Providing Students with Positive Failure Feedback

I have written in the past about the importance of making failure okay, and indeed par for the course, in education. The fact that games make failure normal, acceptable, and even fun is one of the many aspects of play that has drawn me to game-based learning, gamification, and gameful teaching/learning. But even when I tell students that it is okay to fail and build in a do-over system into my classes, it is still a struggle to get students to buy into the idea that failure is an acceptable and necessary component of learning. I am currently re-reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken and have spent much time studying and contemplating her chapter on failure. McGonigal points out that there is a biological imperative to our avoidance of failure:

It’s to our evolutionary advantage not to waste time and energy on goals we can’t realistically achieve. And so when we have no clear way to make productive progress, our neurological systems default to a state of low energy and motivation. (70)

This would certainly explain why so many students choose avoidance over failure. But even when I believe that I have provided my students with clearly attainable goals and lavished them with multiple streams of formative feedback, sometimes even the most capable student will give up and become disengaged. It could be a problem with my perception of the assignments I am creating, the feedback I am giving, and the mechanisms for self-direction I have built into those assignments; perhaps my instructions are not as clear or the goals as obtainable as I believe them to be from the students’ perspectives. Perhaps it’s a problem with students’ self-efficacy beliefs or their ability to persist in the face of academic failure (which is certainly more life-threatening than virtual failures in a game). I can certainly try to address the former, but I am not sure what more I can do to remedy the latter. Another component that is within my control is the type of feedback that I provide students when they fail.

One of the reality fixes that McGonigal sees games providing is that of “fun failure:” “The right kind of failure feedback is a reward. It makes us more engaged and more optimistic about our odds of success” (67). She provides several examples of this in games and explains how studies have shown  that players exhibit the most heightened positive emotions, such as excitement, joy, and interest, immediately after they have experienced failure. Why is this? McGonigal believes it is because games allow us to fail spectacularly and actively. In a game, failure is not something that just happens to you; it is not beyond your control. If you fail, it is because you did something wrong and you know it. And when you do fail, it is communicated to you immediately and usually in a way that is so celebratory (via sounds and visuals) that it renews feelings of positive engagement. According to McGonigal, the trick to accomplishing this magical failure reaction is pretty straightforward:

[Y]ou have to show players their own power in the game world, and if possible elicit a smile or a laugh. As long as our failure is interesting, we will keep trying–and remain hopeful that we will succeed. (67)

I am still grappling with how to achieve the first aspect of this method in my formative and summative feedback. But, in the meantime, I’ve decided to try to at least achieve the second aspect by attempting to elicit a smile or a laugh from my students when they fail.

I decided to start playing with integrating some positive failure feedback into my current short-term online FYC class. The easiest thing to start with, I decided, would be the quizzes, since Blackboard offers a way to provide immediate feedback to a student based on whether they answer a question/problem correctly or incorrectly. I had already added some positive feedback when students answered some of the most difficult questions correctly. This is something that seemed natural to me at the time that I was creating the quizzes. But I am not sure why it has never occurred to me to also provide positive feedback when students answer those questions incorrectly. For some reason, this seems counterintuitive to my teacher senses. But, if you think about it, it actually makes much more sense than providing feedback when a student gets a question/problem correct. If a student gets a question/problem correct, they don’t really need us to give them kudos: success should be reward enough. It is when a student has failed that they need the most encouragement. So, I decided to do this by trying to do two things: make light of their failure (it’s really not the end of the world that you got this question/problem wrong) and, by extension, make them smile or laugh (so, just dust yourself off and try again and, if you happen to fail again, you’ll get a good laugh out of it). I chose to do this by selecting .gifs featuring the minions from the Despicable Me franchise either failing miserably (and spectacularly) or comforting each other after such a failure. They are, after all, immediately recognizable, have a reputation for screwing up, and make us feel all warm and fuzzy because of their persistence and unfailing hope and happiness. I embedded the .gifs in the feedback box for incorrect answers on what I considered the most difficult questions in each test pool, choosing a random approach, since randomness is another way in which games reward the brain. My hope is that, should a student begin to become unmotivated in the face of failing to answer a difficult question correctly, a funny .gif will both make them smile and encourage them to try again with more confidence in their ability to succeed or, at the very least, get a good laugh if they fail again.

For future classes, I would like to try other ways of integrating positive failure feedback, especially with writing assignments. Even though students can attempt a writing assignment multiple times, for students who lack basic writing skills, it can often take anywhere from three to six attempts to get a piece of writing to an acceptable level and this can become extremely frustrating for them. If I can determine a way to make them feel more in control of their success and more empowered by their failures, I can perhaps keep them motivated and engaged.

