A quick search on the web for educational technology will turn up a long list of articles with titles like “10 best apps for the classroom”. While this information is useful, it does encourage inexperienced teachers to place the technology at the centre of their planning. Let me explain with a simple example.
In a staff meeting about 12 months ago a teacher at my school presented Kahoot.com to the staff. Teachers were impressed by this technology and they could see that it was fun and engaging. As a result classrooms all over the school started doing Kahoot quizes. Kahoot is a nice application and I am in no way critical of it. The point I want to make is that a well written Kahoot is a good educational exercise, while a badly written Kahoot is not. Kahoot.com might be fun (until the students get sick of it), but it is not inherently beneficial to educational outcomes. In the words we are hearing more and more lately, it is pedagogically neutral. (https://doncollegegrant.wordpress.com/2017/07/07/the-medium-is-the-pedagogy/)
In this example I sensed that the teachers liked Kahoot.com, and based on that made the decision to incorporate it into their lessons. In effect the technology was driving planning … and that worries me.
I work for the Tasmanian Government and the motto for our education system is “Learners First”. If technology is at the centre of our planning how is that putting learners first? Surely learners need to be at the centre of our planning. In a world, however, where most of the information we get about educational technology is presented by the developers and promoters of the technology, how do we ensure that the learners and pedagogy remain the driver?
I have written in the past about the learning design studio approach (https://doncollegegrant.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/design-for-learning-handsonict-mooc/). There are features in this approach which I believe ensure that learners and learning drive our planning. Two key elements in the learning design studio appraoch are establishing good learning intentions and writing student personas.
At an early stage in the learning design process it is important to establish what students will be learning. Good learning intentions have the following properties:
- They need to be clear.
- They need to be context free.
- They need to be true to the parent document.(curriculum and standards.)
As an example consider the learning intention “To be able to construct arguments for and against assisted suicide” 1
This appears at first sight to be a good learning intention, but it is too closely associated with an activity. The real learning intention, divorced from context, is “to be able to construct arguments for or against emotionally charged propositions.” For effective learning this intention should be applied in a range of contexts, such as abortion, assisted suicide, … After the learning intention is established the most suitable context(s) will be developed as the learning activity is designed.
This short video explores how learning intentions are developed, connected to the parent document and how they lead on to the next stages in the learning design process.
The key to putting the student at the centre is empathy. When we design our learning activity, we are designing it for the benefit of learners. In order to design effectively we need to have an appreciation of how those learners think and feel. In many design exercises the development of empathy involves research, but in our case we have familiarity with our students. All we need to do is spend some time documenting what we know.
A good way to document what we know about our students is to develop a persona. A persona is a description of a typical student in our class. (We may write more than one to accommodate differentiation).
Teachers know their students and tend to exercise empathy as an automatic process, but I think it is important to do this at a conscious level. Take the time to write about your students, record their likes dislikes and frustrations, their hopes and plans for the future, their weaknesses and strengths and their situation outside school.
Students at the Centre
Once we have clearly documented learning intentions and student personas we are in the position to begin to plan the learning activities. It is highly likely that those activities will involve some technology, but the use of technology will come out of an understanding of the the learning intentions and the students.
Technology will no longer be the driver. We will be putting learners first.
- D. Wiliam, S Leahy, “Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms”, Learning Sciences International, 2015 pg 35.
After the initial excitement about so-called “online learning” and “blended learning”, educators are now coming to the realization that these terms are essentially meaningless. There is just learning, and the delivery medium (online, blended or face-to-face) is pedagogically neutral. This is an important point because it puts the emphasis back on the pedagogy and away from the technology.
In saying that technology is pedagogically neutral it does not, however, follow that technology is unimportant. Technology increases the extraneous cognitive load for teachers and learners, at least in the short term, and this needs to be planned for and managed. Secondly, technology favours some pedagogies by making them more efficient and effective. This is the aspect I would like to explore further now.
