Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Who Do Our Students Consider the Audience For Their Work?

Who Do Our Students Consider the Audience For Their Work?

I initially created this post for a post in the May 5 edition of  SmartBlog on Education

We all agree that creating social learning environments where students learn from one another is beneficial. Creative teachers plan for this, advocates of problem-based Learning — PBL — take advantage of this and new models in games-based learning — GBL — are building this into the learning process. And, we can all agree that technology can help facilitate these environments — students will peer edit each others’ literary analysis so that they can learn from observing the changes suggested as they compare solutions. With or without technology, these environments stretch the learning relationships from “one-to-one” (teacher-to-student) to “one-to-many.” By expanding the number of potential “teachers” in the learning process, these environments strengthen the main component of social learning — that we learn through observation, modeling and making decisions about quality, not solely through reinforcements, such as grades.
We can also agree that providing a more real-world context strengthens the sense of purpose and provides for deeper motivation and engagement. One way to strengthen purpose is by giving students an authentic audience for their creation: Write a petition to your local chamber of commerce. This type of authentic audience is nothing new to PBL believers; it constitutes the “A” in the always helpful GRASPS acronym shared by Wiggins and McTighe regarding structuring authentic assessments. These are the situations where students strive to effectively apply their content understanding. We unleash their potential as we give them a heightened sense of purpose.
We need to go one step further. We need to develop more learning opportunities where students constitute the actual evaluators for the work itself. Imagine if students, teachers and others evaluate and provide feedback to determine the effectiveness of a student’s creation: Develop an 60-second speech to be shared with the student council and three advertising posters to be copied and placed around school to decrease bullying. Your work will be evaluated according to our rubric by the students in our class, outside professionals and me — as the teacher. These are the experiences that push learning beyond a one-way conversation between student and teacher. They demystify the assessment process and allow each student to be a creator and simultaneous evaluator, providing multiple experiences for students to recognize and apply the criteria for quality.
This challenge is important for all educators and resource developers. Thus far, we have plenty of examples where we facilitate collaboration. Technology — thankfully — makes these even more plentiful. But this collaboration is still aimed at producing pieces of higher quality which will eventually be turned into the teacher. They foster the “one-to-one” teacher/student relationship aimed at helping students get at the right answer. However, in the real world, if my message is poorly written, I probably won’t sell much. In this way, failure is the currency of growth; other students help peers to identify gaps and demonstrate quality.
The “one-to-many” and “many-to-many” networks leverage social learning. These environments do not exclude that a one-to-one relationship can/should exist. Individualized feedback and diagnostic data can be shared on an individual basis as each student does her best to apply content. But the learning task itself needs to stretch beyond the “teacher as audience and sole evaluator.” This is not only a real-world task, but it’s real-world learning — where students present solutions, seek feedback, adjust and ultimately strive to produce work that others deem high quality; they are not solely focused on the teacher’s grade. And, while this post discusses the products of learning, imagine the rich feedback we could also share with students about their process in a learning task such as this.
How can you be part of this change in education?
As you design or deliver instruction:
Go beyond facilitating more efficient pathways which help students get to the right answer in order to share that answer with a teacher, provide interactive experiences where students must use content knowledge to solve problems and create solutions while evaluating each others’ solutions. Create learning experiences that open efficient pathways where students interact with content in an authentic way. Engage students in highly collaborative processes allowing students to learn not only from their own work, but from listening and comparing their work and thought processes to their peers.
As you evaluate student work:
Take a step back from your role as the sole evaluator. Look for opportunities to involve others, especially the students themselves, in the evaluation process.
As you consider what best prepares our students:
Go beyond asking students to complete work that “prepares them for the next level;” they need opportunities to use content to solve legitimate problems and create solutions through collaboration and critical thinking. Prepare students to succeed in the real world as effective social learners — as they collaboratively problem solve and simultaneously evaluate in a quest for quality.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Do we have teams or franchises?

Having recently returned from the ECIS Leadership Conference in Seville, two points resonate with me and are worth sharing.

The always entertaining and meaningful, Steve Barkley gave a great workshop on developing high functioning teams in schools. He shared a continuum of perspectives about teamwork and meeting times. He then described the idea that some of our teams are best-described as franchises - groups of people who get together to share ideas about how each person is trying to solve various problems, but with little or no commitment to a common plan going forward as to what we will all expect in terms of implementation or outcomes. It's an analogy that was new to me and helped me see areas for growth; hopefully it does the same for others. Steve asks us to self-assess where we see ourselves and our teams using the chart below.

