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 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 4: Communication and PLN’s

Update:  Six weeks on from this post and Twitter chats have become a go-to component of my PLN.  I’ve attended four other chats in the intervening weeks with another scheduled for today.  I’m finding that when I’m in need of a particular kind of research or just in a curious mood I turn to a scheduled chat or skim related hashtags of past chats.  Some chats are definitely operating at higher levels in terms of depth of thought, extent of conversation, or ideas and resources shared.  However, I’m singularly impressed by the one characteristic common to all of them so far — how welcoming, friendly, and generous the participants are.   Too, I had no idea how many chat groups are out there — not just in education, of which there are dozens.  I’ve even found a couple chats for my husband who works in the hospitality industry and is always looking for new ideas.  He is a Luddite.  But after a couple hours of his peering from the corner of his eye from the other side of the sofa as I chat, I figured I’d see what I could find for him.  When I sent him the links, his response was, “…I’d like to know more….”  Next stop is getting him his own Twitter account!

The New Addiction

I’m officially hooked on Twitter chats.  While I knew these were “a thing”, I was never clear on how exactly to access them.  And I certainly never thought they were as organized as having an official chat list.  Admittedly, I found them rather intimidating to start.  However, our reading from the PLP Network was spot on with “how to”.  A particularly good recommendation is to use TweetDeck — a platform I’ve used in the past for my multiple handles*, but discovered its ultimate usefulness in this chat context.

Using TweetDeck for Twitter chats; Source: Screen cap, D. van Dyke

 

3 Different Experiences

In all, I participated in three chats.  Coincidentally, they provided three different kinds of experiences.  I’m trying not to rate them on a qualitative scale; however, I did find one a more enjoyable, and thus a more worthwhile, experience.  But “enjoyable” and “worthwhile” are according to what works for me in terms of my learning style and learning habits.

Starting with the chat I found most challenging, Digital Citizen Chat (#digcit), was the most rambling and freeform.  Chronologically, it was my second chat which followed a highly organized first experience last week.  So the differences were immediately noticeable.  Right from the start, there were a number of participants who seemed to be looking forward to the chat.

Yet about 15 minutes past the designated start time, there was this exchange between Professor Passafume and Hope Frazier.

From what I could tell, no moderator ever showed up.  So people posted randomly.  While I’m not sure the number of conversation threads were different from other chats, it all seemed vague and scattershot with very little focus.  In all, I didn’t find it a terribly helpful chat given there were more opinions being solicited and shared than useful practices and resources.

Likes from #educoach chat; Source: screen cap, D. van Dyke

The middle-of-the-road experience was the Instructional Coaching Chat (#educoach).  More organized and attended by experienced coaches, #educoach had two moderators and a set of nine questions at the ready.  While the other chats seemed to be attended by several self-identifying pre-service and novice teachers, I felt more in the company of my experiential peers in #educoach.  Unfortunately, there is either an error on the Education Chats schedule or there was some other kind of snafu.  When I showed up 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time — 9pm Central — it had clearly been underway for 50 minutes.  I didn’t feel comfortable crashing in with ten minutes on the clock, so I scrolled and lurked through the conversations and liked the tweets that had thoughts and resources I found useful for my work.  One such resource was a meta-analysis shared by @region13coaches at the very end of the chat.  It was a nice button on the conversation for how the work of instructional coaches has a measurable impact on teacher practice and student outcomes.  I read it and immediately emailed it to the principals of the schools I work with — as research support and encouragement for our work.

Finally, the chat I found to be the most enjoyable experience was, oddly enough, my first.  Last week I decided to preview the Twitter chat experience in anticipation of this week’s assignment.  I didn’t want to troll this one, so I decided to boldly identify myself as the nube I am.  I tend to get anxious with online interactions among strangers.  So participating in this new way among fellow professionals felt risky because I knew there likely were all kinds of rules of etiquette of which I was completely unaware.  But I could not have been more warmly welcomed.  I

My first Twitter chat: Warmly welcomed to #hseduchat; Source: Screen cap, D. vanDyke

wouldn’t say my contributions to the conversation were high-level or even on topic.  They were more about meeting and greeting and getting my feet wet with this new professional learning experience.  Luckily, though, the folks over at #hseduchat were accepting and supportive of my lack of chat experience and encouraged my contributions.  Their behaviors made it more likely that I’d participate in other chat in the future.

