The Struggle with Blogging

As you know, I am a big fan of having students blog. And, as you also know, I recently decided to have my masters class move into having a multi-authored class blog as opposed to individual ones (see our blog here). The semester is now in full swing, and students are in fact blogging (it’s required in one class and optional in my other). There are, currently, no major issues. However, I did spot some interesting struggles that students expressed before anyone had ever written a single word for a post.

The struggle some of them faced was grounded in freedom.

Now, the directions allow students to write about anything they wish so long as it relates back to the class in some manner. They have a very wide berth of acceptable topics. It’s so wide that they would actively have to work at NOT being on topic to fall short here. So my advice is to pick something they are interested in and write about it.

Once you’ve got your topic, then you have any number of decisions to make about future topics. You could do a series of posts on the same topic. You could explore one topic the entire semester. Each post could be different. Again, any variation is fine.

Then of course comes the time when you actually write it and post it. You decide when you will do this. You schedule it (I have a sign-up sheet so posts don’t get double-booked), and then write it when it pleases you.

What was expressed to me was that the act of blogging – as I have it structured – was practiceoverwhelming (at least for some). Students explained that they had always been told exactly what to write about, when to do it, when it was due, and so on….It’s not that my assignment lacked structure – there are boundaries to it – but the structure does allow for a lot more freedom than they have experienced in their academic careers.

This really isn’t surprising when you think about it. This is pretty typical of how students experience school. What I’m asking them to do – while I don’t think it’s all that out there – is radically different. I think, but this is my interpretation, that the blogging assignment might have raised some anxiety levels.

So, what do you do when your students express this kind of discomfort? Well, if you’re me, you feel pretty ok about it. However, I recognize that it’s an unpleasant position to be in as a learner. But here’s my advice from the teaching end of things:

  • Acknowledge that the discomfort makes sense
  • Tell your students to go forth and do it anyways

I know. That’s all I got. I totally understood why anyone would feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable or any number of things. It made perfect sense to me. That said, the only way out is through. All you can do, as a student, is pick something to write about and get to writing.

What’s the worst that could happen? I can’t tell that much of anything bad will happen. Even if you fail to get something up one week, I have bonus opportunities worked in. You have to make it your goal to fail.

So I did exactly what I suggested. I acknowledged the discomfort and told them to dive in. And you know what? So far, everything is peachy awesome fine. Yes, sometimes I have suggestions to make for improvements but they are minor things.

However, what does this say about our educational system at large? How are we moving students through it, and what are they experiencing? How are these experiences shaping them in ways that support their abilities to be creative and how are they being constrained?

One Year Ago Today

Two Years Ago Today


Revising in the Game (Class)

Do you remember old school video games? When I was growing up, we had an Atari and arcades were loaded up with Pac-Man, Frogger, and Asteroids. Later, we graduated to a Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers.

atariBesides the fact that I LOVED those games, what I remember about them is that the game was the game. Period. In our current age, we are able to give feedback to game creators and, potentially, shape the development of the game. I don’t mean reporting bugs that need to be fixed but rather sharing -through reviews or emails/social media- our explicit thoughts on what does and does’t work and even offering up suggestions for making the game better.

And game developers listen. They use the feedback players give to shape the game and make revisions or use it to inform a new, but related, game.

What this means is that if you are going to gamify your classroom then you cannot ignore the roll that feedback plays in terms of making improvements – and I’m not talking about making improvements the next time you teach the class. I’m talking about potentially making improvements as quickly as it makes sense to do so.

Now, a caveat. I’m not saying that every suggestion needs to be implemented. Game developers definitely don’t do everything their players want and for a number of reasons. As the instructor, you have a big picture perspective that it’s impossible for your students to obtain. You have to look at the feedback you get and place it inside that perspective to see if it works. Sometimes it does in ways that you can do right away. Other times it’s more complicated and it really doesn’t make sense to do it until you teach the class again (we’ll call it Version 2.0).

How I Got Here: An Example

I was meeting with one of my masters courses for the first time. I have this great quest (of course I think it’s great; i put it together!) that utilizes twitter – at least in part. The overall purpose of the quest is to get the students (K-12 teachers) to think about developing a social media presence. We use the book What Connected Educators Do Differently. In the book, the authors ask readers to find five new people to follow at the end of each chapter. I took this idea and worked it into a regular part of what they do each week.

If teachers follow five new people each week, they earn 4,000 XP

If they follow 6-10, they earn an additional 2,000

If they follow 11+, they earn an additional 3,000

The whole thing lasts for 12 weeks. On the surface, it seemed nice and clean to me. I thought I was encouraging people to get on twitter and follow people. I did this last year and found it easy to stay on top of. No one reported any issues (bugs) or gave me any feedback. Until now.

