Week 7-Gamification

When it comes to game theory, I have had only a passing, skeptical interested.  But my recent studies have started me thinking about gamification from a different perspective.  So that is my selected adventure this week.

The quick Answer to One Framing Question

The week’s framing questions for the topic were provocative.  Do I think we need to gamify our classrooms to engage students?  This one I can answer quickly.  No.  There are many ways for creative teachers to draw students into learning without having to sexy it up with a video game interface.   That “no” is even firmer if it means that gaming is the only way we conduct instruction since no teacher can be successful with only one method or strategy in their toolbox.

Do I think gamificaion is bribery and the way students learn in the 21st century?  As a result of my course work last term and my readings and explorations this week, those answers are now more complex.  As I said, the idea of gamification has been, at best, at the edges of my professional interests.  When thinking about my own gaming experiences my gut tells me there is something there that I “get” as it applies to learning and I have trusted that academics have teased out all the theory for those teachers who want to traverse that route in their classrooms.   But this grown up, serious teacher never pursued deep research into game theory because I was fine with my practice as it was, thank you very much!  But last term was a watershed for me when it comes to thinking about the conditions that provide powerful learning experiences.  The course of study Dr. Angela Elkordy put together for Intro to the Learning Sciences required us to think deeply about our own learning in every conceivable context (documentation of which is posted on this blog under the NLU Class Journal Entries tab above).  Examining my own informal, collaborative, digital, self-directed, just-in-time, playful learning experiences caused me to realize the potency of learning in these other-than-formal contexts.  Those reflections have led me to re-evaluate some core beliefs about teaching and learning — for both students in the classroom and teachers in professional learning.  That re-evaluation has ramifications for my thinking about game theory.

Constructivism and Game Theory
My niece learning to code on her mom’s phone by playing Lightbot (and then teaching me!) Source: D. van Dyke

I’ve always believed that teachers needed to be more facilitators of exploration than dispensers of information.  I am a constructivist.  So my instruction — be it with children or adults — is designed accordingly.  My lessons are always written for the specific learning needs of the students in front of me.  Pacing is a dance with students’ zones of proximal development.  Formative assessment is central for two-way feedback, metacognition, and reflection for both students and myself that then determine my next planning steps.  With the growth of digital technology and mobile tech particularly, it makes sense to leverage these to push the boundaries of constructivism even farther.  Additionally, I see clear connections now between constructivist methods and the way games work for those who play them.

Any-time, just-in-time, exploratory learning all cement learning in long-term memory.   As a result of Dr. Elkordy’s strategies with us, I experienced first hand how learning new content through learning a new app permanently inks that neural tattoo on the brain.  Almost weekly I learned a new app of my choosing by exploring it, playing in it, and not from a formal training course or a user’s manual.  Then I applied my understanding of the app to demonstrate my understanding of the course content.  All of this was done informally, in my time, with just enough difficulty to challenge me.   Except now I don’t only understand the content.  By learning content through the use of a digital tool, I now understand so much more than just the content itself.  Not the least of which is that the learning I structure myself is highly enjoyable and more often than not elicits flow and the consolidation of understanding in long-term memory.  These are the learning conditions I want to create for my students and teachers.

A More Complicated Answer to the Other Framing Questions

As to the questions of gamifying education as bribery and being particularly suited to 21st century learners, I believe it is neither.  The way humans learn best is the way humans learn best whether they are of the 11th century or 21st century.  What is different about the 21st century is our knowledge of how the brain functions; the advent of technologies that allow us to align our pedagogy to our neurology, psychology, sociology; and the economic imperative that we change the way we do school.  In as much as game theory and educational psychology share underlying elements, I can accept gamification as a methodology.  Though does it always need to be so literal as turning the learning process into an actual game?  Especially since doing so requires an incredible investment of time and effort to convert a unit of study into a game that will create the conditions necessary for deep understanding to occur.  So I have generated a few key questions that could help guide decision-making when thoughts turn to gamification:

