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How Can You Help a Multitasker Focus? Education Strategies for Digital Natives

I ran across an interesting item today by   about how today’s “students can’t resist multitasking, and it’s impairing their memory.” The entire article is worth reading, here’s a taste of the conclusions:

Young people think they can perform two challenging tasks at once, Meyer acknowledges, but “they are deluded,” he declares. It’s difficult for anyone to properly evaluate how well his or her own mental processes are operating, he points out, because most of these processes are unconscious. And, Meyer adds, “there’s nothing magical about the brains of so-called ‘digital natives’ that keeps them from suffering the inefficiencies of multitasking. They may like to do it, they may even be addicted to it, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s far better to focus on one task from start to finish.”

In thinking about my own teaching strategies, I realized I’ve been using multiple methods to channel multi-taskers and help them maintain focus.

For Assignments

  • I have students prepare a short summary of assigned reading. This helps students maintain attention in small manageable pieces while promoting active reading.
  • In other writing assignments, I provide students with a detailed outline with what is expected in each section. Although there is no question that writing a research paper from beginning to end is a valuable skill, that’s not the focus of my courses. More importantly, I view this scaffolding as an appropriate way to help students develop those skill.

During Class

  • Every class involves a variety of activities (e.g., listening, talking, watching, reading, writing, thinking, and doing). I mostly teach courses that meet one day a week in the evening. The time goes by more quickly when there’s a variety of tasks and experiences.
  • Changing up a student’s cognitive load with some moments demanding high concentration (like a 5-minute quiz) and others providing down time (like pauses between student presentations) increases stamina.
  • I frequently invite guest speakers. Meeting a new person activates social energies, one of the frequent causes of interruption. Also, like teens visiting a friends house, students tend to be on their best behavior when there’s a guest at class.
  • To help channel student multi-tasking tendencies, I invite them to live-tweet guest speaker visits. This has an extra benefit of providing a permanent record of the event with valuable feedback to the speaker.
  • Just about every class I have students do “break-out” where they discuss a topic in groups of 2-4 students. Each group then reports back out to the class, providing a structured discussion of the topic. There’s no hiding in a small group, making it harder to attempt to multi-task. Also, students naturally tend to compare their own responses to other groups, so that’s also an engaging activity.

Of course, the best way to minimize the disruptions of multi-tasking is to train ourselves to focus. Here’s helpful advice from Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University–Dominguez Hills:

This ability to resist the lure of technology can be consciously cultivated, Rosen maintains. He advises students to take “tech breaks” to satisfy their cravings for electronic communication: After they’ve labored on their schoolwork uninterrupted for 15 minutes, they can allow themselves two minutes to text, check websites, and post to their hearts’ content. Then the devices get turned off for another 15 minutes of academics.

What’s your strategy for avoiding the pitfalls of multi-tasking? Have you found anything in classroom settings that is particularly helpful?

Image credit: Steven L. Johnson

Highlighting Popular #MIS3538 Content

With an assist from David Lamb, here’s the most popular Social Media Innovation student posts and blogs in the past six weeks.

Here’s a list of the 5 most commented on posts at the Course Participation Hub:

And, here are the 5 most viewed student blogs: 

Check it out, there’s some great stuff there!

Whitehead’s 3 Stages of Learning: Romance, Discipline and Fruition

An apt suggestion for structuring a class, course, or curriculum.

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once suggested that, properly organized, education should proceed through three stages. In the first stage, that of romance, the student’s interest is aroused; he or she is brought face to face with the object of study in all its power and mystery. If the subject is mechanical engineering, for example, the student could be taken to see a steam locomotive or a steel mill in operation. In the second stage, labeled discipline the student acquires the concepts and methods required to analyze the subject and its parts and processes. In the third stage, that of fruition, the methods and concepts are applied to the subject so its structure and functioning may be understood and, perhaps, improved (Whitehead, 1929).

From W. Richard Scott’s Organizations: Rational, Natural, and Open Systems (pg. 3).

