Task one is due Wednesday

September 17, 2007

This coming Wednesday, the first group task is due. I have had a few students ask about it and had some additional ideas about restructuring things a bit for next semester to make things a bit more modular and coherent within what I’m going to call Chapters of the alternate reality game/course….


Over the last two days, I have patiently waited in my office for any CECS 1100 students to arrive with questions related to the first Task which is due on Saturday. Given the 20+ e-mailed questions from students over the last week, I expected at least one or two to come in for help. None have arrived.

I was initially concerned until I reviewed some of my notes from the spring section and discovered the same phenomenon. Next week, once they get feedback that is less than flattering, they will suddenly present themselves in droves….

Thus far, I have been having some trouble with students reading the directions related to the first Task, which is by far the most self-explanatory. This is one of the most difficult early challenges of problem-based learning which is overcoming student learned helplessness. This often occurs when they are used to highly teacher-led classes in which there is little independent student thought and directions are mercilessly direct to the point where there is no question as to the right answer.

In PBL, where there is no “right answer” students struggle a bit initially until they realize that, other than restating the directions exactly as they were originally stated but with additional references to resources and redirection to their peer groups, I’m not going to give direct instruction, then they start to get it.

I worry about it and the stress that it puts on both them and me until I receive things like the following which was posted by a former student of mine in someone else’s class today:

“A couple of semesters ago I had Dr. Warren’s class, “classroom computers.” He was the best professor I’ve ever had. He is a cognitivist/constructivist kind of teacher and although I thought at times he was not directing me in the way I would like to be directed (I line all of my ducks in a row), he challenged me to think for myself. He let us take the role of learner and he gave the class amazing resources for our future teaching. I think he was so good because he had been a teacher for about 10 years in the public school system…that helps.”

It makes me feel like we are making some progress, but in other instances also feels like I am really combating some incredibly ingrained behaviors and preconceived notions on the part of the students that walk in my very strange classroom.

I would love it if we had a class or two that all new undergrads and transfers had to take their first semester that introduced them to learning with: a.) online courses, b.) blended course, c.) PBL, d.) working in groups, e.) how to think critically and creatively, and f.) student-led/self-directed course, just to acclimate them to these education phenomena that are present in college where they may not have been in high school or elsewhere. I wish I had had that kind of course in college….

Ah, to dream…;)

On another positive note, beyond the book chapter we had accepted last week (with revisions) and the two presentations we have at the Association for Educational Computing and Technology (?) Conference in October, I also receive surreptitious positive feedback on one of our AERA proposals on The Door v1 from a friend who recognized from previous discussions and reviewed it. He gave it high marks and looks forward to seeing it. The seeing it as a distributed system that exists in many places at once, I explained, is sometimes a problem…





Mary Jo and I had a book chapter entitled “Issues with the Design of Games for Learning” in the Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education edited by Rick Fertig. The title may change before press. The chapter includes a lot about The Door and we will include some selections on the blog over the coming weeks.

Group problems already

September 7, 2007

It is only Friday and we met Tuesday and already the group leader of one of the groups is unable to contact his other members by phone or e-mail. This should be interesting….

The Door v2 – Class Two

September 5, 2007

This week’s class went pretty smoothly despite a couple of students reporting that they were pretty freaked out about the instructional methods. However, they were willing to do it (after several reassurances that it really isn’t that bad) and there was actually one student who added, which complicated the group scheme a little, but we worked it out by making it a problem to be solved by the group to which she was assigned.

Instructor Job Aid for Class Two, Week Two

1. Review the policies again and locations of course web sites

You can never do this often enough and if you have any new students, they’ll appreciate it. Get them to tell you the web address for the Moodle if they remember it. They usually do.
2. Ning

I use Ning.com, but if you have another web forum-type space where they can share their thoughts, etc. and can set up group spaces, feel free to use what you like. Ning is nice because it is done in AJAX, so is fluid, allows file uploads including PPT, Word, videos, and audio files. You can create Forums, use the blog feature to do instant updates, and communicate with the whole class using the Broadcast message feature which will e-mail them the notice. It functions as a smoother functioning supplement to the Moodle, though Moodle allows fast grading, assignment submission, etc. the same way as WebCT. Have them each sign up for a Ning you should have set up before class. I also set up individual Nings for each Role (Leader, etc.), so that I can communicate just with them if I want to do so. Also, have each group Leader for the first Task create their own Ning for their Group and have the other members join.

