Category Archives: Article Review

Motivating game elements

Michael Sailer, Jan Hense, Heinz Mandl and Markus Klevers

Psychological Perspectives on Motivation Through Interaction Design and Architecture(s) Journal – IxD&A, N.19, 2013, pp. 28-37

The article I chose this week continues my exploration of motivation, this time seen in the context of gamification.   I have been hearing a lot about gamification for the last several years and bump into elements being incorporated into my own world often enough.   Badges are popping up at professional conferences, a progress bar has been included in the university’s degree audit tool, avatars and public user profiles on linked-in, etc. I was expecting to need to wade through gobs of research when I entered my search terms ‘motivation’ and ‘gamification’ into the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library Database.   I was surprised when my search ended with little or no useful results, requiring me to expand the search to the world wide web. Plenty of results were available for one or the other term, just not for the two combined.
The article I ended up with, however, was exactly what I was looking for.   The authors take 2 very broad and potentially unwieldy topics, distill them down to a relevant essence and then very cleverly tie the two together to a clearly organized and usable framework with which to separate each element and the mechanisms of motivation it could trigger.
The writing is clear and concise and presented in a logical order. The authors begin by  defining  gamification and  differentiating it from the related term ‘serious games’.  Gamification is defined as the use of one or more of the  ‘elements’ found  within a game used in a  “non-game setting’ while ‘serious games’  are defined as an actual game designed, not for play alone, but for a learning purpose.  The authors then continue on to provide a list of game elements and a quick definition for each.
Next, we look at different mechanisms of motivation  which are described from 6 different motivation theory perspectives.  Examples of each  perspective are then provided through a game context lens.  Now we have a  definition of game elements and ideas on  individual motivational mechanisms likely at work.  The authors next tie it  together for us by  theorizing which elements  would  stimulate which motivations  in a section they title  “Matching Motivational Mechanisms and Game Elements’.  For example,   one  motivating mechanism that could be triggered by the use of the game element of badges is that  “players with a strong power motive are likely to be motivated if  ramifications emphasizes status, control and competition’.

The authors do not recommend one element or motivational theory over another, but show how many elements could be at play in a variety of contexts.  It was an interesting approach to making sense of two complex topics and bringing them together.   I especially   appreciated  the concrete examples of both game elements and how each might work to motivate a player.

I would be seriously interested in using the framework created by the authors to study the success of fantasy football player motivation based on this article’s list of game elements and the mechanisms triggered.   Though football itself is a game, the watching of football (taking gambling of the table) is generally not.   Fantasy football has, in an extremely successful way, to the point of being genius really, gamified the watching of other people playing a game in a new and healthy way.   There are serious motivational factors at play here clearly triggered by game elements (points, avatars, rules, leaderboards, performance graphs, quests, meaningful stories)   in an otherwise non game setting.   Hmmmm.

Article Review 3 – Role-Playing and Virtual Reality

As I read the readings and went through the resources for this week, I couldn’t help but  be drawn to Brown’s talk about video games. I’ve been playing video games since 1994 (I was born in 1992). I’ve had an on-again-off-again love/hate relationship with them, often dipping in and out of interest for months or years at a time. They seem to get brought up in education somewhat frequently, often by older educators or people who I would consider gaming outsiders, and I always view the discussion with skepticism, especially when “gamification” comes up. So, the article I am reviewing this week is “Online role-play environments for higher education,” by Carol Russel and John Sheperd, which focuses on incorporating elements of role-playing (from RPGs and the like – though of course “role-playing” is older than that) into online aspects of higher education.

According to the article, role-playing is a type of “experiential learning” which is “ideal for encouraging…complex holistic social learning” (Russel  & Shepherd, 2010, 993). Basically, having students adopt roles and then play through them online allows them to learn about both the role they adopt and the roles their cohort members adopt, in a relatively safe way.  Because “learning from experience can be risky,” role-playing allows students to work through a variety of complex social tasks (like professional interactions) in a risk-free environment   (Russel  & Shepherd, 2010, 993). There are a seemingly infinite number of ways to set this up, but perhaps the most interesting example from the article has to do with how role-play functions outside of what we typically think of as a gaming environment. The article differentiates between games (an artificial situation in which there are parameters for victory) and simulations (which are more realistic and complex, focusing on solvable issues), but notes that both function according to predetermined conditions whereas role-play develops naturally (Russel & Shepherd, 2010, 994). It is really quite impressive how diversified the options for online role-play tools are. The article gives a brief overview of 8 different types, and lists even more. If you’re somewhat unfamiliar with the basic tools that can be used to simulate role-play online, I recommend reading this. It’s short and easily digestible. The biggest focus, of course, is on virtual reality, though the article seems to use that phrase in a way that is not as familiar to me as another. They mean it in a video-game world sense, not in a Oculus Rift headset sense. Regardless, I do think that the educational possibilities for both senses of the phrase are nearly limitless.

