Gamification and Student-to-content Interactivity

Learner engagement is considered to be an effective predictor of student success. We can increase learner engagement by focusing on interactivity in course design.

Dice CC-BY-NC-SA by Daniela Hartmann on Flickr
CC-BY-NC-SA by Daniela Hartmann on Flickr

The Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University published a paper on the topic: Predicting Online Student Outcomes from a Measure of Course Quality (Jaggars & Xu.) The purpose of the study was to gather empirical evidence regarding the link between online course quality and student outcomes.

The study looked at four main areas:

  • Course design: organization and navigation
  • Learning objectives and assessment
  • Interpersonal interactions (student-to-instructor & student-to-student)
  • Effective use of technology

Much of what was learned through the research reaffirms what we have shared here before – that there exists a positive correlation between student-to-instructor interactivity and student success.

What the study did not reveal was a correlation between student success and online course design, or for that matter, between student success and the alignment of learning objectives and assessment. That isn’t to say these aren’t essential considerations when designing the online course – they are. But rather, that the study did not provide evidence that these factors are directly related to student achievement.

Another interesting finding was that although student-to-instructor interactions showed a positive correlation to student outcomes, this was not necessarily the case with student-to-student interactions. In fact, students indicated their experience with online discussion and group projects was, to paraphrase, pretty much a time sink.

Initially, the findings appeared to support a relationship between the effective use of technology and course grades, but after controlling for student characteristics the relationship became less apparent. Most quality assurance rubrics and accepted practices in online delivery suggest that educational technologies need to be current or state-of-the-art. However, this study suggests when designing rubrics for online course design…

“…quality ratings for technology may wish to focus on not just the use of “current” technologies but how these technologies are used to support user interaction, confidence, motivation, and learning.”

It occurs to me that interaction, confidence, motivation and learning can all be supported by the introduction of games or gamification in learning design.

The use of games in education has gained momentum in recent years. Games can be very motivating (perhaps even addicting). In a game we interact with the medium, often are given problems to solve or challenges to overcome, make choices, and as we progress in skill we become more confident.

Tools like Respondus StudyMate and Quia can be used to turn objective type quizzes into word games: (matching, hangman, crossword, fill in the blank). This is especially helpful when learning new terminology. After integrating games into her Medical Terminology course a couple of years ago an instructor reported significant improvement in student test scores as students began to spend hours reviewing the content as they played games and tried to improve their scores.

The learning is not necessarily the learner’s primary goal when playing a game, but rather accomplishing a task, mastering a certain level, gaining points or credits, and ultimately to win. Of course learning happens as an outcome in the process. Games are by definition, competitive – we may compete against the computer, chance, ourselves, or others (bringing us back to the earlier discussion about student-to-student interactions).

According to Karl Kapp, “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”

“Through the careful application of game elements—such as the freedom to fail, interest curve, storytelling, and feedback—in learning programs, ordinary content can be made more engaging without the development of a full-fledged learning game.” – Karl Kapp

By looking for ways to implement game elements into our courses we may be able to repond to the several questions brought up in the study, including student to student interactions, and effective use of technology (student to content interactions).

For more information about gamification, check out Karl’s article Getting Started with Gamification on


Adopt a Peer-reviewed Open Textbook

When considering the adoption of open educational resources (OERs) I have heard instructors express concern regarding the quality of the materials – stating a preference for commercially published materials because they are peer-reviewed. That excuse is losing merit on a number of fronts as educators, together with public and private organizations, work together in addressing these concerns.

Book Stack
CC-BY-NC- by Benton Library Media Center on Flickr

We recently learned that the openly licensed Precalculus textbook authored by Carl Stitz, Ph.D. (Professor of Mathematics, Lakeland Community College) and Jeff Zeager, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Mathematics, Lorain County Community College) has been approved by the American Institute of Mathematics.  Stitz and Zeager have released their textbook using a Creative Commons License.

The text is available free for students to download in pdf format, as well as at a very reasonable price for the print version from Lulu.

