Category Archives: Technology in the Classroom

Making Inferences with Mona Lisa: An Istation Reading Game

Who stole the Mona Lisa?

That’s a question middle school readers have a unique chance to answer with the newest interactive reading experience from Istation.

What is Istation?

Istation provides reading assessments and individualized instruction for pre-K through high school students. Istation Reading consists of an interactive, computer-based program as well as a comprehensive series of teacher-directed lessons (Istation, 2012). Currently in development is Timeless Tales with Paige Turner, an interdisciplinary reading intervention designed for struggling students in grades 6-12.

Timeless Tales with Paige Turner is designed to support student achievement in reading. The curriculum aligns with state and Common Core standards in English Language Arts and Reading. The curriculum also aligns with Istation’s ISIP-AR assessment, a progress-monitoring tool. ISIP-AR, or Istation’s Indicators of Progress – Advanced Reading, is an automated computer-adaptive test to which students are automatically routed at set points throughout the school year, depending on the level of product purchased and the assessment and instructional goals outlined by school administrators (Istation, 2012). Ideally, as students progress through the curriculum, their scores on ISIP-AR should demonstrate growth.

The feature character for Timeless Tales, Paige Turner, is an artist, writer, traveler, collector, and storyteller. She is fascinated by storytelling and the archetypal hero’s journey. Paige channels her excitement into creating an ongoing graphic novel series. Paige deeply believes in the potential hero within everyone. Paige deliberately studies the craft of storytelling and shares her knowledge at every opportunity (Masters, 2012).

The ultimate goal of Timeless Tales is that students who have struggled in traditional classroom environments will learn, internalize, and generalize vital reading comprehension strategies that will serve them and support their success in future academic endeavors as well as in their lives and careers.


Instructional Design Choices

The Timeless Tales curriculum consists of ten units of instruction. These units span themes related to humanities and social studies from prehistoric times to the present, and include a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts. Each unit contains two main reading comprehension lessons. The first lesson targets a comprehension skill which aligns with the lower three knowledge levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy: remembering, understanding, and applying. The second lesson in each unit targets the higher three levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy: analyzing, evaluating, and creating (Chapman, 2008-2010).

The first lesson in Unit 1 (Lesson 1.1A) targets the skill of sequencing, or putting the events in a text in order. The second lesson in Unit 1 (Lesson 1.1B) targets the higher-level skill of making inferences. Lesson 1.1B is delivered online and teaches students to follow a metacognitive process to make inferences about the world and about the texts they read (Istation, 2013).

Like all Istation Reading lessons, Lesson 1.1B – Making Inferences is delivered online. Students typically interact with the curriculum in a computer lab setting, using headphones. Sometimes, students use the program in their classrooms. Students can access the program from home, too. The program follows a linear path, but students’ individual experiences are somewhat driven by their responses.

An Interactive Reading Experience

Instead of presenting the “Who Stole the Mona Lisa” passage in  to students as a single, complete passage and then presenting students with a series of multiple-choice questions at the conclusion of the passage, instructional designers at Istation decided to create an interactive reading experience for students that gives them a sense of choice and control throughout the lesson, provides an engaging visual environment, and measures their success at making inferences by tracking their unique responses at set checkpoints throughout the lesson.

The overall approach is a hybrid of a role-playing game experience, an action maze with fixed navigation options, and questioning which promotes annotation, critical thinking, making inferences, and overall reading comprehension. All of the material will be presented in a visually engaging way.

Benefits of Instructional Design

The instructional design for the “Mona Lisa” guided practice segment is projected to have multiple benefits to students.  Even though technological and practical limitations exist in the construct of the described learning experience, at its core, the instructional design promotes student engagement and motivation.

When students are empowered with a sense of control over their own educational experiences, “they feel they have a stake in the outcomes” and this is one of the “most powerful tools [educators] have” (Toshalis & Nakkula, September 2012). Although the Istation technology behind the learning experiences contained in this guided practice lesson does control students’ path through the program and therefore, their experience, the illusion of choice and control may very well be enough to improve motivation.

By asking students reflection questions to which there are no clear right or wrong answers, even in the context of this detective story, instructional designers at Istation hope to achieve elevated achievement by promoting student voice and choice, which has been shown to lead to “better self-reflection and preparation for improvement in struggling students”  (Toshalis & Nakkula, September 2012).

When a learning activity presents information in manageable chunks rather than an overwhelming volume of information and shifts its focus to open-ended critical thinking questions, for which there are no clear right or wrong answers, the demotivating drudgery of standardized learning activities is counteracted and learning seems to “begin and end with the thoughts, feelings, visions, and actions of the students themselves” (Toshalis & Nakkula, September 2012). This is empowering. And simply, empowerment is motivating.

