Sending differentiated responses to students with a self-grading quiz

In a previous post, I wrote about creating a simple e-learning module with Google Forms. Then I discussed sending students an immediate response when they completed that module, which is very helpful for record-keeping and for worried students who believe their responses are floating somewhere in cyberspace. To continue this line of thinking, what happens if students are required to demonstrate a certain level of competency in order to get credit for the learning module? Is there a way to automatically grade student responses and give them different feedback depending on whether or not they pass? Well of course there is! Keep reading ...

Step One: Create your quiz in Google Forms

This works best with multiple choice items, but you could try to use fill-in-the-blank or constructed response items. Spreadsheets will look for identical matches, so the students' answers would have to match your answer exactly. I suggest multiple choice.

Step Two: Take the quiz and copy responses to adjacent columns

You will need to have a copy of the correct answers to use as an answer key, and the best way to do this is to take the quiz yourself. This is also a great way to catch typos, poorly constructed phrases, and other mistakes that might confuse students. Once you have taken the quiz, click Submit and copy and paste your correct answers into adjacent columns next to the responses, as illustrated below:

Answer Key 3

 

Step Three: Use the IF function to check student responses against answer key

You now use the correct answers in the adjacent columns to check all of the incoming responses when people complete your form. You will use the IF function:

=IF(F2=$AH$1,1,0)

If your quiz has a lot of questions like mine does, this can be a little tedious. Essentially, you are telling the spreadsheet to check cell F2 against AH1, and if they match give it a 1; otherwise, give it a 0. You will need to make sure you include the $ before the row and column address of the correct answer. This will keep the cell constant as new responses come in. If you don't do this, the spreadsheet will automatically add 1 and check the new response in F3 against AH2. Just like in life, $ can be the great stabilizer (except when it's not).

Step Four: Create a cut-off score and indicate if a quiz is passing or not

You will need to create a new worksheet called "Rank" and indicate the cut-off score for each quiz. In my case, it is 80%, so the array looks like this:

Rank array

After this, you use the VLOOKUP function to compare scores to the array. Any score between 0-80% will get a No, and every score 80% and above will get a Yes. Of course, you will need to use a few other functions to calculate the score. They are listed below:

  1. Use COUNTIF to count the correct scores: =countif(AH2:BI2, "1")
  2. Use SUM to convert the raw score to a percentage: =sum(BJ2)/28
  3. Use VLOOKUP to assign a rank based on the score: =vlookup(BK2,Rank!$A$1:$B$2,2,TRUE )

All the VLOOKUP function is doing is comparing the value in BK2 to the array in the Rank worksheet. The 2 means it uses the values in column two as the output, and TRUE means it finds the closest match rather than an exact match.

Step Five: Use CopyDown add-on to automatically score quiz

The CopyDown add-on will do a lot of the work for you at this point. You will simply direct CopyDown to apply the functions in row 2 of your spreadsheet that you want applied to subsequent submissions to your form, and it will perform the calculations automatically.

Step Five: Use FormMule to send differentiated feedback based on score

Now that you have a spreadsheet that automatically scores each new submission and tells you whether or not it met the cut-off, you can assign different e-mail messages for students who Pass or Did Not Pass. The first thing to do is tell FormMule you will have 2 templates:

Send Condition

You will then create templates for each send condition. For my quiz, I send students who pass a certificate, and students who do not pass get a message with the bad news. You can see the templates below (Warning: they contain HTML):

PASS

Pass template

DID NOT PASS

Fail Template

I would suggest you test this a few times to make sure it works correctly. I will warn you, this will make you giddy and you may start doing it just for fun. You may even start looking for excuses to make self-grading quizzes with different templates. Give it a try and be amazed at this little piece of Google magic.

What tricks, hacks, and strategies do you use to give students differentiated feedback? I would love to hear about it.

SITE 2016

I have spent most of this week at the annual SITE (Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education) conference in Savannah, GA. This is my first time to visit this city, and based one what I have seen so far, it's very nice. I was involved in two presentations, and the details for each are below:

Beyond the Degree: Navigating Your Search for an Academic Job

I participated in a panel discussion with Jonathan Cohen, Liz Langran, Meghan Manfra, and Melanie Shoffner aimed at doctoral students interested in a career in higher education. We discussed searching for jobs, interviewing on campus, negotiating with a new employer, and getting started as a first-year faculty member. Several doctoral students attended and found the information we covered to be relevant and helpful.

Buy-In and Payoff: Using Gamification Strategies to Increase Preservice Teacher Professionalism

I also presented original research based on my teaching in a large lecture-based course. I have been using gamification strategies in one of my classes for about two years, and I finally have enough data (and understanding) to start talking about what I am doing. Below you can find my resources from the presentation:

Overall, I would consider this another great SITE conference and I look forward to doing it again next year in Austin.

Create a self-grading weighted rubric with Google Forms

If you have been a college instructor for any length of time, you have most certainly gotten this question from students: "Why did you take points off for _____?" This question is based on their assumption that they start at 100 rather than zero, which is where I believe they start before an assignment has been graded. If they fail to turn in an assignment, they are given the current point value, which is zero. I do not, in fact, take away all of their points as a fiery demonstration of my absolute authority in the classroom. The disparity between the way I see this issue and how my students view it comes down to a difference in understanding about how rubrics work. My students tend to think I am doing math while I read their papers (1 point off for this, 2 points off for that ...), when what I am actually doing is just reading their papers and looking for the things I told them I was going to be looking for. These "things" we will call criteria, and each criterion is explained in the rubric. The criteria are, in reality, my standards for what I expect on each assignment. I understand that some students will meet the standard, and others will fall (either a little or a lot) short of it because they still learning. When they fall short, I give them feedback for what to work on so they can meet the standard. Say it slowly ... l  e  a  r  n  i  n  g. For example, when I write in the rubric that in order to get a 4, "All references to other sources are properly cited using APA (6th ed.) format", that is actually what I am expecting. I will not give a 4 for something that did not match the description for a 4. This is one of my standards for excellent (4-level) work. Their work may be close, but it' s not quite there, hence, the 3 instead of a 4. I didn't take off points as a punishment; they just didn't quite get there this time. 

This gets complicated when I have to take that feedback and turn it into a grade. My hope is that the feedback take precedent over the grade, but I have been in this profession long enough to know that students want a grade. Most of them want to know the market value of their work, and I want to be as thoughtful, accurate, and consistent as possible when giving them both the feedback and the grade. So, how does one go about this?

My solution was to create a self-grading rubric that does all of the math in background so I can focus on the feedback. My tool of choice? Google Forms and Sheets, of course. These two go together like Jenny and Forrest. Here is how it works:

Step one: Create a rubric using Forms

Keep in mind, this is for you, not the students. I provide the students a detailed analytic rubric for the assignment, then I turn that into something usable for myself. Below is an example:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.23.58 PM

You can also add fields to give the students pre-written feedback. I know some people disagree with this, but when you grade 30 of these bad boys and find yourself giving the same feedback on every (freaking) paper, something has to give. Below are some examples of canned feedback I give students. I included an "other" field so I can write in specific comments for students that may not apply to any other paper. And trust me, I use this field liberally.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.30.15 PM

Step two: Format the spreadsheet to automatically convert and calculate scores

Since I am converting the rubric feedback into a grade, I know that some criteria are more valuable than others. I would rather see students supporting their claims with high-quality evidence than putting the comma in the right place. Both are important, but not equally important.