3 Key Lessons I Learned in 5 semesters of College Course Gamification

Back in Spring, 2011 I decided to implement gamification for my Social Media Innovation course at Temple University Fox School of Business. Each semester I’ve add more components or tweaked the implementation of our Social Media Innovation Quest.

Students can instantly earn points and badges for creating a blog, creating blog posts, commenting, and a handful of surprise WordPress-related activities. There’s also several dozen more complex activities they can submit for review, with those achievements being granted every 24-48 hours.

Badges used in Fall 2012

Badges used in Fall 2012

The class website displays a leaderboard with the twelve highest scoring students. Finally, at the end of each weekly class meeting students an even larger list of students are recognized for “leveling-up.”

Here are three key lessons I have learned through student feedback.

1) Students report that the experience is fun and motivates them to do more work:

It adds an extra element of fun, which I think engages class more so than not. Definitely not time wasted.

I think this approach works well. I know for me personally it pushes me to do more activities and comment on posts more. I am not sure why that it but it does make things a little more competitive.

There is a lot of information and tasks to be done in this course. With that said I enjoy the gamification aspect of it because it gives these tasks we need to complete a sense of urgency and fun.

I loved this course and I enjoyed everything about it. … After learning how to get the information it was definitely motivational to see your name on the leader board even if it was for just a week or two.

I really enjoyed the gamifying of this course. It motivated me to be more up-to-date with the course materials. I just think it’s a nice little morale boost to have this kind of approach to a class. Although I’m not at the top of the leaderboard, it’s still fun to see how far I’ve come along. Gamifying also helped me become more proactive in my work.

The gamifying approach this course took made it so much more enjoyable for me to learn as a student. Not only was I learning, but I was earning points while learning the content.

Don’t change anything. This has been my favorite course at Temple. It was so enjoyable that the class came to be a hobby of mine.

2) The biggest boosts to motivation come from competing with other students, a sense of accomplishment, and recognition.

I wish more professors would gameify their courses. Gamification enables students to be academically competitive without accessing each other’s grades, and it’s my belief that it encourages students to participate more.

I think it adds a little more fun to the class. Although it isn’t something that I feel like I need to check every day it is a cool feeling to get points for assignments. I always get a little excited when I get an email that I unlocked an achievement.

I really like it. I like classes where I am able to turn things in on my own time. I am good at setting my own pace, so I was extremely successful at completing all of the projects in a timely manner without having to cram. I think gamifying the course is a great idea because it lets you know how you are doing compared to the rest of the class as well as who’s blog to check out as an example of an activity.

I personally like the gamifying approach because this particular course involves a great deal of outside the classroom work. Virtually all of our assignments are digital, so providing an interactive feedback system that keeps the students attention is helpful.

The badges helped me track what I had done and also provided reassurance that what I had submitted was received.

I very much enjoyed the freedom and flexibility that was offered with this class with the incentive that came from the Quest. It encouraged me to be a bit more aggressive, and who doesn’t like getting class recognition for your hard work?? :)

3) There is a small percentage of students who do not find gamification motivational. (My best estimate is this is up to 5-10% of the students who have taken my course.) Even then, their view tends to be more neutral than negative.

I don’t like it because I am not into gaming but; I do appreciate your attempt to explore new options in order to keep up with technological trends. However, I don’t think you should do away with it in the future if it helps to engage students who otherwise wouldn’t be.

Honestly I didn’t pay much attention to it. I had so much else to worry about that being on a leader board didn’t seem to be the top priority for the class. My main goal was to complete the assignments I had to complete.

In summary, it has been a rewarding experience to gamify a college course. I think there is great potential for adding gamification to classes, particularly when coupled with self-directed learning.

 

Notes:

  • This post is an update to an earlier description of the Gamification of MIS3538.
  • The quotes are from students who took the class in Fall, 2012 and represent a full cross-section of performance (e.g., low-, medium-, and high-achievers). Average class size has been roughly 50 students per semester
  • Press coverage of the gamfication of this course is available here.

12 Awesome Infographics Created with piktochart

This is the third semester of teaching Social Media Innovation where I have assigned an infographic project. The last two semester’s students worked in teams and created a single infographic using whatever software they wanted.