I would love to hear readers’ thoughts and ideas on ways to provide positive failure feedback to students.

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Gamifying a Short-Term Online First-Year Composition Course

Amazing-Race-BannerNEW

In an attempt to stem the outflow of students to universities with more extensive online programs, my university is piloting several core curriculum short-term online courses this summer at the regular tuition rate and I was asked to teach the 6-week online English 101 class. Needless to say, the thought of having to teach a first-semester FYC class completely online in just six weeks was fairly daunting. How to cover the basics of effective writing, the writing process, research methods, citation formatting, and critical reading in such a short period of time with the added hindrance of a clunky LMS (Blackboard) and no physical contact with the students (who would also not have access to the Writing Clinic, which is closed during the summer terms)? It felt like trying to coach 25 students through their first 50-meter dash. And ideally, an online class has lots of structured interactions via a discussion forum and/or blog posts in order to alleviate students’ sense of isolation, but the brevity of the term meant there was barely enough time for writing assignments, much less huge chunks of time dedicated to discussing stuff. So, I decided to turn what seemed like a huge disadvantage into an advantage and use the whole idea of a race to the finish line as inspiration for an Amazing Race-themed self-paced writing class.

Mechanics

I made the class more manageable by dividing it up into six “legs,” one for each skill set I needed to address: navigating and using Blackboard, the writing process, integrating and citing supporting quotations/summaries/paraphrases, research methods, annotating sources, and writing a research-based argumentative essay. Each leg consists of playlists that I created on Blendspace of resources on the skills needed to master the writing challenges for the leg and quizzes testing students’ ability to both recall tips and techniques addressed in the playlists and apply them to examples. Each leg culminates in a boss writing challenge that requires students to apply what they have learned throughout the leg.

I used Blackboard’s adaptive release feature to establish a mastery baseline of 60% for all quizzes and assignments and gave students unlimited attempts on each, so they must work at a quiz or writing assignment until they have earned at least 60% of the possible points before the next challenge is unlocked. Quizzes are auto-graded and I established a daily deadline for writing assignments so that any assignments completed by the daily deadline are graded the same day. Points earned on challenges are only indirectly related to a student’s final grade in the course, as that is determined by how many legs of the race they can finish before the last day. In this way, I effectively made the course self-paced: students can work on challenges as quickly as they like, as long as they have enough legs completed by the deadline to earn the final grade they desire.

I also decided to try out Blackboard’s new Achievements tool, which is basically a badging system tied to adaptive release. In order to encourage students to try to earn more than the bare minimum of points on challenges, I established an Achievement for earning at least 90% of the total possible points on each quiz and an Achievement (the Wordsmith badge) for earning at least 90% on any boss writing challenge. I also established an Experience Levels system and tied badges to leveling up, with each modeled after a “pass” from The Amazing Race: the Yield Pass allows students to preview a quiz of their choice, the Express Pass allows them to unlock the next challenge without earning the required 60% XP on their current challenge, and the Salvage Pass gives them 100 bonus XP to be applied to whichever challenges they wish (except for a boss challenge). And I created two other types of passes: the Fast Forward Pass allows a student to bypass a second draft of a writing assignment if they earn at least 80% of the total XP on their first draft, and the Detour Pass grants a student who earns at least 90% XP on their first research paper an alternative assignment that is more creative in nature during the boss leg of the race. I also threw in some easy-to-earn Achievements, like the Race Check-In badge, so that all students have a chance to earn at least a few badges.

I am also using a Blackboard tool developed by a colleague, Dr. David Thornton, called the Gamegogy Leaderboard, that displays a leaderboard based on selected columns from the Grade Book; this allows students a visual representation of where they stand in the class, points-wise, in comparison to everyone else. The student only sees their name and all other students are anonymous. You can add the Leaderboard block by selecting the “add course module” option on the course homepage and adding the Gamegogy Leaderboard. David also developed a Gamegogy Quest Path block that aligns with adaptive release rules to show a visual “map” of assignments, including which ones have been unlocked, which have been passed, and which remain locked. However, this tool is in beta testing and still has quite a few bugs that will hopefully be eliminated in the near future.

The Blackboard Gamegogy Leaderboard Tool
The Blackboard Gamegogy Leaderboard Tool

Dynamics

I still wanted to give students a sense of community, so I set up a discussion forum called the Water Cooler, which is an informal space for students to interact in whatever ways they wish/need to. There is only one required post: an introduction of themselves to the rest of the class that they have to complete as part of a Blackboard Scavenger Hunt that I use during the first leg to help them learn the ropes of Blackboard. I responded to each introduction in an effort to let students know that I am an active member of the class and genuinely interested in them and their success. I also created an Ask Mrs. Sasser a Question discussion board for questions that are not addressed on the syllabus or the FAQ page, with the promise that any question that receives a rating of at least three stars from peers will be added to the FAQ page. I am hoping that these small measures will give students a sense of empowerment within the class and alleviate any feelings of isolation or panic they might feel as the six weeks progress.

