Tech Tuesday: The Potential for Gamification

The Future of Gaming and Gamification in Educational Settings

 

Introduction

The most recent issue of the NMC Horizon Report on Higher Education contains a wealth of useful information about current and up-and-coming trends in the field of educational technology. One of the most thought-provoking ideas has been gamification. Now more than ever, people of all ages love playing games. Whether those are on traditional consoles like Xbox, PlayStation, or Wii, smart phones, tablets, or any other device, more people are turning to video games for entertainment. In fact, according to the report, the age range for gaming has widened in recent years, “with people ages 18-35 representing 31% of gamers.”[1]

Educators are now developing teaching methods that harness this obsession for gaming and turn it into a tool for learning in the classroom. Bringing games into the classroom rests on “the notion that gaming mechanics can be applied to all manner of productive activities.”[2] Economic negotiation simulations, for example, allow users to develop critical reasoning and problem solving abilities in a gaming setting. Other options take advantage of badging. There, users grade each other on performance in a number of various attributes and earn badges along the way—similar to Foursquare or Girl Scouts.

 

Examples and Takeaways

At the end of the article, NMC provides a collection of links to notable educational gamification projects. Below are a few notable examples.

The first is called Open Orchestra. Implemented at McGill University, it gives aspiring musicians the chance to take a place in a real orchestra and view videos of the conductor as they play along with the music.[3] For schools without major music departments, software installations like these offer students an invaluable opportunity to simulate live orchestras. Open Orchestra has a wide variety of classical pieces to choose from,

The second is the University of Washington Business Simulations.[4] Their business school adapts complex situations from major corporations and develops simulated group problems for business students to solve. This game in particular provides an outlet for future business leaders to gain practical experience while still in the safe environment of graduate school. Rather than just simply reading business theory, they can apply their knowledge in real-world situations.

The many gamification techniques that the report provides can be placed into two categories—simulation and badging—both of which would be well-received at Tufts University. Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies, one of the most popular minor programs of study, could greatly benefit from business or national economy simulation games. Similar programs could be adapted for international relations or political science majors to play out major historical wars, for example. Smaller seminars from any discipline could implement badging programs to allow students to better know each other and build class confidence. Though I do not know much about the bureaucratic and financial constraints that Tufts has to account for when implementing projects like these, I think taking advantage of a popular recreation form and turning it into a teaching practice would be an incredible idea.


[1] Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., and Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition

Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://canarie.mcgill.ca/project_nep2_index.html

[4] http://seattlebusinessmag.com/blog/uw-business-school-ties-game-maker

Tech Tuesday: Data Visualization

Boston Indicators Project: Accessible Data Visualization Capabilities 

As students, no matter what discipline you study, at some point you will have the unfortunate experience of sitting through a PowerPoint presentation that analyzes table after table of data on topics from economics to biology and psychology. Unless you’ve just had your morning coffee, you probably don’t want to be looking at endless number-filled tables all the time.

Thankfully you don’t have to. A number of initiatives around the country are attempting to make data analysis easier and more exciting by providing visualization software, often at no charge to the user. One of these programs in Massachusetts is the Boston Indicators Project, who according to their website, “[aim] to democratize access to information, foster informed public discourse, track civil goals, and report on change.”

Upon hearing about this project, I assumed the site would serve as a common source data bin for researchers to analyze. In actuality, the project does much more. Yes, data tables are available to download for personal analysis, but more impactful are the visualization options. Below you can see the percentage of 25-34 year-olds with a BA degree or higher in Boston, based on neighborhood, from 2006-2010. The darker regions have a higher percentage, and the lighter regions have a lower percentage.

Members of the Boston Indicators Project produced this image by just using publicly accessible data from the American Community Survey. Personally, I find it much more enjoyable and easier to analyze why East Boston has a higher percentage of residents with a BA than Mattapan from a visual representation like this as opposed to a simple table of data.

However, the project does not stop there. Users can create their own data visualizations for Boston and Massachusetts based on factors from education and housing to the environment and economy through a companion website called the Metro Boston Data Common. They can then post them for public use. For example, the image below uses data from the MA Elections Division to show the number of registered voters by municipality in 2010, again with darker shades having a higher number. For reference: Somerville had 43, 244 registered voters as of 2010.

