Category Archives: Digital Storytelling

GeoHistorian Curriculum Now Available for Download

After many revisions and lots of editing, the GeoHistorian curriculum is now available for download on the Curriculum page. This is a major milestone in our project, which is nearing completion. We’d like to thank everyone who helped us to get to this point, including:

  • Thomas Hatch, Julie Kenworthy, Lorie Bednar, Sandy and Henry Halem, and Glennis Siegfried from the Kent Historical Society, for providing us with access to lots of great archival materials, contacting numerous community members for help, and helping us teach almost 100 fifth graders about Kent’s history.
  • The five teachers (and their students) who spent long hours preparing for and teaching the GeoHistorian unit, including Robyn Elia and Christine Lowden at Walls Elementary School and Julie Cummings, Christine Goff, and Sean Mostov at Davey Elementary School.
  • The City of Kent, especially its Maintenance Department, for supporting our project and helping us with the installation of several QR code markers.
  • The Kent State University Libraries Special Collections and Archives for access to historical materials we could not get elsewhere.
  • Several students from Kent State University’s Honors College, who assisted us in the initial stages of the project.
  • The various citizens and business owners in Kent who provided us and participating students with access to their historic locations, old photographs, scrapbooks, and memories.
  • And last but not least, the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities, who believed in our project and helped to make it happen with their generous support.

We are not completely done yet though, as we still have several QR code markers to install and are finalizing a brochure that will help publicize the project and encourage citizens and visitors of Kent to explore its rich history. The last two markers will be installed on May 11, during a special dedication ceremony at Davey Elementary School. And of course, due to the success of the project, we hope to continue it in some shape or form next year.

You Don’t Always Need a PowerPoint Presentation

While not as “disruptive” a presentation as Will Richardson, for example, has been talking and writing about, one of my presentations at this year’s NCSS conference in San Diego is NOT a PowerPoint ;). I was told I had about 8 minutes to present a unit plan that a teacher and I wrote a while back for Digital Age: Technology-Based K-12 Lesson Plans for Social Studies. So instead of doing another standup-powerpoint-to-death talk, I made a short video. You can watch it here.

I agree with Will that the “traditional” presentation just doesn’t work too well in many cases. That’s why I’ve started doing a more poster presentations, because they allow for more informal, personal, (and dare I say it, customized) interaction between presenter and attendee…

Image Credit: National Council for the Social Studies:

Handheld Learning 2007, Pre-Conference Sessions


I finally made it to London today and the Handheld Learning 2007 Conference. So far the conference has been great, and it hasn’t officially started yet! I attended two sessions this afternoon, after learning how to navigate the underground with two large (and heavy) suitcases. I think they’ve yet to invent escalators in some parts of the city.

Anyway, the first session I attended was called “Mobile Learning Exchange”, hosted by Dan Sutch and Lyndsay Grant of FutureLab. Here are my notes and impressions…

(Link to the slideshow)


FutureLab is doing a lot of project to test ideas. They’re really not that interested in scaling up. As a result, they take on a lot of risky projects and really are able to push the envelope (although I have to say some of these projects would probably be scalable without too much trouble).

One area of research is that of pda-based learning, and the design of evolving and involving learning spaces, as evident in the evolution of learning tools (note that these are listed as sort of an evolution from low to high student control) such as  

  1. Savannah: “a strategy-based adventure game where a virtual space is mapped directly onto a real space. Children ‘play’ at being lions in a savannah, navigating the augmented environments with a mobile handheld device. By using aspects of game play, Savannah challenges children to explore and survive in the augmented space. To do this they must successfully adopt strategies used by lions.” (quoted from the FutureLab Savannah page).

