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I’m Justin Reeve, and I’m a candidate for the Masters program in Educational Technology at Boise State University. I’ve been a web developer for Weber School District in Utah since 2005. I’m responsible for coming up with new web technology strategies for the district, and building the web sites to accommodate our parents, teachers, administrators, and students. I’ve also helped a couple charter schools get started up and improve their technology base. I have a passion for educational technology, and I love discovering new tech tools that help teachers engage their students better.

I had a few goals when I came into the EDTECH program. Since I’m in a position of teacher support, I wished to gain a stronger understanding of what teachers needed to become technology-oriented educators. I also had an interest in virtual worlds and their educational value, but no real practical experience. Lastly, I wished to expand my educational consulting opportunities, and take on more and more projects, and help schools become better equipped with the latest technology, and understand how to use it.

There’s four major experiences, projects, and aspects that occurred during this program that have changed or advanced how I think about education and technology.

1. Constructivist Learning

Before I began the EDTECH program, I was the founding member of a charter school named Venture Academy. The school has an expeditionary learning approach. Students participate in hands-on activities, and go on field trips, or “expeditions” as they call them, where they learn experience what they are learning, instead of reading about it or simply studying it in the classroom.

I really identified with this type of learning, because I thought it was immensely valuable. But now, because of the EDTECH program and my research into different theoretical foundations and models of instruction, I can place a name to this type of learning and theory. Situated learning. Discovery-based, experiential learning. Constructivism. These are the cornerstones of the school I helped set up. I find I appreciate the school more now than I did before, because of this knowledge.

2. Instructional Design

Instructional design, which I took first semester, was an eye-opener for me. The systematic process was something I wasn’t familiar with, and I’ve since learned a lot of teachers don’t even know about the ADDIE model.

The ADDIE model is a systematic approach to creating effective instruction that uses sound pedagogical techniques while supporting optimal student and teacher performance. It’s not particularly correct to present the ADDIE model as a linear progression from Analysis to Evaluation. Evaluation should underscore all aspects of the process, and allow for revisions in response to existing problems with the design, and anticipation of future problems. I believe it’s important to keep in mind how the instructional material is being received while the courseware is being designed, and gather feedback from teachers and students who are using it so it can be improved.

I believe it’s crucial when preparing instruction that one has in mind the different learning theories and approaches they will be taking to reach their learners. Addressing students’ learning styles is important, but it needs to contained within the framework of a systematic process, and that is what instructional design taught me. I also learned I had a passion for instructional design, and that passion has carried all the way through the EDTECH program.

When I developed my workshop on Facebook for parents, I had to think critically about every aspect of the design process. I came to recognize the importance of conducting a needs analysis, and understanding the learners before teaching them. I used to think that the “getting to know you” activities in class were rather pointless, but these can be skillfully used by the teacher to identify specific learning styles, unique needs for each student, and devising activities that could accommodate and benefit the largest range of students possible.

During the EDTECH program my intended outcomes changed. I usually sit in an office, and only interact with teachers via instant messenger, helping them when their blogs are broken, or Moodle scores aren’t importing to their gradebooks I no longer just wanted to understand what teachers needed so I could help them from afar. I wanted to become an active participant in the learning environment and help make decisions that would benefit the district as an organization. I wanted to direct my efforts more toward teaching.

So I adjusted my graduate certificate from Technology Integration to Online Teaching. It turned out to be a very timely decision.

3. Online Learning

Recently, my school district began its journey into online teaching. Utah Senate Bill 65 passed recently, which mandates the creation of a statewide online education network, and all school districts are required to provide for the students wishing to take online courses. And I’ve been fortunate enough to play a part in this, by coaching the new online teachers into using best practices. The problem is that most of our district’s teachers have little to no experience teaching fully online courses. My district commissioned me to create an online course on teaching online courses. This will be my first opportunity to teach professionally.

“Establishing Your Online Professional Learning Network” is another online course I created as part of EDTECH 506 that I hope to teach eventually. It focuses on instructing educators how to use blogs, social bookmarking, and microblogging to connect with other educators worldwide. There is a very strong need for this type of professional networking in our school district, because many of our teachers don’t collaborate with others outside the walls of their own teacher’s lounge.

