Part One: Introduction to Inquiry


Several years ago as I was sitting in my grade 5 classroom in June getting ready for the summer holidays, I was reflecting on the school year gone by and thought to myself, “There has to be a better way to teach all these subjects!” My main goal was for my students to recognize that science, geography, language, math, history, etc were not isolated subjects nor were they an island on their own. There are many opportunities for cross-curricular integration and I had designed and delivered many lessons where students were learning in this manner. However, I still felt there was a more effective method in which students could explore issues, topics, and concepts in an integrated fashion. Additionally, as someone who values social justice and equity issues, I wanted to find a way to ensure that social justice was part of my teaching units.

I never thought the journey that I started that summer would end up being one of the best learning experiences of my life! I remember sitting at my parent’s kitchen table (I was still living at home at this time) with all the curriculum documents spread out in front of me and doing a scavenger hunt of sorts. I was searching for ways in which the expectations in one subject area overlapped with expectations from other subject areas. I started with the science and social studies curricula since they would be the best ones in which the “big ideas” would come to light. My next step was to generate a list of these “life big ideas” and related questions (which we now know as “essential questions” or “driving questions”). Since I was teaching grade 6 the following year, my first big idea was “development” and my related essential question was, “Should Canada continue to invest in space exploration?”  I spent the next few weeks planning this unit; designing lessons, looking up resources, mapping out assessment strategies, and drafting a newsletter to parents about the unit.

This type of approach to teaching and learning allows students to use the inquiry method. They are introduced to the big idea and essential question and some initial discussions occur in our “community circle”. Students then engage in their learning by accessing the necessary resources (books, newspaper articles, websites, magazine articles, etc) to answer the question. This is not to say that there is no explicit teaching happening during the unit; of course there is! These explicit lessons just need to be planned carefully in terms of what information is being disseminated to students and when it is being disseminated in the learning cycle. I found that my students were engaged because their learning was self-directed; instead of giving them answers, they had to find them on their own. In other words, they were constructing their own knowledge and forming their own opinions and views based on their research and their experiences. I wanted my students to realize that there is no one right answer to these types of questions. One student could argue that we should continue to invest in space exploration while another student would argue that we shouldn’t invest in space exploration but as long as they each have valid and reliable arguments, they are both correct. Furthermore, this type of learning allows students to really listen to each other. We had weekly class meetings where we discussed the question and students shared how they felt. If students disagreed with each other, they did so respectfully and challenged each other by asking good questions (this in itself takes time to build in a classroom!). I also provided choice: my students could choose how to present the answer to the essential questions. Therefore, if one student’s strength was writing, he could write a persuasive essay; if another student wanted to deliver a speech, she delivered it in front of the class, and if another student loved technology, he shared his website with the class (my assessment procedures have evolved since then, which I will share in part three of my series). In the end, my students told me they really enjoyed the unit because they were allowed to express their thoughts and views, collaborate with their classmates, and didn’t have to complete a bunch of worksheets. Based on their feedback, I was determined to ensure that all my units were based around a big idea and essential question.

Here in no particular order are some other big ideas and essential questions I have done with my classes:

1) Big Idea: Survival (grade 7)

Essential Question: Does earth have a greater impact on us or do we have a greater impact on earth

 2) Big Idea: Ethics (grade 8)

Essential Question: What role should ethics play in the advancement of science, technology and  medicine?

3) Big Idea: Change (can work for all grade levels)

Essential Question: Is conflict necessary for change?

4) Big Idea: Power (grade 8)

Essential Question: Is water a right or a privilege?

5) Big Idea: Human Rights (grade 6)

Essential Question: Should Canada/countries continue to trade with countries who violate civil rights?

This is just a sample of my units. I will share more in part two of my series as well as on my website (which won’t be until late fall/early winter).

Here are some guidelines I have learned about writing essential questions:

  • Essential questions are concepts in the form of a question
  • Essential questions promote inquiry.
  • Essential questions have no one right answer, therefore open-ended.
  • Essential questions depends on the knowledge, prior experience, and questions that students bring to the table.
  • Essential questions set the focus for the unit of study
  • Essential questions are cross-curricular
  • Essential questions promote critical thinking, reasoning, collaboration, communication, etc.
  • Essential questions are related to the curriculum.

