Analyze advanced instructional technologies in practice in a learning context. It’s quite possible, or even likely, that an ensemble of technologies may be used in a certain educational practice. This could be a description of a practice in which you are or have been involved, or plans you have to implement a practice using instructional technologies, or a case study of an interesting practice someone else has applied and that you would find beneficial to research and analyze. Use as many of the theory concepts defined by members of the group in their published Work 1 as you can, with references and links to the published works of the other course participants.
One of the courses that I teach to juniors is Social Justice which examines justice issues in the world today. The school that I teach at is a Catholic school with a mostly affluent student population. It can be difficult at times to get students to think about issues and people outside of their immediate experience. One of the ways that I found most effective to stimulate an empathetic response and to get students engaged in learning more about particular topics is to use Simulation games in conjunction with discussion boards. There are two games that I use consistently that I have found to be particularly impactful for the students, Darfur is Dying and Spent.
One issue that is explored in the class is poverty. Students enter the class period with some basic background on poverty in the United States from their textbook and they were asked to offer a brief reflection on the topic on a discussion board posting on our class page which hosted on Edline by our school.
The Spent simulation game helps take this background and apply it to situations many people face every day. Play poses the following scenario in the beginning animation:
"14 million unemployed Americans. Now imagine you are one of them. Your savings are gone. You've lost your house. And you are down to your last $1,000. Can you make it through the month?" (playspent.org).
One or two student volunteers walk through the simulation while projecting to the front of the classroom. The students are instructed to survey the class when making their decisions. Typically the discussion gets quite lively as students get into the debate about the decisions facing the class, for instance whether to send their child to a birthday party when they really can't afford a present. Without consciously realizing it, students are exploring the difficult realities faced daily by people experiencing poverty. Below are some of the situations and choices faced by players, along with the results of some of the decisions:
Students are then invited to run through the simulation additional times in their small groups. Students take turns driving the simulation while discussing the decisions with their group. As we approach the end of the class period, I direct the students to a discussion board posting on the class page. The posting asks students to reflect on their experience with the simulation before the next class with the following prompts:
The next class period begins with some students sharing a few thought based on their discussion board postings. Students volunteer to share as part of the discussion though I will also ask specific students to share based on what they had posted before class. The students then transition back into their groups. In their groups, I ask the students to pick one of the scenario questions from the simulation to explore in more depth.
The simulation includes a list of sources for each of the scenarios presented. Each group gets their topic approved so that there isn't overlap in the class. Each group explores the topic and puts together a 5-10 minute presentation for the rest of the class. The presentations vary, some utilize PowerPoint presentations and some try other creative approaches. One group took the information they learned and created a board game incorporating it, similar to the Spent simulation. Their presentation took the form of them playing the game in the middle of the room, while the class watched. They shared the cards they drew as part of the game which conveyed information regarding hunger in America. It was an engaging and informative presentation.
After the presentations I invite the students to once again reflect that night on the presentations and what they learned. The next class we gather in a large circle to discuss their responses, again using the discussion board postings as a starting point and a refresher of some of the issues they wanted to discuss. Very frequently students will ask one of their peers to share what they had posted because they felt it was an important point.
The other simulation game that I use is Darfur is Dying. As mentioned in my previous work, Darfur is Dying
"is a viral video game for change that provides a window into the experience of the 2.5 million refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan. Players must keep their refugee camp functioning in the face of possible attack by Janjaweed militias. Players can also learn more about the genocide in Darfur that has taken the lives of 400,000 people, and find ways to get involved to help stop this human rights and humanitarian crisis" (DarfurisDying.org)
Students must forage for water for their camp, trying to evade the militia forces that patrol the areas. They must grow food, distribute medical supplies, and rebuild the camp after militia attacks.
