community of practice

Technology a silver bullet for success and retention?

Technology a silver bullet for success and retention?

Over the last few years and more recently I have come across this question while in conversation with a number of faculty members. Can technology help increase my student retention and success rate?
A valid question but should we view technology as the silver bullet to remedy this issue?

My argument is yes/no. Technology certainly can have a positive impact on success and retention but not if it is situated in traditional teaching practices. It is how you use the technology that has the potential to impact on learning and teaching. It is the pedagogy of situating the use of technology appropriately in the learning process.

The potential use of TV and radio in the early days of its release in education are well documented. However the lack of pedagogical underpinning in its use has proved to be a determining factor in its
use to date. Of recent the Internet and all the emerging trends and tools associated with rapid development of technology is potentially facing the same fate.

You can use blogs, wikis, twitter, google+ or any other Web 2.0 tool but if they are situated within old practices, don’t expects things to change just because you are using technology. The emphasis is on pedagogy, and this is what should be driving the use in your teaching.

For example: Using Twitter as a tool for mass communication with the students. The use of Twitter here is for transmitting information to students, situated within transmission mode of teaching
(instructivist). A more pedagogical approach would be to use Twitter to create a community of learners. This empowers the students to be more communicative, collaborative thus creating a social environment that characterizes sharing of ideas, resources, feedback, and questions asked and answered, a process that is driven by the students depending on their need at the time (social constructivist pedagogy).

In my experience it has never been enough to just say to the class we are going to use Twitter or a blog. There is always an element of setting up the class, basically taking the students through
the process of setting up an individual account. If you are using a blog or Twitter, showing and allowing time in class to follow each other. But the most important element is the modeling of the use of the tools by the teacher. This is where you as a teacher show the students what’s possible and discussing how it is helping you as a teacher and discussing with the students how it might help them. We have heard and read about digital natives but knowing how and applying the know how for effective use is a process I have observed to a step too far for an individual to make without support or scaffold. This is why modeling and technological support for students by the teacher is important. The use of technology has to be shown to students as embedded in the course, the teacher needs to drive this process by modeling in class.

The effective use of technology is dependent on many factors but more importantly on how the course is facilitated and how (what purpose) the technology is used for.

This semester, I am involved in a project with languages students and staff. This wiki has more information on the project:

This is the 8th week since we started the project and here is a feedback from a staff member who is not directly involved in the project but has keen interest:

“I just had to signal to you the incredible work being done on this course – I’ve seen some great technology-driven initiatives in this institution over the past couple of years but the work that Lecturer 1, Lecturer 2 and Staff from the Central Unit (and the rest of the ESCP team – not to mention the students) have done on this course has blown me away.

It embodies so much of what we have been trying to achieve – learning that is situated in authentic contexts, is scaffolded, reflective and student-generated – all based on a conversational framework and all mediated by mobile devices. I think the ongoing blog/situated/mobile learning approach on this course opens up real opportunities for all our students to choose those areas that interest them (future employment or a particular mainstream study area).

This represents real innovation and a real success story for the programme, the department and indeed, the institution as a whole.” (Programme Leader)

The wikispaces link shared above has more information on how iPad’s and some Web 2.0 tools are used in the project with languages students.

The key is pedagogy not technology :-).


TPACK 2.0 – The framework for learning and teaching with Web 2.0 tools

TPACK 2.0 – The framework for learning and teaching with Web 2.0 tools

>Project Gran Turismo 5 – CAME Proposal (Game-based learning and Web 2.0)


Project Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) – CAME Semester 1, 2011

Proposal By:
Vickel Narayan
Academic Adviser (Learning Technologies),
Te Puna Ako
Phone: ext 7413


The CAME created waves around the institute and to some extent in other institutes in modeling effective pedagogy. It is also the first course at Unitec to successfully go through the rigorous Living Curriculum tick process. Institutionally the CAME has put Department of Automotive and the Faculty at the forefront of effective practice in learning and teaching and has set a model of others to learn from.

