Pedagogy Stew: March 2013

I’ve invented the most amazing computer game for my
composition students.

When I comment on their essays, which they’ve turned in online, I use “insert comment” to give feedback. There are pros and cons to this, of course, but one major PRO is that I’m now confident students can read my feedback. (I have handwriting issues. Lowest grade I ever got in my life? Penmanship. Fourth grade. At the time, I was sure Mrs. Cox had it in for me, but on reflection, I
think, no, that “C” was generous.)

Here’s the game: After I’ve finished grading the essays, their next assignment is a short exercise in which they should copy/paste one of the comments I’ve made, and then describe what
resource they looked to for help (online grammar site? our textbook? class notes?) and what
they plan to do to improve before the next essay.

All right, so…not so hot as a game.

It is, however, a fairly good test of their ability to navigate the online environment of digital essays and professorial feedback. Fairly often I have a non-traditional student who struggles online. (Drop-down list? Double-click? What’s that?) It’s not just non-traditional students. We think of Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) as being 100 percent wired, but I don’t
find them to be 100 percent proficient in computer usage that helps in the classroom. They can text,but word processing? Maybe not. They all use Google, but they may struggle when online research involves a database that uses Boolean logic or traditional Library of Congress Subject headings.

This round of essays, in each final draft, I am burying a link to an article in Nature
on the subject of “distributed thinking.” In “People Power: Networks of Human Minds Are Taking Citizen Science to a New Level,” Eric Hand describes how a group of scientists came up with Foldit, an online game in which “players compete, collaborate, develop strategies, accumulate game points and move to different playing levels, all while folding proteins.”
Computer models were thorough but slow—when gamers got involved, things went faster because, as Hand points out, “humans[are] blessed with a highly evolved talent for spatial manipulation, [and] can often see the solution intuitively.”

Beyond gamification (which means structuring learning, or anything else, like a game, with rewards—like giving chocolate for correct answers), what distributed thinking makes possible is
turning those skills our students use in gaming (and, um, some of us might possibly, occasionally, use in something girly and ridiculous like “Candy Crush,” a game that reports results on Facebook) into skills that could help solve real-world problems.

It isn’t just that I would like students to bring some of that persistence to their academic tasks. I would. But I would also love to figure out how to translate challenges (inside and outside academia) into the LANGUAGE and CULTURE of gaming, ina deep and serious way. Maybe then, when my son grows up, all his app-addled gaming hours will be a real asset.
______
6/15/13 NOTE: I ended up putting the link to the Nature article inside some Extra Credit directions–three students were very excited to find it. Next semester, I’ll think of more ways to make their hunting & clicking more rewarding.

I was talking about this to a student as we were searching EbscoHost (and online service with multiple databases to find articles) for sources for one of his papers, and told him I wished someone could structure searches like this as a game. He got it instantly: “Well, sure, like EbscoHost is a hallway, and….”

I can’t wait for the iOS version!

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