed many resources. I use them in my teaching and am happy to share them in the hopes that someone else can benefit. Mark Suter (@garlicsuter) and I have been creating and curating content for the GameMaker Studio community by organizing and providing content for the YoYoGames Learn site ( Likewise I have shared resources and lesson plans on sites like Graphite, GameDesk, the Brainpop Educators blog, and my own blogs ( and In addition, Katya Hott (@katyamuses) and I started the #EdTechBridge community. I would have to think this falls under the #OER idea as well. It has been so rewarding to bring together people with a common interest in #EdTech and see them develop true collaborative relationships. This has been a labor of love and our hope is that the community will begin to grow both in numbers and in participation as others offer their resources.
Have you used #OER from others? If so, do you know if they were compensated? Was the #OER that you used something that you could change and develop further or was it simply a free tool?
ABSOLUTELY! I am completely self taught in terms of what I teach. Well, I say self-taught, but really that means I have found incredible resources to learn from. The majority have been free. I would be in quite a bind if these resources did not exist. I do know that some people get compensated. I contribute $1 per month to a user on Patreon to help subsidize his creation of tutorial videos which can ultimately help me and my students. I certainly don’t mind and while it’s not a lot, I feel like I am supporting his efforts as in his case they take time from his contract work which is where he makes his money (aside from the money he now makes thanks to Patreon). While I am supporting this I do believe in FREE! I have mixed feelings about sites like Teachers paying Teachers. I say mixed feelings as I am not against it, but at the same time I feel that we can grow quite a community of sharing by contributing to the free eco-system that has evolved.
I hope more people respond! Great thought provoking discussion for sure!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Social Media as PD

Hi Everyone,
It's been a while since I've posted here.  That is primarily because our #EdTechBridge transcripts are now being seamlessly archived thanks to @nurph!

This week I was asked a question from an administrator....

I heard that you run a twitter chat weekly.  I am presenting a workshop at the K-5 meetings next week on using Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram as professional development tools.  If you have any info you would like me to share regarding your chat or the benefits you have found regarding the use of these tools I would love to hear it.  

Well, Ask and ye shall receive!  First, let me say that I am so pleased that this particular administrator is bringing this topic to her department meeting.  It is so important for administrators to be connected and sharing the value with their teachers. Bravo.

Here's my reply:

Hi Kathy,
Finally came up for air and wanted to make sure I got some information and hopefully insight your way. 
I'll start with my views on twitter and social media as professional development and the value of cultivating a PLN (Professional/Personal Learning Network).  Twitter has been a tremendous tool for professional growth for me for the past 3 years.  That may even be understated as it has been amazing beyond words.  I have developed relationships with amazing educators and other stakeholders around the world.  Generally speaking, the relationships begin on twitter but the relationship that develops beyond twitter is where the real value lies.  My participation and sharing of what I do, resources, etc. has led to amazing opportunities for me including presenting at National Conferences, collaborating with EdTech developers, educators, etc. and being invited to events by organizations like the Gates Foundation.  In fact, this past weekend I was at a convening in New Orleans for a Gates Foundation organization called ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers).  The Gates foundation took care of everything including transportation, lodging, food, etc while engaging incredible teachers from around the country in inspiring PD all weekend.  It doesn't take much to become a connected educator and once started there's truly no turning back!  The community continues to be refreshing and encouraging as we all continue to grow.
So, that was a little context.
The weekly chat that I co-founded and co-moderate is called EdTechBridge.  Our mission is to help foster collaborative relationships among educational stakeholders (EdTech developers, Teachers, Researchers, Parents, and Students) in order to develop better EdTech products to ultimately enhance learning opportunities for the Students we serve.  My part in the collaboration started based on work I've been doing in terms of collaboration with companies like E-Line Media, YoYoGames, and GameMaker.  A developer from E-line media (and now brainpop) asked if I would like to co-present a problem solving session on bridging the divide between Entrepreneurs (Developers) and Teachers at South by Southwest EDU in Austin this past March.  Our commitment was to work with the attendees to break down the issues and develop a community that would live beyond the conference.  Our primary vehicle has been the twitter chat which takes place on Wednesday nights at 7pm EST. The community is awesome and is made up of a nice mix of people from edtech companies as well as teachers, researchers, parents and students.  Each week we have a different topic and generally invite the person who's topic idea it is to co-moderate with us.  It's been truly amazing and I have met a number of our chat participants on my trips to various conferences.  That's the best part.  Outside of the chat we are continually hearing stories of the relationships that are forming and the collaboration that is coming from them.   You can see the past chat transcripts and stats by visiting and the #EdTechBridge blog (  Tonight's chat can be accessed through @nurph by visiting  Nurph is nice for people new (and old) to twitter chats because it puts you in a chat room environment for the chat making it far less distracting compared to trying to follow the chat through twitter or other twitter apps.  Generally speaking, people can always access the chat by visiting
While I'm at it, I'll also throw out a plug for my new twitter chat addiction, #BFC530.  This 'spark' chat is held at 5:30 am EST and 5:30 am MST (7:30 EST).  It's only a 15 minute chat with one question and a different moderator each day.  It's a great community of people. The chat happens to have been started by another fine NJ educator (@ScottCapro) and it is a truly inspiring way to start the day.  I get up close to then anyway and find that lately I am popping out of bed instead of hitting snooze several times as the chat really starts the day off right. 
Please feel free to reach out for any more information or support with regard to bringing more Bernards Township Educators on board.  I can no longer imagine being a teacher without a PLN.
Have a great session this afternoon!!