All it took was one person who basically asked a very simple question. It was along the lines of, follow-twitter“What if I want to follow a bunch of people starting right now?” As soon as the question was presented to me I realized something – huge light bulb moment – I had just set up a completely inauthentic twitter experience. I was too hung up on quantity.

Think about it. This is not how you use twitter. I might follow people here and there, then follow a whole bunch at once, and then follow hardly anyone new for a week or two. And it’s not a big deal because I’m still engaged with twitter. Yes, following people are important to twitter but my idea was that, ultimately, I wanted my students to be engaged with twitter. And what did I do? I got myself – and potentially them – hung up on numbers.

Let’s Change It

My initial response to the student was something along the lines of I got the point but to go ahead as planned and just trust me that it would all magically work out. I couldn’t just change it on the spot. This was not a quick fix. When I realized almost immediately what I had done, I also needed time to think about the issue and what to do.

So, let’s change it.

Rather than having numbers and counting I’m going to ask my students to do the following:

A critical part of twitter is about engagement. It’s about following people, interacting with their tweets, and giving information to your followers as well. Over the course of the semester, you should aim to do such things as:

  • follow people you are interested in that can help you build your professional network
  • engage with the tweets your followers share through retweeting, liking, or even leaving a comment behind
  • share information of your own that is of interest to you but that you also think would be of interest to your followers (or people who would follow you once they found you)
  • search relevant # to build up people you follow and those who follow you; this will also help you better understand how to tag your tweets to create greater involvement

It may be helpful to use the previous guidelines in considering how many people you should follow. Over the course of the semester, aim to follow 70 people/organizations that are relevant to your professional network and what you do or hope to do. Rather than award XP based on the number of people you follow each week, XP will now be awarded in the following manner:

  • Are you engaged in building your network and interacting with it? Articulate how well you think you are doing at developing your network and your plans going forward. You can articulate this anytime you wish, and you have two opportunities to do so. The first time will be the week of 10/10-10/16. The second time you have a choice. You can do the same thing again OR you can curate a Top 10 list from information you found on twitter that has enhanced your learning as it relates to this class. Due date is the week of 11/28-12/5.
  • XP at each time point is 54,000
  • Due Dates: I will only accept submissions for the first time point between 10/10 (starting at 5:00 PM) – 10/18 (ending at 5:00 PM); No late submissions; The second time point can be submitted anytime from 11/28 (starting at 5:00 PM) and ending on 12/5 at 5:00 PM. No late submissions.

Two Years Ago Today

One Year Ago Today

Featured Teacher: Chris Aviles

This month’s Featured Teacher is someone who has had a significant influence on my teaching. Chris Aviles runs the Teched Up Teacher. I came across his work when I was first developing an interest in gamification. It was through his site that I was able to take my college courses and work to gamify them. I always go to Chris when I need inspiration. His work is amazing, and he is excellent at communicating what he does. His posts always make it onto my syllabus as required reading.

While he writes about a range of technological uses in education, gamification is truly one of his specialties. He recently published a free (you have to get it – go right now. I will wait) gamification guide that is in addition to all the great materials he already has on his site. You can get it here (scroll to the bottom and enter your email to receive it).

You can also find him on Twitter and FB.

Note: In the following sections what you will read are predominately Chris’s words with very minor editing.

About Chris

I taught high school English for ten years. Now I’m the edtech coach at Fair Haven, New Jersey. There I run the Innovation Lab with my partner in crime Ms. Smith! The Innovation Lab is our middle school think-tank where we learn about Design thinking through computer science, engineering, the digital arts, and entrepreneurship.

Your work on gamification has transformed my teaching. How has it changed your thinking about teaching and learning?

I’ve gamified for the last six years, but only in the last two years have I realized why I love Gamification. When I started the Innovation Lab at Fair Haven, I found out about Design Thinking. Design Thinking is all about designing with empathy for your user. Thanks to Design Thinking, I was able to see how video games are designed to provide a great experience for the player.

Gamifying forces me to think about the student first when I design a class. That’s why I love Gamification; it makes me explore the student experience in my classroom. Often, we design our class around standards, objectives, and, worse, assessments. We design a class around what we want students to learn instead of designing the class of how we want students to learn. Gamification helps me be empathetic to the student experience in my class. My class has become an infinitely better place to learn because of Gamification. Oh, and gamification is just fun.

You’re a part of the Maker Movement. How do you think teachers can become a part of this movement? What does it take to get started?

