How to use Balance, Gimping, Campaign mode to improve assessment tasks easily

How about trying something from my  epic book “Living with games, dying with zombies” or something like that. This is how to use game-methods to improve something most students hate – getting marks and grades back from exercises and tests. No game needed, no tech either … a Zombie could do this.

Let’s assume most teachers issue marks to their class and we know from research marks and class-ranks are really de-motivating for most people. If there are 30 students, then it’s not hard to work out someone will get top and someone bottom. League tables are a common feature of games however, so how come publishing them are considered a bad educational idea, yet an almost expected in games. There’s something obviously missing then.

The game solution

Rather than avoid posting a class-rank on the wall, or handing out individual ones privately to avoid awkwardness, use Excel. I know Excel right, that old donkey which comes with Office. The funky people might use Google Docs or a database. Depends on your geek-power. You could use paper if you want to be old school.

The Method

You get excel to read each row and pick out the student name and their mark and comment on what EXACTLY they need to do in order to improve their grade in DIRECT relation to the grades of the students TWO rows immediately above them.

The easiest way to do this is to MAIL MERGE it. Select the student’s row and include the two names and marks of those immediately ABOVE them and two names and marks of those immediately BELOW. Now print that stuff out and hand it out.

Each student (if you’ve followed me) has their mark and a comment on EXACTLY what they need to do to beat the two in front of them. They also know who are their nearest academic peers. You have just generated a second thing, better ‘groups’ by clustering. Yes, some are at the top and some at the bottom, but nothing’s changed right? – that was going to happen anyway. Wrong.

The top group has to SUSTAIN itself and bottom group has everything to play for. But now the fun part – how to get them to play. You’ve just created GROUPS of 5 to power peer-learning based on EVIDENCE.

Now start cheating. Break the norm-rules! I won’t bore you with a speech about the types of rules games use – but cheating is a very valuable rule in game-theory. It’s called GIMPING, I’ll explain that later.

Give the bottom THIRD of kids things they can grind on to improve as a GROUP. Repeating, re-doing, coaching, whatever. Tell them they’ve got a WEEK to re-submit a different task which you PROMISE will be no easier or harder than the last.

Give the MIDDLE third kids nothing new to do at all.

Give the TOP third something more philiophical to deal with with the promise of a few more marks if they do it. This should be something more open, not easily answered etc.,

Here’s what has happened. You have 3 key working groups (top, middle, bottom (you do anyway). You also have a peer-assisted learning loop happening, you are allowing the middle kids to float between the bottom and the top (choice), the top are being extended (or sitting on their laurels which won’t last long). The bottom kids are repeating the task, now working in a group to improve together because they feel more trusted and valued.

What changed in terms of teacher practice?

Ultimately, there is nothing radically changed in what’s being taught or the assessment itself. The big change is to way it is being reported and the finality of it. For the most able academic students, there are being given a new opportunity to explore the metanarrative

These theories may be political, economic, social, literary, philosophical, or any other kind that claim to explain the material to be learned. Challenge the students to find the most powerful underlying idea or principle – and what example(s) they can find to explain it. This, for high-achieving students focuses them away for ‘getting the answer’ and finding what is emotionally engaging about  the topic.

Why is this Game Based Learning?

If you like, call this learning in ‘campaign mode’. It taunts you with getting content that is ‘locked out’. This is typical of how Modern Warfare or Battlefield get you to work harder, to get better gear. In the context of the top-kids, it’s called balancing (wikipedia simple version) which creates uncertainty, leading to the tension and excitement. Why do this? Because the way marks and tables are managed in the classroom is the equivalent to what gamer’s call GIMPING. Most players don’t mind ‘some’ gimping if the game is balanced, but it if’s always GIMPED, it just sucks. And players who want to be better hate it.

.

Advertisements

Experience that which kids practice

Our identity evolves through a series of ‘performances’ shaped by the environment, the audience and the impression we want to make. Yet, in the disembodied world of digital space, the cues to identity that we have in the real world are absent. Human identity is a bit more complex than just one representation. Effective teachers need to be able to represent themselves in multiple things at once – as soon as a computer arrives in the classroom, if they can.

Furthermore, a teacher must experience what a child practices, to begin to even hope of assessing the child, not just measuring their height against crude markings on a wall.

Where information technologies are framed as the solution to the problems of unmanageable people – social networks, open communication, virtual worlds, massive multiplayer games, the in-effective teacher is forced to disconnect – they can do nothing else. For every nomadic web-user who freely moves in digital space, or seamlessly creates and distributes content on the fly, there exists another user struggling with the dystopian aspects.

These has little to do with hardware and software, but because the internet is now a space where social and cultural liberation is achieved, where the erosion of hierarchy frees individuals, groups and societies from the confinements and rigidity of traditional social and political order.

