Advising College Students in the Age of Uncertainty

It is my joy and passion to help young adults, especially college students, figure out their professional interests and how to navigate this complex thing we call “higher education” and the even more complex thing we call “the real world.” Now is a fascinating time to work with this age group. Statistically, there appears to be a stronger number of jobs available for college graduates than in recent years. However, the competition for these jobs is something that needs more emphasis. Without being an economics guru, I imagine that there are many citizens who were underemployed the past few years (when jobs were few and far between) who are applying to some of the jobs that current college graduates would like. At the same time, technology has played a tremendous role in increasing the competition for any given job. Job opportunities can be found online in many ways with quick searches and through online platforms such as LinkedIn and Handshake, companies can find candidates using a slew of online recruiting tools, and the skills necessary for jobs include an ever-increasing amount of technology-related knowledge.

That final point is the one that I think about the most these days, as we move toward a future where innovations in technology increasingly support and at times dictate our day-to-day endeavors. This requires all of us to have at least a growing awareness of the impact of technology in our society, and many of us have to keep up with the skills to navigate this technology for the sake of our careers. From Alexa, to virtual reality, the driverless car, and everything in between, tech is making perhaps the biggest push to change our lives in this modern day – and it’s all happening right in front of our eyes. How do current college students fit in to this equation? What about the next generation of college students?

We are all trying to figure out the #futureofwork, and how to help college students prepare for it. But we must be careful not to focus so much on the future that we forget about the here and now. College students need support and stability during a period of workforce unpredictability. In essence, now is the time to help college students to genuinely believe in themselves more than ever. This is the time to prepare them with a foundation that will give them the resilience to respond to whatever the future workforce throws at them.

This is not just a skills-based thing (in fact, perhaps we can cut down on the “skills gap” rhetoric…just a bit, please?). Instead, I’m talking about helping college students to understand that it’s okay not to have all the answers, that in fact, many of us are just throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. I’m talking about making sure that college students know that what’s important is to develop their core values, their core interests, meaningful relationships with people of all ages and backgrounds, and a sense of identity that will endure despite the many social changes that will be coming their way.

This is why I cherish the opportunity to teach and advise college students. They are not just the future, they are the present. Let’s not forget to treat them that way.


Online Education, Communication, and Sociology

As we move on to the future of online learning in education, it is important to keep in mind the communication and sociological aspects of the phenomenon. In fact, I don’t really see how we can study online learning without intricately tying in theory and findings from these fields. At the backbone of any online course is communication, whether it’s “course-designer/student,” “instructor/student,” “web content/student” or “student/student.” It is fundamentally necessary to treat the online learning experience as a set of interrelated communicative interactions. Without good communication in online courses from all of these angles, we just have bad educational websites! Similarly, how we communicate and interpret what is communicated to us can often be influenced by what we’ve experienced in our lives. What we experience in our lives can be shaped by many social forces and factors.

We’re past the point of asking whether online learning is a serious option for education. It certainly is, and will only become more important in the educational landscape in the years to come. Some of the biggest challenges at the moment with online learning is figuring out the best ways to retain learners from all backgrounds, and set them up to achieve learning goals within the digital learning environments. Perhaps making deeper connections between those learning goals and the experience of the learners (leveraging concepts in sociology), and how the learners communicate and interpret communication (leveraging concepts in communication studies) will be a significant contribution to overcoming those challenges.

We MUST Prepare College Students to Be Strategic Lifelong Learners

We live in an age where it is fully expected – should I even say, required – for us to continue to rigorously learn subject matter and skills long after our days of organized education. Whether one chooses to pursue a college degree or not, our fast-paced society now calls for all of us to stay on the studious path of learning in order to keep up with our colleagues and the workplace in general.


I know, I know…this is not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s definitely not a new thing. There’s always been one more certification to get or one more training to take or one more book to read. The difference now is that there is an understated but very significant amount of pressure on everyone in the “real world” to learn that one more thing.

Lifelong learning is morphing from an invigorating and empowering personal decision into the new, messy, and unofficial educational requirement of the 21st century.

I get it. Technology has caused the pace of our society to quicken. Innovation! Disruption! Algorithm and AI! While this brings some great changes to the world at an unimaginable pace, it also puts a lot of pressure on the people who do not choose which technologies quicken that pace. And that’s like, most of us! The result then, is that nearly everyone needs to learn about these new technologies, the professional skills to navigate these technologies, and the work dynamics that result because of these technologies, or risk being left behind.As a higher education professional, I think most about what this means for college students as they prepare for the “real world.” They are entering a world where they are expected to be masters of lifelong learning pretty much from the time they graduate. This wouldn’t concern me as much if lifelong learning wasn’t such a normally unstructured phenomenon. Yet our society is subtly making this unstructured phenomenon more of a requirement to “get ahead.” That’s bound to cause confusion at times, right?

