Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Game Dynamics

At the risk of sounding like a David Hopkins echo, he posted this really interesting clip on his blog recently. Game dynamics are something I haven't really thought much about, but this presentation certainly made me reflect on how I could apply it in my work building online learning for tertiary students. The clip is 20 minutes long (although I think, given the speed at which Priebatsch speaks, it should really be 30 minutes!) and the word-for-word transcript feels a little disjointed, so here's my summary of Priebatsch's main points.
Game dynamics – the motivations that keep people gaming - can be used to motivate study behaviours. Four game dynamics mentioned in his talk are:

1. The appointment dynamic – in order to succeed, players have to do a predefined thing at a pre-defined place. In real life, this is reflected in practices such as ‘happy hour’. Examples that can be seen in the gaming world include Farmville in Facebook – water your crops every few hours or they’ll wilt…
Using this dynamic to motivate student learning, we could award points for students completing certain formative activities within a certain time frame, or deduct points if they don’t.

2. Influence and status - the more points you get, the higher your status. Banks and airlines already use this by awarding ‘gold’ cards and platinum status to customers… the attached status means that more people want them. In online gaming, status allows you to go from this to this:

In schools, the same principles are applied at a very basic level, where your grades can go from an E to an A. According to Priebatsch, Princeton University is extending the gaming dynamic by offering opportunities to ‘level-up’, so if your grades are low, you can complete a series of quizzes which earn you experience points, allowing you to improve your grade level.
I guess we already use a basic version of this by using the Moodle quiz results block which displays the names of the students scoring highest (or lowest) on a particular quiz. We don't really provide level-up opportunities, and the implications for getting such an idea through all the curriculum approval hoops boggles the mind, but it is a really interesting (and student-centred) idea.
3. The progression dynamic – many games require you to move through a series of graded steps in order to make progress. When presented with a progress bar, people are driven to do what is needed to move the slider across from the left to the right. We could use the progress dynamic to drive students to certain activities in order to complete the progress slider and unlock rewards.
I have done this to some extent when using the Moodle lesson function, but I haven't attached any reward to completion other than personal satisfaction. It would be fun to create some sort of nurse-avatar who could earn equipment and move up levels as a result, wouldn't it!
4. Communal discovery – everyone has to work together to reap rewards. A real example of this was when the website Digg got going – Digg is a news website where people contribute the news stories. People could move up and down a leader board based on points readers awarded to the stories they posted. The gaming aspect of the leader board became so powerful that it overtook the purpose of the website. A group of seven at the top of the leader board joined together and worked to make sure that they remained at the top by closing out other people’s stories while recommending their own.
I guess this one is key, and it links to the FOC 2010 course by reinforcing the value of social networking and collaboration. We're still not doing this one particularly well, although we are getting better at it. Encouraging students to see the value of networking and collaboration is an ongoing project requiring constant reinforcement and modelling.

Game dynamics is definitely something I want to learn more about... I know from observing students engaging with Moodle for the first time, that the resources they access first and spend most time on are those that involve interaction and gaming, even if at the most basic level. Whilst I'm not an online gamer myself (give me a good book any time) I can see the power that gaming strategies could have to transform education.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Social networking

Another infographic this one by Jess3...

I was surprised to see that Skype is so much bigger than Facebook. People certainly are connecting.

Blogging is child's play...

Yesterday my family and I had dinner with friends. Andrea Bing is a primary school teacher, currently working with a small group of new entrants (5-year olds) at Manchester Street School here in Feilding. After supper, she showed me her classroom blog. Working as I do with tertiary students, it was refreshing to see what people do with social networking at the foundation level. Andrea's blog provides a wonderful way for parents to keep in touch with what their children are learning and doing at school, and it provides a great place for the children to display their achievements. I particularly liked the idea of students recording themselves reading and uploading the resulting MP3 files - what a wonderful way to motivate reluctant readers! Andrea has some lovely gadgets on the page, such as picture puzzles and scratch cards, which should keep young visitors well entertained! One I particularly like is the visitor location map (available from Cluster Maps) which I've added to my blog... imagine how exciting it would be for 5-year olds to see people from all over the world visiting their blog! It's a free geography lesson too!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Skype etiquette...skyptiquette?

David Hopkins' blog, Don't Waste Your Time, is one of my favourite resource-sharing blogs. His posts are always detailed, thoughtful and balanced, and he provides great links. He tends to deal with themes rather than having one-off posts. His latest post, on Skype etiquette, contains a link to a great video which will strike a chord with anyone who  has accidentally hit the enter button mid-message (watch below if you don't feel like clicking through to the blog itself).