  • What are the concepts from game theory that are applicable to a given unit of instruction?  A given set of students?  Under what circumstances might it be useful to apply those concepts to improve teaching and learning?
  • When teachers decide to convert a unit into an actual game, what online platforms are available to facilitate the implementation and that can quickly and easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
  • When teachers want or have to make the game themselves, how can they create elegant games that don’t require disproportionate amounts of time to construct and relatively easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
How can we make certain gamifying efforts result in students learning the intended content and not just playing the game?
Video: Heck Awesome blog, Carrie Baughcum

Still, informal learning, unstructured learning, choice, and play are powerful contexts in which deep understanding can occur.  These modes are, as Willis calls them, “neuro-logical”.  It makes sense to create them when possible since they activate optimal learning pathways in the brain and foster new, strong synaptic connections.  Well-designed games create these conditions and leverage the same brain processes for learning.  Thus, including high-quality game-based instruction could be a powerful method for teaching and learning.

Gamifying Professional Learning

What was already a paucity of professional learning time in CPS has been completely eliminated this year as a partial “solution” to the budget travesty being visited upon CPS teachers and students.  As a result, I have started leveraging ICT options that are included with GAFE to continue our professional learning despite losing our PD calendar.  Via Groups and Sites, we continue the work asynchronously by holding discussions of professional readings, presenting aggregated learning walk evidence and sharing thoughts and insights about them.  We have already moved quite a bit of planning to remote, synchronous spacetime via Hangouts and Drive.  So the idea of gamifying professional learning is just an extension of this.  Taking PD into the realm of gaming would have the combined benefits of making PD more relevant by providing teachers with differentiation, choice, and timing.  I have also started researching adding digital badges to the work which I find terribly exciting!  On my goal list for next year:  implementing a badged, gamified professional learning series for the schools with which I work.

Digital badges for both student and teachers.  Video: HASTAC

Below are three game-based PD ideas I’m totally stealing from our readings this week:

Fired Up For February — Gamifying professional learning; Source: Unified School District of De Pere, WI

 

A Language Geek’s Rhetorical Finish

Even as I find myself being convinced of the benefits of game theory as instructional practice, there is still something that doesn’t sitting well when I hear phrases like “gamifying the classroom”.  If you’ll indulge the English teacher unpacking language here.  A game is a diversion or something trivial.  Something that can be taken less seriously.  Even in the multi-billion dollar world of professional sports, the expression, “It’s only a game.” is used to readjust perspectives when emotions are high.  Yet the very project at hand for education is de-trivializing digital instruction among reluctant educators.  So while I can see the underlying value and power of this way of “doing” teaching and learning, I wonder if framing it as “gamification” works against us.  I don’t have an answer as yet for what to call such a complex process.  Maybe a few rounds of Words With Friends will do the trick!

Week 2: Active Learning

Last term, one of the organizing principles of our class was using concept mapping as a metacognitive tool and a way of expanding our adaptive expertise.  Indeed, I found it to be a powerful way to process new information and gain insights into my own thinking.  Concept mapping allowed me to see and think about ideas and connections I might have otherwise missed.  I’ve returned to that practice as a way of exploring this week’s learning.

To start, my Padlet links to the Coonley blog post I was assigned and briefly summarizes my thinking that surfaced through the concept map.  To view the concept map more easily, click the map in the embedded Padlet to either download a copy or open it in a new window.   The rest of this blog post will interpret the map further as a means of exploring my thinking.  It will also show a bit of the experience I have with active learning.

Made with Padlet
The Evidence

To start, I would like to note two different types of evidence I considered to analyze the last three bullets of our Do activity:

  • What active learning traits are present
  • What are opportunities/suggestions for growth, and
  • Any additional information

The first type is the “Cougar Code” lesson summary which arguably contains the most direct information about the lesson.  The second is the included media of student work artifacts as well as images of students at work.  These constitute information about what students did and possibly trait evidence of active learning and web literacy.  Neither type of evidence presents a complete picture of what was taught and what was learned, but together provide insights.  What is lacking from each type of evidence also makes complete determinations about the above bullet points difficult to say with certainty.  Nevertheless, the evidence that is in the post gives us much to think about and discuss.