  2. Mudlarking: a location-aware system (to provide relevant info based on location) that involves students while on a tour of a . It’s an evolving learning space in that users tell the story of the location, collect data, and add this information to a tour of Deptford Creek. Mudlarking provides prompts to engage, observe, and communicate (including asynchronously). It’s basically a tool kit to capture individual stories, using micro-maps, sound, video, pictures, drawings, and stories (real, imagined, legendary). This project seems to be similar to Frequency 1550 in that it provides location-relevant info, and engages students to collaboratively create a digital artifact. Mudlarking is different in that it has users add to the existing information so future users can do it. In Frequency 1550 students merely sent information back to their “headquarters”, i.e. the school. Another project that’s similar to this is the RAFT project (Remote Access Field Trips), linking classrooms with locations by sending a few students who go to a location and stream video back to the classroom.

  3. Create-a-scape: aims to offer the inspiration for teachers and pupils to start using mediascapes with the aid of mobile devices, and to provide easy-to-use guides and free software to help make mediascape creation as simple and accessible as possible. One example is the Islington City Learning Center project on digital story telling.

 Another project that could fit in this sequence is MobiMissions (the link contains a nice video), which utilizes the mobile as a locative device and users create location-based missions for others (challenges, puzzles, treasure hunts….), share and play them, and rate and comment on other people’s missions. So far, the project has shown that participants prefer local and social play, playing with others, and sharing phones to collaboratively create meaning. A lot of play happens in social locations, and is static and opportunistic. However, while this project has the potential to support learning through conversations, they stopped early on in the implementation because users had to use the project website. It became clear that there is a need to have immediate conversations, not asynchronous ones. Someone also brought up that the duration of the implementation (5-week periods) may have been too short for the concept to really take hold with its users.

Some of the other projects mentioned included:

  • Fizzees: a digital pet whose well-being depends on its owner’s physical actions, getting at an applied understanding of healthy lifestyle;

  • Newtoon: create/share/play micro games on a mobile; rate games; share via bluetooth; stimulate science talk; use class to home and back;

  • la Piazza; intergenerational learning: impact of physical space on learning;

  • Pleasurable Cities: mobiles to enable young people to become engaged in local decision-making; uses QR code stickers to leave digital tags for others to see and add to;

  • Space Signpost: a user-controlled sculpture that points to objects in space; creates opportunities for incidental learning; location of the learner used as a primary reference point;

  • Smart Learners, Smart Places: creating a live info space uses tiny speckled computers; personal curating of artifacts; linking pre-post-during activities; providing hidden info about artifacts.

Finally, we talked a little bit about how mobile learning doesn’t have to involve mobile technology at all, but that it’s the learner that’s mobile, rather than the technology, a la Sharples’ concept of learning while mobile. Learning is a conversation that happens in different but connected locations.

Lots of great projects, lots of good ideas. One thing that did stand out to me is that FutureLab does not worry at all about scalability issues. I think they should, at least to some extent. Running a lot of small projects to test ideas is important, but at some point the question of more widespread use should be addressed…


Carnival of the Mobilists #93, and the Power of Mobile

Just in time for me to read before heading over to Europe is this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists (#93), hosted by Communities Dominate Brands. My favorite post of this week’s Carnival is probably the one about the use of cell phones in Myanmar/Burma, to record the civil unrest that has been taking place. This event is also an illustration of once again, the powerful roll that mobile phones can play as a medium to not only report news as it happens (see also this account on SmartMobs), but also to rally large groups of people for a cause. As a Reuters article from Sept 24 states (as quoted in the MobileActive Blog),

the military generals are “caught in a rare dilemma,” exacerbated by the presence of mobile phones:

They can either come down hard on the Buddhist monks leading the protests — and risk turning pockets of dissent into nationwide outrage as reports and grainy mobile phone images of revered, maroon-robed men and boys being beaten up leak out. Or they can give them a free rein to march round a few cities and towns — and risk the movement spreading across the country, and into other social groups, such as the students or civil servants, the other key players in the 1988 uprising.

More info on the issue of using mobile phones in the Burma/Myanmar protests can be found in this MobileActive post, with links to other sources as well.