The CAME managed to successfully move from teacher-content to student generated-content, a process where students take ownership of their own learning and the teachers in the course playing the role of a facilitator. Feedback to students on their work in class became a critical feature in the learning process along with building relationships with students and encouraging the same between students. The course has had positive impact on student’s learning (Narayan & Baglow, 2010) and hopefully the students will move on to achieve greater things as they begin their career. Even though there are a number of things happening in the CAME that is having a positive effect on the way students learn, there is still room for improvement. Herrington (2006) expresses the importance of authentic learning contexts in promoting higher student engagement, success and for creating an opportunity for students to explore a ‘real world’ situation over a sustained period of time to deliver a solution.

This proposal outlines how GT5 will be integrated in the course to create an experience for the students to learn from. The proposal also ensures CAME and the Faculty maintains the lead in innovative approaches to learning and teaching and continues to set a model for it’s staff, other programmes and faculties to learn from.

About Gran Turismo 5

My Page user options

Figure 1.0 – My page on GT5

Tuning Shop – Customising the Car

Figure 2.0 – Tuning options in the game

Is a multi-player online gaming device however it’s not just about racing:

  • Personal online message board to keep in touch with friends.
  • You can gift car parts to your friends.
  • You can take pictures and share it with your friends.
(As outlined in figure 1.0)
Dynamic weather hence gives a feel of how the vehicle behaves under different weather conditions (temperature, pressure, humidity).
Over 900 cars from different car manufacturers, all on HD with crisp clear picture and graphics.

Cars are customisable meaning one can build a car down-up through the Tuning Shop (Pictures from the tuning shop: and This is how the game flows (Career Mode):

  • You start with 3,500 Cr (iPad version). This credit is used to by a car but before you can buy a car you keep to get a drivers licence to drive one in the game.
  • You race to gain extra credit.
  • Using this credit you can buy parts from the After Market Store (this ranges from tyres to pistons and suspension). This website shows the tuning options in GT5:
  • Next you take the car to a Diagnostics Centre to run tests on the customisations you have made. There are various tests you can perform for example: compression, torque, speed, variations in behavior under different conditions (Pressure, stress etc). After the test, make the changes as needed and
  • You take the car for a spin on the track.

Theoretical Underpinning

The most critical ingredient to students’ succeeding at learning is motivation, ‘a motivated learner can’t be stopped’ (Prensky, 2003. p. 1). Contrary to this well known fact and in this digital age, student learning still remains ‘dry’ (Eck, 2006; Prensky, 2003). This said there is a platform available for educators that achieves high level of engagement and motivation to utilise and can be found in almost all homes in some form: computer and video games. Prensky (2003) claims that students attitude towards computer/video games is totally opposite to what some of them have towards school. The attitude students have towards video/computers games in what is desperately needed in the schools: ‘interest, competition, cooperation, results-oriented, actively seeking information and solutions’ (p. 1).

Prensky (2001) suggests that games can facilitate as many as 36 vital and effective learning principles. These include instant feedback, decision making roles, a student could be punished by being given a tougher task if they failed (sets higher expectations, challenges hence becomes a motivational factor), engaging, lets the user experiment many ways to learn and allows flexibility to create different thoughts (Prensky, 2001).  Pivec et al. (2003) also suggest that games can create a collaborative learning environment. The use of multi-player gaming platforms allows users to exchange thoughts and ideas with other users who are interacting with the content simultaneously under shared circumstances. This takes collaboration to a new level where the level of critique and exploration of a concept or event is negotiated between individuals to create new understandings and meanings (Johnson et al., 2010). The New Horizon Report (2010) outlines number of case studies where game-based learning was successfully incorporated in the curriculum. Prensky (2001) states 5 affordances of video/computer games for students that renders it as a powerful learning platform: (1) engage (2) explore, (3) explain, (4) elaborate and (5) evaluate. These elements when mixed with the right pedagogy create an environment, which could be beneficial to both students and teachers (Eck, 2006; Prensky, 2001).

Design: GBL, Constructivism, Authentic Learning

“Knowledge is not passively accumulated: rather, it is a result of active cognising by the individual” (Doolittle, 1999. p. 6)

The table below outlines the relationship between the 3 (GBL, constructivism and authentic learning) and how GT5 and Web 2.0 tools bridge the two into an effective learning environment.

