tech-ucation reformation

Goodbye overheads and chalkboards! Hello virtual "paperless" classrooms!

Problem-Solving & Creativity in Gaming January 12, 2014

Filed under: 5300 — S. Michele Holmes @ 5:30 am
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The following is the abstract for my CECS 5300 final project – a research paper.  The full title is “Developing Effective Problem-Solving Strategies and Enhancing Creativity in Elementary School Students through Gaming.”  If you are interested in reading my final product, please contact me.

The proliferation of computer and video games in our society led to their study for educational merit. Problem-solving and creativity are two important goals of education that can be honed through gaming. The goal of this paper is to explore the research on problem-solving and creativity in gaming and present three arguments about how they help elementary students develop problem-solving skills and enhance creativity. Play is a child’s natural interaction with the world and a powerful learning tool; games are just another way for children to interact with their world, learning while playing. Games can be programmed to reflect what students will experience in the real-world allowing students to produce a plethora of products using problem-solving and creativity as they will in their professions after school. Standardized testing is not a true reflection of students’ abilities and does not allow students to express themselves creatively. Games can indicate problem-solving and creativity more accurately than standardized testing.


Educational Research or Refreshing Diversion April 20, 2013

Filed under: 5300 — S. Michele Holmes @ 3:35 am
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Our focus this week in Learning & Cognition class has been problem-solving.  This week I have been challenged to play with the following website:, reflect upon problem-solving and creativity, and spend time solving a problem or doing something creative.  This challenge could not have come at a better time because I have been writing a research paper on problem-solving, and it served as a refreshing diversion as well as opportunity to reflect upon the paper from a different perspective.

First, I followed the link to the website and read the directions on how to play the game.  It’s basically a website hyperlink maze taking you from one page to another, but the goal is to make your way from the 1st page to the 45th page and back in 16 moves.  It reminds me a lot of the text-based MUDs from my bachelor degree days having to type every movement you want to make.  Although the directions said to read the story for each room because it could give you clues to the next move, I found this to be of no help to me whatsoever, so I decided this problem needed to be solved in a different way.  It made sense to me that if it’s just 45 websites and they all have links to other sites, what if I just mapped it out to find the best path.  I remember having to take notes and make maps on video games I’d played in the past – particularly the Gabriel Knight games, Frankenstein:  Through the Eyes of the Monster, and Myst.  So I started mapping the rooms and how they link together on a piece of paper.  After quite a while, I found that some rooms can immediately link back to where you had come from, while others did not.  At this point, I felt as though this might be important to finding the most efficient route to room 45 and back, and perhaps the path may not be a perfect round-trip.  So I started my map over again, this time indicating what I had learned.  The result is pictured here.


Well, I must have messed up somewhere or it just became too complicated, because I could never find room 45.  I then realized this was a maze, and as a child, I would often solve mazes backwards – it just seemed faster sometimes.  I noticed the website addresses have the room number in them, so I simply changed the number to 45 and my hypothesis worked!  From there, I tried to map backwards using the same methods as before (you can see this in the upper right corner.  Although I found all the rooms this way, I never could find the connection.  However, I did find what might be an error in the links – I’m not sure if it’s intentional or a mistake:  when in room 44, the player is given two choices room 18 and room 21, and when room 18 is selected, it takes the player to room 11.  At this point, I had to give up and return to the research paper.  My interest in methodically mapping out the maze gave me a break from working on the research paper for at least two days, which gave me personal insight into many of the topics I was researching:  well-defined vs. ill-defined problems, approaches to problem-solving such as methodical strategies and simple trial and error, time constraints, and reflections periods.  I felt the creative activity of writing was enhanced by the activity.  But then again . . . perhaps I just wanted to procrastinate!


So Not an Artist! April 4, 2013

Filed under: 5300,Personal — S. Michele Holmes @ 4:11 am
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I have never considered myself an artist; I mean, I can draw a few simple objects to get a point across, but certainly not something as detailed as a face.  My assignment this week for Learning & Cognition class was to search the internet for a picture of a stranger, study it for one minute, hide the picture but create an image of it in my head, then sketch it and reflect upon the activity.  I asked my husband to find a picture for me, and here’s what he found.