Things to Think About

  • What prior knowledge do students need to know?
  • What do students need to know in order to answer the question?
  • What resources can/will they use/access to find the information?
  • What instructional strategies best suit this type of learning?
  • What types of formative assessments will you have in place to ensure they are learning what they are supposed to be learning?
  • How will you accommodate for students who are on an IEP or who are ELLs?
  • How will you support struggling students?
  • In what possible ways can students demonstrate their understanding in terms of answering the essential question?

These are all things I have learned along my journey over the last 7-8 years; so my one word of advice is to start small because it can be overwhelming! I know I was overwhelmed when I first started but as I gained experience and received feedback from my students, it got easier and better! I now have a bank of these “life big ideas” and “essential questions” and I will share more of them in my follow up blog posts.

I’ve also had the privilege of delivering a three day course in the summer of 2014 and 2015 to teachers where they had the opportunity to explore teaching in this manner and providing a good chunk of time for them to plan one unit for the upcoming school year. It was a fantastic experience as we discussed the many benefits to students learning with an inquiry stance. I am still learning and brainstorming essential questions related to the big ideas as well as spending time gathering resources and bookmarking newspaper and magazine articles related to the major themes inherent in the open ended questions I ask my students.

Part Two of this blog series will hopefully be completed by the end of next week 🙂

Please feel free to leave me any questions or comments you have about my journey 🙂


Twitter in the Classroom


About a month ago, I wrote a blog post about social media in the classroom and have been meaning to follow it up with a post about Twitter in the classroom. Summer is to blame! Between going away on vacation, catching up with family and friends,working on my dissertation (Twitter in the math classroom!), and instructing an online course, my blogging has fallen to the wayside.

So here it is; a follow up to my last post about social media in the classroom. As I mentioned in that post, we often talk about bringing the real world into the classroom and what better way than Twitter? I have used Twitter successfully in my classroom and have found the majority of my students have been engaged and motivated to share their learning, interact with each other outside of the classroom as well as interacting with professionals from various disciplines. Twitter is a great tool to connect with others from around the world; whether your class is interacting with other classes globally or communicating with professionals in the field of math, science, geography, or music, there are many ways in which Twitter can be used to learn and engage students.

Twitter is not only a great tool for reinforcing course content and communicating but it is a great way to teach life skills, including digital citizenship. Many schools and districts ban such sites and this is such a disservice to both students and teachers. Filtering such sites doesn’t allow students to practice how to effectively navigate social media platforms nor does it allow them to distinguish, observe, and become familiar with proper online etiquette and behaviour. I’ve told my students numerous times that employers look at their online presence or digital footprint when making hiring decisions. One great strategy is to have a company or organization to come speak to your students about the importance of digital citizenship.

Twitter guidelines dictate that students must be 13 years old to create their own Twitter account, hence students in grade 8 and higher can create their own for academic purposes. They can also create a separate ‘private’ account but they need to realize that nothing is private because Twitter is a public domain. They can still held accountable for any negative or disparaging remarks they make towards others including other students, teachers, and to anyone else they may follow. If you are a primary/junior teacher, creating a classroom account is the best way to go. There are still many ways you can use Twitter to engage and motivate students even though they don’t have their own account.

One thing I do recommend is to send a letter home to parents outlining your inclusion of Twitter into your teaching practice. My letter included information about Twitter in terms of what it is and how it works; I also included reasons for integrating Twitter into my classroom and explicit examples of how it will be used. At the bottom, I had a tear off portion, which parents signed and returned, giving permission for their child to create an account and use Twitter for school purposes (grade 8). I would still recommend having this tear off portion for primary and junior students as keeping parents informed about technology use in the classroom is critical especially in terms of social media use. I also included a “Twitter 101” brochure for parents, which provided information about Twitter in terms of creating their own account and how to use its many features. Having parents follow your classroom on Twitter is a fantastic way to keep them informed, engaged, and involved in their child’s learning.

Below, in no particular order, I outline ways in which you can use Twitter in your classroom, which I have used successfully with my students.


