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Posts Tagged ‘learning

 
Why do some consultants, designers, and teachers constrain video game-based learning to old or current practices?

That was the question I asked myself when I read this article, Gaming in the classroom: what we can learn from Pokémon Go technology.

The piece offered what seems to be some good ideas on how to leverage on gaming. The examples were:

  • whole-class discussions of how the movement of tectonic plates has affected GPS readings in Australia (science, geography, English)
  • photographing both real insects and virtual Pokémon and then writing up Pokédex entries for the insects they have collected (science, media studies, ICT, English, art)
  • designing classification flowcharts for Pokémon as a lead-up to classification of animals (science, English, maths)
  • assigning students the job of Pokéstop tour guide (Pokéstops are often positioned in front of historical locations), requiring them to research and report on the history of the area (history, art, English)
  • framing maths problems around the data available for each Pokémon such as height, weight and strength. For example, if I have 3,700 stardust, what combination of Pokémon can I power up that will use up all my stardust? Or Asha’s house is 600m from school. The only time she plays Pokémon Go is as she walks to and from school every day. How many days will it take her to hatch a 5.0km egg?

The ideas are better than what some teachers I know would come up with. But teachers tend to teach the way they were taught and constrain gaming to current constructs and practices of curriculum.

One construct is discrete units or silos like separate academic subjects and the subtopics within. Gaming tends to transcend this by being cross and multidisciplinary.

One practice is repetition by way of drilling simply because “this was how I was taught”. This was why drill-and-practice dominated early educational “games” and are still common today. Some refer to this practice as serving chocolate-covered broccoli.

Another traditional construct and practice is class or curriculum time. Specifically how tasks need to be completed like a checklist in class and within tight curriculum time. What falls through is then called homework and extra classes. Gaming happens any time, all the time, or on-demand.

The shortcut is simply this: Teachers bend games to the will of curriculum and distort what could be very powerful game-based learning into game-incentivised teaching.

To change teaching, the teacher needs to learn to behave like the learner-gamer by exploring, experimenting, and experiencing. The bad news is that there are no shortcuts. The good news is that gaming is fun.

The article was not without its merits. The best part was this:

the general capability priorities such as critical and creative thinking, personal and social capability and, of course, ICT, could also be taught using Pokémon Go as students manage their school and social lives, build relationships with others, work effectively in teams and make responsible decisions.

As this game is not played from behind closed doors, it even encourages conversations about personal safety. Discussions about the intersection between reality and the virtual world and digital etiquette are easy to imagine.

The constructs and practices to draw from the paragraphs is that game-based learning should be authentic, context-based, relevant to the learner, and transferable. Such ideas are not constrained by the baggage of schooling.

Using Betteridge’s law of headlines, The Guardian published an article titled: Could online tutors and artificial intelligence be the future of teaching?

The short answer to any such headline is no.

The longer answer is that modern online efforts provide educators with lessons on how to teach so that learning happens more optimally and meaningfully.

For example, data from a company called Third Space Learning and University College London revealed this:

An early analysis found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that when tutors speak too quickly, the pupil is more likely to lose interest. Leaving sufficient time for the child to respond or pose their own questions was also found to be a factor in the lesson’s success…

The lesson about teaching that focuses on learning: Give learners opportunities to interrupt and intervene.

The longer answer also focuses on whether such efforts will make humans irrelevant:

Hooper agreed that the aim is not to replace teachers with robots. “There’s a slightly dubious conversation about how AI will make humans irrelevant, but it’s not at all about replacing humans,” he said. “Our whole belief is that for children disengaged with the subject, who are lacking in confidence, people is what matter. An algorithm can’t provide that.”

Even well-meaning teachers sometimes get in the way of learning. Whether you like or realise it or not, it is about focusing on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching. The latter are means to the former.

Ambar said that maths used to make her anxious, but since starting the weekly tutorials in Year 5, she has started enjoying it. “When they give you horrible sums, they help you,” she said. “I was scared to do it, but it was actually fun.”

If we focus on the who and how of learning, we will hear more stories that end like this.

Not many people know that I was a Biology student and teacher. I almost got a Ph.D. in Zoology instead of Instructional Systems Technology.

Like most zoologists, I was, and still am, in awe of Sir David Attenborough (SDA). He is a naturalist and broadcaster who is well known for his books and TV series. His latest venture is Planet Earth II.