When I studied it, I focused on features such as the shortly cut hair, dark brown eyes, the unsymmetrical nose and lips, and the white t-shirt.  Once I turned the screen off, I was able to hold the picture in my mind fairly easily, but when I started sketching it out, my poor skills totally morphed what I saw in my head, and then the imagery in my head decayed.  I remembered how he seemed to be sitting forward, and I simply cannot portray that in a picture.  What I drew first was the hair and eyes because those stuck out to me the most.  I cannot draw noses or lips correctly, but I attempted the crookedness of them.  The ears are totally out of proportion, and I forgot the goatie altogether.


 It was so easy to find a picture of a perfect stranger on the internet; ask me to do this 20 years ago, and I would have reached for the newspaper or a magazine.  Now I can search for almost anything and find a plethora of visuals to stimulate my students’ brains.  I use a lot of visuals in my teaching – there are just some things that are shown better in pictures and videos than just explained, such as phototropism in plants or how waves weather and erode cliffs – I am so glad to have technology to “see the world.”


Why Would Someone Eat a “Hot Dog?” March 22, 2013

Filed under: 5300 — S. Michele Holmes @ 8:42 am
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Our “Learning and Cognition” professor has presented us with a challenge on one of my favorite topics this week – figures of speech.  We have been asked to come up with some examples, and if we speak a language other than English, share a few phrases or sayings showing how they might be baffling to English-speakers.

As an adolescent and young adult, I was not a fan of literature or poetry, so the figurative language I mainly remember are a few family idioms – and Southerners have some humdingers!  Have you every squeezed blood from a turnip?  Well, you can’t!  Can you make a horse drink?  No, but you can lead him to water!  When I met my husband, he introduced me to a whole new set of adages from his family – he would always say, “My mother always told me . . .” and finish with one of a slew of sayings.  We ended up coining a term “Rose-isms” for them (her name is Rosemary).  Here’s one I have to tell my students all the time:  “If if’s and and’s were pots and pans, we’d all cook up a storm.”

When I became an ESL teacher many years ago, the concept of figurative language as well as translation confusion really “came to a head.”  In Texas, the majority of ESL students are Hispanic, and I knew very little Spanish.  The aides who worked with me really helped me understand some of the issues I might encounter.  One of them pointed out that the term “Special Education” can be confusing to limited-English parents – who would not want a special education for their child?  She could not simply translate the term to educación especial; she had to find another way to explain it when translating at parent conferences.  I had a very strange conversation with an Arabic-speaking student about why someone would want to eat a “hot dog.”  This is when I realized we needed to have some lessons on figures of speech.  In order to teach figurative language to ESL students, it often helps to give them a few examples in their own language.  I was working with an advanced-level ESL student, and we found several Spanish idiom websites and blogs such as “Grammar Party” (Roof, 2011).  As we read through the examples and talked about them, we came across la carne de burro no es transparante, which means “the flesh of the donkey is not transparent.”  I laughed so hard because it reminded me of a saying my husband uses when someone blocks his view of the TV – “your daddy wasn’t no glass-maker.”  As it turns out, the figurative Spanish version – “you make a better door than a window” – sends the same message my husband intends.

As an English teacher, one of my favorite (and my students’ favorite) figurative language lessons was having students illustrate the literal version of an idiom.  English Idioms Daily Blog held a contest in 2012 resulting in some fantastic examples of just this lesson.  Children’s book author Tedd Arnold does a beautiful job with illustrating several idioms and other figures of speech literally in his three books:  Parts, More Parts, and Even More Parts.  As a math teacher, I would tell my students all the time that “there is more than one way to skin a cat” meaning some of our word problems can be solved in more than one way.


Arnold, T.  (2004).  Even More Parts.  New York:  Penguin Young Readers Group.

Arnold, T.  (2001).  More Parts.  New York:  Penguin Young Readers Group.

Arnold, T.  (1997).  Parts.  New York:  Penguin Young Readers Group.

