What if Schools Made Progress Visible?

In The Game Changer: How to Use the Science of Motivation with the Power of Game Design to Shift Behavior, Shape Culture, and Make Clever Happen, Jason Fox offers anyone interested in the intersection of game design and motivation studies a thought-provoking read. For me, a key takeaway in his book can be summarized in a three-word quote: “make progress visible.” Amid the many theories and suggested strategies for increasing motivation in the workplace, Fox focuses upon this core concept. People are more motivated when their progress is visible, when individuals have some means of frequently seeing how their behaviors are impacting the extent to which they are making progress in their work.

Back when I started exploring why some students cheat and others do not, I quickly found myself traveling into a wonderful and richly rewarding world of research. I learned that the old-school policing and crime metaphors for cheating and school missed the mark. I discovered that one of the easiest ways to reduce cheating was to change the environment. Reduce student anxiety and increase student confidence going into major, high-stakes assessments. Then people don’t seem to have as much of a drive or temptation to cheat. That is what led me to my more recent work and writing about the power of formative feedback and assessment.

By giving people lots of frequent and focused feedback, we help them see whether they are progressing, giving them motivation and confidence to persist in their learning. In other words, we can design a learning environment that helps bring out the best in ourselves and others, and a significant part of it was very much in line with what Fox explains in his book. There is power in making progress visible.

This is such an incredibly simple concept, but one that can improve any classroom or school that takes it seriously and makes it a central part of how we think about designing learning environments and learning experiences. As Fox points out in his book, this is why so many of us are motivated by something as simple as creating a checklist and marking off items as we complete them. It is why, in the presence of massive and intimidating projects with little feedback, we often procrastinate and revert to small tasks that we can complete quickly and see our progress or accomplishment.

I would love to see a school take this single concept and make it a priority for a single school year. How would it impact the student experience, the school culture, and learner motivation? At the same time, there is no reason why this must be the sole responsibility of teachers. Imagine the power of helping students learn how to create their own mechanism of making their progress visible. By engaging in such an exercises, they will develop a deeper understanding of what progress looks like in a given domain, and then learn how to create systems that are motivating and allow them to make more consistent progress in their learning.

The EduRiddle Challenge: A Multi-Modal Game for Educators

The EduRiddle Challange is a 4 phase, 20 level game about contemporary issues in schooling and education. Phase 1 starts with a series of simple riddles about schooling and education. The answer to each is the password to the next level. While you will experience riddles throughout the game, they are just a part of the challenge, as you will see if you make it to phases 2-4.

Anyone can play. There are two simple ways to join the fun. If you have a Twitter account, you can follow @bdean1000, find one of my Tweets that announces the game and provides instructions, retweet it, and wait. Within 24 hours you will receive a direct message with a link and password to get started. The other option is at the bottom of this article. Fill out the form and you will receive an email within 24 hours providing you with the starting link and password. New participants are welcome to join the game until it is closed (a currently undisclosed date in the future).

Why the EduRiddle Challenge? There are three reasons.

The first reason is a secret. You might just have to participate in some of my games over the upcoming year(s) to discover it.

The second is because I made a decision over the last year to start investing more time into the research of game-based learning, game design and gamification. I love to experiment, even with rudimentary designs, as a means of learning. One of my three words for 2016 is “design” and I had games in mind when I chose that word. I have lots of ideas scribbled in my idea book and drafts of potential future blog posts (many of which never go public), and I’m looking forward to bringing some of these ideas to life. I plan to experiment with web-based games, augmented reality, apps, simulations, project-based games, card games, multi-modal riddles and scavenger hunts, and much more. Along the way, I expect to learn a ton and maybe even have a little fun.

The third reason is because games and gamification are both integral aspects of the future of education. Their growth, impact, and potential is undeniable. While there are plenty of debates about the best or ethical uses of game-based learning and educational gamification, it seems to me that those of us in education really only have two choices. The first is to get involved; learn about them, join in a rich and robust conversation about the possibilities, applications, affordances and limitations; then strive to create, use and/or promote them in positive ways. The second is to stand on the sidelines and ignore them or lament their existence, which will likely do nothing to slow their growth. This is essentially the decision that I had to make in the 1990s with the role of the digital world in education. Will I join in helping to shape its use, or will I watch and complain? By getting involved, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I’ve also had incredible opportunities to help shape where we go and how we think about the intersection of education and digital culture. I happen to think that the role of games and gamification, combined with the digital revolution, will greatly expand the ways in which we learn throughout life; and I have every intention of being actively involved with that.

So, why not join in by experimenting with the EduChallenge1?

You are a form submission away from joining the fun.

The Death of Testing and the Rise of Learning Analytics

I know that it is sad news for some, but more than a few of us have assessed the situation, and the prognosis is not good for our friend (or perhaps the arch enemy to others of us), the test. We might be witnessing the death of testing. Tests are not going away tomorrow or even next year, but their value will fade over the upcoming years until, finally, tests are, once and for all, a thing of the past. At least that is one possible future.