3. Review the instructions from Hester and Sharron about the First Task

This one is meant to have lots of scaffolding from the instructor and within the task directions so that they can get accustomed to solving problems in this way. The expectations should be pretty clear WITHOUT being overly directive, so leave HOW they present their solution open-ended as well as requirements for the depth of the information they must include. Answer questions clearly at this point. Later on, you’ll be more evasive as you remove the scaffolding during the remaining learning tasks.

4. Give the Researchers the Underw0rld.net/door link

Don’t give it to the rest of the group, just the Researchers. Last semester it took three weeks for the first group to puzzle out the first game component. This semester, it took one group 40 minutes. Be prepared.

5. Get them into Second Life

Second Life is set up on the machines in 310 and 308. Have them sign up for FREE accounts and go through the initial tutorial. Stress that this is a COMMUNICATION TOOL and does NOT have to be used. Note other technology communication tools they should also be using (e.g. e-mail, chat, etc.). Tell them that they need to complete the SL assignments in the Moodle by next week.

6. Review the goals for the next week

Review the due date for Hester’s Task and answer any relevant questions.

7. Let them loose

You are now the facilitator and challenger of poorly constructed knowledge, not the teacher. Allow them to puzzle things out and provide support without providing direction. Problem-based learning is HARD to do well, because it is easier to go back into direct instruction mode. Refer them to resources, get their peers to help them, and give strong feedback on products to improve the next solutions, but DO NOT be overly explicit.

Over the rest of the semester, you should be REMOVING scaffolds not adding to them. Don’t let them wear you down and give up, going back over to the Dark Side.

There were a bunch of things that had to be done in preparation for CECS 1100.030 which was the second iteration of The Door. This is intended to reflect on what had to be done as I build a job aid for the future instructors who will teach using this instructional method that blends problem-based learning (PBL) and elements of alternate reality games (ARGs), hence the title of the blog DoorARG….

To be done 3 Weeks before….

1. Moodle administrative set up

You will need to contact the manager of the Moodle server within Computer Education and Cognitive Systems in the Dept. of Learning Technologies in the College of Education. In this case, it was Vinny from whom you will have to request that a section be set up for you class with the appropriate section number (i.e. CECS 1100.030 in the fall of 2007) and make sure it starts off in a weekly format rather than a biweekly one. You will also need to have him add you as an instructor to a previous section that used the Door such as Fall 2007’s 1100.030 section. Try not to use an old one, because they are updated each semester for improvement based on student feedback and to reduce strain on the instructor. Give Vinny at least a day or two to get this set up and if you don’t have it done ASAP, don’t sweat it.

2.  Moodle internal set up

Once you have your class set up, you’ll need to import all of the assignments, tests, etc. from the previous section of the class. Turn editing on in the Moodle and on the left hand side you should see a link for Import. Click on it and import everything from that section. Upon successful completion, your new section should look just like the old one. Make sure to go in the Settings and ensure that the start date for your new section corresponds with reality so that the weekly assignments and resources match up properly.

3. Course web site set up

There is an existing web site for the course, but it is set up for Dr. Warren and is therefore specific to him, so you’ll have to set up your own. However, you can use the resources and materials found at http://www.scottjwarren.com/1100F7 to create your own to ensure consistency across sections in terms of the entry portal for students in all sections.

We will likely move to a more stock site before the spring of 2008 so that all sections can use the introduction each semester and leave the individual instructors to create updated an syllabus and schedule of due dates on a separate site or within the Moodle. The current site is done in iWeb, making editing difficult. The spring 2008 versions of both the Underw0rld and main course sites will likely be done instead with Photoshop and the files will be left in the CECS 1100 Instructor Ning for future editing and updating.

4. Become familiar with the course websites and materials

Over the course of the semester, the class doesn’t always move linearly, so you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the Door “Bible” found in the CECS 1100 Instructor Ning and the main websites for the course:

To do 1 Week before:

1. Test the sites and upload any changes

Make sure that everything is working and that all your changes to make the dates match the new semester actually work.

