Games-based Learning: My PD goal for 2012

Video games by Caitlan Monahan

Video Games courtesy Caitlan Monahan Flickrcc

I’m a big fan of play – it is one of the most authentic, engaging, rewarding modes of learning.

My old school (primary) was heavily into play-based learning but now I work in a high school. We have rules banning students from many online games and I understand some of the reasons why (time/task management issues, IT issues), but I want to bust through that rule and claim gaming as a tool for students and teachers.

I’m not a gamer; I don’t even know a lot about the world of online games except what I’ve watched (and ok, played a bit) as my sons grew up – they loved Runescape, WofW, Sims etc. and what I saw was good (apart from the odd blood splatter). They had to deal with online social issues sure, but even those were worthy learning experiences.

So this year I’ve made investigating and implementing some online games-based learning activities as my Professional Learning goal for 2012.

Step 1 has been about building knowledge and exploring the topic. Here’s a quick look at what I’ve been looking at:

What is Games-based Learning?

This great blog piece (click on the title above) helped me understand the different ways games can be applied to education/learning:

  1. Educational games apps to teach skills
  2. non-educational games to use in conjunction with a topic
  3. non education games that inspire or engage in a learning project

Favourite quote from the piece:

I see a great potential in what I call non-educational games becoming a learning experience for young children. When I explain this to others, I start by explaining all of those other events we plan for our early years children such as going on a walk, visiting the post office, hanging the washing out to dry… When we are performing these tasks, they are not educational. It is what we do as educationalists before, during and after the event that makes it educational.

Pedagogy always comes first!

Victorian PLN: Unit 11: Gaming in Education

The State Library of Victoria’s Learning Services put together a very comprehensive introduction to gaming in education as part of their PLN program. It’s definitely worth working your way through it even though the program is finished. It covers all the 5W’s. It also includes  a wonderful webinar that was put on by Paul Callaghan, games developer and the organizer of FreePlay Independent Games Festival. The webinar is available to watch and really filled some gaps in my knowledge

“Games in Education” Webinar

Paul covered the opic of how games of all sorts have shaped us, and talked about:

  • games as tools
  • games as culture
  • how games create a space for learning
  • games literacy (and how important it is)

I also subscribe to a Scoop.it stream called, Are You Game, curated by Judith Way (thanks Judith!). Judith is great at including all the current trends, research, news and educator’s blogs out there.

One of the articles I ran across has given me some real insight on directions and interests of the large players in the educational games arena.

For the Win: Serious Gamification: Gaming as an educational Tool

My favourite quote from this article:

Anthony Salcito (Vice President of Worldwide Education, Microsoft):

Anthony wants to lift the way in which technology makes a difference in the classrooms by looking at the motivation of the learner or player of the game. He says there has to be a platform of optimism making students feel they have an impact in their world and community so that learning becomes relevant to what they hope to achieve. Students who get an “F” on their papers conclude they can’t understand that subject whereas with a “Game Over” screen, gamers come back and try harder while learning from their mistakes. So the assessment models in schools are often not motivating while the language of games has an incentive for students to learn from their mistakes and move on.

However, I disagree with Mr. Salcito when he says teachers are saying students learn better by teachers teaching to the test. This is a system that is being forced on teachers, not chosen by them.

Step 2: is all about talking to members of the school community and strategic planning. I’ll blog about that in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FYI: on Growing Personal Learning Environments

Photo courtesy Balanced Crafts on Flickr

The latest issue of FYI recently arrived in the post.  Yay! FYI is the quarterly journal of SLAV (School Library Association of Victoria). This is the issue that focussed on Learning Communities and featured the article I wrote last year about Personal Learning Environments for students. We concentrated on Year 9’s last year as part of their Pathways and Careers program but the groups delegated to me were so large (75-90 students) it was difficult to assist everyone properly and caused some lag issues with the site and our internet system at school.

I’ll be focussing this year on helping the Learning Enhancement students set up their PLEs. I think teaching one class at a time will mean that I can give much better support. PLE’s are really a two-part job: 1) Get the site set up; 2) develop the learning environment. Nothing new there – its alway learn the tool then use the tool.