For more information, check out the full instructional design analysis here:

Masters-Project 3 EDU 625

Or, check out the draft of the lesson script here:


This is a very exciting time for all of us at Istation, as we incorporate best instructional practices, new educational technologies, and engaging and creative texts, images, and animations into the design and development of our newest program.

Keep checking back, and check out the links below, for more information and updates on Timeless Tales with Paige Turner!


Additional information about Timeless Tales with Paige Turner and the technology and media incorporated into this lesson can be found at:


Chapman, A. (2008-2010). Bloom’s Taxonomy – Learning Domains. Retrieved from Business Balls:

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2013). English Language Arts Standards: Grade 6.

Half Baked Software. (2003-2009). What is Quandary? Retrieved from Half Baked Software:

Istation. (2012). ISIP-AR. Retrieved from Istation:

Istation. (2013, June). Istation Reading. Retrieved September 3, 2012, from Istation:

Kuenster, D. “Who Stole the Mona Lisa, Part 1″. Istation, Dallas, TX.

Malamed, C. (2012). Writing Multiple Choice Questions For Higher Order Thinking. Retrieved from The eLearning Coach:

Masters, N. F. (2011-2013). Timeless Tales with Paige Turner. Retrieved September 2012, from

McDonald, J., & Gibbons, A. (June 2009). Technology I, II, and III: criteria for understanding and improving the practice of instructional technology. Educational Technolgoy Research & Develoment, 377-392.

Texas Education Agency. (2009). Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills: English Language Arts and Reading (Figure 19). Austin, TX.

Toshalis, E., & Nakkula, M. J. (September 2012). Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice. Education Digest, 78(1), 29-35.


Your Story Matters

As a single mom balancing a career and grad school, I’m not sure what I’d do if my coursework at Post University didn’t cleanly align with my work as an instructional designer at Istation.

I’ve been working on Timeless Tales with Paige Turner, an online reading intervention for struggling middle school students, about as long as I’ve been studying instructional design and technology at Post. My coursework has guided the design of the curriculum I’m building all along. It’s kind of a beautiful thing.

In the world of education, we often talk about how students need to be able to apply what they’ve learned in the most authentic setting possible in order to gain a deep understanding, to generalize and internalize their new knowledge. In my case, as a student, that’s exactly what I get to do.

In the Beginning

As I initially developed the broad themes and content for the curriculum, I took classes about the general state of education and the growing implications of technology in education. I took classes about the population of students currently working their way through the system. I studied the processes of the brain, measured and analyzed data, and immersed myself in research about how humans learn.

I studied standardized test scores, data about poverty and its impact on student success, and research about how the 21st century student thinks and functions differently than the 19th or 20th century student did.

I learned how technology is impacting our global economy, and discussed with my colleagues the myriad ways new trends in technology will likely impact the types of skills that today’s students will need in the future.

As I was learning these things, I designed the scope of the program to align with who its users would be. I thought about content that would get the attention of a would-be dropout. I thought about the social media world and how we might leverage it to build opportunities for collaboration. I thought about the English Language Learners making their way through America’s school system today and designed language supports to meet their needs.

Every new piece of information I devoured was deliberately applied to the overall design of Timeless Tales.

During my first year at Post, most of my work at Istation was theoretical, in that I was mapping out the path students would take through the program. I studied the state assessments to pinpoint the skills they’d need in order to graduate. Then, I planted these skills in the context of the overreaching theme of the hero’s journey and the power of storytelling to shape and impact human history.

I wanted the program itself to tell a story. I wanted to give struggling and demotivated teenagers a reason to master the skills the education system deems critical for their success.

But more than that, I wanted to empower them. Our world needs problem-solvers. We need innovative thinkers who can create solutions.

Timeless Tales is a reading program. But the value of being able to read and comprehend texts does not end at the edges of the academic world. Reading really is power. Mastery of reading is synonymous with mastery of the new world.

History shows that a lack of access to information can cripple entire populations.

We’ve got a dropout problem in the U.S., and if these kids can’t read by the time they leave school, they are at a grave disadvantage.

The information highway is perhaps the most empowering technological advance ever devised. If you want to know something, all you have to do is get online and read about it. It really is that simple.

But even further, if you want to transform knowledge into a vehicle for change, you’ve also got to be able to think critically about what you read, to analyze and synthesize information, to use what you know to create something new.

As a curriculum designer, I wanted to shape a virtual experience that could help empower these students. I wanted them to know that they can tell their own stories, shape their own futures, and use the skills and talents they have to make the world better. And I wanted to give them access to the tremendous wealth of knowledge available today.

From Theory to Practice

As I moved on to the upper level courses focused on leveraging technology tools for instructional design, the production of Timeless Tales started to take off. We moved from the high-level goals, the analysis of needs, and the design phases into the nitty gritty of development and production.

