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Submitted by Joanna Fu on Thu, 2012-04-26 15:02

In light of the several talks that we've had recently about scoring essays and other free text response sections on tests, I came across this example of a poorly written essay that could get awarded a top grade from the E.T.S. e-Rater system.

The accompanying article notes the following flaws in the technology:

1. The e-Rater cannot decipher truth, so a student will not be penalized for writing that the War of 1812 started in 1945.

2. Longer essays (even if they are filled with nonsensical sentences) are awarded higher scores than shorter essays. The e-Rater also prefers long sentences to short.

3. When in doubt, using a big word in place of a smaller word increases one's score.

It's fascinating to see how far technology has evolved so that we can now use an algorithm to measure the quality and development of an argument -- and it's also interesting to see how much further there is to go before a computer scorer can fully replace a human grader.

Submitted by Joanna Fu on Wed, 2012-04-18 15:23

In 2010, the West Virginia Department of Education began Learn21, a website that offers interactive online games for students from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade in the following subject areas: math, science, social studies, language arts, wellness, art, music, dance, theatre, agriculture, finance, and engineering.

Teachers can use the games in class, and students can access the website when not in school if they would like to play some more or review a subject. Learn21 offers a wide variety of subject areas for study -- the humanities are prominently featured in addition to math and science -- and the entire site is free. Some of the games are quite innovative and intriguing, even for adults: for example, "The Great Flu" in Grade 9-12 Wellness attempts to educate players about the dangers and difficulties of containing flu pandemics.

Such a large database of games and tools requires ongoing maintenance -- I noticed that several of the links to games (e.g., "Multiple Percents" in Grade 9-12 math resources) no longer work. The games linked on Learn21 are on third party sites, and the West Virginia Department of Education claims no affiliation or association with these sites -- which means that some of these games are very well developed and supported while others are not. In addition, some of the instructional tools and videos are slow to load and do not offer assistance when it would be helpful to the user.

Submitted by Joanna Fu on Wed, 2012-04-11 17:33

I've found that whenever I meet someone who owns a tablet, I want to know what usage habits are, and when they see a need for a tablet over a smartphone. The infographics below help to summarize things:



via: Adweek

Submitted by Joanna Fu on Mon, 2012-04-09 13:11

As we've been working to revamp a couple of existing EdLab projects (Survey Sidekick, Pocket Knowledge), I've been thinking a lot about how people will be using these products and how we should design these tools so that people will prefer to use them over anything else. For example, with Survey Sidekick, I know that I've always preferred to begin the survey brainstorming process in a plain text editor before moving it to the actual creator. What features should Survey Sidekick therefore have to possess to compel me to use it through all stages of survey development? How do we redesign Pocket Knowledge so people think to continually return to it as a resource for research?

This TechCrunch article discusses “habit testing” -- measuring and collecting data about user habits in order to understand who your users are, what aspects of the product is habit forming, and why those qualities are habit forming.

Submitted by Joanna Fu on Thu, 2012-04-05 14:27

I'm fascinated by games, though I sometimes feel as though I come to them from an outsider perspective – I barely played any while growing up (I didn't encounter a single console until the ripe old age of 25!). I've generally resisted playing any games on my iPhone, and I've tried but failed to see the addictiveness of popular games like Angry Birds, Words with Friends, and Fruit Ninja. But games still hold a special allure, and I love trying to understand why and how people play.

In the New York Times article "Just One More Game..." Sam Anderson discusses the recent proliferation of mobile games, as well as the addictiveness of these "stupid games" and their impact on productivity. In one memorable line he notes, "Plants vs. Zombies, ate up, I'm going to guess, a full 'Anna Karenina' of my leisure time."

I do feel that he fails to address one key point: that not all games are “stupid games.” One could make a point that all forms of entertainment produce enjoyable but unchallenging media. But a movie like “Wrath of the Titans” can't (and shouldn't) be compared to “Mulholland Drive,” nor should “Twilight” be judged by the same standards as “Madame Bovary.” I would argue that “smart games” develop a strong affinity for characterization and storytelling in players and can hone puzzle-solving skills. I'd like to see how educational games can harness the qualities that these "smart games" possess.

Submitted by Joanna Fu on Wed, 2012-02-29 12:48

According to a new report from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and the Imagining the Internet Center at Elon University, Millennials (those born between 1981-2000) will both “benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives.” While a slight majority of respondents felt that the future for the hyperconnected will generally be positive, there are clear worries that this connection will also lead to a thirst for instant gratification and shallow decision-making abilities.

I can certainly empathize with study participants about the difficulties of living at a time where there is so much new content being created -- but what I found to be most interesting in the study (and also relevant to the EdLab) were the predictions about the most desired life skills for young people in 2020. They included:

- public problem-solving through cooperative work (crowd-sourcing solutions)

Submitted by Joanna Fu on Fri, 2012-02-17 15:38

Curators at the British Library are in the process of creating an archive to preserve computer game websites and gaming culture. They are specifically interested in collecting resources that "discuss the cultural and societal impact of computer games, for example research on the impact of games on children's development."

They are looking for gamers and designers to suggest material they consider worthy of preservation -- what are some seminal games that come to mind?

One note: while the British Library's collection will be U.K.-centric, there is a similar archive, the "How They Got Game" project at Stanford University.