Digging Deeper

Cross-curricular learning using video games.

GUEST COLUMN | by Suzi Wilczynski

CREDIT Dig-It GamesFor thousands of years, excellent teachers have known that games and learning belong together. Today we have remarkable technology available to us that makes the game experience more comprehensive and interactive than ever before. Using this technology, gaming transforms from a fun distraction into an opportunity to create a cross-curricular approach to learning for students. Interactive, cross-curricular games allow for that magically immersive experience in education referred to as “deeper learning” where students are continually engaged and interacting with subjects they love, progressing to higher levels of understanding and ability in crucial areas.

Effective educational games bear certain hallmarks that should be known and considered. 

In school environments, math, science, social studies and language arts have traditionally been taught at different times of day, in different classrooms, and with different teachers. Game developers have the chance to break down these artificially-imposed barriers between subjects to create interdisciplinary learning. If one of the main objectives of the Common Core State Standards is to make college-ready students, then an interdisciplinary, cross-curricular approach is vital. Interdisciplinary studies that require students to use knowledge in a new way are powerful tools that help students achieve deeper learning.

Cross-curricular games provide students an opportunity to apply their skills outside the isolated environment of their math, science, social studies and language arts classrooms. When problem solving is put into a larger context with real-world applications, students internalize concepts and process them in a way that makes sense to them, leading to deeper understanding and better retention. Every good teacher knows that true learning comes from students finding the answers on their own and in their own way, an essential part of gaming and cross-curricular gaming in particular.

Whether or not you support the Common Core State Standards, we can all agree that the goal of education is to create “men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered” (Piaget). Cross-curricular gaming in the classroom is an important step in that process. Not all games are the same, however, so how do you know whether a game will successfully assist a student in accomplishing deeper learning, or any academic learning at all?

What to look for in a game

Effective educational games bear certain hallmarks that should be known and considered. Here are a few key elements to look for in a solid learning game experience:

Purpose-aligned learning. An effective game encourages a student use what they have learned for a future purpose. Inevitably, at some point, students will ask or wonder some variation of the famous phrase, ‘When am I ever going to need to know this?’ Learning games that clearly show a student that they can use what they learn for a future purpose instill a level of confidence and willingness in that student that makes teaching and learning look effortless. Such games are carefully developed; look for those clearly aligned to a future purpose for the student.

Content area knowledge. The gaming industry is crowded with games of every variety. While zombies and guns are popular, what you are looking for are those games that actually help a student along an academic course in science, social studies, music, art, etc., and that help them in these areas because ‘Zombie Hunter’ is not a real job listing. Scientist, educator, project manager, curator, artist are all real-world possibilities and while Common Core is a great guideline, more importantly, the future is what we make it.

Opportunities to explore. In educating a child, their self-determinism, the opportunity for them to look in wonder and to make a choice, one that they feel may be correct or interesting or one that merely satisfies their curiosity, is precious. Games provide a unique opportunity for children to explore and investigate things that are specifically of interest to them. There is a certain pleasure in learning new things, and even in going over the familiar, especially when one is in control of that learning. Look for games that provide the student situations in which they can choose a path forward and in which they control the level and pace of exposure to new information.

Multiple cognitive skills to problem solve. Even simple games engage multiple skills. Shooting zombies involves coordination, strategic thinking, and often collaboration with other players. Those skills are important, but literacy, mathematical knowledge, and comprehensive understanding of particular content are more useful in the long run. Good cross-curricular games are just that: they combine two or more curriculum areas into an engaging whole. They put students in situations where they must draw on information and skills learned in multiple classes, an ability that will serve them well in college and the job market.

What this means for the future

So, what does all this mean for the future? When it comes to learning and games, what should teachers look for? What should concerned parents look for? Games that enhance learning and develop knowledge come in many shapes and sizes. Teachers and parents should look for games that have at least one of the elements above, and the more they have the more the student will get out of the game. But the most educational game in the world is completely useless if it is lacking one key quality: fun. Fun is what sets games apart from other learning methods. Some people may think that “fun educational game” is an oxymoron, but the fact is, games that allow children to explore, use multiple cognitive skills, demonstrate content knowledge and provide them context for what they are learning are inherently fun. When we as educators, parents and even game developers accept the challenge to present knowledge in a clear, enticing and engaging way to our students, teaching and learning become not a challenge at all, but a true pleasure.

