GMO (game-manifested outcomes) Learning

Recently, for the GEDI course, I read a piece titled What Video Games Have to Teach US by James Paul Gee.  In the piece, Gee discusses video games and how they can be a useful tool for education.  As an recreational gamer myself, I completely agree that games can teach us many things. However, many people would disagree. This disagreement stems from numerous studies that claim video games cause a variety of negative effects including aggressive behavior, poor academic performance, and promotion of poor values. Now I’m not saying that video games are free of deleterious effects, but I do believe that they can prove useful in an educational context.

When comparing video game-based education to traditional classroom education, the first noticeable difference is the level of engagement each evokes. While teaching in a classroom, the educator is focused on engaging the class as a whole rather than engaging the individual students. This makes it easy for students to disconnect and fall behind. Video games engage the player individually, allowing the content to be disseminated in a manner that’s catered to the individual. Additionally, traditional classes can be overwhelming-the vast amounts of information students receive, generally over extended periods of time, make it difficult to absorb and retain . Video games  provide small amounts  of information in relevant stages. The information provided in video games is pertinent to the to the tasks at hand versus information gained in the classroom, which is often time not applicable in the students’ lives.

Another benefit to video games is that they scale the content  so that its appropriately challenging for the individual.  For example, players just starting out are given challenges that, though difficult, are still able to be accomplished at their skill level. As the player’s skills develop, the challenges become more complex. Coincidentally, many games involve what’s called a “boss level” where players face off with a leveled challenge that they must pass in order to progress forward. The “boss level” is meant to gauge how well a player’s skills have developed. If they have developed appropriately, the player is deemed worthy enough to move on to increasingly more difficult levels where their skills will be furthur developed. In a classroom education setting, the content is doled out based off a timeline. This leads to students falling behind and never fully developing the skills needed to succeed in the class.

One of the most beneficial aspects video game education offers that classroom education does is the opportunity to fail. If you fail in a video game, it’s not the end of the world. Yes it is frustrating, but the game model allows the player to go back and attempt to succeed again. Since games are set in increments (i.e. levels), players don’t have to return back to the very beginning of the game if the fail. Instead, they return to a checkpoint, or worst case the beginning of a level, to develop the essential skills needed to attempt the leveling up once again. If you fail in a class, the repercussions are pretty detrimental to making timely progress. Failing a class means the student has to take it again, starting the class over from the beginning regardless of if they simply failed to develop a skill taught toward the end of the class. This is incredibly frustrating for the student and can often deter them from retaking the class. Alternatively, players who need to replay a video game level are not deterred- they even exhibit increased motivation to continue playing and developing their skills.

So in my opinion, video games have a lot to offer in the way of education that traditional classroom teaching cannot. The development of education-based video games can provide opportunities for students to engage in learning more successfully that they otherwise would in a classroom setting. I encourage educators to assess these useful tools and attempt to apply them in their teaching practices.

What’s in a name?

When reading the materials for class this week, I began to ask myself “what sort of teacher am I”? Now, this isn’t a question I’ve ever sat and reflected upon before. I struggled to related the writings of Sarah Deel, Seymour Papert, and Shelli Fowler to my personal teaching persona because I never considered myself to have much experience teaching. By that, I mean I haven’t done much “traditional” teaching. The only “traditional” course I’ve ever taught  was a wines course just this past fall, and even then I wasn’t the main instructor. During my master’s program I taught  the odd lecture or seminars (related to extension activities) vs. regularly scheduled courses in a classroom. Additionally, I managed a lab where I taught undergraduate lab workers how to perform all lab activities and testing.

I guess I have yet to find my “teaching voice”. I do recognize that my “non-traditional” experiences are valuable, and there is much I can learn about myself from them. In fact, reflecting upon them has shed some light onto qualities I possess that will define my future teaching self. I think these qualities are best summed up by the fitting acronym E.L.I.Z.A.B.E.T.H. (aka my first name).

