books, tech, lessons from a librarian

Month: March 2017

The Future is Now. Librarians are Ready.

the future is now. sci-fi graphic with librarians

“Information is king” and “Knowledge is power” are how the sayings go. Though Sir Francis Bacon’s knowledge quote still rings true, the first would seem to be a 20th Century adage that should be retired. In the 1900s information was siloed and access was somewhat by caste. There are still remnants of the tiers of access in today’s education society. Unequal school funding and geographical economic differences result in imbalanced access to information, with factors such as reliable high-speed internet and the need for functioning technology playing a role. Even with those roadblocks, the arrival of the Internet and open access to networked information has begun to shift the balance of power to where the new saying is closer to “Information navigators are king”. Merely having access to information is now not enough, rather the desired skill set is knowing how to weed through massive amounts of information in varying forms to figure out what really matters. The mere act of knowing how to navigate helps to prevent failure due to information overload.

My final blog post of this quarter explores ISTE Coaching Standard 4:

Professional Development and Program Evaluation

Performance Indicator B

  • Design, develop, and implement technology rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment.

Guiding questions:

  • What role does administration play when designing professional development for adult learning?
  • How should we advocate for necessary professional learning opportunities when administrators pursue new educational technology initiatives?

Which led me to this triggering question:

  • What role should teacher librarians play in planning and in support of professional development, both at a building level and district-wide?

With the goal of proficient information navigation skills for our students, our thinking must then shift to professional learning for educators. How can we expect to help our students to develop these skills if we haven’t experienced the learning process for ourselves? 21st Century learning should look different as it’s focusing on a different outcome. Unfortunately, most professional development offerings bear little resemblance to the teaching we’re hoping to successfully implement with our students. Gaining 21st Century skills requires different emphases. Educator Greg Miller shares thoughts on this idea in a 2014 blog post: “Understanding Networked Learning is an essential part of contemporary pedagogy. Connecting through networks in a digital world is when a learner accesses information through a number of connections and uses that information to construct knowledge, often through those same networks. Whether it is Big Data or Linked Data as Tim Berness-Lee (founder of World Wide Web) refers to it in ‘The next Web of open’, linked data teachers need to be clear about how data, information and digital technology knowledge are interrelated and the opportunities that come with knowledge building.” (Miller 2014)

So how do we make the shift? Librarians. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) states: “The mission of the school library program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information; students are empowered to be critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers, and ethical users of information.” (AASL) The central focus is on developing effective “users of information” and not “responders to information” or “consumers of information”. There is a central difference in that “using” means going beyond a passive role into a position of active learning. Librarians are in a unique position and we must utilize our positioning to integrate 21st Century Skills with learning for staff and students alike.  

In 2015, the Alliance for Excellent Education created the Future Ready Schools (FRS) program to “help school districts develop comprehensive plans to achieve successful student learning outcomes by (1) transforming instructional pedagogy and practice while (2) simultaneously leveraging technology to personalize learning in the classroom.” (Future Ready Schools) The Future Ready Librarians (FRL) movement expands on the work of the FRS initiative. Here’s Mark Ray, former Washington State Teacher of the Year and librarian, and current Chief Digital Officer for Vancouver Public Schools, in Vancouver, WA, in a TED Talk about how librarians can and should shift our role:

This shift is not an instantaneous one, nor is it always painless, but it is necessary. “Librarians have traditionally served an important role in school systems as teachers, particularly in teaching students how to access information. Now, in Vancouver and elsewhere, librarians’ roles are evolving, as districts count on them to help teachers use technology to improve instruction, and to troubleshoot problems with digital systems as they emerge.” (Brzozowski 2015) and “Utilizing the ‘whole school’ view, the librarian is in a key position to contribute to the development of strong professional learning communities through professional development and technology integration.” (Dees, Mayer, Morin, and Willis 2010)

Future Ready Librarians frameworkFuture Ready Librarians graphic from http://futureready.org/about-the-effort/librarians/