English Idioms Daily Blog.  (2012).  Kids’ English Idiom Art Contest 2012.  Retrieved from

Roof, Erin.  (2011, March 10).  Funny Spanish Idioms [Web log post].  Retrieved from


The Teacher Was Once a Student March 1, 2013

Filed under: 5300 — S. Michele Holmes @ 4:40 pm
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This week we are studying short-term and long-term memory as well as encoding and retrieval of memories in my “Learning and Cognition” course.  We have been asked to reflect upon our evolution as a learner from high school to graduate school, our strategies to encode and retrieve information, and techniques we could implement this year.  I must mention just a few highlights from my elementary days because they are pertinent to my evolution as a learner.  First, elementary school was VERY easy to me – I grasped new information quickly and subsequently became bored when teachers needed to repeat information over again resulting in several parent conferences and a great deal of “line writing.”  I cannot recall developing any learning strategies, but certainly skills must have developed steadily over time.  I can remember being in Kindergarten and deciding I wanted to be an astronaut which pretty much drove the next ten years of my education making math and science my favorite subjects.  In fifth grade, I also came to the realization that I was destined to be a nurturer, as my mother had recently had my little sister.

High school was not as easy as elementary school for a variety of reasons, but I was still quite successful.  I already knew math and science were my forte and reading and writing were a struggle, but I had already established effective coping techniques.  I was a slow reader so I avoided it when I could, and the subtleties of literary concepts were not as comfortable as hard facts, logic, and proofs so I looked to my favorite subjects for assistance.  Although writing was a struggle, following the thesis-writing formulas usually produced “A” papers although they were neither creative nor profound.  Much like my current course mates, learning must have been superficial – absorb just what I needed to pass the test only to delete the information once the task was achieved – so short-term strategies were plentiful but no true long-term learning occurred.  In tenth grade, I believe I experienced great strides in overall learning when everything seemed to “come together” into a bigger picture.  My English teacher was amazing!  She taught grammar and literature with a very logical, formulaic approach – just what I needed!  It finally made sense, and grammar actually became my biggest strength on the ACTs.  I also took German that year, and studying the grammar of another language helped me understand my own language more deeply.  My German teacher often said that people who are good at math learn languages very easily because grammar was so formulaic and logical.  Being in band and knowing how to read music, which is also considered another language as well as being very mathematical, really assisted with the synthesis of how everything is related and connected.  The summer between tenth and eleventh grade was when I realized that the plans that drove my last ten years did not jive with my need to be a nurturer.  I had two years to develop another plan before college, and I became lost.  Then distractions came along, which would almost destroy me.  The need to connect with others became very strong; I had never really needed people before, and my family moved around so much that I never made long-term friends.  That year was the first time in my life I had attended school with the same people for more than two years, plus throw teenage hormones and dating into the mix, and BOOM!  I tried to hold on, but I allowed teenage drama to overwhelm me which made the second half of my eleventh grade year a living hell!  I had a lot of family support to get me back on track, and I learned I thrive on stability, routine, and self-discipline.