Interpreting the CONCEPT MAP

The summary of the Cougar Code assignment provides the most information that allows some answers regarding the extent to which active learning could occur during the lesson.   On the whole, the Cougar Code lesson exhibited many constructivist elements, particularly in its engagement, purposefulness, reflectiveness, and complexity.  The assignment is learner-centered from start to finish, beginning with students’ exploration of their own learning styles, the outcomes of which the teacher uses as the launching point for the rest of the lesson.  Students seemed to draw from their experiences as well as their values in defining examples of being responsible, being respectful and being safe.  I have gone back and forth on the extent to which the lesson elicits metacognition.  There are signs of reflection in the Educreations video.  But a focus on students’ final products and a lack of formative artifacts makes a definitive determination difficult.  For instance, from the attached media, it is difficult to tell the extent to which students actually engaged in active learning or if they were simply completing tasks.

When it comes to evidence of web literacy traits, evidence of student outcomes are limited to the 21st Century skills in all three segments of the lesson.  It could be argued that the students wrote and participated in that their work became the content of a blog post.  However, the blog post analyzed for this assignment was their teacher’s, not the students’.  So actually the teacher is demonstrating her web literacy by contributing to building the web and connecting with other educators online.    While we definitely want students to be creators and participants online, we want teachers to be as well.  Especially in light of research finding that when teachers do use technology, it is mostly for administrative purposes or electronic communication with peers and parents.  Even among constructivist teachers — as we clearly see in this lesson —  when they do use technology, they tend to do so at levels akin to substitution or augmentation on the SAMR model (Ertmer & Ottenbriet-Leftwich, “Teacher Technology Change:  How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect”).  Thus, from the evidence presented in the blog, technology seems to be primarily the teacher’s tool when it comes to web literacy traits and possibly the students’ tool when it comes to active learning traits.  

Opportunities for Growth

While the Cougar Code lesson suggests quite a few opportunities for active learning in the blog summary, more and better evidence of student formative artifacts would allow for deeper insight and feedback as to the quality of students’ active learning traits demonstrating metacognition.  So too would artifacts of the students’ digital photos and their final PicCollage products.  More student artifacts would also allow assessment of whether the technology was instrumental in developing students’ understanding of the Cougar Code or whether it was merely a fun activity.

From EdTech on Pintrest via Learning Maker

I don’t want to dwell on the SAMR level of the work too much given the fact that this lesson was taught at the beginning of the school year.  However, going forward, the teacher can consider evaluating this lesson through a SAMR lens.  From the evidence presented in the blog post, it seems to ask students merely to substitute and augment traditional learning methods with the available technology.  For future lessons, the teacher can consider how similar uses of digital cameras, iPads, PicCollage, and Educreations could be used in such modifying and redefining ways that without the technology, students could not develop a particular level of understanding.  She can also consider creating opportunities for students to develop their readerly, writerly, and participatory netizen selves.

Active Learning in My Practice
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Inspiring Active Learning by Merrill Harmin & Melanie Toth: A text I’ve used for great active learning ideas.

This notion, I must admit, of explicitly stating that students need to be active learners, strikes me as odd.  I was taught to be a constructivist teacher, to think in terms of what students do and not just what the teacher does, to focus on critical thinking, collaborative group work, and reflective activities. These traits are how I was “raised” to be a teacher.  Given the usual levels of participation, energy and focus I experienced from my students (most of the time!), I wonder why anyone would think a mostly teacher-centered, student-passive model is preferable.  That is, if actual student learning and not just teacher moves is the goal for which we are aiming. Additionally, active learning methods support what we now know about how the brain functions and how humans learn.   So yes, I believe teachers should create lessons that give students consistent and regular opportunities to be active learners.