As you can see in the FRL framework above, collaboratively developing professional learning opportunities for staff is right in the future ready librarian’s wheelhouse: Collaborative Leadership; Curriculum, Instruction & Assessment; and Personalized Professional Learning. With that in mind, one has to wonder why so many districts in recent years have made cuts to library programs? One consideration: in many cases, were those librarians working to make themselves indispensable when it came to working collaboratively with staff, students, and community alike. Were they focused on personalized student learning as an end goal? On the other hand, were the relevant administrators providing the funding and supports necessary for the librarians to achieve those lofty 21st Century goals? And if not, why not? If ever there was a group of educators with the desired skillset for this initiative, it’s librarians. “ISTE recently convened a small group of distinguished leaders to share the success they were having with PD models that integrate context, collaboration, and technology. In analyzing their success, three essential concepts emerged. The most effective PD was: 1. Technology-rich, 2. Delivered through a coaching model, and 3. Enhanced by the power of community and social learning.” (Beglau, M., & et al. 2011)

This video from FRS showcases some of the work being done to develop teacher leaders to strengthen professional learning:

Finally, created by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, this video is certainly applicable to education and professional learning in the U.S. as well:

Future Ready Schools need Future Ready Librarians. Future Ready Librarians are uniquely equipped to lead the way and should actively advocate for the opportunity to lead professional learning for their colleagues. Returning to the AASL’s guiding statement: “The mission of the school library program is to ensure that students and staff are effective users of ideas and information.” We need to provide opportunities for staff to experience information overload, to provide opportunities for creativity by asking open-ended questions and allowing the learners (and teachers) to explore solutions that are authentic and applicable to their world. We need to provide guidance to ensure equitable and open access to information and resources. Calling these 21st Century Skills does them a disservice, as it makes it seem as if they’re skills for the learners of the future. The future is now and librarians are needed more than ever before.


Abilock, D., Harada, V., & Fontichiaro, K. (2013, October). Growing schools: Effective professional development. Teacher Librarian, 41(1), 8-13.

Alabi, J., & Weare, Jr., W. (2013, August 23). The power of observation: How librarians can benefit from the peer review of teaching even without a formal PROT program” [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/gaintlit/2013/2013/1

Alliance for Excellent Education. (2017, February 14). Future Ready Librarians: What’s not to love? [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2rPnjx_5yM

Beglau, M., & et al. (2011). Technology, coaching and community: Power partners for improved professional development in primary and secondary education. Retrieved from International Society for Technology in Education website: https://www.ri-iste.org/Resources/Documents/Coaching_Whitepaper_digital.pdf

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (n.d.). Teachers know best – K-12 education. Retrieved March 1, 2017, from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/2015/05/teachers-know-best-2/

Brzozowski, C. (2015, April 13). K-12 librarians’ roles shift to meet digital demands – Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/04/15/k-12-librarians-roles-shift-to-meet-digital.html

Dees, D., Mayer, A., Morin, H., & Willis, E. (2010). Librarians as leaders in professional learning communities through technology, literacy, and collaboration. Library Media Connection, 29(2), 10.

Farkas, M. (2015, January 6). Peer learning in library instruction [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2015/01/06/peer-learning-in-library-instruction/

Future Ready Schools. (2017). Future Ready Librarians. Retrieved from http://futureready.org/librarians

International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). Standards for coaches. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

LaGuardia, C. (2014, March 20). Professional development: What’s it to you? Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/03/opinion/not-dead-yet/professional-development-whats-it-to-you-not-dead-yet/#_

Miller, G. (2014, May 31). Teacher professional learning in a digital world [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://gregmiller68.com/2014/05/31/teacher-professional-learning-in-a-digital-world/

Moreillon, Judi. “Building Your Personal Learning Network (PLN): 21st-Century School Librarians Seek Self- Regulated Professional Development Online.” Knowledge Quest, vol. 44, no. 3, 2016, p. 64.