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SDA is 90-years-old, but he still considers himself a learner. In a Vsauce interview, he was asked if he had any advice for communicators of science they might reach large audiences and enact change. He replied that he did not have any advice because he was still learning and struggling.


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SDA added that any advice he might dispense was outdated as it would be “about yesterday’s technology or yesterday’s way of doing things”. The segment of the interview that dealt with that Q&A is here.

SDA is not only insightful, he is model of lifelong and lifewide learning. He focuses on the today and tomorrow, not on the hangups of yesterday. He is an example that educators young and old can follow.

Since some people would rather watch a video bite than read articles, I share SciShow’s Hank Green’s 2.5 minute critique of “learning styles”.


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From a review of research, Green highlighted how:

  • the only study that seemed to support learning styles was severely flawed
  • students with perceptions that they had one style over others actually benefitted from visual information regardless of their preference

This is just the tip of the iceberg of evidence against learning styles. I have a curated list here. If that list is too long to process, then at least take note of two excerpts from recent reviews:

From the National Center for Biotechnology Information, US National Library of Medicine:

… we found virtually no evidence for the interaction pattern mentioned above, which was judged to be a precondition for validating the educational applications of learning styles. Although the literature on learning styles is enormous, very few studies have even used an experimental methodology capable of testing the validity of learning styles applied to education. Moreover, of those that did use an appropriate method, several found results that flatly contradict the popular meshing hypothesis. We conclude therefore, that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.

In their review of research on learning styles for the Association for Psychological Science, Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, and Bjork (2008) came to a stark conclusion: “If classification of students’ learning styles has practical utility, it remains to be demonstrated.” (p. 117)

In Deans for Impact, Dylan Wiliam noted:

Pashler et al pointed out that experiments designed to investigate the meshing hypothesis would have to satisfy three conditions:

1. Based on some assessment of their presumed learning style, learners would be allocated to two or more groups (e.g., visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners)

2. Learners within each of the learning-style groups would be randomly allocated to at least two different methods of instruction (e.g., visual and auditory based approaches)

3. All students in the study would be given the same final test of achievement.

In such experiments, the meshing hypothesis would be supported if the results showed that the learning method that optimizes test performance of one learning-style group is different than the learning method that optimizes the test performance of a second learning-style group.

In their review, Pashler et al found only one study that gave even partial support to the meshing hypothesis, and two that clearly contradicted it.

Look at it another way: We might have learning preferences, but we do not have styles that are either self-fulling prophecies or harmful labels that pigeonhole. If we do not have visual impairments, we are all visual learners.

Teaching is neat. Learning is messy.

Learning is messy and teaching tries to bring order to what seems to be chaos. The problem with learning styles is that it provides the wrong kind of order. Learning styles has been perpetuated without being validated. A stop sign on learning styles is long overdue.

There are very few things that bring me to Facebook (FB). One of those things is Pokémon Go (PoGo).

There is a local FB group where PoGo gamers share their thoughts and conquests. The group is one of several resources I visit to learn how to play the game better.

I found that group to be a microcosm of the larger gaming world. In practically any online discussion of games, you might find:

  • Sharing: Of new articles, opinions, photos, videos, and other artefacts of the game.
  • The asking of questions: People who need help ask the community for tips, advice, and solutions to problems.
  • The answering of questions: People respond to those questions and some replies are more helpful than others. In the case of Pokémon Go, a few curate lists and markup maps of spawn nests.
  • The asking of questions without reading first: There will always be some who do not bother to find out the history of the group or to scroll down and read what was shared in the feed moments earlier.
  • Curt answers: Someone will invariably tell off those that do not do their legwork or homework.
  • Negativity: Examples might include some form of complaining, trolling, or insulting.
  • Self-policing: If there is a moderator, he or she might have stern words with offenders or ban them from the group. Moderators of groups in FB and Google+ might also leave the group to police itself.

Such a microcosm is self-supporting and self-sustaining. Membership is loose, but roles might eventually develop among those that stay.

For me, this is a perfect example of personal learning, not the artificial effort to personalise or tailor “learning” that vendors push.

The current offerings and rhetoric on “personalised learning” are often more about differentiated instruction than about learning. This is a closed and expensive affair that is tied to LMS, learner analytics, and anything else that can be packaged to make money. Pedagogy is removed as much as possible in favour of automatic and rudimentary algorithms.