Below are links to two lessons I found in my archives from over ten years ago.  They are part of a set of lessons I developed to introduce Shakespeare units to my 9th graders.  They represent a departure from what had been my habitual way of introducing The Bard and were utterly transformative.  In fact, my students responded so well as seen through their attitudes about, interest in, and understanding of usually very difficult material, that these new lessons became

Font of Knowledge and Tempest Prediction & Iterative Terms lessons, based on ideas from Teaching Shakespeare into the Twenty-First Century, Ronald E. Salomone & James E. Davis, eds.

the way I introduced Shakespeare from then on.  I am showcasing it here because I believe it gives students active learning opportunities.  It predates the web as we know it today, so it was not originally written with web literacy in mind.  And sadly, I could not find any student artifacts of the completed work to share for evaluation.  Still, I have some ideas about how to revise it accordingly and I welcome any ideas from the class.

Font of Knowledge

Tempest Prediction and Iterative Words

 

Entry #9: Collaborative Learning

These last two entries are now officially out of my experience when we’re talking about the ICT/digital domains.  So I’ll have to resort to some metacognition about collaborative learning and “maker” activities that are a bit more traditional.

While I was teaching, I had the good fortune of being a part of Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE).  In this program, community artists partner with classroom teachers to co-teach academic content through the artist’s particular medium.  Three things make this program lightyears ahead of the rest.  First, the art is not an “extra” or “add-on”.  The artform and its particular methods are used as ways of learning the content.  Second, the artist is not a mere guest who comes to visit once a week.  The artist is a co-teacher in the classroom of the artistic content and to a lesser extent, the academic content.  Third, the teacher and artist commit to establishing a long-term relationship — one meant to last years, not just for the length of a unit.  By the end of a CAPE unit, students understand the academic content more deeply from processing it through making the art, and they know how to “do” that artform.  The teacher knows new methods for incorporating different kinds of art to teach content, and the artist knows more about the academic content that was taught.  Over the years I learned how to create murals and create found-object installations by working with local muralist and painter, Bernard Williams, as well as how to produce shadow puppetry by working with two artists from Red Moon Theater.  

For any CAPE partnership, the process is the same.  When beginning, the teacher meets with CAPE staff and discusses the content they’re interested in teaching and through which medium.  CAPE then sets up an appropriate partnership with a local artist.  The artist partner and teacher attend a certain number of professional learning sessions about how CAPE works, why it works, and the organization’s expectations for the partnership.  Then there is protected time for the teacher and artist to meet and start planning.  After these professional learning sessions, it is up to the artist and teacher to set regular planning times to develop the co-instructional unit and individual lessons.  The first few “CAPE days” (which usually become “Bernard days” or “Sarah  days”), the artist comes to teach the some of the necessary artistic concepts and skills students will need.  After that the artistic application moves rendering the academic content artistically.  Finally, an installation or performance is also required to take the learning and art public — beyond the classroom itself. CAPE staff continue to support both artist and teacher throughout the process.

My CAPE experiences were, hands-down, some of the most powerful teaching and learning experiences I’ve ever had.  And the most memorable.  To start with, the relationships I forged with the artists I taught with and learned from were foundational to the units we taught together.  All the art we created — murals, installations, shadow puppetry — all seemed overwhelmingly difficult to me when we started.  But my confidence grew as  my relationship with the artists deepened over time.  Mutual respect developed between us as we came to know the depth of each others’ expertise.  Trust developed.  Friendships formed.  Plans were made.  Over the course of that process, I can confidently say, that while I would prefer to work with an artist co-teacher, if I can’t, I could incorporate any of these kinds of artistic projects into my curriculum and execute them successfully on my own.

CAPE artists are working artists, not educators.  So starting with a new artist was like having a student teacher in the classroom for a while until they got the flow of unit & lesson planning, structuring the classroom for the lesson at hand and managing the kiddies when they’re up to their eyeballs in paint and cardboard and canvas.  Or shifting them from the “fun” of making a puppet to the “work” of writing a script for the show.  At the same time, it was fulfilling to see my partner artist develop as educators teaching the techniques and theories of their art.  So too with their developing their own understanding of the academic content the art was meant to evoke.  As a teacher who relies heavily on formative assessment, it was fascinating to watch and listen for the levels of understanding develop in both the students and the artists as we worked.  The same was true for me to learn the art right alongside our students.  It’s difficult to describe how exciting it was to hear kids discussing and debating the content as they manipulated the artistic media; and as they manipulated the media, their manipulation of their understanding of the academic content.  It’s equally difficult to find prouder moments as a teacher as when my students performed, installed or presented their artwork and then took questions from the audience about the content the art represented.  What could leave a stronger imprint on them than not only for others to see them as the experts in the room, but for them to see themselves that way too?

