Meet Away

The NY Times article on meetings gave me real pause–not so much for the course but for work. The idea that meeting use up time–a resource more precious than dollars–was eye-opening. And while I doubt I’m going to start assign credit or blame for a meeting’s success or failure, I will adopt the objective/responsibility/reporting triad.

The Fast Company article was even more useful. I plan to immediately implement the 3 level of meeting taxonomy: possibility (brainstorming), opportunity (narrowing decisions), and action (decisions and plans). While it’s going to be a pain, I will also try and use the model for minutes: decisions, action items, and open issues. And finally, the suggestion to conclude every meeting with a critique of the meeting itself will be painful but may improve our time usage.

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Learning From Games

Shaffer’s book intrigues me–more academic than Prensky or Zimmerman but more applied than Gee. The initial chapter tosses out a few facts (reminiscent of the Exponential Times video on YouTube:

  • 60,000 HS students in the US compete in Intel’s International Science Fair
  • 6,000,000 HS students in China compete in Intel’s International Science Fair
  • 50% of North American Hispanic and Black students drop out without a HS degree
  • 33% of North American students drop out without a HS degree

Shaffer proposes the idea of epistemic games and makes a series of arguments for the incorporation of games into formal education and ties those arguments to some of the characteristics of games:

  • Jobs are moving overseas; however, Overby claims that standardized problems (taught in game-based learning) can be solved anywhere
  • Learning should be authentic but the skills taught do not necessarily have to be in your career field
  • Games are hard fun
  • Games can focus on winning or provide an environment where contributions matter, or both
  • Per Bartle (and expanded upon by Steinkuehler), MMO game players are:
    • Task driven (to succeed)
    • World knowledge-driven (explorers)
    • Socialization-driven
    • Power-driven (over other players)
  • Games must offer different end-states. The goal is to win but not necessarily achieve a predetermined state
  • Vygotsky claimed games are games because they have rules
  • If the goal of a game is to think like an historian, the rules must require thinking like an historian, not reciting dates
  • Different disciplines require different epistemologies which means different ways of thinking which means different rules
  • In an RPG, different roles adopt different rules

A wealth of references for future research:

  • Murray (99). Storytelling
  • Clark (01, 03). Cognition
  • Piaget (37, 48, 66). Play
  • Vygotsky (76, 78). Play
  • Bruner (76). Play
  • Garvey (90). Play
  • Lillard (93). Play
  • Turkle (95). Identity in a culture of simulation
  • Hoyles (02). Interactive properties of microworlds
  • Papert (90).
  • Parker (94) and Gee (04). Cross functional teams
  • Donald (91) and Shaffer (99). Cognitive evolution
  • Zoch and Shaffer (05). Formal learning in unstructured environments
  • Juul (03). Definition of games
  • Lindley (05). Game typology

Project-Based Learning

The idea to use a multimedia project to teach design skills fascinates me. Rovy Branon at the Advanced Distributed Learning Co_lab in Madison has used game design in the same way but in talking with him, I’ve had some doubts about the efficiency of his approach (he admits it takes a lot of hands-on work from the instructors and the result is more an increased in game design as a career than the impact on reading skills he was seeking). So, the focus on multimedia in this study seems more realistic and offers a more general transfer of knowledge.

The acronym itself confused me as I had previously associated PBL with Problem-Based Learning. But Project-Based Learning is more inclusive, and the five characteristics (centrality, problem, authenticity, investigation, and autonomy) seem identical. I especially appreciated the two challenges:

  1. Need for teachers (or more advanced students) to provide modeling, coaching and scaffolding in a cognitive apprenticeship
  2. Need for community-based exposure to different solutions (resonates with Wiggins’ facet on developing empathy)

The attraction of a multimedia PBL to engage multiple learning styles (intelligences) is obvious because of the diverse nature of the specific problem; I wonder if other PBL’s can offer similarly diverse roles. I suspect that students are best served by “playing” all five design roles (project management, research, organization, presentation, and reflection) on initial projects–and then specializing in a team on more advanced projects.

A new concept for me was the addition of “fading” to scaffolded instruction; previously, I had always integrated the two, but I can now see that they are distinct (and the metaphor works better: a high scaffold with less support was always a little scary picture).

The results of the study were illuminating:

  • significant increases in motivation–with the exception of goals (possibly due to a clearer understanding of the project by the end)
  • significant increase in peer resource management strategies
  • significant decreases in effort and time/study resource management strategies (possibly because of the physical separation of labs, the inherently assistive nature of teamwork, and the realization over time of the complexity of authentic PBL)
  • design skills with the exceptions of interest (perhaps due to the novelty wearing off) and mental effort (perhaps due to students “getting” the new PBL approach)

Like the authors, I was most surprised by the shift in importance from production-oriented tasks at the start of the project to design-oriented tasks by the end. Although this change was counterbalanced by students’ description of the design tasks as “boring,” I was heartened they at least recognized their importance. And despite the authors’ concern on the “fairness” of team projects, I appreciated the suggestion to incorporate both individual and group effort–an idea that might be achieved by individual “rankings” via a game-like scoreboard.

Beginning the Development Process

The interesting aspect of Jenkins is that the website design process parallels ADDIE. The questions form the Analysis phase:

  • What are the audience segments (learners)?
  • What are the goals/uses (objectives)?
  • What are the metrics (outcomes)?

