Leveling up in a Community of Inquiry

(late 2nd entry for Module 3 category)

Knowledge acquisition
I had intended to write my second Module 3 post on why I am focused on knowledge acquisition strategies, but found a request in my assignment feedback from Alex to blog about my badge scheme and its relationship to the CoI model. So, I will say only briefly about knowledge acquisition, that I have come to the conclusion it is not just a low rung of Bloom’s taxonomy destined to be valued less than higher order thinking skills. Rather it is what makes the upper rungs possible. And while teaching facts, basic concepts and simple skill sets can be done well, and even made interesting, it often is not. But if you watch how people play multi-user immersive games like World of Warcraft, and you see how they accumulate basic information and skills and then are forced to apply it right away to level up, and you hear how much they know about the tools and the environment and how excited and happy they are, you have to think about what is really happening. It is clear that acquiring basic concepts, facts and simple skills can be really exciting when they are used right away to solve problems, build stuff, overcome obstacles or earn power. This is the power of that lowly rung on Bloom. This is building a foundation that leads to higher order thinking and doing. So another post will have to address more details on this particular point, as I would now like to respond to Alex’s request that I blog about my badge scheme, making my thinking visible to the class.

Leveling up with CoI Diagram
First I invite everyone to check out this link to my MindMeister diagram of the badge scheme. A few things to keep in mind:

  • I can’t link directly to my diagram with diigo because it requires an account, but I have put the main site there for all to try out – very cool
  • it is a social site and you can leave comments, collaborate and make additions – great for working in groups
  • if you click on the little circles that have stripes in them in the big labels  – those are explanatory notes about what I am doing – so click on them, please! Don’t be shy.

What was I thinking? Actually this is very much related to the knowledge acquisition concerns and opportunities I have been reflecting upon lately. I wanted to get students engaged with the art history material in such a way that they acquired the necessary facts, then used them to understand more complex concepts, and then applied their conceptual understanding to specific “problems” of modern art history analysis. I have found that iterative, challenging, and visually rich quizzes have been the most favorite part of my classes for some students, and most felt they learned more because of the way they were set up. This related to what I had learned about games and the “failing up” to success. Most of the students kept taking the tests over again, and going back to the text for information, spending increased time on task and feeling like they accomplished something when they finally got that 100. End of semester surveys indicated that they felt they learned more from taking repeated quizzes and rereading the book, than from just reading the book. The surveys also indicated that when there was no quiz, 40-60% did not read the book. The fact that some did not read the book was fairly obvious in the discussion forums and I also saw more plagiarized or paraphrased web material creeping in. So how to capitalize on that? Gamefy the whole course!

How to gamefy and still maintain a proven framework for learning? I did not want to create a programmed learning, self paced course – although some day that might be a fun thing to try. I wanted to build a gamefied course that reinforced the spheres of interaction and promoted social, teaching and cognitive presence fostered by a course design based in Community of Inquiry. Somehow games and CoI needed to be integrated.

Badges are ubiquitous in social media environments and could add a gamefied and visual reward structure. Visual evidence of progress in a course is an important concept I’ve learned, but first I had to decide what the badges would be for.

Some literature indicated that gamefied courses were merely courses with fancier “gold stars”. But I disagree. I think that leveling up and/or earning a badge, can encourage certain behaviors. Especially if the students can choose what badges to go after or find their own path. Additionally, replacing grades with badges would not work for everybody – for instance I myself have no desire to earn a badge of any kind for any reason. And I am sure I will have students with totally intrinsic motivations for learning that would need those badges to be incidental to what they would be doing anyway. So this gave me two ideas about badges: make them a choice and include regular course work in the leveling up process. Then, be sure that a student could get a badge by playing to their strengths through the course material and/or by adding badge specific activities that could earn them points in their particular strengths.

Levels were the next challenge! How to level, what levels represented, and in what categories? It occurred to me that I wanted badges to encourage behaviors. And the behaviors I wanted my students to engage in were social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence, because that would lead to more learning. I roughed out a draft of what course activities would correspond to those spheres and looked at what I had and what I could add. I realized that social presence would be increased with opportunities for collaboration.  Teaching presence would be enhanced with opportunities to guide each other in inquiry as well as present material to each other. And cognitive presence could be enhanced with opportunities to contribute to bodies of knowledge, demonstrating knowledge and performance levels. I identified spheres I felt were weak in my existing course and thought of ways to enhance those. I also wanted the lowest level to be non-perjorative. So there are no “stinker” or “loser” badges.