Tests are largely a 20th century educational technology that had no small impact on learning organizations around the world, not to mention teachers and students. They’ve increased anxiety, kept people up all night (often with the assistance of caffeine), and consumed large chunks of people’s formative years.

They’ve also made people lots of money. There are the companies that help create and administer high-stakes tests. There are the-the companies that created those bubble tests and the machines that grade them. There are the test proctoring companies along with the many others that have created high-tech ways to prevent and/or detect cheating on tests. There are the test preparation companies. There are even researchers who’ve done well as consultants, helping people to design robust, valid and reliable tests. Testing is a multi-billion dollar industry.

death of testingGiven this fact, why am I pointing to the death of the test? It is because of the explosion of big data, learning analytics, adaptive learning technology, developments around integrated assessments in games and simulations and much more. These technologies are making and will continue to make it possible to constantly monitor learner progress. Assessment will be embedded in the learning experiences. When you know how a student is making progress and exactly where that student is in terms of reaching a given goal, why do you need a test at the end? The student doesn’t even need to know that it is happening, and the data can be incredibly rich, giving insights and details often not afforded by traditional tests.

Such embedded assessment is the exception today, but not for long. That is why many testing companies and services are moving quickly into the broader assessment space. They realize that their survival depends upon their capacity to integrate in seamless ways with content, learning activities and experiences, simulations and learning environments. This is also why I have been urging educational publishing companies to start investing in feedback and assessment technologies. This is going to critical for their long-term success.

At the same time, I’m not convinced that all testing will die. Some learning communities will continue to use them even if they are technically unnecessary. Tests still play a cultural role in some learning contexts. My son is in martial arts and the “testing day” is an important and valued benchmark in community. Yes, there are plenty of other ways to assess, but the test is part of the experience in this community. The same is true in other learning contexts. Testing is not always used because it is the best way to measure learning. In these situations, testing will likely remain a valued part of the community. In some ways, however, this helps to make my point. Traditional testing is most certainly not the best or most effective means of measuring learning today. As the alternatives expand and the tools and resources for these alternatives become more readily available, tests will start the slow but certain journey to the educational technology cemetery, finding a lot alongside the slide rule and the overhead projector.

Learning as Work or Play

I’ve learned so much more outside of school than in it. For every book that I’ve read for a school assignment over the years, I’ve likely read 20 outside of school. I’ve conducted more interviews, written more, observed more, experienced more, and learned more. I’ve also surfaced far more insights outside of school than inside it. They’ve led to meeting and connecting with fascinating people; changing my beliefs, behaviors and convictions more than anything that happened amid my formative or higher education experiences. I’ve also enjoyed these activities immensely. I’ve lost track of time on late Friday nights. They’ve driven me to travel thousands of miles for a single conversation or a few hours of a new experience. They’ve left me  falling asleep at night with a sense of accomplishment and joy about a life of discovery and learning. They’ve also kept me from falling asleep, wanting to write or read just one more page, wildly scribbling out a new idea, chatting with a new friend, or dreaming of the possibilities. I had some wonderful experiences in formal schooling as well, but they just don’t compare to what I’ve learned beyond the walls of those buildings. Why?

In The Most Productive Ways to Develop as a Leader, Herminia Ibarra wrote the following:

In contrast, no matter what you’re up to, when you’re in “play” mode, your primary drivers are enjoyment and discovery instead of goals and objectives. You’re curious. You lose track of time. You meander. The normal rules of “real life” don’t apply, so you’re free to be inconsistent — you welcome deviation and detour. That’s why play increases the likelihood that you will discover things you might have never thought to look for at the outset.

This blog is play more than it is work. This is the place where I log and experience new discoveries. I am free to debate with myself from one article to another. I’m not trying to write like an academic. My thoughts are serious and I strive for substance, but this fun for me too. I don’t try to sell myself as much as I play with thoughts and experiences, exploring the possibilities and inviting others to join me in this play. Wonderful outcome emerge. I build new connections. The play extends. It often turns into “work” in the sense that money is exchanged, goals and planning emerge, tasks are accomplished, programs are developed, and agreements are signed; but for me it is still driven more by a mindset of play than work.

This leads me to wonder, if play is such a powerful lever for learning, why not take greater advantage of it in our learning organizations? I recognize that there are times when play might not work or it might not even be appropriate, but so much of what is done in school could happen through a culture of learning by play, as so powerfully and whimsically championed by the Institute of Play. Groups like the Institute of Play represent a movement in modern learning (not just schooling) and work that:

  • invites us to accept the challenge of addressing the engagement crisis in schools and workplaces;
  • helps us take advantage of our human propensity for play and discovery;
  • sees teachers as game-designers and architects of a culture of engagement;
  • invites students to participate in quests, challenges, adventures, and experiments;
  • and helps students learn to apply principles of games and play to direct their own learning throughout life.

Doesn’t that sound fun?

But how does a school full of games and play prepare people for the real world?

First, it helps them learn. Second, it helps them maintain that inquisitive, engaged, exploratory, adventurous spirit of their childhood. Third, it helps them chang the real world into a place with more curious, engaged, playful people. As Lincoln is quoted as saying, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” Could the same thing be true for the communities and workplaces of the future?