So where are we currently at with online and blended delivery? Many (or perhaps most?) purely online courses and MOOCs are still based on a didactic pedagogy. These courses do provide administrative and delivery efficiencies. The use of multimedia and VR technology can also make delivery more engaging and effective. On the other hand, however, the lack of personal contact with a teacher probably reduces the depth of learning. It is also very difficult to establish an experience of “belonging” for the students, resulting in reduced intrinsic motivation and a high dropout rate. (See my previous posts on Self Determination Theory.) Blended delivery is an improvement, primarily because it is a technological augmentation of the classroom experience, and therefore retains some of the advantages of face-to-face and online delivery methods.
The purpose of this discussion, however, is to focus on pedagogy rather than delivery. Using a course I developed for my students as an example I would like to explore new pedagogies, which take advantage of new technology by moving away from the didactic approach.
I teach a design class and I wanted to develop an online course which would support the design projects that my students were working on. I called the course the “Design Canvas” and the aim was to provide scaffolding to guide students through the design process and complete their projects. The course provided students with autonomy, collective responsibility and support, and support for their competence. In this sense the Design Canvas is an application of Self Determination Theory.
The Design Canvas applies a pedagogy that is not easily applied in a traditional classroom. The pedagogy is based on a concept called ‘participatory pedagogy’, while the assessment is based on the principles of ‘assessment for learning’.
The Design Canvas was developed in a VLE package called “Canvas LMS” by Instructure. This was chosen as it has a powerful peer assessment feature, including rubrics. These are an import aspect of the pedagogy the Design Canvas was designed around.
In the Design Canvas students are provided with very little information. Instead they are guided through the stages in the design process:
- Design Brief
This is applied to a design project of their own choice. The course explains these stages in turn and provides scaffolding so they can move forward through their project to completion.
The Design Canvas is based on Participatory Pedagogy (PP).
PP uses a collaborative and reflective process to formalize knowledge. It aims to develop transformative learning (changes in how we know) rather than informative knowledge (changes in what we know).
Successful PP contains three main elements:
1. providing choice and flexibility in learning activities and assignment work.
2. navigating the balance between challenge and risk.
3. creating contexts for critical reflection.
Students will have had little experience in learning like this. Most of their experience will be with didactic learning. (Given information, learn information, reproduce information.)
Students familiar with the PP approach report that a teacher using the participatory pedagogy approach needs to exhibit a range of qualities (quote from reference):
- Be open to the interaction thereby enabling the students to have a voice.
- Be willing to commit to the style and be an active participant yourself.
- Have courage and be willing to go outside of your teaching safety zone into new unexplored domains.
- Be frank, up front with the format, and provide encouragement to the students so they feel supported during this new learning format.
- Plan learning based on student interests and choice, and do so by collaborating with and guiding learners as opposed to informing them.
- Create an atmosphere of learning where expectation of learner action is high and modify the activities/plans to meet their needs.
- Be open, willing, and supportive to students if you are trying creative adventures because it can be a risky thing for adult learners to engage in.
- Be very comfortable with awkward pauses and strange looks, and be willing to walk students through their discomfort.
- Be humble but have a good depth of experience, both human and professional.
To be successful, therefore, participatory pedagogy needs to be well supported by a mentor-style teacher who demonstrates these qualities.
Choice and Flexibility
In the Design Canvas students will choose the design task they wish to embrace. This provides for choice and flexibility. As a result:
- They will have ownership of the task
- The task is in a context they are interested in
- Within the design process they are able to work at their own pace
- Can go into as much depth as they wish.
- Assessment/success is based on reflection and collaboration rather than comparison with external standard
Other courses using PP will need to find their own way to provide for choice and flexibility, but allowing (or forcing) students to set their own goals or topics will be one way of doing that.
Challenge and Risk
In the Design Canvas students will set their design brief/task before they embark on the solution. This has inherent challenge and risk.
- Can the task be completed?
- Do they have the skills or ability to effect a solution?
- Resilience is needed to overcome problems and stalled development.
Students share their work for comment by others and comment on the work of others.
- This is a risk and a challenge for students.
- What do they say, how do they evaluate the work of others?
- This evaluation process is closer to that which they will face in the real world. Students need to feel comfortable with putting their work and opinions out there for others to see and comment on.
