Gamifying The Writing Process With Habitica

One of the (many) side-projects that John and I have been working on is gamifying the writing process. In particular, we’re interested in gamification that seeks to reinforce and build good habits that yield efficient writing, research, and revision.

This semester, the Writing Center on our campus engaged us in brainstorming the logistics, pedagogical implications, etc. of such a writing program. From conversations with them, John and I have pursued various tools and solutions. At the moment, we’re prototyping two different applications of gamifying the writing process. John has already written about one of these ideas—using automated word-counts to engage individuals in competing against themselves to encourage writing. Now I want to address the other prototype we’re developing.

We’ve been researching and using Habitica as a platform to facilitate a gamified writing program (learn more about Habitica here and here). In fact, writing this blog post fulfills a “daily” task for me in the very Habitica system we are prototyping!

Keegan's Habitca website daily todo list that highlights "writing for 10 minutes" and "write a blog post"
Keegan’s Habitica Writing Tasks

Anyways, yesterday I met with Annemarie Mulkey, an instructor in the english department who has participated in both GOBLIN and eXperience Play. I reached out to Annemarie because she has experience with Habitca, a background in English, and is a blast to work with! Since Annemarie uses Habitica to motivate her own productivity (even more broadly than writing), her perspective was phenomenal.

Eventually, we wound up brainstorming how to setup Habitica to gamify writing an undergraduate research paper. We decided the research paper was only going to be ~5 pages and be completed over 7 days. With these parameters set, here’s what we developed using Habitica in half an hour:

Whiteboard Brainstorming

Research Paper Challenge outlined on whiteboard

Resultant Habitica Challenge

Research Paper Challenge in Habitica includes many tasks to complete

Since Habitica possesses a feature called Challenges that allows users to add custom sets of tasks to their account, we used this mechanism as the means to facilitate the gamification of writing a research paper. The Habitica To-Do list we envisioned includes tasks like outlining, researching, and drafting the paper to serve as a set of goals for students working on their research paper.

Taking this a step further to encourage the practices that produce good writing and researching, Annemarie and I used the Habits and Dailies of Habitica to reward students for tasks like 30 minutes of uninterrupted reading/writing, exploring the citations of sources, and writing 1 page for the paper everyday. Together, these three components of our Habitica Challenge (To-Dos, Habits, and Dailies) divide up the process of writing a research paper into manageable pieces for undergraduate students, and award students who complete these tasks regularly with experience points and gold in Habitica.

If you want to dive deeper into the specifics of Habitica or our Challenge, either reach out to me with questions or signup for Habitica, send me your Habitica UserID so I can invite you to Annemarie and I’s party, and then join the custom Challenge we built.

Finally, we recognize that at face value, this prototype appears very systematic and would yield standardized writing. Therefore, using this in the classroom would require more explanation and emphasizing to students the flexibility of their writing process in conjunction with the framework we developed using a Habitica Challenge.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Olu Eletu via Unsplash.

My Vision (and Search) for a Connectivist Graduate Program

For the last year, I’ve been contemplating graduate school. I’m still researching and evaluating various programs around the world, but I wanted to take a second and reflect on what I desire from a graduate program. I have many answers to this question, but let me expand upon this idea:

I want a graduate degree program where students teach some of the courses in the curriculum.

I don’t believe this is too outlandish since I’m looking at programs in the field of education, possibly within instructional design. But I’ve had no luck uncovering such a program. So, for now, I’m going to dream. What would such a degree program look like?

Anatomy of a Connectivist Graduate Program

I envision a program founded upon connectivist learning philosophies and comprised of two components:

  1. A core set of curriculum that every student must complete. This is crucial for standardizing instruction for degree components like research methodologies and models/theories of the discipline.
  2. An additional set of courses led by students based on their own expertise. These are intended to be open-ended in regards to content and practice and would vary year to year based on the student body.

To me, a connectivist program necessitates a particular anatomy and entails thoughtful design. As an example, a degree like this would require a set cohort of students that progress through the curriculum together. Such a cohort would need to be comprised of diverse individuals from different backgrounds, possessing a variety of skills. To ensure such diversity, there’d need to be an application process that not only considers expertise, but also establishes cohesion in terms of student backgrounds within each cohort. In other words, this entire process requires careful design considerations.