Since the game does not run on the school-issued tablets, the class meets in the computer lab where I invite them to play the simulation through. I do not give any instructions regarding the gameplay beforehand, preferring that students figure out the game as they go. If the students are not successful, the game will prompt them with hints as to how to do better next time. And, as the game notes "As someone at a far off computer, and not a child or adult in Sudan, would you like the chance to try again?" Later I ask the students to reflect on their initial confusion compared to what people who are actually experiencing the humanitarian crisis experience each day.
I ask each group to keep track of how long they are able to survive. Most groups have a difficult time surviving one day, though as they proceed and get accustomed to the gameplay they usually can make it through the full week.
Each group is also asked to keep track of what they learn about the situation in Darfur as they play the game. I also give them additional links to background information as some of the links listed in the game do not function currently.
The groups are then asked to find another example of a recent genocide to learn about. They are also asked to note similarities and differences between that genocide and the genocide in Darfur. I ask each group to summarize what they have learned in a discussion board posting that is shared with the whole class. Each group is then responds to every other group (usually 4 or 5), noting similarities and differences with the genocide that particular group explored. The students usually start this at the end of the period and complete this portion at home. The next class period we discuss what the students learned, again with the discussion board serving to enhance the discussion.
This serves as the beginning of the unit. We go on to explore the Rwandan Genocide in depth, concluding with viewing the movie Hotel Rwanda. Last year we were lucky enough to have a survivor of the Rwandan Genocide come and speak to the classes about his experience.
As Maura Brand notes in her work, Simulation-Based Assessment:
"computer simulations recreate and explore elements of the real world - often math, science, social sciences, technology, or languages. While simulations are simpler than the original phenomenon, they are more complex than games. Simulations capture elements of the phenomenon that is not easily recreated without technology" (Brand 2014).
Michelle Rawleigh in Game in Education mentions an additional benefit of using simulation games
"If teachers are able to present students with a similar video game experience with educational topics they may be able to engage a larger percentage of their students. Getting students to want to learn and explore more are the goals of most teachers, games may be the tool to hook students into wanting more learning" (Rawleigh 2014).
Simulation games and discussion boards speak to many of Kalantzis and Cope's seven affordances of new technology for assessment for new learning, as found in New Learning: Elements of a Science of Education.
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The benefits for using discussion boards in this unit are also noted by Beatriz Wagener in her work Bulletin Boards and Discussion Forums:
"Students are responsible for the majority of the content, while the teacher merely provides a framework. The bulletin board or discussion forum is a space where students can reflect, express their opinions, and be creative. Depending on the teacher’s requirements, students would be responsible for a certain amount or type of contribution. Participation in an online bulletin board or discussion forum can take different forms. Students can create their own new content for others to view and respond to, they can reflect on and add to their peers’ contributions, or they can comment on the teacher’s specific prompt" (Wagener 2014).
The simulations that I use in class are used to engage students initially about the topic and to springboard into deeper exploration about the topics and related matters. I do not use them as a direct assessment tool. As Maura Brand noted
"How can the game or simulation collect accurate data that can measure and predict student's learning? Within the game or simulation are numerous "clicks" where the student made choices. Which of these data clicks should be mined as relevant measures of student knowledge?" (Brand 2014).
Neither Spent nor Darfur is Dying were designed to be direct assessment tools and it seems inappropriate to approach them as such. Brand also notes that one of the benefits of computer simulations is that they can help foster peer interaction (Brand 2014). I have found that to be the case in my use of these simulations in class. They foster peer to peer discussions that I would have difficulty initiating otherwise.
“Student engagement is strongly associated with academic achievement; thus embedding school material within game-like environments has great potential to increase learning, especially for disengaged students” (Shute, 2011). This has proven accurate in my experience suing these in class.
Utilizing the discussion boards for student reflection helps the conversation. I have ready access to the points that the students made before the class, so I can encourage students to share thoughts that can further the discussion. It also helps to identify more quickly areas of agreement and areas where there is divergence of opinion so that those can be explored in greater depth. It also provides the teacher with the opportunity to help clear up misconceptions if they exist. Overall it helps as a primer to stimulate a healthier discussion.