Thus, for those of us in higher education, it’s time to ask: if lifelong learning has become such a requirement to advance in the 21st century, and learning for the sake of learning does not necessarily lead to professional progress these days, how can we help college students prepare to be strategic lifelong learners? Yes, there is the imperative to help students “learn how to learn,” and also instilling in them intellectual curiosity. These are critical. However, there is now a necessary craft to lifelong learning that perhaps we don’t focus on enough in academia. Even if a graduate has “learned how to learn,” if he or she is unable to curate resources, integrate them into their daily routines and the challenges of life, and strategically figure out how to make lifelong learning work for his or her goals, that graduate may struggle in this fast-paced society.

The bottom line: we need to ask if we are doing enough to prepare our students to structure the unstructured.


Image courtesy of Ashe

My New Book on Video Games and Learning

Well, after a whole lot of work I’ve finally published my book, Paradox of the Learning Game: The Promise and Plight of Video Games and Learning. This is my contribution to what I think is an important conversation. As I discuss in the book, the video game medium is fantastic, encouraging an interdependent relationship between video game and player. The opportunity is there for us to create immersive games that leverage this relationship for powerful learning experiences (as opposed to “chocolate covered broccoli” games, which are not immersive game experiences). While some games have been published that successfully combine the wonders of gaming with the complex nature of learning, this doesn’t happen on a consistent basis. I talk about some social reasons that I believe prevent this from happening in Paradox.

Catch the full description below.

New Book – Paradox of the Learning Game: The Promise and Plight of Video Games and Learning

The excitement around the potential of video games as sources for learning has never been greater. Developments in digital and computer technology have magnified the creativity and availability of advanced learning games—which are games that take significant advantage of the video game medium for transferable learning experiences.

In Paradox of the Learning Game: The Promise and Plight of Video Games and Learning, Wright highlights the potential of the video game medium as a tool for learning, while exploring some of the social and industry challenges that limit the success of advanced learning games. This book not only serves as an introduction to the power of video games as learning resources, but also as a call for video games and learning advocates to carefully consider several deep-rooted challenges that could negatively impact the future of this learning technology.

Paradox of the Learning Game is now available on Amazon.


What will the future university look like?

I am very impressed with the Stanford 2025 project, which imagines what undergraduate learning and living at Stanford will be in the future. It’s a boundary-pushing project, envisioning major changes such as students going after “missions” instead of “majors.”

This is the type of thinking we really need in order to create the university of the future. The bottom line is that college education is expensive, and for the most part, runs very similar to how it’s been ran for many decades. Obtaining jobs and preparing for a competitive 21st century workplace is difficult. Maybe there need to be bigger changes in the University besides just what majors/masters/doctorates are offered, and whether courses are offered online or not. These changes could increase the alignment between the University and how the world has changed so rapidly.

The biggest challenge is that education, as a whole, is a structure that is very slow to change. This includes K12. There are pros and cons to this. You don’t want educational institutions to go with every trend the wind blows towards them. At the same time, since change in education is so slow, it’s entirely possible for society (which moves rather quickly, especially in this digital age) to outpace education where it stands and give credibility – even a shred of it – to the claim that education has lost relevanceThat’s why there’s been an uptick of claims from people that it is no longer worth it to go to college. I completely disagree with this claim, but I do acknowledge that the University needs to change some things so that education as a whole can maintain a close enough pace to society for students to thrive (not just merely exist) post-graduation.

So with the advent of some incredible technological advances, we are at one of those potentially pivotal moments where we can really dream big. When I say big, I don’t mean bigger buildings. I don’t mean bigger programs. I mean innovation and creativity that propels students and positions Universities to orchestrate the tempo of society – rather than being outpaced by it. The future of the University can be brighter than we can ever imagine – but only if dare to push some of the boundaries that have become perhaps too commonplace and routine in higher education.

Following up; game-based learning

I’m finally following up on the use of the game Fair Play to help my students learn more about biases. The course deals with learning the skills and methods of research and embodying the role of researcher. Bias is one thing that researchers must remain aware of so that they do not let it get in the way of the research. Fair Play, I thought, would be a great chance for my students to face bias head-on; the ones the character faces, and their own as well.

It turns out that this was a tremendous success. Most of the students were surprised that they learned so much from a game. Every student had to do a 1-page write up on their experience and analysis of their own potential biases. I gave several prompts to the students to help them work through this analysis, and I think this was an important step in what was a brand new type of exercise for them.

Further, we discussed the game and bias in the following class. First, I had the students talk in small groups about their experiences playing the game. Then, I used the same prompts I gave the students previously to moderate an open discussion. The students were engaged the entire time for this exercise. There was not only good discussion, but I think some really good self-realization that went down.

All in all, this was a great exercise, but it had to be carefully crafted. I would definitely do it again in the future.

Okay. I’m sold on using an LMS to teach.