The first 600-level course I took focused on the ADDIE design model. I don’t think that ADDIE is necessarily the end-all, be-all of instructional design, but working my way through it enabled me to create legitimate design documents that helped bring my vision for Timeless Tales into reality.


I was able to follow a process to communicate my vision to the entire production team, and I was able to use documentation of my research to justify the program’s layout to our educational consultants and upper management teams.

So I’ve got goal. I’ve got a map. I’ve got buy-in. Now, what does it LOOK like?

That’s where my current course on the integration of technology into teaching and learning comes in. With a focus on authentic and motivating learning experiences, we’ve delved into technological tools and lesson designs that can deeply enrich a curriculum like Timeless Tales.

Seven weeks ago, I began this course. In seven weeks, we’ve organized a game-based learning team to brainstorm ways to translate educational objectives into fun and engaging games that accurately measure student success. We’ve scrapped standardized, multiple-choice style assessments in several areas of the program.

Last week, one of our engineers sent me fifty ideas for game-based learning experiences. A brand-new programmer designed three vocabulary activities around the idea that students should have high-level conceptual understanding of words as well as the skill of being able to plug those words into appropriate contexts and sentences.

Our lead engineer designed an infrastructure wherein students will be able to annotate texts, share their annotations with others in the program, and refer back to them anytime.

Our creative director has mapped out three different role-playing scenarios to replace three learning activities that consisted of students’ reading a passage and then answering some questions.


We’ve generated new content, new stories to tell. We’re writing about real-life heroes solving real-life problems. We’ve created a library of texts written on a level that a struggling reader can actually access and understand, and we’ve created choice-based incentives for them to explore the richness of the new content we offer.


In short, what I’ve learned in this course has directly impacted the development of Timeless Tales. We’re on a renewed mission to innovate, and every step we take remains aligned with our ultimate goal – to create a positive and empowering reading experience for a kid who may not even care anymore.

We’re trying to tell a really important story – the story of people and what they can do to shape the future. And we’re working really hard at designing Timeless Tales to engage students with a variety of technological tools.

Everything we build is built to communicate, “You can do this. You can read. You can think. You can analyze. You can create. And what you create matters, because just like every other story that’s ever been told, your story matters, too, kid.”



Churches, A. (2009). Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy: It’s not about the tools. It’s about using the tools to facilitate learning.

Clark, D. (2011, September 26). ADDIE. Retrieved from Big Dog and Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition:

Culatta, R. (2011). Instructional Design. Retrieved August 30, 2012, from ADDIE Model:

Hodell, C. (2011). ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design. Chelsea, MI: Sheridan Books, Inc.

Istation. (2012, June). Istation Reading. Retrieved September 3, 2012, from Istation:

Moore, D. L. (n.d.). Why Vocabulary Instruction Matters. Best Practices in Secondary Education.

Sincero, S. M. (2011). Cognitive Learning Theory. Retrieved from Experiment Resources:

Tapscott, D. (2008). grown up digital. McGraw Hill.

Thagard, P. (2005). Mind: Introduction to Cognitive Science (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Toshalis, E., & Nakkula, M. J. (September 2012). Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice. Education Digest, 78(1), 29-35.

Zirbel, E. (n.d.). Teaching to Promote Deep Understanding and Instigate Conceptual Change. Tufts University.


Survey Monkeying Around

Why Monkey?

If we’re sticking to the merits of ADDIE, or at least considering that it’s got merit, it only makes sense to take the “E” pretty seriously.

By evaluating our instructional designs at every stage, we can continue not only to improve them, but also to ensure that they are meeting the needs of our students and schools.

To effectively evaluate any instructional design, it is necessary to choose the right tools. It makes sense to analyze evaluation tools and consider how they may or may not provide the information sought at any given stage of the instructional design process.

In this case, I focused on an evaluation tool that might be able to provide me with good information about users’ experiences with the technology-based curriculum I’m currently developing.

As the first segment of the program hits production and is released, I’m interested in obtaining user feedback. I want to know what students, teachers, and administrators think about several specific components of the program, a piece of Istation Reading called Timeless Tales with Paige Turner.


Historically, my company hasn’t invested extensively in field testing and/or this type of evaluation. So I also wanted to know how much bang we could get for our buck.

Enter Survey Monkey.

Website Props

This review isn’t technically supposed to focus on Survey Monkey’s website, but the marketing and sales professional I was in a former life compels me to give it a mention.

Immediately upon arriving at Survey Monkey’s site, I was greeted with the answers to my biggest questions, and in a friendly, easy-to-manage format. I understood what Survey Monkey was, saw at least five potential industries/arenas for its use, and could have signed up instantly.

From the first page, I learned that I could design surveys, collect the results, and analyze the data. I learned that these surveys could be used for market research, education, customer satisfaction, nonprofits, and human resources.

