Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Formative assessment and pre-assessment in online courses

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon South Rim 
Assessment is one of the singularly misconstrued concepts in higher education, except in the School/Department/Hemisphere of Education. After working as a faculty member for nearly 14 years in various departments at different higher educational institutions, I have seen how faculty members hated or got disgusted at the word “assessment” itself. Some even acknowledged that they could not understand the significance of it because according to them assessment meant giving tests, assignments and awarding a grade along with some feedback.
Many departments have a specialized person for assessment so that others need not worry about it. Anyway I am not here to articulate the dismaying attitude towards assessment, but rather would like to make a case for assessment as a part of learning.
Assessment could be done in two ways: Formative and Summative. Stiggins and Chappius (2005), express the difference between these two types as follows: Formative is an assessment for learning and summative is the evaluation of learning. Formative assessment is conducted during the learning process and summative assessment is normally done at the end of learning. Cherum (2011) mentions that formative assessment when done correctly, helps to motivate students and also improves student learning.
Here are a few ways to add formative assessment into an online course:
  1. Have at least two asynchronous discussion forums every week. The topics should not be about the reading materials but rather, should be thought provoking, resulting in debates and reflection. Make sure that you as the instructor login to check their postings and give them feedback immediately. Frequent and precise feedback are two important components of effective formative assessment.
  2. If there is a final paper in the course, make sure that students submit this paper in parts. Ask them to start working on their paper from week 2 or 3 onwards. Ask them to submit the first two sections of the final paper by week 4 or 5. Give them a grade and a feedback. Use a grading rubric, which will precisely tell students what is expected and whether they met the criteria for the paper.
  3. The above two techniques can be used in a regular classroom as well. Additionally, there are tools available for online instruction. Here is a small list of these immediate feedback tools:
  4. AnswerGarden (http://answergarden.ch/): This online tool can be used in a standalone format or you could embed the course website as an external link to give immediate feedback. Easy to use and once you create it, you can broadcast it to your students.
  5. Geddit (http://letsgeddit.com/): Another online tool that would help teachers to understand individual student differences. Teachers can create a quiz and every student response (they call it check-in) is visible only to the teacher.
  6. Kahoot: (https://getkahoot.com/): This online tool can be used for game-based formative assessment. There are many amazing examples available in their website, how teachers have creatively used this tool to teach a new concept, reinforce an idea, to create a lively debate in a classroom etc.
  7. Socrative: (http://www.socrative.com/): With this formative assessment tool, you can create short quizzes, a polling activity or space race. This tool has a good set of features and is sure to engage students.
Cherem, B. (2011). Using online formative assessments for improved learning. Currents in Teaching and Learning3(2), 41-48.
Stiggins, R., & Chappuis, S. (2005). Putting testing in perspective: It’s for learning. Principal Leadership (High School Ed.). 6 (2), 16-20.
Don't ask whether assessment has anything to do with the Grand Canyon. It was a cool picture I took when I went for a Helicopter ride on the South Rim of the breathtaking Canyon -:)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Online Courses: Some ideas to consider

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Offering online programs and courses is not an option anymore for universities and colleges, rather it is the norm these days. As I was talking with my students, they have lot to complain as well as compliment about their online experiences. Some course syllabi did not even reflect current dates and had several outdated information. The professor was not engaging and did not respond to emails from students in a timely manner. Students told me that the deadlines were not clear. Combined with their own procrastinating impulses (some of my students were brutally honest about themselves) and their busy work schedule, they mentioned that their online experiences were disastrous. Does that mean online courses are a no-go? Or, is it just that we need to make sure we adhere to certain guidelines to improve the effectiveness of online pedagogy.
Here are a few guidelines that can help to ensure more effective online courses:

  • It is extremely critical in online courses to do your homework way ahead of time. Once cannot afford to wait until the last minute to write the course syllabus. The course syllabus along with the course material for each week has to be prepared for the entire semester at least three weeks before the semester starts.
  • The course should be modular, and each module should have clear expected learning outcomes and assessment strategies.
  • Keep in mind that students don’t have the same personal connection with their instructor and classmates as they would in a physical classroom. It is therefore important to create opportunities for some personal rapport with the students. Online tools such as ooVoo or Google Hangout can be used to have a video conversation with the students few times during the semester. Probably once at the beginning and once in the middle and once before the end of the semester. Have virtual office hours and make use of the many free tools that are available to schedule and make these office hours effective.
  • Inform and constantly remind your students, that those who submit their work on time and have a meaningful conversation with their instructor and classmates always get a better grade.
  • It helps to remember that you are not here to teach just facts and figures, but to teach students how to learn as well. The online instruction should show students how to find materials. Provide them with ideas to self-regulate and to become self-learners.
  • Research shows that providing timely feedback definitely improves learning, whether it is an online or classroom based course. In online learning you can also ask your students to critique each other’s work. Apart from your feedback, the feedback given by their classmates will be definitely beneficial for students.
  • Ask your students to write reflectively about their online learning experience when one third of the course is over. This reflection piece will help students and instructor to see through the problems that students are facing.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Flipped Classroom

