Download Conversation #49

Robert Duke

A conversation with Dr. Robert Duke of UT-Austin, on optimizing student learning.

Links for this episode:

...continue reading "Conversation #49: Robert Duke on Optimizing Student Learning"

1

By Jay Todd

Photo of a parking meter that says, FAIL, instead of 0.
"Parking Meter Fail" by Jeramey Jannene / CC BY 2.0

I'll be honest: I can't remember the last time I penalized a student for turning in a late assignment. I used to be very strict about this. I was taught, in fact, to be very strict about deadlines. Make your policy clear in your syllabus and never deviate from it, I was told. Don't let the students take advantage. So I used to deduct one letter grade for each day a major assignment was late. Small assignments couldn't be late at all.

At some point though, I started to wonder about the effectiveness of this approach. Mostly, I started to worry, as a writing teacher, that I was hindering good writing by making the deadline some important. A few times, because of my clearly stated policy, I had to give an A paper -- I mean a truly excellent paper -- a C, simply because it was late.

I still have a policy in my syllabus that says, clearly, that a deadline is a deadline, but I follow that up with a statement that says, "If you anticipate having difficulty meeting a deadline, please speak to me about it." Basically, to an astute reader, I'm negating my policy right there.

Ellen Boucher discusses this a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education: It's Time to Ditch Our Deadlines. Her new policy is that all assignments come with an automatic two-day grace period. If a student needs still more time, all that's required is a meeting. As a result, she says, she's seen higher quality work and less stress from her students. She makes a good argument, especially by focusing on how this helps under-prepared college students.

I should say though that so far, I've only taken this approach with big assignments -- essays and research papers. Daily homework, quizzes, and such still come with fairly rigid deadlines.

1

by Janice Florent

Sorry game board

Gamification is making a boring process interesting by using fun elements from games. Gamification is not the same as playing a game. Educators have been using gamification even before there was an official term for it.

Yu-kai Chou (2015) defines gamification as:

The craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to real-world or productive activities.

Why Use Gamification?

Clearly gamification is a motivation tool. So why would you take the time to set-up a gamification component to your courses? In an LearnDash blog post Justin Ferriman lists some benefits of gamification to consider. Those benefits are:

  • Provides Instant Feedback – learners instantly receive feedback on their understanding of the course content which in turn highlights what they need to spend more time reviewing.
  • Prompts Change in Behavior – Certain behaviors are reinforced by granting learners the ability to earn points and badges. This is even more true if these points and badges can be “cashed in” for something tangible or real.
  • Better Learning Experience – Gamification offers the opportunity for learners to engage with the content in various ways.
  • Safe To Fail – Gamification isn’t always about rewards but can also incorporate the “loss” of a reward. This makes it safe for people to fail and to learn from those mistakes.

What is considered as fun in games?

Winning or beating an opponent is an obvious answer. However, pleasure is also derived from activities such as:

  • problem-solving
  • exploring
  • creating
  • imagining
  • collecting
  • role-playing
  • collaborating
  • simply chilling out

What gaming elements can be used in the learning process?

Gamification strategies include elements such as gamifying grading, incentivizing students with rewards and adding competitive elements such as leaderboards. From the non-exhaustive list of gaming components and mechanics, here are a few from a Bright Classroom Ideas blog post by Savas Savides, which can be particularly useful to educators:

  • Narrative - Nothing can beat a well-told captivating story, whether you are a child or an adult. Text, audio, video, cartoon, they all have the same denominator: a storyline.
  • Progression - Learners need to know they are acquiring skills and getting better. Student portfolios and ‘can-do’ statements help them reflect on their own learning.
  • Challenges - Tasks should be easy enough to tackle, but hard enough to challenge and motivate. And, following the previous point on progression, they should have a gradually rising level of difficulty.
  • Competition - Motivates students to perform better. Through competition, students not only do what is required to accomplish the required goals, but also do the best they can do. Competition allows the students to come forward with better ideas and clearly highlight their skills in front of their teacher and classmates. Competition is closely linked to rewards.
  • Cooperation - Apart from competing against each other, students also like working together. Never miss an opportunity to form pairs or groups to work on a project. It is more fun than working alone.
  • Rewards - With tangible rewards there is always the danger that they may substitute for the intrinsic motivation. It is better to use intangible rewards (e.g. points). Remember that the game is ultimately its own reward.
  • Win States - When the outcome is a winner.
  • Achievements - Create tangible things that serve as proof of student achievement. They can be certificates, posters, photos, videos etc.
  • Badges - Another tangible proof of individual achievement. They can be stickers, stamps, even your own drawings on the board.
  • Leaderboards - A classification of all learners-participants according to their performance. A really powerful motivational tool.
  • Points - Instant intangible rewards that help create leaderboards.
  • Teams - Either working with each other in a team or cooperating to beat another team, students can overcome shyness and benefit immensely.

A well-designed gamified course can grab and keep students’ attention, improve students’ knowledge retention, and improve students’ overall success in the course. Gamification may not suit everyone. But for those who use it, the benefits of gamification can be substantial.