Suzi Wilczynski is the founder and CEO of Dig-It! Games, a company that believes in the power of games to promote critical thinking, independent learning, and cultural understanding. Their games incorporate age-appropriate content in math, science, social studies and language arts into fun, interactive and engaging learning experiences. 

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cool Tool | bettermarks

CREDIT bettermarksTheir goal is to improve math education worldwide and their tool is currently available in English, Spanish, and German. To achieve this goal, the company, and their tool – “bettermarks” – provides personalized math learning online with the following features:  100+ interactive math books covering the complete 4th to 10th grade math curricula, 100,000+ fully-explained exercises which provide customized help and tips for every step, and automatic grading and result analysis. The founders believe students learn best by learning from their mistakes. A pencil and a sheet of paper are good tools to use to make mistakes, but the problem is that paper doesn’t give feedback, according to their executives. Their company offers interaction tools that allow every possible mistake to be made and gives intelligent feedback based specifically on what the student entered. Students always get a second try so they can apply the feedback directly, thus reinforcing the learning effect. bettermarks works like a excellent math tutor by guiding each student individually and adaptively while freeing up the teacher’s time and helping them to easily manage different ability levels in the classroom. They’ve been creating their adaptive math courseware with a team of 80 people since 2008 and they won the bid for the OLPC (One Laptop One Child) math content in Uruguay. Check it out at http://us.bettermarks.com.

Posted in cool tools | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Exploring the Iceberg

Why selective adaptive learning meets the needs of students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jefferson Flanders

CREDIT MindEdge iceberg imageMy company has employed the metaphor of an iceberg as a way to frame its approach to online adaptive learning for colleges and universities.

The top of the iceberg—the “above-the-waterline” content—includes the core content of a typical introductory college course. Many students will master this content without needing additional instruction. Adaptive learning content is placed “below-the-waterline” and is triggered by diagnostic assessments embedded within the course.

We believe that students will benefit not only from the flexibility and ease-of-use of adaptive learning but also from its selectivity.

The focus is on those common “pain points” where students often encounter learning difficulties. A sophisticated software engine guides students through additional layers of content instruction, which includes games, interactive video, and additional testing.

When we designed the adaptive learning program, we envisioned that this iceberg approach would selectively deliver additional learning content only to those students who needed it. This belief has been validated by the initial responses of students in our Composition One course, an introductory college writing course. Some 60 percent of nearly 7,500 composition students have made use of the adaptive learning feature. Of those students who needed extra help, some 37 percent accessed adaptive learning for one pain point topic, and 50 percent turned to it for two to five pain point topics.

As the following chart demonstrates, many students needed help only on a few pain point topics, but very few accessed all of the 22 that are available (either because they passed the trigger diagnostic assessments or elected not to make use of the additional extra help). Each of the 22 topics points had some students access them, and some triggered more usage than others.

CREDIT MindEdge graphThe pain point topics for Composition One had been established through the insights of experienced instructors and supplemented by review of academic research and by an ongoing analysis of student performance in exercises and assessments. For Composition One, students can access help for 22 topics, including such common grammatical hang-ups as misplaced modifiers, comma splices, and active and passive voice.

This adaptive learning has been offered to students at three schools: a large, private university, a middle-sized public university, and a large community college. Student and instructor feedback has been positive, with students noting the advantages of on-demand additional help (“I found it very helpful to review punctuation marks because I have forgotten a few rules”) and the iterative support that adaptive learning provides (“I enjoyed the way the courses are created, and how each topic is discussed and then reviewed”).

We will continue to analyze the results of adaptive learning and how it impacts the learning performance of students. We believe that students will benefit not only from the flexibility and ease-of-use of adaptive learning but also from its selectivity—students are presented only with the material they need to master and are not burdened with extraneous content (thereby avoiding cognitive overload).

Jefferson Flanders is President and CEO for MindEdge, Inc., an educational content provider of online training and courseware to colleges, universities, associations and corporations. Jefferson is an author and educator with a long-standing interest in how people learn and innovate, and has more than twenty years of experience in media and publishing. Write to: jflanders@mindedge.com


Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The ABCs of CBE

Five things to think about when transitioning to competency-based education.