If it was possible, there would still be several challenges to overcome.

Challenges

The skills to thrive and succeed in a connectivist degree program are not the same skills present in typical educational environment. For instance, I anticipate humility would be a critical element of a connectivist degree for everyone involved. There’s a significant discomfort about not knowing the exact direction of a program as a student or as a teacher; and overcoming these feelings would require a strong emphasis on community and active, inclusive communication between all parties.

Additionally, I foresee accreditation being a serious stumbling-block. In fact, I proposed a “core set of curriculum that every student must complete” as a solution to this challenge. Program viability depends on the consistency of educational quality and rigor from year to year for each cohort. Accreditation is a conversation well beyond what I wish to tackle in this post but it remains a significant challenge. (Not to mention, I don’t have the answer to accreditation anyways.)

With these two challenges, I hope that I’ve illustrated the complexity of design for such a program to exist—intention and care in developing a connectivist graduate degree are imperative. Still, I am determined! If we are to produce the next generation of educators, critical instructional designers, etc., we need to utilize the educational philosophies we champion in the designs of our programs themselves.

Disclaimer

Since I’m still dreaming here, I want to explore a couple of my favorite questions.

What courses would I want to teach?

This is one of my favorite questions in the context of a connectivist graduate program!

One course that I’d love to facilitate would involve exploring productivity using affordable. I know this may sound a little out-there, but I imagine a course where everyone is limited to $300 worth of technology and must participate with minimal computing devices—including designing instruction to operate on inexpensive technologies. Specifically, I’m interested in engaging others in curriculum around $100 laptops, $50 phones, or $50 tablets? What does a Domain of One’s Own project look like under these parameters? A portion of this curriculum would focus on socioeconomic barriers and issues related to digital redlining.

Another course I’d love to teach would focus on interests that I’ve explored in both GOBLIN and XP—I’d love to teach a course about digital storytelling, game design, and what games have to teach us about learning. I see many opportunities to engage others with information literacy, media literacy, and various digital literacies while participating in experiential learning and exploring creative expressions. Ideally, part of this course would involve developing games and discussing them as transformative experiences with opportunities to pursue action research and/or academic research.

What courses would I want to take?

On the flip-side of teaching in a connectivist graduate program, there are many topics I’d love to explore.

For example, I’d love to learn more about practical use cases of APIs in the classroom and beyond. From personal workflow automation to manipulating sets of data across the web, a practical API course sounds phenomenal. I’d imagine course projects would range from building APIs to utilizing public APIs and engaging in the conversations of the future of APIs in education.

Also, I’d love a course on “crowdsourcing” and how it can be implemented instructionally into courses and/or research. Topics like large scale community driven problem solving and hosting crowdfunding campaigns for social work. These projects would make for some spectacular curriculum in my mind. Crowdsourcing as an instructional tool is not typical and I see a lot of potential around a such a course since there are a multitude of directions and applications for the idea.

Looking Forward

I know this post presents small and specific examples as part of gross oversimplifications of larger ideas. But I write because I see value in a connectivist approach to graduate education. I provided examples of student-led courses because they demonstrate to me the strength of connectivim and highlight where traditional curriculum falls short. Student-led courses can be built on personal passions and current conversations. A dynamic program might be tailored to the participants, current technologies, and cutting edge scholarship; not to mention, scaffold greater transference of connectivist (etc.) theories to practice!

At the end of the day, the core of my dream—what I value most in my education:

  1. The opportunity to be viewed as an aspiring scholar, rather than just a student;
  2. A program that practices what it preaches, instead of defaulting to lecture and discussion of readings;
  3. The promise of growth and not feeling indoctrinated into standardizations of thought;
  4. Connecting with a community that involves and cares about everyones struggles, development, and experience.

That is why I’m envisioning a degree program constructed with connectivist learning philosophies because we should make our programs reflective of the educational ideas we champion.

Before I close, I want to take a moment and shoutout to Martha Burtis & Sean Michale Morris for their recent talks on Critical Instructional Design:

Although the topics from their presentation does not necessarily relate to the content I cover, their words were an “inspiration catalyst” for me to finish writing this post, which began a few months ago.

