Friday, April 17, 2015

GBL & PBL: Spring Fling or Long Term Romance?

(This post was originally shared on ASCD's SmartBrief and is modified from it's earlier post.)

GBL and PBL Sitting In A Tree.  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 2013 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. 

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.

Games have the potential to set a context and purpose for 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.

The descriptors below are not unique to each model there is significant overlap. But like pandas at the zoo, we need to foster collaboration between the model of Games-Based Learning with those of Problem-Based Learning. 

Games-Based Learning
Problem-Based Learning
dynamic environments
context rich, authentic, real-world environments
immediate feedback, where failure is a natural part of the learning process
open-ended solutions with no “correct” answers
multiple decisions / choices
authentic audiences for student work
clear goals
recall 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 create new types of learning environments.

These environments 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. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How Much Heat Does Your Classroom Generate

Came across this simple scale from the LoTi® Organization .

A fantastic way to help all of us get a better sense of what innovative learning can be. PBL, GBL or anything else - this scale speaks for itself as great learning.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

March Madness and Games-Based Learning: 5 takeaways

This is a repost from 2013,  shared again to kick off March Madness. 
UPDATE: I've had some great discussions on this topic, and just for the sake of clarity...
1. "Games" can also be described "Learning Experiences". These experiences do not necessarily need to be confined to single "lesson" (or basketball game). They can take the form of quests, projects, etc. that evolve over many days.
2. I am not advocating that all games need a winner/loser.
3. I am picking Wisconsin to win it all !

I love sports. Hardly a day went by when I was young where I wasn't playing basketball, tennis or something else.

I just returned from ISTE, hearing a great keynote from Jane McGonigal on the benefits of Games-Based-Learning. We're making progress (but still have a ways to go) in our attempt to create games that can be integrated into the classroom easily.

Sure, we can acknowledge that there will be adoption resistance by some schools and urge them to come on board. But we also need to acknowledge that we are not creating games that generate genuine, intuitive, widespread interest for teachers' use in the classroom while at the same time addressing the 21st Century skills we want to target. We are struggling to create games that link content to purpose. Until we do, we will only get early adopters and innovative teachers as consistent users of GBL.

There are characteristics of team sports that need to be better incorporated into the games we design for learning. These are the characteristics that make team sports so challenging and so rewarding for players - both in the moment and for their future.

We need to design game experiences that move beyond rewarding "right" answers with points and badges as the main goal. We need to start designing games with these five elements - present in almost any team sport, and sadly lacking from most classroom games.

If there are games out there that do all five of these (or even a few of them), please share. We need to recognize, honor, and PLAY these games!

1. Students need to create and regularly be able to adjust that creation to solve a specific problem. A basketball player is making multiple decisions every second. He is both planning and executing his creation in real time.

2. Students are simultaneously evaluating the actions of each other and making adjustments accordingly. Is someone shooting well? Get her the ball. Has the other team (player) changed there defense? I better adjust my offense.

3. The player's actions effect the entire game and all who are playing. 
When I decide to go for a steal, what happens if I miss? What will be the consequence? How will my teammates handle this?

4. The game is dynamic, constantly changing due to the actions of the other players and the outside factors. (coaches, referees ... aka: teachers)

5. Most important: There are multiple and competing goals with no right answer.  As a player within a team, there are multiple ways that we can strategize to try to win. That strategy is important and may change throughout the game. But in the quest to get a team victory, there are a hundred sub-plots going on. Should I shoot more if I feel like I can score against my defender?  What if I'm not my team's best shooter? Should I deviate from our planned offense?  What will my teammates think of me if I do this often? Is my girlfriend in the crowd... and what things could I do that might look good to her but harm my chances to have my team win?

A basketball game is multi-dimensional. We are individuals within a context of a community and those roles are sometimes confusing. If the classroom games we play are simply one-dimensional representations where there is a right answer and we want to try to find a fun way to have students arrive at that answer, we are sadly misrepresenting what the real world holds and missing out on a whole level of engagement and challenge. 

Give em a basketball instead.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

5 characteristics we need in online learning

Wanted to share a video on the types of learning environments we need to see if schools want to engage learners in the 21st Century skills.

Enjoy and Share.

This video is cross-posted on the simCEO.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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

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.