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I would like to invite you to submit a chapter proposal for the co-edited book titled ‘Learning in lockdown: Innovative teaching and academic support in higher education during COVID-19 crisis’. I am particularly interested to receive case studies, drawn from different academic disciplines or learning/teaching support programmes.
The chapters of the book will report innovative teaching, learning and academic support schemes implemented at universities during COVID-19 pandemic. The authors are expected to follow a systematic and robust evaluation approach in the presentation of their 4000-word case study. Examples of evaluation may include drawing findings from an empirical study or literature review, a reflective or critical analysis of educational theories and concepts, or a combination of all of them. Additionally, the authors can consider connecting their discussion with one or more underlying features of higher education, for example, instructional design, assessment, inclusion, and professional development for faculty members.
Please write to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) for the full call including scope of the book and abstract writing guidelines.
Adding game design and mechanics to your online content can make it more engaging, motivational and enjoyable. Online educational content is competing with social and entertainment content, and so now is as good a time as any to start adding a bit of fun to your teaching.
We’re going to look at three very simple ways to add game design elements into teaching online to encourage students to engage with your content and activities.
1. Challenges rather than tasks.
By framing work as a ‘challenge’, ‘quest’ or ‘mission’ rather than a ‘task’ or ‘activity’, you can completely change the tone of a piece of work, even if the content is exactly the same. Adding an element of team work to this further creates a sense that they are playing a game together, rather than just engaging in another dreaded piece of group work. The work could also ask you students to assume a certain role(s) to help them complete the challenges.
Compare these two examples below:
Example 1: Today’s mission asks you to analyse the following intercepted telecom for hidden messages sent to the Nazis by renown double-agent Eddie Chapman (‘Zigzag’). In your role as linguistic analyst, you need to report back your findings in less than 500 words summarising what you have found and the reasoning behind your answers. You have just an hour to complete your mission.
Example 2: Analyse the following telecom for hidden messages in less than 500 words, including reasoning for your answers. The telecom was intercepted by MI5 from Eddie Chapman to the Nazis. (1 hour task).
You’ll need to scaffold this sort of activity around similar others, or you could just choose to have a week dedicated to ‘missions’ rather than your traditional content and get feedback on how your students have found it.
2. Progress indicators and difficulty levels.
Seeing out how much content you’ve made it through on a certain day or week’s worth of learning can create a sense of achievement and like you’ve progressed in your learning.
In many games you know how much you have left to complete the level either by a percentage or star system. Each ‘level’ or stage is often divided up into more manageable chunks of increasing difficulty for you to progress through. Once you get to the end of that stage you feel a sense of achievement and are motivated to carry on and complete the next level.
We can apply similar mechanics to online learning and a similar effect will occur. All you need to do to add this sort of engagement is structure the content in a way that looks like students are moving through stages or levels, rather than just completing one activity after another. Adding a ‘%’ to each task also helps students understand how long they should be spending on different activities
Consider the three different ways this week’s activities are presented and think about which one attracts you the most and why. What don’t you like about them?
Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are. (10%)
Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live). (30%)
Complete the week’s challenge. (50%)
Feedback and share using the discussion board. (10%) BONUS: Complete this code-breaking game to unlock the secret material.
Level 1 (Easy): Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are.
Level 2 (Moderate): Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live).
Level 3 (Moderate – Difficult): Complete this week’s challenge.
Final task (Easy): Feedback and reflect on the discussion board.
*Optional extra: Complete this code-breaking game to unlock secret content.
Understand what this week’s learning outcomes are.
Join the live webinar (watch the recording if you can’t watch it live).
Complete the week’s task.
A checkpoint/ opportunity for feedback.
*Extra activity – complete this game for extra material.
Go one step further…
Consider adding questions or quizzes students have to complete before moving onto the next ‘level’.
Add ‘secret’ content students have to unlock by completing small challenges.
3. Healthy competition.
One of the more controversial aspects of gamifying education is the use of competitive elements, such as leaderboards and rewards. However, if integrated sensitively, they can provide light competition and drive among students, furthering engagement with the materials.
One way to do this is to allow students to vote on their favourite contribution to a discussion board, or a prize for the student who has engaged the most with the discussion.
You can also have a leaderboard for any quizzes that students take as part of the online content.
To bring some team work into your online teaching, consider hosting a weekly ‘pub quiz’ for students to show off what they’ve learnt during the week.