Aesthetics

I used media from The Amazing Race that I found on the show’s Wikimedia article throughout the course, including the imagery for the Experience Level and other passes and Route Info cards that I placed at the start of each leg that summarize the skills addressed in the leg and the learning outcomes for the boss challenge. As students complete each leg, they get a Pit Stop card that lets them know they have successfully completed the leg and can move on to the next one. I also created a custom banner for the course shell using PicMonkey and used the same tool to create a finish line image for students who complete all six legs. And to provide students a flashy, visual reminder of how much time is left in the term, I used Flash Countdown Clock Generator to create a countdown clock for the last day of class and added it to the header of the homepage.

I carried the theme of The Amazing Race throughout the course as much as possible, selecting the History theme, which has compasses and other travel imagery, for the course shell and giving badges names that suggest the kinds of tasks that contestants in the show are often forced to undertake, such as Deep Source Diver for displaying mastery of research methods. And I gave the Experience Levels names such as Tourist and Native to accentuate the global travel aesthetic. I even renamed the course homepage Base Camp. My hope is that by immersing students in an atmosphere rich in imagery and language aligned with the theme of The Amazing Race, I can make what might otherwise be a daunting set of challenges a little more fun and perhaps even convince some students to imagine themselves in a similar competition in which I am presenting them with challenges and their goal is to overcome each challenge and make it to the finish line before time is up and, thus, earn the grand prize (in this case, an A for their transcript).

100% online courses are, I have found, the most challenging, for multiple reasons that have all been addressed in the plethora of books and journal articles that have been published over the past few years as online courses are becoming more and more popular with (but not necessarily beloved by) students and universities alike. There are the issues related to the students themselves and those related to lack of training and support for the instructors. And there are the issues related to technology and the lack of a truly effective LMS (although, I think we are finally getting close with the likes of Canvas). And there are all kinds of “best practices” that we can try and I am trying some of those this term, but there are also many that I cannot because of the limits of a short-term course. My goal is to make students as confident as possible and to allow them the freedom, and the challenge, of working at their own pace within a mastery-based learning environment that also encourages them to (role) play and have a little fun. I will be keeping notes and monitoring statistics and I will also ask students to complete a feedback survey at the end of the term and will report back the results once the class is over in June.

The race is, for better or worse, on . . .

Pervasive Games as a Model for Pervasive Learning

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This thing that I have become so passionate about goes by many names. Games-based learning, quest-based learning, gamification, etc. etc. etc. Some of these names have positive connotations and at least one of them has some very, very negative connotations. I tend to use games-based learning and gamification interchangeably and I often tag posts that focus on games-based learning with the gamification tag, even though I don’t consider what I am doing gamification. I suppose I do this because teachers who are interested in one are often also interested in the other and, like me, may use one or the other depending on the course and the students. I have found, though, that I am moving farther and farther away from gamification and closer and closer towards turning my courses into full-fledged games. Hence, I see what I am doing as games-based learning; while my students aren’t playing video games (which typically characterizes GBL), they are playing a game; the game just happens to be the class. Sometimes this game involves role playing face-to-face or via a virtual environment like Second Life;  sometimes it involves completing quests to unlock new quests; sometimes the role-play and the questing center around a shared narrative that the players create via their decisions and actions; and it always involves communicating and collaborating with other players via social media.  If you add all of those things up, I think that there’s a pretty good argument to be made that what I am really doing–and what I want to do better–is turning learning into a pervasive game.

In Pervasive Games: Theory and Design, Markus Montola defines a pervasive game as “a game that has one or more salient features that expand the contractual magic circle of play spatially, temporally, or socially.” In other words:

In pervasive games, the magic circle is expanded in one or more ways: The game no longer takes place in certain times or certain places, and the participants are no longer certain. Pervasive games pervade, bend, and blur the traditional boundaries of game, bleeding from the domain of the game to the domain of the ordinary.