  • create own classroom hashtag
  • organize tweets by hashtags as well (subject specific, reminders, field trips, etc)
  • post announcements and homework
  • post important dates such as tests, projects, and other assignments
  • post pictures and summary of field trips
  • post summary of learning for the day
  • post pictures and videos of learning for the day
  • post links to articles and videos pertaining to course content
  • Trivia Tuesdays or Trivia Thursdays
  • retweet articles from newspaper and TV news outlets
  • retweet tweets from professionals in subject-specific areas
  • students post questions about the homework and difficulties they might encounter
  • post a poll question (favourite for “yes” and retweet for “no”)
  • connect with classrooms across the country and around the world and host monthly twitter chats about a pre-determined topic or issue
  • connect with classrooms across the country and around the world to learn concepts and content together
  • follow industry professionals in all subject areas (searching by hashtag is one way to find them!)
  • follow government organizations and discuss current issues
  • follow newspaper, TV, and other media outlets to discuss global issues
  • find and connect with local organizations for sponsors and class visits!
  • post quote of the day
  • post fact of the day
  • in a primary/junior classroom have students use their initials as a hashtag to sign off their posts (a great way to assess; periodically you can do a hashtag search and assess that particular student’s tweets)
  • have students conduct research by using hashtags (for example, if students are researching “cells”, have them try the hashtags “cells” or “cellbiology”)
  • post inspirational quotes and have students post them too!
  • scavenger hunt (post clues and have students tweet their journey)
  • have students tweet a muddy point (something they learned which they still are not clear about)
  • exit (and entry) slips


  • tweet main idea of a story, poem, chapter in a novel
  • compose a poem in a 140 characters
  • compose a short story in a 140 characters (keep it interesting; how about a mystery or horror story in 140 characters?)
  • fix the tweets of celebrities and athletes in terms of grammar and spelling (with the 140 character limit, what would a proper tweet look like?)
  • in terms of the 140 character limit, discuss the importance of being grammatically correct vs. sharing an idea; which one is more important and why?)
  • students creating questions based on a short story, poem, novel, or magazine article and posting it for a classmate to answer in a 140 characters
  • build vocabulary: students compose a sentence on a particular word and then have them compose another one with a synonym and/or antonym
  • word games: word jumbles, word association, list as many synonyms/antonyms as you can, crossword puzzle clues, guess the definition, etc
  • review grammar by having students compose examples of run-on sentences, past tense, future tense, present tense sentences, compound sentences, and sentences with mistakes in them (other students have to find and correct the mistakes)
  • tweet as character from a novel as you read the book (thoughts? feelings? predictions?)
  • have students take on personal of novels from a character and have them engage in a twitter conversation (what would the conversation look like between Hermione and Ron?)
  • class newspaper: use (or another similar platform) and have students contribute 1-2 articles they wrote individually or collaboratively or have them share an article they found on another site
  • in their novel study groups, students participate in a twitter chat about the book (an online book club!); have students generate the questions for the chat using Bloom’s Taxonomy and the Q-chart
  • write a movie review
  • compose a book review
  • if the book you’re reading was made into a movie, who would you cast and why (unless of course it already is a movie or you could ask them to recast)


  • tweet as a historical figure (what would Tecumseh’s Twitter feed look like? Sir Isaac Brock’s? Napoleon’s?)
  • students have a Twitter conversation as historical figures (what would a conversation between Brock and Tecumseh look like?)
  • What if an event never happened?
  • what if an event ended differently? What would have happened?
  • post critical thinking questions (Who really lost the War of 1812?)
  • “This Day in History” factoid


  • connect/use Google Earth
  • post of picture of a mystery place and have students guess the place
  • trivia questions (flags, capital cities, major landforms)
  • post information and pictures of their travels
  • tweet about hypothetical natural disasters (tsunami, hurricane, tornado, etc)
  • create a disaster relief plan
  • tweet their opinions about geographical issues (have a twitter chat)
  • where is one place in the world they want to go and why?
  • take measurements and collect data to map out later
  • compare and contrast the geography of your country with that of the a classroom you might be working with in another country


  • post questions for students to answer around the scientific method (for example, post a scenario and ask question such as, “what is the independent variable? dependent variable? What is a placebo?)
  • post pictures of lab work with steps and results
  • post pictures of science examples in nature
  • host a twitter chat with an environmentalist, doctor, physicist, etc
  • monthly twitter chats about scientific advancements and issues (stem cell research, cloning, global warming, etc)
  • post opinions on these issues
  • science trivia questions
  • “This Day in Science History…”
  • Guess the Scientist (post a picture of a scientist and have students guess who it is)
  • read articles and analyze articles for fact vs opinion
  • create PSAs and post link for others to see
  • research science related topics using hashtags (#biology, #biodiversity, #cells, etc)
  • science jokes


