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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Geography EdTech Efforts Tackle Geology, AP Human Geography and Social Learning

Title Page for Earth, A Primer
Three edtech efforts related to geography cross my laptop screen this week. That's about three more than appeared in the last year (that weren't "learn the states" apps). I'm pleased to see them!

The first one, which I found via the AnyGeo blog, is aimed at geology and physical geography, It's called Earth Primer. I dug into the fellow behind it and was impressed. He was recruited to work on the game Spore and is working on his PhD in play design. The "Science Book for Playful People" is interactive. The reader (doer?) will
Discover how Earth works
Look inside.
Make volcanoes.
Push around tectonic plates.
Form glaciers, sculpt sand dunes, make mountains, and control the weather.

I think its vision into what great edtech apps might look like in the future. In fact, the website notes:
A key motivation behind the creation of Earth Primer is to model a new genre for other designers to borrow from, helping our culture reimagine the possibilities inherent to simulations and interactive books.
I also like that the app has many of the things we determined were valuable in edtech in the MOOC I took on the subject: simulation, play, interaction. There are no quizzes with multiple choice questions, so far as I can tell. There's also, though it's currently empty, a page for educators to come together to share how to use this tool.

I'd happily try the app but I don't have the requisite iPad hardware. That said, it's exactly the kind of thing I want to play with, much as I did Motion Math and STMath (ST = spatial temporal). I hope this is the future of edtech and hope game designers are involved in that future.

The second edtech effort came from a very different source: a group of AP Human Geography teachers. iScore5 will be in the Apple iTunes store on March 1 and aims to help students prepare to get a "5," the top score, on the Human Geography Advanced Placement test. There are already apps like this one for a variety of platforms, so it's certainly not the first of its kind.

That said, there are a lot of impressive factoids about this app and its creation:
  • A core group of three teachers from Illinois, Arkansas and Georgia are leading the charge with another 30 submitting questions.
  • Former students of those teachers, now in college, are doing the programming.
  • There'll be a free version and a paid one ($5).
  • Showing the idea to publishers lead nowhere, so the teachers self-funded the effort.
  • Actual APHG students are providing feedback.
  • International "leader boards" help with motivation.
When launched the app offers five levels of multiple choice questions from each "unit." I'm not sure what that "level" means or what "unit" means. I suspect the former relates to difficulty and the later the topics listed here. (Confirmed 2/11; see below).

The AP test includes a first section of 75 multiple choice questions and a second section of three free-response questions. The second part does not require formal essay responses; "points are awarded on certain key words, examples, and other vital aspects." There are sample questions from the AP here.

The big question I have is about feedback. Are there explanations of why one answer is correct and not others? Are there resources (or pointers to resources) to get a refresher on the topic? Does the app note in which areas a student stumbles so as to send more questions on that topic in the future? My queries the team have not yet been answered, but I'll update this post when I have more information.

Ken Keller, one of the three leads, responded (2/11):
Regarding the feedback that users of the app will receive based on their utilization, students will answer questions in each level. In each level, there are units to unlock.  They have to unlock unit 1 before they can go to unit 2.  For example, to unlock Unit 1 they need 8/10 and when they are able to get 80% correct they will be able to move on to the next round. The user will receive a score and will be able to see how they have done in relation to other users as there will be a leader board that can be accessed  In its current variation, there is not any feedback as to why one answer is correct and one is not but that option will hopefully become available in future versions. There is also a study guide included in the app where students will have access to an extensive list of vocabulary terms and associated definitions broken down by unit. They can learn these terms for the first time, determine if they do not know the terms or maybe they think they kind of  know. 
Keller notes one goal of the app is to mimic the test questions.
Our goal was to provide as many practice questions from expert teachers and to mimic the live AP Human Geography exam by covering the seven units of study found in the course outline.
If at some point the team wants to add more learning opportunities, I found this article on how to give feedback in computer learning tools most valuable.

The third edtech effort is detailed in a press release announcing The University of San Diego Launches WISE: The World's First Location-Based Platform For Social Learning. The platform, WISE, which launches today, seems to integrate Google Maps, Street View, and crowdsourcing (student sourcing?) of data points and attribute information. Learners, the release suggests would be interacting in real time.

I'm trying to think through a use case for the platform. I imagine a collaboratively created story map or data collection exercise. A team or pair of students would work together to explore says Stratford-upon-Avon to document details of Shakespeare's theatre. Or they might document the path of armies in the Civil War. In doing so they'd link to outside resources like images, videos, maps and the like. I think instructors trying to plan a lesson using this environment could develop a new understanding of both geography and social learning.

This is a very different vision for infusing geography into education with technology than interactive maps in textbooks or expert created story maps. I'm curious to see where this effort leads. By the way, I'd not heard of the University of San Diego. It's a "nationally ranked Catholic university."