Virtual reality is a bit of an unknown frontier in higher academia, according to the article. People have worked with Second Life before, with somewhat mixed results. If you’re going to make the argument that role-playing is a valuable experiential learning exercise, then really I would think that virtual reality has to be pretty high up and close to the ideal, right? The article makes no claim of that, instead nothing that while MMOs, virtual classrooms, and other extreme role-playing tools like virtual reality “seem immersive, it is not yet clear whether this helps or hinders student engagement with learning from the role” (Russel & Shepherd, 2010, 998). I am not sure exactly what they mean by this. I cannot imagine how it would hinder engagements, and the article unfortunately does not speculate as to the possibilities. When I personally think about the seemingly logical conclusion of the future of online education, I start to picture things very similar to Second Life. The article offers up a long list of things that they believe make role-play the most effective, and settles on the conclusion that custom tools seem best and that it is not possible at time of writing to determine how effective virtual worlds will be at meeting these. However, it is now five years past time of writing, so I guess I can do that for them.

Pretty much everything that they were unable to assess in 2010 (which I find suspect, as Second Life launched in 2003 and ActiveWorlds in 1995) as being supportive of role-play can be said to almost assuredly to encourage engaging role-play.  I would like to see a follow up to this article wherein whatever new tools and virtual worlds are available would be put to more of a test. I’m sure there are tools newer than SecondLife that could be used to make a more engaging virtual “classroom” experience. At one point, both Adobe and Google had working virtual communities, but they have long since been abandoned. I’m not sure what the best contemporary tool would be. Some of the things that they go over here are antiquated or no longer in use. Just goes to show how fast things move on the internet.

The article ends on a high note, suggesting that given staff familiarity, virtual worlds could become as commonplace in education and role-play situations as email (Russel & Shepherd, 2010, 1001). That wouldn’t exactly surprise me, given how easily young people dive into almost unfathomably large virtual worlds and engage in role-play all the time. The amount of support that the Oculus Rift got was enormous, even though not many people really knew what exactly it could be used for beyond entertainment. I agree with the basic conclusion the article comes to: that role-playing serves a very specific social function (outside of games or simulations) and that digital tools can enhance that. There’s so much more on the horizon, though. We’re very close to a time when augmented reality and virtual reality will become the norm and not the fringe. How is role-play going to change? How is learning going to change because of that? To paraphrase everyone’s favorite literary dad, pretty soon we’ll be able to climb inside someone’s skin and walk around in it in ways we never thought possible. It would be interesting to read an educational study that examines legitimate modern virtual reality and how learners engage with that. I do agree with the article that role-play is a good learning tool and I think taking it virtual might allow curmudgeonly people like me to be more willing to open up to it in a way that feels (paradoxically) a little more natural.

 

 

References:

 

Russell, C., & Shepherd, J. (2010). Online role-play environments for higher education. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 41(6), 992-1002. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.01048.x

 

Cyber Safety in The Classroom

https://www.districtadministration.com/article/cybersafety-classroom

This article discusses multiple factors regarding Internet safety including: general need, parental involvement, application, and denial. It dissects “need” in the context of funding and safety. Schools and districts are Federally mandated to implement Internet safety to continue receiving funds for telecommunications and Internet services. However, cyber safety is an important and essential topic whether it is mandated or not. The article also emphasizes the importance of starting the conversations related to Internet safety at a young age.

Need
The moment we give students a key allowing them access to the Internet, we need to start teaching digital ethics. This can easily begin with passwords/passphrases. With direct instruction, students can begin to associate the connection of security and/or privacy early. Think about what you would say to a child the first time you gave him/ her a key to something valuable. What would you say? Keep it safe (why?). Don’t share it (why?). Don’t lose it? (Why?) what does it protect (why?)…..

Parental Involvement
On-going communication with families is an essential component in education. Schools should have multiple methods of established communication venues to communicate what online resources students access at school. But Internet safety, privacy, and security extend beyond the classroom. Parents don’t always know what they don’t know or feel embarrassed to ask. Parent nights, hands-on exploration, and access to resources is vital in today’s education system. Whether or not the school is pushing large technology initiatives, digital ethics and Internet safety are societal issues. We need to be preparing students for success in life. This includes digital life. Teaming up with parents is a great start in promoting successful digital futures.

