Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gamifying your own cancer treatment: how playing a video game actually helps patients get healthier

Video games have great potential to be powerful learning tools by providing instruction, keeping students engaged or interested in a subject, or even simply by helping students stay active using Microsoft's Kinect. A new game featured in an article on CNN Tech has shown me that there is a new way that video games can teach: they can provide the motivation to fight cancer.

Re-Mission 2 is a new game created by the non-profit group HopeLab. In Re-Mission 2 the player
uses chemotherapy, cancer drugs and the body's own natural defenses to fight off cancer. In that sense, the game simply teaches the player about the science behind fighting cancer.

But something unexpected happened to the patients who played the game: they became more diligent in taking their medicine. By seeing what happens inside their bodies, patients understood the importance of receiving their treatments and had a much higher rate of sticking to their treatment schedule. Any parent knows how hard it is to get children to take their medicine or go to the doctor.  By playing the video game it helped give patients the knowledge and the will to do what it takes to get better. The video game provided willpower to a cancer patient. Doctors and patients alike have said that playing the game provides a psychological advantage to fighting cancer by giving the patient a sense of control over the disease. How extraordinary is that?  Playing the game showed patients the effect of their medicine on cancer which gave them the confidence and the will to keep fighting for their lives.

Currently the game is only available on the PC as a Flash-based game but HopeLab plans on making a version that can be played on Android and Apple devices in the near future.

Friday, May 24, 2013

WiFi is a necessity, not a luxury: use this app to find free WiFi

Just how important is the Internet to you?  I am not one to say, “I can’t function without the Internet!” If I were to honestly evaluate how much the Internet means to me, I would say that having Internet in the home is more important than having cable TV or a land-line phone. The Internet keeps us connected to the world in ways that grow every day. It brings us local and national news. It provides us with information that educates and informs us. But mostly, it keeps us connected to the people that matter the most to us.

A better question might be this: how often do you connect to the Internet each day? To this question I bet most of us would simply say “a lot” or “all the time”. There are two things I do most often when I first get on a computer – get on the Internet or check my email. Everything I want from a computer is on the Internet. On my cell phone I check Facebook and read the news on almost any time I have a few spare minutes. Yes, I’m the guy who will read an article or two while waiting in line at the grocery store. I also use Google Drive regularly to update documents and share them with others when I do not have access to a computer. The Internet keeps me connected in ways that traditional means cannot.

Name one person you know who is not connected to the Internet today. Who comes to mind? I can name just two – my 87 year old grandfather and my 86 year old grandmother. They are the sweetest couple who simply do not believe that they need to be on the Internet. Yet they have a son who lives in Florida; grandchildren in Boston, New York, and Busan (South Korea); and a great-granddaughter in Chicago. All of these family members are on Facebook, could be reached via email or +Skype, and can connect through Google Hangouts. My grandparents are missing out on the social interactions that the Internet provides.

Unfortunately, many homes in America still do not have an Internet connection. The website Internet World Stats says that only 78% of Americans are connected to the Internet, which places us 27th in the world.  Did you know that Niue ranks ahead of us?  I've never even heard of Niue!

But how does this relate to students? 
They have the same needs that adults do: be productive, stay connected, and to communicate with others. Students probably have a greater need to be on the Internet than we do as adults. I mean that: they NEED the Internet. Students are not the ones who decide whether or not they can have Internet access, though. Their parents make the decision to provide Internet in the home or to purchase a cell phone plan with Internet access. Our district is projected to provide every student with an iPad starting in August of 2014, but it will be the responsibility of the family to get Internet in the home. What if parents choose not to have home Internet service? Then the students will need to find it elsewhere.

We might be 27th in home Internet access worldwide, but Americans have two advantages over many other countries when it comes to WiFi: McDonalds and +Starbucks Coffee.  We have LOTS of McDonald's and Starbucks locations which offer free WiFi.  In fact, many businesses offer free WiFi.  When we rolled out our first batch of iPads to 1,500 students I created a digital map of the local businesses that offer free WiFi to help show our school board that even if our students do not have the Internet at home that they would still have many options for staying connected.  That map was small, it only covered part of our geographical borders, and it only included locations that I knew for a fact had wi-fi.  It simply was not accurate. Our five high schools serve towns with a combined population of over 200,000 which makes creating and maintaining a WiFi map very labor intensive.

Free WiFi Finder
An app called Free Wi-Fi Finder has replaced that small, outdated map.  You can search for free WiFi by entering an address into the search box or by letting it search based on your current location.  It produces a map with the location of free WiFi locations marked with green arrows.  Each location lists the name, address, and phone number of the business where WiFi can be found for free.

A 26MB download of its database will allow you to search for free WiFi even when you are not connected to the Internet. This allows students to go home where there is not Internet but use the app to find the closest free WiFi location to his house

The Free Wi-Fi Finder app claims to work in other counties, but my colleague's search for free WiFi in Jamaica, his spring break destination, yielded zero results.  The app relies on its users to enter new locations, so it looks like when he arrives he is going to have to tag the free WiFi zones for the rest of us.