In a recent report by U.S. PIRG, entitled “Affordable Higher Education: Fixing the broken textbook market…

  • 65% of students surveyed reported they had decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive.
  • [despite this fact] … 94% of students who had forgone a textbook were concerned doing so would hurt their grade in a course.
  • Nearly half of all students surveyed said that the cost of textbooks impacted how many / which classes they took each semester.

In an era where the focus in on completion and student success, we can no longer ignore the impact the high cost of textbooks has on our students and college affordability.

OpenStax College, an initiative of Rice University offers free open licensed peer-reviewed Textbooks in several general education subjects including: Physics, Sociology, Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, Statistics, Economics, Macro-economics, Micro-economics. More textbooks are in the queue including: Chemistry, Pre-calculus, History, and Psychology.

The OpenStax textbooks are licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 license

Definition of Innovate from Merriam Webster: to do something in a new way : to have new ideas about how something can be done

Innovation, Risk-taking, and Unexpected Results

The very nature of innovation requires risk-taking – meaning sometimes we’re likely to get unexpected results.

Coursera, in collaboration with Georgia Institute of Technology, enrolled 41,000 students in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on The Fundamentals of Online Education, that unfortunately had to be shut down this past week due to technical issues before it had a chance to get fully off the ground. –Inside Higher Ed.

Apparently, the concern had to do with the ability to manage small group discussions using Google Docs, but there were problems.

“If we tell people to just do safe things, we’ll stifle innovation.”
– Richard DeMillo, Georgia Tech

I couldn’t agree more.

Innovation means trying things out – oftentimes for the very first time – and that can be risky business.

In our efforts to foster innovation and experimentation we need to recognize that failure is part of the process. We make a  first attempt, when something unexpected occurs we try something else – and then we ask, what was the difference? Did we get what we expected? We try again – did we get the same or new results?

There will be those going forward who will likely not give MOOCs a try, pointing to this attempt that “didn’t work”. But the fact is, it did work. It worked by failing, and now we learn from it asking what happened, and trying something else. Hopefully the next time it will work better.

Technology Fail
Unexpected results are always a risk when we innovate. No guts – no glory!

Its just a bigger deal when 41,000+ people are looking than when you can’t get the damn projector switched from the laptop to the document camera on the first day of class.

Hyflex: all things to all students?

I recently took an online statistical analysis course. Most people when I tell them that, respond with “why?”. In hindsight I must ask myself the same thing, but that’s beside the point.

Contortionist, CC-BY-NC-SA, Boston Public Library
CC-BY-NC-SA, Boston Public Library

One thing I really liked about the course was the instructor offered students a weekly live web-conferencing session to review the assignments. “Attendance” (logging in to the live session) was optional, which was a good thing since it was scheduled at a time that was not convenient for me to attend. However, the sessions were recorded and posted for review for those who were unable to attend. These recorded sessions were a life saver.

Although it wasn’t a true example of a Hyflex  course, it did include a common feature of the Hyflex format – the option to attend class either synchronously or asynchronously depending on the student’s personal preference or schedule.

The impetus for increasing enrollments in distance education, whether online or blended, mostly has to do with maximum flexibility and convenience in regards to time and place. The Hyflex course is no exception. In fact, Hyflex may be one of the most flexible delivery models to emerge in higher education.

So, what exactly is Hyflex?

Hyflex learning permits students to choose their preference in where and when they participate or access course instructional time.

“HyFlex is a course design model that presents the components of hybrid learning in a flexible course structure that gives students the option of attending sessions in the classroom, participating online, or doing both. Students can change their mode of attendance weekly or by topic, according to need or preference…” – Educause: Seven things you should know about the Hyflex course model.

Some students come to class physically or virtually, synchronously or asynchronously. A common design (e.g. OSU’s Hyflex Model) is to offer students the option of deciding which of  these modalities they intend to participate it on a weekly basis. Students, regardless of the modality they select, need to be engaged in substantive student-to-instructor, student-to-student, and student-to-content course interactivity.