In order to weight a score, you have to multiply it by the percentage that the criterion bears on the overall grade. For example, if Quality of Writing is worth 20% of the overall score, I would multiply this criterion by .2. Here is what it looks like in the example:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.38.09 PM

Basically, what the spreadsheet is doing is converting your score of 4 into a percentage of 5, which is the highest score possible. The spreadsheet then adds all of the converted scores and multiplies them by 20 (which is 100 divided by 5, the highest possible score). The resulting grade is below, I used colored squares in an attempt to show which cells correspond to each other.

Weighted Averages

 

I also checked the appropriate canned feedback and added in my own comments. You will notice below that using the checkboxes puts commas in between each comment. You can get rid of those by using the Find and Replace tool.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.45.50 PM

Step three: Use copyDown add-on to apply formulas to new entries

This is the magic ingredient that helps this rubric keep you very productive. You will need to find the copyDown add-on for Google Sheets and install it.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 2.28.26 PM

Once you have all your formulas in Row 2 of your spreadsheet, copyDown will detect those formulas and apply them to every subsequent row that is submitted through your form. In other words, the values you enter will be automatically calculated without any effort on your part. This is what makes the rubric a self-grading rubric. Yes, it's that simple.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 2.31.08 PM

Step four: Send feedback to students

I use FormMule to send the feedback to the students, but you can do whatever you want. I guess this depends on how many students you have and how much time you have. You could copy and paste the feedback into Word and e-mail it to the students, or you could use the comments tool in your CMS. For me, FormMule is the way to go.

The main drawback to doing it this way is that I cannot put my feedback in the form of comments within the paper, which can be helpful. I will have to find a way to do this, but for now I am using this system.

What techniques do you use for calculating student grades on assignments and giving them the feedback quickly?

Sending students immediate feedback with Google Forms

I have been a huge fan of Google Forms for quite a few years. I have used it for everything from collecting survey data, to getting feedback on a course, to polling students during a class. For me, it has become a necessity in the way I teach my classes. A couple of years ago, I began giving my students short, specific assessments over the assigned readings each week. Students would read an assigned article or chapter, complete some questions pertaining to the reading through a Google Form, and I would give their response a score. This system has worked well for me, but one complaint I have heard from students is that they do not have access to their responses once they hit Submit. My solution (which is really just a work-around) was for them to write their answers in Word first, then copy and paste them into the form field. I would admit to the students this was not ideal, but it was the only option. With a class of 100 students, I did not want to have to send the students their responses one by one. This constraint of Google Forms made it seem a little clunky for what I was doing.

That is, until I found out about formMule. The add-on for Google Sheets has been a major time-saver for me, and it has been great for the students as well. In short, I have been able to use formMule to send students a copy of their responses immediately after they submit them to me. The responses are not automatically graded, but the students at least get immediate feedback about whether or not their answers made it into the spreadsheet.

Disclaimer: I am going to assume a person already knows how to create a Google Form, which sends responses to a Google Sheet. This tutorial will not include an explanation about how to set up either of those tools.

Step one: Install the formMule add-on for Google Sheets

This is really the easy part. If you have already installed add-ons, then this process is already familiar to you. One nice feature of the add-ons is that once you install it on one sheet, it will be available for all sheets you have created.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 3.59.47 PM

Step two: Make sure your form is asking the right questions

If you want to send your students a copy of the answers they just submitted, you must have an address to send them to. This may seem like a simple thing, but you must make sure you have a field in your form for the students to input their e-mail address.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.06.19 PM

Step three: Setup FormMule to send responses automatically

Once the form is created (including an e-mail field), you must setup the FormMule add-on so it e-mails students their answers immediately. I want to emphasize, FormMule is an add-on for Google Sheets, not Forms. Once you create a form, Drive creates a corresponding Sheet where the data is entered every time someone completes your form. The spreadsheet will be in the same place as your form, so just go back into Drive and open it up. Once you have opened your spread sheet and installed FormMule, this process is pretty simple and straight forward. Here are the steps to complete this process:

1. Choose your data source, which should be the worksheet labeled Form Responses 1.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.12.43 PM

2. Setup the form trigger to send a message as soon as the form is submitted. You can also setup FormMule to send the responses at a later time, which is what they call a Time Trigger.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.22.57 PM

3. Decide how many different templates you want to send students, and the establish conditions for each template. For example, if you are giving a multiple choice quiz you can use formulas to automatically grade the responses and send students either a certificate of completion for passing or a notification that they will have to retake the quiz. My recommendation, especially if you are new to FormMule, is to start simple by sending students a copy of what they just submitted to you. Once you feel more comfortable with this process, you can branch out and try sending different messages based on specific criteria.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.33.31 PM

4. Now you can create the message students will receive when they submit their responses. Because this is essentially a mail merge, you can integrate data from the spreadsheet into your customized response. To do this, you simply click on a merge tag and it will be added to your message. There is no text editor built into the template builder, so you will need to use good ole' HTML if you want to add any design features to your message. Below is an example of confirmation message I have created for my students.

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 4.39.39 PM

Step four: Test your form

For me, this is the fun part. Once you have everything setup, you need to submit a couple of responses to make sure A) the confirmation message is actually sending, and B) the message looks like you want. I have to admit, I still get a little giddy when a message is automatically sent and it looks just right. Once everything looks just like you want, you are ready to go.

Feedback from my students has been they appreciate getting a confirmation message rather than feeling like their answers are being sent somewhere into the abyss. My next post will show you how to automatically score student multiple choice items, which is a pretty handy tool for giving immediate feedback.

What strategies or tools do you use to give students feedback when they submit their work to you.

TCSS 2015

This weekend I had the opportunity to co-present in a couple of sessions at the Texas Council for the Social Studies (TCSS) annual conference in Fort Worth, Texas. I was in two different sessions, one on Friday and one on Saturday. Details and resources from each session are below.

Growing in your craft: Accessing social studies support & resources for K-12 teachers

This session was organized by Dan Krutka at Texas Woman's University, and also included Michelle Bauml from TCU and Katie Payne from UT Austin. We discussed resources and organizations in which social studies teachers can use to get ideas for their teaching. We shared some resources, then we opened up the discussion for others in attendance to share the resources they use for their teaching. The latter part of the session was excellent, and I could barely keep up as I scrambled to take notes. You can view our slides and group document below. The document is open for anyone to contribute, so please feel free to add resources you find helpful (if in fact you teach social studies).

High Tech, Low Tech, No Tech: Promoting Historical Thinking with Images

Michelle Bauml and I also presented a session on using images in social studies instruction. We knew there would be a wide variety of participants with differing levels of technology skills, so we wanted to present activities that range from no technology needed to those that require somewhat advanced technology skills. This session included several hands on activities and many examples. You can view the slides and session resources below.

K12 Online Conference 2015

I recently contributed to a panel for the K12 Online Conference 2015 about the changing role of technology in teacher preparation. The project was led by Wes Fryer, and other panelists included Cyndi Danner-Kuhn and Dean Mantz. The K12 Online Conference is completely free, completely online, and completely full of excellent presentations about innovative practices in classrooms across the country. This is my second time to be involved in a presentation, and it is a great experience.

Besides the convenience of being able to learn and collaborate without the burden of travel, this conference has an amazing reach. As of this morning, our panel discussion had 22 views on YouTube, and it was only posted today! I usually do not get 22 people in any of my conference presentations, so it is remarkable to think more and more people will get to engage with our ideas over time.

You can see our presentation description on the K2 Online Conference website, and I have also embedded the panel discussion below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONiELpzAP9Y

The Teaching Professor Technology Conference 2015

TPT 2015

This weekend I presented on gamification at the 2015 Teaching Professor Technology Conference in New Orleans. This is my second Magna conference, and it was fantastic. I met some wonderful people and learned some excellent strategies for using tech in my teaching. Below are my presentation materials.

