A recent Wired article by Chris Kohler titled “Hey, Video Games: Please Trick Me Into Thinking I’m Smart” caught my attention between levels of the mind-bending puzzle game Monument Valley as I rode the train in to work one morning. I began to wonder if video games (“real” video games and not the ones designed principally as educational tools) really can make us smarter. And if they can in fact make us smarter, I wondered how I could replicate this in my own courses.
I can admit to having moments in class when I was a student where everyone around me seemed to get an idea with ease and I just stared at the teacher, feigning a smile and hoping my cluelessness wasn’t too apparent. It was similar to moments I had in video games, walking back and forth between the same locations, looking at the same objects over and over and simply not seeing anything there; there was no rhythm or pattern that I could discern to do anything useful or that resembled anything I had done in the game before. Overcoming these blocks was often even more dire due to the fact that I have 3 brothers who are extremely talented gamers, and were often several levels ahead of me as I bumbled my way through the levels at half their pace. (I would be teased relentlessly for missing the obvious solutions. Their favorite was to emphatically say “It’s right there in front of you!” without pointing at anything and letting the anxiety paralyze me.)
What usually solved my gaming issue was changing the angles I used to look at things— standing on a different side of the room, looking down from a ladder, or trying and retrying the character’s abilities or items until something worked. (When all else failed, I usually looked for a cheat-sheet or walk-through, a study-guide-like item explaining each step to take to beat the level.) Within the games—trying and retrying or looking at things from different angles—I often learned a new skill that I was ready to employ later in the game to get the next level.
Within the classroom, I usually didn’t get such opportunities. I would simply admit defeat so that I didn’t fall behind going into the next level, and hoped that I didn’t need that particular skill again later. It had never occurred to me then that some of the same gaming strategies might benefit me in class, and that all I may have needed was a different way to look at and do something. Continue reading
I have been working as a content developer at DePaul for nearly 5 years. In these 5 years, I have heard rumblings about Quality Matters and Quality Matters Reviews, but never really understood what “QM’ing” a course really meant. When asked what I would like to focus on for professional development, becoming a certified peer reviewer was the first thing that popped in my head. I have quality assured many courses and wondered, “how much different is that from doing a quality matters review?” I was in for an awakening.
More than 100 million views in less than 48 hours! This is the growing count of viewing record of Under the Dome, a documentary on air pollution in China, which aired online on Feb 27th. It was produced by renowned investigative journalist Chai Jing, who used her own money—more than $156,000—to fund the production.
After watching this one-hour-and-forty-minute-long recording, I felt that calling it a documentary was overrated. This “recording” does not possess any signs of cinematography–no visual effects, no theme music, and no artistic post production. It’s merely a TED talk with a lecturer in the front and a PowerPoint presentation displayed in the background—in short, a recording of a lecture.
From the instructional design perspective, both methods–the long lecture and the PowerPoint–are not innovative. Yet, I found myself captivated by this presentation not only because of the sensitivity of the topic and the charisma of the speaker, but also by the “ways” that the “instruction” was designed. I call it “instruction” because the producer declared three very clear educational goals at the beginning. Chai Jing’s goals were to educate her audience on the following: 1. What is smog? 2. What caused it? 3. How do we deal with it? From constructing fundamental knowledge, to calling for specific actions, this recording addressed all learning objective levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy: Continue reading
It isn’t uncommon for a lot of time to pass between when you’re trained to teach online and when your online class is actually ready to run–after all, you have to develop the course, a process for which we at DePaul budget two academic quarters. That’s a lot of time thinking about building an online class that you’re not spending thinking about best practices for actually delivering the online class. Here are some tips and reminders for keeping your course running smoothly when you’re ready to deliver it.
Before the term starts—touching base with your students
You should send an email to your students two to three weeks before the start of the quarter. Here are some points to cover:
- Make sure students know they’re enrolled in an online class – This sounds silly, but some students miss that little piece of information in the enrollment system.
- Reenforce that online classes take work – Some students take online classes because they think it will be easy or in addition to a full schedule of face-to-face courses. Let them know that online classes take time and self-discipline.
- Inform them of technology requirements, textbooks, and other required materials – Give students ample time to make sure they meet the course technical requirements and purchase textbooks, etc. This will help them hit the ground running in the first week.
- Let them know when the course site will be available – Your students will worry that they’re missing something if they don’t see the course site in the learning management system. Let them know when it will be available.
Threaded discussions have been part of the online course framework for decades. There are a number of advantages to online discussions for students that differ from in-person. Unlike a face-to-face course, many faculty note that in an online discussion, each student is tasked with responding to a prompt thus providing more individualized instruction. It’s much easier for an introverted student to avoid raising his or her hand in class.
If the online modality creates opportunities to engage students that may not otherwise volunteer to talk in class, how can we capitalize on this?
