Friday, September 26, 2014

Day 25: Building Conversation, Getting Out of the Video Game Mentality

What does ideal collaboration between students look like?

I love how the questions are getting more and more thought-provoking as the Reflective Teaching Challenge continues. I'm having to consider aspects of my teaching that I don't normally think of deeply (and learning from my K-12 digital colleagues!).

Collaboration is definitely something I use, but I don't often put it under the microscope: I consider it when I'm thinking of the content (i.e., using quotations/sources well, writing an effective intro) and using it as a mode of delivery. But how do I make the actual collaboration better?

Something I'm trying to work on is getting collaboration beyond just question and response. I often have students work in groups, and a typical activity might consist of students answering questions I pose, or creating questions themselves and having partners come up with the answers. I circulate and answer questions, and since most of my students are remarkably well-behaved, they get the "must-dos" done efficiently enough. But it's all very task-oriented. They want to finish and be done so they can play on their phones or talk about a TV show.

What I'd like to see is more of a genuine conversation evolving. Not just, "Oh, I read your paper, and here are a couple of paragraphs of what I think about it. Good job. I like the part about the mean landlord." I want the writer to be compelled to follow-up: "The part about the landlord was hard to write. You think it came across? Why?"

I think a lot of our students are locked in a video game mentality: play the game, get the points, down the boss, get the A.

This may be an incredibly wise strategy. College students are subject to pressures I didn't dream of when I set foot on Cuyamaca College's campus in 1999. They've got unit creep, higher GPA requirements (remember when you could transfer to a decent CSU with a 2.3?), more content to be covered, and limited services and classes due to a still-crunchy budget.

But the video game mentality leaves little room for genuine interest and curiosity in the course and subject matter. How do we stimulate that despite all the competing interests our students juggle? How do we convince them that it's worth going beyond the minimum needed to get the points? That yes, it might cost an extra energy point or two but in the long run it's worth it?

Sometimes it can happen naturally, with a good activity. The husband had a great idea in response to my complaint that students don't take the time to proofread for basic, basic typos (like "i," "collge," stuff that an MS Word editor should fix).

As a gamer, hubby reads game-related blogs and subscribes to various YouTubers. He says that when he sees viewer/reader comments, he equates the writer's clarity with intelligence.

So, the task: Give students two articles or paragraphs on the same topic, one written well and one with lots of errors, and ask who seems more credible and why.


So simple! Of course, the students pursued their critique with a vigor they rarely seem to put toward their own work. I heard shouts of, "this guy is so smart! I never would have thought of that," and "can you believe Pineapple spelled that word wrong?"

They were having a genuine conversation.

I think but don't know for sure what can break students out of the video game mentality when working together, but here are a couple of thoughts:
  • Competition. People are inherently competitive--to varying degrees, of course! (Hence a love of video games.) Maybe Nietzsche and his will-to-power concept is the right one, much to my dismay. But I've noticed that when you tap into students' competitive nature, either by pitting them against each other or against a text, in this case, they are motivated from a different place than the "get the points" arena.
  • Explicit goals that students buy into. We all have course objectives and student learning outcomes we are supposed to use to guide our courses. These may not make sense to students, but if we can make them palatable and relevant to a student's short-term interest, they might take it seriously. 
    • Case in point: I just saw an instructor relate a rhetorical analysis activity to doing well on the WPA--the writing assessment many will take when they transfer to a four-year school. Most have transfer on the brain, at least a little bit. This put a more immediate need to really understand rhetorical strategies and how they function, as their performance on this assessment determines their place in upper-division writing.
What else works to get students really invested in collaborating, in learning? 

1 comment:

Henry Aronson said...

Bowen's Teaching Nakes (here i go again) actually urges us to hijack and harness the gamer mentality for learning purpose. He makes an interesting point about how leveraging the "rush" players get when they advance a level, that drives gamers to play for hours and hours. Our job, then, is to figure out how to reveal the rush, the joys of learning. He develops the gaming metaphor, asking us to consider how teachers can hack the mentality of gaming - to meet students where they are. Not enough of a gamer to follow much of what he says, but the metaphor is definitely a rich one for thinking about learning.