Sunday, 6 September 2015

What Candy Crush can teach us about teaching

Candy Crush Saga is a ridiculously addictive puzzle game. People literally spend hours swiping candies into lines of three or more. It's success is linked to its simplicity, but also the challenges in mastering it (see here for a good discussion).

In teaching, we often want students to master skills that range from the simple to the complex. So, does Candy Crush have anything to offer us in terms of improving teaching practice? According to a new paper by Evangeline Marlos Varonis and Maria Evangeline Varonis (both from University of Akron), it does. The authors look at Candy Crush through the lens of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I am quite partial to UDL, and students in my classes may recognise it as I use a certain flavour of UDL in my teaching (it is one of three major strategies I employ, alongside interactive teaching, and contingent scaffolding).

The authors offer a number of course design takeaways from their investigation of Candy Crush. Most apply mainly to online courses, but some have wider application (and sound very much like things I do in my classes), including:
Do not let learners get stuck. Individualize instruction by providing hints, automatic or manual, when activities are challenging...
Provide students with regular feedback on performance and the opportunity to earn easy, small bonuses on activities or assessments. It might give them the perk they need to continually do their best and remain active in the class...
Rather than creating “one-and-done” assessments, individualize the learning experience by creating multiple opportunities for students to succeed. Learners who do poorly on a once-only assessment may predict their final grade and give up. Giving them the opportunity to take an assessment again, or to drop a lowest grade, can motivate them to continue despite an initial failure. This encourages students to focus on mastery rather than grades.
Provide additional, optional resources or activities that are available to learners even if the next unit is not. Those who are motivated can continue while those who are not are not penalized for not engaging, and once again you are affording learners some control over their environment...
Real-life examples are rarely as clean as those in a textbook, and if learners are truly preparing themselves for the workforce and lifelong learning, then problem-solving that requires analysis of the situation and synthesis is great preparation for what is to follow. Instructors can introduce additional complexity by incorporating problem-based learning in the form of case studies or projects that require learners to apply theoretical concepts to practical real-world situations...
Present new concepts or skills sequentially, but constantly build on what learners have accomplished by presenting activities and assessments that require not only that they demonstrate knowledge but also that they can apply this knowledge creatively in novel situations.
Offer learners options (e.g. choose between these three essays; complete two of the five modules; select a film to review from this list) so they maintain a choice in the curriculum they are pursuing, ushering it forward as they personalize it. Having choices other than “do this and pass” or “don’t do this and fail” will motivate learners to actively participate in the learning process...
Provide surprises that delight and compel further exploration. Easy bonus questions on an assessment or extra credit points for completing all work up to a certain point on time can be a reward, as can be a one-off content topic that is of inherent interest even though it is not strictly part of the curriculum of the course.
Of course, none of this is startlingly new, but it does suggest that at least some of the teaching that we do in class can be effectively 'gamified' for online teaching and learning. Although, I don't see myself being replaced by Tiffi anytime soon.

[HT: Ruth Taylor]

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