Visiting with Game Designers in Budapest

Virtual class session with CEU

I (virtually) visited a Political Ecology and Environmental Justice graduate class in Budapest to help them with their game design projects a few weeks back. I thought it was a great session, and I hope the students got useful feedback from me and my co-panelists.

My full write-up and recording of the visit are on my department’s site: Designing Games for Political Ecology and Environmental Justice

A few personal notes:

The best/worst part about visiting a class in Budapest from Massachusetts:

  • We thought we had figured out the time zone scheduling, but were nearly undone by only realizing at the last minute that the daylight saving switch happens weeks apart for our two countries.

What I could have done better:

  • Tell the students up front how hard I find it to present creative work for critique, and that I would have been considerably more anxious in their shoes.
  • Used less design jargon.
  • Couched my suggestions in less declarative terms.

“Collaborative Overload”: Professional Team Performance Through a Management Lens

From the Jan/Feb 2016 Harvard Business Review: Collaborative Overload.

Emphasis mine:

“Research we’ve done across more than 300 organizations shows that the distribution of collaborative work is often extremely lopsided. In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees…As a recent study led by Ning Li, of the University of Iowa, shows, a single “extra miler”—an employee who frequently contributes beyond the scope of his or her role—can drive team performance more than all the other members combined.

“But…[w]e find that what starts as a virtuous cycle soon turns vicious. Soon helpful employees become institutional bottlenecks: Work doesn’t progress until they’ve weighed in. Worse, they are so overtaxed that they’re no longer personally effective…In our quest to reap the rewards of collaboration, we have inadvertently created open markets for it without recognizing the costs. What can leaders do to manage these demands more effectively?”

(I should stress in the extreme that I don’t put myself in this category; this isn’t a “woe is me” post. I do feel that I recognize this happening to numerous colleagues.)

The article suggests several solutions, like detailed time and communications tracking, surveys and feedback, and other data-gathering, followed by instituting processes, technologies, and even physical space changes to support the changes the interpretation of the data suggests.

Also, from a sidebar on inequities around the expectations and views of women’s collaborative work:

“In an experiment led by the NYU psychologist Madeline Heilman, a man who stayed late to help colleagues earned 14% higher ratings than a woman who did the same. When neither helped, the woman was rated 12% lower than the man. By improving systems for measuring, recognizing, and rewarding collaborative contributions, leaders can shift the focus away from the gender of the employee and toward the value added.”

I’m not sure exactly how the system vaguely described here could help reduce systemic implicit bias, but it would likely be better than the “impressions” suggested by the colleague ratings above.

Qualification 1: I work in higher ed, and most, if not, all of the research mentioned here seems to have been focused on private industry. Different environments, different interests, different temperaments. I would suggest that the pressures on these organization are increasingly similar, however.

Qualification 2: At least some of these authors admit that they help organizations develop solutions to these problems, so it’s in their interests to portray these challenges in ways that they can “solve.” That said, I didn’t see anything in the article that suggests they are arguing in bad faith.

“Do Black Students Benefit as Grad Rates Increase?” (Often: No)

From the new report: Rising Tide II: Do Black Students Benefit as Grad Rates Increase?

Emphasis mine:

[Andrew Nichols]: Our data show that almost 70 percent of the schools we studied increased graduation rates for black students from 2003-2013. However, those gains lagged behind those of white students, so more than half of institutions (53 percent) failed to narrow the completion gap between black and white students.

Worse still, almost a third of the schools (73 schools) saw graduation rates for black students either decrease or stay the same. And an alarming number of institutions, 39, experienced both declining graduation rates for black students along with widening gaps.

Fortunately, our data was not all doom and gloom. Fifty-two institutions that raised overall grad rates stood out for also substantially improving black student success. These institutions increased the graduation rate for black students by at least 9 percentage points, which is twice the average increase for all institutions in our sample. They also reduced the graduation rate gap.

These institutions prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what institutions do — or don’t do — matters a great deal. And most important, they provide real-life examples of what other institutions can do.