Obviously, this situation is very similar to the protest in the Phillipines as described by Rheingold in Smart Mobs (see also here). Both are examples of the potential power of mobile phones as a medium to share information and take action, as described by David Cushman:

Now the media (the power to move minds) is in everyone’s hands – Literally with a mobile phone.
So, as the Burmese people shoot video of what’s happening – and share it with each other and the world – does this bring true power to the people? Knowledge is power – information shared is power growing exponentially. … The Burmese are sharing their problem with the world. But, like all communities of purpose, if we aren’t prepared to respond, in real time, then all their sharing is for nothing.
Share the problem. Defeat it.

The important question for me is though, are we truly preparing our students for a world in which information is often shared virally, and actions are based on this information, actions that can have far-reaching consequences? Are students, in the words of Cushman, prepared to respond in real time?

Image Credit: Carnival of the Mobilists, Logo:

4-16-2007 continued


Just a couple of additional sources that shed additional light on the role of new media sources in the coverage of major news events, and the ways in which news reporting is changing. Paul Bradshaw writes in a short but interesting post in his Online Journalism Blog that

Unlike previous user generated content milestones like 9/11 and the Asian tsunami, this story took place in the heart of the new media generation, and the resulting coverage is more comprehensive, more accessible, and takes in more new media forms, including social networking.

Via this same blog, I came across this post on Poynter Online, which provides an interesting collection of “user-generated content” of the Virginia Tech tragedy, from a journalistic point of view. Lots of interesting stuff; and like Bradshaw says in his post, roles are changing:

1) the need to develop the awareness of, and skills to find, this material; 2) in the face of such comprehensive and accessible first-person reporting, the need to develop new roles, perhaps as gatewatchers, facilitators and filters rather than reporters.

And by the way, this doesn’t hold true just for journalists ….

Image credit: “One Day Blog Silence”, David Leggett’s photostream:



What happened yesterday at Virginia Tech University is awful beyond belief, and I’m sure the event will be analyzed out the wazoo by the U.S. and global news media. When I started to follow the story (not really until sometime last night), I started drawing parallels to a similar event that happened at the University of Iowa on November 1, 1991. I lived mere blocks from where that shooting happened and was home at the time of the event.

In 1991, we learned about the event from the local television stations, and a more in-depth write-up appeared in a special edition of the university’s newspaper the next morning. Compared to the deluge of information that will come from the Virginia Tech campus and beyond within the next weeks, the amount of information released immediately following the 1991 shooting was fairly small (even the wikipedia entry for the Virginia Tech shootings is already larger than the one for the University of Iowa shooting).

Anyway, I won’t dwell on the facts too much here, as plenty has already been written and will be written by the major news outlets such as CNN and MSNBC. However, what is interesting is that had this event taken place before the advent of the Internet like the shooting in Iowa City, my information sources (and therefore my take on the tragic events as they unfolded in Blacksburg) would have been very different. I didn’t really watch TV news channels yesterday. In fact, I picked up on the story via a few different blogs in my Feedreader. After a cursory look at the headlines on MSNBC, I got quite a bit of information (and links to a variety of other sources) from this post on Boing Boing, which led me to images on flickr here and here. I also found some videos on YouTube. In addition, quite a bit had already been written in the edublogger community by the likes of Anne Davis, Vicki Davis, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and Wes Fryer.

What struck me is that pretty much everybody who mentioned the event mentioned the wikipedia entry. Wes made an interesting observation:

From an information literacy perspective, following the comments on the history page of the WikiPedia entry for this incident is illuminating. What are the authors discussing and commenting on?
– What is the reference for that?
– Are included details and links relevant to this situation?
– Is accurate language being used, or are unwarranted exaggerations being made?

These types of discussions about information posted online and its accuracy are extremely important skills for our students to master, as it is easy to just believe what’s posted online because it is online. There’s an obvious danger in this kind of blind faith, and it surfaces even in tragic situations like this one, as this follow-up story from Boing Boing shows. An excerpt:

Blogs and online discussions yesterday misidentified 23-year-old Wayne Chiang (above), a VA Tech student with a penchant for guns, South Park, and bummed-out blog entries, as the shooter responsible for the VA Tech massacre.

Mr. Chiang’s “wanusmaximus” livejournal (“Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”) and Facebook profile include many photos of heavy weapons, and vanity shots of him posing with quantities of those weapons.