Murray, T. C. (2017, March/April). Seven gears principals can leverage to enhance technology use. Principal, 96(4), 8-11. Retrieved from http://www.naesp.org/principal-marchapril-2017-technology-all/principal-marchapril-2017-technology-all

Ray, M. & Trettin, S. (2016). Librarians connected to National Future Ready Initiative. Teacher Librarian, 44(1), 8-11.

Wolf, M. A., Jones, R., & Gilbert, D. (2014). Leading in and beyond the library. Retrieved from Alliance for Excellent Education website: http://all4ed.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/BeyondTheLibrary.pdf

Connecting the Dots: Is there room for creativity in professional development?

connect the dots header image

Dot-to-dot puzzles. My kid loves them. Always has. Now in sixth grade, his favorites still start off 1-2-3, but now they’re cranked up to 11. Extreme puzzles like this one:   extreme dot to dot of a giraffe
This giraffe puzzle (sorry to spoil the surprise… it’s a giraffe) has over 1300 dots to connect, but the concept is still the same as the first puzzles he completed as a toddler. Find the beginning dot, and then follow the pre-determined path until the image becomes more clear and complete. Reach the final dot and you’re done. Move onto the next puzzle.

Dot-to-dot puzzles are the antithesis of the creative process. Worse than coloring books even… it’s not even about staying inside the lines, you’re literally drawing the line. Nothing in life is as simple as connecting the dots. Nothing in education that prepares our students for life as a grown-up is as simple as finding the starting spot, drawing a straight line from one prescribed dot to the next, and continuing until you reach the end.

In reading and researching the final ISTE Coaching Standard in EDTC 6106 at Seattle Pacific University, I was given this guiding question to explore: What does the ideal technology rich professional learning program look like? During my exploration the question & answers I decided on were:

Q: How can we integrate creativity into a technology rich professional learning program?

A: Have teachers follow the LAUNCH design process in their learning. Celebrate innovation. Allow for reflection and open communication. Make the collaborative process necessary for success.

So why focus specifically on creativity? Returning to the original analogy, in my 15+ years in education much of what I’ve seen in professional development programs has been a dot-to-dot puzzle. It’s been a prescribed process, with a predetermined product expected. Straying from the order will result in more than a few raised eyebrows and even redirection. Engagement is driven not by innovation but by strict adherence to connecting dots, one after another. The problem is we’re tasked with helping our students to develop the learning and innovation skills that by consensus have been agreed to be critical to success in the 21st Century: Creativity and Innovation; Critical Thinking and Problem Solving; Communication and Collaboration (http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework). How can we hope to achieve success in developing those skills if our own professional learning doesn’t reflect the same values?

I was recently reading a book and came across this quote by educator Bo Adams (It’s About Learning https://itsaboutlearning.org/bo-adams/):bo adams quote

LAUNCH book coverThe book is LAUNCH: Using design thinking to boost creativity and bring out the maker in every student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. Spencer and Juliani have created a design framework that is applicable and incredibly useful for today’s education, for students and teachers alike. The LAUNCH acronym stands for:

Look, Listen, Learn
Ask Tons of Questions
Understand the Process or Problem
Navigate Ideas
Create a Prototype
Highlight and Fix
& launch your work to an audience.

Here’s a video introduction to the LAUNCH design thinking framework:

What I especially love is how the focus is on design and creativity, rather than specific technology “stuff” that may or may not be available to all educators or their students. Allowing for personalization in the learning and design process means that the there is considerable freedom in taking a different approach to find solutions. Juliani and Spencer’s Launch website is filled with great ideas, as are both individual author’s blogs and Twitter feeds.

Related Resources
John Spencer: http://www.spencerauthor.com/
A.J. Juliani: http://ajjuliani.com/
The LAUNCH Cycle: http://thelaunchcycle.com/
The Global Day of Design: http://globaldayofdesign.com/ (coming up soon! — 5/2/2017)

In my opinion “creativity” is the key to success for 21st Century citizens for at least 3 of the 4-Cs in the P21 Framework (http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework). [1] Critical Thinking — higher level skills inherently require creative approaches; [2] Collaboration — going beyond mere collegiality requires creative thinking. Creative thinkers find new ways to collaborate and new partners to collaborate with; and [3] Creativity.