Anyways, what are your thoughts on a connectivist graduate program? Is it possible? What are the risks? What are the benefits? Am I crazy? 🙂 Let me know.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Baim Hanif via Unsplash.

Announcing eXperience Play

eXperience Play (XP) is a professional development program meant to introduce instructors to game design and how it can be utilized to engage students in the classroom.

While building text-based games, participants will explore pedagogical themes ranging from Digital Literacy, Peer-Peer Learning, and the idea of Students as Creators. XP is meant for anyone interested in building games to use in the classroom or wanting to facilitate student game development as part of their courses. XP uses the open-source Twine software as the platform for building text-based games since no prior programming knowledge is required to use Twine.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 2.09.49 AM

Play|Plan|Produce|Polish|Publish

XP is divided into five sessions. Each section will scaffold different parts of the game design process and shift the focus between five discussion topics.

  1. Play – Participants will spend a session playing text-based games to gain experience with this medium. Discussion will be focused on defining Meaningful Play and explore integrating games into curriculum. Finally, we will also brainstorm game ideas for next session.
  2. Plan – Much of this session will be spent outlining and storyboarding each game. We will also develop the idea of Digital Storyboarding as practice.
  3. Produce – At this point, it is time to install the Twine “game engine” and start building games. Some time will focus on learning the syntax of Twine and discussing the significance of Students as Creators in the classroom.
  4. Polish – Once prototypes of Twine games are being produced, we will spend some time testing and adding new mechanics to each game to improve their delivery/quality. Additionally, we will develop the idea of Peer-Peer Learning.
  5. Publish – Finally, participants will put the finishing touches on their games and move toward publishing them online. Discussion will finish with the topic of Digital Literacy. I am hoping to see a handful of completed games by the end of this last session.

Challenges

Besides all the trials of learning new software and writing stories, there are two big challenges John and I are anticipating for this professional development.

First, developing a game while learning how to develop games while learning how Twine operates (all simultaneously) might overload participants. Not every instructor will have all the pieces of game design at one time, so we will need to be flexible and scaffold the learning process as much as possible to guide their study and development.

Second, the only way creating a game in five weeks (possibly only 10 hours) is possible will be if the scale and scopes of the games are drastically limited. John and I must be aware of each instructors projects and provide solutions to alleviate development pressures to make it possible for faculty to develop games within this timeline.

Closing

I have been looking forward to this professional development for many months now—I am so EXCITED it has arrived. Applications close Tuesday (Sept. 6), and it looks like John and I will be hosting two session from Sept. 12 – Oct. 14!

If you are interested in this program, check out more information on the eXperience Play website: xp.keeganslw.com

The featured image is provided CC0 by Scott Webb via Unsplash.

iPadPaloozaOU Reflections

Last week was the first iPadPaloozaOU! Thanks to my colleagues that facilitated this event, in particular Anne Beck for ensuring the conference was fun and engaging!

Highlights

Keynote speakers – Both Jessica Herring & Lisa Johnson gave excellent keynote addresses. Learning about Jessica’s curriculum to bring robots into her english class was fascinating. And Lisa’s call to think about our perspectives as teachers in the classroom was a valuable chance to reflect and grow. In particular, I enjoyed Lisa’s activity of completing an Uffe Elbaek Model and discussing our strengths with our neighbor teachers:

 

Pre-service teacher involvement – Working with students is always a treat. As Jessica stated in her reflections:

“It makes my heart so happy to know that these are the people that are coming into our schools and are preparing to make a difference in the lives of students.”

I felt the same invigoration while learning from/alongside the education students that attended iPadPaloozaOU. (Not to mention, I got to hear feedback of what students think about Canvas so far.)

 

Connecting with folks – For me this was a pivotal event to meet folks on Twitter that I have been following for a while, many of which are from the #oklaed community. Using iPadPaloozaOU as an opportunity to learn more about their various passions as teachers in Oklahoma helped me connect with these fantastic educators. For example, I know much more about the practice of #sketchnote-ing thanks to Wesley Fryer:

Twitter

For #iplzaOU, I used TAGSExplorer to capture all of the tweets containing the conference hashtag. This allowed me to track some interesting data like the most frequent tweeters:

 

And the most used hashtags:

 

If you want to look at the data yourself, check it out here (I’m assigning a CC-BY 4.0 license to this content). A good place to start analyzing this data would be using a software like Voyant Tools 2.0. For more information about all this, checkout this post and let me know if you have any questions.

