Friday, July 11, 2014

Gamification and Outcomes-Based Grading in Teacher Education

In the fall semester, I will be teaching my first semester-long gamified course. Thankfully, I have a short summer session in which to experiment with some gamification techniques in order to make revisions for the fall semester. I'm sharing my ideas below in the hopes of getting feedback from you and possibly sparking an idea that could help transform teaching and learning in other classrooms. Below are items taken directly from my syllabus. Feel free to borrow and adapt these ideas for your own contexts.

This course was designed using a gamification approach, which refers to the use of game mechanics in non-game settings. Throughout the course, students will earn experience points (XPs) for completing tasks. As students earn XPs, these points will accumulate and enable students to earn badges to represent their learning. Upon completion of each quest, a badge will be awarded to each student. For each quest, three levels of badges are available: Explorer, Journeyman, and Master. These badges represent the amount of XPs earned by each student during a given quest. To earn a badge at a greater level of difficulty, students will have the opportunity to revise or repeat tasks.

Badges for Each Quest:

21-30 XPs = Master 
11-20 XPs = Journeyman 
0-10 XPs = Explorer 

Badge for Digital Citizenship Quest

Grading Scale for Determining Final Course Grade:

240-300 XPs = A 
180-239 XPs = B 
120-179 XPs = C 
60-119 XPs = D 
0-59 XPs = F

At the beginning of the semester, all students will complete a course pre-assessment. The purpose of the pre-assessment is to provide formative information to the students and the instructor regarding students’ previous learning experiences and areas of expertise. Experience points (XPs) may be earned through the pre-assessment, as students demonstrate mastery of concepts and tools. The instructor will determine the amount of XPs earned (if any) by a given student based on performance on the pre-assessment. Students will have the opportunity to apply XPs toward specific tasks within quests based on their pre-assessment performance.

Along with using gamification techniques, I have also transitioned all of my courses to an outcomes-based grading system. Canvas makes it easy to integrate outcomes-based grading into course assignments by giving instructors the option of using the Learning Mastery gradebook instead of a traditional gradebook. Assignments and rubrics are aligned with course learning outcomes. My students and I will be able to track progress toward course outcomes, and grades will be meaningful for both me and my students. Below are the learning outcomes for one of my courses in Canvas. 

Learning Mastery Gradebook in Canvas

I welcome your feedback on my first attempt at gamification and my shift toward outcomes-based grading. Feel free to leave a comment to let me know how you're using these methods in your courses.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

ISTE 2014 Day 4: Play as learning

This morning I participated in an interactive session about gaming in teacher education. During the session, I was able to download the software for the game, create an avatar, and play in an immersive classroom-based gaming experience for pre-service and new teachers. The game (Quest2Teach) places teachers in a virtual context and allows them to experience authentic challenges they will face in their future or current classrooms. In this immersive environment, teachers face multiple opportunities for real-world decision-making and receive immediate feedback on their choices and actions. The actions and choices made by gamers in Quest2Teach affect how the context responds to them. For example, the clothes chosen by the gamer when designing an avatar will later influence how students behave in the virtual classroom. Decisions about how much time to spend working on a lesson plan, how to respond to a specific student question, and how to respond to feedback from colleagues and supervisors alter the gaming experience and personalize the learning environment for the gamer.

The designers of Quest2Teach explained that immersive environments can help to bridge the gap between theory and coursework in a teacher education program and actual experience in a classroom. Before students are faced with classroom management challenges and critical feedback from a mentor teacher, for instance, immersive environments such as Quest2Teach can provide opportunities for pre-service teachers to face those challenges, take risks, and fail in a safe environment. Further, the immersive classroom helps gamers learn from their mistakes by providing feedback on their actions and teaching through that feedback.

While most pre-service teachers may not be gamers, experiences in immersive games can create a more interactive, authentic learning experience while preparing them for their real work as teachers. And gaming is just plain fun. If you don't believe me, just reflect on how many educators asked you for your networking game code this week.

Image from Quest2Teach gallery

Monday, June 30, 2014

ISTE 2014 Day 3: What should we be doing here?

Many educators are using approaches such as blended and flipped learning to maximize instructional time and increase opportunities for learners to interact with content, with the instructor, and with one another. At the heart of this movement is this question: What is the best use of classroom time? 

If you feel that students should be engaged with tackling authentic challenges during class time, collaborating with one another, and purposefully using available resources, then you may agree that technology can allow you to maximize learning opportunities by putting more static teaching and learning tasks online or moving them outside of the regular school day.

So what I'm wondering today is this: If we believe that student learning happens in interactive, collaborative, and authentic environments, why don't we apply that same thinking to professional learning? We are still learners, after all.

With the abundance of technology we have available for professional learning (just take a look around you at ISTE 2014), we have tremendous opportunities to put static professional learning tasks and resources online and make better use of the time we spend together.

This week, there are roughly 20,000 educators in one building with similar passions and purposes. How often does that happen? How are we using our time, and is that the best use of this time? I see many missed opportunities in the way we could be structuring our professional learning experiences and engaging with one another (here at ISTE 2014 and beyond the conference).

I've talked to several attendees throughout the conference about their best conference experiences, and most them have expressed that the interactive workshops, playgrounds, and poster sessions have been their most amazing learning experiences. Why? Because they were given opportunities to talk with other educators, explore resources, and apply ideas and resources to their own contexts. Kudos to presenters like the Iron Chef crew who are giving conference attendees opportunities to interact with each other and tackle difficult challenges.

P.S. I'm sitting in a lecture session right now as I write this post because I am completely checked out mentally. At ISTE 2015, I will be more purposeful about attending sessions that are explicitly interactive and authentic. I also hope that conference planners will design more opportunities for attendees to engage and play.