10 Tips for Building a Student Blog Network

From Laura Gibb’s Anatomy of an Online Course: 10 Tips for Building a Student Blog Network, this is a great mix of logistical streamlining and helping students achieve ownership.The great part about learning and teaching how to use blogs is how transferable the knowledge is; this isn’t like learning how to navigate a piece of proprietary ed-tech, the relevance of which will likely vanish as soon as the class is done (if not before).

The great part about learning and teaching how to use blogs is how transferable the knowledge is; this isn’t like learning how to navigate a piece of proprietary ed-tech, the relevance of which will likely vanish as soon as the class is done (if not before).

That’s why I particularly love the first two tips: Start students blogging right away, and Encourage students to customize their blogs. This foregrounds the notion that the students’ blogs relevance extends beyond individual assignments into tools students can use to construct and express their online identities beyond the in-class experience.

Teaching Anthropology of/Through Games at UMass Amherst

Teaching Anthropology of/Through Games collects UMass Amherst professor Krista Harper’s reports on developing and teaching a class in Fall 2014 on anthropology, games, and how the two interact. I helped Krista develop the game design activities for her students, focused on having students explore models from seminal anthropology journal articles with game structures. The students did phenomenal work!

Where do faculty leave the innovation-decision process?

A rich-for-mining research article that could inform any strategy  for instructional innovation (while this is focused on physics, there’s a lot to draw from for any discipline):

“Use of research-based instructional strategies in introductory physics: Where do faculty leave the innovation-decision process?” (2012)

I recommend at least skimming through to the Discussion and Conclusions & Implications sections, but here are a few key findings pulled from the abstract:

“The largest losses occur at the continuation stage, with approximately 1/3 of faculty discontinuing use of all research-based instructional strategies (RBIS) after trying one or more of these strategies. Knowledge and/or use of RBIS are significantly correlated with reading teaching-related journals, attending talks and workshops related to teaching, attending the physics and astronomy new faculty workshop, having an interest in using more RBIS, being female, being satisfied with meeting instructional goals, and having a permanent, full-time position. The types of variables that are significant at each stage vary substantially. These results suggest that common dissemination strategies are good at creating knowledge about RBIS and motivation to try a RBIS, but more work is needed to support faculty during implementation and continued use of RBIS. Also, contrary to common assumptions, faculty age, institutional type, and percentage of job related to teaching were not found to be barriers to knowledge or use at any stage. High research productivity and large class sizes were not found to be barriers to use of at least some RBIS.”

Also via Teach Better Podcast Episode 25: Changing the Culture of Teaching With Noah Finkelstein

The main unit of instructional change in higher ed? The academic department.

A lot to chew on with this article!

Here’s a few choice quotes:

“Instead of steady-state interactions, a change agent may encourage the development of new ideas (emergent change) by connecting faculty members that do not usually interact and thus may have diverse perspectives…”

“Because of these periphery nodes, this department may require prolonged support before the entire network is reached. Change agents should also be aware of the isolated individuals. New ideas may reach these individuals through means other than informal social connections (by formal meetings or indirectly through department culture).”

“To spread emergent ideas through policy changes, the change agent will need to ensure the new ideas are reaching the formal leadership. Studies have found that the department chair plays a crucial role in connecting the innovations created by the individual faculty with the administration of the university…”

And finally:

“When subgroups exist, the change agent must be aware that opinions and norms may vary across subgroups. Targeting individuals in different subgroups can increase the reach of prescribed change initiatives. The potential variety of opinions can also be valuable to encourage the emergence of new ideas.”