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Earnest– I’m not distracted by things unrelated to my goals. If my goal is to educated my students, you can guarantee it’ll happen.
Laudable– This applies not to myself, but how I respond to those I teach. I’m great at providing feedback, and praise those who show they are making progress and/or an effort.
Imperfect– I will never claim to be perfect, so I don’t expect my students to be perfect either. I readily admit when I make mistakes or don’t understand something, and would like for my students to feel comfortable doing the same.
Zealous– I’m very enthusiastic and passionate about food science. That passion shines though when I’m instructing, and hopefully will inspire my students to take interest in the subject.
Attentive– I put a lot of thought and attention into everything I do, which I like to think will translate into the attention I will give to helping my students learn.
Bold– Fearless and daring. That’s how I’ve been in pursuit of an education and that’s how I want my students to be in my class. I want them to step out of their comfort zone, and take on challenges to better themselves.
Empowered– The support I’ve had from several key educators throughout my career has given me the confidence to succeed academically. I will strive to help my students feel empowered so they will have the opportunity to  achieve their full potential just as I have.
Tenacious– To achieve your goals, academic or otherwise, you have to be tenacious. I have always exhibited determination in pursuit of my academic goals, even when faced with adversity. I hope my experiences enable me to relate to my students’ struggles, and assist me in helping them overcome any adversity they may face.
Harmonious– Years of life in academia have taught me one thing: you need to have balance in your life or you’re going to be miserable and never succeed. I want my teaching to be harmonious, offering options that balance the needs of my students with the goals of the course. I want them to feel they are learning something valuable from my teaching just as I hope I can learn something valuable from them. If mutual learning is happening, I’ll consider my teaching voice to be in perfect sync.

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Choose Your Own [Learning] Adventure

If you ask any educator to define their teaching style, you’re bound to receive a plethora of responses. It’s likely they will categorize their style as “traditional” or “contemporary”, and then proceed define it by the practices employed to engage students. There will be mention of in-person lectures, virtual classrooms, interactive modules or labs, and much, much more. The one commonality among all the elaborate explanations is that they will conclude the the exact same claim- that this particular method is the BEST. But for whom is it the best: the educator or the student? Would all students in a class agree with the educator’s teaching method?

The answer is no, they likely would not.

Just as there are a multitude of teaching methods, many learning styles have also been recognized. I did a little research, and found there are at least seven learning styles (visual, aural, verbal, physical, logical, social, solitary) that comprise an individual’s learning profile.  An individual’s preferred styles guide the way they learn, internally represent experiences, and how information is recalled. It seems logical to assume that no single teaching style can successfully or effectively engage every student to learn. So if there isn’t a “blanket” method, how is one educator expected to effectively engage a whole classroom!?

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Personally, I think educators will be able to engage more students with a hybrid style I like to call “Choose Your Own [Learning] Adventure”. The inspiration for this style comes from a game-book series I read during my youth titled Choose Your Own Adventure. Each adventure-based story was written in second-person, allowing the reader to assume control of decisions that impact the plot’s outcome. I believe that learning should be presented in a similar manner. Instead of the educator dictating a singular learning path, they should provide a variety of options and allow the student to dictate their own learning adventure. Educators can do this by providing materials/experiences geared towards engaging each of the seven learning styles. By doing so, students can select control their learning experience and dictate the own unique learning path.

choose3Now, do I believe the “Choose Your Own [Learning] Adventure” method will result in the success of every student? Absolutely not. Similar to the Choose Your Own Adventure books, not all learning paths lead to a “happy ending”. There is always risk involved when one assumes responsibility for their own outcomes. The path to learning is riddled with unforeseen pitfalls and booby traps that can fell many an adventurer. Still, I think such a method is an intriguing alternative that may provide [student] adventurers with the opportunity to actively engage in the learning experience. However, there will always exist a select group of adventurers who prefer to have a “guide” outline their path for them.

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Academic Responsibility-Who’s To Blame?

What exactly is academic responsibility and who does it pertain to? 

Every night when I get home from campus, I call my boyfriend (who lives in Miami, FL) to talk about how our respective days went. Now on Monday and Wednesday nights, this call occurs around 9pm when I get out of either my “Contemporary Pedagogy” (GEDI) or “Future Professoriate” class. Naturally, my side of the conversation always drifts towards the discussions that take place these nights. On one particular night, while working on a blog post for the GEDI course, I started asking him what he thought about academic responsibility.

Unlike myself, he is an undergraduate student (studying Sports Medicine at Florida International University), so I was curious to hear how his opinion  compared to my own as a graduate student. In his opinion, academic responsibility is “blown out of proportion” because “teachers are supposed teach material and students are supposed to learn it. It’s as simple as that”. Is academic responsibility really so simple?

Is the responsibility of an educator solely to disseminate information? Is it their job to ensure students are learning? Most of my elementary and high school classes involved teachers guiding us through material in our textbooks, writing key information on the chalkboard, asking us lots of questions we would raise our hands to answer, and administering homework/projects to ingrain the knowledge being taught into our brains. The university-level courses were similar, but involved much fewer assignments, more lecture, and a ton of power point presentations. At all these levels of education, knowledge was being disseminated. However, the level of effort elementary-level educators put into ensuring learning is vastly different than that of university educators. To me, this makes perfect sense-young children need more guidance and assistance while developing academic proficiency. Yet day after day I hear undergraduate complain that their professor “doesn’t do enough to help them learn”. When does the responsibility for learning transfer from the educator to the student? Is it ever shared? In my opinion, the academic responsibility of learning should fall directly on the student-especially when that student is an adult in college. Yes, the educator is responsible, but only for disseminating the appropriate knowledge. It’s up to the student to absorb and commit it to long-term memory.