There were also hints to extra features like targeting a specific audience, and a few links at the top just in case I wanted to learn more, which I did.

Nice work, Survey Monkey!

Uses & Features

Because I’m most interested in using Survey Monkey for evaluating user attitudes and the overall effectiveness of a technology-based program designed for middle school students, the first link I clicked took me to Survey Monkey’s education page.

Here, I learned about several different uses for surveys in education, which definitely piqued my interest and gave me some good ideas.

I also noted the customer testimonial from a Samsung professional, and again, my inner marketing professional couldn’t help but give kudos to Survey Monkey’s web designers. Nice touch.

Next, I went back to home and clicked on the “How it Works” link. There, I discovered a pretty nice set of features offered by Survey Monkey, though I suspected they couldn’t all possibly come with the free edition. I was right.

A quick glance at the features page, and my wheels were already turning. We can brand these surveys with our company logo? Target audiences for specific purposes? Get reports to help us analyze the data obtained from the surveys?

Of course, my next question was, “So, how much does all of this cost?”

I learned more as I ventured further into the website. The plans and pricing structures are clearly outlined via one of the homepage links. There, I learned that custom-branded surveys cost upwards of $700 per year. That’s the fanciest plan. Other plans offer various feature packages at various price points.

The free version offers ten questions and a hundred responses per survey and a host of web-based tools. I signed up for free and went from there.

Getting Started

Once I created my account, I was greeted with a welcome page. To the right was an opportunity to upgrade. I did not.

The create-a-survey page offers tips and various levels of support.

When I clicked on the button to create a survey, I was then directed to a new page where I had opportunities to customize my survey, add questions and pages, create headers and titles, and more. The navigation and tools here were intuitive and clear, for the most part.

I got started right away, creating a general survey designed for teachers and administrators, which I hoped could provide insight into their first impressions of the Timeless Tales program.

A Few Bumps

Right away, I was faced with my first problem. I’m a visual person, and I like to have control over the visual design of anything I do or publish.

I love WordPress because I get to pick the themes, colors, and layout for my blog. I have enough control, and enough basic HTML knowledge, to be able to tweak the overall look and feel of my blog at will.

Of course, before I started building content for my survey, I wanted to play with the look of it. It didn’t take long before I realized that I wouldn’t be able to create a survey with red accents to match the Istation branding and logo, because red wasn’t available as a ready-made template. To customize a theme, I’d have to upgrade to the pricey “PRO” package.

Unfortunately, this information was conveyed via a banner at the top of the customized theme page, which didn’t prevent me from spending time attempting to customize my survey’s appearance.

I fiddled with colors, fonts, and layout a little, and then realized I’d have to upgrade to save my changes. This was disappointing.

I also considered whether I wanted to generate questions from scratch or take advantage of the various template surveys available. I clicked on the option to create an “Education” template survey.

However, as I browsed, I realized that of the twenty-one education-related surveys available, only five of them are available to users with free accounts. If I wanted to take advantage of the other sixteen templates, I’d have to upgrade to PRO.

Monkeying Through the Bumps

At this point, I decided to create my own, fairly generic-looking survey using the Survey Monkey “Question Bank” as a resource. The site claims that the question bank contains thousands of “certified” questions and also claims that these questions are worded in such a way as to eliminate bias and generate usable results.

Because my survey is very particular, I couldn’t just click to grab the stock questions, but I did find perusing them helpful in generating my own questions.

I liked the question generation tool and found it very easy to use. I liked that it offered many types of questions and allowed for editing, even once the questions had been generated. I liked that there were multiple-choice questions, ranking questions, open-ended questions, and more to choose from.

Between perusing the question bank and playing around with multiple question types, I felt I could easily create an objective survey with relative ease.

My Survey

In the end, I ended up with a Timeless Tales Intro and Lesson 1.1A survey which I think I can present to the higher-ups as an example of the kind of information we could gather from a full-scale field study.

I’d like to send it off to several of my teacher friends, along with access to the initial release of Timeless Tales, currently hosted on our development server, and see what they think.

I’m certainly not going to shell out $780 for the PRO version of Survey Monkey, but I might be able to convince my company to do it. I think the tools available might be worth the cost. I’ll have to research a little deeper if I want to build a solid argument for Survey Monkey as a viable business tool.

In the meantime, I’m reasonably satisfied with what I was able to accomplish with my free account.

I can see potential for internal use, too. I could send a survey to the members of our Istation Education Committee, who review and comment on each piece of the program as it is released.

With such a survey tool in place, I might be able to help control their feedback, help keep the committee’s feedback productive and useful, help keep our focus targeted.


I feel that surveys like this can not only help instructional designers when we receive the feedback, but can also prove useful in their very generation. By deciding on the types of questions to ask, we are also articulating what exactly we want to know.

