Author Archives: richardscullin


BART Curates Berkshire Museum

We wanted to see what students would do if they were given the chance to curate a local museum and share their experiences with peers back at school. Karin Stack, local charter school art and digital teacher at Berkshire Arts and Technology School (BART), agreed to bring several teams of middle school students to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA.

Museum staff—Craig and Maria—were amazing, and led a “sprint introduction” to a number of content areas students could use as jumping off points for their own tours—aquariums, Alexander Calder toys, Egyptian mummies, weapons, Hudson School artists, and much, much more.

Students chose areas they liked, and that they thought their peers would like, and then spent an hour doing a deeper dive into their content area, researching, discussing, joking around, outlining, and prepping.

Students had behind-the-scenes access….

Less than an hour later the first team started their live video stream, sharing their findings with their friends and peers, interacting with them, and fielding questions.

Creating the tours was fascinating. While there were of course some bumps along the way, as a first pilot, the session worked quite well. Students harnessed diverse resources to produce something they could share with a meaningful audience. They interviewed museum professionals, researched on the web, and photo-documented museum archives. And they went behind the scenes into the archives.

We’ll have more extensive data and feedback to report in the near future!

We used to do our livestream.

From Oldivai to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Posting from the Mount Greylock DML Lab:

Instead of downloading and printing another Tardis from Thingiverse, we’re shaking it up a bit and exploring some of the affordances unique to the 3D printer. While making our own creations is a top priority for the DML Lab, we’ve also discovered some amazingly cool items that have been captured/rendered for educational use.

On the left is a skull of Homo habilis, discovered by Kamoya Kimeu (1973), and excavated by Richard and Meave Leakey. Estimated age: 1.9 million years.

We also printed some tools (1:1) made by homo erectus from the Lake Turkana region in East Africa. Thanks to for offering all this valuable data and 3D files to us.

Also pictured on the far right is the Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on which the European Space Agency landed a probe several months ago. Rosetta spacecraft launched in 2004 and arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014.

These items are fascinating. In less than two hours, we printed a tool that was had been discovered and unearthed from the historic grounds of Olduvai. And thanks to the European Spaces Agency (ESA), we discovered the data for and printed a representation of the comet scientists set out to explore over ten years ago, and some 6.4 billion kilometers travel distance from earth.  Now, in our humble DML Lab, we sit, holding a hand ax, musing and asking questions. Why is this a tool and not just a chipped piece of rock? Who was this being who made this ax? What did they do with it? And How did the ESA compute the spacecraft’s  trajectory to land a probe on a moving comet?

We’ve teleported objects from history and from outer space. What next?

This work was helped by funding through the National Writing Project / MacArthur’s Educator Innovator initiative.

(ex)Citing Remixes


The DML Lab collaborates with teachers and students to integrate digital media with curriculum. Ideally the units we create are curiosity-driven, digitally connected, and reinforcing the work of the class/teacher. In Science 8 recently we wanted to demonstrate knowledge of biomes and ecosystems—flora/fauna, climate, abiotic factors, and environmental concerns such as deforestation, drilling, global warming, invasive species, etc.  In the past, students had made posters (which are still fun and cool!). This time, though, we introduced Mozilla’s PopcornMaker. We had also used Zeega in another class. Both are resources to remix the web and create media experiences that tap the Internet’s shifting data flow. The (80+) students did a good job, learning the PopcornMaker within a class period or two, researching, and creating some beautiful and at times informative pieces. See several examples in  here (works best in Chrome) or here.

Because tools like Popcorn and Zeega can tap the web (a Flickr or Twitter hashtag, a Wikipedia entry), and because those content sources change, it’s difficult to cite consistently and precisely what you’re pulling into the Popcorn project. Our students found much of their information from their Holt Science & Technology Environmental Science textbook, but I am sure other content found its way into the presentations. So the question arises: How do you cite a remix? Do you cite a remix of a remix? Creative Commons begins to address the attribution problem. And we could always use a Works Cited page at the end of the Popcorn project. But I’m not sure that adequately addresses our scholarly responsibility. Mitch Resnick and the Scratch team encourage remixing—borrowing others’ Scratch creations, using them as starting points, then modding them. Additionally, bringing outside (knowledgeable) voices into a presentation strengthens the argument. But when is appropriation alright, and how do we reconcile this act with academic research process?

Creative Commons

Thoughts on remixing the web and introducing (new) digital media into the classroom.

Rights. As I understand, users have relinquished some degree of their rights when they signed a user agreement with, say, Flickr, so if the company (Yahoo) wants to share their photos, the user may or may not have recourse. Flickr thankfully uses Creative Commons, but what’s at stake here if attribution is not required the corporate content owner?

Content. When I introduced new tools—Scratch, Zeega, Popcorn, and others—the project content was sometimes not as deep as I had hoped. Yet in one unit the Prezis students made on periodic table elements delved deep into the atomic structures and properties of various elements. Did one tool lend itself more readily to the granular tasks at hand? No doubt, there is a delicate balance to be struck among several factors: the time and brain power needed to ramp up and learn tech and the creative process and research and academic rigor.

Shininess coefficient. Sometimes with limited effort students can produce a slick presentation, but it lacks depth. We need to see through this illusion and coax students toward substance.

Zeega and Popcorn

Remarkable and powerful is the HTML5ness of PopcornMaker’s capabilities— it embraces the web and folds live portions of it directly and dynamically into the project. Students, though, habituated to a PPT or Keynote mindset, think in the linearity of slides. More experience with these tools will hopefully open up greater willingness to experiment with the live web and its branching, looping, constantly changing elements.

Grade. How do you grade a project that shifts and changes with the Internet?


Shininess coefficient (PDF)

Mobiles 4 Learning 2012 (M4L2012)

I’ve been playing soccer with Joe Cleary for years. He teaches mathematics at The Loomis Chaffee School (CT) and was always curious about, so I’d keep him up to speed. One thing led to another, and now Joe (@jhcleary), Scott MacClintic (@Smacclintic), and I are hosting a mobile learning conference on April 23, 2012 at Loomis. On board to present are Professor Eric Klopfer, MIT Associate Professor and Director of the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program; Jared lamenzo,; Ralph Morelli, Trinity College, Department of Computer Science (on App Inventor); Jon Moser, finalsite; and Crystal Fantry, Wolfram Alpha Research (using mobiles).

If you’re interested, please sign up. It’s a mere $25.

Further info.: Mobiles4Learning 2012 explores current practices and future uses of mobile technologies by/for secondary school educators and students. Hosted by The Loomis Chaffee School, this one-day gathering will bring together innovators who are leveraging cell phones and other mobile devices for educational purposes. In addition to teacher-led hands-on presentations and an Ignite Mobile Session, there will be a keynote address by Professor Eric Klopfer, MIT Associate Professor and Director of the MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program. Klopfer is also co-director of the recently created MIT Center for Mobile Learning.

Super Awesome Sylvia, DML2012, destroying, making

I met Super Awesome Sylvia at DML2012 in San Francisco a few weeks back.

Super Awesome Sylvia at DML2012

Her dad @techninja42 took this photo of us.

Super Awesome Sylvia spoke on a panel with Gever Tully (tinkering school), Jess Klein (Hackasaurus, Mozilla) and Dr. Preeti Gupta. She showed some clips from her maker show, episodes where she gets to destroy things, make things, experiment with stuff—sewable circuitry, Arduino, Coke Mentos Rockets, and MakerBot, among other things. Totally fun.

I had just spent the last few days at The California Academy of Sciences, working on our Universal Badges project for the Mozilla Foundation, etc. Seeing all the kids at the Academy (they supposedly have close to 2 million visitors a year), and talking a bit with Super Awesome Sylvia at DML2012, made me think of our projects at home. I was inspired to push forward with Hazel to complete our Etsy DIY amp (hesslerk).

After viewing some of Super Awesome Sylvia’s shows, we set to work soldering (lead-free!).