If you’re interested in gamification and game-based learning, you can join the Digital Education Office/ BILT ‘Learning Games’ learning community by getting in touch with either BILT or DEO.
So, I will be honest, I have been dwelling on this blog idea for a while now, and the reason I haven’t written it is because I was stuck. I was struggling to come up with the perfect name for my idea. I hope the name I have come up with makes sense. But first some background…
I have been dwelling
on the idea of Authentic Learning for a very long time now, probably as far
back as 2003 when I started teaching, having worked for a few years as a
practicing engineer. I have developed ideas and strategies, based on my own
experience, that I have tried across a number of units. Then, at some point
last year I read Marilyn Lombardi’s paper on Authentic Learning (2007). It was
such a beautiful moment as it summarised my own practice so clearly and
succinctly. She articulated what I had innately known. I made a matrix of the
10 facets of authentic learning and mapped my own units against them. With the
exception of reflection (and more on that in another blog post I hope) I had been
doing everything she listed for years.
Note: If you would like a further explanation of authentic learning I wrote a blog post on the subject last term as part of my “The Office” project, which you can read here.
However I also noticed
a gap. An 11th facet of authentic learning, if you will. Providing
feedback whilst staying ‘in role’. I started to call it authentic feedback. But
a quick internet search of the term ‘authentic feedback’ shows that the term
was already taken, by another idea on feedback. And so I floundered and my
ideas paused. Until now.
And so here it is, my
idea. Providing feedback in an authentic
context. I know it’s not as snappy as authentic feedback, but I think it
says what it does on the tin. I don’t need lots of paragraphs explaining what I
So how have I (and in-fact
we in engineering) been providing feedback in an authentic context. Below are
just a few examples.
The Design Team Meeting
A few years back I
created a unit called Understanding Architecture. It teaches Civil Engineers to
understand what the architect is trying to achieve by placing them in the architect’s
shoes. The unit is very practical and includes the students developing a
conceptual design for a building. I wanted to create a formative feedback point
within the unit to help students as they developed their ideas. However rather
than just ask them to submit their ideas up to that point I put it into the
context of professional practice and asked them to lead a design team meeting (known,
rather unimaginatively, in industry as a DTM).
A design team meeting
is a staple of the building design process, all the different disciplines come
together, with the client, and discuss their progress, problems and conflicts.
It is an interactive design space where the team then solve the problems moving
the design forward.
So, we created this
context. We invited engineers, architects and client representatives to be part
of the meeting, and our students had to both present their ideas and chair the
meeting. It creates a space for constructive feedback, where the design can be
pushed and pulled. The client can confirm if the brief is right, the engineers
can challenge some of the practical aspects of the design and the clients
architect can question some of the design decisions. This way students are
given feedback whilst staying in role and in an authentic manner.
The Quality Assurance Review
In Timber Engineering
– a unit I blogged about obsessively last term (see https://bilt.online/the-office-episode-0-trailer/) I carried out a similar exercise to the above
Design Team Meeting, but took it in a different direction. This time I recast
the formative feedback as a Quality Assurance Review. Every project I worked on
was subjected to internal reviews as part of our practice. These ensured the
design was safe, was fulfilling the brief, but also looked for opportunities,
how could we do this better, how can we learn from this project and share these
ideas etc. The review was carried out by a director not directly involved in
the project and there was a checklist of items which we had to ensure we had
I used the same
approach for my fourth year timber engineering unit. I created a series of
Quality Assurance forms and a procedure. Students then presented the different
projects they had worked on and I was able to provide feedback across a number
of facets. One of the strengths of this approach was that all work presented
should have been reviewed by another member of the students team, this form of
peer review is both helpful for learning, and normal practice in industry. The
Quality Assurance Review then checks has this has been carried out and what can
we learn from this process?
The Stakeholder Presentation
At the other end of our programme, in the first year, my colleague Jeff Barrie runs a project in our design unit, where students must come up with an engineering solution to an authentic brief. The only problem is that there are three stakeholders, with conflicting interests. It is therefore very difficult to create a solution that satisfies all three stakeholders. This is brought to life when students present their schemes (including fantastic models) to the stakeholders (three assessors each play the role of a different stakeholder). Some stakeholders are delighted with the design, others not happy that their needs have been met or their concerns have not been heard. The aim is not to create a solution that works for everyone but to be able to articulate why the solution is the most suitable when there are conflicting requirements.