I headed to college with a strong support system, at least I thought so, but I was not at all confident with my direction.  Classes were fairly easy, but for the first time in my life, I actually had to study, and I had no idea how to do so because college required more long-term memory access.  I never needed to develop learning strategies and study techniques in the past – everything just came naturally – so I struggled with relearning how to learn.  Then, like all ambitious students, I began to join extracurricular activities – not the silly stuff of high school when you just show up to meetings and get voted as an officer but never really do anything.  These activities actually required time and effort, all of which I was willing to give, but not on such a wide scale.  I spread myself too thin.  Then my stable relationship began to collapse.   My personal implosion sent an already shaky relationship over the brink; we are both better people now which makes me feel it was after all for the best.  But I lost that stability and support I needed, and my world began to crumble again.  So there I was at the end of my sophomore year of college spread way too thin, still no career direction, with a personal life spiraling out of control.  Then just when I was not looking, along came the person who would eventually force me to put it all back together again.  Chris and I dated for a few years while I stumbled through more college.  I was so frustrated and dissatisfied with my educational experience, and he needed the nurturer that I was, so I dropped out of school to support him while he finished his bachelor’s.  I learned a great deal about customer service and how to be an employee during this period.  We were supposed to marry after his graduation, but so many events out of our control prevented that from happening, but we were committed to following through with the plans we had already laid.  It was his turn to support me now that he had a stable job.  I found a degree program at another university that I could complete in exactly the minimum amount of credits required to earn a degree from there – 45 hours, which I managed to complete in 12 months.  There were no distractions from extracurricular activities, I had the financial support and emotional stability I needed to focus, and the courses were so engaging that I fell into another synthesis zone.  By this point, I was so motivated to focus and finish my coursework, this seemed to be the only real strategies I needed, but reflecting back on that time, I did develop some tactics.  My professors usually provided us with study guides, so I worked through those as I read the textbooks.  When reading, I focused on text organization, major themes, and how the information would be used practically without really knowing what I would do with the degree.  I’d never read so much in my entire life, but it never seemed like a burden because I wanted and needed it.  Once again, I viewed my world as one big interrelated picture because my courses were related and often covered the same material which also enhanced my long-term memory.  I also took notes during lectures; of course, I could not write down everything my professors said, so I had to learn how to summarize quickly what I just heard.  I also developed a color-coding technique for my notes and textbooks – I highlighted vocabulary word in red, their definitions in blue, main ideas and important points in green, and any features or aspects of the main idea in yellow.  As a final research project, I conducted an experiment in color-coding and wrote a paper about it.  I still use this method today with my own students.

It’s been almost fourteen years since earning my bachelor’s, and my life-experiences and on-the-job training have driven my learning during this time.  I’ve worked my way through several “mini careers,” each with their own skills and knowledge sets.  Even becoming a parent was a a subject to be studied and evaluated.  I read as much as I could about everything I already didn’t know but needed to understand. Once again, I realized everything I was studying whether professionally or personally was related and part of a bigger picture.  Working in childcare helps one be a better parent; being a parent helps one be a better teacher.  Having emotional stability and reliable routines again helped me thrive during those years.  I learned something very important about myself too; one of my strengths is having an analytical mind.  Perhaps this is why absorbing as much information as possible and synthesizing it into a whole works well for me as a “learning strategy.”  I also like to experience systems then try to figure out better, more efficient methods to make those systems operate, and I do this with almost every aspect of my life – parenting, teaching, keeping my house, marriage, etc.  I live it, reflect upon it, analyze it for weaknesses, develop and implement new methods, and continuously reflect on progress.  It makes perfect sense that I was often bored in elementary school because I had figured the system out quickly and developed the most efficient strategies available at the time.  Later high school years and college were phases of falling out of sync only to redevelop new, more efficient strategies.  My desire to work on a master’s is the product of falling out of a sync again.  I have been absorbing the profession of teaching for several years now, I’ve observed the weaknesses of the system, and now I need to process these weaknesses with others to develop a better way.  I realize this doesn’t really answer the question of what strategies or methods I use to encode and retrieve long-term memory, but it does for me because I just incorporate new information into what I already know, perpetually reformulating and synthesizing.  I have found that while reading our textbook I again rely on the structure of the text, I always preview what I’m about to read to access my prior knowledge, I pause every few paragraphs or so and reflect back on how I have experienced what I just read in my work or life and look forward to how it could be utilized in the future.  Having stability, routines, and self-discipline are my study techniques; they work for me. But it makes me think about what the vast majority of my students are missing from their lives and preventing them from thriving.


CECS 5300 Paper Proposal February 15, 2013

Filed under: 5300 — S. Michele Holmes @ 9:10 pm
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Working Title:  Developing Effective Problem-Solving Strategies and Enhancing Creativity Through Video-Gaming

Main Topic:  The goal of this paper is to review the existing research on how using Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) and other collaborative video-gaming platforms could be utilized as a means to develop problem-solving strategies and enhance creativity in the elementary classroom setting.  Another goal is to provide examples of currently available software and applications that promote creativity and problem solving.


