Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Goldilocks of Customized Learning

We all want customized learning environments.  Or, do we? Unlike Goldilocks, we may still be looking for our “just right” fit.

The concept of providing customization in games-based learning is universally well-received, but it has a few different meanings. Paul Anderson has an engaging TEDx clip advocating for student-customization allowing for self-paced, personalized learning for student. Vicky Davis (@CoolCatTecher) speaks to customization when she shares “game experiences where students create, innovate and problem solve engage pupils in the game and learning.”  These are “epic educational adventures. Gee shares a bolder goal of customization within games which allow “real intersections between the curriculum and the learner’s interests, desires, and styles.” (2005, p.35).

These three descriptions scaffold nicely into increasingly effective models for gbl.

  1. Anderson’s customization allows students to personalize learning in an environment until mastery is achieved. Failure is a part of the process and not discouraged. Many video game designs are built upon the paradigm. Our goal is to have teachers and developers create these progressions so that students can work through them at their own pace in a gamified environment.
  2. Davis’ model speaks to a more powerful form of open-ended customization. Minecraft is a great example that fits within this model.
  3. Gee’s customization model goes one step further as games which naturally integrate the curriculum and tap into a students’ interests while still allowing the higher-order skills of creating, innovating, and problem-solving.

All three are strong enhancements to traditional classrooms; all three allow for student customization in the learning. But it is somewhere between Davis and Gee where teacher-customization can become messy. In theory, it sounds like something we all want. Or, do we?

Davis’ models are wonderful examples of Problem-Based Learning. Teachers can and will continue to create these learning experiences. But for these environments to scale, we need developers like MineCraft and other gbl developers to continue their increased involvement in helping tie it to curricular goals. For as fantastic as Minecraft is as a PBL/GBL resource, it is not a natural extension (with a few exceptions) into the curriculum as Gee would advocate.  It’s as if we are saying: “Here’s an engaging, open-ending learning environment built upon PBL principles. Now, teachers, do your best to customize it to your curriculum.”  That can be a big ask.

There are some great examples of this happening. Here are two of the most common.
Allowing teacher customization is a double-edged sword.

Gillespie is using the open-ended nature of Minecraft as a replicator and model-maker for his students. It requires minimal teacher-customization geared toward content, but will be weighed by future educators with the never-ending “time vs. effectiveness” debate. For instance, making a poster of a virtual NC historical environment is likely quicker, but may not lead to the same level of student understanding.

Dan Bloom’s model aligns far more with Gee’s integration of curricular content. But it requires a much greater degree of teacher customization. In Bloom’s case, he was working within the innovative Quest To Learn School it was created in collaboration with a game-designer thanks to a partnership with Institute of Play.  These are innovative models and partnerships, but far from the norm.  Either these models need to scale significantly, or we have to find other ways to reach Gee’s desired model.

Real world learning is open-ended, dynamic, and complex. By definition, it is not linear or based on multiple-choice answers. As we strive towards Gee’s model, we have to recognize that teachers are largely unfamiliar with interdependent environments (to say nothing of the time commitment it may ask of them to build a model like Dan Bloom’s). It runs contrary to the plug-n-play model of many gbl environments.

How much customization is fair to expect from educators?

GBL environments vary in their capacity to allow customization. Does it...
  • Naturally integrate established (traditional) content?
  • Allow instructors to add more/desired content easily?
  • Allow instructors to easily vary the complexity of the task, information, or problem?
  • Allow instructors to add current news or topics of student interest?
  • Allow students to create their own solutions?
  • Allow students multiple pathways toward desired goals?
  • Allow social learning where students to interact with (and learn from?) one another?
  • Provide an open-ended, dynamic, and complex (non-linear) environment?

This is something we wrestle with at simCEO as well. We don’t have it right.  Our simulation allows teachers to add their own assignments, news articles, and set the fictional time/place for their classroom stock market, and have the option to guide student share prices - if desired.

Our early feedback from teachers was that it was just too over-whelming - probably a similar sentiment that some teachers feel as they approach Minecraft. Lately, we’ve tried to streamline the simulation to provide a baseline model with default environments, assignments, and news - all of which can be adapted by teachers. But on the flip side, we now hear feedback from instructors who are unaware of what’s possible. As our learning environments provide more structure for teachers to ease implementation, we influence (directly or indirectly) the chances that they will customize the learning tool as their own.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not pessimistic. This is an important question for all of us in gbl to tackle.

No matter how we solve it at simCEO (or others solve it in their environments), I’m sure we’ll continue hear from teachers who want a more open, customizable environment. And, we’ll hear from others who want a more sequential, plug-n-play experience that minimizes barriers to classroom implementation.

Like Goldilocks, we need to find our ‘just right’ answer for teacher customization.  It’s at the heart of how close we can come to scaling the types of environments Gee envisioned into a growing reality.