In the PoGo group, the platform open and free, and the participants self-organise around a common passion. They teach and learn from one another as co-learners. Involvement is personal as is the learning. While this approach does not suit every context and circumstance, it can account for a sizeable portion. So why turn to personalised learning solutions when personal learning can happen more organically?

Last Saturday, I delivered a keynote and participated in a panel on game-based learning and gamification.

I had questions that I could not address in the limited time during my keynote as well as the panel at the end of the conference. These were from the pre-conference poll.

I wish to address these questions, but I will focus only on questions that I understand.

How to tie in GBL with small-wins or short-term rewards?

I have no idea how to do this with GBL because I have not implemented GBL with this design or intent. Nor will I ever. During the keynote I described how games could be integrated to focus on thinking skills, attitudes, values, and intrinsic motivation. These take time to develop and I would rather invest in these.

How would I use this technique if the University has a set of rules I have to follow and present?

The university (or partner university in your case) is unlikely to have rules about pedagogy. If it did, that is not a university that is looking to serve for today and tomorrow.

You know the content, context, and your learners best. The WHAT of a prescribed curriculum might be very full. The HOW is your responsibility and limited by your creativity.

Must it be IT based?

The “it” could be games or gamification. Both could be enabled with current technology or not. I gave examples of both during the keynote, so I have addressed that part of the question.

Here is the other part: ICT is a more current term than IT since the former is often more interactive and multi-way while the latter is more transmissive and about regulations.

What types of subjects are suitable for game based learning?

Any and all of them are suitable, especially if you do not limit yourself to content-based learning and expand the possibilities to include critical and creative thinking, socio-emotional learning, soft skills, attitudes and values, etc.

Can Gamification ideas be implemented not through a game but just mere teaching activity?

Gamification does not employ games; it uses deconstructed elements of games, e.g., points, levelling up, leaderboards.

Your question seems to hint at game-like instruction. There are strategies like putting the problem (assessment) first or early, and focusing on just-in-time learning instead of just-in-case front loading.

I would like to try this approach but I am afraid it might take up a lot of the class time. How do I go about it without sacrificing too much of the contact time?

Can you have a cake and not eat it? 😉

Something has to give and if it comes to that, you might have to use your judgement to see what to push out in order include something else.

How viable would it be to introduce gamification within a primary/secondary school classroom? The aim is to use gaming elements to increase engagement between the students and the teacher.

It is certainly viable, as apparent by the number of vendors and parties outside of schooling and higher education who want to do this.

Unfortunately, these groups sell you on the low-hanging fruit of “increased engagement”. Do not play this game because this is not why any technology-mediated strategy should be used.

Trying to engage is like trying to take control of light switches: You try to flip them on so that your students see the light. But they are just as easy to switch off or learners can move on to something else.

Engagement is something you do to try to help your students; empowerment is something you pass to students so they help everyone. By all means engage, but do not forget to empower. Vendors might tell you how to engage with gamification; I would rather see learners empowered by game-based learning.

how to know which game is appropirate [sic] for teaching when we don’t game?

You do not and cannot know. So play!

My replies to these questions might have a perceived tone. I assure the askers that my replies come from a good place and with good intent: I want us to collectively change and improve our practice.

Participants of the session observed how the panel and I approached the Q&A. The same tone and concern should be applied here.

Yes, my mind goes off on tangents.


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I can watch a video like the one above about someone using candy like pixels and think about how it applies to teaching.

If you did not notice what the still grab of the video was, you would not know what the eventual artefact looked like. You would have to wait till later in the process to get an idea where the work was going. Despite this, you might continue watching to see how it ended because you enjoy discovery.

Looking at the thumbnail is like revealing the outcomes of a lesson before teaching. This lets learners know what to expect and do. However, this also removes other possibilities and might reduce the need for the process since the end result was already clear.

Sometimes teaching does not need to be preceded with outcomes. Sometimes the outcomes are emergent to allow for alternatives, good surprises, learner-defined outcomes, and unexpected but no less valuable results.

The first approach focuses more on teaching. This tends to be reductive and about the expert view of an issue or problem. The second approach is more about learning. It is about discovery and enjoying the process as it happens. While the approaches are compatible, they are also quite different, which might explain why teaching does not always lead to learning.


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