By Mary Patterson
At the Games+ Learning + Society 2015 conference held in Madison, Wisconsin, the question was posed, “How many of you are gamers?” I looked around confused. I didn’t notice any rumpled, thirteen year old boys who looked like they just crawled up the basement stairs. And yet, nearly every hand but mine went up. The speaker then asked, “How many of you have a game you play on your phone when you’re bored, or waiting in line? How many of you get together with friends to play cards, or dominoes?” My hand shot up and my mind was blown - I am a gamer!
In today’s society, we often think of gaming and gamers as those so engrossed in different worlds that they often leave the real one behind. However, in the United States (U.S.), 91% of children between the age of two and seventeen play video games (NPD Group, 2011) and a nationally representative study of U.S. teenagers found that up to 99% of boys and 94% of girls play these games (Lenhart, Kahne, Middaugh, Macgill, Evans, & Vitak, 2008)
So, why do we play games? We play games because they are fun! Should school be fun?
Perhaps the right question to ask is why shouldn’t schools be fun? Advantages of game play in schools are numerous:
In fact, respected researcher James Paul Gee, in his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy looks at major cognitive activities including how individuals develop a sense of identity, how we grasp meaning, how we evaluate and follow a command, pick a role model, and perceive the world. He believes the 36 principles of learning in video games are the better principles of learning upon which we need to model our schools.
Games have long had a place in classrooms. How many of you remember a game center in a corner of the room for when you completed your other school work? How many of you remember making those file-folder games to demonstrate that you learned a particular concept? Then why does there seem to be a reluctance to infuse games into today’s education?
Schools today have become a very serious endeavor with some very high stakes for both student and teacher accountability. There’s a laser focus on teaching and testing specific standards. But to me, this is where the advances in learning analytics and technology can provide teachers with robust evidence of learning. As game developers work more with learning scientists to develop effective educational games, we can use analytics to understand our learners.
Another barrier for using serious games in education is the timetable that runs our schools. Many serious games don’t easily fit into a 45 minute time block. How can schools transform traditional bell schedules? My daughter’s high school is experimenting with a block schedule similar to colleges. Perhaps this is a step in the right direction.
Educators also state that a lack of an industry standard for a rating of educational on games makes them less likely to recommend a game for the classroom. This topic was addressed by game developers themselves at the conference. Many expressed disdain for games that are marketed as educational with no real basis for claiming that label and there were vows to make changes
During a session on “Lessons Learned from Working with Educators,” the researchers stated that educators know what they want, but don’t know how to get it and developers don’t know how to engage with teachers. They suggested that teachers need a common language around games, they need administrator support, and they need to reach students across disciplines. Related to professional development, the researchers state that teachers need to experience the games first-hand in the way they will present them to their students. They need to learn by doing and they need access to resources; not a 45 minute lesson on how to play the game.
Finally, perceptions of game play need to be addressed. The idea of games in education should not be as another “add-on,” but as a pedagogy. Many of the participants in the GLS 11 Conference spoke of the social consciousness of games and how they connect people, spaces and opportunities. The winner of the Speed Run game was a serious, historical game, Czechoslovakia 38-39: Assassination by the team at AMIS. Trailer:
How do we persuade the public that kids playing games constitutes 'real' learning?
I left this conference with a new perspective on gaming and education. Games in learning can be so much more than that little table in the corner of the room. The latest game-based learning research white paper from Project Tomorrow entitled, “Digital Teachers, Digital Principals: Transforming the Ways We Engage Students” takes a closer look at how to enhance teacher effectiveness in integrating technology and 21st century skills into curriculum.
Dr. Jodi Asbell-Clarke Director, EdGE at TERC summed it up well, "We're not trying to turn your students into gamers, we're trying to turn your gamers into students."
Educators, how have YOU infused games in education? What’s worked, and what changes would like to see? If you could design the ideal game, what would it be?
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By Mary Patterson
Personalizing learning is not a new idea; teachers have sought to design meaningful instruction to meet individual student needs for decades.
