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- 1. INTRODUCTION.
What really matters, I reiterate, is the need to integrate the game and content at every point. Another game element that a game-based course needs to stress is fun. More than anything, student feedback has pointed out how much more fun S ecrets is compared to their other online courses, which are all too often perceived to be formulaic and dull.
Fun does not mean easy. On the contrary, Secrets demands more from students than any other level course I have taught in over 20 years of teaching.
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Students like the variety of composing a multimedia autobiography and the challenge of difficult investigations. How many games make use of puzzles and puzzle-like structure? Too many to count. Secrets is built around a large puzzle, but there are smaller puzzles to solve within the course about who is who and what is what. The narrative also keeps students off balance through unexpected twists and turns that I do not want to reveal. One short investigation that students faced that most of them really enjoyed happened in Episode Four: Here is the investigation students had to complete:.
Create an imaginary dating profile—use your avatar from Episode One—and send that profile to your partner. You must then compose an email responding to your partner's profile using Blackboard's My Messages system. Your partner must then respond to your initial email and vice versa. Each time you respond you must remain in character with your avatar.
You must exchange a minimum of 6 emails each. There is more to online learning than writing papers and posting to a discussion board. Grading is always a tricky business in education. Professor Sheldon's use of Experience Points XP , based on video game scoring, to replace traditional grading schemes may be the most ingenious and easily transferred game element that benefits learning. Students begin to earn points and progress the minute they start the course. They move from zero upward, not downward, as in traditional grading schemes. I have taught Secrets five times, and each time the student response to the use of XP over traditional grades has been unanimously positive.
Experience Points also make the use of bonus assignments especially appealing to students. Two final points about XP: More assignments also allow for more feedback, and more feedback allows for more learning i. Finally, as in games, failure must be reframed as a learning opportunity and not an end state.
For example, give students more than one go at a challenge to promote persistence and success. Two areas of implementation deserve particular attention. First, nothing is more important to game designers than playtesting. You cannot release a game that has not been thoroughly playtested by different potential audiences.
Playtesting needs to occur early on, before too much time and money has been invested in a game. Courses present a challenge for playtesting; nonetheless, this stage of development should not be ignored. You can do this by using alumni, employees, faculty part- or full-time , or current students in this case, a small stipend probably needs to be offered—perhaps a free text book or something of that nature.
This means foregoing enrollment for a period, but this immediate sacrifice pays long range dividends, while letting a game-based course continue without revising sets you up for many avoidable problems. In the case of Secrets , the course at least as of this writing is offered in the fall and summer, but not spring. The spring term is wisely used for revisions and updates think of video game releases that occur over time with different, improved versions. Anytime you offer an entirely new course, you want to attract students, ideally students who are new to the major or institution.
You also need to keep a pilot manageable. We set the initial cap for Secrets at fifteen. The title of the course and its description are critical. Students need to be aware that this is a game-based course or an innovation that offers them a different kind of learning opportunity. You should stress the game aspect in the course description; this prevents disgruntled and surprised students and helps build a successful pilot student group.
Word of mouth will do the work after the premiere offering. Have you ever seen a course entitled Secrets? I credit Lee Sheldon with the final designation, Secrets: The course description written by me follows:. You want to have fun and learn at the same time? Few forces in modern history have had such a wide-ranging effect on our contemporary identities as the global expansion of cyberculture. It is a game. Go on multiple quests; accumulate experience points, engage in lively Internet forums and work together to solve the Internet mystery at the heart of the course.
Throughout your game play you will explore essential questions about how and why the Internet has changed and continues to change your sense of identity. You will create your own evolving digital story as you analyze, evaluate, and reflect on cyber-based phenomena such as social media, online games, Internet relationships, and engaging virtual realities represented by The Matrix and Snow Crash and games such as Deus Ex: Complete the course and you are a winner.
Register now, and let the learning game begin! You should promote the course through typical channels—advertisements, websites, social media, and mailings. Make sure to have advisors or faculty doing advising experience part of the course so they can make informed recommendations to students. Finally, we created a trailer much like you would for a feature film. Trailers must be short ninety seconds and compelling. Lee wrote the script, Focus EduVation added recommended images, a colleague and friend, David Sherman, a composer from New York City, created the soundtrack indispensable for a trailer , and then Focus Education put together the final product following a few revisions.
