After several months away from the Twitter chats, I finally jumped back into one last night called #LevelUpEd, a chat dedicated to all things gamification-related. We spent a good chunk of the time talking about 20% Time (or Genius Hour, or Passion Project...pick your poison) and how it can be incorporated into the classroom effectively. While I haven't actually run a 20% Time Project yet (though I ran one in the 2014-2015 school year), I do have a draft created for implementation next year as was able to share a bit about my plans, concerns, and hopes for the project.
I'll admit that while the chat was solid, I didn't really learn very much I didn't already know, and this was primarily because there were really only two types of people in the chat: those who had tried the 20% Time (or at least were heavily in favor of it) and those who loved it but hadn't tried it yet. As a result, those who firmly believed in it's promise were espousing it's advantages, those who hadn't tried it stated how excited they were to get involved, and everyone happily affirmed each other. Now, in many ways, that's a valid chat. It brings in new people and it psyches up the existing PLN. As teachers (and I'm sure any human-centered profession), this is essential. If we aren't filling ourselves up with positive energy, we're not going to be able to stand strong when it's late November and the project just isn't coming together, or when a snow day ruins the school calendar in the middle of March.
My gripe with most Twitter chats is that few seem to evolved beyond this stage. Whether it's a pep rally, or a mentoring session, there's not a lot of room for constructive criticism and dissent. In many chats that I've read, there's usually one or two people who try to challenge the central thread but are quickly drowned out by a chorus of idealism and catch-phrases. Even last night, I asked a few mildly critical questions but never really got a real response, just some advertising about 20% Time's greatness. Keep in mind, I'm as big a technology-advocate in education as you'll find, but I'm well aware it's not perfect. I can easily log into a Twitter chat and answer in the following ways:
"When kids have choice, they have power! #knowledgeispower #learnanddo"
"Authentic learning makes our students autonomous!!! #IAmALearnerAsWell"
"Doesn't matter what they're learning, as long as it's passionate! Learning is learning!!!!! #edtech #edchat #teched"
And no, none of those are quotes, I just made them up for this entry, but check out any #edtech chat (#LevelUpEd, #flipclass, #gblchat, #edtechchat) and you'll find lots of comments like this. I've made some of them myself. It sounds fun, but it doesn't really help us improve if we're already sold on the idea. I agree students should be autonomous learners who think for themselves. I like Dead Poet's Society as much as anyone...but we all know nothing works as well in practice as it does in theory. All #Edtech has value but we whitewash a lot of problems when all we do is advertise. Gamification had great success my first year, but it still missed the mark with many students. Some just didn't care. Others gamed the game and did less work than they should have yet still got good grades. Some students slid under the radar in group projects and were enabled by their group to just sit back and do nothing. Project-based learning has worked really well the past three years...except for that one group every year that just can't get it together. Genius Hour, Flipped Learning, MakerEd...all great ideas...but they're all going to run into the same struggles: there's always some that it doesn't help. Can't these chats address solving some of these problems, rather than just bragging to each other?
Of course, it's then that I realized I really hadn't done much to contribute to the conversation. Yes, I have my website, and I've presented at a conference or two, but I really haven't shared an honest account of Year 1 with the Gamification model. I've been too busy trying to get my own soundbites out there, or ask my "zingers" to promote debate that I haven't really led by example. And so...it's time to do that. Starting tomorrow, and over the next week or two, I'll be writing a series of entries about the pros and cons of the first year of Gamification. I'm still very much in favor of the method, and plan on running a new version next year, but I also learned a lot from this first round. Perhaps by getting some of this information in writing, I can help guide people to more honest comments than simply stating "Gamification is great!" every time I'm asked about it online. Instead of reading the course in theory, people can understand the practice. We're all great at selling ourselves at conferences and on Twitter, now it's time to really explore the details in this Honest Proposal.