As the amount information available to humans increases exponentially, students will not only be required to learn more at younger ages but also understand how to access and manipulate information rather than just memorize facts.  Because of this, students will need to develop creative solutions to complete the task at hand while they absorb the required content.

An education system which requires children to meet the minimum qualifications on an objective-based assessment is producing children who cannot develop solutions on their own because the answers are given to them and their job is to pick the correct one out of the available options.  What if the best solution is not any of the answers provided?  Children are being evaluated and judged based upon the results of these assessments when this is not at all what they will experience in the real world after they have finished school.

Elementary education must transform to reflect what people will experience as adults:  creation of products and collaboration with peers.  Some growing trends in education are product-based learning and small-group learning, and these can both be enhanced with technology, especially through video-gaming.

Taking ownership of learning processes which requires critical thinking and the creation of final products can result in a deeper understanding of the content.  Combining these ideas with a high-level of collaboration and motivation can result in the learning process seeming more like playing and having fun rather than just learning.

Accessibility to a multitude of non-technology-based creative outlets is not always possible fiscally, so technology can allow the impossible due to lack of resources to transform into a world of creative experimentation on a global scale.

Audience:  My intended audience is educators and instructional designers interested in developing product-based-learning software and applications requiring a combination of problem-solving skills and creative processes while learning content.

Point of View:  Teachers have an unwillingness to move away from the tried and true teaching methods they have been using for years, but technology is changing at such a rapid pace that it will inundate our lives so much in the future we must be willing to allow technology to teach critical thinking and creativity more and more.  We must become facilitators rather than instructors.  I often say that I am preparing my students for jobs that don’t even exist yet but I do know they will involve technology.  Why not use technology now to create graduates who will know how to develop creative solutions because that is exactly what they have been doing in school.  My goal is to find research to support that teaching problem-solving and creativity through video-gaming is not only possible but necessary.  I also want to show educators and instructional designers practical examples of video games as well as both empirical and anecdotal evidence to support them.

Problems:  I fear my vision of “playing to learn” will be too difficult or costly to program, which could be why so few programs are available, so I may have difficulty finding examples much less research to support my thesis.  Aside from preschool and kindergarten, adults appear to be unwilling to allow children to “play,” which is exactly what is necessary to develop problem-solving abilities and creativity.  I also fear the research I do find may be too critical and unsupportive to substantiate my thesis.

Addressing the Problems:  While I’m sure I can find research on developing problem solving skills and separate research on using gaming in the educational setting, I may not be able to find research that combines these ideas, so I may have to make some major leaps in the available research.  I will also need to spend some time seeking examples of technology already in use that teaches problem-solving and allows for creativity.  I must also take any criticism of using video-gaming in the classroom in stride as well as address those criticisms.

Questions:  Can any of my classmates offer examples of games or research on this topic? Do any of my classmates have children in elementary school?


Shut Up Already! I Can’t Think! February 13, 2013

Filed under: 5300 — S. Michele Holmes @ 4:20 pm
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My “Learning and Cognition” class is discussing attention, including what cognitive psychologists say about it, what strategies we ourselves use to stay focused on our school work, and what happens when there are just too many distractions.  The dangers of distracted driving are common knowledge, yet we still have constant reminders not to drive under the influence or text while driving via public service announcements.  What is not common knowledge is how distractions effect the learning process and recall of information; these are topics are saved for the world of academia.  This week we have been challenged, should we choose this option, with finding a location with as many distractions as possible (radio, TV, music, people talking) and trying to recite our multiplication tables through 12 in the chaos.  I felt I had somewhat of an advantage over my classmates with this task because I teach 5th graders and we constantly review our multiplication facts any chance we can get.  Also, saying the facts in order allows me to use the patterns rather than the actual recall of multiplication products.  Therefore, the twist I set for myself was to use a program my students use called “FastMath.”  When a student first uses the program, it gives him a diagnostic test of all the facts in random order.  The program accounts for the commutative property of multiplication as well, so 2 x 11 and 11 x 2 are treated as separate facts although they result in the same product.  The program also considers the student’s response time, so even if he eventually enters the correct answer, the diagnostic test will not count the problem if he takes too long.  My experiment was to take the diagnostic test without any distractions and again with multiple distractions in a classroom setting to experience what students may be experiencing.  My hypothesis was that I would score more correct facts during the “no distractions” trial than during the “multiple distractions” trial.