The badges and levels  (see diagram) are:

Social presence: Leader badge (levels: Leader – A, Organizer -B, Volunteer -C, Participant -D, Observer -F)

Teaching presence: Guru badge (levels: Guru – A, Mentor -B , Adviser -C, Helper -D, Audience -F)

Cognitive presence: Art Historian badge (levels: Art Historian – A, Curator -B, Docent -C, Visitor -D, Bystander -F)

Linking badges to specific course activities came next! I already had a gamefied challenging quiz each week that I gave a (tentative) new name “Perpetual Quiz”, my forums were already called “Teach the Class with Your Own Examples” (which I stole from my math faculty who use something they call “Trip to the Board”), the final project is a jigsaw assignment, and extensive structural assists (which I realized are equivalent to game rules in some cases) were in place to support student achievement and time on task.

Next I took the optional activities that I had, such as the study guides, and made them collaborative and worth leveling points. I got this idea from an experiment I tried in my History of Fashion course where I had them collaboratively create a review guide for the midterm. That was really successful so I thought it would be a good weekly badge activity that would promote knowledge acquisition as well as conceptual understanding. AND I decided to add a required confirmation component, so that when you post something you also have to confirm somebody else’s information is correct. This way they are responsible as a group for the accuracy of the study guides. I will start them off with a study guide answer of my own that will include some errors – first student to post next will have to identify what is wrong with my answer.

Then I added a glossary because I admit I was intrigued by the collaborative glossary tool built in to the Moodle product. I have found that students struggle not just with the new discipline specific vocabulary but often with basic English vocabulary.  For example I once asked my students to discuss what it means to view something consecutively and simultaneously as it seemed a tough concept. I discovered they did not know the words consecutive or simultaneous so had never actually gotten to the conceptual challenge at all. So I will have them define and explain how the word was used in the text book. This gives students an incentive to look up words they do not know and share what they learn.

A tool that is interactive and multimedia capable and can be used by individuals or groups is the Speaking Image Wiki. This tool allows complex annotation of images with everything from simple notes, to full wiki pages, to video, audio, etc. and can be done in layers. It is a beta product online and to be really robust I would need to get licensing and put it on a server on my campus, but first the beta. I used it in the past with mixed results, but have been told by the programmers that the new version is more stable. Also, this is a product that in its licensed version is used by museums around the world. It is also a social media site. So I would like to use this wiki image annotation tool as a choice for students who want to try it instead of writing to the discussion forum in just text. They could do a more visually rich and interactive annotation that would get them looking directly at the image in detail and annotating with analysis and explanation. It is not hard, but has a small learning curve, and if they embedded their results in their “Teach the class…” post they could get extra XPs for doing both. If they do it as a group they could get XPs for collaborating. If they don’t do it they still can get an A in the course by writing a good forum post.

Most importantly, with visually rich and interactive tools, I want to move away from discourse being narrowly defined as text-based asynchronous “discussion” over weeks. I’d like to see a richer, more visual, more manipulative opportunity for communicating information that is more in keeping with the world they live in and will or do work in.

My next challenge! How do I do this? What tools do I use and how do they work? I see from my research and experiments that Moodle has some very powerful tools, and also tools that are plugins we do not have. There are many ways to create badge point accumulation but I am not sure how to determine which tool to use. I have to spend more time with the technical side which is always the challenge. But as I mentioned in a previous post, to keep it simple yet rich for students I need to take responsibility for learning the tools that make it work smoothly.

(3) late

“Io sono una donna”

I am a woman – in ITALIAN! Yes, in less than a day I am speaking Italian (well, just a little) because Alex turned me on to DuoLingo – the coolest and most fun educational game I have ever touched, seen, listened to and talked to! Yes, all the senses engaged and my mind soaking up basic vocabulary and grammar while having fun. These little skills will build. And then I will put them together to make bigger skills such as actually conversing. And eventually I hope to express an original and complete thought to another person in grammatically correct sentences. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to analyze the nuances of texts and conversation in scholarly Italian works. Which brings me to the topic of this post.

For module 3 I need to discuss why I do what I do, and in an attempt at coherence I will also do some response to module 2 which ties in to this ( I know, I know – it won’t count – but it will to me because I have to think it through) as I discuss what I learned about organizing and designing for online courses.

In the last module we looked at exemplar courses that we are still looking at this module. For me they were very familiar. The ones we could tour were in Angel and they looked very much like the courses they were based on in the old SLN Lotus Notes product. Linear, text based, some diagrams and tables – I see Rob is using some publisher links to hopefully some good language interactives that hopefully have some images. These courses are lean and mean machines for learning. No distractions, lots to read and write, based on solid CoI framework, and their bones are evident. So we can all learn solid design and pedagogy by looking and listening to the interviews. Some of them are nearly 10 years old but still solid at the core.  But I came away with some of the same questions I had the first time I looked at these courses 10 years ago in lotus notes.

  • Why so linear?
  • Why so text heavy?
  • Where are the visuals?
  • Where is engaging web design?

While I know from experience Rob’s prodigious teaching and design skills, if I dispassionately compare his front page to my little DuoLingo app I’m afraid he is not looking very competitive or compelling. It’s 2014 – why are we making these kind of courses?