We need to troubleshoot, as the amp is distorting, but it still sounds pretty dirty and fun.

Here are some resources, in case you’d like to check out Super Awesome Sylvia:

Sylvia Show

corrupting “games”

“If you fall into the trap of using games just as any other medium and you aren’t understanding the broader social changes and values that the technology is promoting, then you are going to be using new tools to reach old ends.” —Kurt Squire.

This fall has been researching mobile use at the K-12 level, trying to understand if students and teachers are actually using mobile phones for learning. We have been interviewing superintendents, principals, IT Directors, teachers, and students, representing over 15 schools (and nearly 10k students) in Western Mass.—charter / public, elementary and high schools. Though this work is still in progress, we presented some preliminary findings at Mozilla/HASTAC/MacArthur’s several weeks ago at Parsons The New School.

Among other things, we have found that while many administrators, teachers, and students had some sort of mobile device, phones were not really being used for learning—either formally in class work or informally outside of class. At, we presented some of the reasons why mobile phones were not being leveraged, then made recommendations for how we might address the situation. We argued for creation of Open Mobile Learning, an open web-based resource for mobile learning lessons. And building on James Gee and Michael Levine’s idea for a Digital Teacher Corps, we recommended creation of a Mobile (Digital) Teacher Corps.

Why the quote from Kurt Squire, then? Squire’s caution about “using new tools to reach old ends” resonates with a sub-theme emerging from the research. When asked about games, some students remarked that there are two types of games: ones designed by Educators and ones designed by gamers (people who love and actually play games).  “The ones designed by educators suck,” said one student candidly. Of course, the binary is not absolute—there are educators who design good games, etc.—but the point is a well taken, and that’s what Squire begins to address in his DMLcentral interview when he discusses how we can design good, comprehensive games for education. What I am also hearing in conversation with students is that the meaning of “game” has already shifted. Kids are suspicious of  computer “games” when they’re rolled out in school settings. And when I watch third graders perform rote memory exercises in the guise of a game, I fear that we’ve corrupted the “game,” moving it away from what Jane McGonigal describes as  “gamefulness.” Clearly, a game does not necessarily ensure meaningful learning, but a proliferation of bad games might just ruin the very passion-led learning opportunities that games make possible.

Streaming Video from/to Your Phone

Metropol938 Bambuser

Thanks to Katrin /, who introduced me to Bambuser allows you to stream video from your phone or laptop to another phone or website. Totally fascinating. As I write, I am watching/listening to a mobile feed from acampadaparis_int France, a gathering of students and stakeholders describing their experiences with Occupy Paris (Streaming vidéo officiel de Démocratie Réelle Paris – Réseau International)) essentially real-time. What is striking, beyond the often refreshing lo-fi spontaneity of some of the streams, is that many of the videos are coming from mobile phones. With Bambuser, the mobile is broadcast tool; the mobile is the portable camera, studio, and news channel. A quick glance reveals mobile video feeds from Syria, Brazil, China, Spain, Sweden, Russia, and many others. And they’re streaming any number of events and happenings—business conferences, sports matches, political gatherings, performance art, pets, documentation of the quotidian.

As you’d expect, video content and production quality are varied, and the streams are evanescent—popping up briefly, streaming, then disappearing, though there is an archive available on the Bambuser site.

I am not sure who is monitoring these streams or even if there are rules to enforce. (Users can flag streams  as inappropriate, though.)

I also wonder how Bambuser will bring better quality to the content experience so that instead of sifting through thousands of videos, there is a viable way to parse and view the content efficiently. Search is helpful, and the channel subscription model is a start, but right now, it seems fairly random. And maybe therein lies the beauty.

No doubt, ads are imminent.

I see a lot of potential for Bambuser, especially for mobile learning. Watching Sweden’s Metropol live i Skärholmen!, I see news organizations utilizing the tool for real-time, on-the-street reporting, polls, and census taking. There are potential privacy issues, but beyond using Bambuser merely as a video documentation tool, students could leverage mobiles for real-time reporting on events, scientific data collection in the field, or instructional lessons from remote locations anywhere in the world. Another tool in the citizen journalist/scientist/activist kit.