Here’s the article below for those who can’t access the journal —

Growing Personal Learning Environments

At the end of 2010, I reached a cherished goal; the completion of my Masters degree in Teacher Librarianship. In 2011, I changed schools and what a change it was! After 10 years, I moved from a very small, independent primary school to a 1200+ government secondary college – all part of a plan to stretch my professional wings.

Sound scary?

It could have been but it wasn’t really. That’s because I didn’t do it alone; I had my ‘net’ with me. Or should I say my Personal Learning Network. The resources (human and literature-based) I’d been cultivating to support my learning helped me to swiftly engage with my new school community. As I found myself drawing on my PLN to help me in my new role, it set me to wondering about the students’ networks. How well do they use theirs? Are they even aware they have one? What can I do to help them make better use of their learning community and grow their learning networks? One day (via a blog I subscribe to) I came across a video of a Year 7 student in America demonstrating how her PLE works. After researching to learn more, I knew I’d found an avenue.

What is a PLE?

We all have favourite tools, websites, and people we trust to help us learn. We may access videos and podcasts as we carry out research; write blogs or reply to posts as we get involved in pursuing our passions. But bookmarking everything can become unruly and jumping from Facebook to forums to keep up with topics and groups can result in ‘info-whelm’. A Personal Learning Environment or PLE is a way for students to grow, curate and organize their learning. PLEs are online environments; they are individualised, learner-created and learner-directed. The platforms most widely used to create PLEs are social dashboard sites such as iGoogle, Netvibes and Symbaloo.

How are we using PLEs?

After reading more about PLEs, I evaluated a few dashboard sites. I chose Netvibes based on user-friendliness, visual appeal, physical layout, flexibility of features, and the fact that it has an active help forum. When I approached our Head of Library about introducing PLEs to students, I’d already set up a sample PLE to demonstrate (http://www.netvibes.com/bottomdrawer/). She saw the value in it and took the idea to the school administration. The idea was approved and time provided in the schedule to introduce PLEs to the students and teachers. We originally envisaged working with students at the end of Year 10 so they would have a PLE for their VCE studies, but the school’s Pathways & Transitions team became interested in the project. We now introduce PLEs to the Year 9’s at the end of Term 4 and help them incorporate their Pathways Planning into the PLE as well as their regular learning areas and subjects. We built a Wikispaces site (http://vsc-ple.wikispaces.com/) to introduce learners to the concept and purpose of a PLE and to guide them through the set-up process on Netvibes. We were given a session with each of the Year 9 groups so students had time to work through the wiki, ask questions and receive guidance from the TLs. Teachers contributed website suggestions for different subjects to get the PLEs started and we demonstrated RSS feeds and Twitter #topic searches during the session. We encouraged teachers to set up Netvibe sites too so students could follow them (as well as each other) in order to connect, collaborate and share resources. We are looking forward to evaluating the success of the PLEs at the end of the year with a short user survey.

What are the benefits?

A PLE is not an assignment or something teachers need to check up on or assess. A PLE is a way of putting control, choice and responsibility back into the hands of the learner, helping them to become more independent. PLEs are set up according to each student’s learning needs, styles and preferences. The social aspect of PLEs can offer a way to create and/or strengthen connections within the school community. They offer a consistent connection to resources from home, from school and via mobile access. They encourage collaboration and sharing of resources as well as reaching out to the wider community with possibilities such as Twitter and Skype. Research is also suggesting that such learning environments encourage the integration of formal and informal learning (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). This in turn promotes a positive attitude toward learning and develops lifelong skills.

Conclusion

I am excited with this new opportunity to support our learning community, but I’ve tried to imagine the pitfalls too. A student might set a PLE up then choose not to use it. However, they will have increased their awareness of new resources and possibilities available to help them learn in the future. I can also imagine students adding sites to their PLE that are not relevant to their studies: games, chat and other distractions. Filters will block most of them at school but stepping back, these are study skills topics ripe for discussion: myths of multi-tasking, effective time management strategies and goal setting. Problems can be opportunities! The giving and getting of support for everyone is the essence of learning communities. Demands on students and teachers are increasing so we all end up time-poor and overwhelmed by information possibilities. A PLE can offer students a Web 2.0 way to control and organize their learning lives just like they do their social lives. It can help build skills, connections and habits that will last a life-time. Win-win!