This semester we are using the piktochart.com for both individual and group projects. Each student will create two infographics individually, and then one as a team. For the first assignment the students were instructed to create an infographic on any topic they wanted–the idea was just to get accustomed to using piktochart. The results exceeded my expectations as quite a few students created awesome informative infographics!

Here’s a selection of 12 that stood out as good examples of student work and may be relevant to a wider audience.

Continue reading

In-Class Activity to Teach Key Concepts of SEO and Pagerank

This week in my social media innovation class we covered pagerank as the foundation for search engine optimization. In preparing for class, I couldn’t locate any activities that illustrate the key concepts of page rank… so I created one myself!

Collaborative Filtering Voting Activity (a la pagerank)

The process is a little bit complicated, but it worked out well. I used Lego-like blocks as a tangible symbol of “voting,” akin to the votes a website receives through in-bound links.

Student returning blocks (credit: Steven L. Johnson)

The high-level process went like this:

  • I quickly organized students the 55-60 students into 16 (3-4 person) teams, assigning each team a number.
  • The students selected a team Reader, Recorder and Voter(s). I gave the Voters 10 blocks per team.
  • The students completed short simple task with an outcome that could be readily assessed by other teams (in this case, asking students to develop a 5-7 word tagline for our class).
  • They then went through two rounds of voting for the best tagline. The Voters roamed the room talking with Readers. Voters handed out 1 or more blocks to the team of their choice. The Recorder noted the team number the blocks were received from.
  • Round 1
    • In the first round every block counted equally: as one vote.
    • At the end of the round each Recorder announced their vote total. I entered these into a spreadsheet that the class could see. I rank ordered the teams by total votes and then assigned each team a weight of 1 to 5 based on that rank (with a 5 point weighting for the most popular and 1 point for the least).
    • The Recorders then turned over their team’s blocks to the Voter for Round 2. (One team received zero votes in Round 1: I gave them a block to use for Round 2.)
  • Round 2
    • In the second round the value of a block varied depending on the weight for the team that gave it.
    • Voters, Readers, and Recorders repeated the voting process.
    • At the end of the round, Recorders calculated the weighted total for their teams votes.
    • We did another roll call, identified the winning team and did a debrief.

The entire activity took about 40 minutes. The winner of Round 1 dropped near the bottom in Round 2. The winner from Round 2 was a team that finished in the middle after Round 1.

Learning Outcomes

This exercise is not intended to teach students the Pagerank algorithm! Instead, it helps students understand the managerial implications of the algorithm for marketing a website.

  • Students learn that in-bound links, not out-bound ones, determine pagerank.
  • Students learn that not all in-bound links are the same–some count more than others.
  • Students observed there is more to a high rank than good content (in this case, a course tagline). Additional factors play into relatively popularity. Most noticeably in this case, the group physically situated in the middle of the back of the room was hard to get to and, unsurprisingly, finished with the lowest vote totals.

Potential Variations

  • For a smaller class, I might try a third round of voting or repeat the exercise with a small variation (either a new task or some voting limitations).
  • If I had fewer teams I would also provide fewer blocks to vote with.
  • Instead of re-using the blocks from Round 1 as the number of Round 2 votes, a more realistic scenario is to hand out a second set of blocks so everyone has equal votes.
  • Also, rather than determining the winner solely based on the Round 2 totals, I would probably add together scores from Round 1 and Round 2.

Summary

I am a big believer in the use of in-class activities to promote learning. Activating multiple pathways–both physical and intellectual–reinforces both learning and recall of key concepts.

Do you have any favorite in-class exercises for under-graduate or master’s students?

Feel free to adapt my handout for this exercise (Prof Johnson Pagerank Activity).  If you do, please let me know how it goes for you!

Gamification of MIS3538: Social Media Innovation

Temple University Social Media Innovation

Gamification in Higher Education

Is it possible to use gamification to motivate students above and beyond grades?

These students in my class certainly think so:

“The Quest was an amazing experience. Being able to score myself really helped me stay competitive with my site and made me do things now as opposed to later because I feared losing my rank.”