The blog itself struck a chord with me because I haven't trained myself to ignore comfortably the skype ring, and I am occasionally ambushed online at an inappropriate time, such as during a training session, by a call from the other side of the world. And boy, are some people persistent! If only they'd get the message and hang up after 4 rings! My other issue with skype is to do with the webcam... we have it set up so that the kidlets can stay in touch with family and friends in South Africa, but I always find myself frantically checking what I (and the room behind me) look like before I hit answer!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

FOC 2010 Week 5 Reflection

As part of our 'homework' for the course, we are asked to write a reflection on what we have learned over the last 5 weeks, with the following questions as a guide.
  • What is online facilitation?
  • What skills do you need as an online facilitator?
  • How does a facilitator build an online community or network?
  • What are the key things to remember when facilitating an event, meeting or education course, especially when working with people who are new to online technology?
  • What is the difference between teaching and facilitation?

Some of these questions appear deceptively simple, but I think answering them is probably not easily done in a single blog post, so please forgive me if my responses seem a little superficial...!

My understanding of online facilitation has definitely evolved over the past weeks. At the start of this course I saw the role of the online facilitator as a simple one of preparing a course with online resources, and being available to students as they work through it. I have come to realise that the role is much more complex. It appears to me that the online facilitator weaves multiple roles, including teacher, technology advisor and community builder, together to create a flexible backdrop against which students can construct their own learning. To do this a facilitator needs to be a skilled juggler, crisis manager, multi-tasker and problem solver, unflappable under pressure, ready to step in at any time but confident enough to take a back seat to allow student-centred learning. As if this wasn't enough, an online facilitator probably needs to be a bit of a techie-junkie too, as clearly remaining up-to-date with the latest technologies will be key to successfully facilitating online.

Things to remember when facilitating? I think it would have to plan, plan, plan... and then have a back-up plan, just in case. I haven't actually facilitated a session yet, but my experiences of the elluminate classroom suggest that the sessions that appear most effortless and flow most smoothly are probably carefully planned and strategised beforehand. Being a newbie to any technology can be really intimidating, and so making sure that things run as smoothly as possible seems essential. Giving students time to practise using the technology in a 'safe' way, as Sarah did at the start of this course, was also really helpful. I also like the way that, throughout the course, facilitators have been comfortable admitting that they don't know it all... I think it's really reassuring to a student to see lecturers solving problems collaboratively and without flapping!

The differences between teaching and facilitation are probably more appropriate to a PhD thesis than a brief paragraph in a blog! In one respect, good teaching is facilitation, but the two are not interchangeable, are they? Facilitating implies that one is allowing students to create their own learning using their own pathways, whereas teaching seems more like the old, traditional chalk-and-talk, but it really is all just a matter of semantics. Or is it? Would an online facilitator always teach, or could they simply facilitate the teaching of others. And if so, does that not make them de facto teachers too? I'm looking forward to reading other posts on this topic.

The Value of a Social Media Fan….Priceless

This was tweeted on The Next Web today - a really interesting look at the commercial value of Facebook.

The Value of a Social Media Fan….Priceless

Using discussion forums

I've just caught up with Lorraine Mockford's discussion on facilitating asynchronous learning, which is part of the FOC2010 course. It was interesting to hear her describing her approach to discussion boards, and listening to the discussion helped crystalise some ideas that I have had floating around, but hadn't really tried to formalise.
  1. Lorraine talks about having a Week Zero, before the course actually gets going, in which students engage in a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities in order to facilitate the development of an online community within the group. During the week she does things like getting students to introduce themselves in a  forum post; provide a fact about themselves that she woudl be unlikely to know otherwise; post a favourite link or website, etc. These are all great ideas which would help students overcome their nervousness of posting to a public forum in a pretty non-threatening manner.
  2. Lorraine talks about the importance of the lecturer holding back. This makes sense - after all, one is trying to enable the students to develop a community amongst themselves, rather than a series of one-to-one relationships with the lecturer. I have to admit that I have a tendency, when students put up a technical query, to jump in with the solution as quickly as I can, but I think I need to step back and allow the students to help one another instead.
  3. She also sets up discussion boards before the course runs, and allocates a specific board to 'off-thread' discussions. This is a great idea as it provides a place for students to share ideas and ask questions without interrupting the flow of a particular discussion.
  4. Finally, Lorraine mentioned using rubrics to assess forum posts. This is something we are currently grappling with... assessing forums would make students more likely to post to them (or would it?) but then it does detract from the spontaneity and the community aspects of a discussion forum. I'd be really interested to know what other people think and do regarding this. Does anyone have examples of rubrics that they could share?

