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.

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.