In short, asking the right questions of our instructional designs can be just as critical a step toward successful evaluation as collecting and analyzing the answers to those questions.

And that’s an outcome worth monkeying around for!




Austin, I. (2011). Instructional Design Basics – ADDIE Analysis. Retrieved from

Churches, A. (2009). Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy: It’s not about the tools. It’s about using the tools to facilitate learning.

Istation. (2012, June). Istation Reading. Retrieved September 3, 2012, from Istation:

ISU College of Education. (2012). ADDIE: Evaluate. Retrieved from Idaho State University College of Education, College of Science, Math, and Technology Education:

Jackson, A. G. (2009). Curriculum Integration: The Use of Technology to Support Learning. Journal of College Teaching & Learning, 71-78.

Malamed, C. (2012). When Your Content Resembles Spaghetti. Retrieved from The eLearning Coach:

McDonald, J., & Gibbons, A. (June 2009). Technology I, II, and III: criteria for understanding and improving the practice of instructional technology. Educational Technolgoy Research & Develoment, 377-392.

A Refreshed Idea for Game-Based eLearning

As an instructional designer for Istation, my entire world these days revolves around ways to integrate technology, teaching, and learning.

One of the traps of educational technology is the tendency to use it to do exactly what wasn’t working in the classroom.

Not only do instructional designers have to be creative about the use of technology itself, but we have to be creative about our instructional approaches. The challenge when designing instruction specifically for use with technology tools is marrying the best instructional methods possible within the parameters of the technology available.

When I started with this program, it was not much more than a nebulous idea.

The Nebula:

  • The teacher character’s name is Paige Turner.
  • Paige’s “thing” is storytelling.
  • We want to incorporate the hero’s journey, mythology, fables, folklore, and social studies standards.
  • We want to expand the types of activities included in the program.

Now, let’s fast-forward two years to where we are today with the program, now called Timeless Tales with Paige Turner, which is a part of Istation’s larger Advanced Reading Curriculum.

  • We’ve organized the state and national standards, ranked them according to Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • We’ve created a logical scope and sequence.
  • We’ve fleshed out Paige’s character, creating her as a graphic novelist, a blogger, a world traveler, and a writer.
  • We’ve selected humanities-based themes for each of the program’s ten instructional units.
  • We’ve built frameworks for instruction in reading comprehension, vocabulary, word analysis, text fluency, writing, grammar, and self-selected reading.

Most notably, and also most recently, we’ve also created templates for each activity, so that every lesson begins with metacognitive strategy instruction and an explanation of terms. Then we introduce a guided practice activity surrounding a story or nonfiction text. We finish each lesson with an independent practice activity that mirrors what students will experience on their state reading assessments each spring and also aligns with our own separate benchmark assessment.

However, as we’ve developed these templates, which both lend research-based structure to the lessons and also smooth the production process, we’ve been faced with a new challenge.

We know that “our assumptions about instruction, learning, learners, and design can lead to the creation of formulaic instruction”(McDonald & Gibbons, June 2009). And we know that formulaic instruction isn’t always the most effective approach.


  • How do we keep a predictable lesson structure from being boring?
  • How do we keep things fresh, use new and interesting activities, and get students involved in ways that will actually activate their prior knowledge and allow them to make connections between what they’re learning and the real world?
  • How do we integrate technology, teaching, and learning in a fun, meaningful, and engaging way?

According to the International Society for Technology in Education in 2011:

School districts that have successfully led school turnaround and improvement efforts recognize that education technology is one of the best ways to accelerate reform, providing the immediate tools to ensure that all teachers and students have access to the latest innovative instructional pathways. If we are serious about school improvement, we must be serious about education technology.


If ed reformers and districts ready for change are serious about education technology, then we as instructional designers must be serious about creating what they call “the latest innovative instructional pathways.” Period.

One of the answers we’ve played around with is game-based learning. As a company, we’ve always incorporated games into our programs, but they have been somewhat rudimentary and have typically focused on the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

This time around, our challenge is to create gaming experiences for students within the guided practice segments of the lessons that activate higher-level thinking skills and allow them to make authentic connections to their learning.

We’re not alone. “Developers and researchers are working in every area of game-based learning,” from entertainment to education and training (Johnson, Adams, & Haywood, 2011).

We’ve been tossing around the idea of using the classic Role-Playing Game (RPG) format because we can incorporate enough text to require reading comprehension and because they’re flexible enough to allow for higher-level questioning.

Here are a few of our ideas:

Lesson 2.1B – Symbolism

  • Theme – Fairy Tales & Folklore
  • Learning Objectives
    • Understanding symbolism
    • Using resources to identify and apply the meaning of various symbols
    • Idea
      • Students might encounter three doors and six or eight symbols. On each door would be written a blurb or scenario. Nearby would be a large reference book with the meanings of the six or eight symbols. Students would have to select the symbol most appropriate for each door and then use the symbols to unlock the doors. Payoff behind each door.