Students in a variety of disciplines can take advantage of these free, open-source data collections to easily display research variables in a presentation, paper, or even video. As a specialist in the social sciences, the time it takes to create my own graphs in Excel or other traditional software options can deter me from more detailed analysis. Sources like the Boston Indicators Project and the Metro Boston Data Common make that process much smoother and can be a vital tool for student use. Give it a try on your next big assignment!

Tech Tuesday: iPads & Laptops

In the past few months I have begun to see more students pulling out iPads in class than ever before. One question that often arises, both in the educational community and in the technological market is, will tablet computers ever overtake the conventional laptop in popularity? Rather than focus on the competitive relationship between the two kinds of devices, I will discuss how even though tablets like iPads are becoming much more useful today, they still cannot fully replace a laptop.

First, what can the iPad do? In the educational sector, it has some incredible capabilities. Apps allow you to take notes, annotate readings, and create presentations. Plus the iPad can serve as a fully functional digital camera to take pictures and record video, in addition to recording lectures. One of my personal favorite apps that allows you write on photos to integrate them into presentations is PhotoPen. If you ever need to highlight certain aspects of a photo to share with friends or include in a class presentation, this is the app for you. Plus it can be cool to add moustaches to your friend’s picture, too. College students in particular like the iPad’s intuitive interface with many characteristics of the iPhone and iPod Touch, both of which are more common devices to see on campus. These include the spotlight search, seamless app deletion, iTunes, App Store, and many others.

Of course there are some limitations to tablet computers. Without a dedicated, default word processing option, for example, students are not going to think about going to their tablet to write a paper. Not to mention, typing out a report on a touch keyboard can be trickier and more time-consuming than using a traditional laptop. The lack of a large hard drive also means that you cannot store as many files as you could on a laptop either. However, it should be noted that iPads were never designed to be fantastic word processors or file storage devices, so these limitations should be entirely expected.

So will the iPad, or any tablet ever replace a laptop? Unless developers devise ways to mitigate some of the current limitations, I can’t see it happening. That being said, I always love when I can rely on a tablet to take notes and record lectures and not have to carry my bulky laptop around with me from class to class. When in doubt, you can always consider combination tablet and laptop computers to get the best of both worlds.

Tech Tuesday: Useful iPad Apps

Having never experienced using an iPad before this semester, I did not know what to expect when I started using it. Sure, I assumed there would be a few comparable apps that I could see in higher definition than on my iPhone, but I was not expecting such a drastic increase in capabilities when moving to a tablet computer.

While there are a vast number of apps that I use on a daily basis that I could point to, I am going to focus on two—Google Drive and Educreations.

Google recently expanded its popular Google Docs tool to include simpler document editing and sharing capabilities, and they released this new form as Google Drive. In addition to its highly useful web-based components, Google created a Google Drive iPad app to appeal to tablet users. I have found that student classes, clubs, and project groups are turning to Google Drive more and more to simultaneously edit and share content from spreadsheets, word documents, and PowerPoint presentations, just to name a few. As a result, accessing these documents wherever I am, even when I do not have my laptop, has become increasingly important. The iPad Google Drive app allows me to do just that. I can study, edit, and even create my own documents just as if I was at my computer. Additionally, opponents of the iPad often point to its lack of any word processing functions as a reason that it cannot replace a traditional laptop or desktop computer. Google Drive fixes this deficiency. Now you can compose a paper or build a spreadsheet just as if you were on a “real” computer. You can even do it as quickly as normal if you happen to have a tactile keyboard attachment for the tablet. Google Drive has definitely become an app I use every day.

Educreations is another highly useful free application. In this app, you can record yourself writing on your tablet as if it were a blank whiteboard. You can also record your own voice or images at the same time. Science, math, and language professors in particular have found this app very useful in their classes. Instead of pointing students to other online resources to find out how an equation is solved or how a verb is conjugated, they can record that information themselves and post that video to Trunk or their class website. I personally use it to practice kanji for my Japanese class. I will write the character in a light grey ink and then write over it in black to practice the stroke order. Educreations has cut my study time in half and reduced the amount of paper I consume by allowing me to repeatedly delete a page and start fresh. It has really become a go-to app of mine.

