Tag Archives: strategy

Trial and Error

When I started using computers and they stopped working in some way, I would get terribly frustrated. I would call a computer-wise friend or relative who would tell me not to get so upset. Then they would give me directions such as hit the percent key while you hold down the shift key, then a5(39H)490873, and enter.

If that didn’t work, I would become even more frustrated. But my helper would just take it in stride and say, ok, try this, hit settings, tell me what it says, ok, hold the d key, now try refresh, and on and on. At the end they would tell me, “You see, it works. No big deal. You need to calm down.”

I had many responses to that, but in most cases I would say, “Do you understand what you just did? It took us half an hour of random acts that might as well have been ‘Turn around three times, hop on one leg, hit 4 keys,  and touch your nose with your tongue’ to solve the problem.” That always got a laugh because it’s partially true, but the technology generation doesn’t care. Their love for technology includes fixing the glitches. What is frustrating to me is just part of the process for them, a process of trial and error.

Trial and error involves applying different possible solutions to a problem until one works. It’s often perceived as a primitive method of problem solving associated with practical or mechanical achievements. Young children use trial and error to discover the world around them. It takes a lot of time and patience. Thomas Edison is said to have tried at least a thousand different materials as light bulb filaments before he found one that was economical and relatively safe to use.

Those of us learning Tech As A Second Language℠ like to think that problem solving is the product of great thinking based on solid principles and experience. We don’t want to hear that if you just keep putting different things in a socket, you will succeed. To be fair, Edison didn’t just try anything; he learned from each attempt. That’s how trial and error works.

The technology generation has embraced trial and error. They would rather try different clicks to get where they want to go than read instructions. They don’t mind the moments of failure; they are confident that they will eventually succeed.

This makes sense because technology is a young, practical science. By the time you read the handbook, if there is one, it’s changed. For those who are not tech savvy, trial and error levels the playing field. Anyone can find a way to succeed. And, the more time you spend clicking, the more you learn which clicks work best for each function; the clicks are not as random as they seem to the uninitiated.

So next time your technology stops working or you need an answer to move forward such as “How do I bookmark a website?” get over your feelings of inadequacy and Google for help or start clicking. You will look tech smart and you may be surprised at how many times you can solve the problem on your own.

Extrinsic Versus Intrinsic Motivation

Educating students in school relies on motivating them to learn. Studies and discussions on the meaning, application, and benefits of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are happening as digital programs are created and instructors are incorporating them into their curriculums.

Very broadly, extrinsic motivation comes from outside in the form of stimuli or rewards such as ranking, salary, badges, and praise. Intrinsic motivation is prompted by inner feelings such as curiosity, need for belonging, and satisfaction. How extrinsic and intrinsic motivation can sometimes relate to each other is the moral of a story that has made the rounds in psychology circles for years:

A group of children go every day after school to chant anti-Semitic remarks in front of a store owned by a Jewish man. One day the man comes out to the children and says, “This is what you call yelling? I can hardly hear you. If you promise to yell more loudly, I will pay you each a dime.”

The children accept and every day, after they yell for a while, the store owner gives each a dime. After about two weeks, the store owner comes out and says, “You’ve been doing a great job; but business has been bad lately, and I can only pay you each a nickel.” The children protest, but they accept the reduced payment.

After another couple of weeks,  the store owner comes out to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t afford you anymore. You’re welcome to continue, but I won’t be able to pay you.” The children reply, “You think we are going to do this for nothing? No way,” and they never come back again.

What has happened here? The intrinsic motivation of fun or satisfaction, (no matter how twisted) that spurred the children to act in the first place was replaced by extrinsic motivation (money) and when the external reward disappeared, so did the original intrinsic motivation. This is a simplistic analysis, but the point is clear: Be careful with extrinsic rewards.

Schools have already tied learning to extrinsic rewards: grades, test scores, medals, badges, diplomas. Isn’t that enough? These rewards have robbed many students of a love of learning. We can’t let that continue.

The world of phenomenal change that we live in makes lifelong learning more important than ever. Ditto for intrinsic motivation. We need to make sure that students desire learning without all the bells and whistles.