Improving e-learning

As part of my 'homework' for the FOC2010 course, I watched a presentation by Stephen Downes entitled Web 2.0 and Your Own Learning and Development. In it, he talks about 'guerilla tactics' for e-learning. I have read and listened to Stephen on a number of occasions and he never disappoints. This particular video lecture was especially interesting to me because we are grappling at the moment with ways in which to help students become better e-learners, and Stephen works through this so methodically and thoughtfully. Some of the points he makes are:
  • The importance of interaction and participation in a community. I have realised this myself in my engagement (or lack thereof) with the FOC sessions. Having human contact makes it so much easier to stay engaged and current. Watching recordings of the ellluminate sessions isn't nearly as satisfying as participating. I will be working on helping lecturers to find ways to maintain the human element when their students are engaged in working online.
  • Usability and simplicity. I got this wrong when I first started working on Moodle, and my Moodle pages were long and needed lots of scrolling. I've definitely improved in this respect, and the students have responded well to my new design. However, I still have some way to go. I design interactive learning objects using, primarily, Adobe Captivate. This produces a great finished product, BUT, we have had no end of trouble with students being unable to access them because of browser updates or uninstalled flash players. I think perhaps that I have become so caught up in the intellectual exercise of producing 'clever' learning objects that I have forgotten that most basic rule that 'form follows function'. I will definitely be revisiting this based on what I have learned about online learning.
  • Relevance. I'd like to think that all the learning we require of our students is 'relevant' to their desire to become nurses, but I have to wonder if we convey the relevance clearly and accurately enough. Would they engage more with the independent learning if we were better at convincing them of the relevance of it to their success? (Beyond the, 'it's in the exam approach'!)
I have embedded the presentation below as an aide-memoire to myself - I need to watch it regularly to help me stay focussed. It's 20min, but well worth the time.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Time's winged chariot

More than a week has past and I've fallen horribly behind with the Facilitating Online Course.. and it's going to get worse before it gets better. I'm learning to have a new respect for everyone out there who manages to juggle study, work and family life. I realised just how out of touch with FOC2010 I have become when I received an email today from a work colleague who sent me a link to a really interesting article called 15 practices to deepen human connection and engagement online. It's a great article, and it suggests some simple and practical ways to improve social engagement online. Turns out though that she got the link from a tweet from Sarah Stewart! And here I thought I'd be able to bring something new to the group when I finally managed to catch up! Just goes to show the efficacy of Twitter though!

I have been reading some of the blogs of other course participants. One member blogged about her first experiences of Second Life, which were fairly unpleasant. I had similar experiences when I first got into SL, encountering all sorts of funny-bunnies making all sorts of strange propositions. What struck me most though was the visceral nature of my reaction to these rather odd avatars... I actually felt panicky and anxious and found the experience quite upsetting. (A colleague sitting next to me even started whispering in case the avatar on the screen could hear her!) Reflecting on the experience made me realise exactly how powerful a tool Second Life can be for that very reason - if an encounter with an oddball avatar could make me react so strongly, the scope for semi-real-life Second-Life learning experiences would be huge. Although there has been little uptake of SL at my institution, for a number of different reasons, I do believe virtual worlds are a technology whose time has yet to come.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reflecting on facilitation skills

I have just been going through the assignments for the FOC2010. The video, Seven key skills of workshop facilitation, gives a really clear overview of some key skills. It also got me thinking about my own teaching. I realise that I relied heavily on body language when I was a teacher. Moving around the class; being a physical presence; creating and holding eye contact, all these were strategies that I used as part of classroom management.

What I am wondering is how one compensates for this when facilitating online? Does it become as intuitive as it does face-to-face? I imagine it must be much harder to get the feel of a bunch of voices, most of which belong to people one has never even met! I'm looking forward to trying out some online facilitation and getting the 'feel' for the virtual classroom.

On a completely different note, Heather Lamond, the librarian in charge of distance students at Massey University was at Ucol this morning, showing us some of the independent learning packages the Massey library staff have developed to assist students learning how to access information in the library databases, and so on. They work mainly in Captivate and Presenter, and they've produced some really useful, interactive stuff. Heather clearly ran a very well-organised and planned project to get these learning objects created, and it was good to hear her talking about how she went about things. She was also talking about the value of creating a virtual repository for learning objects, where these sorts of things could be stored, in an editable format, for people from other organisations to access and download.

I know many tertiary institutions are moving towards the Creative Commons approach and sharing materials, but wouldn't it be amazing if there were an organised library of these learning objects? A sort of one-stop-shop where materials developers went first, instead of reinventing wheels! The Open University, UK, is already doing something along these lines... check it out here.

Image downloaded from Sthacker's photostream,http://www.flickr.com/photos/sthacker/13622219/sizes/m/in/photostream/CC-BY-SA

Monday, August 2, 2010