I think it’s a lot easier than people think. When I taught high school English, my classroom became a makerspace because I asked my kids, “how would you like to show me what they know?” and “how would you like to show me what you learned?” That’s all it took. When you focus on student-centered learning, kids have no choice but to create.

One of the major misconceptions people have is that the maker movement and the STEM movement are the same thing. They’re not. The Maker movement is just that: Making. It doesn’t have to be STEM-making. You don’t have to have a makerspace. You don’t have to go somewhere to make. If you want to be part of the movement, jump by encouraging your kids to make by showing what they know.

As a teacher educator, I feel like I’m always introducing new ways to the teachers I work with that are seen as exciting, strange, and scary (sometimes all at once!). What kinds of support do you think teachers need in order to launch into something like Gamification or maker spaces?

I’m lucky that my current district is incredibly supportive. I haven’t always worked in a supportive district. Not because they didn’t like what I did; I don’t think they got it. Either way, I don’t like worrying about things I can’t control. I can’t control whether I get support for what I do. I can, however, control my attitude. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable and reframing failure as iteration are the two most important changes to my attitude I made when I started to leave the edu-reservation. No matter what you teach, you have to have a growth mindset and a relentless attitude. If you are going to change what you do to make learning better for your kids, you have to realize that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Get your mind right.

What are you excited to work on in your teaching right now or in the future?

FH Gizmos! Long story short, I see a lot of missed opportunity in the maker movement to teach entrepreneurship, so I built an online store for my students. My kids can create and manage their own online store and sell their products for real money (we accept check or card!). When a product sells or if there is a problem, students handle customer service. I run FH Gizmos as a startup (there is the Gamification). As members of Gizmos, students become a voting member of how we spend the money we earn. Through teaching entrepreneurship, I can better teach Design Thinking because students have a customer to design for, I can (hopefully) self-fund the Innovation Lab, and students are learning the soft-skills it takes to become successful. For me, FH Gizmos was the missing piece that helped tie everything we do together.

Do you know an interesting educator who should be featured? Email me at

Take a look at last month’s Featured Teacher: Eddie Kim

Grading: The Semester View

I wanted to take a moment at the start of the semester and talk a bit about grading. As we all know, I am not a big fan of grades as they are traditionally set up and experienced by students in school. They can stifle learning and end up with students focusing on giving the teacher whatever it is the teacher envisions and less on being creative and diving in to learning.

Failure is a part of learning. The traditional grade system doesn’t really allow for failure. You’re penalized for it. You get less of a grade because grades are meant to reflect what you have mastered and/or the extent to which you have mastered course content.

Understandable, but again – stifling is the price I believe we pay here.

This semester, in both my classes, I’ve refined how I am awarding XP. In both classes, students have a list of required and optional quests to choose from. One class has three required quests, and the other has four. They then have four and five optional quests.

When it comes to grading, I had to consider first how many points students could earn in the required quests. Now, within a required quest there are typically opportunities for them to go above and beyond and earn additional XP. I don’t worry about that when I’m trying to determine how many points are needed for a particular grade. I just focus on the minimum because, usually, that’s what most students are going to do (and the other stuff really is bonus stuff).

For my Monday class, I broke the grading down so that students could see what they needed to earn (minimum) for each required quest to get an H (high pass – this is what the university uses at the Masters level). Here’s what it looks like:

Criteria for an H
Total XP Earned = 900,850 and up
Becoming Connected XP Earned = 194,850 and up
Blogging XP Earned = 191,700 and up
Explore Project XP Earned = 45,900 and up

Now, those are the three required quests. Let’s say you hit those numbers dead on. You would have earned 432, 450 XP. That is not enough for an H. You’d fall short by 468,400. But remember:

  • within each required quests are things you can do to earn more points (usually)
  • I award XP for your in class participation
  • there are numerous optional quests you can engage in to up your XP

What this says, is that getting an H is about a combination of doing the bare minimum and then going beyond that. As the student, you have to figure out what you want your experience to look like and craft it from there. You have lots of options. How you choose to get wherever it is you end up lies in your hands.

For my Tuesday night class I’m doing something a bit different. Here is what they were told an H is:

Criteria for an H
Total XP Earned = Minimum 1.5 million
Minimum XP Earned from Required Quests = 937,800

That’s it. I didn’t break their quests down for them. A lot of that is due to context of the quests. There quests tend to be more about accomplishing specific tasks and have fewer opportunities for bonuses. However, they do have to do them. While they could likely get 1.5 million (or close!) by just coming to class and doing optional challenges and quests, it is critical that they engage in those required quests. Those quests were created to help them achieve specific learning goals. The challenges and optional quests are really about extending what they are learning and/or diving deeper into a specific area.