I took my first hybrid course during graduate school in 2002 via Blackboard. I recall threaded discussions being a large component of the activities that we engaged in weekly. Fast forward present day, much of the pedagogy in terms of the structure of discussion guidelines, prompts, and rubrics have not changed significantly. What remains constant in many asynchronous discussions is the idea of a student posting a response to a discussion prompt, and then responding to 1-2 peers’ responses.
Don’t get me wrong, there can be a rich exchange between students with this type of discussion design, but I would argue that there are more effective strategies to facilitate and encourage critical thinking. Continue reading
Teaching online is always a moving target. If a particular technique or tool worked well in one class, it doesn’t mean it will work well in the next. Technology, student needs, and course materials change often, sometimes incrementally and other times in leaps and bounds. Also, it seems that the more technology evolves, the expectations of students grow as well. Oftentimes, we can get swept up in the magic of a new tech toy and forget to determine if and how it will actually benefit students.
Dr. Ruben Puentedura, former faculty at Harvard and Bennington College, and the founder of Hippasus, an educational consulting firm, introduced a model called SAMR to describe the path technology adopters often take as they develop their strategies in teaching and learning with technology over time. SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition. The model looks like this:
Which was worse: seeing the message above, informing you of your Oregon Trail traveling avatar’s imminent demise, or shooting a buffalo, only to realize you had no room for additional meat in your wagon?
The question might sound facetious, but I’m not asking it in a joking manner. When playing Oregon Trail, you had to make decisions with consequences: ford the river or pay for a ferry? Buy bullets and waste days hunting, or live more frugally? Go to the fort or to the Green River? Each time you played the game, you likely made different choices to evaluate the outcome, including a round where you set a grueling pace with no food and let the characters (who you may or may not have named after your siblings) die.
One of my favorite websites, Grantland.com, recently hipped me to a subgenre of video game writing: walkthrough/review hybrids of obscure DOS games. I spent many childhood hours playing the Hugo’s House of Horrors series, and reading these pieces prompted me to think about the term “gamification” differently. Continue reading
Before I enter the classroom each quarter (sometimes virtually), I always wonder about what my class looks like. Sometimes there are more women than men, sometimes it is a very diverse group, sometimes there are adult students, but one thing is certain, every year the incoming freshmen look younger and younger. Certainly, this is not because of my own advancing age, but seeing their youthful faces embarking on a new journey in today’s technological age, leaves me with the question, “what do they look like technically?” As more and more of our courses rely on online components, you have to ask yourself, “are our students prepared to deal with the challenges of D2L, online quizzes, and video captured lectures?”
Every year, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA conducts a nationwide study of incoming college freshmen. The study conducted by UCLA  includes survey responses from almost 166,000 freshmen representing 234 institutions. For the first time in 2013, the survey added two questions about the respondents’ use of Open Educational Resources (OER) such as Khan Academy, MIT’s OpenCourseware and other MOOC’s. These two questions were in addition to the recurring questions about using the Internet for research, social media use, video games. So, what does the incoming freshman class look like technically? How prepared are they to use the online tools? I found some of the results quite surprising. Continue reading
I took my first online course in 2004 while pursuing my MFA. It seemed like a novel idea at the time, and I had no clue I’d be spending the next ten years up to my eyeballs in online courses. Since then, I’ve helped faculty design dozens of online and hybrid courses, taught several of my own, and evaluated online courses and professional development programs from a variety institutions.
Over the years, I’ve seen certain design issues surface again and again. I had hoped to stockpile 95 of these “course design sins,” then nail them to a door in a Martin Luther-esque call for reform. That vision was later revised as I realized (A) 95 is a lot of sins to identify and (B) Martin Luther didn’t have to compete with the latest Buzzfeed list of 15 dogs wearing tiny hats.
In light of those realizations, I’d like to share with you my top seven course design sins, along with practical tips for atonement. Continue reading
The Computing and Digital Media (CDM) [School of Computing Research Colloquium] recently hosted Dr. James C. Lester of North Carolina State University, who spoke about what I believe will be the future of online learning, and probably learning in general: “Narrative-Centered Learning Environments.”
Here’s the abstract:
The long-term goal of the intelligent tutoring systems community is to create adaptive learning technologies that bring about fundamental improvements in education. For the past several years our lab has been investigating a family of intelligent tutoring systems that have a dual focus on learning effectiveness and student engagement: narrative-centered learning environments. Narrative-centered learning environments integrate the inferential capabilities of intelligent tutoring systems with the rich gameplay supported by commercial game engines. In this talk we will introduce the principles motivating the design of narrative-centered learning environments, describe their roots in interactive narrative, explore the role of computational models of affect recognition and affect expression in their interactions, and discuss their cognitive and affective impact on students through empirical studies conducted in public school systems.
The abstract sounds promising, and I can attest the presentation was truly stunning. Continue reading