The discussion boards also serve as a point of reference for students in the development of their own thoughts and understanding. At the end of the unit, I ask students to revisit their original posts. They are then asked, in light of what they have learned, to comment on how their thinking has changed on the issue or how their thinking was reinforced. I ask them to give specific evidence to support their self-analysis. This self-analysis along with their presentations serves as the assessment for the units.
The discussion boards also present an opportunity for students to respond at their own pace. "Without the pressure of time to respond and twenty pairs of eyes staring at them, students can feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts online" (Wagener 2014). And it has encouraged me as a teacher to let the students take more ownership for their learning and helped me to avoid being the sole giver of instruction.
I have found that by using simulations and discussion boards, students have had an easier time making connections between these topics and the world around them. Previously students would struggle to see where an issue like poverty was present in the local community. They often viewed it as an issue that affected other people but didn't impact them. Now that students are engaged in the simulations and responsible to one another through the discussion board postings, the connections and applications that they make to the local community have been enhanced greatly. For example, the school requires that students complete 20 service hours each semester. Students have used examples from their service work to illustrate how poverty plays a major role in the lives of the people they encounter. I have also found that students express a greater appreciation for how difficult it can be to get out of the cycle of poverty. Frequently in the reflections that students offer they will comment how they entered into the unit thinking that people in poverty "were lazy and just didn't work hard enough," but that after having experienced the Spent simulation and researching the issue more, they came to realize how difficult it can be living on minimum wage.
James Paul Gee notes in Good Video Games and Good Learning, "In a good game, words and deeds are all placed in the context of an interactive relationship between the player and the world. So, too, in school, texts and textbooks need to be put in contexts of interaction where the world and other people talk back" (Gee, 2005). In the instance of Spent and Darfur is Dying, both simulation games have helped to achieve this.
The reactions to these units have been positive. The class discussions and presentations reflected a greater seriousness than before. The student reaction to these units improved markedly after I adopted the simulations and discussion boards. On the year-end evaluations that I distribute, students consistently point to these two units and the simulations as high points of the course. This was a significant shift from previous evaluations and the main motivator in for me to seek out alternate ways to present the units. The parent feedback that I have received has also been positive. Most parents talk about the excitement their child had for the unit and for sharing the simulations with them. The majority of the other teachers in my department have also adopted the simulations into their lesson plans and they report positive results as well.
As Maura Brand notes, "Simulation-based assessments allow students to explore a breadth of experiences they would not receive otherwise" (Brand 2014). Michelle Rawleigh also mentions that "Setting up students to explore and discover knowledge through a game will help foster the best results. Students need the challenge to move on, but also to learn from their mistakes along the way. Gaming allows students to work collaboratively with others" (Rawleigh 2014). The first time I used Darfur is Dying, I walked the class through the gameplay in painstaking detail, which I believe diminished some of the potential benefit to using the game. In the years since when I have allowed students to discover the gameplay on their own and experience the failure and success on their own, the game has been much more effective and stimulating discussion and exploration of the subject matter.
I have also learned when using the discussion board to allow time for students to offer feedback and reflection before I do so. When I initially began using discussion boards, I would monitor it frequently and chime in quickly to correct any false statement or any misconception that was posted. Instead of allowing for greater peer to peer feedback and learning, I was reinforcing my role as the instructor imparting knowledge. Those discussion board postings obviously were not as fruitful. In allowing the students to take the central role in responding to one another I am also allowing them to become more involved in knowledge creation rather than simply relying on rote memorization of material.
The greatest matter of importance is placing the games and discussion boards within the larger framework of the course and the unit (McClarty 2012). Simply having the students play the games without connecting it to the rest of the course would fail to accomplish any learning goal and serve only as a time filler. Discussion board postings that don't connect with or build to greater understanding only serve to stifle student creativity instead of enhancing it.
Simulation games and discussion boards have great potential to aid in student engagement and understanding if properly incorporated.