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Posts Tagged ‘drill

Thanks to my Twitter PLN, I chanced upon this tweet.

Both my immediate reaction and critical reflection was: Nope, this I don’t like.

I do not have anything against fidget spinners. I do not have anything against practice provided that it is designed based on sound principles, e.g., spaced repetition, interleaving. [1] [2] [3]

It is not enough for teachers to design with just good intent. Their decision-making and implementation must be informed by rigorous research and/or reflective practice.

One design issue discussed in Twitter was that the spinner was meant to be a timer. Spin it, then do as many sums as you can before it stops.

What if the variability of the spinning momentum (some more, some less) an issue?

Is the speed of completion the desired learning outcome?

How is the use of spinners justifiable?

What better alternatives in terms of strategies and tools are there?

I am all for starting with where the learner is at. But my caveat is that the starting point is not to pander. It is to build on prior knowledge or experience and to provide a meaningful challenge.

Teachers may feel the tug of their hearts because they love their students, but they must be led first by their heads. They must first be critically informed or they risk designing in a vacuum and establishing the wrong sort of expectations.

Have you ever stood in front of a mirror and said a word (any word) out loud over and over again? That word starts to lose its meaning and it might start to sound funny.

The video below explains why.


Video source

So how does meaninglessness result from repetition?

Psychologically, it stems from semantic satiation.

Neurologically, it is dues to to reactive inhibition.

Pedagogically, it can be called drill and practice. Or most homework.

Ask the average teacher how s/he implements game-based learning and you might hear a description something like this. The “games”:

  • are not designed by them but by a vendor of an LMS or CMS.
  • are colourful to “attract” or “engage” the learner.
  • might look like the screenshot below.

None of these factors make the learner’s experience one of gaming nor is the activity designed around authentic game-based learning principles.

When my son did his vacation homework recently, this “game” told him that his dog was trapped in a burning house. He had to rescue his pet by answering questions about fractions.

What is wrong here?

The designer of the activity hung the threat of the dog dying in a fire as a disincentive. Just as gamers do not like being made to play, you do not guilt a learner into learning.

The task (solving fractions) had nothing to do with putting out the fire or rescuing the dog. This was thinly veiled, more colourful drill-and-practice. The task was not authentic. I offer our proof-of-concept mobile game, Dollar Dash, as an example of a more authentic design.

When my son completed the exercise and saved the dog, both my son and I wondered what the graphic would have been like if the dog died in the fire. A gamer would explore that outcome because there are no adverse consequences. However, this experience is designed largely with one outcome in mind, not several.

Experiences like this “hotdog drill” create a wrong impression of how educational technologies can help learners, and worse, perpetuate this sort of thinking.

Derek Lin wrote a response to my reaction to a display that decried that technology was making us stupid.

I have reflected on this issue before, but I like what he said: It’s all about how you use your tools.

That said, some tools are clearly designed to maim, e.g., nuclear weapons.

Other tools are double-edged. Dynamite might be used to kill or it might be used to clear obstacles. A knife can cut through flesh to injure or to feed.

A car can be used to thrill, fill, drill, or kill.

In the hands of a skilled stunt person, a car can entertain. A parent might use a car to lug a month’s worth of groceries home. That same parent might teach his/her child to drive safely. If that parent drinks and drives, s/he might end up killing someone.

We like to blame our tools when something goes wrong. We like to take the credit when something goes right. Who is stupid now?


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