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If you are going to use video game-based teaching to have video game-based learning, you also need to align the assessment for video games.

What schools and educational institutions often do instead is use video games to try to teach content. The more informed ones ones might focus on attitudes and skills, but most stop at content acquisition. That is why the tests remain in the traditional realm.


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The pedagogy needs to be aligned with the assessment. So what might assessment that leverages on video games look like? The video above provides some clues. Spoiler: The tests are performative, not just cognitive.

If we measure only for cognitive outcomes, other methods might already be efficient and/or effective for the teaching and learning of content. This is not so say that we should not also test for cognitive outcomes. But we need to be aware that our current assessment falls short. This is why new interventions often have negative or “no significant differences”.

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If you are going to play the numbers game, do it right. Embrace details and nuance.


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An absolute person understands and operates by absolutes. A nuanced person looks for subtlety and context.

If both play the numbers game, the first person is going to look like an absolute fool. The second is going to look reasonable and logical.

Last Saturday, STonline reported the International Baccalaureate (IB) performances by Singapore schools. As usual, it featured pass rates and the number of perfect scores.

The local rag does this with our PSLEs, GCE O-Levels, and GCE A-Levels, so the article almost writes itself with a template. To be fair, the template has been updated to include human interest stories — the people behind the numbers — but these can seem like afterthought or filling newspaper space for a few days.

The IB result article fit the mould perfectly. It featured the usual suspects with the usual stellar results. Then it zoomed in on twins from the School of the Arts who got perfect scores.

What is wrong with doing this?

There is nothing wrong with human interest stories provided the children are not coerced into doing them and if the overcoming-the-odds stories inspire others.

What is wrong is the almost perverse fascination with quantitive results. It is one thing for schools and the Ministry of Education to keep track of these statistics, it is another to tout them and lead stories with them.
 

 
The health of our schooling system is not just measured by numbers. This would be like diagnosing sick patients by measuring only their temperatures and blood pressure. Even a layperson would say that stopping at such triage is irresponsible. The same could be said of the STonline reporting.

About five years ago, the MOE stopped revealing the names and schools of the top Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) students. It also discouraged the ranking and banding of schools into socially-engineered leagues in order to operate by its “every school a good school” principle. The move was meant to emphasise the holistic development of each child.

The IB results article and its ilk hold us back. Yes, the template includes human interest stories and background information about the IB. But the newspaper conveniently forgets or ignores that the IB practically an alternative form of assessment. From the article:

Founded in Geneva in 1968, the programme is now available in 4,783 schools in over 150 countries and territories.

IB diploma students take six subjects and Theory of Knowledge, a course that combines philosophy, religion and logical reasoning. They also learn a second language, write a 4,000-word essay and complete a community service project.

Why not focus on how the thinking and value systems are nurtured? What are the impacts of the community service projects on all stakeholders? How might the rest of the schooling system learn from the IB process? Finding these things out is not easy. Then again, nothing worth doing is easy. Using a writing template is easy.

STonline might think it has the perfect template for reporting academic results. It might. But this template has lost relevance given MOE policy changes. In emphasising the numbers game, it creates speed bumps and barriers in a schooling system that is trying to plod slowly forward.

There is a lesson from Pokémon Go that could be applied to teacher professional development and the design of learning experiences for students. It is learning to play the long game.

The long game is favouring long-term results and rewards over instant gratification and short-term gain. Here are three long game strategies in Pokémon Go.

The first is levelling up by accumulating XP (experience points).

One way of doing this is by catching mundane Pokémon like Pidgeys, Rattatas, and Weedles. These creatures are common and easy to catch. Catch them, convert them to candy by transferring them to the Professor, feed that candy to stronger versions of their own kind, and evolve them to the next stage. This results in quick bumps in XP.

The learning by teachers and students should also be about getting more experiences. Like Pokémon Go, these life experiences should take place outside the classroom. Instead of the mundane Pokémon, they should be going for variety. But leave out the candy-cannibalism, please!

The higher your XP in Pokémon Go, the better the Pokémon you tend to find. The more experiences you have in life, the better equipped you are to handle what comes your way.

The second long game strategy is trimming the fat.

This means discarding what you do not need from both your bag of items (initial limit 350) and Pokémon storage (initial limit 250). Not clearing items out not only leads to clutter, it also prevents the inclusion of newer items, e.g., higher CP wild Pokémon or more Poké balls.

Clearing items like healing sprays and raspberries might seem counterintuitive because they are supposed to help. But these help only if you use them regularly. If not, hoarding them is like hanging on to medicines and encyclopaedias that you do not use.