Now if only I could get my grandparents on the Internet. Since they won’t be leaving the house, the Free Wi-Fi Finder app will not help them very much. It looks like I will have to buy them an Xbox One to keep them connected to the rest of the family. 

(This article is an update on an earlier one. Click here to see the original.)

Friday, May 10, 2013

Addressing the negative student behaviors in a one-to-one classroom

I strongly believe that technology is going to completely revolutionize the classroom. But when are we going to start addressing the negative aspects of the one-to-one classroom? When are we going to acknowledge the fact that just because every student has a device it does not mean that they will get a 36 on the ACT? I have seen videos of babies that can play with an iPad, but that does not mean that high school students intuitively know how to use one to effectively collaborate and communicate in the classroom. Let's be honest: using technology in the classroom is harder than teaching the "old way". It takes a whole new skill set, and it requires a lot of work to get ourselves over the new barriers caused by the technology. We can overcome the obstacles, but we need to acknowledge that the obstacles are there. A hurdler does not run down the track blindfolded - he has to see the hurdles in front of him if he is going to clear them and win the race.

There are SO MANY well-documented positive results of using technology in the classroom. There are major studies that will tell you that technology improves a child's education in very specific ways. Read Project Red's study of nearly one thousand schools in Revolutionizing Education Through Technology to learn about 13 specific areas where schools will see benefits from a strong one-to-one program. The key to making progress is to implement it PROPERLY, and that is where many schools fail. They throw technology in the classroom and expect benefits to appear. But they don't always appear - some benefits do not reveal themselves right away, and some never appear at all. Not only do you have use technology the right way, but you also have to be prepared to identify and overcome the problems. 

Besides just documenting the positive aspects of using technology, schools also need to be on the lookout for the negatives. It's still early in the one-to-one era, but a surprising number of schools are simply not prepared for the question of, "What do we do when things aren't working quite right?" As classrooms change with the addition of technology, we need to celebrate the positives but also realistically deal with the distinct negatives that were not present before. So what are the negatives?

Student behaviors, actions and attitudes
  1. Technology becomes the distraction. Students can find it hard to resist the temptations of all the iPad has to offer. They are easily distracted by the games, videos, chatting, and social media sites.  They're much more fun than listening to a teacher, right? Classroom management can be very difficult when thirty students have iPads in front of them, and it's not always easy to see what they are doing. Distracted students who are  not paying attention in class is probably the number one gripe from teachers. 
  2. Distracting other students.  Many students are perfectly capable of paying attention in class and using their tablet or cell phone effectively - unless they are sitting next to another student who is not so disciplined. It's hard for other students to ignore one who is watching videos or playing games in class. When one student is distracted, he becomes a distraction to others. 
  3. Difficulty evaluating information. Students think that when they "Google" a question that they will get the right answer. They are not naturally adept at discerning the difference between "good" information and "bad" information. Students need practice to hone their skills in information literacy which is one of the six national educational technology standards for students (NETS-S).
  4. Less interest in the class. It is generally accepted that student interest and engagement increase when they are in a one-to-one classroom. But what happens when a teacher is not prepared to use technology effectively? Students will actually lose interest in the class if the teacher does not provide lessons that take advantage of the technology or use the same boring technology over and over again. Keynote presentations everyday? Boring! 
  5. Loss of sleep. When students are well-rested they are more capable of processing information, concentrating, making decisions, and interacting with others. Losing sleep can have negative consequences academically for a student. An unanticipated consequence of our one-to-one program is that our kids take their iPads to bed with them where they check Facebook, Instant Message and video chat with each other, or simply watch Harlem Shake videos for hours on end. Some students are not accustomed to having Internet access 24 hours a day, and consequently they lose sleep for the first few weeks (or months or longer) while they explore the wonders of the Internet.
  6. Increased incidences of bullying. Administrators often anticipate that there will be an increase in anonymous attacks on other students over the Internet. What we found is that many students are not afraid to use their actual names and accounts to launch attacks on each other. You can easily find students from your own school who post horrible comments and photos about other students on Twitter and Facebook by doing a simple Internet search. Bullying in person is damaging, but when bullies use technology it's amplified a hundred times over. I will not recount for you the number of incidences where online bullying resulted in suicide for the victim. Use the term "facebook bullying suicide" in a search engine and see for yourself. Online bullying is devastating. Unfortunately, only one in ten students will tell an adult that they are being bullied online.
Technology has changed the behavior of our students, but we as educators can help address those issues. In the long run, these problems will be resolved. You will find the solution to these problems much faster if you can identify them and address them. The six I listed were chosen based on my personal observation and from research I did on the subject. I am sure there are others. 

Just because students behave differently when using technology does not mean that only students have to change. Teachers and administrators also have to change their attitudes, behaviors, and professional practices if your one-to-one program is going to be successful. I will address that aspect in another article.