  • follow accounts in French (people, organizations, news/media outlets)
  • pen pal program with another class (in a different province/state and/or country)
  • students translate tweets into French
  • students tweet in French (comprehension questions for example)
  • play vocabulary games
  • question of the week for students to respond to (What is your favourite dessert? Where would you like to travel, etc)
  • compose and post sentences in the past, present, and future tenses


  • use Twitter to gather data and statistics on a topic
  • follow major sports team (and athletes) and use data to create a question, answer a question, or “I wonder” question
  • estimation skills (e.g., post a picture of a room and ask students to estimate its size)
  • post pictures of sales in the shopping mall or real estate information and pose a question (encourage students to do the same)
  • post pictures of math mistakes you find and ask students to identify the problem and fix it
  • problem of the week
  • students post pictures of them solving a problem and the steps they took to solve it
  • tweet out solution to a sudoku puzzle
  • post a question and challenges students to solve it in multiple ways
  • students create problems and another student has to solve it
  • post pictures of math they see when out and about
  • post pictures (you or the students) and hashtag it with #whereisthemath ?
  • post photo challenges; students have to find an example and tweet out the related picture (e.g., post a picture of an item/object that has right angles)
  • 140 character journal response

As you can see there are many ways to use Twitter in your classroom and students are excited and engaged when they realize their tweets and thoughts can be seen by others from around the world. I highly encourage you to connect with teacher around the world to share your learning, learn content together, and participate in monthly Twitter chats. It’s amazing how many people will see you tweets and be interested in what is happening in your classroom. I once had an environmentalist follow our class because of the tweets she was seeing coming out of our classroom and we ended up having an awesome twitter chat with her. Student asked her questions about the environment and our climate and it was a great hour of connecting and learning. Because of that chat, I found my students became even more engaged on Twitter and started sharing articles and stories about current event and global issues.

I also held “study chats” on a regular basis. If there was a test coming up, the night before I had a twitter chat with my students, where I provided sample questions and gave them the opportunity to answer them for practice. This was also a great chance for them to ask any questions they had about the content and skills they were being tested on; and yes, some questions I posed on Twitter were on the test 🙂 (I always sent a letter home to parents letting them know we would be online in the evening reviewing for a test). 

  • One thing to remember is to NEVER engage in any personal conversations online. If during a chat, a student asks you a personal question, DO NOT respond! Do not even respond by saying, “this is an inappropriate question” or “you really shouldn’t be asking me this.”  Ignore it completely as if it were never tweeted and speak to that student face to face the next day about this issue. *

I know many of you will ask about the issue of privacy. That is up to you. You can make your classroom account private and accept followers at their request, just like Facebook or you can keep it public and block individuals who are inappropriate. If you teach grade 8 and above, I highly suggest you ensure students create private accounts and accept and reject people based on their accounts (see, digital citizenship rears its head again!). See my previous blog post about guidelines in terms of students creating their own account and staying safe.

I am sure I will be updating this blog post five minutes after it’s posted because I remembered more ways in which I used this great social media platform! There are just so many ideas for Twitter in the classroom!

Have fun and stay safe online!

Next Week: Part 1 of Inquiry Based Learning

Social Media in the Classroom


The phenomenon of social media has altered the ways in which teenagers communicate and engage with each other. Social networking platforms are the second most popular form of communication among teenagers; 29% of youth send messages through these sites (Lenhart, 2012). In the past, teenagers reported using Twitter to follow their favourite celebrities and receive news updates. However, they now report using Twitter to post their own content as well as following their friends (Madden et al., 2013). The use of Twitter has gradually increased among teenagers; 24% now use Twitter, a figure that is up from 16% in 2011 (Madden et al., 2013).Yet, despite these numbers, social media platforms like Twitter are not being integrated into classrooms to impact and enhance learning, communication, engagement, and motivation.

I know several teachers who have voiced various concerns over the use of social media, the most significant factor being the issue of privacy. Some measures you can take:

1) Read your school board’s social media policy (they should have one!)

2) Read the policies and guidelines of the social media platform you’d like to use (for example, one must be 13 years or older to have a Twitter account, hence students in grade 8 and above can create their own)

3) Ensure students set privacy settings so only confirmed followers can view their content

4) Ensure students do not include any biographical data on their account, which might identify them (i.e., full name, school name, school district, pictures)

5) If you are posting pictures, make sure students faces are not visible (there are apps that can blur out student faces)

6) Send a letter home to parents outlining which platform you are using and why; provide explicit examples of how the social media tool will be used in class

7) Have parents sign a consent form and keep a copy for your records

8) Encourage parents to follow you so they can see what kind of learning is happening in class

9) Inform your administrators about your use of social media and encourage them to follow you!