 Lesson 4.1A – Author’s Purpose

  • Theme – Filmmaking as  Modern Storytelling Vehicle
    • Here we’ve been brainstorming ways to convey how the various members of a film crew contribute to executing the producer’s or the director’s vision for the film (the “author’s purpose).
    • Learning Objectives
      • Identifying author’s purpose
      • Analyze how various parts of the whole contribute to the author’s purpose
      • Idea
        • We could have a film production meeting, have each character share their ideas for their contributions (costume designer might have two or three costume style suggestions, set designer might have two or three set design ideas), and then the students would have to choose which of their ideas would best contribute to the given purpose/intended feel/direction for the film.

Lesson 6.1A – Understanding Point of View and Perspective

  • Theme – Age of Exploration
  • Learning Objectives
    • Analyze and evaluate how point of view can impact the telling of a story
    • Idea
      • Students could interact with two characters who tell widely varying accounts of the same story. Then, they could answer questions about each character’s point of view and evaluate the accuracy of each version of the story. The idea is to show them that the same story can be told from varying perspectives. Payoff would be to find out what really happened.


For inspiration, we’ve been exploring some RPG games from yesteryear. Check them out:

Swiss Family Robinson on Apple II


Monkey Island for MS Dos PCs


The Legend of Zelda for Nintendo 64

It might be a tried-and-true educational method to simply introduce a skill, give students an opportunity to practice with a graphic organizer or a multiple-choice format, and then to assess their mastery of that skill.

However, the students who will be using our program are those who have not been traditionally successful in the classroom. What makes us think that doing the same thing on-screen that we tried in 3D is going to work? Isn’t there some old adage about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

Well, this time, Timeless Tales is going out on a limb.

So, we’re going to build some old-school games with modern style, pepper in some real-life connections, and see how the kids using our program respond. I am genuinely excited!


Churches, A. (2009). Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy: It’s not about the tools. It’s about using the tools to facilitate learning.

International Society for Technology in Education. (2011). Top Ten in ’10: ISTE’s Education Technology Priorities for 2010. Retrieved January 26, 2013, from iste: International Society for Technology in Education:

Istation. (2012, June). Istation Reading. Retrieved January 25, 2013, from Istation:

ISU College of Education. (2012). ADDIE: Develop. Retrieved from Idaho State University College of Education, College of Science, Math, and Technology Education:

Johnson, L., Adams, S., & Haywood, K. (2011). The NMC Horizon Report 2011 K-12 Edition. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium.

Masters, N. F. (2011-2012). Timeless Tales with Paige Turner. Retrieved January 2013, from

McDonald, J., & Gibbons, A. (June 2009). Technology I, II, and III: criteria for understanding and improving the practice of instructional technology. Educational Technolgoy Research & Develoment, 377-392.

National Research Council. (2002). Learning and Understanding: Improvinig Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.

The Development Phase: ADDIE Serves Up Humble Pie

If the ultimate goal of any instructional designer is to create a course that imparts knowledge and changes behavior, then the development phase of ADDIE is the ultimate test for the instructional designer.

Depending on how things go, it might be a plateful of Humble Pie.

Does the Visible Work Match the Invisible Work?

See, when you get past all the thinking that goes into the analysis and design phases of ADDIE, in the development phase, it’s time to actually create the course. It’s sort of like the midterm exam for the instructional designer, because this is the part in the process where the designer gets to test whether he or she conducted adequate analysis up front and/or whether he or she thought of EVERYTHING in the design plan.

See, if all the nearly invisible work of instructional design wasn’t done thoroughly, with careful consideration of the audience, the organization, the goals, the learning objectives, the desired outcomes, the environment, the technology and materials available, the mode of delivery, and the facilitation of the learning experience, then the development phase is going to reveal any and all critical mistakes or omissions.

Not only that, but the development phase presents new opportunities to make decisions, and each must be carefully weighed against the goals and objectives of the instructional design project.

If you’ve analyzed thoroughly and designed instruction well, then development should be smooth and satisfying, like a cold drink on a hot day. If you haven’t, it’s going to get bumpy. The materials won’t match your objectives. The questions you ask of learners won’t actually assess their mastery of the content. The materials will be patchy, or confusing, or worse – ugly!

So what happens if you get to the development phase and you realize that it’s time to backtrack a little, time to reassess whether what you’re actually creating is what you intended to create?

The eLearning Coach (fast becoming a professional hero of mine) shares some tips:

But wait! There’s more!

Team – Work or Play?