Via Teach Better Podcast Episode 25: Changing the Culture of Teaching With Noah Finkelstein

Side note: this all maps cleanly onto the work in the 2003 collected volume Group Creativity: Innovation through Collaboration DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195147308.001.0001

Full citation and abstract:

“Promoting instructional change: using social network analysis to understand the informal structure of academic departments,” Higher Education , Volume 70, Issue 3, pp 315-335
DOI: 10.1007/s10734-014-9831-0

Abstract: Calls for improvement of undergraduate science education have resulted in numerous initiatives that seek to improve student learning outcomes by promoting changes in faculty teaching practices. Although many of these initiatives focus on individual faculty, researchers consider the academic department to be a highly productive focus for creating change. In this paper, we argue that it is important for change agents to understand the informal social structure of the academic department and introduce social network analysis techniques to uncover this social structure. Examples are given from data collected in five academic departments. A short sociometric web survey was used to ask instructors to identify colleagues with whom they discuss teaching and the frequency of their discussions. Techniques of social network analysis are used to determine the current state of the department, target participants for a change initiative, and anticipate the spread of new teaching ideas. Results suggest that these techniques identify informal structures that would otherwise be hidden and that may be important for planning change initiatives.


Two recent studies on games and gamification in undergraduate classrooms.

The articles linked and abstracted below are both have many significant implications for using games and game-like designs for learning, but the key takeaway is that we can’t just say certain implementations of gameful learning work because they look and feel “right.” I’m so glad to see more assessment start rolling out, so we have more legitimate foundations to work from as we design gameful learning environments and activities.
Valerie J. Shute, Matthew Ventura, Fengfeng Ke, The power of play: The effects of Portal 2 and Lumosity on cognitive and noncognitive skills, Computers & Education, Volume 80, January 2015, Pages 58-67, ISSN 0360-1315,
In this study, we tested 77 undergraduates who were randomly assigned to play either a popular video game (Portal 2) or a popular brain training game (Lumosity) for 8 h. Before and after gameplay, participants completed a set of online tests related to problem solving, spatial skill, and persistence. Results revealed that participants who were assigned to play Portal 2 showed a statistically significant advantage over Lumosity on each of the three composite measures: problem solving, spatial skill, and persistence. Portal 2 players also showed significant increases from pretest to posttest on specific small- and large-scale spatial tests while those in the Lumosity condition did not show any pretest to posttest differences on any measure. Results are discussed in terms of the positive impact video games can have on cognitive and noncognitive skills.
 Michael D. Hanus, Jesse Fox, Assessing the effects of gamification in the classroom: A longitudinal study on intrinsic motivation, social comparison, satisfaction, effort, and academic performance, Computers & Education, Volume 80, January 2015, Pages 152-161, ISSN 0360-1315,
Gamification, the application of game elements to non-game settings, continues to grow in popularity as a method to increase student engagement in the classroom. We tested students across two courses, measuring their motivation, social comparison, effort, satisfaction, learner empowerment, and academic performance at four points during a 16-week semester. One course received a gamified curriculum, featuring a leaderboard and badges, whereas the other course received the same curriculum without the gamified elements. Our results found that students in the gamified course showed less motivation, satisfaction, and empowerment over time than those in the non-gamified class. The effect of course type on students’ final exam scores was mediated by students’ levels of intrinsic motivation, with students in the gamified course showing less motivation and lower final exam scores than the non-gamified class. This suggests that some care should be taken when applying certain gamification mechanics to educational settings.

Serious Games for Education

From Karl Kapp’s post: Abstracts of Three Meta-Analysis Studies of Serious Games:

  • Serious games were found to be more effective in terms of learning and retention than conventional instruction methods.
  • Mixed results concerning if learning games are more motivating or not than traditional instruction.
  • Games should be supplemented with other instruction methods.
  • Games should be played in multiple training sessions.
  • Games should be played in group.
  • Games appear to increase learner confidence (self-efficacy).
  • Games help increase declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge and retention over traditional non-interactive training.
  • There is strong evidence of publication bias in games research.
  • Trainees learned more, relative to a comparison group, when simulation games conveyed course material actively rather than passively.
  • Learning occurred when learners could access the game as many times as desired.
  • As above, the game was more effective when it was a supplement to other instructional methods rather than stand-alone instruction.
  • Learners learned less from simulation games than comparison instructional methods when the instruction the comparison group received as a substitute for the game actively engaged them in the learning experience.(so activity, not game elements seems to increase the learning).
  • The most frequently occurring outcomes and impacts of games for learning were knowledge acquisition/content understanding and affective and motivational outcomes.