This chat was very well-organized, the moderator having sent out the questions in advance, reviewed them all again when the chat started, and gave instructions for how to format responses.  She then released the questions at regular intervals.  In this way the moderator kept tabs on the conversation and kept it rolling.  All these elements fit with my own needs as learner.  It really was the perfect chat for my first attempt.

Final Thoughts

The assignments this week made for highly enjoyable learning (more on the Resident/Visitor map to come).  While I’m not new to Twitter, chats are a revelation.  In my experience Twitter has been a much more positive, uplifting, useful platform than, say, Facebook.  Still, as a professional resource, it always seemed a bit random, even when I used hashtags to track down resources.  But having entire lists of chat schedules, the ideas and suggestions from Nicole’s narrated Prezis, and some chat experiences under my belt, Twitter finally feels like an actual arrow in my professional and ICT quiver.  My exploration now will turn to those chats that are moderated and organized for those times when I’m on the hunt for useable material — actual ideas and resources.  Though I can see hanging out in a chat with no clear facilitator where participants ask and answer random questions, for those times that I’m looking simply to network or have collegial conversation.

It’s become increasingly clear to me that informal learning is an extremely potent type of learning.  Twitter chats hit so many of those buttons — self-directed, just in time, anytime/anywhere, tailorable to a learner’s needs of the moment, learner choice, working with a sense of relaxed and stress-free flow in the learning moment.  I can see how Twitter chats can be a powerful tool for a particular kind of teacher support and professional learning.  With such tools and access, this really is an exciting time to be an educator!

*: I have one professional Twitter account: @commonelements.  I also have two personal Twitter accounts: @oberon60657 for general, personal tweeting.  My husband and I enjoy cruising and try to do at least one sailing a year — despite the outrageous behaviors of many passengers.  I finally couldn’t take that behavior anymore and as an outlet started a separate handle just to tweet out the ridiculous things people say while shipboard.  If you want a laugh, follow me on @some1saidreally.

Entry #6: Informal learning professional learning contexts

I belong to several PLC’s at the different high schools with which I work.  The one I will reflect about is an instructional leadership team (ILT) responsible for changing practices to improve teaching and learning throughout the building.  Their overall success has been emergent over the course of the past couple years.  This has to do in large part  with the different skill-will levels among team members and the challenges the low will-low skill members present in particular.  But the more we work together, the more the team as a whole is deepening its understanding about the work.  One dynamic I wish I could change would be the team’s overall perception of me, along with the principal, as the leader of the PLC.  I’ve always preferred working in the PLC context as a group of equals.  The perception of one person as the leader tends to formalize the dynamic more than I think is necessary — or helpful — for such communities.

Our work this year has centered around extending the PLC structure from the ILT into departments in order to do some deep professional reading and learning around Leading for Literacy: A Reading Apprenticeship Approach.  The practices of this framework will become the research-based powerful practices teachers will use to teach the school’s targeted instructional area.  Each department meets twice a week biweekly to discuss and process each chapter.  Pairs of teachers lead the discussion either by using one or another Critical Friends text-based discussion protocols or by creating their own process to facilitate the team’s dive.  Now that the initial reading is finished, we are moving into the first formal application stage, infusing the framework strategies into teachers’ classroom practices.

In our last department-level PLC, I applied and extended my learning in this course by facilitating an application of concept mapping.  We attempted to create maps as a means of deepening our thinking about using students’ schemas for knowledge-building.  I spent a few minutes activating teachers’ own schemas, asking them to talk briefly about what they know about and how they have used mind maps & thinking webs in their classrooms.  Click here to see the 10-minute overview of concept mapping and the rest of the session activities.

The session was somewhat successful.  What I wanted to happen was for teachers to participate in a relaxed process of exploring the reading by making and sharing concept maps.  Both the learnings from the session and the maps would be steps along the path of changing practice by implementing Reading Apprenticeship strategies.  Each of three groups (roughly corresponding to a department) presented a map at a point along a continuum of understanding.  If I were assessing the maps with a rubric, I might describe them as Did Not Meet, Emerging, & Proficient.  Not surprisingly, each map corresponded to the level of will/amount of buy-in each department exhibits toward the PLC work in general.  That said, I was glad when the engaged members recognized the differences and noted that two of the groups did not produce concept maps and what they did produce were not helpful in deepening the team’s collective understanding about the work.  This made for a delightfully awkward moment for teachers who demonstrated their resistance by not engaging in the activity as suggested.  The group members who were invested in the professional learning rendered their resistant colleagues’ work inert by focusing solely on the map and ideas of the group that embraced the activity.  For a week after the session several teachers talked about how helpful the activity was as a means of expanding their understanding of the text and thus the kinds of instruction we need to spread throughout the building.