I look forward to participating with this community of learners again in the future!

Here are some other resources I have written on using gamification in your classroom:

Campus Technology 2015

CT15 Slides One of the main responsibilities I have in my profession is to keep inquiry, knowledge, and skills moving forward. My particular slice of inquiry, knowledge, and skills that I am committed to moving forward is the use of technology in higher ed teaching and learning. One channel for doing this academic and professional development conferences. I had the opportunity to speak at one such conference this week in Boston. The conference is Campus Technology Summer Conference 2015. I gave a talk about using technology effectively in large lecture classes where students bring their own devices (bring your own device, or BYOD). Here are the slides to my presentation, and here is a recording of the presentation (slide capture only). Overall, it was a good conference, and I made some great contacts. I look forward to returning to CT Summer Conference in the future.

Using Gamification to Get Buy-In From Students

I think a lot about gamification. Not because I consider myself an expert, or even particularly good at it. I am obsessed with this concept because I think it actually works. This morning as I drove to work, I was thinking about why a person would want to spend time and energy learning about, developing, implementing, and improving gamification techniques in the classroom. After some thought, and skimming a few blog posts later in the day, I think I know what attracts me to gamification:

Buy-in

This is an essential piece of the teaching puzzle that hardly ever gets mentioned. We talk about learning activities, aligning learning objectives with assessment, making thinking visible, timely and targeted feedback, and differentiation (all of which are undeniably important), but rarely do I hear people in my profession talk about strategies for gaining buy-in from the students. Maybe we use other terms to express the same concept: engagement, motivation, fun. But to me, what I am really trying to achieve with my students is buy-in. Yes, I ultimately want them to learn, learn how to learn, and learn to love learning, but what influences my day to day experience more than anything else is buy-in.

Here's an example. When I was a school teacher, I learned quickly that what I called "classroom management" was less about me controlling the students than it was about students choosing to cooperate with me. Once I figured this out, I no longer exerted my control over students, and spent more time creating an environment where students were motivated to cooperate with the expectations I had set. Early on, I used The Book, where students would write their name if they got in trouble. As in, "Johnny, I told you to stop talking. Go write your name in The Book." Or, "Suzy, you are supposed to write in your journal as soon as you hand in your homework. Go write your name in The Book." If multiple infractions occurred, students would put check marks next to their name. One check mark meant missing 5 minutes of recess (which really just delayed my bathroom break by 5 minutes). Two check marks meant a whole recess, and so on.

I hated this technique because it placed too much emphasis on the behaviors I was trying to eradicate. I noticed bad behavior, and then I called attention to bad behavior, then I virtually rewarded it by letting the student stop working long enough to walk to the front of the classroom to write in The Book (which for some students might as well have been called The Big Badass Book of Awesome Badassses). This was not the kind of buy-in I was looking for. Some students were actually motivated to do the wrong thing as a way to build their classroom mojo.

When I finally was able to see this, I knew I had to add some dimensions to my classroom management that took the focus off bad behavior. What if, I thought, I put effort into catching the students doing the right thing? Would this make a difference, or did being bad just feel too doggone good? I had to find out.

So, I added two things to my classroom management repertoire that absolutely changed everything. First, I started passing out Aggie Bucks (because I went to Utah State and we're the Aggies, and I shamelessly promote my school at every opportunity). If students came in quietly in the morning, handed in their homework, and wrote their assignments in their planner, they got an Aggie Buck. If they worked quietly on their Do Now activity, they got another one. There were about 3-4 times throughout the day where students would get Aggie Bucks for doing what they were supposed to do without being reminded. They could spend their Aggie Bucks in the classroom store before or after school on things like pencil sharpeners, books, erasers, and throwing knives. I just wanted to see if you were still reading.

From this point on, I don't remember having to threaten or warn students about The Book. I would just skip over kids who had not done their morning procedures and give an Aggie Buck to the student who had. The student would eventually self-correct so he could get his Aggie Buck. It was like magic, and suddenly I had children in my classroom willing to cooperate with me.

The other thing I started using was the Pizza Board. No, I did not start giving my students pizza parties. I had a cardboard fraction board that looked like a pizza. There were 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, and whole pieces. Anytime I caught the class being good, like when they got a compliment from another teacher for being quiet in the hall or letting someone go first at the drinking fountain, I would give them a pizza slice. If they got two, they had to exchange it for an equivalent fraction. I only had two rules: they couldn't barter for a pizza slice, and I did not take them away once they were earned. That would be like taking away another teacher's compliment. How dare I?!? If the class earned the whole pizza, they would get to do a fun activity on Friday for about 15-20 minutes (which, according to the students, was ALL DAY).

Here's the point: Both of these strategies, which rely on game mechanics, were able achieve buy-in from the students.

Gamification works when what you offer aligns with what they want, and you all work together to achieve it.

I faithfully made copies of Aggie Bucks and looked for opportunities to catch the students being good, and the students fervently tried to get caught being good. It wasn't rocket science, but it worked. It was a two-way street, and neither me nor the students could slack off if this system was going to work.

I don't have a crystal ball, so I do not know what each person reading this post is trying to accomplish with gamification strategies in the classroom. Maybe the students are motivated to move up to higher levels. Perhaps they are motivated to earn paper money so they can buy things. My students are willing to demonstrate professional behavior in order to stay on top of the class leaderboard. This is how I get buy-in from my students. I am offering what they want, which is status, bragging rights, and ultimately, a good grade. I have structured it in such a way that they earn it through good actions rather than losing it through mistakes.

I encourage you to try using game mechanics as part of your teaching and classroom mechanics. It's not magic, but with some persistence it can be a lot of fun. You have to be committed in order for it to work. Remember, frequent reinforcement is how you show the students you have bought into your own program, which fosters trust and buy-in from them.

What about you? Share some of your classroom techniques that utilize game mechanics.

7 Steps to Gamification

This past year I decided to use some gamification strategies with one of my classes. I had been exposed to this idea through several articles and conference presentations, and I knew it was something that would help my teaching. After getting a handle on the course design and technical issues associated with gamification strategies, I started to see the benefits for me and my students.

Over the last couple of months, I have been thinking a lot about how to share my experience with gamification with others who might want to learn. After some thought, and a lot of trial and error, I have narrowed my approach to gamification down to 7 steps. These steps are not meant to be a formula because your goals and outcomes may be different than mine. These are just steps to consider as you plan your own gamification strategies.

Step 1: Decide what you want to motivate your students to do.

This may seem obvious, but it is important that you are not just using gamification strategies for their own sake. If you want to get buy-in from your students, you must know ahead of time what you want to accomplish. What is it you want to increase or enhance with gamification strategies?

In my case, I wanted to hold the students more accountable on their professional behavior. I started keeping track of class attendance, preparation before the class meetings, professional behavior in the schools they were visiting, and active participation in discussions. I had found over time that some students were able to do these things without any sort of external motivator, while others seemed to have no sense of professional behavior. Since these are all pretty simple things to keep track of, it seemed like an obvious target for gamification strategies.

Step 2: Figure out what motivates your students.

Next, you have to find out what motivates your students. Some people use experience points (XP) and levels, while others use badges and accomplishments. You have to know the students you are working with and find out what they are willing to work for.

In my case, what my students are willing to work for is a high grade. Other components of my class (exams, writing assignments, etc.) are pretty tough and leave some of the students discouraged. Others excel in these areas and want to stay at the top of the heap. This may seem obvious, but a high grade is quite motivating for students at a highly selective private university. Go figure. So, the students' performance on the professionalism "game" is converted to a grade, which is then calculated into the overall score. These students know that if they do everything they are supposed to, it translates into a high professionalism grade, which can boost their overall average. Before I used to keep track of everything, students just assumed they would get their full participation grade (which they usually did) because there was no way to really quantify it. Now that I can quantify it, students can see their progress and don't seem to argue with me about it.