GT5 (Game-based learning)
Authentic Learning
The situations presented in the game are realistic scenarios a racing driver and his crew face. This also creates an urgency/relevance for future tasks/actions
learning context should be authentic and where possible should be real-world

the learning should have immediate relevance to the students

‘real world’ learning – the learning situation has immediate relevance to the way learning will be applied in real life
All digital games presents an ill defined problem but ‘in-time’ promotes are in place to guide them through the process
learning should be situated in a social environment to enable collaboration and sharing
learning activities are ill defined – one complex problem that the students can explore over a period of time
The diagnostics centre, teacher in class and because GT5 is an online gaming platform expertise from around the world is also available

students have access to expertise and the use/process is modeled
As a driver, owner, crew member, analyst. This enables a learner to bring any prior knowledge they may have into the current situation they are/could be facing.
the learning should take into account the learners prior knowledge and should build from it
learners are able to explore an issue from multiple perspective and through assuming different identities (roles)
Blogging/student portfolio, Google Buzz all situated within a student CoP – all geared towards building a student community – community of learners
should be student-centred – students given the ownership of their own learning
learning is situated in socio-cultural setting – students construct knowledge together through interaction each each other
Reflection and articulation is at the core of students blogging, learning activities designed also take this into consideration and feedback a regular event
formative assessments should be embedded within the course to create opportunity for the teacher to guide and lead the student into further learning.
Reflection and articulation is a critical element in the learning process
Scaffolds are built into almost all the games as an engagement factor, teachers in class as coach, and other resources on the web as guided by the teacher. Vickel Narayan as a technology steward and support in class for students/teacher, every week for 1-2hrs.
the teachers role in the process to be as a facilitator and not an instructor.

‘Scaffolding and coaching’ – support mechanisms are out in place to help the students through the process – digital resources, readings, teachers
ePortfolio – every activity and events within make up a post(s). An assessment rubric will be discussed/created with the students at the start of the course.
teachers to create an environment that nurtures student views and perspectives and allows students to deliver content in multiple formats (multimedia – pictures, videos, audio, storyboards etc).
Authentic assessment – embedded assessment – activities and assessments are not separate and distinct from each other rather they should implement each other
(Doolittle, 1999; Herrington, 2006; Lombardi, 2007)
Gran Turismo 5 allows students an opportunity to experience learning in an authentic context. The game will be embedded in the course which will allow students to learn basic car parts and the functions in a fun environment. The teachers in the course will have a set of questions to look at after each gaming session to reflect on. A possible learning scenario is presented below:

The class will be broken down into smaller groups of up to 4 students in each. (Groups maintained for the whole course.) The groups begin by having a gaming session to decide who is the best driver of them all. This exercise will  help build a team as in many cases students don’t know each other and it takes a while to establish a relationship to get a team going. The person who wins the contest becomes the driver for the team and other members the pit crew. Learning activities here after are based on analysing the performance of the car and tweaking the parts for better performance on the race course. The diagrams below outline how the gaming aspect will be used in student learning and integrated in the curriculum.

Pedagogical Affordances of the Game

Figure 3.0 – Pedagogical affordances of the game

Figure 3.0 outlines the features of the game and further details in the diagram outline possible use in the course. The CAME students this year (2010) had to learn about parts and its functions by reading books, watching videos and through communal discussions however the students had very limited opportunity to explore the parts in an authentic context. GT5 will allow the students to explore various models of a part and put them through a number of diagnostics to determine the impart of certain variables on the performance of the car. Figure 2.0 shows a screen capture from the game of the tuning features available, in this case the engine block, piston and ECU. Other options are available for example the chassis, tyres, body (fibre and alloy), turbo charging, exhaust, etc. Figure 4.0 outlines the process each group and group members will have to go through after a session on the console. The teachers in the course will be heavily involved in the process providing guidance (feedback), setting up conditions and requirements for the activity and observing the activities for expected deliverables. The reflective blog posts will add towards the student portfolio as an assessed activity.

Embedding it in the course – It’s not just about gaming

Figure 4.0 – Use with Web 2.0 tools to enhance students learning.


