.. we include that word in our upcoming grant proposal application and I fear that it equates for most people to either clickers, or making virtual reality versions of lessons where people play a game representing the real world. Like NASA flight trainers that don’t involve people getting killed.

Where we employ “Gamification”, I/we are referring to the principles that are intrinsic to good, addictive games where people (think: students who cannot focus on traditional materials for more than 2 minutes), spend hours persevering and are motivated enough to achieve goals that seem at first, almost impossible.
I’m mid-way (no game company pun intended) through “What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy” by James Paul Gee – published 2003.
I think I can best capture the key principles with a few quotes that I will not damage by paraphrasing:

“learning is or should be both frustrating and life enhancing. The key is finding ways to make hard things life enhancing so that people keep going and don’t fall back on learning and thinking only what is simple and easy.”  Gee talks at length of the Semiotic Domains; “sets of practices that recruit one or more modalities (e.g., oral or written languages, images, equations, symbols, sounds, gestures, graphs, artifacts, etc.) to communicate distinctive types of meanings”.  He stresses the need to place learning actively and contextually in a number of these domains because in doing so, three results come about:

  1. We learn to experience (see, feel and operate on) the world in new ways.
  2. Since semiotic domains usually are shared by groups of people who carry them on as distinctive social practices, we gain the potential to join this social group, to become affiliated with such kinds of people (even though we may never see any of them face to face.)
  3. We gain resources that prepare us for future learning and problem solving in the domain and, perhaps more important, in related domains.

He continues: “Learning in any semiotic domain crucially involves learning how to situate (or build) meanings for that domain in the sorts of situations the domain involves”

One particular domain, which we in H.E. often try to approximate as “Real World” or “Authentic” (as in Authentic Assessment), Gee calls, “Lifeworld”
He offers; “Helping students learn how to think about the contrasting claims of various specialists against each other and against lifeworld claims ought to be a key job for schools”
He then concludes: “I believe it is crucial, particularly in the contemporary world, that all of us, regardless of our cultural affiliations, be able to operate in a wide variety of semiotic domains outside our lifeworld domain”  – which sounds like a solid argument for a diverse liberal arts education if ever I heard one.

One final aspect that game designers nail where academic Instructional Designers have a way to go is the acceptance of, and lack of discouragement that, “failing” engenders;
“When the character you are playing dies in a video game, you can get sad and upset, but you also usually get “pissed” that you (the player) have failed. And then you start again, usually from a saved game, motivated to do better”

Some more key tenets known by game designers, not really given enough thought by (Academic)  Instructional designers:

  • The learner must be enticed to try, even if he or she already has good grounds to be afraid to try
  • The learner must be enticed to put in lots of effort even if he or she begins with little motivation to do so
  • The learner must achieve some meaningful success when he or she has expended this effort

Wouldn’t it be great if we in Higher Ed could develop a product that replaces the words “Good video games” with something like “Good courses” or “Great coursework”:

Good video games give players better and deeper rewards as (and if) they continue to learn new things as they play (or replay) the game.
In Good video games, students are challenged to “think about the routinized mastery they have achieved and to undo this routinization to achieve a new higher level of skill”

Education as addictive as World of Warcraft… wouldn’t that be great!


AND – Pearson try to pursue this concept with Alleyoop – saw this the day after I blogged !

The Open Content Licensing for Educators (#OCL4Ed)

…workshop starts on Monday 23 January 2012.  +800 participants from +80 countries.

There are a number of elements of the #OCL4Ed which could potentially inform our work for the design, development and delivery of OERu courses:

#OCL4Ed course materials are based entirely on OERs
The pedagogy is scalable and can cater for large student cohorts
The learning is free
The development plan for the #OCL4Ed materials was collaboratively executed in WikiEducator commencing with a review of existing OERs leading to a concept course outline.  The drafting of the course materials was supported by open design and editorial discussions in the wiki using the corresponding talk pages in the wiki. (see for example these discussions relating to the introduction page of the Creative Commons unit.)
The WikiEducator pages can easily be integrated into a local learning management system. The #OCL4Ed workshop uses  a wiki course schedule as well as a more structured learning sequence hosted in the LMS.
The development and delivery of the #OCL4Ed course has incorporated elements of  “Academic Volunteers”. The #OCL4Ed 2012.01 course has four volunteer facilitators. Two of the facilitators are “graduates” of the pilot offering of the #OCL4Ed workshop presented in Feb / March 2011.  (An example of what might be possible for AVI.)
It would be possible to incorporate more formal assessment options of the #OCL4Ed workshop materials within a formal postgraduate elective in OER – -for example an OER course within a Masters Degree  in Educational Technology.