The Green Pen
Finally, in industry,
people red pen everything! Every drawing I drew, every report I wrote, would
reappear on my desk a few days later covered in red pen. Taking in drafts and writing
comments on them is actually incredibly authentic. However, I would like to
suggest going a step further. An ex colleague of mine used to work for a
practice called Alan Baxter’s. As was common practice everywhere else people
would red pen each other’s work as a way of checking and providing feedback.
But in Alan Baxter’s no one was allowed to use a green pen. No one, that is,
except Alan Baxter. When Alan reviewed a drawing or report he wrote in green!
What I like about this
idea is that we can, and should, encourage students to red pen each other’s
work, to support each other’s learning (and learn themselves in the process)
but we should also provide feedback, and we can differentiate our feedback from
thier’s by simply using a different colour pen. This way we can create feedback
in an authentic context.
What feedback in an authentic context have you
I would love to hear from other authentic learning practitioners who have stayed in character to provide feedback. You could email me, or even better, tell the world by adding it to the comments below. I think there is so much space for innovation and creativity in this area and I would love to explore it further.
“Authentic Learning for the 21st Century: An Overview”, Educase, 2007.
Sam Hitchmough, Director of Teaching and Senior Lecturer in American Indian History
of any field constantly grapple with a thorny mass of official histories and
unofficial/vernacular histories, histories that are constructed, invented,
exaggerated or politicized, narratives and counter-narratives, memories,
hagiographies, teleological narratives or triumphalist epics, even when the events
are relatively recent. Often, history is rescue work, uncovering voices and
perspectives from the past that have previously been lost, disassembling and
reforming our understandings. Historians are, as a result, regularly accused of
re-interpreting past narratives from modern standpoints with active agendas, of
retro-fitting, or else attempting to re-engineer our societal foundations and
‘re-remember’ events in certain ways.
American history is one such minefield: frequently a triumphalist history, a
story of empire, destiny and progress. A predominantly white, male,
Euro-centric narrative has been rightly challenged, particularly in the past
50-60 years, and whilst this has resulted in important revision, the way that
American national history is presented and taught is still problematic at many
levels. Amongst the most overlooked histories (and indeed communities) are
American Indian, and when we give due weight and space for discussion to
arguments forwarded by scholars of American Indian history (both American
Indian and settler) the challenges to the celebratory narrative of the American
national project are numerous and robust.
has been a steadily growing body of academic work that makes the case that American
Indian experiences in the U.S. should be discussed with reference to the terms ethnic
cleansing and genocide. Whilst not making significant inroads into school
curricula, these arguments have nonetheless gained widespread traction in
academic circles as well as growing references in popular culture. There is,
however, another layer of argument that is fearsomely controversial and is a
debate that many historians have preferred not to engage with at all.
and should, American Indian experiences be referred to as a Holocaust? Some
argue that this should encompass over 500 years of interaction since 1492,
whilst others focus more directly on 19th and 20th
century experiences of successive U.S. administrations. The implications of
this argument are profound and the debate around it fierce.
is not a consensus on this amongst scholars of American Indian history, and it
also creates debate amongst scholars of the Holocaust, with one prominent
Jewish historian, for example, suggesting that we should ‘dare to compare’ the
two experiences, whilst others claim the Holocaust in the Nazi era is ‘phenomenologically
unique’ and resists all comparison. The comparisons explored involve apparent
similarities between the American ideology of Manifest Destiny and the Nazi
ideology of Lebensraum, both giving rationale for the annexation of land for a
perceived to be superior race, the official Removal policies of successive U.S.
administrations and the forced marches in Nazi Germany, and terminology
utilized in the U.S. that frequently and openly called for extermination of
‘inhuman savages’. Whilst this already carries some pedagogic challenges, some
have gone a step further and suggested that closing the door to comparisons,
those that wish to conceive of the Holocaust as unique and that the term
remains exclusive to events in wartime Europe, are actually committing the
great crime of denying a holocaust elsewhere.
can this debate be utilized as a lens through which to explore the teaching of
difficult topics? More broadly, how can we use cases like this to effectively
share experiences and strategies that can be adapted to make a whole range of teaching
difficult subjects less daunting?
can share some reflections on the way that I have taught the question of
whether the word Holocaust can or should be used; I have taught this using a
debate format for nearly ten years in two different universities.
