Tag: OER (Page 1 of 2)

Game Design as Project Based Learning

2016 still sounds more like a made up year in the distant future than that time “a couple of years ago.” Nonetheless, a couple of years ago, Scott Wurdinger came out with a book called The Power of Project-Based Learning

There is a great deal of debate over how to define PBL. Wurdinger recounts how John Dewey had a falling out with his student William Kilpatrick when Kilpatrick (1918) said that a project could be just about anything as long as it was initiated by the student, including just sitting and listening to music (p. 14). Dewey insisted that a teacher needed to be involved to guide learning.

Kilpatrick eventually acquiesced, but we are still left with a broad definition of PBL as projects initiated by students and guided by teachers to achieve desired learning outcomes. Projects can be more or less narrowly defined to fit the subject content of a particular class or a desired final product. A math teacher might ask students to use protractors and planes to build a birdhouse, instructing students along the way to identify the various angles of the walls and their combinations. The staging of a play can be used to discuss the history of food, clothing, politics, and gender roles. Such projects bear a family resemblance in that active students engage for a prolonged period in something that is hopefully memorable, meaningful, and authentic in the contextualization of skills and knowledge. Additionally, project-based learning challenges students to deploy a variety of real-world skills like project management, teamwork, research, design, goal-completion, and on and on.

In this blog and more generally in my work with Keegan Long-Wheeler, I have talked a good bit about using games in the classroom to bolster learning. As with PBL, I think games offer memorable experiences that help to contextualize knowledge.

However, game play is in some ways closer to traditional lecture or text-based instruction than to PBL, in that game play relies on the consumption of a media produced by others. My ‘reading’ of a game, my particular experience of it, is of course grounded in my own experiences and can’t be separated from them. The active playing, especially in terms of the social elements, creates a unique or at least specific experience, but so too can reading when accompanied by a good discussion.

Instead of game based learning (or even gamification) as a parallel to project-based learning, we are working through the concept of game design as project-based learning. Rather than having students play games designed by the teacher or third party games like Civilization, Minecraft, or Reacting to the Past, what happens when students design new games?

Project-based learning and experiential learning more generally rely on feedback loops. The various schema used to describe these loops are all derivative of Dewey’s “patter on inquiry:” 1) identify a problem; 2) pose a solution; 3) test the solution against reality; 4) reflect. David Kolb adapted this model into his schema for “experiential learning:”

David Kolb's 4-part experiential learning cycleSimilar wheel-type schemas have been designed for project-based learning:

This PBL diagram from the Buck Institute for Education suggests a more proscriptive approach certainly than what William Kilpatrick would have wanted. In the modern age of narrowly defined grade-level standards in K-12 schools and integrated learning objectives in higher education curricula, it can be difficult to give up class time and control. Nonetheless, the prompts for projects, the problems being addressed, can provide direction for both the subject matter and skills that the project will develop.

Game Design as PBL

There are several models for game design, but many are variations of an iterative/looping cycle:

As with project based learning, game design starts with a problem or prompt for the students to address. In an English course this past fall, Prof. Honorée Jeffers challenged her students to design a choice-based story (game) that retold a classic children’s story. Students brainstormed alternate plot lines and endings. Then, Keegan coached them on how to build out these games in the text-based game software Twine. The students then built a minimum playable game. Play-testing and modification fed an iterative design loop until the project was finished.

After submitting their games, students reflected with Prof. Jeffers on the structures of their narratives, identifying the inflection points in their alternate plots and the choices that authors make as they write.

Prof. Jeffers’ original writing assignment was already a project-based learning approach to understanding literature. Rather than just reading and dissecting classic children’s story, students produced their own modifications as way to practice the skills they were studying.

The added dimension of game-design helped to further highlight the choices the students were making in their stories. Rather than distracting from the focal content and skills of the English class, the game-design project foregrounded that material. In addition to highlighting character choices in a reading or even creatively writing new choices, the game-design project asked them to map out these choices and figure out why they would be interesting and fun for a game player. Game-design thus reinforced the learning objectives and also introduced students to further skills like project management, multimedia asset (images, audio, & video) sourcing, and some coding.

I am Open (and so can you!)

The book cover for Stephen Colbert's book I am America and so Can YouFor the next few weeks, I will be taking a history course, something I thought I would never do again after I finished my dissertation. Shawn Graham is teaching an online digital history course at Carleton University and has opened it up for non-matriculating students.

The entire design of the course is fantastic for open learners. Rather than just allowing us to watch from the rafters, Shawn has set up a Slack team and is active in the channels. Shawn asks that students blog for the course and use github to keep a record of their progress in the coding exercises. The course readings are all openly accessible and Shawn has asked that the students use Hypothes.is so that their reading notes are open (you can find them in the Hypothes.is stream with the tag hist3814o).

For the first week, Shawn has assigned a set of readings on the concept of open notes research within history and the humanities more broadly. Open notes research is more commonly practiced in the sciences. Jean Claude-Bradley was advocating for the concept in chemistry as early as 2006. Open notes science improves reproducibility and verifiability of results, and it also opens up the vast array of information that is gained during research but never published.