There is going to be a discussion on flipped classrooms at UWW Learn Center next week. Flipped classroom is a learning model in which students will be exposed to lectures (usually in video segments) before coming to the class. In the classroom, students will then apply their knowledge by doing projects, participating in discussions etc.
I am using a flipped classroom model for some of my classes and I have seen many of my colleagues also using this model in their teaching. Why do we need to adopt this model in our teaching? I have been teaching for the past 14 years in various capacities in higher education. The moment I start lecturing I notice many students frantically start taking notes. I always tell them, try to understand what I am trying to explain rather than just taking notes. Of course, students continue to take notes, and thereby tend to absorb less of the essence than they would if they paid full attention to what is being presented. In the following class, at the beginning, I ask my students to share one thing that they remember from the previous class and invariably they go and look into their notes. Probably that could be the first time they are looking in to see what went on during the last class. In the case of flipped classrooms, they already know the content and they are in control of it. They don’t need to take any notes, since it was readily available for them even before the class starts. So, when they come to the class, they are ready to discuss or apply the knowledge they gained through the lecture. Just to facilitate the discussion, I tell them to bring a reading brief to the class, so that students come prepared for the class session. Four to six times during the class, I collect the reading briefs for grades so that it puts the responsibility squarely on students’ shoulders to come prepared. Having an assessment component helps this instructional model.
Flipped classrooms make students participate in an active manner, instead of as silent spectators. With the emergence of new educational software applications for smart phones and mobile devices, faculty are empowered to provide more educational materials for students to review before coming to the class. One special note to faculty members who would like to use this model, is "be prepared". All the materials (could be your own lecture or someone else’s talk or video tutorial) should be posted on your LMS at least a week ahead of the class, so that students will have sufficient time to review them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

GLS Conference Paper

Gender differences in game design

I presented a paper at the Games+Learning+Society (GLS) conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison last week.

Following is the synopsis of my paper: From my doctoral study results, I tried to see whether gender has any effect on the learning outcome, when an instructional game is used to augment learning.

  • A total number of 254 students from nine high schools in Baltimore County Public Schools participated in the study.
  • Out of 254 students, only 202 students successfully completed all the steps (taking the pretest, playing the game and taking the posttest) of the data collection. The remaining 51 students took only the pretest and played the game, but were unable to complete the posttest.
  • Out of 202 students, 121 were female and 79 were male and 2 students did not report their gender. A two-way between-groups analysis of variance was conducted to find the effect of game features and gender on gain score.
  • The interaction effect between gender and game feature was not statistically significant, F (3, 192) = .65, p=.59. There was a statistically significant main effect found for feature F (3, 192) = 4.26, p=.006. Post-hoc comparisons using the Tukey HSD test indicated that the mean score for the challenge feature (M =5.02, SD =3.43) was different from none on feature (M = 2.98, SD =3.43). Both on (M = 2.92, SD = 3.09) and Fantasy on (M=2.78, SD = 4.31) features did not differ significantly from either challenge or none on. The main effect of gender, F (1, 192) = 2.61, p=.11, did not reach statistical significance. Results show that games with challenges make students learn better, probably because they feel a sense of achievement irrespective of their gender. On the other hand, the fantasy feature helped female students to learn better (M = 3.46) than the male students (M=1.63).

Gender Difference

As mentioned earlier, the interaction effect between feature and gender did not attain statistical significance, which shows us that there is no significant difference between male and female students in the overall increase in achievement scores. From the study results we can conclude that challenge is a very important feature and it positively augments learning in an educational game. Endogenous fantasy is a helpful hook to attract students (especially female students) towards an educational game. However, if the fantasy element is too compelling, then the game might become less educational, and more entertaining, which is inferred from the low gain scores of the male students. Individual differences due to gender was not significant in the study, which tells us that the importance of design features is extremely crucial for a successful instructional game and if the game features are properly designed, then the individual differences among the students do not impact learning significantly.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Coding and Game Development Tools

Coding and Game Development Tools

I am currently teaching MAGD 270: Web Development in Media Arts and Game Development at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater . For many students, this is the first web development/design course. As part of the course, they have to learn beginner to intermediate level JavaScript. Well, instead of trying to teach them the syntax and the logic, I want them to know the big picture of programming. Most of them have never programmed before and therefore it is more important for me to expose them to programming in a fun way.  Following are some of the tools I will be using in my class:
Code Academy Image Code Academy: http://www.codecademy.com/
Easy to use tool. Specifically to learn JavaScript. They teach a concept and ask the user to show their understanding in a simulated environment. I like the name!! The name sounds very similar to another nice site I use: www.khanacademy.com
Alice Alice: http://www.alice.org/
Alice is from the Carnegie Mellon University. You can create animations using their 3D programming environment. It helps students to “gain experience with all the programming constructs typically taught in an introductory programming course”. Read More...
GameSalad I would like to mention a couple of game development tools that are useful for novice game programmers:
GameSalad: http://gamesalad.com
GameSalad is for Mac and could be a good tool for people who would like to create games for iOS.
GameMaker GameMaker: http://www.yoyogames.com/
Game Maker: The upcoming version of GameMaker Studio seems to be very promising, in which a direct export to iOS and Android platforms is possible.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Games and Cultures

Games and Cultures

I was reading about games and play and how they have been portrayed in various religions and cultures. Some of the assertions given by theologists were amazing. Games are an integral part of any ancient culture.