2. Figure out your student group assignment method

Enough said about that.

3. Go through it all one last time

Make sure none of the resources have disappeared and that the video, audio, MySpace, and other links still function from the last semester. Make sure you can get into all relevant e-mail addresses where students will be sending questions and assignments.

The Door v2 – Class One

September 5, 2007

The first week of class when teaching from a social constructivist perspective of one’s own devising is always scary. It is the time when we as instructors must engage in immersing students in confusion and force them to confront a new way of learning. Some like it, so are afraid of it, and others don’t like it at but peer pressure, pride, and the fact that the other sections are closed keep them here. I found myself reassuring them that it wouldn’t be all that hard and that it should be somewhat fun even as I presented new elements of the course meant to force interdependence within their groups and to provide nasty consequences for failing to complete their self-assigned project roles. It didn’t feel bad and it actually felt like they LIKED having strict rules about how to engage in group work which was one of the minor/major failure of the first iteration (Door v1).

Job aid for instructors for Class One:

1. Begin with a brief introduction of the instructor: Who am I? What am I doing here? Why am I qualified to teach this?

(Objectives: Familiarize students with the instructor, establish credibility, and overview UNT role)

2. Oveview of the class from the main course website (in this instance http://www.scottjwarren.com/1100F7). Focus especially on the importance of student roles and the nasty consequences of missing any of the FTF meetings.

(Objectives: Establish course policies governing behavior, goals of the course, and specific due dates for assignments. Additionally, provide general understanding about instructional methods, student roles, and locations of online resources.

a. Start with the About tab, talking about policies, meeting dates/times, what is a hybrid course;

b. Problem-based learning (PBL) is next, explaining how it works vs. direct instruction using the PBL tab;

c. Next was a discussion of Group work, problem tasks, and group roles (including consequences and reports);

d. From there move on to the course Schedule, looking at due dates and ending with;

e. Exams, their due dates, and the Moodle for findings assignments, posting assignments, and gathering initial resources

3. Set up groups – Students will form groups naturally according to where they sat down initially, often with friends. We allowed them to self-select in the first iteration and it didn’t work very well. In the second iteration we numbered them off 1-8 in the order they sat down and formed the groups randomly. This is useful for random assignment if the class is being researched as well. With 24 students, we had 8 groups of 3 students (one added late (25), so we added them to a random group and made it a PBL task forcing them to sort out how they would deal with the roles and gave a bit of extra credit for reporting how they did this. Groups then had to sit together and the rest of the tasks required them to help one another complete in class assignments.

4. Sign up for the Moodle – Have each student then go to the Moodle (http://moodle.lt.unt.edu) and sign up. Give them the course Key that will allow them to enroll in CECS 1100.xxx (whatever your section is). Encourage them to help one another.

(Objectives: Provide access to Moodle tool and provide students an opportunity to interact with a new course management system)

5. Moodle use – Provide an overview of how the Moodle functions (i.e. uploading files, posting to Forums, accessing resources)

(Objectives: Provide a basic understanding of how the Moodle works and its role in the course)

6. WordPress – To illustrate the use of the Moodle by having them post something to it, you also get student blogs prepared. Have them click on the WordPress link within the Moodle and proceed through the signup. Use WordPress rather than Blogger because the second tool requires that students have a mobile phone in order to activate their blog. Once they have completed sign up, they should complete their responses to the WordPress assignments found in the Moodle and post a link to their newly activated blog in the appropriate place in the Moodle.

(Objectives: Allow students to use the Moodle to post a separate assignment while providing them with a blog space within which to post reflections related to course assignments over the course of the semester)

7. End of class – Preview what will take place during the next class:

  • They need to take the Pretest found in the Moodle by the next class period
  • They should go through the material in the Moodle and read through it
  • Next class period, the class will explore the first Task
  • Next class period, the class will set up their Second Life accounts and start those assignments
  • Next class period, the Researchers will receive the link to their secondary Task

That was it for the first class. Afterwards, I talked to a couple of students about their past experience with games like World of Warcraft for 30 minutes.