The use of technology in learning and technology is only effective if it is underpinned by effective pedagogy and careful planning for embedding it within the curriculum is done (Johnson et al., 2010; Prensky, 2003). Prensky (2001) floated the concept of what he called digital natives (born after 1980) and digital immigrates (born before 19980). From the data collected this year, majority of students in CAME could be categorised as digital natives and according to Prensky digital natives are attracted to technology as a metal is to a magnet. This was apparent with technology used in the course this year, again the data collected from the students indicated that they were happy with the use of etools in the course (Narayan & Baglow, 2010). The indications are that the students enrolling in the CAME and many entry level courses here at Unitec will be getting younger every year with different expectations of how learning should be (Horizon, 2010).

Literacy and numeracy is still an area that needs attention, while literacy is being looked at GT5 can help with the numeracy issues. The diagnostics students can run in GT5 requires them to gain an understanding of what the numbers mean and how they arrive at the result. This requires them to gain an understanding of the process and the method, the motivation in the process is to get the best performance from the car they have customised when it comes race day against other groups and win. This when combined with blogs allows the teacher to identify and help the students/group where needed, this could even happen at an early stage. GT5 creates an opportunity for students and teachers alike to tackle numeracy issues which under normal circumstances would go undetected.

Also keeping in mind future plans CAME has of moving into schools this pilot project will help make a difference in the lives of many students who drop out of the school system by engaging the students in a fun but effective learning environment. This project will also create an opportunity of the CAT students to be involved and hopefully will get the staff teaching excited to try out new and informed methods of teaching.


Doolittle, P. E. (1999). Constructivism and Online Education Retrieved January, 2007, from
Eck, R. V. (2006). Digital Game-Based learning: it’s not just the digital natives who are restless. EDUCAUSE, 41(2).
Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic e-learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learning environments and tasks. Paper presented at the E-Learning Conference.
Johnson, L., Levine, L., Smith, R., & Stone, S. (2010). The 2010 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
Lombardi, M. M. (2007). Authentic learning for the 21st century: an overview: EDUCAUSE.
Pivec, M., Dziabenko, O., & Schinnerl, I. (2003). Aspects of game-based learning. MIS Quarterly, 3(1).
Prensky, M. (2003). Digital game-based learning. ACM Portal, 1(1).
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital game-based learning. New Yorke: McGraw-Hill.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 6.
Narayan, V., & Baglow, L. (2010). New beginnings: Facilitating effective learning through the use of Web 2.0 tools. In C. Steel, M.J. Keppell & P. Gerbic, Curriculum, technology & transformation for an unknown future. Proceedings ascilite Sydney 2010.