My Workshop

I hosted a workshop at iPadPaloozaOU titled “Student Creators: Cultivating Success & Amplifying Voices with Mobile Blogging.” Without a doubt the highlight from this session was the discussion that took place. Specifically, there was a point at which a pre-service teacher was providing some frank feedback to a dean on what motivates them as a student to participate in class discussions versus class blogs. In summary, the student was only motivated to contribute to a class discussion to satisfy the minimum effort required for a good grade. In contrast, the student stated that posting a blog would solicit more effort from her/him as such work would be accessible to the public. I was trilled the attendees of my session were comfortable sharing their candid perspectives, especially between students and dean.

Another highlight was the curriculum development that happened during my workshop. Here’s one example from an individual looking to integrate blogging into her science class:

Turning a Blog? into a Blog!

If you are interested in the contents of my workshop, checkout the companion website I made to house my presentation and the work of the participants. Alternatively, you can read more about the workshop from the proposal I submitted.

Closing

I am already looking forward to next year’s iPadPaloozaOU and will consider submitting another proposal. Specifically, I am thinking about developing text-based games to engage students with writing and digital storytelling. Can’t wait till learn and explore this topic! Thank you to everyone for making this event a blast!

The featured image is provided CC0 by Maarten van den Heuvel via Unsplash.

How to Blog, Develop Curriculum, Microblog, & Discuss in 50 Minutes

Last Friday I had the pleasure to present at OU’s 5th annual Academic Technology Expo with John Stewart. Since our “presentation” was more of a hands-on workshop, titled Mobile Blogging, Scholarship, and Cultivating Student Success, we had participants blog, develop curriculum, microblog and discuss applications of mobile blogging in their classrooms. It was phenomenal, and here’s how we accomplished everything in 50 minutes:

Minutes 0-10

First, John and I started with a Paper Tweet microblogging exercise, asking participants to name and describe their favorite classroom activity in 140 characters or less. Individuals shared some of their examples before we engaged them in a followup discussion.

“Why blog?” and “Why blog using a mobile device?” were the initial questions we posed to the group. And with each inquiry, John and I wanted to establish reasons why instructors might employ blogging and mobile blogging in their classrooms.

Minutes 10-30

Next, John and I asked participants to take their favorite classroom activity—the one from their Paper Tweet—and modify this activity to include a blogging component. We requested participants record these responses as a blog post to let them experience the nuances of writing a post. In other words, we were asking participants to develop curriculum while simultaneously documenting this content as blog posts.

This exercise was the primary logistical challenge of our workshop. For individuals that had their own blog, we encouraged them to use their own digital space to publish responses. For other, John and I brought several tablets to be used to accomplish this task. Following several minutes of collaborative and individual curriculum development, we heard many excellent classroom activities that now included new blogging components.

For example, some responses included having students blog about articles they had to research for assignments. Other examples included having students respond to photographs as blog posts or “live tweeting” during classroom presentations. All that too say, there were several, viable new pieces of curriculum that were outlined and shared in this short period of time.

Minutes 30-45

At this point, John and I led more discussion about mobile blogging. We wanted to know what participants had to say about “how the nature of an assignment is changed when blogging is introduced?” and “how could student success be determined as a blog?” These are a few of the questions that we used to develop the concept of how mobile blogging could be applied in a classroom.

Minutes 45-50

Lastly, John and I spent a few minutes presenting our thoughts on Mobile Blogging. Some of which included:

Reflection

Overall, this experience was excellent. Many participants where introduced to mobile blogging and experiencing it for the first time, while others had attended related training.  During our workshop, John and I wanted to make sure everyone got to discuss mobile blogging applications in the classroom and generate a piece of curriculum that could be used in their courses. We designed this workshop to be hands-on and give participants an opportunity to produce something valuable—and to accomplish all this in 50 minutes was an exciting challenge!