OERu planners and developers from our anchor partner courses are invited to join as active participants or observers. Questions for us to consider include:

What can we learn from the #OCL4Ed development experience to inform the design and development of OERu prototype courses?
Can we adapt and modify this approach for capacity development of the staff of OERu anchor partners and future academic volunteers?

Apple some way short of a full “fix”

I posted recently about the potential for Apple to really nail the e-textbook question with their might and the legacy of Jobs / iTunes / saving the music industry etc.  Of the SIX elements I suggested, they have met, partially met, or come close to, somewhere between three and four – pending interpretation.

I think locking into hardware is their biggest error – with that they may get decent revenue from 10-20% of their target demo. SURELY with more openness / or at least an open platform, they could have shot for 2-3 times that, guaranteeing better adoption and allowing for a lower price point (they have come out with $15, I proposed $10!). A step forward in some regards, but stops short of a full fix…

Apple aims to drive the use of electronic textbooks in the classroom by making it easier for publishers to create interactive titles. The company has announced a range of new tools and services which it claims will “reinvent the textbook”. Leading names in educational resources are involved, including the world’s biggest, UK-based Pearson Publishing. Apple will compete with existing offerings from Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Nook device. Roger Rosner, Apple’s vice president of productivity applications, demonstrated the books, some of which are now available to download, at an event in New York. Also on display was iBooks Author, a free program that will allow educators and authors to make their own interactive books for the iPad.


Can Apple “fix” textbooks?

Big announcement coming January 19th in New York City – Steve Job’s legacy to “fix” or “save” the publishing industry in the same way that he “saved” the music industry.
Those of us who gave up illegal downloading of music back in 2001-2 have fond memories of the likes of Kazaa, before people with viruses (a.k.a. Music company executives) – started to embed them in Eminem tracks… Those days seemed to have both potential and threat; a whole industry was feeling cornered, lines were drawn and the no-man’s land between was one that even Michael Morpurgo* couldn’t see a way through (* somewhat obscure reference explained below)

Then came iTunes and Jobs’ brilliance was to develop a business plan that solved a social problem and made BILLIONS of dollars for his company before anyone else saw the possibilities.
Fast forward and for Music Industry, read Publishing Industry; for expensive CDs, read (ridiculously) expensive textbooks and for 99 cent songs, read 99 cent chapters…

To be fair to them, the (traditional) publishers have given it a go but they have been labo(u)ring with a model that is no longer sustainable and they seemed to miss, or were in denial about, the cultural and societal shift from the Yahoo model to Google (expert opinion to wisdom of the crowd). As Clayton Christensen observes, it is difficult for a successful industry to disrupt itself. The tipping point in this case had to, and did, come from the outsider – Open Source / Open Courseware / OER / Open Publishers that have sprung up and the demand for that particular “Bag of Gold” (Gardner Campbell)

Here’s what Apple need to announce:
1) we are partnering or soon will with every publisher on the planet (I know that’s ambitious, but this is the big Apple in the Big Apple)
2) we will have a drag and drop, platform agnostic interface that will allow anyone to select chapters from any texts and turn them into a custom text
3) chapters will cost 99c a time – no exceptions
4) texts that are produced will be immediately accessible by any student, on any device, from anywhere, for $10
5) we will get society away from print as that kills trees – hey, they got us off CDs and into e-songs
6) the texts will be able to incorporate OER and self-published elements at no charge

Flatworld Knowledge are the best model I know and already achieve many of the above, but I fear that they may just get swallowed up by a major publisher who assimilates their content and charges 3x the price. (and on a personal level, all the guys I have worked with at Flatworld will be super rich and won’t return my calls anymore)

Apple might just be the one giant player with the power – and the spirit of Jobs – to get this, no pun intended, job done.
January 19th happens to be my son’s 12th birthday –  perhaps I can give him (notice of) affordable textbooks as a gift – I can see his little face light up as he says, “what do you mean no DS games??!!”


ps – Michael Morpurgo wrote Warhorse – Spielberg’s new movie – involves, war, a horse, the trenches in Europe, no-man’s land and some illegal downloads of MP3s…

New (Disrupted) Faculty Roles

Rather than the Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side, you’re going to see a growing embrace of the Sage on the Side model. The need for an instructor with high-quality, in-depth domain knowledge (The Sage) will never go away. But, in an age of ubiquitous information, he just doesn’t get a stage anymore. However, an age of ubiquitous information also means a lot of that information is going to be crap. An education Sherpa is needed to help students develop information literacy so they can sort the good from the bad.