Step 3: Determine your experience points (XP).

After you have spent some time thinking about (and observing) what motivates your students, you need to determine your XP. I gave my XP the following values:

  • Attendance: 100 pts. per week
  • Preparation before class: 100 pts. per week
  • Conduct and Appearance at schools: 200 pts. per week
  • Discussion after the school visit: 100 pts.

I know this seems pretty simple, but my goal is to keep it simple so I can stay on top of this game and give the students timely feedback. If I create something so complex that it takes hours each week to manage, there is more likelihood I will get behind and the game will lose its effectiveness.

Step 4: Design the rules of the game.

Now that you have your XP, you need to decide how you will keep track of the points and how the students can check their progress. Rules are really important because they give the game parameters. I tend to lean toward consistency and repetition, and it just so happens my students like the predictability of the game. They know exactly what I am keeping track of, and they know what happens if they do not complete one of the requirements. I can't give points for a class they didn't attend or an observation they missed, and they seem to accept this.

Step 5: Update often, give frequent feedback.

I decided to have my TA's enter the points every Monday while I was teaching. They really don't do anything in the lecture hall while I am teaching anyway, so it made sense to keep them busy with updating points. I know, not everyone has a TA, so you may want to keep your game simple until you can come up with a plan that works for you.

I rank the students using a leaderboard. I use Google Sheets, and I have written about how to do this before. My approach thus far has been to rank the students using the leaderboard, and to let their innate competitiveness compel them to do things that will help them move up. Some students are content knowing they are doing everything they need to do without doing the extra things to move up. Others want to be at the top and will work tirelessly to stay there. I am fine with either case, as long as they students are being responsible and, ultimately, professional.

I have been surprised how often the students check the leaderboard. Even though this ultimately only determines 10% of their overall grade, some of them take it REALLY seriously. When there are opportunities to get extra points, they really get after it. I would be willing to bet if I asked the class their current rank, they would know exactly where they are.

Step 6: Provide opportunities to move up, improve, and be challenged.

This was probably the most important lesson I learned from using gamification strategies in my class this semester. The first time I did this, I kept track of the 4 main areas mentioned previously, but there was really no way to move up or improve on early mistakes. The more I thought about it, I couldn't imagine a more demotivating situation. Imagine playing a sport where there was no way to make up for a mistake made in the first quarter. Or a race where you couldn't recover from a bad start. This is essentially how I had this component of my course set up. I calculated the entire semester together, which minimized the value of individual accomplishments. Yes, students could recover if they missed something early in the semester, but that also meant they could skip some things toward the end and it wouldn't really matter.

The first thing I did was made sure there were opportunities for students to move up the leaderboard. I did this in the form of classroom competitions, challenges, and bonus points. Some of the students liked the aspect of competition this added to the class. I also split the professionalism score into three rounds. So, a student could do poorly in the first round, but fix the problem and do better in the next two rounds. While this had little impact on the overall grade the student received, it did help more students get back on the right path. For example, when all of the XP were calculated into one, massive score, students who started off poorly rarely started doing better. I honestly think they believe they had blown it, so there was no reason to try to do better. Conversely, when I split Professionalism into 3 rounds, I was able to say, "OK, on Monday we are starting from scratch. No matter how you did in the first round, you can start over." I noticed that several students who did poorly in the first round actually corrected their mistakes and did well during the next two rounds. There is more value in the possibility of a fresh start than I had previously believed. Even though the students were still accountable for their early mistakes, they were more likely to get on the right track if they knew they would get a fresh start. By the way, I think this is true in life, not just in gamification.

Step 7: Use the data to make instructional decisions.

As a teacher, the most valuable lesson I have learned from collecting data on my students from the gamification strategies is to use that data to make instructional decisions. In some cases, it was clear from the weekly reading assignments that the class was not understanding the course material. When I am able to see from the student responses that many of them did not correctly comprehend the reading assignment, I can address that in class. I can also see patterns in student attendance (especially on Fridays) that I might not have otherwise noticed, which provides me with an opportunity to talk about this with the students. When students miss class or fail to complete a reading assignment, I can automatically send them a follow-up e-mail telling them I noticed they were gone (even if I didn't) and restate the attendance or assignment policy. When students have perfect attendance or complete all of their weekly readings for a round, I can send them a certificate of achievement. I learned from my days as an elementary school teacher that students respond much better when you catch them being good than when you remind them they just screwed up. Accountability is a good thing, but I think it should be balanced with positive news. Finally, I have learned how important it is to have detailed records for each student. Occasionally, students will contact me at the end of the term (or later) and want to know why they got this or that grade in my class. Having a detailed, quantitative report of their performance for the entire semester has come in handy in several instances.

What am I missing? What have you learned from using gamification strategies in your class?

Guest Post: Gamification or Game-Based Learning?

This guest post is written by TeacherJ. She is a blogger and edtech enthusiast, and in this post she explores the similarities and differences between gamification and game-based learning. Watch out for her blog!

What is More Effective Gamification or Game-Based Learning?

Photo Credit: www.audio-luci-store.it via Compfight cc

The increase in ownership and usage of mobile devices by students led to a change in the way educators deliver their learning materials and handle their classes. Research from McGraw-Hill Education and Hanover revealed that smartphones and tablets usage in 2014 skyrocketed among college students, where more than 80% were said to be using mobile technology to study. The number has jumped by 40% in total since 2013.

The trend in mobile learning (mLearning) has led to two kinds of eLearning methods: Gamification and Game-based education. You may have come across these two processes before, but you may be unsure of which is the better method to apply to your class. This article will detail you everything you need about Gamification and Game-based Learning.

Defining Terms

Before we dwell on the effective nature of the two learning methods, we will define the difference between Gamification and Game-based Learning.

Gamification: This process applies game-like features to your usual lessons, by including rules and mechanics from certain games to encourage behavioral patterns in your students. The use of a leaderboard is one of the most common gamification styles applied by many educators and even businesses today. Enterprises use the process to boost customer interaction and increase employee participation. It is expected that 50% of institutions will gamify their processes this year, as reported by Gartner back in 2011. Apart from using a leaderboard, educators can apply gamification by turning achievements into rewards such as badges, progress bars, or through a point system.

Game-based Learning: This is a learning procedure whereby participants play games to learn and understand their subject and topics better. Many educational apps for students apply game-based learning, especially for younger students who require a more interactive approach to education. One of its known benefits is its ability to enhance learners’ problem solving skills. For the younger students it has been proven to enhance their cognitive skills.

The common ground

Although gamification and game-based learning are different from one another, the two have common variables in terms of usage and their platforms. The two learning processes are very relevant due to the increasing adoption of mobile devices by students and educational institutions. The numbers presented by McGraw-Hill Education is expected to grow in the future, as more portable devices such as wearables, are set to revolutionize the classroom environment. However, the supply-side complexity becomes a common problem for many as there are various devices running different operating systems, making it difficult to create a learning process that fits all mobile users. Today, we have smartphones that have curved, large 5.1-inch screens such as the Galaxy S6 Edge which O2 says runs the latest Android 5.02 Lollipop OS, while there are handsets with smaller 4-inch screens running older Android OS.

Final Question: What is more effective?

Both learning methods appear to be highly effective for students, especially since it makes the usual boring classroom into an interactive and fun environment. As technology in the classroom changes, educators and their processes will have to evolve, too. The important matter that we have to take note here is that the two-game inspired processes aim to promote mastery of academic content. Educators will have to ensure that they apply the 3 E’s in mLearning (Engaging, Effective, and Easy) to make the most of their eLearning sessions.