on the question comes roughly half way through a course on American Indian
history from the 1830s to the 1950s, so the first few weeks deal with context
and major emerging themes in terms of American Indian ideologies and U.S.
policy. Arguments around ethnic cleansing and genocide are introduced and
scrutinized in order to broach issues of applying modern terminology to past
weeks are typically set aside for a debate about whether the word holocaust
should be used to describe American Indian experiences. One or two further weeks
are used to reflect on the debate, largely online so that other topics can be
Length: These are 2-hour sessions
Debate: Should the word Holocaust be used to refer to American Indian experiences in the U.S.?
Form: 2 groups, one arguing that it should, one that it shouldn’t.
‘Space.’ It’s been useful having short discussions about the nature of academic learning spaces (in addition to the introductory session that talks about learning expectations and the adoption of a shared learning model), including freedom of expression so long as doesn’t cause offence, the validity of opinions that might be different to our own.
We’ve also discussed the importance of the art of argument: this is an exercise that reveals how effective arguments are constructed, nuanced and critiqued. As such, students are reminded they may wish to engage with the debate as devil’s advocates (for some students in the past this seems to have offered a degree of objectivity that they’ve preferred)
Why do students think this is an important question to ask? Are there aspects of the debate that students imagine will be difficult or controversial? This can be a short written exercise that is useful post-debate, and I’ve also read some of them out beforehand.
I’ve often asked at this point how students feel they most effectively learn about difficult subjects, not necessarily to get fully-formed responses but to encourage them to think that others may learn differently, and to prepare them for the range of tasks involved in reflecting on the debate.
Knowing the debate question, the group is split into two by sign-up. If the numbers are uneven then any absent students are added to the smaller group.
The groups spend some time discussing their possible arguments, assign reading to do over the week.
I show groups the VLE pages dedicated to the debate – online discussion pages for each group, suggested readings, and a whole-group discussion forum. They are encouraged to communicate with each other over the following week.
The ‘architecture’ of the debate is discussed. Depending on the size of the group, various roles are sometimes introduced: ‘debate facilitators’ (one student who acts as a ‘chair’ if discussion needs to be re-focused) and student ‘scribes’ (one or two students who take fairly detailed notes that capture key points, to be made available to entire group afterwards).
‘Conduct’ is discussed and earlier points reiterated about the nature of academic expression, that debates flourish when multiples voices and perspectives are heard.
Ensure that the
space is appropriately configured so that students don’t need to raise their
voices and don’t have defensive lines of tables/desks in front of them.
The first 30 minutes is used for the two groups to reconvene and run through their arguments. They are reminded to present two or three short and precise points that act as springboards for discussion.
A coin toss to see who starts. One side then forwards its two/three key points, the other side does the same, and then it’s an open discussion that usually uses the points as hooks.
The debate itself has around 60-65 minutes to run.
I’ve found it important that the debate doesn’t run up to the end of the session – some sort of reflection is crucial. Each side is asked to reflect on how they felt it went and to identify three points that the opposing side made that they found persuasive.
Discussion of what the most challenging and difficult questions/points were – what did they think were the best ways n which to tackle these?
Possible related tasks: in the past I’ve
asked students to create posters that reflect the debate, write up reviews of
the debate for fictitious magazines or newspapers that can either require
objectivity or else op-eds work well. Students have also engaged in a
post-debate online discussion forum.
particularly interested in how we teach difficult subjects, the kinds of
pressures and challenges (and often pitfalls) that they create (to the extent
that in some cases we can become relatively vulnerable) and how these subjects
affect the learning environment and the student learning experience. In the
case-study here I’ve known that many students will be upset by the topic, some will
get angry, and that some have had relatives who died in, or survived,
concentration camps. In some cases I’ve followed up in the next session with a
silent debate for around 30 minutes. This is an opportunity to have students in
smaller groups, of around 4 or 5, focus on specific points from the previous
week’s full debate and explore them further. These are often the most
contentious or controversial, and it’s interesting to use the silent debate
format as an alternative as it often allows students who might have been
frustrated or subdued during the debate to have an opportunity to express their
opinion in a different setting.
be very interested in talking with anyone about the challenges of teaching
difficult subjects, perhaps with a view to writing up a number of case-studies
that might prove useful to colleagues across the university.