Reference Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). 21st Century learning environments. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/tools-and-resources/publications/600

PD Reading Challenge: Connect to Enchant

Photo courtesy: Martin Deutsch from Flickr cc

The 2nd chapter in Kawasaki’s Enchantment focuses on achieving likability. Basically, be nice! Everything works better when people are nice and try to get along. He lists likability as the foundation to success, I agree. The steps towards likability are easy:

  • get close
  • make contact
  • get connected

As I read through his list I’m mentally ticking them off. So far I’m going OK with all of those points. The last one however is one I want to work on in 2012.

Build relationships/Connect

TLs often get stuck in the library with supervisory duties at lunch and recess so we miss out on the social aspect of the school staffroom. I plan to change that while I still focus on the many teachers that come into the library; they are my target audience to start with. They already come to us but I want to delight them so much they become the type of customers that help spread the word. So creating relationships with them is my first goal. I’m going to start with the simplest of things to get connected with other staff:

  1.  I’m going to change the way I enter the school. Starting on day one, I’m going via the main entrance rather than the back carpark. In this way I will walk by the general office and the staffroom every morning and evening. I’m bound to run into people – could it be as simple as that? Well a good start I believe.
  2.  I’m going to learn all the staff’s names – no easy feat, there are over 100 but I’ve been there a whole year now and still only know about 30 (and some of those are shaky). I’ve got a staff photo somewhere and I’m going to study.

I like the quote attributed to the Brafman brothers (authors of another book about making business connections):
“… the single most important factor in determining whether or not you connect with another person is neither personality nor mutual interests – it is simple proximity.”

My PD Reading Challenge

Infograph courtesy: Social Media Max on Flickr cc

One of my NY resolutions was to take time to read the PD books I’ve purchased over the past couple of years. I started on my Professional Reading Challenge during the summer holidays. I have six books lined up.

Guy Kawasaki’s book, “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions” is essentially a business motivational book but even from the blurb I could see the practical applications for the school library service. (The above link will take you to a video speech he made about “Enchantment”).
The inside jacket blurb starts:

Enchantment, as defined by bestselling business guru, Guy Kawasaki, is not about manipulating people. It transforms situations and relationships. It converts hostility into civility and civility into affinity. It changes skeptics and cynics into believers and the undecided into the loyal.

Now I’m not worried about people feeling hostile towards our school library, I’m concerned with something much more insidious – apathy and ignorance to what we do and how we can help the school to become a much better learning community. I’m passionate about what I do; I work hard to build trust and offer a stellar service but I really want to go the next step towards empowering others and so I’m looking for some guidance. I hope there is much to reflect on and put into practice here.
I’m also looking for practices to take my leadership skills to the next level. This book promises to help one bring about change in other people and I am particularly interested in effecting change when it comes to assisting teachers to use ICT and feel comfortable in changing the way they teach.

Professionally Engaged

Photo courtesy: ganesha.isis on Flickr cc

I love being part of the TL professional community; knowing there are hundreds of TLs out there sharing, watching each others backs, advising and growing better together – it is such a buzz! I also enjoy writing so am pleased when I can combine the two. Writing opportunities have been coming in at a comfortably steady pace this year.

This term I’ve had three writing tasks on the bubble.

1/ Finding out and experimenting with digital fiction has been a focus for me this entire year. I’ve been blogging about it as I go (more to come in next post) and Pat Pledger of Pledger Consulting contacted me about the possibility of contributing to an upcoming publication. The book is a collection of practical ideas for TLs – things they can apply now to their services and programs. I’ve contributed a chapter explaining about Digital and Online Fiction, how to use it, why try it and many links to examples suitable for high school classes.

2/ FYI is a magazine published by SLAV (School Library Association of Victoria). They approached me about contributing to the next issue (Term 1, 2012). The theme for the upcoming issue is: Learning Communities so I wrote an article about the PLEs (Personal Learning Environments) I’ve been developing for the Year 9’s at the high school. We are about to launch this with them in a couple of weeks. Very exciting, more to come in a post and of course the article.

3/ I am also a freelance writer of teaching notes for HarperCollins Publishing. My latest assignment – writing teaching notes for an upcoming picture book entitled “Fearless in Love” — a story about one very lovable dog. Writing for picture books allow me to revel in all the fun I used to have with my students in a past primary school library job. Fun! You can find some of the other Teaching Notes I’ve written by clicking on the Teaching Notes tab at the top of this blog.