Many scholars have approached the concept of game in a philosophical manner. In fact the Vedanta philosophy of India says that this entire cosmos is Lila Vibhuthi. Lila is a Sanskrit noun which means play or sport and the term Vibhuti means wealth. Anthropologist Don Handelman (1992) mentions the following about the views expressed in Indian Vedanta:

In Indian cosmology, play is a top down idea. Passages to play and their premises are embedded at a high level of abstraction and generality. The qualities of play resonate and resound throughout the whole. But more than this, the qualities of play are integral to the very operation of the cosmos. To be in play is to reproduce time and again the very premises that inform the existence of this kind of cosmos... Now in cosmologies where the premises of play are not embedded at a high level and are not integral to the organization of the cosmos, as in Western society, the phenomenon of play seems to erupt from the bottom. By bottom up play I mean that play is often phrased in opposition to, or as a negation of, the order of things. This is the perception of play as unserious, illusory and ephemeral, but it is also the perception of play as subversive and resisting the order of things. (p. 12)

Similarly, in Christianity, in the Bible many Gospels mention that in the Kingdom of God “pictured as a spirited life of play, where play is not laborious, as work is, but labor is playful just as games are” (Miller, 1970, p. 112). Miller (1970) further states that there is a similarity in thoughts between the Hindu (Vedanta) scriptures and the Bible:

The Wisdom Literature interpretation of God creating man and the world (see Proverbs 8:22 – 31) pictures God at play when he fashions the world and it shows man at edenic play in the pleasurable presence of God. It pictures this childlike play just as compelling as does the Vedanta interpretation of ancient Hindu creation accounts (p. 101).

So, the element of play is even beyond humans and existed before the evolution of man. Eigen and Winkler (1981) assert that "the history of play goes back to the beginnings of time. The energy released in the ‘big bang’ set everything in motion, set matter whirling in a maelstrom of activity that would never cease. The forces of order sought to bring this process under control, to tame chance. The result was not the rigid order of a crystal but the order of life. … Chance and rules are the elements that underlie games and play. Play began among the elementary particles, atoms, and molecules, and now our brain cells carry it on" (p.3).

Further Eigen and Winkler (1981) say, “human beings did not invent play, but it is play and only play that makes man complete” (citing Schiller, Friedrich von 1793-94, p. 3). Huizinga (1950) mentions that game presupposes civilization. Eigen and Winkler (1981) say almost everything that happens to a human is a play: play of limbs and muscles followed by aimless grasping and kicking of an infant later develops into careful coordinated movements. Playful curiosity makes us seek knowledge. Play of color, shapes and sounds results in an art form. It is rather quite interesting to see how philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists and so many scholars belonging to various disciplines dealt with the concept of game and its importance to the human race.


Eigen, M., &Winkler, R. (1981).Laws of the game. New York: Knopf.
Handelman, D. (1992). Passages to play: Paradox and process. Play & Culture, Vol 5(1), 1-19.
Huizinga, J. (1950). Home ludens: A study of the play element in culture. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Miller, D.L.1970. Gods and Games. New York: World.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Game Features

Game Features

Good mix of educational and entertainment

My intention is to study essential features of effective educational games. Scholars feel that most current day educational games look like broccoli covered in chocolate (Laurel, 2003). Many educational games don't provide students with any new kinds of learning but rather an easier to eat version of drill-and-practice learning (Klopfer, 2008). Norman (1993) gives a practical solution to this chocolate covered broccoli problem:
Educators know what needs to be learned; they are simply pretty bad at figuring out how to get the intense, devoted concentration required for the learning to take place. The field of entertainment knows how to create interest and excitement. It can manipulate the information and images. But it doesn't know what to teach. Perhaps we could merge these skills. The trick is to marry the entertainment world's skills of presentation and of capturing the users' engagement with the educator's skills of reflective, in-depth analysis (p. 39).
This study can help to determine what would be a good mix of pedagogical features and entertainment aspects.

A chart might convey my study's intention clearly:

Good Mix of learning features and entertainment aspects

An effective educational game will have a good mix of both pedagogical features and entertainment aspects.


Klopfer, E. (2008) Augmented Learning: Research and Design of Mobile Educational Games. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Laurel, B. (Ed.). (2003). Design research methods and perspectives.Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Norman, D. (1993). Things that Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.