 Presented by Steve Barkley

For those of you who have not seen Ben Walden's presentation on the courageous leadership using Shakespeare's Henry V as guide for educators, it is a must-see. Unfortunately, I can only find a short clip from an earlier presentation, but it provides a glimpse into the powerful lessons. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A "Cool Tool" Award

All,
We have a soon-to-be shared post on the horizon. But first...

Just wanted to share a rather shameless plug here to say that simCEO was awarded a "Cool Tool" Award by EdTechDigest in the Academic Gaming Solution category. So if you could see us, we've got a big smile on our face. :)
You can read more about the contest and see other finalists here.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Students as Creators - Moving Beyond Recall and Decision Making

OK. It's been awhile since I explored the combination of PBL and GBL, by further developing one of the eight characteristics of these New Learning Environments. So, with a new year, it's time to pick things up.

Earlier, the importance of social learning was explored as one important characteristic that is unfortunately not naturally integrated by our school system or most educational games.

Social learning provides a good connection to the characteristic we'll pick up in this post:

  • enabling students to be creators of solutions - moving beyond recall and decision-making

Although these posts are centered around the opportunities for designers of games-based learning resources, the technology aspect is irrelevant. Good learning is good learning - with or without technology. And our only challenge should be in designing environments for students that meet these characteristics. Certainly, technology and GBL should be able to help.

Our early educational games focused on content recall. Think, for example, of all the great games to practice math skills. Later (and current) versions add badges or points to reward students. Many current versions now embed these math skills within a quest of sorts which may or may not be authentically math related. (Correct answers allow the player to continue on the quest.)

Another version of games allowed students to make decisions - usually multiple-choice decisions - within a specific environment. To the degree which that environment was authentic, this was a big step forward. I can recall many an hour playing Oregon Trail. In many ways, these games represent the online version of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. The environment provided an authentic context to allow students to make decisions.  Soon, users become (at least partially) focused on "outsmarting the programming" instead of assessing and learning from the situation.

Both types of games are useful and serve a purpose. But if we're trying to establish new learning environments, they fall far short. They help students and teachers "run the school race" faster and and with more fun - but the finish line still ends with correct answers, and I believe we need more than that. I believe our world (and even our students) are demanding more of us.

The idea of putting students in a position where they must create and present solutions is nothing new to PBL advocates. I believe (and hope) GBL designers are at the beginning of opening this idea up. This is where the connection with social learning comes in.  If our primary task for students comes from the open-ended framework of PBL, we have an environment - online or otherwise - where students are challenged to come up with unique solutions. Collaboration in such an environment is encouraged; social learning is almost a necessity. We won't see (nor want) students covering up their papers in fear of someone copying the work. We'll encourage the opposite.

Certainly, we're all familiar with a few of the drawbacks to PBL.
  • The planning is time consuming: for the individual teacher.
  • Difficult to assess: It's more difficult (compared to right/wrong questions) to properly assess student discrete knowledge (as opposed to applied knowledge) within a large PBL project.
  • The learning is time consuming: PBL is most effective in collaborative, social learning environments. The time constraints of a classroom can't facilitate this kind of collaboration. Teachers can get from "Point A to Point B" much faster.  (Needless to say, we might be aiming at the wrong Point B here, but that's not the teacher's fault.)
But games-based learning resources, set up to have students addressing the right kind of task, can help solve the PBL drawbacks. Game designers can:
  • design the environments and tasks - perhaps even allowing teachers to customize them to suit their preference.
  • provide ways to record student solutions (and even their thinking to get there)  to assess students more easily. Savvy designers can even integrate discrete (right/wrong) assessments inside the game itself if authentically presented.
  • take advantage of tech tools which facilitate and record communication and feedback. Compared to non-tech PBL, this exponentially increases the social learning as students learn from and with one another.
With or without technology, we won't see student creators unless we set up the right kind of learning tasks for them.

I'll leave with a shameless plug for [full disclosure alert !] our award-winning simulation, simCEO. It's a solid example of this type of learning and free; so what have you got to lose. 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Are our games taking advantage of social learning?

Games-based learning strategies are engaging, fun, and effective. The most-utilized games fall into the Cooney Center’s definition of short-form games, focused largely on content recall with one player interacting with the software - and (hopefully) the teacher in the background monitoring progress and adjusting teaching. But that's only one aspect of what games can accomplish.

In my earlier post, I shared 8 characteristics of  transformational learning environments needed in Games-Based Learning. Let’s explore one in more detail.

Respect that people are social learners. They make meaning from, with, and for each other.