The development phase also offers opportunities for collaboration. At this stage of the game, most instructional designers have to play nice with all the others involved with the project. They’ve got to be excellent communicators (and we’re back to the efficacy of the design plan here), so that everyone involved understands what deliverables are needed and envisioned for the project.

Instructional designers get to be financial planners and project managers, too. Are the materials within budget? Does everyone have a clear idea of their roles and responsibilities in the development phase?

Do the art, graphics, engineering, authoring, and management teams agree on the look, feel, and outcome of the instruction? What about technology? Will the designer build the course himself, like Pa Ingalls built houses in the Little House series? Or will the designer need to rely on an army of others to see his instructional vision come to life?

Testing, Testing…

And of course, the development phase offers opportunities for testing. Depending on the scope of the project and the budget allowed, the designer may simply present prototype materials to a single decision maker for review. Or, the materials may be subject to committee review. Or, formal pilot testing may be implemented.

Even the best laid instructional plans with the most savvy and talented development teams behind them are going to reveal room for improvement. It may be as simple as adding more graphics or changing a font. The testing may reveal that some of the learner activities which the designer envisioned as absolutely captivating may be as boring as watching hair grow, or that they don’t match the evaluation or assessment of content mastery, or that the interface isn’t user-friendly, or that learner evaluations don’t really measure what they’re supposed to measure.

Because analysis and design are both incredibly detailed, but relatively high-level phases in the process by comparison, the development phase takes instructional design down to the nitty gritty. The good news is that it also allows opportunities to make adjustments, to be creative with solutions, to nudge or tuck or bend just enough so that the final product matches the designer’s vision. This is a good thing.


Of course, for many instructional designers, not to mention the management teams who anxiously await the product of all those dollars they’ve pumped into a project, the development phase is the best part of the whole process. It’s the part where they get to see all the analysis, all the planning, all the design considerations and vision and goals and objectives take shape. Everything they’ve thought and discussed and measured and considered over the course of the process so far starts to happen. When the process of instructional design is working, development is the incredibly gratifying “AHA!” moment. It’s the birth of a vision. And that’s pretty cool.



Ashland University. (n.d.). Instructional Design. Retrieved from Operations > Information Technology:

Clark, D. (2011, September 26). ADDIE. Retrieved from Big Dog and Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition:

Gordon, A. (2012). ID Roles and Responsibilities. Retrieved from Gordon Computer:

Hodell, C. (2011). ISD From the Ground Up: A No-Nonsense Approach to Instructional Design. Chelsea, MI: Sheridan Books, Inc.

ISU College of Education. (2012). ADDIE: Develop. Retrieved from Idaho State University College of Education, College of Science, Math, and Technology Education:

Malamed, C. (2012). When Your Content Resembles Spaghetti. Retrieved from The eLearning Coach:

Moodle Noodle

Well, this week I explored Moodle for the first time. I felt like a pro through the first part of the process, installation.

And then things got hairy…


I started getting error messages like these every time I tried to log into my site:

Oh, the frustration!!!



It seemed that no matter how many open programs I closed, how many different avenues I took to get into my Moodle system admin role, or how many times I restarted my computer, these blasted errors were here to stay. In my frustration, trying to balance life, work, home, parenting, grocery shopping, and play dates, I skimmed and scanned the forums and missed my instructor’s advice to contact my domain host tech support.

I tried and tried again, and yet I continued to fail… Meanwhile, my colleagues were posting all these really neat screenshots of their explorations of Moodle, learning about all these features, and really starting to make things happen.

Still, my life online looked like this:

The horror was, well, horrible.

Finally, after spending most of the day watching my 23-year-old sister who has autism and trying unsuccessfully for hours and hours to get into my site, I decided to give it one last go this evening. What do you know? I was in!

I had been lucky enough to get a couple of hours on Moodle before the server errors kicked me out earlier in the week, so I quickly set to building and exploring. I scrolled through some of my colleagues’ posts, checked out their screenshots, and tried to absorb as much as I possibly could in record time.

It may not look like much to you, but my ability to insert these four features into my Moodle Sandbox demo course this evening gave me the most spectacular array of nerdy emotions. I ran the gamut.

Mostly, I was humbled. Over these past few weeks, I had been feeling PRETTY SMUG about my ability to quickly build, customize, and polish my new online presence. I felt like a genius when I figured out how to edit code to change the colors on my website. I felt like a pro when I learned how to embed images and videos into my posts, and even to edit their dimensions to suit my ideal layout.


This server error business is still a mystery to me. One thing is certain: I will never, ever, ever assume that a totally unfamiliar technology is going to work perfectly for me just because I want it to. Never again.

But here’s the thing. I can’t forget the overreaching theme and mission of this site, even in a tech rant like this. We are here to LEARN. The awesome thing about technology is that I already know that within just a few days or weeks, or maybe months at most, I’ll have this Moodle thing down pat. I’ll be building an online classroom where we can connect and share our knowledge, and it will not only function, it will function elegantly.