There are some common characteristics of pervasive games that illustrate this expansion: the whole world becomes a playground (players’ everyday environments become the game space), there is no such thing as a temporally-defined play session (play can and does occur at any time), and playing with outsiders (people who happen to be present in the game space during game play can become inadvertent and unsuspecting NPC’s). To further illustrate what a pervasive game is, I’ll use the example of Google’s Ingress. In Ingress, the player takes on the role of the game token (a flesh avatar) and their phone takes on the role of a weapon within the game. The objective of the game is to use their phone’s GPS to locate and “hack” portals of energy that are leaking out into the surrounding environment. These portals are located in the player’s local community: historical landmarks, governmental buildings, art installations, etc. The player is competing to claim as many portals as possible for their faction (either the Enlightenment or the Resistance) before players aligned with the other faction can do so. There is also a narrative thread that provides meaning to the energy, the portals, and the player’s role in and motivation for capturing them that the player can discover by locating and solving puzzles via websites, social media, and the portals themselves. The game is much more complicated than my summary suggests and I think that this video documenting one particular world-wide Ingress “operation” can do a better job of illustrating the capacity for pervasive gaming to engage and motivate:

So, what does this have to do with learning? If we consider the rhetoric that surrounds education right now, we can clearly see the connection. The new mantra of education is “21st Century Skills.” What specifically characterizes 21st Century Skills is debatable and has not been exactly pinned down. But what is clear is that the majority of schools–both K12 and higher education institutions–are not doing a very good job of helping their students attain these skills. We know that at least some of these skills include abilities such as problem-solving, disciplinary flexibility, adaptability, networking, collaboration and cooperation, technological adeptness, creativity, critical and analytical reading and thinking, and the willingness to be a lifelong learner. These skills are essential to surviving and thriving in the new information-based economy–one characterized by frequent career changes, a technology-dependent infrastructure, and the need for innovation and creative problem-solving within a global context. The old-school (pardon the pun) method of education just does not teach these kinds of skills or prepare our students for this kind of economy. In order to develop this new kind of mindset, we need to encourage our students to recognize and embrace learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom; to make connections between disciplines and between those disciplines and their passions; to transfer their social networking and technology skills from Facebook, YouTube, and video games to the classroom and, eventually, their careers; and to apply what they’ve learned about collaboration and cooperation from MMORPG’s and ARG’s to problem-based learning scenarios and service learning projects. So, in many ways we really want learning to be like a pervasive game: always “on;” expanded beyond a single physical space or time frame; encouraging connections across multiple platforms and environments; triggering and integrating multiple ways of thinking, interpreting, learning, problem-solving, and acting; and requiring creative interactions with both other people and the local environment.

I don’t think that you necessarily have to turn your class into a pervasive game in order to achieve this kind of learning. But I think that by studying pervasive games and how they work to engage and motivate players, we can figure out how to better prepare our students to adopt pervasive learning attitudes and habits. Here are some techniques outlined in Pervasive Games: Theory and Design that I think teachers could co-opt and integrate in order to encourage pervasive learning:

  • integrate authentic physical space and physical artifacts as game content to encourage players to interact with their local community in new and exploratory ways; use the community’s ambience and history to make it part of the game; use the game to direct players to interesting locations at interesting times
  • make the player’s body a de facto game token
  • integrate virtual and augmented reality to mix the physical and virtual game content
  • spatial expansion is about discovery and changing perception–> expose the unseen and make the familiar strange
  • temporal expansion makes play available at all times–> the game is always “on”
  • the rules of the game can change over time to scaffold play and keep players’ interest
  • design tangible experiences–> the player is doing something incredible through their own efforts that they’ll want to talk about afterwards
  • surpass expectations–> establish expectations then squash them with an unexpected maneuver
  • escalate previous experiences
  • link task structures so that success in one challenge directly influences the chances of success in another
  • force collaboration through interdependence
  • make players do things for real (find a book, scale a wall, create a chemical reaction, navigate a landscape)
  • foster networking to ramp up collective knowledge
  • create the 360 degree illusion–> indexical environment (real space), indexical activity (real action), immersive role-play
  • this is not a game–> use ordinary reality as a sourcebook
  • sustain a responsive game world–> lots and lots of interactive feedback (between game master and players and players and players)
  • the goal is for a collective story to emerge; the players tell the story based on their communal experiences; you shouldn’t have to tell the story to them
  • foster arenas where the story can emerge–> discussion forums, debrief party, etc.
  • design for sensory immersion–> audiovisual, 3-D, stereophonic surroundings
  • design for challenge-based immersion–> create a satisfying balance of challenges and abilities
  • design for imaginative immersion–> becoming absorbed with the stories and worlds and feeling for or identifying with a game character
  • create alternate endings and allow the players to determine the true ending

I’ll leave how to apply these strategies to a learning context up to your imagination. But I believe that they provide some very fertile ground for transforming learning for our students in the same ways that pervasive games have transformed what it means to play a game.

Dave Szulborski said of Alternate Reality Games–a type of pervasive game–that “[i]n an ARG, the goal is not to immerse the player in the artificial world of the game; instead, a successful game immerses the world of the game into the everyday life of the player.” I believe that in education, the goal is not to immerse the learner in the artificial world of school, but instead to immerse learning into the everyday life of the learner. Pervasive games offer a set of guiding principles that could very well help us do just that.