10) Integrate digital citizenship with the use of social media; teach examples and non-examples of the proper use of social media

11) Have students complete some fun icebreakers or activities to get them accustomed to the platform and the proper use of the tool in terms of etiquette and good behaviour

*Remind students whether it’s their personal account or their educational account, nothing is private! They are responsible for anything they post to a social media site and if anything is posted that has a hint of bullying, they are accountable and there will be consequences.*

Using social media in the classroom is a great way to teach students not only about digital citizenship but also about the dangers of social media. We teach our kids not to talk to strangers they meet in public places so by the same token aren’t we responsible for teaching them the same dangers in online learning platforms? Isn’t it our obligation to teach them how to be safe online? The majority of our students believe that they are safe behind their computer, ipad,  or iphone because no one can ‘see’ them. They share information freely without realizing not only how far that information can reach but also who has access to that information. This is why one of the first things I do in my classroom is have students Google themselves. I still remember one of my grade 8 female students, who after Googling herself, shouted out a bunch of expletives because she didn’t understand how a personal picture she had posted on Facebook was now online for anyone to see. This led to a great discussion with my class about being safe in today’s digital landscape.

I have used Twitter in my classroom for the last couple of years with great results. I want my students to be active participants in their learning rather than just being passive consumers of information. Twitter has allowed every single one of my students to have a voice. As educators, we always talk about getting our students ready for the “real world” or wanting to bring the “real world” into our classrooms. So why aren’t we doing that by integrating social media into the classroom? What better way then to interact with the “real world” by using social media platforms like Twitter where a class can connect with someone like Chris Hadfield or a mathematician or an environmentalist so students can ask questions and engage in critical dialogue?

If you haven’t integrated Twitter or other social media platforms into your classroom, I encourage you to do so. It is only through using and interacting with the platform that you will see the value. You can’t really judge until you’ve tried it, right? 🙂

Next Post: Ideas on how to Integrate Twitter into Your Classroom


Lenhart, A. (2012). Communication choices. PewResarch Internet Project. Retrieved from

Madden et al. (2013). Teens and social media. PewResearch Internet Project. Retrieved from

Open Ended Questions In Math

Over the last few years, there has been a shift in mathematics instruction and learning as we move away from the more traditional forms of teaching (e.g., using textbooks, sitting in rows, and unit tests at the end of a chapter) to more engaging and innovative methods in order for students to understand the big ideas and concepts of mathematics. One such strategy is the use of open ended questions in the math classroom. As an AQ Instructor, teachers in my courses often express the value in having students work through these types of problems. Open ended problems have many advantages. The first being that these types of problems allow for multiple entry points as well as students recognizing that there isn’t one conventional method of solving a problem. Students can work on the problem with strategies that make sense to them. They realize there isn’t only one way to solve a problem and hence their self confidence increases because of their “aha” moments. I struggle with the issue of the most “efficient” method or the strategy that is the “fastest”. The entire objective of open ended questions is allowing students to recognize that their way of solving a problem is valued. Not every student’s brain works the same way and that in itself needs to be celebrated. Just because it’s the most efficient or fastest way does not mean it will work for every student. It’s about the understanding and learning; its not about the achievement, speed, or performance. We want students to succeed in life and by allowing them to solve problems that make the best sense to them will allow them to transfer those skills to real life, when they are adults. You could pair up the student who is using the “more efficient” strategy with the students who is using the “less efficient” strategy. Give the pair some guiding questions to keep the conversation focused, have both of them reflect on their conversation in a journal, and then have a follow up conversation with the student who is using the “less efficient” strategy and ask them about what they though of the “more efficient” strategy – does it make sense? why or why not? If a student is not ready to use other strategies, don’t force it. It needs to come naturally when they are ready.