Open notes research has been slow to catch on, and it doesn’t take long to brainstorm possible objections. Publications are the coin of the realm in academia, and sharing your research notes could possibly allow someone to scoop your ideas. However, I agree with the readings that Shawn has curated and his push during this week of the course that open notes research is the best practice. Clearly, as I am writing this blog, I feel that sharing my thought processes helps me to clarify my thoughts and develop my understanding of my research. Sharing our reading notes with Hypothes.is and collecting our code in GitHub take this a step further. We’re thinking, reading, and experimenting (coding) out loud.

I am taking Shawn’s course, because I want to see how he uses Slack, and because I think the course design is fantastic. I’m already a convert for open notes research and have blogged about it repeatedly hereherehere and in many other posts. This site as a whole is an argument for open notes research and the related ideas of getting rid of disposable assignments and empowering students to contribute to a broader knowledge community. However, I did enjoy the week’s readings, especially Caleb McDaniel’s post that turned me on to open notes research a few years ago. I look forward to joining in for the exercises next week (this week everyone was learning MarkDown and Git). Most of all, I want to encourage any readers in the ed tech world who have not taken a digital history or digital humanities course to at least poke around Shawn’s course to see the wonderful overlap between that knowledge domain and the current ed tech focus on digital literacy and citizenship.

Organizing and Educating around Open Ed

In reading We Make the Road by Walking, I am struck by the magnitude of Myles Horton’s work. His educational and organizational efforts were targeted at (among other things) improving literacy in order to help people secure their right to vote. This is so obviously important and world-altering that I was having a hard time relating to it. How could I hope to learn anything from what he was saying when I don’t have that type of motivational tool, either for my audience or myself.

I do not, on a daily basis, lift people from illiteracy to building their own schools in an effort to end historical oppression. I never worked with Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr or the thousands of others that Horton influenced. And, it occurred to me today, in a rare moment of humility, that I need to stop trying to compare myself to Myles Horton. That is a path to feelings of deep inadequacy.

However, my motivation to promote “Open” publication, research, pedagogy, etc. comes from a similar, if more approachable place. I think everyone has the right to share in both the use and creation of human knowledge.

Open access publication is usually the starting point in my conversations about open. Those faculty not yet onboard are at least aware of the concept. Conversations that start with affordability of open textbooks can quickly morph into the absurdity of having to purchase research articles that were written, reviewed, and usually edited by researchers who are not-compensated from the revenue generated by the article. The more “radical challenge” is to help them see that locking articles behind paywalls creates a divide between academics with rich libraries and those without, and between academia and the rest of the world. We should not be “neutral” about allowing the knowledge that we create to be withheld from the vast majority of people.

Open review seems like a much newer concept. Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities is making great use of GitHub and the MLA Commons to integrate open review into their workflow. After an initial open review by the small circle of editors on GitHub, each article goes up for public review by anyone who visits the site. This feels novel and disruptive, but every reader, in every medium critiques and analyzes the text as they go. This simply gives the reader a chance to contribute their feedback into the refinement and improvement of the work.

And yet, open review is not an entirely novel invention of the digital world. In a graduate course I took on academic publishing, the professor, Ronald Schleifer, told us that he signs his peer-reviews for monographs and journals. He explained, “It forces me to make my review as constructive as possible so that even when — especially when — I recommend rejection of an essay, I demonstrate the seriousness of my concerns with constructive suggestions. In these reviews, in part because I know the author will know it is I who am writing it, I do everything I can to suggest how an author can make it publishable. This policy, I find, forces me to assume the point of view of an author and ask myself what would make the argument I am encountering the strongest it might be. Occasionally over the years I have even received thank-yous from people whose work I recommended against.” What Ron’s saying here goes to the larger point that open communication and cooperation in the writing and refinement of knowledge accelerates advancement and should be a goal in and of itself.

Taking this a step further then, I have been advocating for open research, or perhaps more precisely open notes, with my work on a project called Situating Chemistry. While having access to the printed work of my fellow historians of science is great, what about all of the notes and research that never gets printed. Pooling together our hard-won facts about historical figures, transcriptions of rare documents, and bibliographies of resources is allowing us to build a web of information that will both accelerate our individual research and open new questions for comparative and collaborative projects.


While I haven’t seen the phrase open pedagogy in We Make the Road by Walking, Google n-grams suggests that the term was in use in the late 80s. Nonetheless, the conceptualization and multiplication of Citizenship Schools offer an operational definition of open pedagogy. Both Horton and Freire noted that theory is a guide, but you have to meet students where they are and understand why they want to learn before you can start educating. In many ways my day-to-day job is to help faculty understand student-centered education and the negotiation of  learning goals for both the individual and the class.

Myles story about meeting a woman in Mississippi who had so internalized the concept of the Citizenship Schools that she thought she had invented them demonstrated both the promise of open pedagogy and the humility needed on the part of instructors. Rather than feeling that he had somehow lost ownership over intellectual property, Myles was excited about this success.

As Horton says in chapter three, there is a difference between organizing and education. My activist instinct is to tell people the answers and push them into open practice. I would love to tear down the institutions of academic publishing and replace them with open, online technologies. But I am an educator and not an organizer. I will help people to understand the technologies and philosophy behind open while still respecting their concerns about challenging the long-standing system. I can “challenge the weakness of the culture,” but ultimately I must leave it up to those I work with and educate to decide for themselves whether to pursue open paths or remain “neutral” about the status quo.

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