War of the Words: How to Gamify Online Discussions

photo credit: mrsdkrebs via photopin cc
photo credit: mrsdkrebs via photopin cc

Ask anyone who teaches online and they’re 99.9% certain to say that encouraging engaging and consistent discussion is the biggest challenge of teaching online. That percentage probably goes down in upper-level discipline-focused courses, but for those of us who teach freshman- and sophomore-level core curriculum courses, this percentage is pretty accurate no matter what the class or the students’  level of online learning experience. Why are (quality) online discussions so difficult to initiate and sustain? This is especially perplexing when you consider how much social media has revolutionized our ability to engage in virtual discussions. Such discussions are a ubiquitous, daily component of almost every millennial’s life. Of course, some would question the quality of those discussions, but I tend to favor some, however questionable in quality, discussion over no discussion at all when it comes to preparing students for online learning. If they come to us already in the habit of using Facebook and Twitter to engage with peers on a regular basis, then shouldn’t transitioning this kind of virtual verbal give-and-take to a course-focused setting, whether it’s Blackboard or a private group on Facebook or Google+, be easy? And once engaging in those discussions we can help them develop the quality of their contributions, right?

Right. But we have to get them there first and that’s the biggest challenge. This is not a case of “build it and they will come.” We’ve tried that. Some of us, recognizing the clunkiness and walled garden atmosphere of most LMS discussion forums, moved to trendier forums, meeting students where they were on Facebook and Twitter. This helped some; maybe we overcame the learning curves inherent in LMS discussion boards and we saw a spike in discussion activity initially as students’ curiosity got the best of them, but this either didn’t work (because students didn’t follow the rules regarding appropriate posts or never learned how to use hashtags to signal course-related tweets) or it didn’t last (as the novelty wore off and students realized it was just the same boring kind of class discussion relocated to their social spaces). [As a reminder, I am focusing here specifically on 100% online courses, as I know several teachers have had success with using social media in face-to-face and hybrid classes to spark discussion and participation.] The problem, of course, is multifaceted. Some of it has to do with students’ perceptions about the value of deep, meaningful discussion about academic texts and issues and their lack of experience with such discussion, triggering fears about how others will view them if they say something “dumb.” Part of it is our inability to transcend the artificiality of such discussions; even relocating a teacher-constructed, forced discussion to an organic forum like Twitter cannot disguise/mitigate the true nature of the interchange. And we’ve only added artificial sweetener to an already artificial ingredient by superimposing rubrics onto the discussion, requiring a certain number of posts and comments, and assigning point values to each post and comment, further de-motivating students who fear they’ll be penalized for inept posts/comments and imprisoning students within an inorganic, regimented system of forced, mimicked responses. So, what’s an online teacher to do?

That is the question I was faced with as I began to design my first 100% online first-semester First-Year Composition class for the upcoming Fall term. So, I began to think about what kinds of activities triggered the most engagement and meaningful discussions in the classroom. I ended up isolating two specific kinds of activity: debate and cooperative competition games like the one I designed to gamify required readings. So, my next question became how I could translate those kinds of activities to a virtual space rather than a physical classroom. This question proved to be much more problematic, as both of these activities are based upon physical proximity and the ability to receive and give immediate feedback. And while both involve an artificial construction, the context and rules imposed on the students force them to be creative and to deeply engage with the questions/issues at hand if they want to “win.” So, artificiality is the whole point: these are both games and a game is an artificial construct that embraces its artificiality and uses it to encourage deep player engagement. It just so happened that I was also re-reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken at the same time as I was pondering the dilemma of how to redesign these two activities as virtual games. In particular, her chapter on “Stronger Social Connectivity,” which outlined social network games like FarmVille and Lexulous, seemed to hold the answer. While I was not familiar with Lexulous, it immediately reminded me of Words with Friends. As McGonigal points out, these kinds of social network games are typically asynchronous (as are online discussion forums), but are designed to encourage checking in on a regular basis to keep up with and respond to “friends'” activities (something online discussion forums can’t quite seem to accomplish).  This seemed to be the blueprint that I needed for the kind of discussion game I was contemplating.