Enlisting Web 2.0 Resources
When we teach students to drive a car, direct instruction leads to hands on practice which gives way to independence. Direct instruction, immersion with practice, and independence are at the heart of teaching students how to manage their digital presence. This article highlights the importance of hands-on practice in social medias and other Web 2.0 Resources. However, I find there is a huge piece missing in this article related to privacy. The Children’s Online Privacy and protection Act (COPPA) is a Federal Law designed to help parents remain in control of what personal information websites and other services can collect about children under 13. Teachers and schools need to consider what kind of personally identifiable information they may unintentionally be sharing through media, websites, apps or services for young children. This topic is one that requires further exploration on many levels.

Denial
Some schools have lock down policies with respect to personal devices in schools. Students live in a world of anytime, anywhere access. If we don’t allow personal devices in schools, they still can access Internet resources off campus. We live in a digital age and digital ethics is a social issue that cannot be ignored, and students are in need of direct instruction and hands on practice in school and at home, but it has to be taught somewhere.

As my children grow, I question technology use in school unless it authentic and hands on. Computers have more potential that passive skill and practice learning. At the same time, I want the expectation for technology integration at a young ages to SLOW DOWN. I want to know that schools and individual teachers are considering Federal laws and scaffolding Internet safety and digital ethics practices as my children advance through school. I am most concerned about their lens of exposure and digital footprint because of peer pressure and the lack of instruction (beyond a few mandated lessons by the Federal government in Anchorage School District). I wish for teacher, school, and community buy- in for this topic.

Humanness – Article Review #2

After reading a quantitative heavy piece this week, I wanted to search for an article that discussed the human side of online learning. I wanted to bring some emotion back into online learning education. So I found an article that I thought was particularly interesting, it is titled,  High Tech and High Touch: The Human Face of Online Education.  This article focuses on the learner as a partner in the learning process. “This chapter explores the human face of online education through an examination of the subjective experiences of both the learner and course facilitator, including the emotional and perceptual changes that impact learners and facilitators in this new educational experience.” (MacFadden, et al. 2002) For many students, online learning is new and requires a new set of skills. Learning these new skills can be challenging and problems can arise.

The authors discuss technophobia which is a condition that causes anxiety when dealing with new technology. “Brosnan associates technophobia with anxiety, prior experience, confidence, self-efficacy, cognitive style, and persistence.” (MacFadden, et al. 2002) These emotional reactions to new learning environments can cause students to disengage from the learning process. At Northwest Indian College we are currently transitioning from Moodle to Canvas software for our online courses. I see students and instructors with anxiety over learning new technology. Some instructors continue to use their preferred videoconferencing software, in most cases it is Zoom, instead of learning how to use the teleconferencing on Canvas. The software Zoom requires a subscription, which means the instructor would rather pay their subscription to Zoom instead of learning how to use Canvas. Students alike have anxiety about Canvas. One student came to my office last quarter and asked if he could send his discussion responses directly to his instructor. He was not Native and didn’t grow up in an Indigenous community. He didn’t know if his responses to the discussion questions would offend any of his fellow classmates and didn’t feel comfortable writing on the discussion board  for them all to see. He made an observation that stuck with me about online discussion boards. He said that people are more comfortable saying what they really feel while discussing topics online. This made him uncomfortable because if he said the wrong thing, he feared students would lash out at him. The authors suggest creating a positive learning environment and use a variety of instructional strategies. “Rather than focus solely on the cognitive and motivational processes, these authors emphasize the importance of a sound emotional experience to learning.” (MacFadden, et al. 2002)

This perspective is really interesting to me because in Indigenous research and Indigenous education, one of the most important pieces to create an engaged classroom is the relationship. In Indigenous communities relationships are so important. The instructor cannot engage learning without first building a relationship with their students. The authors suggest the course facilitator create a safe environment for their students. “The facilitators suspected that given the virtual environment was new to both themselves and to the learners, that the constructivist educational principles of being ‘guides’ and ‘co-learners’ with participants would apply more online than it did in their onground teaching.” (MacFadden, et al. 2002) The instructors in the Native Studies department are attempting to serve as guides throughout the transition to Canvas. But as the instructors continue to learn about the software themselves and don’t always have all the answers, it is sometimes difficult. The first day of videoconferencing class is usually spent walking students through the course webpage. There are some students who are completely new to online learning and some that have used Moodle in the past. There are very few students who have used Canvas before. So we are all learning.

I chose this article because I feel its important to ensure we are creating a learning environment for our students. And I think its important to include the humanness to online learning. Students are human and have emotions directly linked to the technology they use. And as an educator I need to take that into consideration as well.

Works Cited:

MacFadden, R.J., Maiter, S., & Dumbrill, G.C. (2002).  High Tech and High Touch: The Human Face of Online Learning.  Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press, Inc.