During my “no distractions” trial, I was in the classroom with my daughter who quietly watched a video on her iPad.  We had gone home to have dinner and rest some then returned to my campus, so I felt quite confident about my abilities to do well.  I had headphones on to listen to the directions from the computer program who did not speak during the testing portion of the program (only gave directions) as well as to minimize any other sounds.  I scored 132 of the 169 facts as “fast facts” – correct and within a time limit.  Here is a screenshot of my results.  I found it odd that I achieved some facts but not the commutative fact (ie. 3 x 9 was achieved but not 9 x 3, and 8 x 4 was achieved but not 4 x 8).


For my “multiple distractions” trial, I waited two days and did no rehearsal or practice between the two trials.  The trial was conducted after school, so I was tired and somewhat hungry.  I turned on a very loud video for my children, played Pandora radio through my iPhone which I listened to through an earbud only in my left ear (my “stronger ear”), and asked my two children to distract me by making as much noise as possible.  I was also quite distracted emotionally by a conversation I had with my boss about a student approximately half an hour before the trial and had been texting back and forth with my co-teachers about the situation while setting up the trial.  I felt these distractions would significantly impact my performance, so I was surprised when I scored 146 out of the 169 facts as “fast facts.”  As I was completing the “multiple distractions” trial run, I felt very stressed out by all the noise and fuss.  The music in my ear was drawing my interest away from the task because it was my favorite station.  My children did a great job trying to ask me questions or arguing with each other, and I found myself answering their questions or redirecting them away from each other several times during the trial.  I found it unusual that “easier” facts correctly retrieved and entered in the prior trial were not scored correct in this trial (ie. 5 x 5 and 2 x 10) but some of the more difficult facts were (ie. 9 x 7 and 8 x 9).


It would seem that I performed better with the distractions than without, which is completely the opposite of my hypothesis.  Sure, some of the increased performance could be from the practice of the first round without distractions, but I felt sure my lack of rehearsal for two days between trials would minimize the impact.  Perhaps I have become accustomed to multiple distractions; I am a teacher and a mother, and both roles require master multi-tasking, so I’ve been honing these skills for years and I consider myself a master multi-tasker not by choice but by necessity.  Perhaps I attended to the trial to a greater extent because I knew there would be more distractions.  Perhaps the stress of trial increased my performance (but this is more of my husband’s realm).

What does the research say?  David Meyer and colleagues (2007; as cited in Sternberg & Sternberg, 2009, p. 157) determined that people perform more slowly and make more mistakes when working on more than one task.  However, some research has shown that the modalities of the tasks may contribute to a person’s ability to divide attention; if the tasks are different modalities (ie. visual and verbal), people will divide their attention much better than if the tasks fall within the same modality (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2012, p. 156).  I believe that because my task at hand was mathematics-related, and all the other stimuli were verbal, I was able to divide my attention accordingly.  However, had my task been something language-related, such as writing this blog, typing a copy of some other text, or even the recitation of the facts in order, my performance on the “multiple distractions” trial would be been compromised by the language of the video, music lyrics, and my children.

How does this apply to the school setting?  I have much more experience multi-tasking than my students do and I spent several years in “divided attention” environments.  My students would not be as successful multi-tasking as me which explains why new drivers have higher insurance rates than more experienced drivers; they have less experience with driving, much less driving with multiple distractors.  However, I do believe this trend will change as more and more children practice multi-tasking at younger ages.  My own son at only 10 years of age can concentrate on a video game while chatting with the other players of the game while texting back and forth with friends all while being distracted by his younger sister.  My future students are already training their brains to handle higher cognitive loads and divide their attention on multiple tasks.  My job is to make sure the modalities of the learning stimuli do not compete for their attention.

Sternberg, R. J., & Sternberg, K.  (2009).  Cognitive Psychology (6th ed.).  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth.



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