- Risk involved in not knowing what basis others will evaluate the work.
The higher the challenge the higher the risk. Structure is provided by the design process for managing the development of the solution to the design task. It provides an intellectual safety net to allow for a higher degree of risk than normally attempted.
A mentoring teacher also provides support managing challenge and risk.
Students share their work for comment by others and comment on the work of others. This is a powerful driver for critical reflection.
- What do they say, how do they evaluate the work of others?
- Is their work ready for criticism?
- How do they respond to the criticism?
- This evaluation process is closer to that which they will face in the real world.
This process is close to a ‘real world’ process and the structure encourages the students to reflect on their own work and provides the tools for them to do that. They begin to see their work through the eyes of others.
The use of the peer assessment features and rubrics in Canvas LMS are therefore central to this pedagogy.
Assessment for Learning
Assessment can be formative or summative (or even both). Formative assessment can best be defined as an assessment which moves learning forward, while summative assessment measures learning.
The assessment used in the Design Canvas is intended to be strongly formative and is developed from principles collectively referred to as “Assessment for Learning”.
When considering formative assessment we need to think about where the learner is going, where they are now and how they will get there. This needs to be considered along with the joint responsibilities of the teacher, peers and the learner.
Leahy et al.  uses this framework to identify 5 key strategies of formative assessment.
The teacher in traditional classrooms spends a significant amount of time on content delivery, lesson planning and assessment. When a course is delivered through a VLE these roles are filled by the VLE. As a result a teacher has more time to spend in a mentoring role.
The teacher/mentor does not need to be expert in design or the skills the students require, but they do need to fulfill some of the roles of the teacher in the formative assessment structure described above. The mentor is responsible for providing encouragement, support and advice. Clarifying the goals of the course and monitoring progress through the course. The mentor needs to be prepared to intervene as necessary to keep the learning moving forward.
The roles of peer and learner are also key in the Design Canvas. In a traditional classroom it is not easy to effectively activate peers and learners as owners and resources of learning. On the other hand educators agree that these are important steps towards students being independent learners and therefore life-long-learners. The Design Canvas makes use of the online forums and peer assessment throughout the course to activate students in this respect and it is important for the mentor to monitor this activity and intervene as needed to ensure that those processes are working effectively.
So what is the assessment for the Design Canvas? In a typical course there are defined outcomes which students are assessed against. But Wiliam and Leahy  point out that often specific learning outcomes cannot be identified, rather a horizon of outcomes exist and
“…sometimes it is appropriate to do things not because they are guaranteed to result in specific learning outcomes but because they are important experiences for students”
The Design Canvas fits into this category of learning experience. Every student will be working on something different and taking a slightly different path through the course. The value of the course is the experience of designing and collaborating, so success is measured in terms of the degree to which they have engaged in that process.
For this reason, while some teachers may decide to assess the final design, it is intended that assessment focuses on completion of the 5 modules and effective engagement with other students through the peer assessment process.
Through this discussion I have used a specific course as an example, but the principles can be applied to any online learning environment.
Technology provides for new and better ways of doing things, but in education many (most?) teaching is essentially the same process when moved online. This discussion is an attempt to describe a new pedagogy which takes advantage of the online environment.
 Leahy, S., Lyon, C., Thompson, M., & Wiliam, D., (2005). Classroom assessment: Minute-by-minute and day-by-day. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 18-24
 Wiliam, D., Leahy, S., (2015). Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical techniques for K-12 classrooms, pg. 29, Learning Sciences International, USA
I have been reading their blog with interest. The most recent entry is an analysis of the relationship between technology and pedagogy. There is a lot in that post, and I encourage you to read it for yourself, but a key point is that technology is educationally neutral.
…there ought to be and will be no difference between pedagogy in online learning, blended and face-to-face learning.
In simple terms it is not the tools we use, it is the way we teach that matters.
I agree with this 100%. It is obvious that sitting students in front of computers to work doesn’t automatically improve the learning. I am not sure, however, that technology is totally neutral.
To start with I want you to consider this image as a metaphor for educational technology.