“…the HyFlex instructor is newly challenged to make sure all of her students are engaged in interactive, generative learning activities no matter which participation mode they choose.” –Dr. Brian Beatty, Associate VPAA at San Francisco State University

Certainly design and delivery are fundamental to a quality educational experience for students, but campuses considering the Hyflex option will also need to assess the logistics of course sections, teaching load, technical support for faculty and students before embarking in this highly flexible emerging learning format.

The Way of Tea CC-BY by John Curnow on Flickr

Integrating Technology and the Academy

Despite appearances, we are not born knowing how to use technologies. As with learning to drive a car we need a little help with understanding how it works, a chance to try it out for ourselves, and some experience driving before we can master the process.

In a recent article in AECT Tech Trends – Understanding Technology Literacy: A framework for evaluating educational technology integration, Randall Davies from Brigham Young University challenges the idea that people learn how to use technology effectively simply by using it.

“It is a common fallacy to suppose that because students are growing up in a technological age they are somehow instinctively capable of using technology to learn what is expected of them in school.”

Davies instead offers a framework for technology literacy that includes three levels: Awareness, Praxis, and Phronesis. Although the article refers to students learning and using technology for their studies, I think the premise offers an excellent framework for supporting faculty in the use of technology for teaching and learning, for both the physical and virtual classroom.

At the awareness level, learners are first exposed to the technology – what it is and what it does.

When practical it is best to introduce new technologies by demonstrating them in authentic situations. Rather than invite people to a session about a new document camera, invite them to a session using the document camera as the vehicle to deliver the presentation, then upload and share the recording with them via YouTube. If done well learners will ask questions about the technologies – Hey, how did you do that? What did you use? Can it do this?

These kinds of questions lead to the next level of technology literacy – Praxis (practical application). At the praxis level we learn about the technology itself – not only what it can do, but how to go about it. The training at this level focuses on the technology: how to access, navigate, the functionality, and troubleshooting. These sessions can be offered by instructional technologists in one-on-one session, or to small groups in a lab or classroom. The key feature of this level is that learners have an opportunity to try the technology out for themselves.

The third level – Phronesis is the mastery level (phronesis – competence or wisdom). Ideally the learner shares what they have discovered by using the technology in their own classroom. The things the technology allows them to do more easily, or effectively, or perhaps things they can now do that they could not do before they acquired the technology. Some trial and error is required in order to attain mastery. Until we get practical with the application of technology we are still dealing with the theoretical.

One of the greatest challenges in the integration or adoption of learning technologies at the institutional level is getting everyone to the same place at the same time. This tri-level framework – awareness/praxis/phronesis – may offer a means for us to get most people to the same place over time. First instructors are introduced to the technology (awareness level), then taught how to use it (praxis level), followed by the opportunity to experiment in their classrooms (phronesis level) and then re-cycle the process by sharing what they have learned with their colleagues (revisiting awareness).


Looking over shoulders…

VSU LIR - Intro to iPad Class - Andy Brovey
CC-BY-NC-SA by Judy Baxter on Flickr

Perhaps the greatest challenge to the adoption of new technologies for teaching and learning is the opportunity for educators to envision how a given technology can be applied to their own instructional practice. The classroom, whether on-campus or virtual, can be a wonderful place for innovation and exploration but we need to look over a few shoulders and to share what we learn.

I ran across this e-book on Educause… Thanks to University of Minnesota, here are fifty plus case studies where instructors share what they have discovered using technology in innovative ways within their own classrooms.

A few sample topics to whet your appetite:

“But I’m Giving Up Lecture Time!” Alternative Teaching Methods for Pathology. Rob Porter, Erik Olson, and Deb Wingert.

Web-based problem-solving coaches for physics students. Leon Hsu, Ken Heller, Qing Xu, and Bijaya Aryal.

Nimble Instructional Design: Using instructional assets for derivative works for more learner-centered instruction. Jude Higdon, Annette McNamara, and Mark McKay.

Use of Screen Capture Technology to Record Student Presentations Promotes Active Learning in a Large Classroom. Kathryn Fryxell, Patricia Goodman-Mamula, Martin Wolf, and Rebecca Merica.

or, dive right in…

Cultivating Change in the Academy: 50+ Stories from the Digital Frontlines at the University of Minnesota in 2012