A trailer can also be created in-house and presents a terrific opportunity for a film or cinema department and its majors.
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For us, the use of a pre- and post-course survey, integrated in the orientation section of the course, and then again in the final episode, was of vital importance. You can also use enrollment figures, grades, retention, and student comments—discerned through discussion forums, follow-up interviews, and control-experiment groups i.
Secrets has been a resounding success. In five iterations, never has more than one student dropped the course. Enrollment this final time for me has reached capacity. Last term, I received outstanding final projects, two over 40 pages and the same quality of postgraduate theses. What speak best to success, however, remain the voices of the students who have taken the course.
Here is a small sample of their comments the underlines are mine, for emphasis. It is a very different way of learning, as well as critical thinking, and I think those two combined into one class has been very beneficial. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have even managed to learn a lot about myself I didn't realize until this course.
I never can tell where it is going, and it keeps one on their toes. It is very much different than my other classes and makes taking it rather fun instead of just a hassle like some of my other classes have been. I got to explore things about myself that I did not ever think to evaluate. Not only has it broken up the existence of my three other business classes, I have had the privilege of chatting with all of you and getting to learn so much. I am a black and white, numbers and facts person. I spend more time researching what is and must be based on science than I do considering what could be.
Over the last few months I have become more creative than ever before. Solving a mystery while being immersed in it has intrigued me, and I look forward to what each one publishes so I may have better insight. The number of ideas we have is amazing and the lack of conflict is refreshing. This has been one of the most unique educational experiences that I have ever encountered in my life. I love the informal style of interaction that allowed me more time to think about what I was saying rather than the form in which I said it.
The encouragement to use multimedia was liberating, as one can be so much more expressive when not confined to the limitations of mere words, and a digital picture is worth a thousand SMS texts. I loved the experiential format of the course. Finally, I was happy to share this class with a group of very fun-loving and smart individuals you know who you are , that made this a very creative and motivating exercise.
50 Best-Kept Secrets of Teaching
Once this course completes in a few weeks, I will have earned my bachelor's degree, something that I dropped out of back in from the University of London because I ran out of funds and had to get a job. While I am excited about finally completing a quest that I began 40 years ago, I am sad that our paths won't intersect in other Excelsior courses after this one, as I could have been friends with many of you. So long, and thanks for all the fish! Online classes have been very beneficial to me, as they allow me to perform at my pace and on my time schedule. This class has been a little different.
I found myself reading almost all the posts and looking forward i. Your interaction, feedback, and discussion comments on my posts and others have been appreciated. I am a numbers or black and white kind person.
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The interaction and set-up of this class made going outside of my comfort zone much easier, as well. Now I can be the sensitive guy my wife always wanted just kidding—can't let her have everything she has dreamed about. I for one have loved it! Reading about the story of Chromogen Corporation was indeed a twist Everyone we've listened to and watched for the last 15 weeks for the most part was an alias of some degree, meant to prove that you can be anyone you want to be on the Internet Letting the cat out of the bag, that goal is one reason I took this course to begin with.
I have taken a lot of online courses, and this one stood out above them all. It is a different way to approach learning, thinking, and applying it to real life. This class had a unique design. I was very interested where the mystery was going, and how it would turn out. The comments speak for themselves and stand as testimony to the appeal and effectiveness of the course. Many people worked together to make the course a success, and all deserve credit. I find a pleasant irony in the fact that Professor Grey—my game avatar—received more praise for this course than David Seelow ever has for the innumerable classes I have taught over the years.
Yet, even this curious bit of information shows the learning power of the course. This result reinforced the theme that cyberculture complicates identity and reality in ways for which traditional psychology and theory fail to account. That, for me, is the ultimate triumph. In brief, I list some of the key points this game-based learning innovation in online education has produced.
I have taught in the classroom for over 24 years and online for around 18 years. I have always experimented to engage students and keep myself active and presented texts that I believe can make a difference in students' lives. For my first course, Mythology , in , I eliminated the textbook and have continued that practice ever since. In , I introduced hip hop lyrics into my literature class, and in the summer of , I created a course on The Graphic Novel. But none of these innovations has been quite as rewarding as Secrets.