Horses are an effective, if rather out of date, form of transport. Cars are also an effective form of transport. Combining these, however, doesn’t necessarily give us the best of both worlds.
In a simular way face-to-face teaching has advantages and limitations. Online learning has another set of limitations and advantages. If we take our face-to-face learning program (assignments, activities etc.) and simply move them online, we may end up with something good, but we are also likely to end up with all the limitations of both contexts and none of the advantages. In other words a car being pulled by a horse.
To avoid the “horse and car” situation we need to design our educational activities with the technology in mind. If we do that effectively we can ensure that in applying technology to our educational program we will maximise the advantages. The technology based learning will be an improvement.
Looking at this from another direction. In the 1960’s Marshall McLuhan famously said
The medium is the message.
By this he meant that the medium provides a context which influences how the message is received.
In education examples of media are face-to-face, online, blended, etc., and the medium used to deliver the learning shapes the way the learning is received. So we need to consider the medium when we plan educational programs to ensure they are well received (effective). Technology (the medium) is not totally neutral.
Design for Technology
Putting this philosophy into practice involves redesigning educational programs with the technology based medium as a consideration. There are several design frameworks which could be used, but I would suggest the Learning Design Studio as the basis for a process which could be used to design for technology.
EdTech is not a pedagogy and we need to stop talking about ‘blended learning pedagogy’, ‘online learning pedagogy’ etc. as if they were specific ways of teaching.
On the other hand technology provides new media for delivering educational programs that colour the way students receive the learning . We need to design learning ecologies which take full advantage of the new media.
We are still working that out.
Having spent some time discussing Gamfulness, and its basis in Self Determination Theory, the obvious question is how can this be applied in a classroom?
I have a group of students working on a project based activity where I have applied these ideas. The course is based on a curriculum called Project Implementation. You will find the curriculum document at: http://www.tasc.tas.gov.au/4DCGI/_WWW_doc/166689/RND01/PRJ205113_V1a_update.pdf
This short video presentation describes the course.
Having spent some time learning about Gameful Learning, I am looking forward to investigating the practical aspects. What can we do in our classrooms to implement a Gameful Learning Ecology?
New Generation VLEs
Virtual learning environments have a reputation for being at the educational cutting edge. When we look at them closely, however, it becomes clear that in general they are designed for a largely didactic pedagogy. It seems that most online learning environments are simply attempts to replicate familiar teaching practice online. While this might support a smooth transition to online learning for teachers, it seems to me that this is a missed opportunity. The introduction of online learning should be disruptive enough to trigger a rethink in teaching and learning.
I am reminded here of a story from my childhood. A man was labouring to cut wood for his fire with a old hand saw. In frustration he went to the hardware store for a replacement saw but the shop assistant suggested he buy a chainsaw. The assistant assured the man that he wold cut 10 times as much wood with this chainsaw, without raising a sweat. The woodcutter went home with the new chainsaw, but he found it no help. In fact it was harder work and slower than the old saw. He returned to the shop to complain that the new chainsaw was no good. The shop assistant was confuse, so he pulled the chord and the engine roared to life. The woodcutter jumped in surprise, “What’s that noise!!” he said.
The moral of that story, of course, is that new tools generally mean changes in the way we do things. If we keep trying to use the old skill set we get no benefit from new tools. This has never been truer that it is with ICT. Unless we rethink teaching and learning we risk getting all of the disadvantages of technology and none of the advantages.
Fortunately we are seeing a new generation of learning software which is based on new pedagogies, designed for the new communications technology. One such package is GradeCraft.
I mention GradeCraft because it was designed specifically to support Gameful Learning. I looked at GradeCraft to better understand how Gameful Learning looks in practice.
Readers will find the paper “Designing a Game-Inspired Learning Management System” by Caitlin Holman, Stephen Aguilar and Barry Fishman, University of Michigan provides a useful overview of the GradeCraft software design process.
