One of the kids on the Digital Media video said something that stuck with me. He was talking about how his perception of lessons in school has changed from “Ugh! I have to learn this!” to “This is interesting, I want to learn this!”, and I can’t help but wonder how much the design of his courses contributed to his newfound enthusiasm for learning. Obviously, there are lots of other things that have changed (and thus an equal number of confounding variables, but it’s definitely worthy of commentary.
I mentioned the influence of design in pedagogical practice in my previous post, and I’d like to continue that line of inquiry here. I referred to the design of various classrooms and how that can contribute to improved learning outcomes and greater engagement among the students who occupy those spaces, but that concerned the built environment. This time, I’d like to look at the design of coursework, the technological infrastructures, and the integration of the two in the successful and not-so-successful examples we saw and read about this week.
One of the most successful examples were the classes featured in Setting Students’ Minds on Fire, in which the teacher made the course material more engaging by turning it into a role-playing game. It was a huge success, primarily because, as was stated in the article, “the strongest gains come from pedagogies that feature teamwork and problem solving”. The atmosphere of friendly–but rigorous–competition drove the students to improve, thereby receiving positive reinforcement in the form of increased success in the game, which caused them to become more dedicated to it, and because the game relied on a store of knowledge that could only be acquired by learning the material, the students became better strategists and also better scholars of the material. This was a fascinating study in what happens when gamification goes wonderfully right, and I would have loved to learn more about the mechanics of the game and how exactly it was played. Unfortunately, for every instance in which gamification is successful, there are several more examples where it fails. One example from my own life was the last-ditch attempt to introduce online gaming into my middle school’s English and Language Arts classes. While this was many years ago, the consistently low test scores and rankings of that particular school indicate that not much has changed. Instead of reviewing the literature and emphasizing the importance of strategic thinking, problem solving, and planning ahead, the administration merely foisted computer games on their English classes in the hope that something would stick. It did not, nor did the reading and writing scores improve.
Even in classes with strict teachers, students who were determined to text their friends, pass notes, or otherwise remain disengaged would always find a way to achieve their ends: one enormous mistake a lot of the more conservative authors of this week’s articles made was to underestimate the cunning of adolescents and young adults. The intentionally disengaged student is the primary reason why I fall firmly in the middle of the spectrum when it comes to devices in class. I believe that they can be of great use, the ADA requires that those who have disabilities be given dispensation to use devices if they aid in learning, and they can be a fun way to involve even the most aloof students. These tools are becoming more integrated into our daily lives than ever before, and I personally believe that trying to stem the tide alone is futile. We should use this newfound power for good and show our students that classes can be more rewarding than scrolling through their newsfeeds. It’s no small task, but I believe the next generation of teacher can rise to the occasion.