I’ve gleaned a few insights into good online teaching practices. From the beginning, outline clear expectations and rules of netiquette to follow when participating in the online course. To make content relevant to students, the teacher must allow them to create something relevant to them. There is still value to imposing limits and boundaries on what they can create, and providing a framework in which to work, but if students are allowed to choose they will have a more personal involvement in the process. Hands-on projects are ideal. Instead of assessing through quizzes alone, students should be creating presentations, videos, and other projects relevant to them.

Collaborative learning, when possible, can be an excellent motivational tool as well, and forums should be used to encourage the free exchange of ideas. Since the teacher and student are removed from face-to-face interaction, it’s crucial the teacher provides immediate feedback to any posts or questions each student has, typically within 24 hours if not sooner.

4. Educational Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds

Virtual worlds are part of the reason I entered the EDTECH program. I wanted to learn more, and determine how a school district could successfully implement them. Acquiring a stronger grasp of the learning theories has helped immensely.

One of the benefits of the virtual world is that it allows students to explore areas they normally would not be able to. Travel can be considerably easy as well — in Second Life, for instance, one’s avatar can fly and instantly teleport to different regions. Students can explore remote corners of the world or historical time periods. The virtual world allows the designer to manipulate the scale of objects, too. For example, an astronomy class could consist of students sitting on planets while they traverse the cosmos, giving them the opportunity to visually identify with the subject material in a more engrossing way than if they were simply discussing it in class.

I had the opportunity to participate in the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference in March of both 2010 and 2011. This conference is hosted entirely in Second Life, and focuses on how virtual worlds can be used to engage students and introduce learning in ways not possible in a traditional classroom setting. In 2011, I even helped screen and approve the “poster sessions,” or the basic “kiosk” demonstrations, for the conference. I learned a few strategies from these events, and it helped shape my understanding and plans for how to conduct virtual world instruction.

On two different occasions I outlined instructional models for learning with educational games. In my paper “Constructivism and Its Application to Game-Based Learning Activities” I detail a problem-based instructional model. Teachers provide goals to students, after which the students collaboratively form strategies. The virtual environment allows students to put their hypotheses to the test, and provides immediate feedback on whether or not their attempts were successful. After this, the students are given the opportunity to reformulate their strategies and attempt to solve the problem again. Games are great at teaching through failure, and a game’s inherent ability to encourage players to try until they win can be leveraged toward encouraging repeated attempts toward learning goals.

I also created a Second Life game, in which participants learn Second Life skills by fending off a barbarian horde. It’s not a complex game due to the short timeframe I had to build it, but it follows a constructionist game-based learning approach. Working in teams, players use prims, or the building blocks of Second Life, to construct a wall surrounding a guard tower. There are some rules, such as the size each prim must be, and making each prim a physical object, which forces them to become familiar with setting different attributes. The instructor stands in the guard tower and observes, and coaches everyone while the barbarians advance. There are different speed settings to increase or reduce the difficulty of the game, but the complexity doesn’t go farther than that.

I would like to implement OpenSim, the open source version of Second Life, into our school district at some point in the near future. However, since we’re starting from scratch, we’ll start out with a noticeable lack of content. I would like the students to build this content, which is why a constructionist, or collaborative artifact creation approach is ideal.

Teachers would set up activities in which students create the virtual world content, and students after them can benefit from and build on the existing content. For basic landscaping, drafting teachers could use OpenSim’s mesh support and have students import their AutoCAD buildings. An instant village would be born. Or young students could terraform regions to learn about the different types of landmasses. For other learning activities, I’ve been working on some projects of my own. Astronomy students could create models of solar systems and create solar flare simulations, projected comet paths, and so on. Chemistry students could instantly view three-dimensional representations of molecules with a molecule generator. There’s numerous possibilities, and focusing on a constructionist learning model will benefit everyone as the virtual world continuously grows.

The problem-based and constructionist learning models are two ways that I plan on incorporating virtual world learning into my school district in the very near future.


All these different aspects tie together. A constructivist approach works well in both online learning and virtual world-based instruction, which itself is a form of online learning. Understanding the fundamentals of instructional design helps create optimal learning experiences. Technology lends itself to interesting and engaging activities, and can be an effective platform for collaboration. Learning theory underlies everything, since without understanding the reasoning behind these practices, we’d often be in the dark on how to proceed.

In sum, the Masters program has given me the tools I need to become an informed learning coordinator for my school district, and an educational consultant capable of identifying and implementing the crucial technological needs of schools.

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