By smalandskavlen from Sweden: Smålandskavlen 2011 Mariannelund – Dagsträckor

Scaling digital media and learning

At the Digital Media and Learning conference last week, I heard a number of people mention scale. Projects were growing fast, gaining “traction,” attracting new partners and inquiries. At the same time, there were hurdles: finding time in already compressed schedules, understanding and leveraging resources, raising funds. How then does a promising foundation-backed grantee/organization/project scale their work so that it has meaningful impact in the world? The timing might be right, and the tech might be innovative, but there is more to the picture.

It’s no news that foundations have borrowed from the venture and business worlds, looking to support longer-term projects and making capital more efficient. They vet the project, the management team, and the market. They do their due diligence. Something is missing from the equation, though: a bridge from start-up seed funding to viable footing in the marketplace.

Enter Startl: “Identifying talent and advancing products for the future of learning.” At DML2010 I talked with co-founder Diana Rhoten about her goals.  Rhoten had seen too many projects receive funding, then wither when the funding cycle ended. So, with impressive co-founders and partners, she created an organization to fuel this growth to viability. Rhoten is also focused on how foundations can collaborate to help grantees succeed. Syndicating to scale growth.

The venture capital industry has long used syndication to enhance an investment’s likelihood of success. Magnifiying, amplifying. So, for example, several venture funds amplify their capital’s effect by pooling money to invest in a start-up entrepreneur, thereby also mitigating some of the risk in an inherently risky business. The start-up typically needs follow-on rounds of capital, and having partners with resources makes good sense. Beyond capital, though, syndication broadens the entrepreneur’s networks—business partners, sales channels and relations, and knowledge and experience. Surely these assets would also benefit a grantee.

Of course, a foundation’s backing a grantee is not a direct analog to a VC’s investing in an entrepreneur. The VC’s fiduciary responsibility is to return capital (and hopefully double-digit multiples) to its Limited Partners, the investors.  The foundation is focused on its mission and program goals, and not necessarily on Return on Investment (ROI), although a definition of ROI might consider other factors as a “return.”  There are nonetheless overlapping areas where the non-profit world might borrow from VC practices. And perhaps a group like Startl can help a professor/innovator with a promising mobile learning application scale to self-sustainability.


Note: for the funding competition mentioned in our “Diversifying Mobiles” panel, see the Joan Ganz Cooney Center for details on their $50k Breakthroughs in Mobile Learning awards.

Diversifying Mobiles: Participatory Learnings

I’d like to share information on our mobile learning panel at Digital Media and Learning next week. It is an honor to have some very substantive thinkers on board for this discussion on mobiles and diversifying participation.

The DML Conference is supported by the MacArthur Foundation and organized by the Digital Media and Learning Hub at University of California, Irvine. @dmlcentral

If you could pose a question to this panel regarding their work in digital learning, mobile learning, etc., what would you ask?


Diversifying Mobiles: Participatory Learnings

Chair: Richard Scullin (


Eric Klopfer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
Jared Lamenzo (
Derek Lomas (Carnegie Mellon University/The Playpower Foundation)
Colleen Macklin (Parsons The New School for Design)
Richard Scullin (

This panel explores how mobile devices diversify participation in myriad communities, both global and domestic. The panel discussion offers program descriptions and research from the following: Eric Klopfer, MIT Teacher Education Program and Education Arcade, does R&D on mobile learning games both place based and place agnostic, primarily around science learning; Jared Lamenzo,, a mobile phone service helping citizen scientists and learners collect better data; Derek Lomas, Mobile and Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies (MILLEE) cell phone applications enabling language literacy in immersive, game-like environments) and, learning games for radically affordable computers; Colleen Macklin, Parsons PETLab (, working on geolocative and mobile games exploring real-world information and databases, including Mannahatta: The Game (; and, Richard Scullin,, an organization helping integrate mobiles with curriculum.

