Saturday, July 21, 2012

3D Game Lab Camp on the horizon

  On top of everything else going on in my life (moving, new job, baby due in August, brother in law's wedding) I'll be embarking on designing my technology classes using 3D Game Lab for the upcoming year. This will be the basis for assignments in my three technology classes next semester. In the future I'll be updating what this looks like in practice.

  For those not familiar with 3D Game Lab it is a web based program being designed by the Boise State University to track student achievement in an experience point completion based model. What this means is that a student has a number of options as far as assignments (called quests) to choose from and each will give an experience point reward upon completion. Completion of certain quests may unlock other quests and the instructor may grant certain awards (called badges) for students that deserve something special for completion of a particular assignment.

  In this model student grades can be based on the experience points that students earn as well as earning certain badges. An expectation for a student may be to earn 1000 exp to get an A as well as complete 3 badges that signify content area completion. However, earning these badges will only grant 500 of the total experience required allowing students to pick which assignments they will complete to earn the remaining points. An instructor could have 3000 possible points from quests allowing students to pick a number of areas that they wish to focus in or allow them to spread out and experience a number of particular areas.

  With a clear goal at the beginning of the quarter or semester, students can pace themselves to reach their necessary goals. Students can also repeat an unsuccessful quest to learn the material and show mastery. Consider how different this is from traditional education. In a traditional classroom you learn teacher selected material and then are tested to prove your knowledge. If you fail to show mastery you are punished with a bad grade and the class moves on to a new subject. If you succeed, you are rewarded with a good grade and are forced to move on to a new subject, regardless of your interest in the area you've just completed.

  This very model turns education on its head. It is student directed and standards based, with clear expectations and endless options. Students are working towards a clear goal at their own pace. They can pick the assignments that fit their interests, current mood, or time available. The education is accessible at home, at school, or anywhere that there is an internet connection.

  Of course this model does have its problems. First off it basically requires a 1 to 1 student/computer ratio. I happen to be fortunate that I have this option in my upcoming position, even if it is just limited to netbooks. Secondly, it assumes that quest completion is equivalent across the board. Regardless of how any one quest was completed, students are essentially awarded the same experience. While instructors have the option to send a student back to do more work on a quest before it is completed, there is something inherently different from a student who is able to complete work successfully the first time with  minimal guidance, and the student that may finally complete it after submitting seven failed versions. Finally, it is still product oriented. Students are required to build something and are ultimately judged on the product rather than the process. Unfortunately, learning remains a process, not a product. I've learned tons by creating something crappy, and I've created things perfectly but didn't manage to learn anything. I'm not sure that this problem can really be successfully addressed in education, but I'm not afraid to hope it can.

  I'm curious to see how this plays out in my classroom and I look forward to make additional reports. While it is clear that education is not the panacea of society, it may be that the internet is the panacea of education.


  1. I am so excited about the future of education after reading this. You are doing some very neat things, Marc. I'm really looking forward to following how this all works in the classroom.

    As I read, I found myself wondering about the pacing. This is what stuck out to me:

    "If you fail to show mastery you are punished with a bad grade and the class moves on to a new subject. If you succeed, you are rewarded with a good grade and are forced to move on to a new subject, regardless of your interest in the area you've just completed."

    Students individually pacing their learning? That's amazing! However, I know that the standards can keep teachers on a pretty tight schedule. So, I'm curious: how much leeway does the system provide for allowing students to stay on the current subject rather than moving on? Is the experience point system spread out across multiple units? I'm curious about the mechanics of how the system compensates for more time spent on a subject of particular interest or difficulty.

    In other words, if a student takes an extra week to work on a unit, how do you mathematically compensate to make sure they don't take an extra week on every unit and will still meet the standards?

  2. Stephanie,
    You've touched on one of the possible big problems. There are a few solutions embedded in the software.

    First off, a student can go further into an area of interest. Imagine a 6th grade social studies class in which there are five major topics. Students are required to complete 100 experience points in each of the following areas: Geography, Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient India, and Ancient China. The student who falls in love with Ancient India could conceivably earn their next 500 points focused only in India assuming a teacher had content that went that deep. If the first 100 points in each area managed to cover the basic standards then everything should work out fine.

    Some of this can be covered with effective course design in which the completion requirements can match with the standards across the board. I can't imagine a class in which there is no specific goals that are required. But the choice enters in when students pick which lesson they will do today. If you're feeling crappy, it's probably not time to write an essay, but reading a story or watching a video might fit your needs that day. These assignments can be given different XP rewards to match their difficulty and time commitment.

    But what happens when a teacher is trying to cram 360 days of curriculum into a 180 day school year. Then they need 2000 exp and none of it becomes student choice. I'm not sure of the solution here. However, I trust teachers to figure it out. Even if the teacher talks twice as fast the students still won't learn twice as much. So either way if the expectations placed upon the teachers aren't realistic, then adjustments have to be made. I believe (along with the creators of 3D Game Lab, Lisa Dawley and Chris Haskell) that given some control over their learning and with available teacher oversight, students will end up learning more. They couldn't possibly end up learning less.

    I suppose in the end it isn't very different than a student who spends an extra week working on their regular assignment. Only, going forward before they're ready won't help their learning; so you're better off with them actually learning half as many complete lessons than a full class worth of lessons they don't understand.

  3. This is pure genius. I wish this program had been developed back when I went through school. I think I might have done a lot better seeing as I'm one of those types who likes to dig into something that grabs my attention and by making it like and by making it like a video game with XP and Lvls my brain could totally see the over all picture of a school year,semester,quarter vs you got an A+ or a C- which doesnt really translate to well to a kid in school.

    Have there been any case studies done with this yet and if so what was the out come on the kids.

    Keep up the good work Marc