Teachers as designers of learning.

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With regard to my teaching practice, I am always looking for inspiration and/or validation in order to help me bridge the gap between research and best practice. For me, the process of bridging the gap is an ongoing, iterative one that looks something like this…

  1. implement small changes to my practice based on my observations, experience and new knowledge,
  2. reflect on the impact (evidence) of those changes,
  3. make small modifications to my practice as a result of the evidence,
  4. compare the evidence of those changes to what the latest research reveals.

My discovery of James Gee is an example of how new knowledge can offer both inspiration and validation. James Gee promotes the idea that a recipe for effective teaching and learning can be provided by gaining an understanding of how successful computer games work. He says we have a lot to learn from games – as a model for creating/designing good learning. I’ve always held an ambivalent attitude towards computer games but I have also been curious as to what it is about computer games that makes them so compelling and successful.

So, what can successful computer games teach us about good learning design? Here are some key principles…

1. Authenticity and clarity – learners need to feel that what they are doing or being asked to do, matters. The learning goals need to be clear and precise.

2. New knowledge versus practice – the correct balance between new knowledge delivery and, opportunities to apply and practise this new knowledge, is critical. A good learning environment invites learners to solve problems and provides opportunities to apply different strategies. Of course, problem solving can’t be done without first providing some foundation knowledge. The teacher needs to be discerning about the type and volume of knowledge that the learners are being provided with. All knowledge does not need to be provided at the beginning. Knowledge is best served in a ‘just in time’ way. In this way it acts as an invitation to the learner to bring their curiosity to the fore.

3. Scaffolding –  the learning needs to be sequenced well and be pleasantly frustrating/comfortably challenging. Not too hard and not too easy. To be effective, learning needs to be able to integrate the body and the mind. This allows for a deeper level of learning to take place. The quality of the learning environment/culture is also critical. The cost of failure needs to be low.

4. Teacher/student relationships – the teacher needs to know the students well. Good learning happens when the learners feel comfortable and empowered. Regular, timely, appropriate feedback is essential to allow for the learner to be ‘nudged’ towards mastery.

How many of the points listed above feature in your own teaching practice? Can you identify the barriers that are stopping you from creating the optimal learning environment?

I encourage you to view the video to see the full description of the features of effective game design/learning design as described by James Gee.

I’ve also made a summary of the key points. You can find that below.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

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1. Empowered learners
Principles
a). agency, co-design – the learner needs to feel that what they are doing (or being asked to do, matters)
b). customisation/individualised – good games(learning) allow you to customise/solve problems in different ways/apply different strategies/invite to use different strategies (low cost of failure),
c). identity – purpose of learning this/why should I learn this?, clear goals/purposes, learning should be presented as an invitation for learners to try something new/see themselves in a different light
d). manipulation – empower learners to learn in an embodied way/truly involve/integrate body and mind

2. Problem based learning – moving beyond learning facts/passing tests – use information/facts as tools for solving problems allows for satisfaction of problem solving and retention of facts. Games are interesting problem spaces (make your classroom an interesting problem space) – provide tools for problem solving/feel true engagement/given a lot of feedback/know when you have accomplished the desired result.

Principles
a). sequencing – well leveled, building up to harder problems, will build up to help support solving future harder problems,
b). pleasantly frustrating – comfortably challenging,
c). cycle of expertise – challenging problem, practice until it becomes routine, give a new problem that builds from previous problem but requires adopting new knowledge/skills (nudging)
d). provide information – just in time/on demand (curiosity),
e). simplify complex problems and then add complexity slowly – build on that to ease learners into complex problems,
f) sandbox – feels scary but ultimately a safe place to explore/take risks – learners need time to explore before demanding them to ‘level up’. (that’s why you need to know your students)
g). put skills underneath strategies – skill and drill is boring (lack of purpose), “I’m using a skill to solve a problem but to solve this problem I have to practice these skills”.

3. Deep understanding
a). system thinking/model based reasoning – rules that interact, looking for patterns/rules
b). situated meaning – what gives learning meaning, rather than being passive receivers of learning (via text/language/symbols). People will only get meaning from language (intended learning goal) when they can associate it with actions/practice/image/goal/personal (hands on) experience.

One thought on “Teachers as designers of learning.

  1. Pingback: Teachers as designers of learning – part 2. | Ease Education

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