GUEST COLUMN | by Steve Pappageorge

CREDIT Helix EducationEven as institutions continue to wrap their arms around competency-based education (CBE) – what it means, how one should think about it, and how it can transform the learning process – this innovative learning model is emerging as a viable way to deliver a true outcomes-based approach to higher education. It’s also meeting the needs of an ever-changing student population who, more than ever, heavily contemplate technology, cost, and employability as part of their overall educational experience.

As with most emerging models, CBE isn’t something to be casually adopted. While it has the ability to significantly alter the entire education process as we know it, it requires careful planning, implementation, and, most importantly, continuous improvement along the way.

The opportunity to leverage current teaching methods while easing into competency-based education can be a win for schools and a win for students. 

Let’s start with a simple definition of what CBE means to institutions and the students they serve. According to ELI, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, “Competency-based education awards academic credit based on mastery of clearly defined competencies.”

At my company, we view CBE as the merging of three important elements – instructional content, assessments, and outcomes.

Students engage with content in a self-paced, self-directed environment that relies on their own aptitude to advance through coursework based on the application of their knowledge and demonstrated competencies. Curriculum builds on itself, driving and enhancing a student’s ability to learn, while de-emphasizing the amount of time it takes to complete traditional requirements necessary to proceed to subsequent lessons. The result is a highly customized learning experience that can boost outcomes such as completion, retention, and graduation rates.

Whether schools are already starting to implement a CBE model, testing the waters, or simply considering its benefits, there are several key things that will make the process more efficient and effective.

Engage in Diligent Evaluation and Planning

Don’t underestimate the complexity, time, and effort required to design and build a CBE program. Dedicate enough time to conduct a thorough evaluation of the institution’s objectives, its willingness to change, use of technology (how it engages students, how interactive it is, how it tracks student performance), as well as an analysis of course structure, content development, student support, and faculty involvement.

Set Realistic Growth Goals

We believe in the philosophy of starting small and growing steadily. The opportunity to leverage current teaching methods while easing into competency-based education can be a win for schools and a win for students.

Keep Track of all of the Moving Parts

The transition to a CBE model isn’t necessarily an easy one, so it is essential to engage a good project manager.  From the transition itself, to content development, delivery, platforms, and support, there are a lot of pieces to the CBE puzzle, and those pieces rely on each other in order to ensure the overall quality of the student experience and the cohesiveness of the program.

Make Time for Change Management

It is important to recognize that CBE impacts the processes and procedures currently in place.  Administrators and faculty will need time to adjust and be trained on the new approach. Being open-minded to recognize when something is working and when adjustments are needed is also key. Collecting and analyzing data will help schools continually improve the CBE experience.

Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate Again

Organizational buy-in is critical. Sharing objectives, status, and timelines on a regular basis with all key stakeholders (presidents, deans, directors of online learning, faculty, coaches, instructional designers, and more) gives everyone a sense of ownership, responsibility, and pride in what the school is accomplishing.

A well-thought-out CBE strategy can help institutions increase student success, lower costs, better serve new student populations, and continually improve the education experience. Through this differentiated, customized, and meaningful approach to learning, schools and students alike can experience improved outcomes and optimize the cost of graduation.

Steve Pappageorge is Chief Product Officer and SVP at Helix Education, where he is helping define and implement the company’s competency-based education methodology and its student lifecycle solutions, including Helix LMS, a learning management system built for competency-based education. He previously served as Dean of the College of Continuing Education, New Programs and Outreach at DeVry University where he was responsible for the successful expansion of its continuing education programs, including the development of its competency-based learning initiative and initial MOOC offerings. Contact Steve through: helixeducation.com

Posted in guest column | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watch This | Day in the Life of a Virtual School Teacher

237 STUDENTS. Staci Kreitz, a teacher with Pasco eSchool, shares her love of teaching and provides a day in the life walkthrough clarifying misconceptions and filling in details on what being a virtual school teacher is really like. 4:12 Source: Pasco eSchool


Posted in trends, video | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment