During the course CEP812 I was introduced to the concept of wicked problems or problems that are so complicated it really isn’t possible to create a solution to. The new Media Consortium created a white paper that highlights 5 of the top wicked problems facing education today. Working with Nathan Jacques and Kaitlin Rhonda we decided to work on brainstorming possible ways to reimagine online learning, on of the top 5 wicked problems in education today. Here is what we came up with during our brainstorming sessions. I especially want to thank Nate for all his wonderful artwork, the project turned out better than I had imagined it could.
RSA style summary
It is no secret that there are many problems in education today. Some problems can be solved easily, while others take some work. And then there are problems, the wicked problems, that seem impossible to tackle. Koehler & Mishra (2008) define wicked problems as a problem that has
incomplete, changing, and contradictory requirements. Solutions to wicked problems are often difficult to realize (or maybe even recognize) because of complex interdependencies among a large number of contextually bound variables. Wicked problems, they argue, cannot be solved in a traditional linear fashion because the problem definition itself evolves as new solutions are considered and/or implemented. (p.10)
Lately, online learning has been a focal point in education reform, but online learning is not always successful. Why is this the case? Reimagining online learning is a wicked problem, one of the top five affecting education as identified by the New Media Consortium (2013). They challenge educators to re-imagine online learning. However, there is no one way to reimagine online learning in a way that will be successful in every school district. The formula has to change with each particular classroom. Online learning is also constantly changing and it is difficult to stay on top of the latest trends. It’s even more difficult to determine if these latest trends are indeed effective means of teaching! Finally, the success of online learning has so many different variables, that there could literally be thousands of different successful approaches.
Different districts have different policies regarding which devices, technology, and programs are usable, which also makes this problem a little more wicked. Many schools allow the use of cellphones or other personal devices for the purpose of text message polling, social media in the classroom, and other forms of educational communication. Other school districts have banned the use of cellphones and other personal devices for reasons from abusing the privilege to violence issues. Regardless, it is up to the school district to determine how and what technology can be used, which greatly affects the success of online learning.
Our potential solution to this wicked problem revolves around the idea of getting students plugged into their own learning! What does this mean?
We love the idea of “digital gaming” in education. What is gaming in education. Gaming or the “gamification” of lessons use game-like mechanisms to increase motivation and involvement. These mechanisms include, earning experience points/badges, having “lives” in an activity, and a video game element where students have to work through a series of tasks in order to “win” or be successful. Digital gaming allows for students to work at their own pace. By allowing students to work at their own pace, all students can achieve to their highest potential not falling behind because the class pace is too quick for understanding or bored due to the class pace being too slow.
Digital Gaming also creates an environment where students can make mistakes and try again until they are successful. In a typical video game, a player can make a mistake, die, and come back to life to try again. In a classroom setting, students should be able to make mistakes and build off of that to be successful.
Digital gaming also adds an element of entertainment that is similar to what they are doing outside of school. Developing a gaming lesson that gets all students actively involved can be a wicked problem in and of itself. However, the chances of students being more involved in an interactive learning game over taking traditional pen and paper notes on a lecture is highly probable. Many students who put in little effort into their school days will go home and spend a lot of time and effort into learning new information to be successful in the online environment. We think education needs to tap into the potential for student motivation found online. The idea of gaming appeals to student interest, even those who may not be “gamers” by definition. Gaming can be individual, for those who like the challenge of accomplishing goals/tasks. It can also be group-oriented, for those who thrive off competition and teamwork.
Within this, online learning needs to matter to students. It is also important that learning is connected to the real world. Gee (2013) says, “Often students can see no clear and compelling goal for learning in formal classrooms beyond grades and graduation. They often do not care about the material in any deep way.” (p. 16) Students need to be able to find meaning in what they are learning. If students don’t see a real world connection, it is likely they won’t put effort into learning it long-term. If we make online learning fun and realistic, online learning can be a powerful thing.
What that experience will look like for every student, is still a wicked problem that needs to be solved. With the circumstances of each student being different from access to technology, teacher comfort, teacher knowledge, school policy, board policy, state or provincial mandates, it is improbable that a single vision for what online learning looks like is possible to create. What may be possible is an amalgamation of practices that are anchored to educational research from which teachers could choose from to suit the needs of their particular students. Here is the start of a possible list of strategies to keep students highly involved throughout a gaming scenario:
1) Daily reflection and Debate through Twitter, Blogs, Posts, and Surveys
2) Conscious implementation of devices into assignments and projects
3) Project based learning through the maker culture. Innovation through mistakes
4) Sharing Web 2.0 applications and attempts to fit into content delivery
5) Learning through teaching. Use technology to research and then return information to peers
In the end, the only thing that matters is the students. Something that needs to be at the forefront of all interested in educational reform.
Gee, James Paul (2013) The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning [Ibook edition] New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan
New Media Consortium (2013) The Future of Education: The 2013 NMC Horizon Project Summit Communique Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2013-Horizon-Project-Summit-Communique.pdf