We’d love to hear your experiences to keep the conversation moving forward.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What if we let students produce with content?

We are striving to get students to move beyond content recall. We know it's not the goal. More specifically, we're striving to re-invent schools and educational experiences so that our units aim for skills and conceptual understandings that will help students be successful in the future.

Unfortunately, most of our learning experiences are still rooted in a traditional model.

We ask students to producers of content instead of producers with content.

In recent years, the increased use of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and authentic assessment techniques such as GRASPS, have helped change this model. But one area where we seem to have missed the mark is in Games-Based Learning (GBL) or gamifying the classroom.  Games-Based Learning and gamification are certainly different. Steven Isaacs (@mr_isaacs) does a good job of describing the difference. But for the sake of this post, they are going to be treated the same.

This is because many (but certainly not all) of these efforts are focused on making learning more engaging - but unfortunately, the learning goal is still largely focused on content recall. Certainly, the GBL world is closer to making a meaningful shift

If our GBL environments are focused on the following, we're making progress.

  • quests within a recall environment
  • decision making within a (academic?) context
  • critical thinking and problem solving
To take the next steps, we need more environments where students go beyond choices and decisions based on understanding the content. We need environments where they demonstrate their understanding of the content by producing solutions with that content. They need a context of creation that is authentic. They need to think and act like scientists, historians, and journalists.  We need to create these environments.

That can happen in biology, history, music, art... just about anywhere, including economics and business classes which how we apply this concept with simCEO.

As business and economic simulations go, we can start by sharing the required content and then present a scenario to students and ask them to identify the "correct" choice.

But, more meaningfully, we can put students in an environment like simCEO where we ask them to utilize the required content to create and manage a company within an authentic context. You might understand and recognize supply & demand, tariffs, or marketing techniques in theory, but how will you change your business plan because these elements are introduced into your simulation.

And here's where the power of games has great potential: The introduction of that content should produce different responses, solutions, and creations for each student. Introducing a tariff into an environment does not have the same result for every company. Students learn different perspectives and different solutions from one another.

That's the real world. It's contextual. It's applied. 

PBL advocates have known this for a long time and we need our GBL environments to move in this direction.

We need students who can take new content and apply it within a context. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Partner For Young Entrepreneurs

Change lives. Change communities.

We're looking to make a difference. Are you?

SimCEO is an innovative way to bring entrepreneurship to young adults.  We're looking to establish partnerships with local agencies dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship in young adults.

Here's our simple plan.

1. simCEO will share the simulation - free of charge - for multiple years with selected schools and local organizations dedicated to entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

2. Working in collaboration with local schools, the partner organization and simCEO research the learning gains made and the long-term impact on students.

When we collaborate, students and communities win.

Let's help develop young entrepreneurs. Learn more about 5:5:5: Partnership.

Learn more about how we hope to change learning.
Attend one of our webinars for instructors.
Check out our Getting Started resources.
Interested in joining a pilot program?  Help us research the learning effectiveness of simCEO, and get cool stuff!
Follow us on Twitter @simCEO and join our Facebook Group

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Share an innovation in GBL. Earn Income

SimCEO is an innovative learning opportunity:
  • introducing entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills into the school day at a time when these important topics are being increasingly squeezed out
  • pushing the boundaries of Games-Based Learning (GBL) by creating real-world environments without "correct" answers where students are both creators and evaluators of each other's quality as they pursue goals.

Are you interested in earning income while helping others experience this valuable resource?

Jetlag Learning, makers of simCEO, is seeking current users to help us get the word out by offering short presentations to other potential users. Each time you sign someone else up to play simCEO, you're bringing entrepreneurship and financial literacy to a new group of students - and you will earn cash along the way.

Let us know if you're interested.

Applicants should:
  • Be familiar with how simCEO works and the options that instructors have within it
  • Be committed to and able to articulate the innovative model of games-based learning
  • Understand the needs of educators
  • Have effective personal communication skills
  • Complete the application steps below.

Successful applicants:
  • Will earn money in a highly competitive commission program
  • Will be paid as an independent contractor
  • Will have the option to work in a salaried position should simCEO need full or part-time support in sales and marketing.

To learn more and apply:
Send a letter explaining why you would be successful in turning others onto the wonders of simCEO, a brief resume (so we know where you are or have recently worked) and a personal philosophy statement about using technology, and specifically, games-based learning in the classroom. Send to info@simCEO.org

Visit www.simceo.org
Learn more about how we hope to change learning.
Attend one of our webinars for instructors.
Check out our Getting Started resources.
Interested in partnering to foster youth entrepreneurship?
Interested in joining a pilot program?  Help us research the learning effectiveness of simCEO, and get cool stuff!
Follow us on Twitter @simCEO and join our Facebook Group