The Design phase involves creating prototypes and gathering feedback from users. The Development phase moves prototypes to full-scale production. Implementation is the site launch, and Evaluation is looking at the metrics.

The key issues are related to project management:

  • Establishing brand
  • Prioritizing bells and whistles
  • Architecting for future expansion
  • Obtaining approval/sign-off

Mashups in Education

The concept of mashups was already familiar to me but all of the educational mashups described were totally new. In fact, until this article, I had not really considered mashups for direct instructional use; instead, I viewed them as a personal learning tool that I, as a student, would construct (or access) to assist me in my search for knowledge. If I needed to learn about the closest place for coffee, I’d go to the coffee mash-up. I know that seems to trivialize learning, reducing it to the level of a caffeine desire, but I would argue that it’s still a learning need.

The key differentiator of Web 2.0 was not mentioned (probably because it’s so obvious that it’s now trite). Web 1.0 was all about pages written by a few Web designers and read by thousands of Web surfers. Web 2.0 is all about personal spaces (populated by mashups as well as blogs and social tags and images) written by thousands of Web creators and connected to thousands of other Web creators. Web 1.0 is about Reading. Web 2.0 is about Reading and Writing.

Among the challenges listed, the question of data accuracy is primary; how many times have you printed directions from Google Maps only to discover an error (and what is the impact if your mashup was based on incorrect data)? Stability is also important; witness Google’s recent closing of Lively (a virtual room application). The concern over originality seems to miss the point that the mashup of data demonstrates creativity; because we have access to too much data, many learners need methods for discovery as much as they need methods for creating more. In fact, the idea that learners “can create contextualized mashups to support their own learning needs” perfectly summarizes the true value of mashups for education.

Project Management in Multimedia

Although the article is 13 years old, the 5 components (funding, personnel, design, marketing, and management) still ring true. A current development is that with the proliferation of powerful, (relatively) easy to use tools, the start-up phase has moved in-house; however, the same business argument must be constructed even if the funding is a resource allocation decision rather than a grant or a contract.

The 3 activities of project managers (planning, stimulating action, and intervening) is somewhat simplistic. Many PM courses also include:

  • concepts of product management (the PM’s “client” is the project itself) including risks and schedules and budgets
  • reporting progress up the chain, and running meetings down the chain
  • personnel management (leadership, conflict resolution, and human development)

The findings reported by practitioners mesh with my own experience, although I was surprised to see no mention of GANTT charts and critical path analysis. I disagreed with the managers who said to “‘pull out all the stops'” to win a contract; my experience in the school of hard knocks (aka, project failures–as least as defined by profit) suggests that setting realistic expectations is more important. My favorite response to any feature request is:

We can do anything. The real question is, “Should we?”

The importance of personalities in the team cannot be underestimated; a project can succeed with team members who work well together, even if some skills must be acquired during the project. However, the most important point in the article–and one that is seldom mentioned–is the importance of marketing. Without deep-seated support and continued evangelism, many projects launch and then seem to evaporate.

Learner Analysis

Learner needs are couched in terms of the design phases:

  • Define – determine learner needs and understand the implications for instructional materials
  • Design – define audience
  • Demonstrate – monitor prototype
  • Develop – determine ability of materials to meet learners’ needs during formative evaluation
  • Deliver – collect learners’ responses

I especially liked the distinction that (a) learner’s information needs impact goals and outcomes, while (b) learners’ characteristics impact strategy and activities (although this is a little simplified since information needs also impact activities, and characteristics also impact outcomes).

The needs assessment starts the spiral of design while the summative evaluation concludes it. Defining the needs assessment as the process of identifying the gap between the current and ideal situations seems reasonable but more content-focused than learner-centric.

The stratification of understanding learner characteristics reflects the practical orientation of this chapter, although the instructional implications of each characteristic is somewhat redundant; the breakdown (for me) that was more clear:

  • Prior knowledge
    • Speed of presentation
    • Redundancy
    • Level of detail
  • Motivation
    • Relevancy convincing
    • Type of feedback
    • Reinforcement types
  • Abilities
    • Learner control
    • Level of concreteness
    • Response mode
    • Difficulty of practice
  • Learning context
    • Media
    • Collaborative vs. individualistic
  • Application context
    • References and tools
    • Context of practice
    • Successful practice (level)

The concept that each learner has preferred methods of learning and communicating enhanced previous coverage (basic course) of learning styles; I especially appreciated the clarification that the preferences can change depending on subject, delivery environment and motivation level. The idea that learner characteristic assessment is like market segmentation gives me a powerful metaphor for working with corporate clients. I also liked the idea that contrived analysis (via brainstorming) can contribute to understanding learners (as sufficiently as?) derived (from data collection) analysis. However, the statement that 10-12 people (if they reflect the audience) is a sufficient sample suggests that formal analysis is not as difficult as I imagined. The concept that data can be collected from a variety of sources–interviews, focus groups, surveys, direct observation, and research literature–offers multiple tools. I also liked the combination of narrative (qualitative) and percentage (quantitative) reporting.

The final section tying learner analysis to the five phases and the ASC cycle was obvious; the actual application to food safety training was more useful (to me).