I never thought I would come to use my iPad as much as I have, but through Google Drive, Educreations, and many other apps, I have found that I use it every day. Even though I do not feel it could replace my laptop, it definitely comes close.

-Ezra Dunkle-Polier

Tech Tuesday: Qualtrics

Have you ever found yourself needing data for a class project, blog post, or article and wanted an easy survey creator? Do you run a blog and want to poll your readership to ask for feedback? Unknown to most students, Tufts has access to a service that can do just that.

Qualtrics is a user-friendly and simple service where students and faculty can create, distribute, and analyze user data all in one place. Whether you want to make and send a survey for your psychology or political science course, or easily analyze poll data, Qualtrics is the place for you.

To access Qualtrics, simply login with your Tufts username and password at www.tufts.qualtrics.com. From there, your screen should look something like this:

There are a number of advantages that I have found from using Qualtrics compared to other survey generating websites. First, when you are generating directions and questions for your survey, all you have to do is change the pre-inserted text for the question and any possible answer choices. Other sites force you to heavily customize each question in separate windows, so seeing the final product and editing as you go is nearly impossible. Qualtrics has that feature built in with the ubiquitous “preview” option. Additionally, as with any program with sensitive data, the risk of losing data by accidentally clicking delete runs high. Thankfully, Qualtrics forces you to go through two different “are you sure you want to delete?” windows, one of which requires you to type the word “delete.” That way, your data is safe from deletion unless you truly want to get rid of it.

A Few Projects Where Students Might Use Qualtrics

1. To Send a Survey for Class

The usability and easily navigable interface of Qualtrics is perfect for class surveys.

2. To receive data for a large research project or thesis

No matter the extent of the project, from a short research paper to a senior honors thesis, Qualtrics can help you collect and analyze data.

3. To practice data analysis and statistics

Send a few test surveys to your friends and practice your analysis before sending real ones.

4. To poll the readership of a blog or other publication and receive qualitative feedback.

With the ability to monitor responses for each individual question, you can analyze more than just numerical data.

This is not to say that the program is flawless. For instance, I found that the data analysis portion of the tool seemed to have a confusing level of menus at first, though after a few minutes, they began to make more sense. Additionally, the number of export options and instant sorting capabilities make often time-consuming analysis a breeze. Not to mention, for those who need step-by-step instructions, useful help links are located at the top of any page to guide the process.

One major resource that anyone who wants to consistently make Qualtrics their survey tool of choice should access is the detailed tutorial videos on the Qualtrics University website. There you can get comprehensive guidelines for using all facets of the Qualtrics Research Suite. I particularly recommend the “Basic Training” video, which quickly allows users to make their own detailed surveys.

So there you have it, a highly useful and simple tool to create, distribute, and analyze your own surveys and polls that is already available for Tufts students and staff.  I hope you consider trying it out for your next big research paper or psych study.

TechTuesday: LinkedIn

When I had the opportunity to have an internship in Washington D.C. this past summer, all I heard about was the importance of networking. For years, that meant attending events, passing out business cards, and scheduling coffee dates. Recently, however, online career networking on LinkedIn has taken off and serves as a vital resource to both young and older professionals.

The Basics
LinkedIn has a number of useful resources to make connections and build networks. You begin by setting up your profile and resume. There you can include education, work experience, and any special skills—much like a paper resume. You can also choose to import a resume document, add social networking usernames, and basic contact information to include in your profile as well.

From there, it is all about growing your network. LinkedIn gives you the option to transfer contacts from Facebook and Twitter, or you can manually search for people from your school, in your region, or in your desired field. You can manage privacy settings to your particular comfort level—anything from completely open to very private. It is entirely up to you.

Highlights
I personally love the “levels” of networking that LinkedIn allows you to maintain. You can see how many degrees away from you someone is (i.e. two degrees for a “friend of a friend”) and find any mutual connections. I have taken advantage of that to email a close friend who happens to know someone with whom I would like to connect and ask for an introduction.

Drawbacks
The interface for LinkedIn poses a few challenges to the beginning user. For instance, the different messaging methods can become confusing until you really get the hang of them, and the layout options leave something to be desired.

That being said, LinkedIn was not created to look pretty. It was designed to be a valuable networking tool for professionals to use to get jobs, and it is the most widely used and successful website that serves that function.