Friday, December 27, 2013

QuizUp- Motivation, Learning, and Dashboard Design, and 6 ways it can work in education

QuizUp is one of these flash in the pan games that takes the mobile world in a storm. In less than two months it amassed over 5 million users. If you haven't tried it you should, but not just because it is addictive, but also because it points to some aspects that QuizUp does well, and that we can do better in education. In short I believe that some of the things QuizUp does right we can use in education.

The key is motivation, and QuizUp uses every game mechanic and social aspect to drive you to use the system out of your own volition. First QuizUp allows the user to select the areas they want to be a part of. While we can't always let students choose what they want (vs. need) we know there is great motivation in choice. Second comes the sense of developing an area of expertise. I am for example the "Best in Ancient Rome in Nebraska" a dubious title but it works! We can imagine a best in multiplication in Mrs. Hendriks class or best in Ancient Greece in Washington Elementary.

QuizUp adds to it achievements (win 500 games, get a perfect score). We could structure those in more meaningful categories, imagine an achievement for knowing all the characters in Othello or all the multiples of 9, or the features of the table of elements. Points also work to motivate users, you get points even if you lose (although less) making sure that your effort is always rewarded. In short QuizUp activates all the short reward cycles that make us persist at game based tasks.

Feedback in QuizUp is exceptional. Beside the obvious leader boards, levels and points there are a slew of ways to get feedback. After each game you can study the questions and your responses, you can also see a graph comparing your score and you opponent's. The dash board is the most brilliant piece of design in the game. As you can see on the right one of the main dashboards shows you the areas you have been participating in and the level in each. It allows in one glance to see where the user had put the most effort and how well the user have been doing overall.

QuizUp has some challenges as a learning idea as well. The format of multiple choice works well for this kind of work but it does limit the sophistication of questions as they relate to different levels of learning (think Bloom's taxonomy). In my own participation I figured out I actually think through my responses through the first 15-20 levels. After that my responses are increasingly automatic as I have seen most of the available questions and must activate my mnemonic devices and memorization based on repetition.

So how does it fit into 21st century learning? Well:
1. It is a great way to develop basic knowledge
2. It is a great way to develop fluency (word recognition, basic math facts, historical facts). This will allow the teacher to focus on more meaningful material in class
3. Taking away the time element can help in some cases.
4. Have enough questions in any bank to remove straight forward memorization except when it i the goal (say multiplication facts).
5. The complexity of the question is up to the author, even in a multiple choice format you can get sophisticated thinking
6. If students can actually create questions it becomes a much more sophisticated task (the feature is available)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Confessions of an iPad Addict

I use my iPad excessively, or so I'm told. I can't even claim to be a social user. At the same time I divide my technology use between my iPads, laptop and iPhone. In the past month I have paid attention to what exactly I do with my different devices and I present what is an unscientific view of my device use.

As I look at the chart the first thing that becomes clear is that my iPhone is just my backup device. I really use it only when my other devices are not there, are out of charge, or if it is the only device with connectivity.

I use my computer for writing, analysis, and in class. Other uses on my laptop are mainly a result of the fact that I am already on the device. For example if I am already writing I will use my computer for email but I will almost never switch to my computer for handling email.

I use my iPad for media consumption, social media, and media production. In class I use both computer and iPad in equal amounts but LMS work happens more my laptop since many of the functions including file upload and grading are not available on the iPad.

What I think the data shows is that for heavy users like me there is no one device that can do it all. The iPad can become a lot more central (though it does represent more than 60% of my technology use) if it had a good file management system and better LMS interphase that allowed me to use the grading feature on my Blackboard.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

iPads in Chinese Classrooms

We just finished with our second professional development with educators in China. This time it was an elementary school that would like to be part of our long term project. The plan was for 20-25 teachers that have been identified as leaders. Over 40 showed up. Every event like this is fraught with difficulty: bandwidth, technology on both sides but more than everything it is the physical and cultural distance. It is hard to get a read on a large crowd through distance and it is almost impossible to get the personal commitment that would drive change.