Article Review 2 – Online Languages and Stress

I’ve been interested in English Language Learning for some time now. It’s always an option I keep in the back of my mind, mulling it over and thinking about what all it entails. I’m not particularly trained to teach English as a foreign language, but I am trained (sort of? as much as any of us are) to teach English. It can’t be that different, right? So, whenever I have some inkling of a research itch that can’t be scratched easily, I turn to ELL/EFL as a research topic.

This week, the article I am reviewing is a very specific study on how stress comes in to play in student learning when Japanese students use online learning as a tool in learning English. Before I get to the review, I’d like to point out a few things that I think are important. Many countries can be said to have a “better” (whatever that means) education system than the United States. Japan is not one of those countries. The school system is incredibly stressful, competitive, has long hours, and has been proven to be highly ineffective in preparing students for the “real world” after their equivalent of the end of compulsory education (which is in middle school – you’ve got to test into high school). So they’re already very stressed, and many of these students go full time to two different schools.

Anyway, on to the article. The article’s findings aren’t particularly revolutionary, so I won’t focus on them for long. What’s more interesting is the assumptions made by the article and the sorts of things we have to take into consideration as educators because of them.

The short-and-sweet of this article is that the Japanese learning culture encourages students to look towards their teachers as masters of content, Japanese culture discourages individuals from striving towards individual success, and Japanese students, because they are obsessed with furthering the needs of the group and with appearing proficient in front of their peers and instructors, tend to get nervous in online learning settings, especially those in which they are expected to use English. Students get very stressed having to use English because it isn’t their first language, and they’re nervous about not looking perfect in their writing. They are worried about losing face to their peers and making their peer group look less competent in the eyes of their instructors. They also aren’t too keen on being put in charge of their own learning, instead preferring the passive learner role more commonly associated with lectures. Most of the modern research literature on online learning looks at it through a distinctly Western lens, and as such, many online class structures serve to heighten stress levels among Japanese students. Stress, though it is good for learning to a certain extent, can discourage students and shut down learning if present in too high of levels  (Jung, et. al, 2012, 1023-1027).

That’s pretty much it. The article also identified key stress related factors, and went into more specifics regarding the origins of stress in certain contexts. The article is fairly well written and its findings seem sound enough, but I’d prefer to talk about something else.

Have you ever been to a “foreign” part of the internet? To Japanese image boards, Chinese chatrooms, or places where Korean netizens congregate (mostly to complain about idols, it seems)? Every country with internet access has its own “internet” that is simultaneously very similar to and very different from the internet to which we are accustomed. I’ve played around in various parts of the internet from the three countries above. It’s a strange experience. Countries have different internets, and they have different school systems, so it would make sense for them to have different online course structures, right?

Most of us, I imagine, rarely think about this. It’s an unusual blend of commodity, culture, and education, that doesn’t really have many other parallels. The assumptions we have to make about online education, specifically in how it divorces itself from a traditional “classroom,” are subject to the culture in which those assumptions are being made. I spend a lot of time in forums filled with expats teaching English (stay away from them, they’re some bitter places) and they often talk about how their students are not motivated by individual success and out-of-classroom learning. That’s not the norm in many cultures; elders (and teachers, and bosses, and the like) are expected to be knowledge bearers, and the “student” is a little more receptive to their direction than to building their own direction. That’s anecdotal of course, but this study and the studies it draws from back that statement up.

When I picture online instruction that fits this model, it seems awfully boring to me. It sounds very teacher-directed, like the kind of online classes I took in high school. The teacher decides exactly what you’re doing so there’s no need to worry about your individual path not meshing with that of the group, but it’s also kind of…boring. Right?

Classes with minimal peer interaction so you don’t need to worry about losing face in front of your peers. While that’s certainly less stressful, doesn’t that in some way negate the above? You’re no longer learning “together” as much. The English is certainly a major factor in that, of course. You can go to many places on the internet and see people stress about their foreign language skills. I don’t particularly enjoy going to Chinese language learner forums and having to type in Chinese when I have what amounts to an elementary schooler’s (and not one that’s particularly bright) understanding of the language. I certainly can’t type it! That is stressful. Language classes of any kind are a special situation. There’s almost nothing harder to learn and master than another language that’s fairly distinct from your own. I imagine having to do that all the time in front of dozens of people would turn me off to learning to. If you want to get students comfortable with typing in English, though, what better way is there to do it? I’m not sure.

The article left me with a lot to think about but not many conclusions. I’ve done a lot of reading about what schools are like in China, Korea, and Japan. They don’t sound particularly pleasant. A lot of memorization, high failure rates, little individual learning, no alternate paths. Much of the research into these schools indicate that they produce great test-takers but terrible learners. The kinds of students who do well on paper but not in the work force or at the university level. Exactly what online instruction, which seems to oppose that approach inherent, looks like in Japan of all places, is hard to imagine.