I ended up using Words with Friends as a model and designed three different types of discussion games. The games will be played in a Google+ Community. Each game has a start date/time and an end date/time; during the interval the game is “on” and students can post whenever they wish. In some cases, I imposed a limit to posts in order to discourage students from monopolizing the game and farming points. I decided to make all points earned during the games bonus points; each student’s bonus points will be tallied and recorded on a scoreboard and added to their final course grade at the end of the term (because this is a dual enrollment course, I have to use a traditional grading structure and have not gamified the class beyond the discussion games). The points earned by the highest-achieving student will determine the baseline grade; so, if they end up earning 15,000 bonus points, then all students’ bonus points will be recorded as X/15,000 (again, because this is an online dual enrollment course, I have to use Blackboard’s grade book, which requires a maximum point value for all grades entered). Some games are team-based, so students earn points for themselves and their team and the team with the most points scored earns even more bonus points. I did design rubrics outlining criteria for the kinds of posts expected for each game, but because of the gameful nature of the activities, students can have posts of varying degrees of quality and still earn points and, in the case of team-based discussion games, help their team.

The first game I developed is an online version of my power card reading game. It basically works the same as the in-class version of the game, only without the cards (I’m still working on how to use the cards virtually). Each student will be responsible for posting questions and answers at any time during the period in which the game is “on.” Here’s a breakdown of the guidelines and rules:

  • The questions must be open-ended, meaning there is no right/wrong answer, and they must require supporting evidence from the book as part of the answer.
  • Each team member may ask no more than three questions.
  • Each team member may answer no more than three questions.
  • Repeated questions or answers will not earn points, but still count towards a player’s maximum question/answer allowance.
  • Players should tag their question posts with their team name so that other players know which team posted the question.
  • Players may only answer questions posted by members of the opposing team.
  • Players who wish to answer a question must post their answer as a reply to the opposing team’s post.
  • A question may be answered by more than one player but be careful of repeating answers.
  • Each question and answer will be assigned a point value by me, based on the following scale:

4 = excellent
3 = good
2 = fair
1 = poor

  • Points for both questions asked and answered with be tallied and the team with the most cumulative points earns an additional150 bonus points.

The second discussion game that I designed is a version of the in-class debates that I often require students to participate in. Again, this one is team-based and the winning team earns an additional 150 bonus points. I will randomly divide the class into two teams and post the debate topic at the game start time. Here are the guidelines/rules:

  1. The debate begins as soon as the debate topic is posted.
  2. I will create two posts based on the two sides of the debate and tag each with the appropriate side.
  3. You may only argue for the side that you’ve been assigned to.
  4. Each response must be posted as a reply to the appropriate post and must include both a claim (your reasoning) and grounds (the facts supporting your reasoning). You may have more than one piece of supporting evidence for each claim; in fact, the more grounds you have to support your claim, the better. You can find out more about developing a well-structured and well-supported argument on pages 194-200 of your writer’s handbook.
  5. Each claim will earn a player 10 points and each piece of supporting evidence will earn them 10 points.
  6. A player may also respond to a claim by the opposing team with a counterargument, which must also include a counterclaim and grounds. A counterclaim will earn a player 20 points and each piece of evidence used to support the counterclaim will earn them 20 points. Counterarguments should be posted as a reply to the argument being rebutted.
  7. A player may post no more than three arguments and three counterarguments for full points. After this limit is reached, the points earned will be reduced by half. A player may post no more than six total arguments and six total counterarguments. 
  8. Repeated claims and counterclaims will not earn points but will still count against a player’s maximum number of claims/counterclaims. Grounds, however, may be used to support multiple claims and counterclaims.

Last, I designed a discussion game that requires the students to take turns creating and posting questions about the topic/issue under study that the rest of the class has to answer, using specific kinds of answers. This will the first game that I have students play (with me asking the first question) in order to orient them to the discussion game format and begin helping them develop meaningful discussion posts. The students must restrict their responses to the questions to the following four answer types (which can be combined in any way), with each answer type assigned a different point value:

  • Explanation (+10 pts.): this type of post is focused on explaining how something works; what happened and how it happened; what something is or how something is done; etc. (fact-based)
  • Argument (+20 pts.): this type of post is focused on presenting an argument with the purpose of persuading others to agree with you (opinion-based)
  • Evidence (+30 pts.): this type of post is focused on presenting supporting reasons why an argument is valid, using either primary or secondary sources or your personal experiences/observations (source-based)
  • Challenge (+40 pts.): this type of post presents a counterargument or rebuttal to a classmate’s explanation, argument, or evidence (opinion-based)

In this game, I also encourage students to +1 peers’ posts that they think are especially thought-provoking, persuasive, and/or insightful. Each post will earn 1 extra bonus point for each +1 it receives; however, each student is limited to 3 +1’s, so they must be selective with their bonus points (again, to discourage teaming up for point farming). 

My hope is that by framing the discussions as games, which acknowledges and embraces their artificiality and encourages both individual and cooperative competition, and making all points earned as part of the games bonus points, which are additive rather than subtractive and encourage experimentation and risk-taking, I can help students overcome their antipathy/animosity towards and fear of online discussion forums and inject a little fun into them in the process. I do not have false hopes that these games will completely alleviate all of the challenges inherent in online discussions, but I hope that it will be one step towards getting students involved and engaged in the process so that those challenges can begin to be addressed.