“I thought this was a great idea on Professor Johnson’s end, mainly because it was a friendly competitive challenge, and really engaged everyone to take part in it. Personally, I struggled in the beginning to keep up with other students, but since I had quite a few posts I was able to get myself on the leaderboard most of the time. There was definitely a peak in the middle of the semester where I really focused on posts and activities. Even though I never made it to the top, I was happy I made it to the leaderboards. Overall I thought that it was a great idea, and I have also noted the experience with other teachers to maybe incorporate it with other classes.”

Achievement badge for 7 blog posts

“The Quest helped to motivate projects outside of the classroom. Quest points absolutely made me do projects in a timely matter so that I did not look like a slacker in front of the class. I thought it was a great idea to announce winners this let students know if they were slacking. Originally when the Quest started I was not ranked my goal starting out in the class was to make the leader board. By the end I was ranked [in top third]. The Quest without a doubt motivated me more to do more projects.”

“Participating in the Quest, what I learned was that you have to be dedicated and be active for your blog to be successful. In order to be on the Quest leader board, you had to be active and keep up with the activities given. During the first couple weeks I was on the leader board. However, after slowing down my activity on my blog, I was no longer on the leader board and was not on it since. The professor said that although being on the leader board does not equal an A for the course, people who are on the leader board generally do better in the class. I can see how this would hold true because being constantly active is one part of what makes a good blog. I believe that not being on the leader board directly correlated with the amount of effort that I put into the activities at that time. If I had kept with the activities as they were given and stayed on the leader board, then I could have had a better blog overall. “

“The Quest” leaderboard is a great idea for operating a class. Even though there’s no grading benefit to participating, it served as a great checklist for logging which social media activities each user completed. … Additionally, human beings are born with a competitive nature, so even though there’s no tangible reward for participating in “The Quest”, students still have a desire to compete to be the best among their peers. … Going over the leaderboard at the end of class in front of everyone also helps motivate students to participate. People love attention so this is a great opportunity to get noticed in front of a large audience. “

(All quotes from end of semester reports by students in Spring, 2012 section of MIS3538: Social Media Innovation.)

Social Media Innovation Quest

I recently completed my third semester teaching Temple University’s Fox School of Business MIS3538: Social Media Innovation course with the Social Media Innovation Quest as a gamification element.

I developed The Quest in order to encourage self-paced learning through a series of required and self-selected activities that got progressively more difficult. Through a combination of the WordPress Achievements plug-in and Google Forms, students:

  • Earn points and badges,
  • View their standing on a leader board, and
  • Receive weekly recognition for “leveling-up”.

As the student feedback attests, well designed gamification can work in a college class room. In the rest of this blog post I’ll lay out the major elements of The Quest along with why I think they work.

Introducing the Quest

The Quest starts at the beginning of the semester, with points accruing to students with activities beginning on the first day of class. In the course syllabus, it is introduced as follows:

To help motivate students to maximize learning opportunities in this course, we also run a Social Media Innovation Quest (hereafter, The Quest). This is a “scoring” system that awards Quest Points (QPs), badges, and levels for class-related achievements. Students who gain sufficient QPs will be promoted to higher Quest levels and will rise to the top of the leaderboard!

Quest points, badges, levels, and the leaderboard are for fun!

Lots of Quest Points, numerous badges, a high level, and the top spot on the leaderboard are no guarantee of a high course grade. Nonetheless, past experience shows that the number of QPs earned and strong course performance usually goes hand-in-hand. Therefore, during the semester your QPs do provide one assessment, albeit imperfect, of your course performance to date.

The class instructor solely determines your grade based on completed work, assignment requirements, and grading criteria. Pay attention to the formal assignment requirements as posted on the Course Instructor Blog and expectations stated on the blog and in the course.

The building block for the quest is Quest Points. There are primarily earned by completing activities that are also reflected in a student’s participation grade (20% of final grade) or the major individual assignment grade (40% of final grade).