P.S.  Hope to see you tonight at 7pm EST for our weekly chat! 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Relationship building is the KEY to #edtech collaboration

Teacher relationship-fatigue extends beyond the classroom

(This post co-written by me and my like-minded buddy Lindsey Own. Most of the writing credit goes to Lindsey :) )

“Relationships” are a hot topic.  Social media is all about streamlining and scaling social and business relationships, social relationships are studied closely for their effects on psychology and health, and “building customer relationships” is a frequently discussed goal of both startups and established businesses.  This certainly applies to the education technology world as well - building relationships between schools and technology providers is critical in driving the disruptions and growth we’re all striving for.

Simultaneously, a thoroughly established “pain point” in education is lack of time for teachers. Gunnar Counselman even recently wrote on EdSurge about how teachers struggle to maintain deep relationships with the very very many students they are tasked with educating.  Although Counselman’s article is ostensibly about teacher-student relationships, much of it applies to teacher-edtech relationships as well. To quote the EdSurge Innovate introduction to his article: “But there's a natural limit to how many bonds teachers can create and maintain.”

Take these two points - (1) customer relationships are critical, and (2) teachers are so overwhelmed with lack of time that even maintaining relationships with their students is challenging.  Based on those two points, the current most common method used by well-meaning technology providers to reach out to new customers makes absolutely no sense.  From where we sit, that method seems to be cold-calls declaring a hot new product “perfect for your classroom!” and requesting beta testing, watching informational videos, or even setting up a coffee date. This is the opposite of relationship-building.

We are two enthusiastic and vocal classroom teachers, who probably expend far more energy than is really sustainable on our pursuits of excellence in driving forward innovation in education.  We hope that this means that, being so visible, we receive far more of these cold-calls than our beleaguered colleagues.  They come in every online format - Twitter, email, LinkedIn, and more - and are relatively constant at about one per week.  Often, they are for products with little relevance to our classrooms, demonstrating the clear shot-gun approach being used in sending out the requests.

As we see it, this method of reaching out to potential customers has some of the following effects:
  • teachers are fatigued by the constant onslaught, resulting in less willingness to try any new technologies
  • teachers are less likely to become an advocate for the product in the future, left with a bad taste from the impersonal introduction
  • receiving few responses, technology developers may continue to sit in the myth that teachers don’t care enough to try new innovations

We are working hard to support stronger, more lasting and meaningful relationships between teachers and developers of those products that are meaningful to their classrooms. Steve co-moderates the #edtechbridge chat with a partner who works at BrainPop, building a great community to develop the authentic relationships that will ultimately provide a larger impact towards creating an understanding / buy-in for new education technology products.  Lindsey co-organizes the Seattle EdTech Meetup with a partner who works at Seattle’s ActivelyLearn.  We both spoke - on separate panels - on exactly this topic at 2014’s SXSWedu. We continuously try to support positive interactions, including trying to explain to shotgunners why their emails were poorly received.

We have a few ideas for how to support building the kinds of relationships that will connect education technology developers with teachers who will become their advocates and even partners.
  • Target recipients of your contacts carefully, and describe why they are the type of teacher you are looking for. Comment on something *specific* about that particular teacher that caught your attention (and not just that it said “teacher” on their LinkedIn profile).
  • Start conversations, rather than jumping straight to the “ask.”
  • Even better, before sending any emails in the first place: immerse yourself in teacher conversations as a fellow learner, and get to know the individual contributors to those conversations. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites all have great conversations happening every day. (See the second sentence of this opinion.)
  • When you do ask for feedback, do so in a way that will elicit deeper answers.  (Reading the answers to boring questions is almost as miserable as answering them.)

We believe that innovative technology has the power to genuinely disrupt education for the better, improving learning outcomes for all students.  We are strong advocates within our schools and in the larger edtech community for driving the meaningful use of technology throughout the learning process.  And we are dismayed when our colleagues express fatigue at being hounded by too many options in finding the right technology tools for their classrooms.

We continue to hope and work towards strong, positive, and deep relationships between teachers and education technology developers.  We hope to see more developers thinking critically about how to reach out to teachers in a way that builds relationships rather than generic shotgun emails - again, as Gunnar Counselman said - “for the sake of efficiency, making them cold, transactional and unmotivating.”

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I teach 6th and 7th graders in "health" and "science" classes, but work on empathy, global literacy, systems-thinking, evidence-based decision-making, and other such 21st Center Skills in those classes. I'm also a 7th grade "advisor," which at my school means I am the point-of-contact teacher for 15 7th graders as we work on goal-setting and reflection; social and emotional development, awareness, and skills; community-building activities; and much much more. I tweet @LindseyOwn