According to Susan D. Patrick, the executive director of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Vienna, Va., personalized learning in today's schools essentially amounts to the "differentiation" of lessons for students of different skill levels, or efforts to help students move at their own pace. But she adds, personalized learning must also promote "student agency"—basically, giving students more power through either digital tools or other means, accounting for how they learn best, what motivates them, and their academic goals. The most effective digital tools support that purpose, she said. "Technology can help provide students with more choices on how they're going to learn a lesson," Ms. Patrick said. "[It] empowers teachers in personalizing learning" and "empowers students through their own exercise of choice. (Education Week 10/20/14)
As an elementary school student in the late ‘70’s. I participated in the SRA Reading Laboratory. It was personalized and individualized. I read stories interesting to me, practiced skills, took assessments and progressed at my own pace. Did I become more aware of my learning progress? Did my teacher?
Probably, not. To me, it was just a series of tasks to be completed in the classroom. Most of the assessments were either self-graded or peer graded and self-reported to the teacher. Today, SRA Reading lab still exists, but in a digital format. Instead of turning in a paper with answers to assessments, a click on the computer records student responses and aggregates data into a teacher dashboard.
So, is it this idea of using learning analytics in a teacher dashboard that holds the most promise for the K-12 space? Perhaps. According to the 2011 Horizon report, the authors indicated that the greatest promise for learning analytics will be in differentiating instruction by helping to determine individual student needs.
In a recent Distinguished Lecture at the National Science Foundation, Candice Thille, the founding director of the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University and at Stanford University, a senior research fellow in the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University discussed how we make use of expertise from the learning sciences to produce high-quality learning environments and how studies of student use inform both the next iteration of the environment and the underlying learning theory .
Technology today, she asserts, affords us more than access/convenience, personalization/simulation and crowd-sourcing. The Open Learning Initiative uses student data for continuous feedback loops to students, instructors, course designers and learning science researchers. Results of a study done at Carnegie Mellon University indicate that students using the OLI Statistics course at Carnegie Mellon achieved the same or better learning outcomes as the students in the tradition course in half the time (Lovette, M., Meyer, O., & Thille, C., 2008) .
This sounds great, but how will this translate to the K-12 space? Can it? Is this an answer to personalized learning? Will K-12 teachers twenty years from now assign courses to students for enrichment or remediation? Who will build these courses? As I look at this learning environment, I am skeptical.
On the student side, the current OLI platform encourages both academic and independent learners to participate. Students are introduced to a new concept, get the chance to apply what they’ve learned, receive immediate feedback and then are able to test their understanding. The activities and self-assessments, in combination with clear learning objectives, help students become aware of their learning progress. There is no instructor and no certificate or credit.
But what are the realities in a typical K-12 classroom? How does an educator craft personalized instruction for 30 to 150+ individual students, based on the data, during a forty-five minute planning period? Research has shown that adequate training, support, and time are critical components for teachers to successfully use data as a tool to guide classroom instruction and ultimately improve student achievement (Lachat & Smith, 2005; Wayman, 2005).
For a classroom teacher, another critical factor is how useful is the dashboard tool? Does the tool track data over time? For example, the data dashboard I use at the secondary level will only track students for a semester, even if it’s a year-long course. How robust is the infrastructure to run the software and have the traffic that’s desired? What are the implications of data privacy? Can teachers access data on past student performance without compromising privacy? How accurate is the perception of the data? Are multiple forms of data analyzed or just multiple-choice assessments? Does the tool assist teachers in planning for differentiation by suggesting groupings of students by mastery? What access, if any, will students have? What practices are best to teach students how to use data to guide their learning? If the time required to engage in data-driven instruction outweighs the instructional improvements, then teachers will resist (Wayman, 2005).
The question also remains as to who would create this adaptive, deep learning content with scaffolded instruction and feedback for the K-12 space? There are currently only twenty open courses available through the OLI platform. Building these courses is time and money intensive. The OLI is a grant-funded project in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University. Partners include, the National Science Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewitt Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, the Walter S. Johnson Foundation and the Spencer organization. Will public education ever have the substantial funding needed to replicate this endeavor?