The above quote comes from a Campus Technology (December 2011) report entitled What’s Hot, What’s Not 2012

As we at the Innovation Lab are looking at alternative models for T+L, we are enthused by initial conversations with Open Study and LOVE Philipp Schmidt and the guys at P2PU. That seems to make us threatening to some of our traditional faculty colleagues who see us as part of the conspiracy to replace them with robots, peer-to-peer non-experts or, to put it another way, to “SurowiekiTM” them out of existence.
We are hoping to work with Open Study on a research project as to how implementation of an alternative means of student support affects a classroom (online or face to face) community and the T+L experience.
Here’s what I think, or hope, or hope I think… It sort of builds on the above CT quote:

  • 80% of questions asked in an online class environment do not require a PhD to answer (that’s a near quote from Carol Twigg – hybrid teaching guru)
  • 80% of questions asked in a class were asked last year (Wayne Mackintosh – OERu guru)

Funny that they both landed on 80% – as the percentage of background, less-than-challenging questions that (perhaps) technology, or someone other than a Full Professor can help with.
Now if I were a FT professor, I could take this one of two ways – and I understand both perspectives:

  1. OH NO – My job is being taken away, how dare “they” how can computers and T.As or mentors replace me with my experience, passion and qualifications OR
  2. GREAT – now I don’t have to answer all those mind-numbingly dull, repetitive questions that I didn’t spend 5,6,7 years getting my PhD for – the ONLY time I will have to step up is when a question merits my expertise!

When answering only the 20%’s (the subject-matter-specific, *interesting* questions)– the faculty member who gets it can now oversee 5 x as many classes and will feel challenged and stretched in her/his discipline rather than in the basics that a computer, or a good generalist T.A / mentor could easily address. If this is built correctly, we enhance and honor the expertise of the expert and free them up to stay at their cutting edge of knowledge, rather than dealing with the “I uploaded the doc to Blackboard but it failed” / “I lost my password” / “my textbook hasn’t arrived yet”… etc.  That an FAQ (per: Wayne) or a “mentor” (per: Carol) covers for them.

One obvious flaw in this argument that could push faculty back to a fear and distrust would be if there weren’t 5 classes for them to oversee – and their load got cut. To that I would say that if we do embrace these new (disruptive) models then we have a shot at engaging the extra millions who need the education but can’t get access due to outdated models and non-scalable costs. No evolution / disaggregation of roles and I feel that traditional faculty roles will be threatened.  Better efficiencies, everyone playing to real strengths and I think we’ll get there.

“Sage on the side” / “Sherpa” – great terms – I wish I’d said that –  although as the saying goes:  Talent borrows, genius steals – so likely I will

Why free online resources will destroy universities

Nothing super new, but a succinct review of why “we” really must keep moving to look into new, disruptive models by Adrian Hon in today’s Telegraph (UK)

“We have a romantic ideal of universities being places of higher education where students absorb knowledge, skills and critical thinking – an ideal modelled over centuries on universities like Oxford and Heidelberg. Since they used a multi-year, highly structured residential course of lectures, tutorials, and exams to produce smart graduates, we now believe that this same model ought to work for the majority of the adult population.

We’re wrong. The simple fact is that university lectures never worked that well in the first place – it’s just that for centuries, we didn’t have any better option for transmitting information. In fact, the success of top universities, both now and historically, is in spite of lectures, not because of it.” …


NOTE – one of the funniest comments and perhaps the reason there will always be a role for the traditional college format is posted by pewkatchoo:
“Please, no, no, no. University is a break for the hard pressed parents as much as it is about educating our young. After 18-19 years of putting up with the growing pains (particularly the post 16s) of our truculent offspring, paying the cost of getting rid of them for 3-4 years is a positive relief.


Open Study

Had a great meeting with Preetha Ram – Co-Founder of Open Study where we introduced the SNHU Innovation Lab team to her and the Open Study environment.
The I-Lab team are fully engaged – Open Study is very well set up to provide first tier community support and a shot at “the Wisdom of the Crowd” as an alternative to having to take everything to a FT faculty member.
Preetha illustrated how people feel encouraged on Open Study to contribute explanations rather than just answers. Open Study’s archiving and reporting features allow faculty and administrators to check in on discussions and see how learning is happening. I think that Open Study wins my personal award for best implementation of Game theory / principles to a working academic environment. The medals, awards, badges and enhanced avatars for stellar contributors melds well the principle of gamification-making-it-sticky with concrete academic purpose.
We are looking forward to some great partnership work and hope to be involved in some of their ongoing research.
It’s great meeting smashing people (and products!)