Gameful Learning in GradeCraft
Quoting from Holman, Aguilar and Fishman , the following Gameful Learning ideas have been built into GradeCraft:
- using points and incremental levels instead of grades
- awarding badges to recognize achievements and skill-acquisition
- allowing students to redo assignments as many times as necessary to succeed
- giving students the ability to decide the types of assignments they would attempt
- allowing students to determine how much assignments would count towards their final grade
- having students work together in both self-selected and pre-arranged groups on larger, sometimes competitive, challenges
- sharing earned skills amongst students
- requiring the completion of specific assignments and tasks in order to ‘unlock’ other challenges
- and displaying generalized information regarding classmates’ performance.
It is easy to see how these techniques cover the 3 key principles: competence; autonomy; and belongingness. It is also obvious that attempting to implement all these teaching methods in a traditional classroom, and without the support of technology, would be very difficult. In that respect GradeCraft is realizing the promise of new teaching technology, in that it makes possible a new and better learning ecology, rather than replicating didactic teaching online.
Moving forward from here
In implementing Gameful Learning, one of my early tasks should be a controlled rollout of GradeCraft. Unfortunately I work in a public (government run) secondary college and I don’t have that level of autonomy. In order to move forward I will now investigate how, and to what extent, gameful principles can be applied within the infrastructure I am provided. In simple terms how can I move my current learning ecology, with a number of constraints, in a gameful direction?
I am encouraged by the fact the some gamefulness is better than none and these principles were developed and tested before GradeCraft was written.
Gameful vs. Gamification
When a discussion of Gameful Learning starts anyone with knowledge of Gamification immediately thinks, how does Gamefulness compare to Gamification? Do we need a new term? I had some discussion of this on the ‘back channel’ and I think the best explanation was tweeted by Evan Straub at University of Michigan
So Gamification is about running a learning program as a type of game, while Gamefulness is about applying what we know about the underlying psychology and theory of games to make our learning activities more effective.
Barry Fishman’s analysis of successful games identified 10 attributes, which simplified down to giving a sense of competence, of belonging, and of autonomy or agency. It is likely that building these into learning programs will result in more engaging and effective learning. That, however, is quite a leap. As educators we need research and a theoretical basis for making that assertion.
Theories of motivation
What is it about games that makes them so engaging and effective as learning environments? A study of motivational theory provides the answers. Two key theories discussed in the MOOC are Achievement Goal Theory and Self Determination Theory.
Achievement Goal Theory identifies Mastery Orientation and Performance Orientations. Mastery is the most powerful orientation for learning, and is associated with intrinsic motivation. Performance orientation is when a learner associates with the achievement norms of their peers, either to compete or to avoid looking deficient. Performance orientations are linked to extrinsic motivation.
Self Determination Theory describes the conditions under which intrinsic motivation is fostered. SDT identifies three key precursors to intrinsic motivation. All of which are the bases for effective game play.
So when students experience competence, belongingness and autonomy in their learning activities, intrinsic motivation and therefore mastery orientation is facilitated. That, in a nutshell is the basis for Gameful Learning as I see it.
The question is, what practical things can we do in our classrooms to facilitate belongingness, autonomy and competence? A team at University of Michigan have developed a learning management system called GradeCraft, which incorporates these ideas. The next step for me is to leave the MOOC for a while and spend some time investigating GradeCraft.
Caitlin Holman is one of the creators of a LMS called Gradecraft. Gradecraft is especially designed to incorporates Gameful Learning techniques.
This clip is Caitlin talking about Gameful Learning.
As promised in my last post, we are moving on to talk about Grit.
What is grit?
It is easy to see Grit as analogous to determination and hard work, but Angela defines it more positively as perseverance and passion. So Grit is not only something we draw on to overcome setbacks, it drives us forward all the time. Grit underpins our capacity to step out and take risks, learning from failure. As such grit is closely associated with intrinsic motivation and a Mastery Orientation.
How do we foster Grit?
It is therefore obvious that Grit has a positive impact on learning, but how can a teacher encourage the development of grit in their students? The secret is obvious when we study the relationship between grit and motivation.
Giving learners agency encourages intrinsic motivation, resulting in the development of passion or Grit.