In all, I would say it met with limited success in that it showcased a novel method for meaning-making to which  teachers are not usually exposed.  It proved to me that concept mapping can be used as a professional learning tool to spark interest, deepen thinking, and facilitate rich conversations among teachers.  The session also extended the understanding of the text and practices we want to implement, at least among the teachers who were willing to participate.  I would like to try this again, this time more actively intervening with groups to be sure they create concept maps as opposed to the webs with which they are already so used to working.

Entry #4: More Informal Digital Learning

Probably the most informal of my digital learning is my love of podcasts and Audible.  These themselves are extensions of my NPR addiction.  Yes, I’m that cliche one hears during every pledge drive.  I’ve lost track of how many stories I’ve heard during a Driveway Moment that I put to use in class in one way or another.  Part of what I love about podcasts is the wild and wooly nature of the podcasting landscape.  I’ve listened to Valerie Jarrett get tipsy while discussing policy with BuzzFeed contributors Heben & Tracy on Another Round.  I’ve been spellbound by David Gushee and Frances Kissling’s riveting conversation about the tragically narrow nature of the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate as part of Krista Tippett’s “Civil Conversations Project” on On Being.  I’ve learned all kinds of details from The American History Guys on Backstory that we’re never taught in school about how the US became the US.  I have drawn inspiration for many a professional learning theme from Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence — a show about the history of advertising.  Looking over my Cast feed, my tastes range all over the map. My Audible library, on the other hand, is much more focused to almost exclusively science fiction and non-fiction of mainly history, science, and social science topics.  Right now I’m listening to The Big Picture:On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself  by Sean Carroll in which I’m now finding many connections to this class as we start to plumb the neurological aspects of learning.

podcast1

podcast2
A handful of my favorite podcasts

 

audlib
A sample of my Audible library

 

What’s interesting is that I listen to all this material for my own interests and pleasure.  I don’t set out to mine a particular show or audiobook for professional learning material.  But as I’m listening I “naturally” or nearly subconsciously connect relevant information to my education practice — be it teaching adolescents or adults.  This is just more confirmation of how powerful the “informal” contexts are for learning.  I rarely plan to sit down with a podcast or audiobook — that is until I get hooked on a good one and then I try to find as much free time as possible to listen!  It’s almost always a spontaneous decision.  And I certainly never have a notebook and pen poised to capture useful information.  I listen in the most informal of informal contexts — when I’m driving, getting dressed, cooking, doing laundry.  These are usually some of my most relaxed moments.  Once again, I’m visualizing my synapses firing like Barbara Oakley’s diffuse mode pinball machine.   

I try to keep found material within a digital context, documenting relevant material I hear via Twitter or make a note in Google Keep.  Out of the “Big 3” social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), Twitter is the one I use the most for sharing and finding professional resources.

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-10-56-20-am screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-10-56-40-am screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-10-56-53-am screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-10-57-16-am

It’s fun to point teachers to it in a PD session.  “Ok, everyone take out your phones and open Twitter.  If you don’t have the app, find a buddy who does.”  (I love the looks.  Sadly, we hardly ever hear someone in a faculty meeting say, “Take out your phones.”!)  It’s exciting to showcase Twitter as a useful tool for professionals and not just a time-wasting app.

With all the examples of the fruitfulness of “informal” learning that we’ve uncovered in the past few weeks, I’m realizing I have do more to create such spaces within the professional learning seminars I conduct.  Flowing from podcasts to Twitter can be quite the timesaver.  Especially when planning and presenting professional learning.  There’s no need to make a bunch of slides when I can have everyone take out their phone and make their own meaning and share in discussion.  What is less productive is the way I discover material.  What I find and when I find it is very much up to chance since this is all casual listening.  I never know what I’ll hear and if it will connect to work.  Looking back over this journal entry, it’s clear I draw from many different disciplines in order to inform and enrich my own teaching and learning.  I guess I’ve been a learning scientist for a while now!

