Wednesday, July 24, 2013

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

(This post was originally shared on ASCD's SmartBrief.)
“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.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

"Hey I'm learning. Anyone there?"

I'm a big fan of constructivist learning. We want students creating their own meaning. 

But do any of us really construct our own meaning?  It sounds a little lonely.

Continuing the theme of setting up strong learning environments that align with the characteristics of team sports, that's a pretty central question if we want to put students in a situation where they
need to create and regularly be able to adjust that creation to solve a specific problem.

Team sports naturally do this. They make for great learning environments. 

If our classrooms better resembled these environments, we'd be laying a strong foundation for engaged students constructing knowledge. Games like MineCraft are obvious examples of this but we shouldn't limit ourselves to technology.  We have many opportunities to allow our students to construct knowledge in this way, and Problem-Based Learning advocates like the Buck Institute are out in front in this regard.

While most PBL exercises ask students to solve a problem.  With just a little more imagination we can add a bit more to the environment so that they are not only a creating a solution (great !) but able / encouraged to adjust that creation (even better !) as the environment changes. This is where games like MineCraft and basketball game excel. They allow students to create,  but they ask students to be continually evaluating the actions taken by their fellow participants along the way. 

The work isn't done in isolation to be turned into the teacher. 

Student work is a piece of the environment and the goal within that environment remains constant even while the pathway changes.

It's what makes games-based-learning so fun.

Which helps us answer the question:  
Do any of us really construct our own meaning?
Do we even want that?

Imagine a basketball player who continually constructed her own meaning and disregarded the conditions of the environment and the input of those around her.  She repeatedly catches the ball, turns around, and tries to shoot over a much taller player. Despite those around her (and the repeated blocked shot) telling her otherwise, she continues this method because she has read it's "right".  Meaning gets constructed pretty quickly during this game. And there are 4 teammates 5 opponents), and 2 coaches who are making simultaneous meaning - and adjustments - based on this scenario.

In reality, none of us learn in isolation. We construct knowledge and we put it to the test at some point by sharing that knowledge. Social learning folks know this to be true - we truly learn for, with, and by our interactions with others. That is when learning is at its most profound. 

How often do we structure classroom experiences to maximize the chances for social learning by having students create and potentially adjust those creations in an inter-dependent environment?  
Those experiences are likely alive with learning. 

Think of it as game-like practice for the game we call the real world.

I received some feedback/dialogue regarding my earlier post which I've paraphrased below.
1. "Games shouldn't be the outcome. Learning should.
Agreed !  Games give users a purpose, but if that purpose isn't important or not connected to relevant content, it has minimal uses in the classroom.  (My June 27 post says that too.)

2. "It's not just team sports. Individual sports have these learning characteristics too."
Agreed. But team sports do add an extra layer of meaning-making by adding complexity to the social learning network. As today's post indicates, we are on the lookout for expanding these opportunities. It doesn't mean that team environments stress the same components as or are better than individual sports. But generally, schools give plenty of opportunities for students to showcase their individual skills while the real world is becoming increasingly dependent upon individuals who can interact within a more complex, team-oriented network.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Combine PBL and GBL. The software (and learning) we need.

In the last post, I explored the idea that creating quality Games-Based Learning resources aimed at real-world skills our students will need to succeed could be better understood by trying to integrate five essential elements that are essential in team sports.

  • Students need to create and regularly be able to adjust that creation to solve a specific problem.
  • Students are simultaneously evaluating the actions of each other and making adjustments accordingly.
  • The player's actions effect the entire game and all who are playing. 
  • The game is dynamic, constantly changing due to the actions of the other players and the outside factors.
  • There are multiple and competing goals with no right answer.

So, the next question: How do we create and structure these types of experiences?

We don't need to re-invent anything here; we know what good research tells us about quality learning. But we do need to consider those factors when we design software (or any learning classroom learning experience) for our students. 

Research tells us what students need to experience in order to be engaged in learning where they are constructing (and remembering) meaning.

The table chart below comes from a presentation I shared at ISTE advocating the combination of Problem-Based Learning, Games-Based Learning and common Best (Classroom) Practices.  I plan to talk more about these elements in future posts - especially in relation to the elements of team sports. But in the meantime, I share the chart below with a few concluding thoughts.

1. The left side (PBL, GBL, and Best Practices) include the characteristics of effective learning. If we structure experiences like this in school, would we feel better about our ability to prepare them for this future where they will be creators and social learners solving unknown problems in unknown environments?  

2. Notice that the right hand side represents that topics that we need to focus upon. If we want engagement, then we need to structure problems that are relevant for students and for the 21st Century.  That's a tall order - but it's important.  With simCEO, we've  chosen to do that by tapping into the topic of entrepreneurship and financial literacy. It's a vital topic - both in the business sense and "mindset" sense, producing students who can create and solve problems. And, it's a topic that sadly is squeezed out of the traditional school day at a time when it's never been so badly needed.  If you want to see more about how we are using entrepreneurship to integrate the left-hand side characteristics, check out this presentation from the SIIA conference. But other topics are certainly possible (see chart). We want to explore more applications with this kind of learning, and hope others are too.  Collaboration welcome.

3. Are there characteristics missing from the model?  The better the model, the better the student experiences we can develop.

4. The more I share, the more I'm aware just how much great stuff is happening already. If anyone   out there shares this interest in changing the way we learn, are using or developing similar resources, or simply want to be involved in the process, I'm always looking to expand my network. Share this and connect.