A learning environment characterised by high challenge and high support is also conducive to developing Grit. Challenge and support was discussed at length in the interview, but put succinctly students that are challenged and supported feel a sense of belonging and competence.
In other words the three components of Self Determination Theory are integral to fostering grit in students.
Grit is an attribute which facilitates learning, and is itself closely aligned with the principles of Self Determination Theory. Grit is also connected with the Mastery Orientation in Achievement Goal Theory. Grit ties together what we have learned in our study of motivational theories and connects those theories with effective learning.
SDT has three components:
Traditional classroom teaching provides little autonomy to students. In general students do what the teacher wants them to do at the time they want them to do it. SDT tells us that students will be more highly motivated and successful if they have a higher degree of agency. Gameful learning does not mean that students do anything they want, but it does mean that students are able to choose between a curated range of pathways to the learning outcomes. They may also be given some agency in how they demonstrate their learning.
While teachers typically teach to an average student, there is actually no such student in the class. Every student will differ around the average. Autonomy provides for a natural differentiation of learning based on individual differences.
The second element of SDT is belonging. Outside formal education learning is a social activity. Generally it happens in clubs and societies or at the workplace. Classrooms on the other hand are often set up to minimize or constrain social interaction. In addition assessment regimes are often competitive, setting individuals in competition with one another. Competition used in the correct way is a motivating influence, but competition that isolates is not. Gameful learning provides for constructive social interaction to support and motivate students.
The third and final element of self determination theory is competence. There are two key aspects in developing a sense of competence in students. Firstly, instead of marking from 100% down, always start at 0% and build up. In practical terms this means that students should understand that the teacher is giving credit for what they do know rather than looking for what they don’t know.
A good example of this is the way most students approach tests and exams. These are stressful and the students usually assume that the test is something they need to beat. It is there to try to make them look incompetent. Their fear of failure encourages them to approach a test with a performance orientation. A more productive way to approach an assessment is to see it as a way to demonstrate what they have learned.
Providing students with a competence based approach involves giving achievable challenges where everything is seen as progress towards a goal. Gameful learning always provides for recovery from failure so that failure is always progress towards success. In fact if there is no failure then most likely the challenge is too easy.
Self determination theory, when properly developed, is very supportive of intrinsic motivation. When students do not have autonomy, belonging and a sense of competence, then teachers have to resort to a higher level of extrinsic motivation.
In summary I will relate an anecdote. A student of mine explained recently that he had not been allowed to attend the school celebration dinner last year (i.e. ‘prom’ for my USA readers) because he had not completed assignment work. This illustrates clearly the relationship between self determination theory and motivation. That institution was relying on a high level of extrinsic motivation (which obviously didn’t work) and in doing so was actively undermining the autonomy, belonging and sense of competence of students. An approach based on SDT would support more intrinsic motivation to complete assignment work. The school would then be able to rely less on extrinsic motivation and let all their students celebrate their success.
Next topic is “Grit”. I can’t wait.
A “flow state” is when a person is being carried along with a task. Many of us experience a type of flow state when we are immersed in a computer game. In the classroom productive flow is that magic time when a student is fully engaged in an activity. It is when learning is most effective. As educators it is what we strive for, but what can we do to facilitate a flow state?
There are, in my opinion, a number of things which contribute to achieving a flow state. Many are not controllable by the teacher, but one important contributor is. Achieving flow is heavily influenced by the level of challenge presented by the learning task. To illustrate this we will return to considering computer games. If a computer game is too easy a gamer will quickly lose interest, similarly if a game is too difficult a gamer will become frustrated with the lack of progress. When the game offers a challenge at the correct level a gamer will experience a flow state. Computer games are carefully designed to increment difficulty as a gamer progresses up through levels, to keep the gamer engaged.
Applying this to the classroom, students will be most likely to enter a flow state when the challenge provided is high enough to engage, but not so high as to frustrate. It is here that we can see a connection between Gameful Learning Design and the familiar Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development In other words students will be more motivated and enter a flow state when the challenge applied is just outside what the students can do without extra thought and support. Gamful Learning Design provides an environment where students are constantly “leveling up” as in a computer game.