There is no doubt that technology is influencing how we teach and how students learn. The Open Learning Initiative has demonstrated that it works for the motivated, independent college student who wants to advance or remediate their understanding, but I’m not sure that this particular model is easily transferable to the typical, American K-12 classroom. In a recent Washington Post article, “Blended learning: The great new thing or the great new hype?,” the author cites,” when looking for strong evidence of success around this strategy for K–12 students, very little “definitive evidence” or few significant results can be directly attributed to blended learning (Sparks 2015).” It is certain that more work in this area, as well as education policy, needs to be done.
Teachers, what are some challenges to personalized learning that YOU think researchers need to focus their efforts on? Let’s hear your thoughts on the topics of personalized learning, learning analytics and dashboards.
The CIRCLcenter.org can help you connect with a learning scientist researcher.
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By Mary Patterson
In June, I had the privilege of attending the International Computer Supported Collaborative Learning 2015 conference in Gothenburg, Sweden.
For four days, I was immersed in the latest research surrounding CSCL and surrounded by experts from 31 countries and 6 continents.
According to the preface to the proceedings, “The CSCL conference has an explicit focus on how and why computer support can enhance learning processes and outcomes. The CSCL field brings together researchers from cognitive science, educational research, psychology, computer science, artificial intelligence, information sciences, anthropology, sociology, neurosciences, and other fields to study learning in a wide variety of formal and informal contexts.”
As the sole, practicing K-12 educator of the group, it was quite interesting to be granted a look behind the curtain and hear the candid comments of researchers as they talked about educators in general.
While most researchers seemed genuinely appreciative of the teachers they collaborated with, there were a few who didn’t quite get the intricacies that teaching entails. One researcher expressed their frustration with a teacher who just didn’t see the importance of a treatment and non-treatment group. The teacher insisted that all students needed the treatment! Of course! Teachers have a duty and responsibility to provide the best education for their students. It would be extremely difficult for any teacher to see a positive effect and then deny it to other students. Perhaps the researcher could avoid this difficult situation by agreeing to flip groups at some point so that all students have an opportunity to experience the treatment. Teachers are held accountable today, more than ever, for the success of their students and researchers need to understand that.
In contrast to typical teacher conferences, where teachers attend in order gain new ideas and strategies that work in the classroom, this academic conference was an opportunity for researchers to share their success and failures, get ideas about further research and network with future collaborators. I was surprised at how easily methods and results were questioned, debated and evaluated. Researchers readily admitted when they didn’t have an answer and suggested further research questions to others. I would love to see more of this at a teacher’s conference. The international and interdisciplinary aspect of the conference also contributed to the collaborative atmosphere. Many teacher conferences are subject and even grade-level specific. Often, there are limited funds to support teacher attendance at conferences and therefore many teachers attend only local and regional conferences. I’d love to see what new ideas would come out of an interdisciplinary education conference! It was also interesting to note that the CSCL conference touted a new, interactive format. Instead of a typical paper presentation, participants listened to a quick synopsis of a paper, then sat in small groups to have discussions with the presenters while a moderator kept time and then had the groups rotate. Teacher conferences tend to be either “sit + get” or hands-on workshops where products are created. It would be interesting to see this interactive format at a teacher conference. I think there could be potential for some very rich conversations.
One area of the conference that I think could use the expertise of an educator is the Poster Session. Seriously! If any of my students put that much stuff on a poster that couldn’t be read from more than a foot away, we’d be having a serious discussion about design elements and graphic displays. While the posters were informative, I personally think that researchers could adopt the practice of, “Less is more!” Poster sessions at a teacher’s conference are usually on actual poster-boards, (not glossy, foam-core mounted displays) and there’s usually a take-away for the teacher; a bookmark or a handout that gives the teacher information they can use later.
Academic conferences are a great way to give people a quick look at what is hot in the field. Current research poses additional questions and this leads to new collaborations and discussions. Teacher conferences are a great way for teachers to share what works in their classrooms. Teachers leave a conference with new strategies and ideas that they can easily implement immediately. I would personally love to see more researchers attend a teacher’s conference and pitch their latest research proposal to teachers, shark tank style, in order to get valuable feedback about how best to implement their plan. Let’s work together to find the best solutions to our education challenges and questions.
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