I’m curious to see how this plays out. I’m not worried about it. It’s set up well enough. However, a lot of what happens is in the hands of the students. They do have to spend some time thinking through how they want to get to their end goal – whatever that may be.

Two Years Ago

One Year Ago


August Video Update

At the end of each month, I do a brief overview of the videos posted to my You Tube Channel. Here’s the run down for August:

I have two main themes this month in my videos. First, I have continued to develop videos related to finding a job in academia – aimed at doctoral students primarily. If you have questions or things you would like to see addressed you should let me know. Otherwise, this thread is winding down.

Be Prepared

The Academic Job Talk

After the Interview

Second, I have focused on a series of videos that discuss academic writing tips.

What Does Revise & Resubmit Mean?

How to Handle Revisions


How to Address Revisions

This is a bit different from the previous video. I discuss how to keep yourself organized and communicate what you did with the editors and reviewers.

The importance of NOT writing

July Video Update

June Video Update

The Three Types of Guidance

I’ve been reading The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path by Ethan Nichtern. The book is full of concepts that have helped me think about life in general including relationships, research, and teaching. In one of the chapters, Nichtern outlines three types of guidance as it relates to finding and/or being a teacher. These are the instructor, the teacher/mentor, and the guru. I am going to be exploring each of these concepts with you, and each one will be getting its own post.

I’m not entirely sure how I will go about posting these. Could be once a month, or this whole thing could be done in three weeks. It depends on if I want to work in any additional posts about how my courses are going. But for now, let’s get started by talking about the first type of guidance: The Instructor

What is The Instructor?

Nichtern starts by defining the instructor as, “…any representative, teacher, or guide, from whom you receive information on teachings or practice, which you are then left to incorporate into life primarily on your own,” (pg. 165).

In this sense, we are all instructors. And, I think you will find that we are all probably a blend of these three forms – most of us are probably a blend of the instructor and the teacher/mentor, and most of us have been students under these two models.

What Does Instruction Look Like in this Model?

When you experience something under an instructional model, Nichtern states that teachings are in a “one-directional manner.” That is, information is delivered to you in any variety of capacities, but no one is there to help you process it or implement. Nichtern acknowledges that reading his book is a form of instruction. I am reading it, but I am not able to interact with him about the concepts. I am left on my own to make sense of the ideas and how to use them.

Given that, we can see how instruction can take many forms. It can be from reading a text, watching a video, or following a set of directions around an activity. My understanding is that the person who designed an activity or wrote a text/video is not available for you to directly access for further discussion and assistance.

Having the person present – the actual instructor – is not a guarantee that you will shift off of this one-directional approach. Think about taking a course in a huge lecture hall. Can you interact with the professor? Perhaps – but it will be limited if at all. You are listening to the lecture and getting the information in a one-directional approach. That doesn’t mean there is no place for a lecture. I’m just pointing out that having the person who wrote the lecture present doesn’t elevate this to a different model.

But It’s Not Just About the Instructor

I have said this before here – class is a good as you want to make it. Nichtern highlights this when stating, “…an instructor can’t ensure that we put the instructions we receive into practice, it’s up to us to show up fully to the learning process,” (pg. 166).

This brings me back to my class as experience post. I can only do so much. At some point, the responsibility shifts over to the student. And, as Nichtern argues, it is important that the student show up both fully and mindfully. This requires students to be present and in the moment with class. It requires them to trust the instructor/teacher and to potentially go out on a limb and do things that they don’t want to do. If the student will not show up and engage with the learning process then there is little we can do. We can’t make it happen.

Nichtern points out that it’s important as a student to be mindful even if you are not interacting with anyone face to face. If all the student is doing is sitting down to read a text, then they need to create the time and space to do that in a mindful and engaged manner.

The Instructor Model is Part of the Process

The instructor model is an embedded part of teaching and learning. I’m sure you can identify ways you have experienced it (right now, you are experiencing it by reading this post) as well as how you utilize it in your teaching. But for most of us, as professors, I imagine that the instructor model is blended into the teacher/mentor model. While experiences provided under the instructor model are important to learning, they do not provide any real mechanism for feedback and learning argues Nichtern.

I agree with Nichtern and how he’s got this laid out. The instructor model seems pretty basic, and you probably already knew about it even if you hadn’t thought about it the way Nichtern describes it. But it’s an important foundational piece as we move forward in discussing teacher/mentor and guru. As we progress through this discussion, I hope to delve more into how these three models intertwine and dance with each other as well as highlight the complexities of teaching in and through them.

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago


Trunk Club Review #1

I think it’s high time we bring some fashion into this space. And when I say fashion, I don’t mean I’m turning this into a fashion blog or I’m about to get all fancy on you. I’m writing this in a pair of running shorts for goodness sake. And they aren’t even new. They are at least 10 years old and very well worn. All I’m saying is I think it could be helpful to take a look at some places where we can get clothing that might make us a little bit more fashionable when we show up for work.

You can define fashionable however you want. Most of the time I define it through yoga pants.

But, unfortunately, I cannot wear yoga pants everywhere. There are times when I have to put on something else (what’s up with that???). While I love buying clothes, and I really don’t even mind trying them on, over the years I come to the conclusion that showing up to the mall is a terrible, horrible thing.

I like clothes. I do not like the mall. Please do not make me go there.

I’ve tried several services that ship clothes to your doorstep. My experiences have varied, but today I’m going to share my experience with Trunk Club. Trunk Club does styling for men and women.

Note: No one asked me to review Trunk Club. I decided it would be a good idea to write about it after the fact as I thought this could add a nice dimension to the blog. I spent my own money on everything and received nothing for this.

The Basics That I Love

Trunk Club does not charge a styling fee. If they send you a box, and you want none of it, you just send it back and pay nothing. Nothing at all.

They set you up with a stylist. You get to communicate with your stylist in advance of the trunk shipping. You get to see what is in your box before it ships, and you get to say Yeah or Nay to items. Nay items will get replaced, and you can view the trunk again. I went back and forth a few times with my stylist before the trunk shipped.

Experience #1

I returned everything in my first trunk. It didn’t work for me and/or some items were too pricey. I sent my stylist links to items I liked, and we redid the trunk for a second time around. I’m ok if the first trunk isn’t a hit with me. We were getting to know each other. We went back and forth a few times, and then the second trunk shipped.

The Trunk Arrives

This is the trunk.
This is the trunk.

I opened up my trunk and found lots of pretty items wrapped up along with a box of shoes. Hooray for shoes! Trunk Club sends you a return label and extra tape to close your box back up for return shipping. You have 10 days with your clothes.


The first thing I went to was the coat on the left. It was gorgeous, and I knew I was probably going to end up buying it from the minute I saw it (I did).


The coat fit beautifully and was like nothing I had in my closet. Although it was 105 outside with the heat index, I pranced around the house in it and looked forward to cooler weather (which says a lot about my love for this coat because 105 is totally not an issue for me). Price was 150.00

Next up were these awesome booties:


These are suede and waterproof. Also, my stylist attempted to put them in my first trunk, but I said no. Then I did nothing but think of them and asked for them back. I was glad that I fell in love with them. Incredibly comfortable. Price was around 150.00

I was in dire need of a new pair of jeans and had requested them. I had said yes to these, but I did not catch that the top was a lighter color. At first I had a flashback to my years as a teenager in the 1980’s. I was 100% FOR SURE not going to buy them. But I tried them on because that is the general rule with these services, and it’s a good one.

Good grief. They were amazing. They also looked terrific with the booties and the coat. It’s not easy to find a good pair of jeans that fit well. So when they show up, I buy’em. The price – 225.00. I am sure you could get jeans for less from Trunk Club. Obviously you can get jeans cheaper a lot of places. For better or worse, I crossed a line a long time ago with jeans, and I have no problem with the price. My advice: Don’t try on a pair of jeans that are $150.00+ unless you are prepared to learn what you have been missing.


Finally, the last piece I bought was a plain and simple white shirt (59.00):


The shirt is a bit big and loose and so comfortable. It works with the jeans and booties and a scarf. The coat looks great over it as well.

The Send Backs

I sent back two pieces. One was a denim jacket. I actually loved it but chose the coat instead as the coat will get more play. The second was a gray shirt that – while a nice color for me – had a neckline that I didn’t really care for. But four out of six? I consider that a massive win. And really, I loved 5/6. Plus – no mall!

My Take

I know this was an expensive haul (584.00 is my tally give or take a couple of bucks), but the clothes are high quality and will last for a long, long time. But honestly, I have found quality to be lacking in other services I have used that give me cheaper options. I don’t need a ton of clothes because I work a lot from home (which, theoretically, can be used as a justification for my desire to own tons of yoga pants). I don’t plan on spending 600.00 – or even 400.00  – every single month on clothing. But when I spend money, I want to really, really like what I am getting. And I do. I love it.

One Year Ago

Two Years Ago