By injecting a requirement of creativity into a technology rich professional learning program, it keeps the focus not on consumption but on creation. It is easy to be distracted by shiny new apps and flashy tech doo-dads, but requiring creativity in the learning means that higher level thinking skills are essential to success. A lot of adults have forgotten what it means to innovate and create for fear of failure. Allowing for failure in the process would be great practice for educators as they begin the process of bringing project-based learning into their classrooms.

The TPACK framework is largely the work of Professors Koehler and Mishra and the Deep-Play Research Group at Michigan State University. This infographic by Mark Anderson (Twitter @ICTEvangelist) provides a great overview on the subject:

TPACK framework(Anderson 2013)

Related Resources:
Punya Mishra, Ph.D.: http://www.punyamishra.com/
Example of Mishra’s work: Mehta, R., & Mishra, P. (2016). Downtime as a Key to Novelty Generation: Understanding the Neuroscience of Creativity with Dr. Rex Jung. TechTrends, 60(6), 528-531. doi:10.1007/s11528-016-0119-3. Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Jung-Interview-Mehta-Mishra-techtrends.pdf
The Deep-Play Research Group at Michigan State University: http://deep-play.com/

So returning to the question, how can we integrate creativity into a technology rich professional learning program? I think the key is understanding that creativity must be a part of the planning, implementation, and product of the educational process, but it shouldn’t be the only focus. TPACK centers on this idea of a balanced approach. When all of the circles (Technology, Content, and Pedagogy) are intersecting, and when creativity is called upon, there you’ll find the sweet spot of learning. The TPACK model reminds me of an early dot-filled infographic from the 1971 Ted Williams book The Science of Hitting. In his mind, arguably the greatest hitter in Major League Baseball history imagined this graphic in each at bat:

Ted Williams batting zone infographic

“My first rule of hitting was to get a good ball to hit. I learned down to percentage points where those good balls were. The box shows my particular preferences, from what I considered my “happy zone” – where I could hit .400 or better – to the low outside corner – where the most I could hope to bat was .230. Only when the situation demands it should a hitter go for the low-percentage pitch.” (Ted Williams)

Williams’s “happy zone” was at the intersection of vision, reach, muscle memory, training, bat angle and speed, and knowing himself as a hitter. His innovation as a baseball player made him a Hall of Famer, and yet his quote acknowledges that there are times to shift your approach “when the situation demands”. One of TPACK’s strength is that it can help educators from losing focus. The targeted learning should be at the intersection of how you teach, what you teach, and what you use. Focus on only one or two of the three and you’ll miss out on the “happy zone”.

The Dot book cover by Peter H. ReynoldsFinally, I couldn’t wrap up this dot-focused post without mentioning one of my all-time favorite picture books. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds is profoundly simple. Vashti is convinced she is not an artist, that she’s not creative. “I just CAN’T draw!” A simple art project (“draw a dot”) transforms Vashti’s life when she realizes there is room for exploration and her spirit and voice. The fear of failure is replaced with pride and ownership, and the book’s ending finds Vashti empowered to pass on her learning to others. Vashti’s development and success was aided by a teacher who provided the necessary tools, a framework that allowed for exploration, and the chance to share her learning with others. My hope is that someday soon it will be more common to find technology rich professional learning that allows for creative growth and innovation. Are we ready to LAUNCH? 3.2.1…


Anderson, M. (2013, May 28). Technological, pedagogical and content knowledge [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://ictevangelist.com/technological-pedagogical-and-content-knowledge/

Fryer, W. (2009, June 13). Moving at the speed of creativity | Blending professional development to focus on content, technology and pedagogy [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.speedofcreativity.org/2009/06/13/blending-professional-development-to-focus-on-content-technology-and-pedagogy/

Juliani, A. J., & Spencer, J. (2016). The Launch Cycle – Bring out the maker in every student. Retrieved from http://thelaunchcycle.com/

Kay, K. (2011, September 29). Becoming a 21st Century school or district: Use the 4Cs to build professional capacity (Step 4 of 7) | Edutopia [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/21st-century-professional-development-key-kay

Mehta, R., & Mishra, P. (2016). Downtime as a Key to Novelty Generation: Understanding the Neuroscience of Creativity with Dr. Rex Jung. TechTrends, 60(6), 528-531. doi:10.1007/s11528-016-0119-3. Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Jung-Interview-Mehta-Mishra-techtrends.pdf

Mishra, P. (n.d.). Punya Mishra’s Web – Living at the junction of education, creativity, design & technology. Retrieved March 5, 2017, from http://www.punyamishra.com/

Mishra, P., & The Deep-Play Research Group. (2012). Rethinking technology & creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the future. TechTrends, 56(5), 13-16. doi:10.1007/s11528-012-0594-0. Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Mishra-crayons-techtrends1.pdf

Niess, M., & Gillow-Wiles, H. (2015). Creativity, digitality, and teacher professional development: Unifying theory, research, and practice. In Handbook of research on teacher education in the digital age (pp. 691-721). Retrieved from http://www.punyamishra.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Creativity-Digitality-and-Teacher-Professional-Development-Unifying-Theory-Research-and-Practice.pdf

Pearman, D. (2016, April 9). Are we putting the cart before the horse? | Innovative pedagogy [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://innovativepedagogy.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/are-we-putting-the-cart-before-the-horse/

Spencer, J. (2016, February 15). Curious about design thinking? Here’s a framework you can use in any classroom with any age group [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.spencerauthor.com/2016/02/curious-about-design-thinking-heres.html/

What in the World is Game-Based Education? The Good, the Bad, the Dysentery

Oregon Trail game

I grew up in the golden age of educational gaming. I don’t know that any games have matched the cultural and educational impact of the 8-bit majesty of The Oregon Trail (play the 1990 version here: https://archive.org/details/msdos_Oregon_Trail_The_1990) or the full-color wonder of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (play the 1985 version here: https://archive.org/details/msdos_Where_in_the_World_is_Carmen_Sandiego_1985) on my Commodore 64. As a student, I felt like I was getting away with something by playing video games during the school day. Sure, the monochromatic splendor of the Apple IIe is laughable today, but for me and many of my generation the effect was magical. I learned more about life on the Oregon Trail in those primarily text-based games than I ever did by reading about it in our social studies textbook. Carmen Sandiego shipped with a World Almanac… a librarian’s dream! I search for more facts about countries throughout the world by chasing that mysterious red-hatted fiend than I would have without the game’s prodding.

These early educational software games are still some of the best examples of game-based learning. Many flashy apps and online games have tried to fill the niche, but too often they get bogged down in graphics and cutscenes and microtransactions and they lose sight of the vital elements of good game design.

Games vs. Game-based learning vs. Gamification

This infographic from upsidelearning.com helps to explain the differences:

Games vs Game-based Learning vs Gamification

Games vs Game-based Learning vs Gamification
Click to view the complete infographic.  |  Infographic by Upside Learning

Reasons to Be Scared

Unfortunately, there’s a troubling trend that emerges when reading about gamification in the classroom in its current state… it’s rarely proved itself to be a sustainable model. Where it’s successful at the elementary school level, it’s almost always the result of a relative few innovators who are taking a risk.

Ananth Pai

Ananth Pai was a businessman who became an elementary classroom teacher in Minnesota. His 3rd grade class soon became an attractive stopping place for elected officials, business leaders, and tech founders alike. They were all drawn to his classroom because they wanted to see his approach to reaching kids at their level primarily through the use of games. Students participated in numerous electronic gaming activities throughout the day, including competing in games online with peers around the world, playing math games on Nintendo DS, and more. All of this is written about Mr. Pai in the past tense, as his online presence has vanished. His Twitter handle is inactive. I can’t find record of him presenting at conferences. News stories haven’t been posted in years. It appears that Mr. Pai is now teaching 3rd grade at an International Baccalaureate school outside of Minneapolis, but his gamification stardom has quickly faded. This KQED article hints darkly at the frustration of an educator trying to innovate in the face of mandated testing and curriculum. 




Michele Alvarez

Another meteoric gamification educator… Reading through her blog posts, tweets, and subsequent lack of updates, her story is a cautionary one. Gamifying your classroom is not an easy task, and it’s made all the more difficult when roadblocks emerge: changing grades, changing curriculum, changing standards, lack of support, etc.


Extrinsic Motivation

I’ve referred to Alfie Kohn’s writings in past blog posts. Kohn’s blog post on the dangers of extrinsic motivation should play a role in the discussion for anyone looking at shifting to a completely gamified classroom or curriculum. http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/risks-rewards/ His primary concern is that once the reward is removed from the learning equation, the learner becomes disengaged from the process. This brings to mind the popular idea of badges for learners. For some, the lure of a digital badge fuels them. For others, not so much…

Reasons to Get Excited

I don’t know that the nostalgic magic of Carmen Sandiego and dysentery will ever be topped (now that’s a sentence that’s never been typed before) but there are promising signs for the future of educational gaming and gamification:

Never Alone

An atmospheric platform puzzle game designed and built in collaboration with the Alaska Native community. Tribal elders hoped to pass on their culture to the disinterested youth of their tribe. This gorgeous video game melds great game design and native folklore & language to engage young people in the Alaskan Iñupiat culture.



Leading Change

Gameful Learning banner“Developed in partnership with Microsoft, this education course aims to transform teaching and learning at all levels through explorations of how the features that make video games great learning environments can be used in formal learning environments to increase learner engagement on a local, regional and global scale. By creating classroom learning environments that support learners’ senses of autonomy, competence and relatedness, school leaders are able to promote actively engaged and resilient learning.” This free 8-week course created by Microsoft In Education in collaboration with edX (University of Michigan’s free online education program https://www.edx.org/school/michiganx) is exciting as it represents a commitment (for the time being) by private and public sector to explore digital gamification in the classroom. Enroll for free now at: https://www.edx.org/course/leading-change-go-beyond-gamification-michiganx-microsoft-education-gl101x The course starts on March 6, 2017.

Quest to Learn (Q2L)

Quest To Learn logoTeachers and game designers work together at this public school (grades 8-12) in New York City to create learning opportunities for students, and the results are what you would expect: engagement, creativity, and a spirit of inquiry. What makes this school’s approach so promising is the fact that it’s based on a sustainable school-wide focus, rather than the siloed efforts of individual teachers like Pai and Alvarez.





So What Next?

Step One: Read this resource!

Mind Shift: Guide to Digital Games and Learning coverMind/Shift: Guide to Digital Games + Learning By Jordan Shapiro, et al. http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/publication/the-mindshift-guide-to-games-and-learning/

This collection of blog posts by Temple University’s Digital Learning Coordinator is a robust starting-point if you’re at-all interested in exploring the idea of bringing digital gaming into your classroom or school. One of its greatest strengths is that it addresses stumbling blocks with honesty and adherence to strong classroom pedagogy. Here are a couple of passages from Shapiro:

On choosing games: “A great literature curriculum considers the particular students in the class and chooses books that are simultaneously fun to read, academically challenging, and provide important canonical touchstones that can help contextualize future learning. Satisfying any one of these criteria, without the others, is problematic. The same is true for learning games. But for some reason, when it comes to games, many teachers are confused about the difference between ‘cool’ and ‘fun.’

Cool and fun are not the same thing. Cool has to do with a game’s aesthetics: the art, sound design, characters, narrative, et cetera. But a game does not need to be cool in order to be fun. Don’t be seduced by the spectacle. Making coolness a priority is tantamount to choosing to teach literature with People magazine because the students like to read it. Sure, pop culture gossip would satisfy the engagement criteria, but it wouldn’t satisfy any of the other academic criteria.”

On why game mechanics matter: “The best learning games are always fun. Try playing them yourself and see if you enjoy them. No matter how advanced your understanding of the subject matter, a good game should still be fun… All good games offer challenges in intuitive ways. In fact, this is the reason games work so well for learning: Players are intrinsically motivated to identify and succeed at understanding the game’s mechanics.

‘Mechanics’ are what game designers call the collection of rules and structures that produce the actual gameplay. The mechanics organize the game’s components in the way that defines how a player’s actions will have an impact. In good learning games, the subject matter is always embedded into the mechanics themselves. Learning to navigate the game’s mechanics and learning the academic subject matter are one and the same. Bad games sometimes attempt to simply graft a topic onto existing game mechanics. They might add vocabulary words to Angry Birds, or multiplication tables to Temple Run. It never works. The best learning games teach in the same way good teachers teach: They don’t trick students into being interested, they help students find genuine excitement in learning a subject.”  (Shapiro, 2015, 19-20)

Step Two: Start simple.

Educator Mary Beth Hertz in an Edutopia blog post distills the elements of video games that students are drawn to and love. It’s important to note none of Hertz’s ideas require technology. Technology can certainly enhance gaming and gamification, but it shouldn’t be required. Hertz writes:

  1. Mistakes as Part of Mastery

“For one, while watching my students play games I notice that they easily just click ‘retry’ or ‘new game’ or ‘start over’ and keep trying until they master whatever skill that game’s level requires. They don’t worry about making mistakes because they know they will get another chance. They learn more and more each time they have to do a level or game task over. We should be building these kinds of experiences into our classrooms.”

  1. Immediate Feedback

“In addition, games provide immediate feedback. Not just any feedback, but usually feedback that helps a student fix or improve on their previous performance. We should be giving students as many opportunities as possible for useful and timely feedback.”

  1. Manageable Goals

“Games also have a purpose, an underlying goal. Sometimes there are mini-goals that help get you to the final goal, beating the game. Players can focus on the mini-goals rather than be overwhelmed by the ultimate goal of beating the game. There is usually something that indicates how far along they are toward their final goal, which makes them feel like they’re getting somewhere. We should be setting manageable goals for our students that help them move toward mastery while providing timely feedback on their progress.”

Step Three: Begin to explore integrating a gaming culture into professional development.

My guiding question for this blog post was based on ISTE Coaching Standard 4: Professional Development and Program Evaluation. “Is gamification of professional development an achievable and sustainable goal?” I don’t know that I’m any closer to deciding on an answer after exploring the many online resources linked in this post. Digital badges seem like an interesting path to possibly explore, but Jackie Gerstein also highlights some of the issues inherent to the practice with this great blog post. Gamifying an entire PD program would quite possibly fuel greater engagement with some of my librarian colleagues, but what about those who just don’t like games? Would gamification alienate them? And how can I avoid the burnout and frustrations of innovators like Pai and Alvarez, without strong administrative support?

So, is it “game over” or “game on” for gamification? Well…

insert coin to continue 8-bit


Baier, M. (2015, February 19). Game Face On: Gamification for Engaging Teachers in PD. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/gamification-engaging-teachers-in-pd-matt-baier

Bell, K. (2015, September 1). Take PD to the next level with badges [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://www.shakeuplearning.com/blog/take-pd-to-the-next-level-with-badges/

College Ready Ohio. (2016, February 19). Gamification and Badging Professional Development | Entire Professional Development [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IsZVVXK8l0

Dobo, N. (2014, November 26). Oregon Trail computer game lingers, amid a slew of new educational games – The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from http://hechingerreport.org/content/oregon-trail-computer-game-lingers-amid-slew-new-educational-games_18202/

Education|Evolving. (2012, November 2). A Split Screen Strategy: Creating the Capacity for Teachers to Innovate [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KimG8igaZIA

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