The premise is rooted in social learning, which could be an entirely separate post. But suffice it to say, that social learning emphasizes the role of others in how we make meaning. Others provide models; we learn from and with them. Much of what we learn and share is for others.  It’s how we validate, amend or reject our ideas.  Social learning is highly dependent upon the structure of the environment in facilitating others in the learning process.

This is an environment that schools (and most of our games) - despite having lots of people - do not naturally foster. Learning in schools is largely a conversation between one student and the teacher (or one student and a game-designer). Models for learning - even the rare student exemplar - are generally reluctant to be shared because in rote learning situations these models are seen as a stepping stone to copying and regurgitation - and that’s correct… and also where the problem lies.

When we don’t set up experiences where students can see each other’s thinking, results, and rationale, we’re not taking advantage of all those collective learning experiences. Instead, we have 25 one-way conversations with teachers (or game-designers)  - where Student A is largely ignorant of how Student B approached the problem.

One solution is Problem-Based Learning. PBL advocates know this, and structure environments where social learning is encouraged.  The next step for Games-Based Learning advocates is to establish these types of naturally interactive environments:  
  • where the intelligent application of content is required,
  • where multiple correct answers are possible,
  • where students can learn from one another, and
  • where students are intrinsically motivated to find the best solutions to authentic problems.  

Now educators (and game-designers) can rightfully argue that most accountability metrics measure fragmented learning, and therefore throw up their hands and revert to the teaching the testable content. But certainly there’s some room where we can apply all the benefits of GBL (engagement, fun, clear sense of purpose) with the open-ended PBL approach - an approach where we ask ourselves, “How can I approach this content in a way that has “students practicing skills and thinking like a _______?”  (INSERT YOUR FAVORITE ! historian, mathematician, physicist, writer, etc.).  That’s our next step - for educators and game-designers.

These are the environments that foster social learning, where students can explain and test out their ideas. And, in the process, learning becomes a lot more relevant.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Three Want Ads

SCENE: Three strangers at a coffee shop, reading the same page of the want ads.
(This post was originally shared on ASCD's SmartBrief.)



Business leader seeks educated students who effectively work independently and collaboratively to problem-solve by applying information in new ways to produce creative solutions. Contact: pie-in-sky?@possible.com


Educator seeks a new set of priorities where my content is secondary to the 21st Century skills and attitudes my students will need in the future. I want to be judged by my results on the latter, not my test scores on the former.  Email. nice2dream@possible.com


Student seeking a relevant education. I am more than my test scores of recall on ubiquitous information; With the wealth of information and tools in my grasp, I am capable of creatively producing with knowledge today. Contact: Hello21stcent@possible.com


We're losing the battle for relevance in education, and it's getting worse.  The 2013 Gallop Poll found shows that only 44% of high school students find school engaging. That's down from 61% in Middle School and 76% in Elementary. The longer they're with us, the less involved they are. What's wrong?


Coincidentally, the same poll shares that 45 % of students plan to start their own business - that's "plan to" not “are interested in” starting a business.


Business and Financial Education classes are electives, if they are offered at all. And classes in entrepreneurship are like bicycle horns - rarely seen and offered as add-ons.
"Ninety-three percent of Americans believe all high school students should be required to take a class in financial education. While a handful of states have adopted varying degrees of financial literacy curriculum, only four states require high school students to take a semester-long course in personal finance."


That's disappointing for a few reasons.


To function in today's world, we needs students who are equipped with skills in entrepreneurship and financial literacy. According to Brian Page, an award winning educator and working group member of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability,  " Inequality has skyrocketed, and economic mobility, that is the likelihood of a child moving “up” an economic tier, is now worse in the United States than most advanced economies throughout the world.
We need a modern education system with equitable funding and opportunities for every child that prepares our next generation of everyday Americans for the complex reality of our new financial world."


Again, Page notes, "K-12 financial education is in the infancy stages, the catalyst is often legislation mandates of the integration of financial literacy concepts rather than a dedicated course of study. As schools in impoverished areas are being defunded, the limited resources they have must be focused on new and high stakes federal and state education legislation and testing that rarely include financial education."


As an elective class, this mean that most students will never be exposed to these concepts. But it also means that we are taking engaging topics that are holistic, multi-disciplinary, and authentic experiences and breaking them down into subsets of skills, taught in isolation of other subjects to a few students.


