October 24

How can I help students “level up?”

I recently completed a five-week MOOC offered by Coursera, called Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom. Successful completion of this course, three other courses,  and a capstone result in a Virtual Teacher credential, which is my goal.

As is the case with the other courses in the stream, this short course required only one assessed assignment. In keeping with a #PBL fundamental, we students had voice-and-choice, with three assignment options. One choice was to create a short welcome or instructional video, with an embedded interactive element.

I took the plunge… Due to the intriguing work/play I conducted in the Connected Learning MOOC (#CLMOOC) last summer, I have a heightened interest in understanding how media tools can be used to enhance engagement and learning in students.

In this course’s assignment description, a suggested list of media tools included “Zaption, ThingLink Video, Camtasia, YouTube Editor, Mozilla Popcorn,” although we were at liberty to use any tool that got the job done. I had encountered work done using Zaption during the CLMOOC, so charged ahead with that one.

Along my journey, I encountered many obstacles, and was thankful I had begun work on the project early! I ultimately prevailed, although my end result lacks finesse. I have two major observations from this experience.

Firstly, free versions of products tend to be severely limited and limiting, contributing to the level of frustration I felt as I put the elements together. I understand the purpose of free versions – a risk-free way to try a product and see if it is a good fit for what one wants to do. However, once an organization goes through this analysis process, I think it makes good business sense to commit to the product(s) that best fit the needs of the organization. Otherwise, there is an abundance of time wasted on learning a new tool which only partially satisfies the creative drive. Which ultimately means the creative drive is not satisfied at all!

The other realization that hit home with me was “Where is the instruction manual?” I reflected on this periodically for several days. My first career was in software development/support/project management, from the mid-70’s to the mid-90’s. There was always an instruction manual. Today, however, there is rarely a traditional instruction manual. Technology tools come with FAQs and “?” functions that (generally) lead to a searchable database.

Perhaps as a result, I observe that most young people jump right into the middle of a new app with no prior knowledge or explanation. They simply start using it, and if they get stumped, they try alternative approaches. When all else fails, they invoke the help function. I posit that students often use this same methodology as they tackle new academic material.

In their 2009 work Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel & Robison identify what they call new media literacies, among them “Play – The capacity to experiment with the surroundings as a form of problem solving,” “Simulation – The ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes,” and “Appropriation – The ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.”

When students jump into the middle of a new game or app, they immediately began experimenting, to figure out how it works. They use prior knowledge of other apps/games they have played, as well as real-world knowledge that may apply to this particular experience. In general, they are not at all intimidated by the fact that they have no guidance in their introduction to this new functionality, but expect that it will in some way have connections to something they already know.

Maybe we need to apply this reality to teaching! Instead of using a traditional instruct-drill-test process, why don’t we ask our students to solve an authentic problem or situation (another essential PBL element)? As they plunge in, they will encounter points where they do not have adequate knowledge or skills to continue further. As instructor facilitators, we can at that point provide the instruction needed (including the use of community experts and resources), in what I term a just-in-time model. Students will be receptive, because they recognize the need for learning, in order to be able to “level up.”

For the brave of heart, you will find my Zaption assignment here: http://zapt.io/tggknnx3.


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Posted October 24, 2014 by inspirepassion in category clmooc, Deeper Learning, PBL

About the Author

I am a process-focused leader who uses collaboration, authenticity, and mentoring as key skills to inspire passion among learners of all ages. Aggregate eclectic professional experiences have honed my ability to coach others in designing and implementing courses of study using inquiry-/project-based learning (PBL).

4 thoughts on “How can I help students “level up?”

  1. Erica Holan Lucci

    Thanks for sharing your insights about participation in Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom and the CLMOOC! I teach “Web-Based Multimedia Design for Educators” as an online graduate level course offered through Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. Zaption is an awesome tool that I’ve not yet tinkered with. I look forward to testing it out thanks to your recommendation.

    For what it’s worth, my students often tell me about the frustrations of programs that have limited “free” trials with multiple restrictions on accounts and whatnot. I always recommend they register as teachers because educational professionals are often able to get access to the premium content at little to no cost (even if it’s for a limited period of time).

    As far as jumping into new technologies to experiment with “what works” – I think you’re absolutely right about their methods for learning. I find that they younger they are, the more likely they are to try things without fearing penalization — they don’t see “not getting something right” as failing at that stage. Rather, they take the time to figure out what isn’t functioning, or develop work-arounds in order to make the tool perform what they’d like it to. The older we are, the more set in our ways we become, and the more afraid I find my students are to get things “wrong” — even if it’s an “opinion” related matter!

    The coupling of fear with experimentation leads to stifled creativity and hesitancy with attempts to further technological (tool) competencies. I do my best to discourage the desire to “get things right” the first time and to instead “try, try again” to experience failure, which makes successful outcomes that much more powerful!

    Great post!

    1. inspirepassion (Post author)

      Thanks, Erica, for your thoughtful comments. You hit an important aspect of learning in general – the fear of failure. It is so ingrained in our society that we need to get things “right” all the time, and the first time. One tenet of Project-Based Learning is that there are often no “right” or “wrong” answers to a question, but rather many possible solutions. There is also an emphasis on many iterations of design and revision to a final solution. We need to encourage students to take risks, to fail, and to learn from that failure.

  2. Daniel Bassill

    There’s a lot of good news in what you have written. It sounds like young people are learning to problem solve, showing persistence, and learning to reach out to networks when they get stumped. A real world exercise classrooms across the country could adopt would be to point youth to social/environmental/health indicators and encourage them to build strategy visualizations showing how they’d mobilize others to better understand a problem, understand potential solutions, create theory of change and strategy models, then show the on-going leadership needed to solve the problem over a period of time. If young people can practice these skills, and borrow ideas from others, they become adults with a deeper understanding of problems and of solution paths. Could be world-changing.

    1. inspirepassion (Post author)

      Nice analysis, Dan. There is a lot of doom and gloom regarding our education system, but at least part of it is the way we are asking them to learn is not effective. As you say, if we encourage them to expand their process outside the box, they will become tomorrow’s leaders and problem solvers.


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