The biggest challenge in terms of using open ended questions is creating these questions in the first place. Marian Small’s books are a great place to start to gain some knowledge and experience with these types of questions. After reading her books, I then turned to the math textbook and started turning their close ended questions into open ended questions. After gaining experience and understanding with open ended questions over the last couple of years, I created the following mini-guide:

Open Ended Questions in Math: Four Main Categories


Category Closed Open
Provide Conditions Find the mean of the following numbers: 7, 15, 12, 20, 17, 13, 19, 16 Produce sets of data that satisfy these conditions.

a)  mean = median < mode

b)  mean = mode < median

c)  median = mode < mean

Give the Answer Round 37.67 to the nearest tenth Generate three different numbers that when rounded to the nearest tenth give 37.7
Similarities and Differences Find the LCM of 40 and 35 How are the numbers 40 and 35 alike? How are they different?
Create the Context/Omit Information What is 1/3 + ½? You add two fractions and the sum is 5/9. What could the fractions be?

Analyzing the Task

  • What prior learning does the student need to understand and respond to each question
  • What scaffolding can we provide struggling students to engage in the problem?
  • What scaffolding can we provide competent students to go deeper into the problem

Points to Ponder

  • When would you engage students in these types of questions (beginning, middle, end of unit; after closed problems)?
  • How would you use these types of questions (assessment of, for, or as learning)?
  • What type of classroom environment is needed to promote these types of questions and this type of learning?

It is also helpful to know the difference between these two terms:

Open Routed: A question with more than one strategy to obtain one correct answer

Open Ended: A question or problem which has more than one correct answer and more than one strategy to obtain this answer


  • WHAT? Open-ended and parallel tasks allow for multiple entry points and multiple answers
  • WHY? Questions engage learners at all levels
  • HOW? Allow students to choose numbers, the context, generate the question
  • WHO? All students as parallel tasks allow for the removal of potential barriers

Example for you to try 

Create a question that uses the words double, triple, 3 and 8.

Being a Connected Educator

October has been Connected Educator’s Month and as we come to the end of the month, I have taken some time to reflect on what it means to be a connected educator. One of the most significant aspects of being a connected educator is to have opportunities to connect with a variety of educators to challenge your thinking by examining multiple perspectives. We can not grow as teachers if we do not learn each and every day. We emphasize the important of fostering a growth mindset in our students yet do not seem to highlight its importance for teachers. Being a connected educator affords us the chance to pursue our passions and achieve our own personal learning goals and there are many venues in which we can do so.

I have successfully used Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and blogging to not only connect with other educators but also with my students and their parents/guardians. In this regard, our students need to be able to see the power of being connected. Many of them might not see the value of using a tool like Twitter for learning so why not help them get started by using their passions as a springboard? Furthermore, show them real life examples of how these types of tools have helped other students to learn and thrive? Equally important is modeling for students. We need to scaffold for them in order that they can use these tools for educationally relevant purposes. When I started using Twitter with my students, they were reluctant to get on board; however, with time and scaffolding they eventually came around. After about a month, we were tweeting questions to a scientist about stem cell research and the environment and it was extremely powerful!

My advice to those just getting started:

1) Jump In! There is no correct way to get started in becoming a connected educator. Go ahead and explore, think about your goals, what you want to learn, and then start connecting and participating!

2) Follow a Variety of People: it doesn’t matter what tool you are using but be sure to connect with educators that have opinions and views that are different from yours; it’s a great way to learn and grow!

3) Set Aside Time: block out a day in the week when you will connect with your community; it can everyday or once a week depending on your schedule and other commitments

4) Join: try joining a Twitter chat or a Google Hangout to get the feel for the different tools that are out there.

5) Ask!: When in doubt, ask questions; you have an entire connected community who would be more than willing to answer your questions and help you out.

Connecting helps us to reflect on and improve our practice, share tools and resources, and communicate with educators from around the world.

One of my philosophies has always been, “If we don’t take risks in our teaching, how can we expect students to take risks in their learning?” 


DVDs vs VOD: Increasing Returns or Red Queens?

These days you can watch movies in a variety of formats; you can access them through Netflix, buy the DVD or Blu-Ray, or download from your cable provider. As a PhD student in Educational Technology, I have recently become fascinated by the short stories of Philip K. Dick. Many of his stories have been made into popular movies such as Minority Report, Total Recall, Blade Runner, Next, Paycheck, and A Scanner Darkly. I recently re-watched Minority Report with fresh eyes and the technologies were fascinating!

I could have downloaded the movie from Netflix but I ended up purchasing a DVD copy, which I just happened to find at my local Wal-Mart. The store was having a sale and the movie was $5 so I picked it up along with a few others. It was the last copy of Minority Report so I thought best to grab it now and add it to my collection.