That’s the beauty of open source, user manuals, and a philosophy on life that goes something like this:

Try. Try again.

And just in case you, too, have suffered through your first encounter with a powerful new technology anytime recently, here are a few resources to whet your whistle and rebuild your faith that technology can indeed be harnessed for the common good.


The World of Moodle

The Mohnkern Learning Center — Powered by Moodle

Transitioning to PolyLearn (Moodle)


Maximizing the Home-School Connection

Research clearly shows that students whose parents are actively involved with their children’s schools are more likely to stay in school, to exhibit better performance on standardized assessments of basic skills and knowledge, and to attend and graduate from college.

But striking a balance between the needs of students, teachers, and parents has been historically challenging, especially in public education.

The pendulum swings in all directions. For some teachers, it’s a struggle to get parents on board, to earn their trust, or to gain their interest in the education of their children. For others, the demands of uber-involved “helicopter parents” can be overwhelming at best, and overbearing at worst. Some students want their parents to be as active a part of their school lives as possible. Others cringe at the thought of mom or pop showing up to staple bulletin boards, stuff envelopes, deliver baked goods, or worse, attend the dreaded parent-teacher conference.

Still, we know that students learn best in a community that involves their families on a healthy level. Parents who understand the expectations in the school setting are more likely to reinforce those expectations at home. Overworked teachers, especially in today’s underfunded schools, legitimately need the support, and sometimes the elbow grease, of parents who are willing to volunteer their time, efforts, and money to help make projects, access to first rate materials, and a sense of school pride a reality.

Check out this video:

The bottom line is that “good communication between parents and teachers has many benefits. When parents and teachers share information, children learn more and parents and teachers feel more supported. Good communication can help create positive feelings between teachers and parents” (Kreider, Mayer, & Vaughan, 1999).

The good news is that today’s tools, specifically technology tools, can help make the home-school connection a reality, with less cost and effort for all involved, than ever before.

“Innovative technologies such as cell phones, e-mail, and websites provide schools with new tools for reaching middle school parents and keeping them informed about their children. Traditional methods of communication such as face-to-face meetings have been found to be effective (Decker & Decker, 2003); however, these methods require time that both working parents and teachers may lack” (Rogers & Wright).

The days of the class newsletter being sufficient are over. “Educators are often very good at mass communications via newsletters, calendars, letters, and handbooks, but mass communications are not effective in shaping or changing attitudes” (Rogers & Wright). What we need to see more of isn’t a folder stuffed with impersonal, though informative, letters home. What we need to see is communication from school to home and home to school moving at the speed of communication in most other areas of our lives.

When my friend in Rhode Island applied for a new job, I knew about it within minutes, thanks to social networking. When my boss needs something and I’m not in the office, well, an email gets the message to me and enables me to deliver the results the boss needs, on the fly. In fact, I can access documents on the major projects of most of my colleagues from anywhere in the world, thanks to Google Docs. So why, as a parent, shouldn’t I be able to access my child’s curriculum? Of course I should. And technology makes that possible.

The school website can be a key component of creating a legitimate, instantaneous home-school connection. “Electronic communication formats such as websites give families access to homework information and requires little time or effort to access” (Decker & Decker, 2003). Use of school websites to provide this type of information is on the rise. And in true Web 2.0 spirit, teachers and administrators aren’t the only ones generating content for school websites.

“Increasingly, school Web sites are used to convey a broad range of school information. Students often become involved with both the technology and the content of the Web site and may work together with teachers to create and maintain the site” (Graham-Clay).

At the end of the day, most educators and parents both have at least reasonable access to a wealth of tools which can help to support the development of a speedy, open dialogue and the rapid and broad sharing of important information.

With the amazing tools available today, the old-school notes home just aren’t cutting it anymore.

For some great ideas, check out these links on bringing the home-school connection into the 21st century:

21st Century Home-School Connection

Tips for Teachers: Using Technology to Connect with Parents



Connecting Home and (2010, August 29). Retrieved from YouTube:

Dwyer, L. (2010, March 19). Connecting the Schoolhouse to Your House. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from Good Education:

Graham-Clay, S. (n.d.). Communicating with Parents: Strategies for Teachers. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from The School Community Journal:

Kreider, H., Mayer, E., & Vaughan, P. (1999, May). Helping Parents Communicate Better with Schools. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from Harvard Family Research Project:

MED 7305. (2011, January). Using Technology to Communicate with Parents. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from Parent Communication Project:

Rogers, R., & Wright, V. (n.d.). Assessing Technology’s Role in Communication between Parents and Middle Schools. Retrieved September 20, 2011, from Electronic Journal for the Integration of Technology in Education, Vol. 7: