October 24th, 2017 by Jon Becker

I now follow lots of political scientists and historians on Twitter. This thread from Kevin Kruse is exemplary of why. I learn stuff every day…

(Click through for the whole thread.)

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December 7th, 2014 by Jon Becker

[This is the latest in a series of weekly posts chronicling examples of learning innovation that come across my Web radar. All of the weekly posts are tagged as twili.]

Looks like this isn’t quite a “weekly” series. I certainly aspire to that, so I’ll keep the name. Plus, the tag is already “twili,” So, twili it is.

I’m mindful that I am writing this on the eve of “Finals Week” at VCU.

Like Martha, I struggle with the whole idea of “Finals Week” or “Exam Week,” and rhetoric like “…survive exam week.” Unless you’re a marine biologist studying sharks in the ocean, or something like that, a learning experience should never be about survival. As I wrote on Twitter earlier this week:

It is in that spirit that I carry on with the “This week in learning innovation” series. I hope the examples I share are the counter-narrative to the hegemony of cramming and final exams. Onward…


The Economics of Seinfeld

It is the simplicity of Seinfeld that makes it so appropriate for use in economics courses. Using these clips (as well as clips from other television shows or movies) makes economic concepts come alive, making them more real for students. Ultimately, students will start seeing economics everywhere – in other TV shows, in popular music, and most importantly, in their own lives.

I’ve been waiting to share this with those who haven’t seen it.  The Economics of Seinfeld is a perfect example of using a different, hopefully fun and/or engaging frame or lens to teach/learn an otherwise not-so-interesting topic. Compiled by two professors of economics and a graduate student, these Seinfeld clips are a great augmentation to a larger economic curriculum. Don’t understand the basic economics concept of “fixed costs?” Here’s a clip from a Seinfeld episode that can help. The site is formatted such that each media clip is a post with its own comment section. That’s potentially fruitful territory for students to hash out some of the topics and for “outsiders” to weigh in on the examples. ““It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint — it’s delicious!” – Kramer”



Econ 201: Principles of Microeconomics – An online game for college credit

Educational games are already being used effectively to supplement traditional teaching. Our approach is to make an entire course a game by embedding the elements of good education—content, communication, interactivity, application, and assessment—into the game format. The resulting course will be not only intellectually and emotionally engaging, but also highly effective in teaching economics as a way of thinking

While we’re on the subject of economics, this is an oldie. In gaming terms, 2006 is a LONG time ago. But, I still show this to people when I can because it disrupts some misinformed thoughts about the potential of gaming for learning. In an interview on NPR, one of the professors who developed the game/course said, “This is a game in which the students are literally immersed in a story. And they take on the role of a character… So all of the reading material, all of the content, all of the examinations and homework, if you will, are built inside the engine of the game.” Imagine that!


Nifty assignments

Nifty — the Nifty Assignments often have a playful sort of “fun factor” to them. They are very visual, or they build a game, or they have entertaining output. The assignments invite the students to play around with the material.

Part of what motivated the “This week in learning innovation” series was a sense that we don’t (yet?) have a great place/space where curricular ideas and/or innovations are archived, shared, etc. In the K-12 space, there is Better Lesson and Curriki and other sites for lesson plan sharing. But, if there are similar sites aimed at higher education, I am unaware of them. I know there are open education resource repositories that contain some curricular material in them, but there’s nothing that I’m aware of that is specifically for sharing interesting learning experiences in higher education.

So, while Nifty Assignments looks like a typical website designed by computer scientists (what is it with them? what do they have against modern web design?), it’s an interesting and living example of how interesting lessons and activities might be shared.  “For each Nifty Assignment there is a short blurb in the bulletin, a 15 minute talk given at the SIG-CSE, and finally a web page…that contains assignment material ready for study or adoption. For each assignment, there is material from the assignment itself — things an instructor can use to study or adopt the assignment…”

Plus, I just like that they use the term “nifty.” It’s so… neato.

If you’re a computer scientist, poke around and dig in. If you’re not, you might find this whole idea… nifty.


Spatial History Project

The Spatial History Project at Stanford University is a place for a collaborative community of scholars to engage in creative spatial, textual and visual analysis to further research in the humanities…Our projects operate outside of normal historical practice in five ways: they are collaborative, use visualization, depend on the use of computers, are open-ended, and have a conceptual focus on space.

While we’re on the topic of Stanford…

Actually, just read that quote above. That’s pretty much everything I point to when discussing how the Web might augment learning. I’m a sucker for interesting data visualization projects, too.

Again, poke around their projects. There’s some really interesting stuff, including the Broken Paths of Freedom Project


Take Back the Archive

Take Back the Archive is a public history project created by UVa faculty, students, librarians, and archivists. It is meant to preserve, visualize, and contextualize the history of rape and sexual violence at the University of Virginia, honoring individual stories and documenting systemic issues and trends.

This has been a trying semester for our friends an hour to our west. This whole Rolling Stone saga is… complicated.

There’s not much to the Take Back the Archive project yet, but I’ll be keeping my eye on what the brilliant folks at the UVA Scholars Lab do here. It strikes me as an attempt to build a learning experience around a very important, if not very difficult topic.

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