I started with a very short theoretical foundation. We then used Socrative as a demonstration of a way to engage participants.  Jason Wilmot proceeded to discuss the Flipped Classroom and Krista Barnhouse showed a few apps she uses in her classroom. It then turned into a mini app shootout. Overall it was a successful if stressful session with Ji at the helm producing the event, Dandi translating and Qizhen as a backup/ backchannel discussant. It is a fairly big team but it probably is the only way we can manage that.

This is an evaluation of the effort through our back channels (edited version so I take full responsibility):

         "There were a total of 43 teachers and two principals joined our conference physically. There were three teachers joined our conference online. According to the responses, teachers who participated in online felt more engaged than those who joined physically. This is because those teachers all had a one-on-one technology person sitting next to them solving the technical issues, such as installation and registration. All teachers love our apps introduction but some of them suggested to get rid of theory section because they all know the theories. Moreover, teachers asked us to bring real-time classroom instructions rather than only introduction. 

I talked with a couple teachers yesterday and they said they need the conference but they all indicated that Chinese teachers will never integrate technology into classroom unless principals force them to do so. A teacher stated that there is only five who want to learn among 100 teachers in similar trainings in China, meaning those teachers did not get engaged. The lack of quality of motivation, will hinder them to learn."

I do not share the morbid evaluation. At the heart of it, it seems that teachers in China are like teachers everywhere. They want to change but know it is hard and are afraid that it might not work. Change if any will be slow and will depend on our ability to deliver tailored information and on-going support. It is true with the schools we work with at LPS, it is true with pre-service teachers, and it si true when we work with Chinese educators. Heck based on a faculty meeting last friday, it is also true with our teacher education faculty.

Our Chinese experiment will continue!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Honesty, Data, Mooc Mania, and Persistence

MOOC Wheel
from the Chronicle of Higher Education
Graphic by XARISSA HOLDAWAY; illustration by NIGEL HAWTIN
I have mixed feelings about the fate of the Udacity experiment and the glee of many in the I told you so. Let's start with where I am, I am no fan of MOOC's as a "hack" and a solution to all of our Higher Education woes (cost, quality, ROI). I have written in this blog and have spoken publicly on my beliefs that MOOCs (more specifically xMOOCS) crowned as the solution will fail but may hurt public higher education before it fails to deliver.

As the data about Udacity's experiment at San Jose State emerged, Udacity admitted they have failed to achieve the projected results. Consequently they decided to change course and try to work as a workplace initiative. There are great points of discussion here that are worth attending to some actually positive.
The first is that a major corporate player was honest about dismal results, yes it took a while but we seldom see this kind of honesty from corporate or educational leaders. Moreover, they admitted reality with data in hand. We preach data based decision making and here it is.

I think this data will temper MOOC mania for a while and serve higher education as a reasonable argument for caution if not resistance. But something bugs me about it. The main finding was that students need to persist to succeed. In effect students the best predictor of success was the number of assignments handed in. Its actually a lecture my wife who teaches in a community college gives her students often: Not handing assignments is the surest way to fail. The problem is therefore first and foremost a problem of motivation.

Here lies the problem of all MOOCs be it x or c (more on x and c MOOCs here). Persistence is key, but persistence is driven by self efficacy the feeling that you are capable of performing a task which is usually derived based on past success. When the students you use a MOOC with have had little success they have little self efficacy, therefore they do not persist, drop out or just stop handing assignments. This theoretical view is well supported by the SJSU MOOC effort. In effect to break this cycle of low success and self efficacy we need to rewire students by making sure they succeed and interpret their success (attribute) based on their effort and persistence. This can be accomplished most easily with instructors who are sensitive to their students needs provide the right encouragement and the right feedback. To quote Taylor Mali in What Teachers Make:

                          You want to know what I make?

                          I make kids work harder than they ever                               thought they could.
                          I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional                           Medal of Honor
                          and an A-­‐ feel like a slap in the face.
                          How dare you waste my time
                          with anything less than your very best.

So why am I ambivalent? Because if persistence is the most important component in success; where is Udacity's persistence in producing a quality learning experience?