Online learning has fully established itself in higher education, and its importance will continue to grow. Unfortunately, in the years I have taught online, little creativity has manifested itself in the courses I have taken or taught. What I taught online in remained largely unchanged in The same can be said, though to a lesser extent, of the traditional classroom.
Let me return to one of the students from S ecrets who, in response to a question about the future of online education, expresses my point perfectly:. I want to see classes being interactive, digitally advanced, colorful and enticing, and most of all: With the millennials graduating high school soon, it is imperative that the online education system adapts to their upbringing, not ours.
They grew up with video game style learning handheld devices, such as Leap Frog, and tablet games developed into learning classrooms. The rest of us grew up with books to read and study, card catalogs in libraries, and calculators were banned most of the time in a math class. I use this quotation not just because it vindicates Lee Sheldon's design, my content, and the power of game-based learning embodied by Secrets: A Cyberculture Mystery Game , but more so because kids now learn with and through screens, beginning in preschool with touch screens and swipe technology. These kids will soon be in formal K schooling and, hopefully, onward to higher education.
Can we really pretend to think we are doing any service at all teaching students who play games and experience multimedia continually to learn using the same deadening methods we have always used? I cannot predict the future, and I do not propose game-based learning as the only solution, but I empathically maintain that game-based learning must be part of the present and the future, and furthermore that such methodology leaps beyond our current instructional methods by a considerable degree. Game-based learning is an innovation, and risk-averse institutions will be uneasy about such experiments, but these institutions will most likely flounder in the coming years.
I end with a comment by one of the most astute students I have met in my 28 years of teaching. Akmal is a classic nontraditional student. His comments show the determination of older students as they strive to realize their educational goals while working, parenting, and serving the country. In Akmal's case, the degree is nice, but he has already established himself as a highly successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur with accomplishments many faculty have not yet achieved.
Consequently, his perspective has earned a certain gravitas:. I want to take this opportunity to raise my glass to toast our esteemed and innovative Professor Logan Grey for putting this excellent course together. He also deserves significant credit in this regard for inspiring the rest of us by not giving up in the face of a challenging project such as this. The informal, postmodernist nature of the course and his briefings leave lasting impressions, as education should, and we all walk away with both knowledge and wisdom experientially gained in such a brief time.
As for myself, the completion of this course also meets the remaining credit requirements for a bachelor's degree. It is a quest that I began 40 years ago and could not continue then because of financial circumstances that forced me to drop out. Now, after so many years, I finally have closure, and I am delighted that the journey ended on a fun course like this one. I admire Akmal's persistence, his tenacity, and his insight.
Indeed, I am a postmodernist, and game-based learning has a postmodernist bent, but really, the point he makes concerns the conservative nature of most institutions and the need for innovators to be, like Akmal, tenacious and persistent in pushing against the grain, challenging the status quo, upsetting and unsettling people. If you do not challenge, you are not innovating. I was fortunate at the time to have the support of three key people as this course developed and matured: First, of course, my colleague and friend, Lee Sheldon, a great game designer, wonderful writer, ceaseless innovator and science fiction fan.
Lee's skill made this terrific course a reality. Second, my former dean, Dr. Scott Dalrymple, a game advocate, game player and game enthusiast who has brought the power of video games to his new position as president of Columbia College. Finally, the support of Excelsior College's late president, John F.
Ebersole, a lifetime innovator in distance education and online learning. He created the framework for innovation. John passed away last November, and his belief in what I was doing finds some small realization in the success of Secrets. I have never shied away from making either students or my superiors unsettled and uneasy; playing safe, doing what others do and what has always been done has a role, of course, but it does not make for much fun, much progress, or many breakthroughs in thought or action. I urge you to be in the vanguard, learn, experiment, and use game-based learning in some part of your work.
That's learning, the Star Trek way. If your college or university has a game design program, you can certainly tap them as internal collaborators for such courses.
2. INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN AND GAME DESIGN
If you need to go outside your institution, you can contact the Independent Game Developers Association local chapter or contact me at Revolutionary Learning for a list of expert designers working in education. Revisions and tweaks to the course can be made by the Subject Matter Expert or instructor, so the course can be run multiple times with minor change, making the long-range cost negligible. Make sure you test out ideas for LMS compatibility and development work with your campus LMS administrator when necessary.
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