Both teachers and students need not hoard information and artefacts just in case. It is a discipline to decide what you need and what you do not. Teachers and students need to realise that the brain is designed to forget and that we operate largely on just in time.

The third long game strategy is battling in gyms every 20 hours or so in order to get free Poké coins.

If you are quick after a successful battle, you might claim a place in a Pokémon gym. Doing this gives you a 10-coin reward at the shop. Accumulate enough coins and you can buy something from the shop without using a credit card.

This is like saving a little bit of one’s allowance every week or one’s salary every month. The drops might take a while to fill the bucket, but the reward is that much sweeter when you enjoy it.

We do not learn from experiences. We learn from reflecting on experiences. -- John Dewey.

People might think of incorporating Pokémon Go to teach content. You can. But I would rather use it to teach values like appreciating diversity, consistency and discipline, as well as persistence and patience.

This is about learning with and from the game without realising that you are learning. That is both a strength and weakness of this form of game-based learning.

It is a strength because the learning is experiential and emotional. It is a weakness because the takeaways might not be obvious. Both teachers and students need to reflect and transfer.

I shared this cryptic tweet during the last #edsg fortnightly chat.

We had been focusing on the possible “game”-based changes to the Primary mathematics syllabus in Singapore.

I use “game” because what a teacher might understand as a game is not necessarily what students experience as gamers. A drill-and-practice “game” might be a welcome addition to the teacher toolbox, but it is not necessarily a game as the child understands it.

Hence, Godin’s blog entry was timely, specifically this part:

That’s why it’s so important to understand the worldview and biases of the person you seek to influence, to connect with, to delight. And why the semiotics and stories we produce matter so much more than we imagine.

Another dimension of differing world views is the focus of the activity. To a teacher, it is MATH game; to kids, it is a math GAME. For an adult, the game is for learning a math principle; for a child, the game is for racking up points, being the fastest, or topping the charts.

The students are likely to enjoy game initially because of the novelty effect. They might even participate over a longer term because of the extrinsic rewards provided by gamification tools (which are not game-based learning).

Neither a reliance on novelty and extrinsic drive are desirable because a teacher might be forced to take part in the race to hyper stimulate and entertain.

If a teacher does not get forced into the “engage them” race, it is because students soon realise that drill-and-practice is not really a game and they reject this practice.

Adults rarely get into the child’s headspace when trying to plan activities that are supposed to be good for kids. So here are three guiding and core questions (as contextualised in game-based learning):

  1. What does the child think (is a game/about gaming)?
  2. How do they think (as they game)?
  3. What can I design based on sound educational psychology principles and rigorous research?

For the good of kids, we need to focus on what is good for kids. We start with a focus on kids, not curricula, syllabi, assessments, or policy. To be learner-centred, you have to be kid-centred first.

Recently I had an email conversation that strayed to the differences between simulations and games.

I do not consider most simulations to be games. I share my reply and add a few examples to the mix.
 

 
Simulations mimic or mirror real life and often serve as a preparation for it. There is “replayability” or resetting, but that does not make them games.

For example, pilots start with flight simulators and military field surgeons practice battle zone triage in simulators. Our bus drivers train on traffic simulators [1] [2].

Some games are simulation-like, e.g., The Sims. But their ends are different as they do not necessarily prepare players for life or work. The points, rewards, or levelling up are for the game itself. There are learning gains, but they tend to be broader and are perhaps more ill-defined.

It is important to distinguish between simulations and games not just for academic reasons. When applied to practice, they set expectations, shape outcomes, and influence instructional strategies.

You can imagine parents telling their kids to stop playing video games and to do their homework instead.

These same parents will ignore the growing suspicion that schooling does not prepare kids for their futures but for their past instead.

They will ignore the increasingly loud rhetoric about preparing kids for jobs that do not exist yet. Watch the segment of the video last edited in 2012 and embedded below.


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They will certainly ignore two things I tweeted recently about the possibility of gaming as a career and the prize money it offers.

But they ignore these at their peril and to the possible detriment to their kids because they focus on what they want instead of what the kids need or might be able to do.

Ten years ago when YouTube was born, who thought that it might be possible to live off online videos by vlogging? Who even considered vlogging as a job instead of a hobby? Who thought that vloggers might get TV shows, movie deals, merchandizing, sponsorship deals, books, tour dates, etc.?

We might not have a new economy (it is still about money), but there are new players who are rewriting the rules or making up new ones.


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