What are your thoughts on the affordances and constraints of gamification and game-based learning?

Strength of Weak Ties and your PLN

Intuitively, the benefits of connecting with educators with similar goals and interests makes sense. I don't have the solution to every problem I might encounter as a teacher, but I probably know people who, collectively, do. If I want to try a new kind of student project or learning activity, I can probably find someone who has already done it and learn from their experience. According to Bandura, Vygotsky, and Dewey, the social element of learning is an integral part of the process. As humans who are perpetually learning, growing, and becoming, our social networks are invaluable.

Despite their value, not all social connections are the same, nor are they all capable of performing the same role in our lives. According to Mark Granovetter, a sociologist at Stanford University, social connections (or as he calls them, ties) vary in strength and utility in our lives. He proposes that the more time, proximity, intimacy, emotional intensity, and reciprocal services people share, the stronger their ties to each other. Conversely, acquaintances with whom we share few of those resources would be considered weak ties.

Granovetter's argument is that the strong ties in our lives provide us with few innovative and creative ideas because there is more likelihood those people in our close-knit networks think and act like we do. The worse case scenario is groupthink, but more often the result of strong networks is maintenance of the status quo. I have personally seen this in schools, where teachers seem to be locked into their way of doing things. New teachers are quickly assimilated into their school's way of thinking and doing things, despite what they learned in their teacher preparation program. Schools all have their strengths and  unique culture, but they do not always embrace innovative ideas.

This is especially true when you consider the typical model for professional development. I remember these experiences as a teacher, when we would all gather for a day of "learning." Someone who knew nothing about my school, my students, or my professional goals, would come in and try to change my teaching practice in 8 hours. While the ideas we were hearing may have been new, the support system for implementing and reflecting on these ideas consisted of a strong network characterized by a well established culture, expectations, and norms. In essence, any innovation that may have occured as a result of the professional development left when the speaker exited the building, and we quickly defaulted back to our usual way of doing things. Typically, the best part of the day was lunch.

According to Granovetter, strong ties are not the best source of new ideas and opportunities. We know our own ideas pretty well, but we may be oblivious to what is going on around us. Just as my strong network has strengths and solutions to certain issues, other strong networks have different strengths and solutions to other issues. Unless the two strong networks create channels to bridge their ideas through acquintances, they will spin in isolation without ever getting anywhere. Granovetter calls these acquaintances weak ties, and his hypothesis is that they are an essential piece in diffusing innovative ideas and new opportunities across organizations.

This is where a PLN comes in. Teachers who are connected use social media tools, conferences, and other social opportunities as a way to connect to the ideas and opportunities they might not otherwise learn about if they only associate with their strong ties. In turn, I share my ideas and opportunities with those whom I am only loosely connected through my PLN. The result is, as Granovetter explains, a crucial bridge to other densely knit social groups. In this regard, a PLN is like connecting galaxies or remote islands that otherwise might not even know of each other's existence.

My main point is this: developing and maintaining a PLN goes beyond getting teachers to embrace digital social tools like blogs and Twitter. The tools in this case are mere conduits for something much deeper, bigger, and more important. The digital social tools are that crucial bridge to ideas being considered and implemented in other galaxies, ideas and opportunities you may never otherwise consider or find out about. This is something sociologists have been pondering for decades, and the underlying principles are as relevant now as they were when Granovetter began writing about this in 1973. The more time and space people share, the more they think alike and adopt similar behavioral patterns. While this may provide a certain level of security and comfort for some people, it is not ideal for growing and learning. We need weak ties to other strong networks if we wish to stay fresh and creative. This is why teachers should build, engage, and share within a PLN. This is why weak ties area actually quite strong.

If you would like to read Granovetter's article on this, you can access it here. He has written extensively on this topic, but this particular article is my favorite.

Thoughts on Social Networking

This semester I created a project in which my students built and participated in a personal learning network (PLN). This is something I have done in the past several years, and I have learned a lot about particular digital tools, teaching strategies, and overall wisdom from other people in the same profession.

When something is rewarding, it's easy to assume others will immediately see the same value in an activity as I do. I mean, they signed up for my class, so they must have some interest in using digital tools to communicate and collaborate, right? Well, not exactly. The aspect of a PLN that I neglected to consider is that many of the connections I have made took years to become meaningful. That is, my personal cycle of reading/seeing ideas, trying them, reflecting, trying them again, more reflection, etc., has been a process that started a long time ago, even before I had what I would call a PLN. I became aware of two very important facts regarding a PLN:

  1. Most of the "treasures" I found from sources in my PLN were solutions, or even just tweaks, to instructional problems I had been slowly addressing over a long period of time. Many times, the stuff I discovered and found helpful was just a minor point in a blog post or forum that uniquely addressed one little thing I had been wrestling with. What I considered a major discovery amounted to little more than "what's the big deal" to other people.
  2. This was going to be a very difficult thing to sell within the course of one semester. 16 weeks. 15 class meetings. Less than 45 hours. I have easily spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours skimming, sometimes perusing, resources from people all over the world. It may be wishful thinking to expect that 45 hours spent doing something that is meant to take much longer will actually make a difference in a student's professional thinking.

Being the adventurous type, I forged ahead knowing the results may be less than convincing. My first step was to make some suggestions for the students about which sources they include in their PLN. Building the network is the hardest part, and I knew most of them did not know how to get started. Based on my own experience, I suggested the following sources, along with their possible affordances and drawbacks.

Facebook

A hodge-podge of life events, shared videos and articles, and pictures from people who I may or may not have known in person at some point. The things they post sometimes make me want to respond, then I'm like "I haven't seen that person in 20 years! And even then I hardly knew him." There are professional groups and pages on Facebook, but I find they get buried by all of the random things people share. The few professional pages I have "liked" do not seem to be updated very often, and I end up just being distracted by cat videos.

Twitter

Twitter is like candy. It seems fulfilling at first. I read quotes and re-tweets and people's random (very concise) thoughts, and it almost seems like I am learning something for a second. And then it's gone, but I still want more. So I keep scrolling. I have found some excellent resources that consistently link to good articles and posts, which has caused my attitude about Twitter to improve in the last couple of years. Some people who I follow tend to share too much, and there does not seem to be a good way to filter. The stuff I am looking for gets buried by the people who share too much.

LinkedIn

This social network tool has always been a mystery to me. I would say about three-fourths of my LinkedIn contacts are people I know, with the remaining quarter being people I have never seen in my life. Occasionally I will get a notification that one of my "contacts" recently joined LinkedIn, yet I have no idea who this person is. Other times, I get contact requests from people in my geographic area who are clearly just trying to, well, network. I usually add the person if there seems to be some common interest, whether it is our city or field of expertise. Then there is this strange thing called Skills and Endorsements. I understand the premise behind this feature (people are willing to vouch for my skill set), but I always chuckle when I get an e-mail telling that so-and-so has endorsed me for a skill in which so-and-so knows absolutely nothing about. You mean this guy I have never met just endorsed my skills in curriculum development? He must know something I don't!

In terms of using LinkedIn as part of your PLN, they do have many Groups you can join. Some of them are centered around an organization (alumni of a particular college or another professional organization), while others are based on interests (e.g., designing innovative higher ed. learning spaces). If you want to stay caught up with the discussions, you can opt to receive updates and digests via e-mail. If you want to participate, you have to go to the website. The groups have a discussion board/forum look and feel, which is not my preference. Of all the social networks in my PLN, this is the one I refer to the least.

