Play in the Digital Context
When I think about my own learning in digital contexts, the common theme in all three contexts is my need to “play” with the technology at hand. I find that in every instance, at some point, I wind up exploring a new software tool or interface while a “more knowledgeable other” continues with a lecture. Truth be told, I think my “playing” is even more efficient as in almost every case, I find that by the time I’ve tuned back into the MKO, I’ve figured out a task or workflow far ahead of its discrete instruction in the lesson. If I don’t have the opportunity to work in this way or apply the technology to a specific need of mine, I then become super antsy. I’m as bad as a teenager, cracking jokes with neighbors, passing notes, and leaving the session for bio breaks. On more than one occasion, my principal would tell me who I could and could not sit next to so I “didn’t cause trouble” during the session. And she was often included on the “not to” list!
In terms of the online context, here’s the thing: I find videos boring to just sit and watch. Bo-ring. I’d rather listen to them like a podcast while I do other things like cook dinner or cleaning or driving. And let’s face it. It’s not like there’s much video adds to most presentations since the presenter just reads something off a slide on the screen anyway. Even TED Talks. I love them. But more often than not, one can get by by simply listening. So in online and some blended/face-to-face contexts, extensive use of video is no good for this learner. What is more powerful for me is when we participants can share our screens with the virtual class along with the MKO. Now we have some skin in the game. My heart rate is is up. I need to explain, narrate, take questions, manipulate apps or docs on the screen. I’m far more active and am thus working to build my understanding as a result.
If you’ll indulge a slight side trip for a larger point here. We’ve all experienced that feel-good bump when we get a notification that someone liked an Instagram picture or replied to a tweet or left a comment on a Facebook post. That’s because these platforms are designed, as Nir Eyal explains in Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, to keep us coming back by using four key elements: a trigger, an action, and unpredictable or variable reward, and investment. Additionally, neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, has conducted experiments and MRI tests on subjects using Twitter and Facebook. He discovered that the brain releases oxytocin during interactions on these platforms. Oxytocin is the feel-good chemical released during nursing that causes mother-child bonding, or other life events that we feel good doing — falling in love, eating, making money, etc. He also found that when we receive a “Like” the reward center of our brains, the nucleus accumbens, is activated. As a result, our brains receive a hit of every teacher’s and student’s favorite neurotransmitter, dopamine, which provides feelings of satisfaction, allows us to identify successes, and take actions toward more successes. In fact, researchers have found that interactions on the internet can provide more of a dopamine kick than eating chocolate or having sex. With that in mind, I’m pretty stunned to find that in just one term in a formal online learning environment, I respond to interactions on the D2L platform in the same way that I respond to my favorite (and even my least favorite) social media platforms. I receive texts alerting me to new discussion threads, or updated grades, or IM’s from fellow students (trigger). I logon and look for the red notification bubble in the upper right toolbar and click on them (action). I wonder, what’s going to be there? Who commented? What is my new grade? Is there going to be helpful feedback? (unpredictable and variable rewards). I obviously care about the work since I applied for and was accepted to the Learning Sciences program and I’m eager to learn new things (investment). I can interact in multiple and meaningful ways with materials I can share with like-minded individuals who keep in regular touch with each other. And since it’s all for my education, I can do all of this without feeling guilty about the time I’m spending because it’s not wasted. Many (more) very tangible benefits result (compared to other social media interactions).
I also find it far more engaging to be able to see all the fellow participants in online contexts. Our Zoom sessions for this class are a perfect example. Even though they’re considered optional, I feel like I have attended a traditional class. We see each other, talk to each other, ask questions, see each others’ reactions, react to each others’ reactions, share screens, take notes. It’s utterly engaging. I believe too that this one course aspect — the weekly Zoom sessions — goes a long way toward creating a virtual learning community out of a mere virtual learning environment.
Watch a bit of an ah-ha I had about D2L interactions:
Sadly, I have exactly zero experience with flipped classrooms either as a teacher or a student. I’d love to experience them in both rolls. As a teacher, I imagine the flip would provide far more enticing homework experiences for our Gen D learners.
Changing My Instructional Practices
Flipping, BYOD, application of SAMR to most, if not all, of my lessons, and redesigning my lessons to include far more informal learning and play parameters would be the most significant changes I’d make to my instruction going forward. A classroom characterized by students regularly creating their own learning goals in consultation with myself, discovery-based and just-in-time learning for students, more project-based learning that is digitally mediated to foster the 4C’s would all be my ICT ideal. My digitally mediated utopia.