This article seems to hold no particular prejudice either for or against these class structures. That is refreshing. Often in educational research, the writers are very impassioned for or against something and that colors their writing, even if it does not technically affect their conclusions. As such, I am walking away from this article a little more confused than usual. Is it a…good thing…to push students from collectivist students towards these kind of individual stresses? If the authors weren’t Japanese we’d accuse them of ethnocentrism if that were their argument. Is it a good thing to create structures that are comfortable, and by association, not challenging? That seems like it would attract just as serious of an accusation of close-mindedness. I think students should be challenged. I also think students should be allowed to be comfortable with their learning styles and cultural expectations as to how learning functions. This article seems to imply, in a subtle manner, that in the case of online learning, those two things are often at odds. I do not think that is the case. I’m certain a happy medium can be found, but my admitted unfamiliarity with the nuances of collectivist societies’ views on learning makes those assertions difficult to put into words.

I guess I’d like to open this up if people are willing. Thoughts on this? Have you tried to learn a language online? Do you know much about schooling, particularly online schooling, in non-Western countries? Do you feel stressed when you have to “perform” in front of a cohort? Any other thoughts? This article represents a very specific situation (foreign language learning and the stress that comes from showcasing your language skills online) but I think it generalizes well.

 

References:

 

Jung, I., Kudo, M., & Choi, S. (2012). Stress in Japanese learners engaged in online collaborative learning in English. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 43(6), 1016-1029.

 

Character Education for the Digital Age

Ohler, J. “Character Education for the Digital Age’ (February 2011) , online: https://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb11/vol68/num05/Character-Education-for-the-Digital-Age.aspx

This article paints a picture of the confusing technological environment our children tip-toe through and proposes a framework that would begin truly preparing them for the digital world in which we live. Due to the history of our educational system and the sensitive, complex, and legal implications surrounding the use of digital technology at school, some teachers or districts take the stance that the Internet is too problematic or distracting to effectively use in a school setting. The author asserts that this mindset communicates that “issues concerning the personal, social, and environmental effects of a technological lifestyle are not important in a school curriculum, and that kids will have to puzzle through issues of cybersafety, technological responsibility, and digital citizenship without the help of teachers or the educational system” (Ohler, p. 1). This is the essence of the “two-life” perspective; technological expertise, although vital to a productive life, comes at too risky a price, so kids will need to gain that knowledge on their own. The “one-life” perspective proposed by the author says the opposite. It suggests that the role of educators is to encourage kids to use technology in school, and then openly discuss it’s impact within the global context of society and community. “If we want to pursue a future that celebrates success not only in terms of abundance but also in terms of humanity, we must help our digital kids balance the individual empowerment of digital technology use with a sense of personal, community, and global responsibility” (Ohler, p. 1).

I’ve stated before that I believe digital devices are merely tools in the toolbox of an intentional teacher. It’s the creativity, drive, and desire to cater to the various learning styles of diverse children that set great teachers apart. The author of this article takes this “tool” idea a step further. He states that while on one hand we may view the capabilities of our modern age as something completely new, on the other hand, we are simply using the tools at our disposal to meet an basic human need – communication with other people. From cave art to the Phoenician alphabet, our ancestors used the tools of their time to tell their story and thereby build community. We are at a unique time in history where we can utilize our latest “tool” to establish the citizenship needed to function as a contributing member of a larger community. This can only happen through a “one-life” perspective, where digital tools are treated as another ingredient mixed into the the school soup. The author states that the teacher’s responsibility is not only to help students use the tools in creative, productive, efficient ways, “but also help them place these tools in the larger context of building community, behaving responsibly, and imagining a healthy and productive future, both locally and globally (Ohler, p. 2).

Say, show, do. These three words summarize constructivism and good teaching. If we want kids to walk in a quiet, straight line, we tell them what we expect, demonstrate what it looks like, and then let them practice in real world context. Why then would we expect kids to be good digital citizens without explicit instruction and guided practice? We create a taboo around the Internet when we tell kids they should pursue digital interests outside of school, while adults aren’t present. “Because of the extreme freedom, anonymity, and pervasiveness that characterize cyberspace, concerns about values and character education have now shifted into overdrive (Ohler, p. 3). If the end goal is ethical digital citizens, isn’t it precisely the role of educators to model appropriate behavior in this realm as we do in all others. Teachers can do this by simply having conversations about sources and copywriting. When citing ideas or information, they draw attention to the fact that this is not original, but borrowed from a specific source or from the collective wealth of information. They can also do this by discussing the importance and sensitivity of passwords. I remember a quote from a internet safety class I took years ago. “Passwords are like underwear, best kept to yourself and changed frequently.” This is a quote I’ve used often to break the ice, relate the importance to something we understand, and begin a uncomfortable conversation with a little humor. We as educators are in an ideal position to teach and model critical citizenship practices for our students.