I know that some teachers have probably been able to effectively address the challenge of online student interactions in other ways. If so, please share your ideas, as I would love to incorporate them into my own design.

DIY Mystery Game

This week in the Games Based Learning MOOC, we’ve been covering tools for creating your own serious games. In addition to scavenger hunts and ARGs (alternate reality games), we’ve been discussing mystery games. As I’ve mentioned before, I particularly enjoy mystery games and our discussions this week have made me consider how I might integrate a mystery game into one or more of my classes. I think that mysteries are particularly suitable to the classroom because of the evidence-based, critical thinking they require. In my FYC II class this term, one of the roles that students have been able to adopt is that of a detective. These students have treated those short stories and plays that involve murders as cold cases that have been re-opened; they’ve had to closely examine the texts for evidence, consider  what other kinds of evidence might be available to them, and analyze this evidence to determine the means, motive, and opportunity in order to both identify the perpetrator and determine why, when, where, and how they did it. They’ve worked on cases as diverse as “A Rose for Emily,” Hamlet, and Trifles. In framing the texts as a mystery that needs to be solved and in asking students to take on the viewpoint of a criminal investigator (who has a specific purpose and set of skills), the importance of locating, analyzing, making connections between, and drawing conclusions from the textual evidence has become clear to students in a way that I have never been able to achieve by teaching literary analysis using traditional methods. This aspect of the course has been so successful with students and effective in terms of teaching them how to analyze and think critically about a text (and both what is and is not explicitly contained within it), that I have begun to consider how I might expand the mystery element of the course and add aspects of mystery games to some of my other classes.

My favorite mystery game, Special Enquiry Detail,
My favorite mystery game, Special Enquiry Detail combines an engaging storyline, well-developed characters, challenging puzzles, misdirection, and evidence analysis.

As pointed out by  Vasili Giannoutsos, when creating a mystery game, there are several genres to choose from: traditional (which include locked room and puzzle mysteries), legal mysteries, medical mysteries, cozy mysteries (Agatha Christie-style), police procedural, and hard-boiled private eye mysteries. So no matter what subject you teach, there’s a type of mystery that will fit. Also, the mystery game creator must keep the 5 questions of mystery in mind: Who?, What?, Where?, When?, and Why? Players have to determine the answers to three questions early on: What are you solving?, What is your purpose?, and How do you come to your conclusion?

For a good overview of the basic elements of an engaging mystery game from a game designer’s perspective, I highly recommend  “Creating Mystery Games,” which also includes an example mystery game.

I have collated a set of tools that I think would be helpful in creating a mystery game. These are tools that are easy enough to use that students could use them to create their own mystery games.

Voki

Voki is a tool that allows you to create a talking animated avatar that you can embed into almost any application. Voki could be used to create characters within the mystery or to create a gamemaster who guides players through the game.

Glogster

Glogster is a tool for creating electronic posters that contain text, images, audio, and video. One group of detectives in my FYC II class is using Glogster to create an evidence board like the kind you would find in a squad room. A mystery game creator could either do the same or require the players to create their own evidence board where they store and analyze the evidence they collect.

Google Maps

Google Maps could be used to create location-based puzzles within the mystery game. For example, you could have players use the street view feature to locate clues within the real world.

ThingLink

ThingLink is a tool that allows you to tag images with embedded text, audio, videos, and hyperlinks. In addition to using tags to leave clues within an image, ThingLink could also be used to create your own hidden object puzzle. If you’re an educator, you can upgrade your account, allowing you to use hidden tags so that you could “hide” the tags on specific objects in the image and provide players a list of objects to locate in order to “unlock” the clues.

Fodey

Fodey  is a tool that allows you to create realistic-looking newspaper clippings. A game designer could use this tool to create snippets of news articles that reveal details about the mystery.

Dipity

Dipity is an interactive timeline generator. A mystery game designer could use this tool to create a timeline of events and embed clues and puzzles within the timeline or, again, you could require players to create their own timeline and embed the evidence they locate at the appropriate points.

Twine

Interactive Fiction games lend themselves well to mystery. Twine is an easy-to-use IF creation tool that allows you to create text-based mystery adventures similar to the Agatha Christie-style IF game  An Act of Murder (this and other mystery IF can be played via the free iOS app Frotz).

Dio

A new tool from Linden Labs (creators of Second Life) called Dio allows you to create interactive locations and/or events.

I found a great example of a mystery game created using Dio called “Sherlock Holmes: The Murdered Magnate.”