How to assess international spys

IPRG831_008

DISTANCE students in an International Security course at Macquarie University are about to play games. The are playing the roles of people who might potentially be making some of very important ones for real. It seems that the chances are, many conversations will happen over great distance as well as in the conference room. While on campus students can role-play their assessment in the comfort of the super-secret high tech lair, those distance students might have previously been given some alternative task. No fun in that, so now there is a weekly task held in world with their teacher.

ViewMore FromTagsCommentsSaveShareSendFavorite

Second Life is incredibly flexible in assessment of this kind. The course designer can create a ‘shared reality’ by role-playing and facilitating an engaging environment for the students. Progressively over a two weeks; students have waded into virtual worlds – using online resources. The space is designed to be a ‘three click deal’. As they enter the space; they are automatically given note cards.

  1. Click to arrive in-world in a realistic room with simple props. An automated note card pops up to give the student instructions on what to do next. It logs their attendance automatically with time and date.
  2. Click the folder on the desk, marked top-secret. It provides some tips on effective role-play and presentation, so there is additional motivation to get some extra help that is normally shared or observed in physical space but not online.
  3. Click to sit in the chair, read the briefing – and the assessment is recorded in real time; then given back to the student so they can reflect on their performance after grading. They are given a notecard at the end of the session with further reading and instructions in the main MQ building via a landmark and leave.
ViewMore FromTagsCommentsSaveShareSendFavorite

The instructional design for this was developed using simple storyboards in Apple Pages; and gradually we explored and expanded on the functionality and environment needed to bring absolute newcomers into a virtual world and undertake a very real assessment task. Each week, the students will get watch a video briefing from SL (we film them all in 15 mins in one session). So far, this has been met with real enthusiasm by the distance students and will be interesting to evaluate. In getting the solution for the students, the teacher has had to do some work too – and already has forgotten about trying to using …. I can’t say too much more …. I hear footsteps heading my way.

Wikipedia is near enough good enough

97338266_ed37f724dfWhich is more important – getting the answer right or learning how to get the answer right?.  Rather than run PD on skills, maybe you need a U-Turn?

Googling the word ‘solar energy’ at the time of writing responded with  23,500,000 references. That is a lot of reading, which may be one reason that students often favour Wikipedia in which thousands of people try to define and classify the term in just a handful of pages. They don’t see the value in understanding how that summary has been arrived at. Its just there to use.  Learning to how to get the answer is the part of learning that should be teaching with ICTs.

Wikipedia is not always right (as students will often tell you), but they do think it is ‘accurate enough’. For so long, they have been copying and pasting its content into essays and presentations that teacher in-action has made it acceptable.

But what are teachers doing to guide them though the critical thinking processes to evaluate information? What formative scaffolds are in place to be able to show the development in understanding though critical analysis of information from a wide range of sources?

Jenny Luca spoke recently in an online discussion in the Powerful Learning Practice network meeting. As a teacher librarian in a girls secondary school, she has noticed that non-fiction borrowing is almost nil because students turn to the internet for faster ways to get ‘facts’.

I don’t see this as a problem with ‘the internet’ or that books may become redundant,. I see a problem with assessment.

Assessment has been based on repeating ‘content’ back to the teacher in classrooms since back in the day. Mapping student response to syllabus ‘content’ and therefore meeting a learning outcome is the accepted method in most classrooms.

But there is no new learning in using the Internet to do this. It is simply a searching task. Wikipedia is as students say ‘accurate enough’ to give a matched response to question, and pass. When students present an essay or PowerPoint – teachers tick the ‘ICT box’ and the ‘content’ box. Teachers accept that is ‘near enough’ too. Seriously, how could any 14 year old not be able to present a graphical, accurate slideshow to explain ‘solar energy’.

A teacher will say ‘yeah, but I have a test – so if they don’t learn it, then they will fail’. Is that the point of learning to pass a test at the end – or to develop and support them in the process of learning. Testing is not a ‘digital insurance’ policy just in case your students Googled the answer.

Use a test to check to see if students learned ‘enough’ at the end seems to be an acceptance that what you did in the process of learning was not sufficient to gauge the depth of their learning without it.

Teachers need to learn how to use ICTs to develop independent critical thinkers and devise formative strategies that demonstrate a continued effort and growth in student understanding. This is academic not technology skill development.

Professional Development needs to be a three step process.

Firstly teachers need to become ‘media’ and ‘network’ literate and understand how technology and people impact learning. Secondly, they need to want to stop teaching. They need want to become designers, mediators and facilitators of the process of learning. They need to develop ‘media’ aware formative assessment methods that demonstrate how students derive meaning and answers, not just repeat them. Lastly, they develop greater awareness technology itself in order to learn about and select the appropriate ‘tools’ to achieve these goals. They won’t and can’t do step three without the first two.