The fact that I could choose between a DVD option or video-on-demand option got me thinking about the forces in emerging technologies. Two of the six forces are Red Queens and Increasing Returns. Dr. Thornburg (2009) defines Red Queens as a competition between two technologies and in the process the others get left behind (Thornburg, 2009). The force of Increasing Returns is defined by Dr. Thornburg as two technologies which hit the market at the same time and just by chance one of the technologies becomes a “hit” driving the other technology to extinction (Thornburg, 2009). It should be noted that it is not always the best or most superior technology that survives. An example of this, provided by Dr. Thornburg is that of the battle between Betamax (Sony) and VHS (Panasonic). The Betamax version was by far the superior option but VHS was adopted by the public (Thornburg, 2009).

Currently, the battle between DVDs and video-on-demand (VOD) would be an example of Red Queens. This is because both still exist. You can go to Walmart, BestBuy, and Future Shop to purchase DVDs, whether it’s a movie or one of your favourite TV shows or you can purchase a VOD service such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. Neither of these technologies have driven the other to extinction (i.e., Increasing Returns) yet but that may come in due time. I can see DVDs becoming obsolete due to their limitations in image quality and the popularity of being able to download movies and TV shows from the comfort of your living/family room.

I still purchase DVDs but they are not movies; they are the seasons of my favourite TV shows, which are not available on Netflix. As Netflix continues to add to their menu, I can see myself not buying as many DVDs as I used to; it will be nice to have all my favourite movies and shows on my Cloud or saved on my televison where I can access them at any time I wish.

In terms of McLuhan’s tetrad:

a) Video on Demand reversed DVDs

b) DVDs will be made obsolete by VOD

c) VOD rekindles “Home Movie Nights”

d) Blu-Ray will make DVDs obsolete

e) DVD rekindles the VHS, which was used to watch movies

Second Life: A Disruptive Technology?

Dr. Christensen, a Harvard professor, first coined the term “disruptive innovation” in his book “The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail”. Dr. Thornburg (2009) defines a disruptive technology as one which works more efficiently and has additional benefits than the previous technology, thus rendering it obsolete. One example provided by Dr. Thornburg was the transistor replacing the vacuum tube (Thornburg, 2009). The transistor functions as a solid-state electronic switch and replaced the vacuum tube. The transistor is smaller and consumes considerably less power; therefore, a computer system built with transistors is smaller, faster, and more proficient than its counterpart made with vacuum tubes. The transistor disrupted the need for vacuum tubes.

Another example is the virtual world Second Life. Second Life is an online social networking environment where users create an avatar and can interact with other avatars (users) or with other objects and/or places. It is not just about communicating with each other; Second Life also users to create these objects and places such as a organizations building stores where individuals can shop or setting up a meeting in order to discuss goals and objectives of the company. Second Life is a disruptive technology because it replaces how people interact with each other. By creating a virtual representation of themselves, users collaborate, communicate, build, and do business with each other without actually meeting face to face.

In education, teachers can set up an online classroom so students can listen to lectures, participate in a book talk, or immerse themselves in a particular setting such as the War of 1812. However, like any online environment, I feel it is important to balance it with face to face interaction. The implication of relying on a solely virtual setting can have social consequences. This is why I felt a sense of unease when Rosedale (2008) stated that individuals prefer their avatars over real life. Second Life is a valuable tool for learning and interacting with each other but should not be thought of as a replacement.

By allowing users to interact, collaborate, and share with each other, it does seem like it might be competing with other social networking sites like Facebook but at this time I do not see it displacing any other technologies. However, I do feel that in the field of education, Second Life had the potential to disrupt elementary education but since their Teen Grid came to an end, Second Life wasn’t very successful in this endeavour. MineCraft has now come into the picture to displace Second Life in use in the classroom. Having said that, I believe that Second Life will be around for the next ten years as it has the potential to replace text to text communication via graphic and text communication. Additionally, Second Life is still in its infancy and Linden Labs, who owns Second Life will continue to refine and update their product. In due time, something else will come along to disrupt this online environment; perhaps an environment that employs the use of gloves or 3D glasses.


Laureate Education, Inc. (2009). Emerging and future technology: Disruptive technologies. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Rosedale, P. (2008). Philip Rosedale on Second Life [Video]. Retrieved from