Google+

My first thought was, Why do I need another place to waste my time. How in the world is this going to be different from Facebook? Well, Google+ has surprised me. I have found some very active and interesting communities, and I honestly say I find something of interest every time I scroll through my feed. I have also become pretty active in my sharing within these communities. I have made some good connections, gotten good feedback, and found the experience to be enriching. (Not all of my students felt this way about Google+, but I did not consider that when giving them a grade ... ha ha.)

Blogs

I still like to follow several blogs, but I have found that sound bytes from Twitter, Google+, and Facebook have squeezed them out a little. I used to follow blogs through Google Reader, which disappeared, and now I use Feedly. I do not really make time to check in that often, but I still log in about once a month. I end up marking whole sections "as read" because I know I will never read most of the stuff. I will skim the headlines and make sure I am not missing something really good.

Here is the list of my PLN that I share with students to get them started. I have also started to dabble with Reddit and Scoop.it, but I have not used them enough to speak to their suitability to this project.

    • G+:
      • Appademics
      • Open Source in Education
      • Google Docs and Drive
      • Best Educational Apps for Kids
      • Higher Education & Technology
      • Technology in Education
      • Technology & Innovation in Education
      • EdTech and Professional Development
      • Educational Apps for Kids
      • ISTE Teacher Education Network
      • Educational Technology
      • Gamification in Education
      • EdTech
      • Connected Learning
      • School Technology Leadership
      • Google Apps in Education
      • Google Hangouts in Education
    • Twitter:
      • Edutopia (@edutopia)
      • EDpuzzle (@EDpuzzle)
      • Socrative (@Socrative)
      • Wesley Fryer, PhD (@wfryer)
      • WeAreTeachers (@WeAreTeachers)
      • TechSmith (@TechSmith)
    • Blogs:
      • Alice Keeler
      • Tony Vincent
      • Two Guys and Some iPads
      • Moving at the Speed of Creativity
      • Daniel Willingham

So, what are your thoughts on different social networks when building a PLN?

Managing Learners: Tools for organizing your class

Of the many ways ITC has changed (and is changing) education, none seem more obvious than e-mail and learning management systems. It seems students these days expect ubiquitous, continuous access to course content and their teachers. How do I know this? Well, for one, I commonly get e-mails from students in the middle of the night. I am no longer surprised when I wake up in the morning to e-mails from students, most of them sent well past midnight. I do not think they expect an immediate response, but it reveals a student's mindset when you see he has sent a message in the middle of the night the instant he had a question about an assignment or grade. Second, my students are quick to let me know if they cannot access a course document or cannot see their grade. If the gradebook in my LMS were a section of the Oregon Trail, it would look like this.

The course syllabus? It probably looks more like this.

I am digressing. Anyway, teachers these days must anticipate the "right here, right now," mindset of many students and parents. Over time, report cards were augmented by weekly take-home folders, then daily homework planners, and now the LMS has crept into K-12 schools. Some schools have adopted an LMS that every teacher is expected to use. This was the case at the private school where I worked a few years back. Teachers at this school were expected to post grades, assignment details, worksheets, and other announcements each week. In other cases, a teacher may choose, independent of the rest of the school, to use an LMS in this way with students and parents.

This past week in my class, we explored various options available to teachers who want to use an LMS for managing learners and organizing content for their class. Before we looked at any platforms, we discussed the features one would expect to see in a LMS, and we listed them on a shared Google Doc, which the students filled out as they explored. Here are the results of our exploration.

Features Edmodo Chalkup Homeroom
Upload course materials
Upload materials in a variety of media (e.g., post a video for students to watch)
Discussion tool
Message tool
Announcement tool
Dashboard with upcoming assignments
Submit assignments
Submit using a variety of tools
Quiz tool It may be there, but we couldn't find it
Embed content from other sources Only from pre-selected sources
Features of this tool that may be particularly appealing. Links to Google Drive, Archives class data, calendar linked to assignments for multiple classes. Teacher can annotate papers, messaging feature, flashcards Interfaces with Apollo (the BYOD presentation tool). Quizzes can be tracked in realtime using a simple dashboard.

There are some obvious omissions on this list: Schoology and Google Classroom. This is mainly because we only had 2 hours and 40 minutes, so I had to make some choices about what to analyze. We already had someone demonstrating Edmodo, and I felt like Schoology was similar enough to skip past it. Some of the students actually mentioned it as we discussed Edmodo, and they were able to identify the similarities and differences themselves. I would have LOVED to show the class Google Classroom. I would love to see Classroom for myself, for crying out loud! Yes, most of their tools and features are available and free to everyone, but there are some that are not. This is especially true of GAFE, where if you are not in the club, you are WAY out of the club. So, this class exercise was not exhaustive, but I believe it gave the students an in-depth look at different ways to design an interface, features to include and leave out, and how easy different tools are to use.

What am I missing (and don't say Google Classroom!)? Are there features or whole platforms I didn't address?

Learning How to Learn: Growing a PLN

As a teacher, professor, or instructor at any level, one of the keys to survival is knowing how to continually learn and grow. Personal learning is one of the characteristics of teaching effectiveness. It is easy to get stuck in a rut in any profession, but teaching is especially vulnerable to this tendency because teachers are continually having to adapt to new students, new materials, new mandates, and new approaches to learning. It's surprisingly easy to just find a comfortable middle ground and float along, usually at the students' expense.

One of the most rewarding endeavors I have ever pursued as an instructor is connecting with other educators in my PLN (personal learning network). Learning from other instructors, most of whom I will never meet in person, has expanded my knowledge, skills, and understanding of the teaching and learning process in amazing ways.

What do you mean by "connect"?

Over the past several years, I have participated in communities of practice with other educators around the world. Some of them live in my city, others live on the other side of the planet. I have used a variety of digital tools to create my PLN, all of which have contributed to my professional growth in some way.

Blogs

Over time I have created a list of blogs by like-minded educators who have a similar goal: design and implement innovative teaching strategies to increase student learning, engagement, and motivation. I use tools such as Feedly and Flipboard to aggregate blogs so I only have to look in one place to see updates and new content. Most of these blogs are focused on educational technology and classroom teaching, but just because I use technology to stay up to date does not mean I am only learning about technology. I have learned strategies for facilitating discussion, embracing diversity, addressing cheating, and many other teaching topics.

Communities

In addition to following a collection of blogs, I also participate in different communities. These communities are hosted on social networking sites, and they are pretty easy to follow. For example, I am currently in about 15 Google+ communities, and I can get updates on new posts by scrolling through my news feed. I also follow about 30 different educators and innovators through Twitter, and it is pretty easy to scroll through updates to see their latest ideas and discoveries. Finally, I have joined a few different LinkedIn groups, and I get a weekly digest of anything that has been happening there. The point is, I do not have to spend a lot of effort staying updated on what is going on in these different communities, and when I do get updates I almost always learn something new.

Participation

The final way that I have gotten involved in my PLN is to actually participate and be a contributor. This blog has become my channel for processing, sharing, and reflecting on my own teaching ideas. Most of my posts would just sit isolated in cyberspace if I did not share them with my communities. By not only learning from others in my PLN, but also sharing my own experiences, I have become an active participant in this global experiment known as the World Wide Web. It's one thing to try other people's ideas, but it is downright exciting to find out other people are learning from me and trying MY ideas with their students.