These are just a few of the tools that I’ve been able to imagine using to create a mystery game for the classroom and I can imagine several of them being used in tandem, since most include embed options. If you have a tool that you can think of, I’d love for you to share it.

Games Based Learning through Text Adventures

photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin via photopin cc
photo credit: Sergey Galyonkin via photopin cc

This week in the Games Based Learning MOOC, we’ve been focusing on two tools for GBL: AR/ARGs and Interactive Fiction/Text Adventures. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’m planning to integrate IF into my Fall FYC class. Students will both experience the course as a piece of IF and, at the end of the term, create their own IF.

The Class as a Text Adventure

In lieu of a syllabus, I’ll provide students with a piece of IF that they will have to “play” in order to navigate the course: all of the course resources will be located within the “game” and students will need to solve “puzzles” and complete levels in order to locate them. As with any text adventure, the students will be able to make choices in terms of whether or not they solve specific puzzles or utilize specific resources. In this way, the game rewards students’ effort, rather than punishing their failures. Of course, the more effort a student exerts, the smarter they will be able to play as the game proceeds.

There are several tools available for creating text adventures, including Inform 7, Twine, and Inklewriter. I am currently trying out AXMA, a version of Twine, and am finding it fun and easy to work with. I created the following screencast of a very rough draft of the IF I’m creating for my class that demonstrates how the tool works and what kinds of gameplay I’m creating for the class:

In addition to text, you can also integrate images and sound into your AXMA story, allowing you to create a sensory-rich gaming experience.

Students as Text Adventure Designers

For me, the real power of GBL emerges when students are allowed to become game designers. I’m designing the course’s text adventure to serve as a model for those that the students will eventually create themselves as the final boss level of the game. There are several reasons why designing games, specifically IF, is an effective method for students to learn written literacy and critical/analytical thinking and problem solving. Joe Pereira does an excellent job of outlining how both GBL and IF address 21st century thinking and writing in his post “Interactive Fiction and Digital Game Based Learning.” In fact, I recommend reading his entire blog to get a better idea of the benefits of having students create IF and text adventures.

IF will likely be completely foreign to most students, so I am collating resources that will help them to better understand, play, and compose in the genre. I’ve listed what I consider to be the best resources below (in no particular order):

Inform 7’s Introduction to Interactive Fiction

Dennis Jerz’s Playing, Studying, and Writing Interactive Fiction

“The Craft of Adventure”

A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Interactive Fiction

Get Me Writing: Interactive Fiction

Digital Storytelling with Interactive Fiction

The Fiction Engine

Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling

“Crimes Against Mimesis”

“A Writer’s Guide to Interactive Fiction”

In terms of good resources for those teaching IF, I recommend the following (again, in no particular order):

“Interactive Fiction vs. the Pause That Distresses: How Computer-Based Literature Interrupts the Reading Process Without Stopping the Fun”

The Best Places to Read and Writer ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Stories

“Something to Imagine: Literature, Composition, and Interactive Fiction”

“Gamifying Stories — Using Interactive Fiction in the Classroom” (part 2 is linked at the bottom of the post)

Interactive Fiction and Digital Game Based Learning (a great Scoop.It site maintained by Joe Pereira)

“The Joy of Text”

I’m not sure if I’ll have students use Twine to create their text adventures or if I’ll have them use the much simpler Inklewriter (I may leave the choice of tool up to them). IF author Porpentine makes a very persuasive argument as to why we should use Twine to create IF in her post “Creation Under Capitalism and the Twine Revolution.”

I’m also not sure if I will have students work in small groups to compose their IF or work individually. In integrating IF into her developmental English class, Emily Forand had students work in guilds and each guild designated one member to go to “Twine school;” while the rest of the guild worked on developing the game, this member spent time learning the ins and outs of  Twine and served as the resident Twine expert once they returned to their guild (see the interview below). While I really like this idea, I think it might be more advantageous for each student to be able to use the IF software so that the creation of the game does not rest in a single guild member’s hands. Again, I may leave it up to the students as to whether they work in guilds or individually.

 

As I make progress in designing the class text adventure, I’ll post about my process and challenges. Right now, I’m foreseeing the following challenges:

  • how to let students know how far to read/play at any given time (this will be a hybrid class, so there will be less in-class f2f support and motivation)
  • students may challenge my method of using a text adventure as the syllabus for the course: how do I address/avoid this?
  • how to allow sufficient time for students to develop, create, and play their IF (this is an issue Forand experienced)
  • whether or not to have students publish their IF outside of the class (again, an issue Forand experienced)
  • how to make sure students understand the connection between IF and the course learning objectives (do I rely on stealth learning or make these connections explicit?)