This is the first year I’ve thoroughly used a learning management system alongside my teaching. In years past, I’ve only used LMS’s as a depository for the course syllabus and relevant course material (such as handouts in class). This year I took my time and really set up the Canvas page for my two courses so that the LMS would be an important part of the class flow.

One of the features I’m trying to make good use of is the comment feature when grading assignments. This may seem like a minuscule goal (or even a “duh!” kind of thing), but it feels quite empowering to give students feedback in this manner when grading the assignments. I’m not sure why this feels different than writing feedback directly on an assignment using a pen or pencil. Maybe it’s because of the digital context; sending a message through the comments feature aligns with the way many people communicate with each other today (through text messages, emails, and social media posts). I also can write longer forms of feedback in this way. For some reason, when I physically wrote feedback on assignments last year, I didn’t feel as empowered and often kept the feedback very short. This may also just be a byproduct of me personally almost always using type and text to communicate to others as opposed to handwriting.

Either way, after years of being around various LMS’s but remaining hesitant about their value-add for teaching, I’m sold. It just takes careful design and pre-planning beforehand to take advantage.


Game-based learning in a higher ed class

fair play

I will be integrating game-based learning for the first time in my higher education teaching this semester by using the game, Fair Play by GLS Studios. Fair Play is a game where players control Jamal, a black graduate student, who must navigate past the implicit biases from characters in the game to grow in his journey toward becoming a professor.

Much of the focus on the use of games for learning has focused on issues such as game design and assessment (i.e. How do we know that learning occurred in the game? How do we know this learning can be transferred to real-life contexts?). What’s equally important is how we set up the players (in this case, students) for success before they even play the game. I feel that if I just throw my students to the wolves and say, “Play this game and learn,” that will result in a lot of problems.

The first thing I had to do was actually play the game! By playing the game, I was able to see what the students would see, and scope out any potential issues the students may run into. Perhaps even more important than this, I was able to work through the technical challenges of getting the game up and running. This allows me to share with the students how they too can forge past potential technical pitfalls.

Second, I determined my learning goal for the students – for each student to learn more about how biases effect the way he or she personally views the world. A big component of our class is how bias can affect research. Playing a game where bias is built-in as part of the learning experience seems like a perfect fit. Of course, the game itself can’t do all the work. So I took my experience playing the game, combined it with my learning goal, and came up with a few prompts for the students to think about that will help them towards that goal. I am requiring them to take notes while playing the game based on these prompts.

Third, I wrote up an instruction sheet for them. This sheet clearly lays out the technical details of the game and the directions that will turn the gaming experience into a learning experience as well (including a note about how playing a game for learning purposes is not too different from playing a game for entertainment purposes). It does not cover how to play the game, but the game itself does a great job of walking players through the details of navigating the game world.

The final component is that the students must submit a 1-page write up on their game-playing experience, and bring that and their notes to class for a discussion.

I’m excited about the possibilities here but at the end of the day, it’s all about the learning. If the game helps, that’s great. But if not, then back to the drawing board. Let’s see what happens.

16-17: Important Year for Edtech

It’s hard to believe that the summer is almost over. Of course, this is easy to say EVERY summer! Before you know it *BAM * the school year is in front of you.

This is  a crucial school/academic year for education technology. For years we’ve heard how great technology could be for education and learning environments, and I have been one of the biggest advocates for this. However, it seems like there is increasing amount of narrative today that suggests that technology – at least in the ways we currently use it – is not working as a helpful resource for teaching and learning.

This helps to balance some of the over-excitement towards edtech, but we must be careful not to let this notion extinguish the edtech flame! I fear that this is exactly what could happen (in some ways) if we do not provide enough examples and data of technology helping educational outcomes this academic/school year.

So edtech advocates – time for us to roll the sleeves up and see what we can do!



Let’s Pay Attention to Digital

Nice article from Fast Company highlighting the evolution of the PlayStation. I was especially interested in getting some perspective on the gradual transition to digital that Sony (and the other major consoles) are making.  Of course, there are still physical games that are being sold in stores, but digital downloads are huge players in the market with hundreds of millions in sales each month!

The whole shift to digital is important to note, because when we think about the current landscape of the learning video game, it is dominated by digital efforts such as Brainpop.  And the future of the learning video game will likely be completely digital. So it’s good to follow how the entertainment-based video game industry plans to move forward with digital to perhaps gain some examples and best practices.

Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Shawn Layden had some words on the transition in the article:

“The transition from physical to digital is actually faster than any of our projections. We realized that there is a benefit to being able to download the game in your home, without getting in your car, driving to the store, bringing it back. Of course on PS3, it was faster to drive to the store than download it. So we fixed that problem. And now you can play while it’s downloading, which is one of the greatest innovations we brought to it.

What we didn’t factor in was the second level of convenience we are learning from people: they don’t want to get off of the sofa and put the disc in the machine. They would rather just have it on the hard drive and just go from game to Netflix to PlayStation Vue, go back to another game. I totally get it. I only download stuff now. That transition is happening super quickly.”

Here is the full article.