I worry that the term Web2.0 immediately means ‘software’ when talked about in staff rooms and PD sessions. In order to begin to understand how to use any of it effectively to change learning, it is critical to start at the beginning, not the end. ‘Looking at Web2.0 tools’ is the end of the journey, not the start. It all starts with curriculum renewal, which leads to professional development onto effective classrooms, engaged learning and better outcomes – for students. It’s academic development just as much as it is technological.

Digital Winter

I’ve been working on a (not sure what to call it) – thing that’s a bit too big now to call a blog post.

But the idea in it is that of students being in a ‘digital winter’ when it comes to ICTs. I think that several years ago, ICTs were more engaging to students, but as technology became ubiquatous in their lives, the activities often have not moved on.

So the ‘digital winter’ is the idea that many students have frosted over in ICT lessons and are reasonably ‘cold’ when it comes to motivation. Perhaps this is why so many simply copy and paste information, rather than become engaged. We talk about students being passive in ICT, but I think it’s worse than that, I think they are often stone cold.

So in designing activities in mainstream classes (not project based learning), I think that rather than being a teacher, you have to think about being and ‘information architect’.

How do we present information so that it thaws out students? How do we present it to students so that they engage with it – from multiple perspectives?

Central to that is finding ways in which the activity itself relegates a lot of the ‘copy and paste’ experiences to what they in fact are, low order thinking.

How can we ‘copy and paste proof’ learning and raise the levels of learning to higher order thinking? How can we do that with out making it overly complex, or too prescriptive? How can EdTechs (if there is such a person) model this to teachers who may have fairly low interest in ICT, or have limited access to it? ...

There are a lot of questions raised, just in thinking about developing an activity that uses read/write methods, so its very helpful when students help you out with some of them.

One thing I’ve learned, forum discussions are best used when students start them. They tend to attract 4x the responses than if a teacher does.

Teachers should join the conversation when asked and not wade in with their thoughts. Being seen overtly monitoring and commenting in a discourse community makes it a ‘creepy tree house’. The value of the forum is often that you get a window on the ‘zone of proximity’.

Here is an example of students doing just this.

Create entry documents that are are ‘short’ on details. Let the students identify this! It creates discussion.

The project is introduced, not all answers given at the outset. It is a concious decision – not to give out all the answers, or even all the information. Un-packing a brief is as important as answering it.

I’ve lost count how many times in the past that I’ve told students when reviewing exams ‘read the question!’.

Maybe they do, they are just not great at unpacking it. Creating discussion allows them to ‘find fault’ – something they love to do – and it helps them unpack the overall picture. Sneeky, but it works.

I also try to desk-top-publish briefing documents.

Okay, so I’m an ex-art director (ouch the salary drop hurts) so its not that hard for me to knock out some InDesign or Photoshop – but presenting the task as visually ‘different, is another key motivator. Advertisers know the value of making visual statements that make people stop and think.

More often than not, most school assessment tasks are rather bland and predicatable word documents off a ‘schooly’ template. They represent a slow test, not an exciting activity.

Back to the Digital Springtime … creating peer debate and interest motivates. Motivation leads to effort.

One for All Grade Assignments

Rather than design an assessment task that is handed out in several grade classes, and worked on in ‘silos’. I am learning that desiging one in which the entire grade work in a discourse community – works better. It is also way easier to model and support the teachers – who are also often thawing out.

Using your PLN to bring ‘outsiders’ into the project makes it more authentic and adds more interest. What is great to find out are forum discussions that indicate that the students are warming to undertaking the task.

In a grade task, it only takes 5% of students to get engaged early, to draw the interest of the others. Immediately, a new pedogogy is created, and the project takes off. Just be sure to call it a study group with Senior Students, not a Blog or a Ning or whatever. Does it work? well this project went live 1st September 2008, this discussion was started 3 days after. The students are indeed not used to this ‘kind’ of learning – but they do engage with it – once they thaw out a little.

I read and thought about Kim’s post about the professional development cycle, and this lead me to think about the learning cycle.

  • Re-engagement comes from out of a “Digital Winter”, so you need to suprise and generate interest in a project though their curiosity.
  • “Digital Spring” happens when a few students start to ‘try’ out the EdTech and sandbox it – More students watch, than take part, but never the less, the hit stats show that more visit than post.
  • “Digital Summer” happens when kids start to lead the discource community, taking over often from the early adopters, and from the teachers
  • “Digital Fall/Autumn (proper)” – the evaluation and reflection of the project – usually started again by students.

Of course what we are all dreaming of is the Endless Summer! You want to make sure the Winter is short. So that we can learn from the task, and invent a better one!