The author recommends several steps for developing character education programs within a school that reflect the values of the community. First, public meetings afford community members the opportunity to discuss and debate the ideals they hold dear. Since character education has historically been intertwined with community values, it’s imperative that members outside the school have their voice heard. Next, students must be directly involved in developing character education programs. Students are “in the trenches” so to speak; they have a better idea about opportunities and pitfalls in cyberspace than most adults. They, like adults, are more likely to buy into outcomes if involved in the decision-making process. This process of inclusion leads to valuable dialog, the exchange of opinions and motivators, that is crucial to educated, informed policy. Finally, it is recommended that school districts check to see if the department of education has already adopted mandates for character education. Although the mandates may not be comprehensive, it’s a starting point to begin the conversation about guiding principles of exceptional character.

Ethical behavior and character education is not something new or revolutionary. The world we live and operate in, however, is changing so fast that the assumptions behind them need to be reevaluated periodically. If we as educators are charged with instilling mutual respect and preparing our students for a successful future in this world, we cannot create a “two-life” paradigm. We need to have proactive conversations about the challenges students face online. We need to model appropriate behavior and decision-making and teach students how to navigate the confusing world they faced with. We begin this by letting the monster out of the closet and teaching our students how to communicate and interact with it in a healthy manner that builds up humanity and the global sense of community we all desire.

Constructivism and Motivation: Article Review 2

Martens, R., Bastiaens, T., & Kirschner, P. A. (2007). New Learning Design in Distance Education: The impact on student perception and motivation. Distance Education, 28(1), 81-93.

This week I was looking for ideas for different applications of authentic learning – constructavist style.   I hoped to find examples in less typical disciplines than medical, emergency response, etc. During that search, I found the article “New Learning Design in Distance Education: The impact on student perception and motivation’.   I was intrigued, especially after Craig’s reference last week about motivation from ‘perceived privilege’.   This article offered a little of both topics so it was a nice fit for my current explorations.

In the article Martens, Bastiaens, and Kirschner (2007) ask if there is a difference between course designer’s perceptions and student’s perceptions of the benefits of authentic learning experiences incorporated into online classes.     They found a gap.

The article opens with a very thorough introduction.   Constructivism is defined and ten principles of constructivist educational design principles are reviewed. Next, they explore the problem course developers face in designing learning environments that incorporate these elements.   The topic then turns to motivation, with the authors stating “The effort or motivation on which constructivist e-learning environments rely is intrinsic motivation, with its associated features, such as curiosity, deep level, processing, explorative behavior, and self-regulation.’ and “The question is not if a task is authentic, interesting, or challenging, but whether it is perceived as such by students’.

The authors also warn of including elements into a course because the technology is new, fun, and shiny, so called “technological dazzle’,   rather than because of their effectiveness.   Eventually they do come to the question at hand.   How do students perceive different constructivist elements in their online courses?   Are they as motivated by them as the course designers think they are? The answer turned out to be no.   Students in two online courses at the Open University of the Netherlands “did not appreciate role-playing as much as the developers had thought they did. In their conclusion, the authors do a good job at identifying the weak points of their study and identifying areas for future research.

Overall, I learned quite a bit more from the introduction to the topic at hand than from the actual study.   The authors did a good job of describing the principles of constructivist theory and in identifying the challenges of actually applying those principles in an effective way.   I was particularly intrigued with the supplied definition of intrinsic motivation in relation to virtual classrooms.   I suspect my next article review will have me delving further in on that topic. Though I did not come away with the examples I had initially been after, when I do find them, I believe I will look at them a little more critically and perhaps more realistically.   The   warning about not incorporating technology because it is new and shiny, was especially well placed with me in leu of my affinity for embracing the dazzling technology of the moment and finding new ways to use it in order to justify the time I spend learning how.

Article Review #1

As I was reading Mohamad Ally’s article I came across the term globalization. “Because of globalization, information is not location-specific, and with the increasing use of telecommunication, technologies experts and learners from around the world can share and review information.” (Ally, 2008) These concepts of globalization and online learning struck my curiosity and I wanted to know more about them. I work at a tribal college. The knowledge that we teach is place-based knowledge. The history and culture that is taught through the Native Studies program and foundational courses for all programs of study is based on Lummi history and culture. We also have extended campus sites at Northwest Indian College in neighboring tribal communities. The history and culture taught at these sites is also place-based to their tribal communities.