Casting the Vision

This semester in my graduate-level technology class, I decided to do something new. I created a semester-long project where my students would build, engage, and participate in their own PLN. The first phase required them to join various communities of interest and follow different folks on blogs and Twitter. I gave them some suggestions, but I know some of the students have already branched off into their own interests. The second phase was for them to share what they were learning within a private Google+ community that we all joined. This way we could share what we were learning in a safe, secure place. The last phase, which is still underway, will be for the students to share what they are learning within the communities they have joined. This may mean sharing items they find, writing and sharing their own blog posts, or participating in discussions online. Since this project is currently underway, I can't really measure whether or not it is going well. It's going better than I anticipated, but I will not know the extent of everyone's participation until a few more weeks have passed. It took me a few years to become fully immersed in my PLN, so I can't expect a full conversion from my students before we've even reached midterm. But I'm committed to see this through. I cannot understate the value of my experience learning from and engaging with other innovative teachers. It has been transformative and deeply rewarding, even though some of those other educators have no idea I am learning from them. I would be remiss not to provide the same opportunity to my students.

So, what strategies or projects do you use to get teachers immersed in their own PLN?

Gamification: A semester in the trenches

My reasons for wanting to use gamification strategies in my large Intro to Education course were obvious: student accountability, timely and continuous feedback, and better motivation to do otherwise rudimentary activities. I learned pretty quickly that implementing gamification strategies was more difficult than I initially thought. First, I had to figure out the instructional design aspects of gamification. How many points are different experiences worth? What do I count and what do I leave out? Second, I had to figure out how to keep track of all of this and communicate it back to the students. As I have written about before, I used Google Sheets to do this.

Overall, I would say I am pleased with how my first attempt at gamification turned out. Was it perfect? No way. Did the students like it? Mostly, but I'm sure I will hear from those who didn't on my course evaluations. Did these strategies help me reach my course goals? Absolutely! Class attendance was the best it has ever been in the 3 years I've taught the course. I regularly had over 90% of the students completing the weekly readings every week. That is unbelievable! I actually had students competing to complete extra credit so they could move to the top of the leaderboard. I did not see that one coming. Even though the course outcomes associated with these gamification strategies were successful, I learned a lot about how to do it better next semester. I will discuss these lessons in more detail.

More Competition

One of my goals in using gamification strategies in my class was to increase engagement and not give students a laundry list of things to do every week. Well, the way I structured the points, it turned out to be just what I was trying to avoid. Every week the students had to complete a module (video and/or reading + short quiz) before class on Monday. Then they went to schools on Wednesday, and there were points associated with that. On Friday, they participated in small group discussion, which had even more points. Everything was recorded on a big spreadsheet, and students were ranked on a leaderboard. What I discovered was that most of the students completed all of the requirements each week. Basically, there was no way to really move UP the leaderboard. Students could only move DOWN if they failed to complete a requirement. Believe it or not, that is not very competitive, and therefore, isn't all that much fun.

There were minimal opportunities for students to do extra and move up the leaderboard, but they were in fact so minimal that it hardly made a difference. This didn't keep the students from trying to get more points here and there, which was my first clue that there needs to be more competition. Some ideas I am playing with include:

  • Using Kahoot for discussion questions
  • Students voting for "best" responses to questions
  • Competitions between discussion groups (attendance, challenges, completion rate, etc.)
  • Challenges during class

I do not want to overdo this, but I think a little more competition would make this aspect of the class a lot more fun.

Reboot

Another flaw in my approach this semester was that the "game" lasted all semester. I gave the students monthly feedback in the form of a points sheet, which led many of them to just see it as a big assignment. I would venture to guess that they viewed this experiment as a big ole' laundry list because I treated it like one. In the end, there was no way for students who had gotten behind early in the semester to make corrections and do better the next time around. Students could recognize the impact of their choices on their point total and start to do better, but it did not erase early mistakes. This goes against the nature of most competitive endeavors, where players can overcome early mistakes later in the competition and keep themselves in the game.

I am thinking about splitting the game up into three smaller games this spring, and starting the points and leaderboard over each time. This will allow students who get off to a bad start to do better the next time. I can still keep track of completed assignments and attendance for the purposes of grading, but I will link other incentives to the leaderboard. What are the incentives? I have no idea, but I have a few weeks to think about it.

Better Feedback

Another issue I ran into this semester was getting feedback to the students on a weekly basis. I did pretty well at first, then some of my TAs got behind on entering scores and I went a few weeks without sending updates to the class. Once everything was updated and I got around to sending the updates, some of the students were like, "Whoa! How did I lose all these points?! I thought I was doing OK!" And I was like, "How can you not know if you missed class or an assignment?!" And they were like, "Hey man, we're too busy to remember all that!" And I was like ... OK, you get the point.

This observation has less to do with the game itself and more to do with giving more timely, detailed feedback. Some of the students felt like they were in the dark all semester and did not know they had missed 6, 7, or 8 classes until the end of the semester. I was never the kind of student to miss class, but I can see how it might be easy to lose track over such a long period of time.

I have a plan for keeping the spreadsheet updated better, but it is not really worth writing about here. Needless to say, I think weekly updates will help quell some of the panicky e-mails at the end of the semester.

What am I missing?

I am pretty sure my second attempt at gamification will go much better than the first, and I'm looking forward to putting some of these ideas into practice. For those of you who have been doing this for awhile, what are your suggestions? Am I missing something obvious? Am I making assumptions with potentially disastrous consequences? I would love to hear from the true game masters!

Using Google Drive as a file server

Have you ever been in a situation where you need to host several files on the Web? Did you need for those files to have a dedicated URL? Personally, I have had few situations where this was the case, but today I encountered a learning activity that required students to quickly upload images they just captured so they could add them to a Google Map. After some searching around, I found that the Google Drive hosting API is perfect for this sort of thing. Here is what I did ...

Create Drive Folders

The first thing I had to do was create a set of Google Drive folders for students to put the images they just captured. For this activity, students were running around our university taking pictures of some of the landmarks. They were then going to use these images to create an interactive map of the campus with the My Places tool in Google Maps. I created several folders in a Google account I use only for this class. My TA's and I connected a class set of iPads to this account so the students could load their images directly into Drive, which is what they did as soon as they got back to the classroom.

An important step in this process is to set the permissions for the folders to Public. You can do this directly through Drive. You will find the folder, right-click and choose Get Link.

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 10.56.52 PM

 

You will then need to change the permissions. Google has a great explanation for how to do that right here.

Set Up the Hosted Site

This part is actually much easier than you might think. The first thing you need to do is grab this little URL:

http://googledrive.com/host/<folderID>/

Not sure where to find the folderID? I discuss it in this post. The URL will end up looking something like this:

http://googledrive.com/host/0B5YVN51uO5e_WGtSc2tBDB2bUk/ (don't worry, it doesn't work)

Google will add some characters to this URL as soon as you hit enter, but don't worry. It will work just fine. Here is an example of the files my students uploaded today. Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 11.04.13 PM Once students have found the image they need for their project, they will need to copy the URL so they can paste it (above).

Note: The only files that will show up in the hosted folder are image, video, document (Word, PDF, etc.), and HTML (and other web-authoring files). Google Docs, Slides, Sheets and Drawing files will NOT show up in the hosted folder.

In my case, the students were pasting these URLs into a Google Map placemark so their images would show up when the placemark was clicked. Several of them held the iPad the wrong way, so their images are sideways. (Sigh.) Here is the map we created in class.

So, that's it. Students can take images, quickly upload them to a Google Drive folder, and they are instantly hosted on the Web with a dedicated URL. No logging in, no FTP, clunky photo albums. Just my files and their URLs. I don't think I will need this functionality all that often, but it sure will be handy when I do.

Update on embedding Google Drive folders

As I have written about before, embedding Google Drive folders is a great way to manage content on your LMS. Rather than logging in, uploading, and waiting, you simply copy files into a folder on your computer, and they magically show up in your LMS for students to view.The only drawback was that last year Google blocked iFrame embedding on all Google Drive folders and Google Sites pages.

