How did I learn this semester?

I learn the way I breathe – I don’t even think about. I just do it. It is difficult for me to analyze how a particular course or learning activity has supported my learning because I learn from absolutely everything. Is a course component unclear or poorly crafted? – I learn from overcoming the barriers. Is a course component brilliantly constructed? – I learn by going with the flow. There is no course in existence from which I will not learn something or more than likely, a great deal.

So how to sum up the ETAP640 experience? I’ll try some free association:

  • full immersion
  • research rich
  • hands-on building
  • wild experimentation
  • gazillions of tools – some new, some familiar
  • interesting people
  • warm and supportive tone

I could go on, but I will use these to think about my learning.

As many have noted this is an intense class requiring a significant amount of time.  Learning tools takes time. Reading journal articles takes time. Thinking takes time. Building takes time. There was no way to superficially engage with this course. It was full immersion, and it was multi-sensory. There were audio, video, and text and many interactive tools. Audio and video actually takes a lot of time to listen to/watch. Text transcripts would be a good companion – most of us read faster than real time talking and you can take notes on a text transcript. But the multi-media was interesting and it was enjoyable to see the faces of old colleagues and “rock star” pundits.

I used many tools I had not used before, experienced learning curves, but enjoyed the mastery component. The hands on component of building in Moodle was my favorite despite my frustration. I feel I have a good sense of its gestalt, and it helped me with faculty trainees that I am currently working with who need to transition from Moodle to Blackboard. It also forced me to come up with new ways to do old things. I actually found myself dreaming about Moodle tools several nights, waking the next morning exhausted but with a new database idea!

Perhaps the thing I will remember the most is the supportive environment created by Alex. I was in way over my head with the gamification idea – totally out of my comfort zone. I was allowed to fail up, to try things, then change them, then try again.  I was allowed to deviate from the standard guidelines in my course build, because my exploration was respected. This kind of supportive environment makes me – or any student I am sure – fearless. And I fearlessly investigated the gaming literature, learning a new vocabulary, a new aspect of being human, and new ideas about learning.

I am not a playful or gaming kind of person – I am often referred to as “intense”.  So exploring this component of human behavior – play – and seeing its connection to learning, has given me intense insights into my own process. I always thought of games and play as frivolous or useless. But I realize now that my “intense” nature is consistent with the immersion of self into mastery activities. And this is an important part of being human and of learning.

I also need to acknowledge what I learned from others in the class. Because we are all from different backgrounds, it was sometimes difficult to relate to the real life struggles or challenges others were dealing with. Higher Ed, K-12, and professional trainers have very different issues to deal with. But there was a lot to be learned from finding the common ground in thinking about learning, thinking about a mediated online environment, and seeing it through the eyes of others in the class. Diigo links from classmates have made my personal library very rich and added components and topics I would not have thought to collect.

Lastly, I was teaching 3 online classes, and conducting a 9 week training course, while I took this course this summer. One of the things I noticed I changed immediately in my interactions with students and trainees was my teacher student dynamic. I have always been student oriented – I want to know what they need, how they need it – but I tend to work harder than they do. I noticed I am now reminding them more of the tools available to them and encouraging them to figure it out and make it their own with a healthy dose of self-regulation.

I am sure there are other things I have learned that I won’t even realize until much later, but I can say that I think I am on a completely different level in my teaching and design work. And it’s not just the notches in the belt – Moodle skills, social software skills, etc. It is an enhanced connection between theory and practice that I think is the result of having time to take what I knew, what I wanted to know, and what I found in the research and also practice its application to the design of a course.  Very powerful. Thank you.

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What I learned about learning

I knew a great deal about how people learn when I started this course, but I took this opportunity to dig deeper and find more nuances. I also did a lot of research on the relationship between games and learning which turned out to be quite rich. I had first been introduced to gaming ideas in my spring semester when I took the Teaching and Learning in Immersive Environments. I had expected to hate it, but instead it opened a door to a whole new way of thinking about learning. I am grateful that I was allowed to pursue this direction this semester by trying to redesign an existing course with gaming strategies.

What I discovered though was that you can’t just layer on game ideas and expect it to work. You have to know what you are trying to accomplish, what the similarities are between learning and game play, and surprisingly, how narrative fits in to the whole picture.

When Raph Koster states that “Fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun.”(p 40) I can easily recognize my own narrative. Any time I can learn something I will – it is, as I have stated in earlier posts, an “extreme sport”  for me. But for my students the same “puzzle” that intrigues me, can read as “noise” to them, which makes them bored and they quit. These gaming concepts speak to that which educators have discussed for years – meeting students where they are, establishing relevance, and fostering engagement in the way content is delivered.

Exploring gamification I have increased my toolkit for engaging students at multiple levels. I feel I will be more vigilant about tapping into their basic human need for challenge, while attending to their narratives. Their storylines were not always part of my approach, but now I will be watching for those.

The online environment, which I considered a superior teaching environment to the f2f classroom as soon as I was using it, is very well suited to the kind of differentiation that attending to student narratives requires. Gamification can tap into deeper and more basic human motivations as I encourage them to engage with content. Mastery can become its own reward over time, even if it needs a few badges to get things on track at the start.

My understanding of the CoI model was very helpful as I explored the JISC REAP assessment material. I see now that the ideas of using assessment to support engagement and empowerment will require a change in my courses. To support these deeper learning components, I need to add more reflection. I was surprised to see that self-regulated learning is best supported with peer activity and hope that my newly designed collaborative activities will work in this way. It will be something I will be monitoring. I think the gamification relationship to this is probably the use of collaboration or team/guild type activities. Working together they learn to self-regulate and “level up” to master ever more difficult challenges.

Learning about learning will never conclude for me. I was delighted to locate new research and new models and have the opportunity to spend time integrating them into my own professional toolkit. I look forward to building on these in the future.

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Koster, Raph, and Will Wright. Theory of Fun for Game Design. New York: Paraglyph, 2004. Web

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