So the idea of globalization struck my curiosity because it seemed to be the opposite direction from where we are going. And I wanted to know the perspectives around this concept. I found an article written by Kirk St. Amant titled,  Online Education in an Age of Globalization: Foundational Perspectives and Practices for Technical Communication Instructors and Trainers.  The article discusses the interest in online education and how it is increasing all around the world. It also discusses the development of the courses and best practices for delivery.

Though there is much interest in online education around the world due to decreased funding for brick and mortar universities, the areas of study seem to be limited. When looking at a global context, there are only so many areas of study that apply. This article mainly discusses business. Business is an area that does have its own language that has spread throughout the world. Students from Korea can take the same classes in business with students from America and their knowledge will be relevant no matter where they decide to look for work. For the purposes of offering online programs in business, I see value in global online learning. There can be positive attributes and negative attributes to globalizing education. One positive attribute is that students could take classes from anywhere and work anywhere. Their degree and expertise would most likely be recognized at any of the countries that accept those online degrees. One negative attribute is that when you are learning about business in the world, there is very little room for specialization.

When I first heard this concept of globalization I instantly wanted to know if it would be in conflict with place-based learning. But I now see they are two very different concepts of learning and really they are both based on student interest. A person who would like to know more about their identity and focus their academic career on their home community would want a place-based education. A person who hopes to move away from home and would like an opportunity to work anywhere could choose a global online educational system.

Ally, M. (2008). Foundations for Educational Theory for Online Learning.  In Andersen, T., & Elloumi, F. (Eds.).  The Theory and Practice of Online Learning  (2nd ed). (pp. 15-44). Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.

St. Amant, K. (2007). Online Education in an Age of Globalization: Foundational Perspectives and Practices for Technical Communication Instructors and Trainers.  Technical Communication Quarterly,  16, 13-30.

Article Review #1 – Mandatory Discussions

Apologies in advance if I end up being long winded here. This is a subject I’ve spent a lot of time pondering, so this post will be a bit of an outlet. The article I have chosen to review is “Compulsory participation in online discussions: is this constructivism or normalisation of learning?’ by Shalni Gulati, published in Innovations in Education and Teaching International, from Routledge (2008). I chose to look at this because while I was going through the Ally reading, the sections on constructivism interested me greatly. I have been in a lot of distance courses in my educational career and have almost always found the peer-to-peer interaction somehow lacking, so this article seemed like a perfect complement to what was on my mind this week.

To give you all a brief overview of the article, the author is setting out to evaluate (then contemporary) approaches to online learning and see whether course design and supporting theory were adhering to a constructivist paradigm, which the author, like Ally and Siemens, acknowledges as important for online instruction.

The picture of online learning that Gulati gives is very similar to the structure of the class we are all enrolled in. Basically, the normal approach is that the “course designer identifies topics, structures texts and provides website links for the learners to access and download’ and a class “often requires completion of individual or group tasks, with the intention to promote online discussions’ with an “emphasis on inclusion of asynchronous online discussions’ (Gulati, 2008, 184). Even if it is probably very deliberately vague, this should sound familiar to us all. I am not trying to stir the pot; I am legitimately interested in this topic and this seems like the best possible way to start a conversation regarding something that I have been thinking about for a long time.

Gulati is seeking to answer three questions that I’ll paraphrase for you:

 

1.) Is that structure really constructivist?

2.) Does this encourage complex discussion or conformity to what students think instructors want?

3.) What role does power play (student-student and student-instructor) in discussions? (2008, 185-186)

 

In short, the article’s findings (note: this is a literature review, not a research study) indicate that forced participation in discussions favors certain learners over others and that, generally, many students participate only to earn their points for discussion and do not engage except at a very shallow level (Gulati, 2008, 187-188). Some students are natural lurkers, some are power-commenters, and some are merely “present’ in the discussion for the sake of earning points. The conclusion the article comes to is that “compulsory participation in discussions may be a useful tool for engagement in some learning situations, but using it…requires greater awareness of power differences’ in the context of student-student and student-instructor interactions (Gulati, 2008, 188). Basically, most students do not benefit from compulsory discussions. That said, like anything in education, it’s very much a “you get out what you put in’ situation.