Some of this has already been addressed by Beth and Steve. They started making video with narration and embedding contextualized quizzes. Their work has evolved with the tools available – which for them was critical as they teach art history. Now everyone can enjoy their SmartHistory/Khan Academy content – including my students who use them regularly. But I remember my lotus notes training and trying to find someone to show me how to get images into what was essentially a document exchange business product. I was used to an LMS which was graphically rich, and I also had been using basic web design tools for years. At some point Beth hosted a session on the importance of using images in the course environment – YES!!!

Now, listening to Steve and Beth discuss challenges of navigation for students, keeping things linear, and using less hyperlinking, I had to mentally review my design experiences, the evolution of tools and the choices we all make about structure and student experience. Then I thought about Moodle – linear, text heavy, cluttered front pages – and can see that I want to make Moodle do more than what I see so far. I want a more visually engaging, well designed graphic experience for my students. I want to use images to guide and compel but not confuse. I want to foster visual and design literacy. I want to make sure my course looks like the interesting and engaging web environments they see in games, web sites, advertising, periodicals, and mobile apps while not overwhelming them. I don’t want my students landing on page after page of text and skimming because they are immediately bored and turned off. I want images and activities to compel them to read what is there and really examine the prompting images and moving to the next thing.

Too often I see that LMSs and other educational tools are underutilized by faculty with limited understanding of what they can do with technology. And on the flip side there are those that try to use every tool in the toolkit and make a crazed patchwork of activities that is very confusing. Often a trainee will say to me “I want to keep it simple” which is actually not what they want. They want to complicate the process of teaching online by not learning how the tools can automate, support and differentiate instruction, giving them more time to work directly with students. They are overwhelmed by the nature of contemporary web based tools and they think in terms of documents and printing and physical texts. The 2014 Horizon Report documents that lack of digital literacy is a fundamental issue with faculty in higher education and I face this challenge every single day on the job. I worked with someone for 3 semesters until one day I said – “you know, a URL – every web page has an address”. He replied “I didn’t know that”. Instructional Designers who work with faculty that make their own courses may find that there is a huge learning curve and a small window of opportunity.

Which brings me to why I do what I do and what I have learned. I began my investigations for this course with an interest in enhancing interaction with faster and more dynamic feedback loops, increased collaboration and gamefying. I know that this will require that I  learn more complex tools in order to keep it simple for my students. The technology needs to be transparent – not boring. I work daily to help faculty realize that the tools can do a lot of the grunt work of managing a course if they just learn them and use them effectively. Because I discovered the graphically rich, adaptively hyperlinked, multi-sensory interactions of games, I know that effective use of tools to craft engaging activities for students is possible – learning will take place and it will be valid and fun. The best example being my new addiction DuoLingo. Somewhere between the ponderous lists of topics, documents, linear structures, text based discussions  and clunky interfaces,  and the equally off-putting sensory overload of misguided graphics, arbitrary sounds, and things that go “boom” and “click”, is an elegant approach to course design that could resonate with my students and engage all their senses. I am collecting resources on that, shared in diigo and below.

The other component, besides visual engagement, that is so critical to my thinking now is acquisition of a factual knowledge base.  This past week my first 6 week class wrapped up and an email from a student reinforced my belief in my super hard weekly quizzes as well as much of what we are learning in this class about a teaching presence. She wrote:

“I’ll tell you now – what I loved was the broad range of material that supplemented the text in a significant ways. I would have liked more of your lectures, though. … The quizzes and exams were very challenging, not bad, just saying; if not for open book I would have failed, but I may have learned the most by taking them than by simply reading the text”

The evaluation survey came back with the same general theme – they love the quizzes. And the quizzes are very visual and conceptual and … did I mention hard? And they learn from them. They are questions – hard questions that make them learn the facts to answer. And they are graphically rich. Some are image maps they have to click on (which I don’t see in Moodle unfortunately).

I do what I do based on detailed student evaluations, institutional student feedback surveys, and a firm grounding in CoI through my early work with SLN. Everything I do is based on interactions. And everything I want to do with new strategies, needs to be consistent with the CoI framework of interactions – but more elegant, contemporary and dynamic. There are now many ways to be socially present, as can be seen in Alex’s ETAP course. And there are now many ways to automate presence and interaction and focus faculty and student interaction in areas that count because of the tools in and out of LMSs. My students want to hear my take on things, “more of [my] lectures”, but they appreciate the building blocks of the automated quizzing to learn the factual knowledge necessary for those lectures to have meaning. They want the substance – the meat – they get excited when they know things and can apply them. I want to make this even more engaging and inviting.

Which will be my next post: why I am so focused on factual knowledge and my reflections on the readings in relation to that. Stay tuned dear readers.

Design links of interest to all:

5 Visual Design Strategies that Promote Student Retention

The Power of Visual Grouping

Gamefication Shows the Learner Visible Signs of their Learning

Graphics and Learning

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