The Mechanics

The Achievements plug-in automatically keeps track of how many posts and comments students make on the Course Participation Hub blog (all 45 students had authoring privileges at the blog). I set it up so that students earn points (and badges) for their first three posts and for pre-set levels of comments (e.g., 1st, 5th, 10th, 20th, and on up to 100th). To keep things interesting, the comment levels are not entirely predictable and some of the achievements are even hidden until earned.

There are many ways that students can earn points (and badges). Every couple of weeks during the semester I release more activities. Once a student completed an activity, they enter it at the Activity Submission Form. I review submitted activities multiple times a week and either (a) grant the achievement or (b) provide feedback on what still needs to be done.

(If I had an unlimited budget for enhancing my “courseware,” I would create a system to release new activities individually based on which activities had already been completed. Also, I would have some way to have all achievements machine-graded in order to provide immediate feedback. If anyone wants to fund such an effort, please contact me!)

Leaderboards and Leveling-Up

On the course website there is a leaderboard showing the very top performing students (Top 10 out of 45). Compared to a typical course where the highest performing students have little motivation to achieve beyond an “A” level, the Top 10 leaderboard provides constant reinforcement to highly motivated students to go well beyond the course requirements.

The leaderboard promoted at the end of every (weekly) class meeting serves a different purpose. It does not show point totals, instead it shows a much larger number of students grouped by level. The cut-off for making this leaderboard tracked the pace for “meeting course expectations” (roughly a B grade).

Also, instead of implicitly rewarding only the top performers, everyone who made significant efforts that week is recognizing for “leveling-up” to a new performance band. This provides motivation not just for the very top performing students, but important feedback for everyone in the course.

Why does it work?

I’ll leave the final word to my students:
level brilliant badge

I find this system very useful because it served as a strong motivator for me to stay not only on top of the material, but also to be on the leader board. As a student who consistently appeared on the leader board through the whole semester, I must acknowledge that the level of satisfaction I gained each time I moved a level up, strongly influenced my course performance and the amount of effort I put into completion of all activities.

I would say that The Quest is important because of the way it ties everything together and incentivizes getting your work done. On top of that, it motivates some students to go above and beyond, which enriches the class experience for the rest of us. Over the course of the semester, the participation hub got better and better with comments and people replying to comments. Even though it was for a grade, you can’t just make up stuff in the comments – you have to put some thought into what you’re saying (I may have put too much thought into mine, but I felt good after I gave my opinions on things which I felt were well explained).

The Quest Leader board was the best aspect of the social media class. Having a friendly competitive atmosphere that motivated all of us to learn as much as we could about social media was awesome. There were some activities within the leadership board that I wish we received a tutorial on first but I guess the best way to learn something new is to actually try it out and fail a couple of times.

MIS3538: Social Media Innovation is an upper-level elective offered by the Management Information Systems Department in the Fox School of Business.

Lynda.com training materials available to Temple U. students, faculty and staff

There was an exciting announcement this week from Temple University Computer Services. Students, faculty and staff now have access to an extensive online training library.

Computer Services is now providing free and unlimited access to “lynda .com” for current Temple students, faculty, and staff through a subscription service at lynda.temple.edu. This resource is an online library where recognized industry experts teach the latest software tools and skills through high-quality instructional videos. The tutorials cover a broad range of subjects such as business skills, photography, home computing, design, music and video, 3D and animation, and web design and development.

Take advantage of:

  • Over 1,100 courses taught by industry experts for all levels of learners
  • 24/7 training
  • New courses added every week
  • Access to exercise files to follow along as you learn
  • The option to watch complete courses or individual videos as needed
  • Access from iPhone or iPad
  • Certificates of Completion

There’s a lot of relevant topics and content covered. Here are instructions to get to it.

Accessing the lynda.temple.edu Temple Resource

Temple students, faculty and staff can obtain free access in two ways:

When you log in, we recommend that you create a profile with your name and email address to personalize your account and keep track of your training history.
Additional information about lynda.temple.edu is available in an introductory video. A series of videos is also available on how to use lynda.com.

If you have any questions about using this resource, contact the Help Desk at 215-204-8000 or go to the tuhelp.temple.edu website and submit a request for assistance.