I find the findings of the article somewhat unsurprising. Mandatory participation in discussions are sometimes unpleasant in face-to-face courses. I’m just going to be honest and say that I don’t always have something to say in response to a student other than “neat!’ That’s only sometimes the case, but feeling as though you must contribute to everything can be exhausting.  I’ll give an example from another course I’m in this semester. We had to post introductions online. There are ~20 students in that class. Maybe I’m going to sound heartless and antisocial, but I don’t care about whether or not my classmates like hunting, who their spouses are, or why they decided to get into teaching. I suppose it builds community, but it does so artificially. I’ve been in other courses where sharing things on Diigo or Google+ have been required course elements, but they were required fairly infrequently. We would then have a Hangout meeting after, say, four weeks, and I would be sitting there in the meeting wondering who all those  people were. I knew them by their usernames on Diigo, but even then I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to their names, I was focused on what they were tagging. It wasn’t fostering any sense of community, it was more like reading an anonymous RSS feed. If there’s more than, say, 10 people in an online course then they all start to blur together and I no longer see them as people. They’re just names on the screen. Sometimes I don’t put in 100% of myself into interacting with twenty people, because that can be exhausting even if it’s infrequent, so I don’t get much out of that. The article indicates that others feel the same.  

Therein lies one of the major flaws of this article. Gulati focuses on larger groups of learners, none of which are in the single-digits. Our class here has an incredibly small number of people and I already know everybody by name. When I took Digital Storytelling a few years ago, there were people on the Twitter feed who I was unfamiliar with by the end of the second month! I think mandatory discussions can work. So far, I’ve enjoyed reading people’s posts in this class. I have to admit though that when I logged in to submit this review I was a little overwhelmed that suddenly there were four new posts to read and respond to. That isn’t a lot. It really is a very small amount compared to traditional classes. That said, online interaction will always be a significantly greater effort than face-to-face interaction. That isn’t a fault of course designers. Writing out careful responses, responses that are out in the open to be picked apart and criticized, responses that need to be detailed enough to convey a point effectively because you can’t engage in rapid conversation, is laborious. Sometimes people avoid this by “tuning out.’ I imagine we’ve all done it.

I hope someday to design online classes. I think they’re very interesting. Though I’m not in the “the internet is going to replace traditional learning’ camp, I think that for certain things, they are superior to classes in classrooms. They are, essentially, formalized autodidacticism, curated by an expert, where you can occasionally interact with other people on the same track as you. It can be very intimidating to interact with people when you feel as though you are not on the same level as them. I’ve never been in that situation but this article makes a good point about power dynamics. The articles we read last week about novices and experts apply doubly to online classes with mandatory written interactions. It can be frightening for a novice to engage with experts; it can be really frightening for a novice to give experts a piece of writing that they need to engage with. In the future, I am sure that my courses will involve cohort interaction, but I am not sure what form they will take. Twitter? WordPress? A BBS forum (I wish!)? Hangouts? Skype? They all have their drawbacks and positives. Gulati did not specify exactly what kind of mandatory interactions were in place in the courses being evaluated. Some of those things did not even exist when this article was written.

As I’ve said, my own experiences with mandatory interactions have been mixed. Mostly negative, I would say, because it seems as though they’re often treated by the instructor as an afterthought. Sometimes they’re colored by what I think the professor wants me to say, and sometimes by fear of the kind of nitpicking and vitriol that I’m accustomed to associating with online interactions. Even now, I’m rereading my review in the hope that I didn’t offend Owen or make any of you think you’re just “faceless names’ to me. This class is small. It’s different. Would the posts not have been significantly more difficult to respond to if we had 15 students? Right now we are only required to respond to a small number of posts. I have been in larger classes where that was the case and some posts would end up with no comments. I would like to see a follow up study to this article that evaluated the same issues, but used different size groups to gauge how interactions change between cohort sizes.

I hope the link between this article, my discussion, and constructivism has been fairly clear. If a discussion is not authentic and is merely taking place because it has to, students aren’t really constructing their own meaning. Contextualization can be artificial, observation can be lax, processing can be minimal. If you’re participating in a discussion because you have to, not because you have something to add to it, then you aren’t really learning. Constructivists see learning as an active and individual process that is learner centered. If discussions aren’t organic, that is, if the instructor is mandating exactly what they’re about, how constructivist can they be? So far, and looking ahead, our posts are largely individualized. We have topics, sure, but they’re very broad. There is a lot of room for making things student-centered. Last week we had a post about aquariums and fish fungus! I am interested in hearing what your experiences are with mandatory interactions. Reading this article made me glad to know I am not an antisocial outlier and that other people have mixed feelings towards them. I certainly feel as though class size matters, and our group is so small that it must be unusual. This is certainly a topic for follow up in the future; you can expect some of my future article reviews to be pulled from Gulati’s references.

 

 

References:

Gulati, S. (2008). Compulsory participation in online discussions: is this constructivism or normalisation of learning?. Innovations In Education & Teaching International, 45(2), 183-192.