>Automotive CoP – eLcc’s running the show


Today I was invited to a CoP get together that my eLcc’s (eLearning Community Coordinators) had organised.
I in a prior conversation I had told my eLcc’s that I will come and sit somewhere in the corner and would only observe the session. I wanted the eLcc’s to take control and to drive the community. I am not a member of the Automotive department hence I didn’t want to intrude on the staff in the department.
I have to say I found it very difficult not to get involved in the discussions. I however had to get involved in some discussions and when some questions where directed at me. For example, I was put on spot when someone asked me what the acronym URL stood for ……. to buy sometime while I Googled the answer …. I yelled out let me Google it. I guess it played to the moment and to say that none of us were experts. (URL – Uniform Resource Locator)
I am slowly getting to know the staff in the department and understanding what their believes are. The session the eLcc’s facilitated yesterday was to get the members in the room and to talk about issues and fears around eLearning. Chris had put a Fear Wall in the room and he started by putting his own: Too quick … things were just moving very fast and Chris feared that he may not be able to cope with it. Scott on the other hand was showing the DTT (Department of Transport technology) online Community space and explaining the purpose. Scott tried to demo the forum and it wasn’t working properly. Someone in the room suggested that Scott try Firefox. This person also shared with all in the room his experience with FF and Internet Explorer. I guess one thing we achieved yesterday for certain was the move away from IE and into FF. I really enjoyed this discussion because it had true characteristics of a CoP.
One member in this department shared the Moodle resource he had created for his students. The teaching staff are now interested in having a look at it and evaluating if it will help them with using Moodle.
Chris shared how his students were using the Flip Camera in Boat  Building. It was surprising to see how many staff were interested in knowing more about it while few in the room where clearly wondering how or what difference it would make for their students.
Youtube was a major topic …. mainly the copyright issues. I had to sum it up “If it’s yours, upload. If you are not the creator/owner, don’t.” The discussion moved to eLearning. Many in the room were suggesting Moodle was eLearning and that uploading documents and videos was enough. I was hoping someone would just yell out, eLearning is NOT Moodle and just uploading content is not enough, luckily Chris did. He corrected that eLearning not just Moodle and most innovative/creative learning and teaching actually happens out of Moodle in the Cloud (Web 2). Chris showed them what you had done with his students and the use of portfolios – Blogging.
Google came up and the information available if you searched for something, some questions: how do you make out if the information is correct? How to do know if its authentic, Too much information, information overload. I had to chip in: Google is a great place to start looking and for gathering opinion. If you are looking for authentic data that is verified and critiqued then our Library offers Online Journal databases. The information available on these DB’s are peer review and verified. If you require your students to present correct, up-to-date information, you would probably direct them to seek information from these DB’s. This itself could be a huge topic of discussion, academic skills and writing.
Something that came through explicitly in the gather together yesterday was the different needs staff in the department have mainly learning styles. The ‘Little Book‘ came up –  a notebook (book and pen not the Netbook PC) most staff curry with them to note important details and they frequently refer to the information they would have written down. Some comments: 1) workshops are organised and the presenters come in and show them how and what but don’t provide any hard copy resources they can keep for later use (problem remembering things) and 2) they present too fast. I was dragged into this discussion, I and few others in the room suggested that you have to speak up and let the presenter know that he/she was going too fast. I suggested that if they don’t provide you with the printouts, you can create your own by simply noting down the important points in your notebook. You can then circulate this between other staff members and expand it. I could have gone on to suggest doing it online but this I felt wasn’t the right time …. maybe at a later stage when people have come to grips with Moodle, some Web 2 tools and the Internet.
The session concluded with a challenge for the staff present: create a Google Account and have a play for our next meet.
Another update soon.

>GDHE Re-design


Over the last few months Thom Cochrane and I have been busy re-designing a Unitec course Technologies for Social Learning.
Course aim: To explore the implications of new and emerging learning technologies to enhance student learning and own pedagogical practice.
What the course is all about (Prezi presentation below).

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>Ah ha moment ….

>I spent almost all of last week prepping the members in my CoP on social learning where I introduced Moodle and Google App concept. I have been blogging about the journey for a while, in my last blog post “I can feel the Buzz” I reported that social learning suddenly dawned upon the members early last week so I took the opportunity to take it further.

To roll out the Moodle Google Apps concept, I borrowed 2 Netbooks for the staff members who didn’t have a laptop. A night before I developed a scenario for the staff members to look at the following day. I had intentionally made some mistakes and automotive not being my area of expertise there were bound to be some anyway. You can find a copy of the scenario here. I borrowed the Netbooks to give the staff members a feel of what the students will bring to class and how it can help in facilitating a social learning space.

Once I had all the staff logged onto staff wifi and Google, I gave them a quick tour of Google docs. This is when I shared the scenario with all the members and asked them to correct any mistake and add anything they thought was important. The group spent about 15 minutes doing this. I had some staff members who were already using Google hence I asked them to help the others out. After this 15 minutes I asked the members to reflect on what had just happened. Few things came up:

  1. the room setting, as the desks were arranged in rows, members found it difficult to communicate and help each other (refer to figure 1.1)
  2. since we had some expertise in the room, the job for the teacher became easy
  3. more time with the facilitator (one-on-one)
  4. the process was lot engaging then just watching or listening

Figure 1.1 – default classroom setting, this the members found difficult to work with, hence it will now be moved to fit the social learning requirements

I also got the members to reflect on the scenario, here are some comments:

  1. I can see lots of conversations happening
  2. students would be very active in the task
  3. teacher is not doing anything apart from being there as a guide
  4. students would probably come up with the content
  5. engaging
  6. good use of e-tools to bring together learning and social dimensions

After this I showed the staff how they can compare the original and other versions on Google doc. How Google doc is able to break it down to individual participation, also the ‘real time’ factor (multiple users editing the document at the same time).

Moving on from docs, it was time for blogging. If the students are expected to blog, the teachers should be leading the way. I got all the members to create a blogger account, this is easy if you already have a Google account. Blogger as an eportfolio. A requirement to becoming a senior lecturer here at Unitec, staff are to submit a portfolio of activities done in class. I used this to talk about the importance of blogging along with modeling the practice to students, PLN, reflection and it’s importance on improving your teaching (reflection is the lowest common denominator, if you don’t reflect you’ll probably never find what you are doing wrong). I gave them a task, some members in this CoP have been involved for the past year and we have some members who only started few weeks ago. The task was to reflect on the past few weeks/year being in the CoP, the key highlights for them and what impact it may have on their teaching. Some members were uncomfortable with making their blog open hence for now they have kept it private ….. small steps at a time ….. when they are confident and comfortable with making themselves visible to the world, they’ll make the blog public. This transition is something that has to come from within and it can’t be forced.

We closed the session discussing other possible elearning tools and Second Life was mentioned. I was asked to talk further on it hence I showed them a video from Youtube, one closer to home, the SLENZ Birthing Unit and another random video simulating how a jet engine works.

After this session the feedback from all the members was, we could have been doing this all this time. I guess it’s not a bad comment knowing none or most of them didn’t want to get involved in the project. This week is student orientation week, week 2 will give the members an opportunity to practice some of the skills.

My involvement will continue as a technology steward for both staff and students, looking forward to it and the challengers.

The Automotive department has made some changes that will allow students to buy a Netbook or any other machine they prefer. The course previously required the students to buy the mechanical tools needed in the course. The school is now buying a common set for all students and will be used as needed, this saves student money with which they are to buy a computer. By week 2-3 we should have a good indication of how many students have bought a laptop. The mandatory requirements for the computer were set as: webcam and wifi.

>I can feel the BUZZ!!!

>Today was the first meeting of my community of practice. We started this CoP early last year since then I have seen the numbers grow, shrink and grow again late last year. I was in for a surprise this morning. I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing.

The CoP was formed with staff mostly from the school of built environment. The aim was to up-skill the staff interested on use of technology in education. The ride had been rough and at times thoughts did cross my mind if the CoP was actually serving the purpose it was setup for.

Last year was basically spent laying the foundation having realised that the staff were still stuck in the traditional teaching method. Nothing wrong here it makes sense since most of the staff join the institute straight from the trade sector and didn’t necessarily have any teaching experience. Their only teaching experience is likely to be the one they had, when they schooled (likely to be traditional teaching method, transmission) hence their teaching style would be a reflection of this experience.

Almost all of last year was spent on changing the mindset of the staff involved. It’s a critical stage of the change and from experience a sensitive issue. In some cases I was going to challenge some staff who had been teaching for the past 14 or so years and for them the method has worked, students graduated and also managed to achieved decent success rate so why would anyone change something that was working ‘fine’.

I had tried many approaches from modeling, showcasing the benefits, putting them through a blended learning course (only a 2 hour session) and even bringing an outsider to share her experience with her students in going from traditional to blended and sharing the benefit. It made no difference ….. I could feel the skepticism in the room.

The cows didn’t come home till the end of last week. Two of the staff in my CoP were involved in a week long workshop on CoP with Etienne Wenger and Bev Trayner. The week was full of social activities and use of technology modeled were appropriate. I have to admit the week long workshop was a great showcase of social learning and how to facilitate it.

This morning when I entered the meeting room, things were already underway. The sound I was hearing couldn’t have been any sweeter. I was hearing words like co-create, students don’t need books, tools like Youtube, Flickr and even Second Life were being mentioned. Social learning was being discussed to a great extent, staff were strategizing scavenger hunts involving students going as far as choosing their own projects, bringing some degree of authenticity in the assessment. It just sounded so right that I just seat back and heard the discussion without getting involved.

Reflecting on the past year and this CoP, time sometimes is the key, both allowing the time for the participants to reflect and get a handle on the new concepts and letting it sink in and at the same time having the time to model the approach, obviously 2 hours wasn’t enough. The need/purpose and authenticity is critical as well. My modeling session was perhaps too superficial when compare to the week long session with Etienne and Bev.

We are meeting this week Wednesday to design a blended learning course that would put students in the centre of their own learning.