The discussion shares experiences ranging from rural villages in India learning language on a mobile to US students exploring ecological habitats using GPS/LBS and augmented reality. From a 6th grade elementary school class using simple mobiles for environmental field research to a charter school for at-risk students harvesting visual data to elucidate geometry concepts, mobile technologies help extend the boundaries of where participation and learning occur. The session will engage attendees with a series of questions to investigate the future of mobile learning in diverse contexts.

Play, Gee

I met James Paul Gee at Handheld Learning (HHL09) in London this fall. His keynote at HHL09 explored how gaming and immersive environments shape and/or facilitate learning. Gee has built a notable body of scholarship in this field, and his work shares common ground with scholar/thinkers such as Steven Berlin Johnson, Henry Jenkins, and Katie Salen (Institute of Play), among many, many others.

It was helpful to hear his voice, and his thinking and research on how gamers build impressive expertise and demonstrate mastery of nuanced skills, even though these very people may or may not succeed in “traditional” academic contexts.  (Of course, defining success is another discussion.)

In his essay, “Digital Media and Learning as an Emerging Field, Part II: A Proposal for How to Use ‘Worked Examples’ to Move Forward,” The International Journal of Learning and Media (IJLM)), Gee describes his thinking re. “New Literacy Studies” and his efforts to build an understanding of the emerging field of Digital Media and Learning (DMAL).

Regarding the creation of this new field, Gee writes, “While within a discipline—like anthropology, for instance—people will compare and contrast different approaches in the discipline (usually a new one against an old or traditional one), people do this much less commonly across disciplines.” He suggests that we can add coherence to DMAL as an emerging field through a cross-disciplinary approach.

This makes good sense: a cross-disciplinary approach loosens strictures and broadens the resources from which the emerging field can draw, it adds new and diverse perspectives to the intellectual talent pool, and it acknowledges that there are myriad forces already gathering with/in the field.

To promote scholarly collaboration, Gee also proposes creation of “play exemplars.” While more established disciplines have had “worked examples” to use as models, teaching tools, foundational examples, etc.; DMAL, in its nascent form, would purposefully create “play exemplars,” opportunities for the community to engage with and accelerate the growth of field into discipline through the act of play. The DMAL community would hack and tinker.

So, as Gee writes, “What is important about such exemplars to an emerging field is that they focus debate in such a way that people, via that debate, come to articulate and share a common set of standards and values. These standards and values in turn form the foundation of the new field.”

This is intriguing: Gee acknowledges the field-building process, then asks a nascent, hybrid cross-disciplinary DMAL community to accelerate creation of exemplars through debate, through play. It’s as if to say, instead of waiting, instead of using olde timey measures of scholarly production, let’s build some prototypes so we can experiment and get messy, thereby discovering what works. Let’s get our hands dirty now, not later.

Beyond possible echoes of Barthes’ and Derrida’s concepts around free play (and I do think there are some productive overlaps here), this proposal mirrors Gee’s broader thinking on games. Games are meaningful contexts for learning, so why not facilitate the field’s growth through play, through “play exemplars,” through playing a game?

Gee’s essay, then, becomes an invitation, an offer to join in a playfulness. The essay is an act of play in and of itself. A dare and a risk.

And I think there is risk here, a vulnerability at stake. When we play, we reveal. We reveal thought, strengths and weaknesses, creativity, problem solving, inter/ra personal relations, emotion, and our own limits and prospects. We open ourselves to a  willingness to let lose. And this, I believe, is fertile ground.

“I propose that we pretend we are experts in a field that as of yet has none. I propose that we treat each other as students working over problems as if they are well established even if they are not, so we actually know concretely what each other think and value, as a starting point, not a finished point.”

Our understanding of learning in the 21st Century is changing and/or will change radically in the very near future. Former models of teaching, scholarship, authorship, intelligence, etc., in a digital context are coming apart and being redefined. (See EduCon, for example.) Gee’s proposal, to accelerate creation of a field of study through game, makes sense on many levels, most important being that we cannot wait any longer for the academy to catch up.

–Richard Scullin,