 

Entry #3: Informal Digital Learning

photos-pendingUpdate:  Latest ah-ha resulting from a few moments of diffuse mode brain activity.  This journal entry essentially describes what I was trying to characterize as informal learning.  However, I realize now that what I do is try to turn informal online learning into formal learning — at least when it comes to learning a large and complicated program like Photoshop.  Yet we’ve just spent the last week discussing the power of informal learning.  So now I’m wondering how I might reframe my Photoshop sessions such that I emphasize the most effective aspects of informal learning and trusting that the dynamics of informal contexts will be just as powerful as formal contexts — if not more so.  Now I’m not so sure you need to read the rest of my typically TLDR journal post.  But skip to the end to see my friend, Hope!  wink_emoji

Looking ahead at the metacognitive journal assignments, it seems the next few entries will continue to explore my thinking about becoming a better photographer.  I’ve never thought about where I do the bulk of my informal learning.  Though it seems my photography is where I focus.  At first, this realization draws a red flag.  Why am I not spending the same amount of time in informal learning for my profession?  Isn’t it crucial as an educator to keep learning?  Setting aside questions of work/life balance and the fact that my personal interests are just as worthy of time spent learning as my professional interests, I do allocate quite a bit of time for informal professional learning as well.  Though if pressed, I would probably say I spend more time in formal learning contexts than informal contexts for my professional self.  But that’s the stuff of another entry.

When it comes to online learning, I am an extremely critical learner due to the fact that I used to deliver regular webinars for several years. Consequently, I have a very low tolerance for poorly designed and/or poorly executed web-based learning.  And there are a lot of bad webinars out there that ought to be much better regardless of whether they are paid or free.  Luckily, I’ve found some very good online resources in the world of photography.

Upon reflection, I notice I go searching for learning materials when there is a discrete photographic skill I’m looking to develop at a particular moment.  Recently, for instance, I have wanted to explore macro photography.  After purchasing and playing with a fantastic macro lens, I then went right to my primary online photography subscription, Digital Photography School (DPS).  So I’d say learning individual skills seem to drive my online learning as a photographer.  As an adult learner, this makes sense.  The learning is done very much in the moment I want or need it.  It’s immediately applicable in my work which makes it relevant.  I’m making 100% of the choices about what, where, when and how I learn the material.  What I appreciate about DPS as well is that it is a rich community of learners (even though I don’t think they’d describe themselves in that way).  The comment sections of the articles turn into forums for photo sharing, discussion, questioning and critique.  So feedback is interactive, quick and useful.

Another online source I’ve used is Phlearn.  This site is a phenomenal resource for learning all things Photoshop.  While I don’t spend much time using PS, it is something that comes in handy when I’ve taken a picture that cannot be sufficiently developed or corrected in Lightroom.  But the learning curve on PS, for full-on fluency is around 100 hours and I am being very complimentary even calling myself a novice.  Phlearn is not free and is not inexpensive.  However, both the video tutorials the the instruction are very high quality.

Neither DPS nor Phlearn offer live webinars, which makes sense given the subject matter.  (Though could be a cool thing to try online!)  So all learning is independent and self-paced.  To ensure I kept up with this learning, I spent real money for Photoshop courses 101, 201, & 301. That’s twelve modules. I figured throwing my Visa at it would put some real skin in the game.  Yet I still find it challenging to prioritize and protect the same kind of time and effort these tutorials require.  Clearly, I’m more likely to apply consistent effort to deep, complex learning like this when it’s a “live” event, where there are regular and required interactions with assignments, the curriculum, the instructor, other learners.  I’d say that’s the main difference when it comes to complex, conceptual learning compared to learning discrete skills.  The latter I can easily do with a click-and-read online.  The former requires much more constructive pressure to persist.

Comparing the online learning design described above to non-digital experiences, the greatest differences are in environment, process, pace, interactions and affect.  The environment is can be just about anywhere I have an internet connection.  I’ve watched all of the Phlearn tutorials at home where I can more easily manipulate practice materials.  However, I’ve watched some of their free Youtube content while on the train or at the in-laws’.  The same is true of DPS articles.  They make for great reading on the train — especially with my phone or DSLR in hand.  With this subject matter I can take the tutorials where the photographic subjects are and practice on the spot.  Processes are determined by what I want to learn and practice at the moment.  This is different from non-digital learning where goals and assignments are usually determined and set by the instructor.  Interactions are limited to those with the computer as none of these are live events.  Though the comment sections of DPS will bring some interaction with others in the community, though not in real-time.  In terms of participant affect, I find I get very excited on either platform when I’ve actually learned something conceptually, not just mimicked an outcome.  When I “get it” and can apply the skill or technique with my camera or software in a particular context.  Posting on DPS comments almost always comes with some anxiety.  Trolls can be obnoxious.  But when people are generous in their feedback and kind in their tone, I feel very affirmed and motivated to keep working, to keep growing, to keep participating.

There’s more photography and metacognition on Youtube.  Enjoy!