 

Thankfully, Wes Fryer posted about this same thing and I was able to get back on track using the following code.

List view <iframe src="https://drive.google.com/embeddedfolderview?id=FOLDER-ID#list" width="800" height="600" frameborder="0"></iframe> Grid view <iframe src="https://drive.google.com/embeddedfolderview?id=FOLDER-ID#grid" width="800" height="600" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Finding the Folder ID can be a pain, especially if you are trying to embed a folder within a folder within a folder. I tend to create folders for everything, so I have to make sure I use the correct Folder ID. For example, here is the URL for one of my folders that is nested 4 folders deep. I have color-coded each level of the URL (which has been slightly altered to keep the folder private).

https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/#folders/0B5YVN51uO5e_ZHZlc3Zxd09pU3M/0B5YVN51uO5e_VlhYN1Q3MVoydjA/0B5YVN51uO5e_ei1aYmdFcW9EUWc/0B5YVN51uO5e_TFJkYzFhZ0ltbWs

The last sting of characters is for the folder I actually want to embed. I just need to copy that code and paste into the URL above where it says FOLDER-ID, like I did below:

<iframe src="https://drive.google.com/embeddedfolderview?id=0B5YVN51uO5e_TFJkYzFhZ0ltbWs#grid" width="800" height="600" frameborder="0"></iframe>

You can always change the width and height to make the folder fit the space on your page. The process is pretty simple, and once you have done it a few times, it's actually quite easy. Good luck!

Give students timely feedback with a leaderboard

Turning something into a game does not necessarily mean people will suddenly like it. Atari learned this the hard way with their E.T. video game. It turns out that betting the farm on a mediocre video game based on a blockbuster movie is bad business.

The same is true with gamification, a term being thrown around a lot these days in education circles. The general idea behind gamification is that game mechanics can be used in non-game environments in order to get some of the same outcomes typically associated with games, such as engagement, problem-solving, cooperation, and motivation. Many teachers are applying the principles of game mechanics to course design in order to motivate their students in ways traditional instruction does not.

If a teacher wants to be successful at implementing gamification mechanics in the classroom, there are a few principles that must be addressed. Foremost, the game must be well designed with clear goals, rules, and roles. Kind of like teaching. In my own experience, another aspect of a successful game (and teaching) is timely feedback. In order to make good decisions that help the player keep moving forward, they need to know where they stand. There are many popular activities that rely on the concept of leaderboards, which have the dual role of informing players where they stand and creating drama for both players and observers. Figure skating, gymnastics, X Games, freestyle skiing, golf, and diving are just a few of the sports that use leaderboards.

Leaderboards can be applied to educational settings as well, but there are very few tools available that teachers can use to create and use them efficiently. One such tool is Leaderboarded, but it is not free and seems be designed more for business than education. After looking around and not seeing many options for my own leaderboard, I decided to do what I do best: build one using Google tools. Below are the steps to help you get started on your own leaderboard. You can also view an example of my leaderboard spreadsheet, and feel free to copy it into your Google Drive if you want to see my formulas for each column and worksheet.

Step 1: Create your point structure

Before you can have a leaderboard, you have to decide where the points are going to come from. You have lots of options for students to earn experience points, quest points, or any other kind of value that can be added to the total. I kept it simple and based my point total on attendance and modules completed. Every time a student is on time to class, they get 100 points. They get 50 if they are late, and zero points for missing class. Even if the student is sick. I'm playing for keeps here, folks.

Step 2: Set up your spreadsheet

I have found that I am more likely to keep my leaderboard updated if I have very few values to keep up with. The more complicated the "game" becomes, the more there is to enter. Personally, once I start feeling overwhelmed I am likely to get behind on entering values. The more behind I get, the more irrelevant the leaderboard becomes. So, keep it simple.

As you can see from my example, I created a separate sheet for each set of points. One for attendance and one for modules. I used the SUM and COUNTIF functions to tally the values for each sheet. I chose to use the digit 1 instead of 100 or 50 because it is easier to enter. I can have the spreadsheet multiply by 100 on the Participation worksheet so I don't have to.

You will use the Participation sheet to add up all of your totals from attendance and modules. This worksheet is important to include because you will use a pivot table to create the actual leaderboard, and you must have all of your points on one sheet to do that.

Step 3: Create a pivot table

What is a pivot table, you might ask? Well, it is a data analysis tool built into most spreadsheets that lets you sort, add, average, or do other functions with the data in your spreadsheet. For this example, we are going to use the pivot table to display each student's total points and rank them from highest to lowest. Here is a screenshot of what this pivot table will look like when it is all set up.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 10.05.54 PM

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets_and_Pictures

Make sure every student in your leaderboard has a unique name, otherwise the pivot table will combine the totals for both students with the same name. I used numbers to keep the first initial separate. You will notice I have a battery icon for each student. I did this by creating a Rank worksheet and using the VLOOKUP function to apply the correct icon based on the student's total points. I did this more as an experiment. If you embed this spreadsheet using HTML, the images will not show up, so don't get your hopes up.

Step 4: Share the sheet with students

At this point, you have several options for how to share your leaderboard.

Option 1: The Whole Spreadsheet

The simplest option is to share the link with the class or embed using the iFrame code Google gives you. If you share the entire sheet with the class, which I DO NOT recommend, you will want to protect your functions and make sure it is only viewable to those with the URL. If you choose to embed the entire spreadsheet, go to File --> Publish to Web. This will share your entire spreadsheet, so you need to make sure there isn't any sensitive information that you don't want the whole class to see. If you use icons for levels like I have done, they will not show up when you embed.

Option 2: One Worksheet from the Spreadsheet

If you only want to embed the leaderboard, you can use a special URL to show only the page you want. It looks like this, and I will show you how to plug in the appropriate values.

<iframe src="https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/[Spreadsheet ID]/htmlembed?gid=[worksheet ID]&amp;single=true" height="1000" width="100%"></iframe>

Here is where you find those values in RED:

Google_Drive_--_Page_Not_Found

 

This will embed only the sheet you want to share, but it will not show any images you have in the cells.

Option 3: Interactive graph from Spreadsheet

A final option for sharing the leaderboard is to create an interactive chart from the leaderboard and embed that wherever students will be looking for updated results. Here is how you do this:

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 2

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 3

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 4

 

Screen_Shot_2014-06-22_at_11_07_11_PM

 

Leaderboard_Example_-_Google_Sheets 5

 

And that is how you do it. This will take some tinkering, especially if you are not familiar with spreadsheet functions or pivot tables. I spent quite a bit of time messing around with this until I got it to work just how I wanted. I need to give credit where it's due for giving me this idea. I got the original idea from the EIPS Technology Blog, and I modified my leaderboard based on this design.

 

 

The Teaching Professor Conference 2014

Alexander, Curby TPC poster  

Believe it or not, many of my musings on this blog end up in academic papers and conference presentations. For example, this blog post turned into this conference paper, which I am currently reworking into a journal manuscript. I took some of same ideas, and organized them into a poster that I will be presenting tomorrow at The Teaching Professor Conference in Boston. This is the first time I have attended this conference, and I am quite excited to see how it goes. My "home" conference is SITE (Society of Information Technology in Teacher Education), and I have gotten quite comfortable with it. I am on several committees, and I know so many people there that I end up spending most of my time talking in the hallway.

The program for this conference looks very interesting and covers a lot of topics I am currently interested in. I may or may not give updates from the conference itself, but you can rest assured that many of the things I hear and discuss will morph into posts on this blog.

Here is a link to the brochure I will be handing out at my poster session, which is displayed above.