I’m certain I was aware of it at the time, but it bears articulating here.  As I look back at these experiences, everyone in the classroom inhabited all roles at various points of time over the course of the unit:  teacher, learner, novice, practitioner, expert.  We were all in it together.  Each and every one of us was learning something new.  That made for a more equitable distribution among all members of the power dynamics that develop in a classroom.  To a very real extent, we were all learners learning together, supporting one another in a spirit of discovery and aiming towards a common goal.  No one wanted to leave class on a “CAPE day”.  

Including the teachers.

(While I’ve been out of the classroom for a number of years, Bernard has continued to do amazing work with other Chicago schools.  You can see more of his work here.)

Entry #1: Thinking on Hoadley & Salmon & Kelly Ch. 1.

January 13, 2017

The inaugural entry!

And since it is the inaugural entry, I thought I’d play around with Padlet as an adjunct space for additional metacognitive nuggets.  Check it out for a “context” video as well as a quick visual on how different the technology — and thus, no doubt, the thinking —  of grad school is since last I was here.  I’m not sure if these items exactly count as metacognition.  But they’re at least a little fun to ponder!

Through both readings I found my thinking and learning being stimulated and reinforced by emotional responses, contextual relationships, and connections to previous experiences.  

I became a bit nostalgic reading again about Vygotsky & Dewey & Thorndike.  I was a bit of a geek when it came to the philosophy of education in my very first undergrad ed course.  It’s been so long since I’ve read them and yet they still hold up.  While I can very easily dive into details when the time calls for it, global thinking is my default mode.  I can see the big picture and then zoom into the details when the time comes.  Knowing this, I ought to remember to hold these scholars much closer than I usually do when I get bogged down in the weeds of daily practice.  Their thinking fascinates and humbles me.  So brilliant.  Their big ideas and big picture perspectives provide me useful paths through those weeds.

From this higher perspective, I saw pretty quickly what I believe are a few connections this course will make.  An attempt at a quick summary:

As Hoadley summarized Vygotsky, et al., technology is an artifact of culture.  We live at a time that is defined by the development and ubiquity of computer technology.  Computers, mobile, social media are having a huge impact on our culture.  As such, these tools of the culture are changing the way we think, learn and interact.

The concept of the adaptive expert, on the other hand, is a useful one on the road towards making a shift in how we teach using these technologies, especially contrasted with that of the relative expert.  I see so many teachers and administrators either actively resist or benignly — if it is possible any more to describe it as such — neglect the incorporation of digital and mobile technologies.  I have seen students penalized for merely possessing a cell phone.  So in order to engage students who, outside of school, are so immersed in these technologies of (their) digital culture, schools need to develop more adaptive thinking in their teachers for its use.  Educators need to break out of the mere efficiencies of routine expertise in order to create learning spaces that allow 21st century students to think, process information, and interact with others in the ways the technology with which they have grown up have influenced their thinking.  I believe that shift is the one to spark curiosity and a joy in learning again that is lacking in so many of our students.

Concept mapping, then, is a tool to push teachers into a more adaptive stance.  When in the hands of reflective teachers and strong coaches, they can reveal levels of understanding, confusion, misunderstanding, evolving thinking.  In as much as they map how teachers are thinking about a concept, they are also instruments for metacognition.  I am most intrigued by the notion of  using concept maps as a way of engaging in unit/lesson planning.  Finally, all these characteristics make concept maps useful formative assessments. Mapping allows teachers to probe and explore their thinking, wrestle with their anxieties on the path to the adaptive expertise they need to incorporate digital technologies as the now necessary tools of teaching and learning.

Considering the contexts in which I work and my examination of the course materials so far, these are a few of the more global connections I am making through these first readings.  I think I’ll hold of of analysis and assessment for another entry.