Deja Vu All Over Again – Revisiting Mod 2 Concepts

I started this post during the Games in Education Conference this week but alas am only getting around to finishing it up now. I probably will overlook some of the details of what I was thinking at that moment in time, but I clearly remember the “AHA!”. In Module 2 we were asked to look at some exemplar classes and see what we could take from those as we designed our own classes. I think we all took away a good deal. But now, after building and reading and the conference, I can see a common thread in multiple conversations that I either overlooked or perhaps I thought was common knowledge: frontloading!

At dinner with some conference folks, some of whom were ETAP folk, others in a similar program at Marlboro College, we were discussing strategies for gamification, among other things. I was telling someone about the things I had heard that day at the conference and had run home to implement before dinner (badges, multiple paths, differentiated activities for instruction, reflection, systems). As we discussed in more detail, she suddenly stopped me and said “Woahh – that is soooo much work up front to make that happen!”

Yes it is.

Frontloading is necessary for even the most basic online course. Those of us who teach online or help others build online courses know that, as SUNY data indicate, it takes about 120 hours to build a course. In Rob’s French course interview he said he was no exception, despite having spent years as an instructional designer. I started to think about all the exemplar courses again, the course we are taking, the course I am building and I did this while sitting in conference sessions about classes conducted as or with Alternate Reality Games, Pervasive Games, gamified structures and actual video games. Whether integrated or added on, each of these strategies adds a layer of complexity over all the other “systems” of a given classroom – or online course.

We’ve all experienced frontloading if we have ever built a test. Think about multiple choice tests vs essay tests. It is hard to build a good multiple choice test, but it is easy to grade. An essay test is usually easy to build but takes a significant amount of time and effort to grade. Essentially they both are about the same amount of work, but the work on the multiple choice test is frontloaded.

Looking at the exemplar courses, there are actually 3 different balances of “load” in evidence. The psychology course has writing prompts and rubrics. The major workload is in the extensive discussion requiring timely and time consuming faculty involvement in all levels of instruction in the course throughout its duration – foundation basics to conceptualization. The art history courses introduced home made video with embedded quizzes which is a huge frontloaded component in terms of multimedia production and planning, but they can be used throughout the course and have automated feedback. The work is frontloaded for the structures and foundation interactions, and faculty live time can be spent in other meaningful interactions with students with these pieces in place. And they can be used in subsequent years.  The language courses I happen to know were initially created with a great deal of home made audio recordings and structures for students to engage with listening and speaking. That is a lot of frontloading, but I did notice the French course has publisher links now. I believe this eliminates some faculty frontloading freeing up time and energy for meaningful interactions beyond these foundation pieces. And in all three courses, the use of an LMS should be streamlining structure and technical needs, eliminating the need for building websites with interactive plugins from scratch. This becomes another efficiency in support of frontloading, that can free up the instructor to be there for students, by first creating a richly automated and interactive foundation.

I am thinking of these courses as systems of interaction and strategy. I am looking at who does what work where. And now, with my investigation of gamification, or perhaps adding actual games, what happens to the process of building the system? Fundamentally, it needs to be frontloaded. There is no other option. To gamify you need to weave a system into a system. You need to identify your system of teaching and learner support in the online structure of your course, then identify what pieces are flexible and what pieces must remain. Then you need to put a system over that and figure out how to make them work in harmony to support student learning.

At this conference I saw some really elegant solutions. They required massive amounts of frontloaded work. In all cases the presenters each said at least once – “you may be wondering if it is worth all this work…”. Because it was obvious to everyone how much work a Pervasive Game set up requires, or an Alternate Reality Game setup requires, when they are presented and explained in a conference session. But when students are playing/learning in these scenarios, their focus is not on making the game “work” but on simply using it effectively to win, learn, score, discover or otherwise meet a goal. Just as they would be in a well designed course that had nothing at all to do with gaming.

It occurred to me that a really well designed course, one that encouraged significant student engagement and retention, that was scalable to multiple courses that had over 30 students, MUST be frontloaded as robustly as a gamified course. Because the things that make the gamified course work, are essentially the same things that make a good non-gamified course work. Motivating work, fast feedback loops, visible evidence of progress, differentiation, multiple paths – one person can’t do that on the fly for 160 students a semester. It has to be built in advance, using effective automation where possible, as the foundation of the learning experience and environment.

It is not the gamification itself that supports student learning and engagement, it is the deliberate and thoughtful frontloading in the design and build of a course – especially an online course – that increases student engagement and success. It is thinking about what has to happen and when, in advance, and finding ways to put that structure in place. AHA! – as our Tuesday keynote quoted,  “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges”.


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