What about academic institutions? What is there responsibility in all this? If you ask today’s generation of undergraduates about their grades, most will either

A) Attribute good grades to the personal blood, sweat, and tears they put into succeeding in the class.

or

B) Blame bad grades on their professor…and then on the academic institution for hiring such an unqualified person in the first place.

Are bad grades the fault of the educator or the university who hired them? To be honest, grades are awful. Sometimes they motivate students, and sometimes they discourage them. Personally, I feel the responsibility of grades is not directly the fault of the academic institution. If all students are doing terribly in a particular professor’s course, then yes, it is the institution’s responsibility to evaluate the efficacy of that professors teaching practices.  Ultimately, I think students (especially those in university studies) and educators share the responsibility for grades. The grading system, like most scales, is merely meant to be a tool to assess where an individual is “at” on a particular spectrum. Similar to the pain scales in hospital, grading can be useful in determining how well a student is learning. Unlike a hammer, these tools [scales] are meant to assess rather than fix. It is the students responsibility to recognize that bad grades indicate they need to do a better job learning and, if necessary, seek additional help. So…what’s the educators responsibility? Well, every tool is only as good as the quality of materials it is comprised of. If a tool is poorly constructed, how can we expect it to do it’s job properly? If the grading scale is a tool, then homework, quizzes, and tests are the components it’s comprised of. It is the responsibility of the educator to properly design their class so it consists of components that effectively represent the quality of learning that should be occurring.

Overall, I believe academic responsibility is shared between academic institutions, educators, and students. However, it is very complex and continually evolves along with the academic proficiency of the student. By the time that student is enrolling in university-level courses, they need to take responsibility for their own academic success.

Assessment: Providing Answers or Just More Questions?

Assessment has always and continues to play such an integral role in education. To educate is to not only disseminate information, but to ascertain if that knowledge has been absorbed and understood. I mean…what’s the point of teaching anything if it isn’t retained and used later? The present assessment system in place is the traditional grading scale. Students are given grades based off of their ability to “jump” through academic hoops (homework, quizzes, tests, etc.). Is this system truly effective? Does it give educators a full picture of that students academic comprehension?

In Alfie Kohn’s The Case Against Grades, the argument is made that grading is inherently problematic. Rather than motivating students to learn, it tends to have the opposite effect and can be rather discouraging. Kohn furthur argues that grading accurately quantify the quality of a student’s learning, nor does it reflect their true ability to achieve. To some extent, I agree with this. Not all students are the same, and the educational methods used to teach them aren’t equally effective for everyone. Some students will naturally do worse than other, which will be reflected in their grading assessment. Receiving a bad grade can prove very discouraging to students, especially for those whom this becomes a “norm”. However, a poor grade should not be treated as a point of shame. Rather, it can be a useful tool serving as a signal to educators that their teaching methods aren’t reaching particular students; educators can then reassess their approach and attempt to reach the student. Additionally, I will agree that grades are not reflective of achievement. Plenty of students are intelligent enough and capable of learning, but often that isn’t reflected by their grades. I recently went through a battery of tests to substantiate my ADHD diagnosis, and many of them were designed to assess my ability to achieve in certain areas (math, reading & language comprehension, writing, etc.). These tests revealed I was more than capable of achieving well in these areas, but by actual performance ability didn’t always match up.  I believe grades are the same way, a useful measurement of performance but a poor reflection of  achievement.

I want to go back to discussing  the topic of motivation. I loved the animated video The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink and how it illustrated motivation. The part I found most fascinating from this video was the depiction of the traditional motivational system- the tiered system where the largest rewards go to the top performers and the the lowest performers are not or minimally rewarded. Though studies have shown this system works when solely mechanical skills were involved in performance, it had the exact opposite effect when rudimentary cognitive skills were involved. Academic performance consists of the combination of mechanical and cognitive abilities. Based off Pink’s logic, a traditional tiered motivational system where the highest performers are rewarded and the lowest are not (i.e. grading) is not a wholly effective motivational system for student academic performance. Academic performance is not a simple straight-forward task; it’s incredibly complex and high-stakes rewards don’t effectively motivate the highest level of performance.

Now, do I have an answer on how to best motivate students to perform better academically? No, I do not. Will there ever be a conclusive answer to my previous question? I highly doubt it. What can we do to better assess academic performance and motivation to learn? My best guess would be to constantly investigate and reassess motivation as it evolves with the evolution of studentkind.