Mr. Chiang is Asian-American, and early reports indicate the VA Tech shooter was, too — which added to many internet accusers’ certainty that he was the killer, even though investigators still have not disclosed the name of the actual VA Tech murderer.

Comment fields on Chiang’s site soon filled with racist lines like “so u are the asisan that shot up the school. i hate u and your people.”

But, news alert: lots of LJs look like Chiang’s. Gloomy web poetry and a gun hobby don’t prove a dude is a mass murderer. After dozens of “j’accuse!” blog posts linked to his journal like so many pointed fingers, Chiang finally posted an update late last night:

Coming out. I am not the shooter. Through this experience, I have received numerous death threats, slanderous accusations, and my phone is out of charge from the barrage of calls. Local police have been notified of the situation.

As I’ve discussed before on this blog, the nature of news production and consumption is changing (see e.g. this post on SmartMobs), and major news events such as the tragedy at Virginia Tech are prime examples. What it means for education is that we need to seriously rethink how we teach our children to examine news, showing them the importance of not only accessing information, but carefully analyzing it, juxtaposing different points of view, and trying to construct the most accurate and comprehensive story from a large number of very different sources.

As for all of you at VT who have been affected by the shootings, know that my prayers are with you…

Image Credit: “Prayers for Virginia Tech”, from busiguy6’s photstream:

eTech Ohio 2007, day 2 – Rex Sorgatz, Group Think


Another interesting keynote today albeit a short one and a sparsely attended one, probably due to the inclement weather in Columbus today. This is really a shame, because even though Rex Sorgatz isn’t exactly an educator, he provided the audience with opportunities for the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that education needs as Susan Patrick called for earlier today.

Group Think: Online Community and Collaboration
Rex Sorgatz (, Seattle Microsoft (MSNBC). technologist, designer, journalist.


Don DeLillo “The future belongs to crowds”

There are many new ways to navigate and consume news (wisdom of the crowds). This talk is about how stories can be told by groups of people using digital media.

Potential to create a wisdom of the crowds, more heads are better than one.

Some “did you know” statements:

(did you know the first city had no streets)
Someone had to invent streets

(did you know the cigarette lighter was invented before the match?)
Sometimes ideas happen out of synch.

(did you know the fortune cookie was not invented in China?)
Sometimes ideas happen in the wrong place.

(did you know in the ‘70s NASA invented concepts of space station they didn’t think would ever exist)
The future is never what you expect it to be, but that’s ok

Wikipedia: revolutionized our thinking about how content is created.
70% of content comes from 2% of users (3,300)
No experts
1.6 million entries
200,000 registered users

Google Image Labeler:
Game, you are paired with someone else and label pictures.
Google uses the info to improve its algorithm for image searches.
It’s a step towards wisdom of the crowds.

Amazon Mechanical Turk (AAI)
You can create an application so people can do small tasks. E.g. sheep market. Designer paid people 2c each to draw sheep. He then sold each sheep as cards at $2 each.

Jim Gray (Microsoft scientist who disappeared): similar concept used to try to find him in the Pacific Ocean.

Concept: lots of people contribute a little bit to create knowledge (Google Answers, Yahoo Answers, NowNow, Ask MetaFilter).
Other examples: One Red Paperclip, the Million Dollar Homepage.

More practical examples:
Robocam: webcam controllable on the web, take pictures with it. Used to gather info and report it back to people.
Led to things like (community blog), average Joes reporting, committing acts of journalism, reporting much quicker and better than the major media sources.

Katrina: reporting by empowering people who were in the flood by having them tell their stories (, multimedia (3d navigable video) with blog (with a total of about 100,000 comments)

Photosynth (Microsoft Live Labs): pictures by hundreds of people. Using technology, you stitch them all together (interacts with flickr); there are four collections right now.

Big idea: many small ideas contributed lead to one big idea! Interesting session, many cool sites to experiment with…

Image Credits:

“eTech Ohio logo”, eTech Ohio:

“Escher’s Doorknob”, Peter Kaminski’s photostream: