#ectel2014 Workshop – Learning Analytics for and in Serious Games; what I learned…

I feel really good that this year I had the opportunity to attend and participate at the 9th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, EC-TEL 2014. I have to say that so far it has been an interesting experience and I have had some very good conversations but I have also sat in on some very good presentations. I wanted to collate some of my thoughts and reflections about a workshop which I have attended yesterday about learning analytics for and in serious games. Now I have to state that in my own PhD work, I also make use of some learning analytics, focusing on the emergence of social networks in virtual worlds. However I am still a bit skeptic when people make sweeping statements about learning analytics and how they in fact can be used to determine the learning that takes place in an online/digital environment. Still, some of the talks in this workshop have indeed very clearly stated that learning analytics is certainly not about defining the learning occurring, but more about understanding how the learning trajectory evolves.

Christina Steiner during her presentation at EC-TEL 2014, 17th September 2014

Christina Steiner during her presentation at EC-TEL 2014, 17th September 2014

The first presentation, was a comprehensive overview of learning analytics and educational data mining and the current and future research trends in the area. The speaker, Christina Steiner described how one of the key factors driving LA, is assessment defining it as the gathering of information about a learner’s progress towards the achievement of goals and relative competences. So LA comes into play to make sense out of all the learner’s data as he traverses an online environment. Learning analytics and educational data mining have some common goals and similar definitions relating to the collection and collation of data about learners. However educational data mining emphasises automated adaptation and recommendations of a personalised learning experience. LA can be made use of in different time scales. It can be used to report what has happened (past), it can also be used to monitor (real-time progress), and it can also serve to predict (possible?) future learning issues. It is made up of 3 stages; collection, visualisation and predictive modelling, and improving on the LA process. So the main stakeholders in this are learners and teachers.

However this provokes in me some thoughts and questions: would analytics apply to all learning processes, and all learning domains? How accurate would the predictions be? Do they really predict and model learning? If a student has opened a resource, or maybe visited a site, or even uploaded an assignment or completed a quiz, can we really say that that learner has learned? Would he really have learned everything we had in mind as goals?

Let’s say that I, as a teacher, think that by performing an online activity, the learner would achieve a set objective. Therefore when I design and set up my LA process, I know that I would be measuring the student performance in line with that goal. However I believe learning is not linear. I know and everyone knows learning is a complex mesh that is very much dependent not the many experiences the learner goes through. So how can I say that a learner is advancing his progress (or vice versa) by ticking the box that the learner has gone through the activity? What sort of tools would I have to monitor what other additional skills and competencies that learner has attained by maybe going further than that activity? Maybe that activity was boring to the learner and he skipped it but that activity has prompted him to search further, and to investigate deeper than the activity. Where would that place the learner? In my books, that learner demonstrates a good critical skill set, but what about the system? Are we risking to going back to standardising learning with the inclusion of learning analytics to assess learning?

However Christina Steiner ended her talk with a very important consideration, “Serious games” she says. “should be considered as part of multiple learning tools and activities. We’re looking towards data integration not isolation”. I think we should keep this in mind. Data is only part of the larger picture, and we need to understand the larger picture to be able to fully understand learning. So what I would like to understand more is about the role that serious games have in and for learning and ways in which can we exploit the information we gather from them to improve upon and provide a richer learning experience.
The rest of the presentations gave an interesting mix of how games were assessing different skill sets and competences. One final word goes to Laila Shoukry, who delivered a really cool presentation containing her own sketches directly from her smart phone. Good luck for your own PhD Laila!

Chorus: The digital assistant powered by people, not computers

See on Scoop.itEffective MOOCs

So much work on augmented intelligence is about the technology. This approach appears to combine the social and technological aspects — truly augmented collective intelligence. — Howard


“Computer scientists are looking to improve on the performance of artificially intelligent personal assistants by devising a way to use the power of a human crowd to chat you instead. The system, known as Chorus, was designed by researchers at the University of Rochester to allow a number of users to act as a single agent that converses with a single end user in real time.

Chorus was made to try and deal with a couple of problems – the limited knowledge base of a single human user, and the often stilted conversational ability of AI that can leave you feeling like you would be better off talking to your dog.

The use of a multitude of human users means that everyone can suggest answers, providing a large pool of possible responses, with the crowd voting to reach a consensus about the best way to proceed.”

See on m.gizmag.com

Principles of Game-like Learning – my reflections from Katie Salen’s Webinar #ConnectedLearning

Yesterday I was asked to participate in a Webinar organised by Connected Learning with the title: Making Learning Irresistible: 6 Principles of Game-like Learning

Katie Salen was to be the featured speaker for the Webinar and the participant list is impressive. I have to say that it was an honour for me to be there alongside with Howard Rheingold, Cathie Howe, Randall Fujimoto and Katie Salen of course; all people who I follow and network with.

We might start asking the question “Why?”

Why does one choose the principles of game design, and apply them to learning? or even better, is there a true need for this? and why is there such a need for this? Does this all really mean that one simply inserts a couple of games into the school structure and hope for success? The answers to these questions can be found by following the Webinar which you can access from this link, but I have tried to post my own reflections here in this blog.

The Webinar started with a presentation by Katie Salen, as she went through the different aspects which drive learning projects like Quest to Learn as well as the new sister school in Chicago. The driving vision which emerges from these projects as well as from other projects concocted by the Institute of Play is that of a ‘connected learning‘, that overcomes the barriers that exist between learning and living. One of the first questions which triggered the set up of both schools, was ‘In what ways can the principles game design contribute to the design of connected learning?’

This posits a whole new dimension to the theories of learning and the theories of engagement as suddenly these are defined in terms of provocations, shifting the way people are indeed connected to the world. The design of learning within the school then takes on a different pathway, as all the parts of the learning system need to be redefined and re-dimensioned according to the holistic nature of the complex learning mechanisms.

Katie Salen, described games as beautiful models of systems, whereby in a dynamic system, having different choices, or altering rules, has an impact on the whole system. Therefore when we look at an Educational system, we cannot just take that which is considered to be only a small part of the system.

Recently there was TV program here in Malta on National TV and the main focus was the issue of teachers within the school system. The questions seemed to imply that the failures attributed t0 an Educational system are due to the teachers, the working conditions and even the way they are trained. In fact, if we apply the core principles of game design, and extrapolate them to an Educational system, the teachers themselves are only a wheel driving the system made up of many more components that are not only intertwined but are also heavily inter-dependent on each other. Therefore in answer to the question asked above, ‘can we just insert a couple of games and hope for success?’ – the answer is an emphatic NO.

In Katie Salen’s own words, we need to rethink schools in terms not just of classes and classroom space, but also in philosophical underpinnings, in terms of the pedagogy, in terms of leadership, of parents’ influence and interactions. The principles which game designers focus on, and which Katie Salen and her team took into consideration in the Quest to Learn project, were four and included:

  1. Create the need to know;
  2. Offer a space of possibility;
  3. Build opportunities for authority and the expertise to be shared;
  4. Support multiple, overlapping pathways towards mastery.

As one can note, these design principles, although being those which game designers tend to follow when designing successful games, can be easily extrapolated to schools and a design for learning.

So if we take the first principle, when designing learning, one needs to create that hunger to learn, to know, to achieve something without having to be told what one has to know, or even worse what one needs to know. At this moment, if we take into consideration, for example certain topics, say Fractions or decimals, most teaching is done around the fact that the students will have to answer a question or two about fractions and decimals in the exam paper, and that with enough practice, the students would be able to answer those questions, even blindfolded. At least, that is the way I have been taught and that is the way which I observe many people teaching even now. So Katie asks, what if, instead, we present students with interesting complex problems based on fractions or decimals, that actually the kids will need to know, without us having really to tell them that they are and they need to learn how to do fractions? It’s a tough challenge, and it requires brains, but I am sure the with the right professional attitude, teachers are more than equipped with the skills to transform this kind of learning.

When designing learning, when designing “syllabi” or these new curricula which are being designed for the state schools in Malta, can we really get to start with the content and try to move beyond. My observations of these ‘curricula’ is that the people who are doing them are really starting from the content and stopping there. In a connected learning model, we need to provide the space for people to grow and to mature in their quest for knowledge, and therefore we also need to design multiple ways of reaching content competencies. This is also why the discussion touched upon assessments and ways in which such competencies can ultimately be assessed.

A learning system, guided by these principles cannot be built on standardised forms of assessment only, and these standardised forms of assessment cannot be the driving force behind the content and how this is moulded throughout the kids’ growing years. In a connected learning model, knowledge sharing is giving priority over knowledge transfer and thus the teaching model, will merge slowly into a mentoring model, where kids have the freedom to grow and share with us their daily learning experiences. A beautiful target that all of us as Educators should wish to aspire to, I would say.

So, my final comment, following this Webinar – it was too short 🙂 I would have spent hours hanging out there learning from all the people who participated. I would like to offer my thanks to everyone, once again and hope to catch up with everyone soon to take on the discussions further.

Leveraging Engagement…

As I read more and more my belief in the need for assessing quality learning is increasing. I truly believe that no matter what governments propose, no matter what tools are “imposed” in schools, no matter what kind of support is given, or training (pre- and inservice) the problems emergent from the schooling systems will still persist.

I also believe that what we need is engagement – a global kind of engagement – engagement at all levels, manifested in pretty much the same way as a tornado that would suck in everything it passes through. So students are literally pulled in, inside this engagement net, but it doesn’t really stop there. It sucks in teachers, professionals, administrators and parents – all working towards one common goal – to learn and to have fun in the process.

That is the level of engagement that I really believe in – or maybe I dream about. I do think that educational technologies help of course, but I mean technology helps me throughout life – can’t live without today’s technologies (as most of the other people inhabiting the planet I would say). I am not really saying that educational technologies are THE panacea, because in reality technology applications are those that make up today’s society.

So what I am saying is that we need to find ways and means of assessing quality of schools, by assessing the level of engagement of the people who make up the school. This level of engagement is given in terms of the interactions that can be established through a number of methods and methodologies. One example is this article, which I came across recently. Project Based Learning – can it work? Who knows…possibly and one has to remember to specify that Education is a complex system. There is no simple solution; there are just parameters and different variables so if one method works in one context it might fail in another. However the insights for engagement in this article are quite good I believe.

Emotional learning? Well, how many people can honestly say that they studied a subject because they loved their teacher, and possibly years on, they would still think about that particular teacher with affection? Well I certainly am one of those teachers, and I sure hope that as a teacher, I was one that influenced my students in the same way. So does this kind of engagement work? Possibly… though as with the above scenario I think it would depend on the context, which brings us back to the complexity of the Educational setting.

So where do we start from? Gall’s Law states very clearly that: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. We have to start from simple systems that target engagement, and from then on build outwards to “suck” people in the tornado effect. Mixed realities? virtual realities? transmedia? multimodality? game-based learning? Sure – possibly; all are extremely fascinating – but we first need something to help shift mindsets towards their right use for more effectiveness.

Pre-Service Teachers – how well are we training our students?

So recently I had the opportunity to work with our Faculty of Education post graduate students. To be honest I had heard a lot of things about some members’ perceptions of PGCE students, and I have to say that these students made me change my mind as to all the stuff I had ever heard. Stuff which included things such as these students complain all the time, and they don’t really want to work. So in my limited experience, and with a little bit of belief in the things I have been reading and experimenting with in the past years, set about trying to bring about a change. I offered the students the possibility to talk, to find out things and to reflect about them. I also offered the students the small possibility of participating actively in their own learning.

This is the product of what we have produced together. The Designing Learning Resource site has over 1,000 precious comments from my 100 or so students, all snippets of knowledge and experience which these pre-service teachers carry with them, and which would have been left untapped and unexplored.

I was really very pleasantly surprised by the response. The first time I met those students I was met with a touch of hostility, regarding me as a person who was trying to do the impossible, given that this modality was also offered during their exam period. One might very sarcastically ask, how does one manage to learn during exam period? Exams are exams right? We don’t really learn during exams… they’re just one way of assessment… well, the blog, offered them all the right reasons and possibilities to learn because learning became a need – there is a justification, in that although it first started out as something obligatory, it turned into something which made them get insights that were beyond the simple issue of learning because someone is telling you to learn.

The model which I followed for this course, was one of flexibility. I wanted to experiment with letting them learn what they wanted to learn when they wanted to learn it. Education happens… when there is a need for it, and I wanted to see what results would emerge from these pre-service teachers when I offered them the possibilities of flexibility in their own learning designs. The results are in the process of being collated and hopefully published, but in the meantime you can have a look at some of these precious comments, and maybe you can understand, how change has indeed happened, and from a resistant group of learners, we got to an active group of participants and hopefully they got much more out of it themselves than they would have had they spent 6 hours listening to my rants…

which brings out the question… are we, as Faculty, really teaching the way we think teaching should be best carried out in schools? Should we keep our traditional way of doing Education with these pre-service teachers or should we move to a more dynamic, active environment – making use of all that technology has to offer?

Of being collaborative and all that…

Following yesterday’s classroom session which was held using a collaborative form of learning I have decided to post my views on the issue. To be honest I was also following #ukedchat on twitter, for today and the topic which was chosen was about collaborative learning.

The question was about collaborative learning in schools… the whats, hows and whys and most importantly if it does work out for the learners. I personally think that if handled well, collaborative learning may be the best way but it’s a big IF…

I have recently come across Kagan’s Research Program for professional development… quite a number of research articles over there. However one specific article “The Case For Student Centered Instruction Via Collaborative Learning Paradigms” has caught my eye. I must say that it makes a strong case for introducing collaborative practices in learning at all levels, academic, emotional, social, psychological. As the article goes, the reality in our schools is completely opposite. This reality, which induces the individual competitive approach, is even very much present at a higher education. I also believe that collaborative learning leads to networked learning – a connectivism approach as defined by Siemens.

My question is this…. if I had to ask learners what they think of all this – collaborative work, learning, connecting, sharing – what do they make of it? and if our schools are fostering this individual approach, is this being propagated at the society level? I think yes…