We need to foster entrepreneurial thinking; this goes far beyond business and financial literacy. Entrepreneurial thinkers apply the four Cs of 21st Century Learning (creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking) as they:
  1. find and define problems, opportunities, and potential within an open-ended context
  2. display creativity and adaptation in their solution
  3. recognize the dynamic nature of situations. There is no "correct" answer that applies everywhere.
  4. learn skills, content, and entire disciplines for the purpose of action in an authentic arena
  5. are motivated to improve


For better or worse (and I would say better !), students have dreams of opening their own company and are asking to learn more about controlling their own financial destiny.   While we wait for legislation to catch up to reality, we have an opportunity to tap into that desire to make schools more relevant, provide an authentic context to learn traditional content, and produce a generation of entrepreneurial thinkers.  


If we take advantage of this opportunity, we might just find that those three strangers in the coffee shop have more in common than they think.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"PBL and GBL Sitting In A Tree..."

(This post was originally shared on ASCD's SmartBrief.)
K-I-S-S-I-N-G
“Hello Games-Based Learning; this is Problem-Based Learning.”
Like two pandas in a zoo, we need to do all we can to ensure that these two find a soul mate in one another.
Games, by definition, are meant to be fun. But, in the race to transform schools, we’re missing out if the goal of games-based learning is to help us run that race faster or provide students with more fun while they run. We’re running towards the wrong finish line.
Games transform education and learning. The question is: transform “towards what end?”
If our goal for games is to take traditional school content — multiplication tables — and spice it up as more fun for students, then we are missing a golden opportunity.
In the recent research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center on short-form games  (quick tools for practice) versus long-form games  (higher-order thinking skills better aligned to the common core), they rightly advocate that there is significant potential for these long-form games to transform education. Long-form games focus on the 21st-Century skills we all know our students need. These games hold more promise, but are also more complex to integrate. The Center advocates that game designers “affiliate selectively with school reform leaders to help move schools towards content-rich, deep curricula that foster critical thinking and problem solving.” [my emphasis]
We've all heard the familiar student refrain, "Why are we learning this?" Short-form games can decrease this cry, but only temporarily.
Any game, by definition, has a context.  But if games are only taking our same-old learning outcomes and making them fun, then we're missing out.
Game have the potential to set a context and purpose for this learning that is rich, complex and authentic — something followers of problem-based learning have been advocating for years. This is element of game design we need to better leverage.
Like pandas at the zoo, we need to foster collaboration between the philosophies of Games-Based Learning with those of Problem-Based Learning. 
Games-Based Learning
Problem-Based Learning
dynamic environmentscontext rich, authentic, real-world environments
immediate feedback, where failure is a natural part of the learning processopen-ended solutions with no “correct” answers
multiple decisions / choicesauthentic audiences for student work
clear goalsrecall not sufficient, application of content / skills is required
meta-cognition (“How am I doing?”)naturally holistic and cross-disciplinary

The best games — with or without technology —  can set a context for learning that can combine the characteristics above to strive to create new environments for learning.
New environments for learning will:
  • Empower teachers to customize the environment dynamically, so that content can be specialized and individualized as needed.
  • Enable students as creators of solutions — beyond recall and decision-making.
  • Encourage students to be environment evaluators — aware of each others’ creations/ solutions.
  • Allow students — and the teacher — to act within an interdependent environment, where the actions of one user affects others.
  • Respect that people are social learners. They make meaning from, with, and for each other.
  • Provide a context where the game is not the teacher of “content” but rather it is the “context” through which learning happens.
  • See learning and assessment as individualized. The teacher — not the game — is in charge of the learning and that happens at the teacher-student level. The game is simply the introduction to that interaction.
  • Strive to mirror the real world by giving students multiple roles and goals which sometimes conflict. Students are not simply an all-out pursuit of a single goal as they strive for points, badges or rewards.
This does not mean that all games need to fit into this category to be useful. Creating games that get us to the very limited goal of content recall can be one piece. But we should distinguish this from the nature of what games can be and the role they can play in transforming education. Otherwise, we’re just running the race faster to an out-dated finish line.
As we gamify our schools, we’re missing a huge opportunity if we’re not considering “games” in multiple perspectives. Certainly, the combination of PBL and GBL elements has vast potential for changing the way we prepare students with the 4 Cs of the 21st Century. It needs to be on our radar; we need to use our limited time, energies and money to to scrutinize our understanding of games to create these new, transformational learning environments.
There is no silver bullet. Creating games like this can’t be done with every topic and it’s not always the most efficient way to get students from A to B.
Not every panda-romance is a match made in heaven. But, for the propagation of the species, we need to encourage this budding romance to grow.