In the past, a higher education graduate could choose a career and plan to thrive in it through experience and some professional development. Now, we are expected to learn new technologies and ways to communicate every year. Instructors are expected to integrate technology as they teach.

The best preparation for success is knowing how to learn and to want to keep learning. Creating a deep consonance between internal satisfaction and learning in students will ensure that they are able to initiate and navigate the changes at the core of 21st century life.

For a more data-based scientific explanation of how extrinsic motivation can ruin intrinsic motivation see “Extrinsic Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation in Education: Reconsidered Once Again” by Deci, Koestner, and Ryan.

Gamification and Education

I recently completed an excellent Coursera MOOC on gamification taught by Professor Kevin Werbach, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania. Gamification is the art of applying gaming principles to business, education, fitness, basically any area that is not about simply playing a game.

Both gaming principles and education involve motivation. Motivation is something internal (drive, need, craving) or external (environment, stimuli, rewards) that pushes us to action. Motivation moves us from one psychological or physical state to another usually to enjoy a positive feeling.

Hunger motivates us to get something to eat. Loneliness motivates us to connect with people. Not knowing motivates us to learn. However, it’s not that simple. If you are hungry, but it seems too hard to cook a healthy meal, you might settle for a bag of chips. If you are lonely, but are too shy to make friends, you might not do anything to relieve your loneliness. If you don’t know how to work Smart TV, and there’s a complicated explanation in a pamphlet, you may just give up.

Gamification can boost motivation through digital delivery. If you have an app that keeps track of your food intake, sends you quick healthy recipes, and so forth, you will be more motivated to skip the chips and cook. If you can be social on-line, you will be motivated to reach out. If you can just push a button on your remote to give you instructions, you are more likely to learn.

With digital programs we have the opportunity to motivate more students to learn whether through personalized learning or systems that make it easier and more fulfilling to achieve. Digital formats have already made it more appealing to complete assessments by offering instant feedback on whether students have answered correctly.

There is a lot to learn from gaming without turning every lesson into a game. The first step is to think holistically. Amy Jo Kim, CEO, Shufflebrain, says that good game designers think about the player’s whole journey, both cognitive and emotional: “A player’s [student’s] journey is their experience/progression over time.”

Not only do students bring their cultural, economic, and cognitive experiences to the learning environment, they also bring their digital prowess. A student today starts school using digital products. Exciting digital elements that work well in elementary school may not resonate in later grades.

There is also the journey through the particular program, how the student will progress and connect to the content between the beginning and the end. Some programs are very formulaic such as video/reading content/activity/quiz. The same format that motivates students in Chapter 1 may not in Chapter 10.

Game designers take into account Richard Bartle’s four types of users: Achievers, Explorers, Socialisers, and Killers when creating games. Do these categories hold true for student users? Frankly, we don’t know, but we have resources in place that can help us find out. Much of EdTech’s focus has been to develop programs that produce data profiles of individual students to inform short-term formative strategies and summative outcomes. If we collaborate, we can aggregate individual student data to discern types of digital students. This type of analysis will help us chart successful education journeys.

Are You Ready for Critical Thinking?

Definitions of critical thinking vary greatly. My feelings about critical thinking are reflected in a scene from the movie Rudy, the story of a working-class young man who has to overcome many obstacles to achieve his goal of playing football at Notre Dame. After yet another disappointment, Rudy asks the local priest for advice. The priest replies, “In thirty-five years of religious studies I’ve come up with only two hard incontrovertible facts, there is a God and I’m not him.”

We all agree that critical thinking exists and we know it is not repeating facts. After that, it’s up for grabs. My favorite part of critical thinking is creativity, building on what you are hearing, reading, or learning, and making connections, usually clever, enlightening, or imaginative.

Although educators say critical thinking should be encouraged, in reality, it is often discouraged, ignored, or put off so that educators can achieve their own goals. Saying “That’s interesting but,” “I will take questions at the end if I have time” “We’re going to address that in next week’s class” are all ways to delay spontaneous critical thinking.

As part of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record,  I read Loren Lang’s Otis about a heroic farm tractor to a group of preschoolers. The sound of the tractor, “putt puff puttedy chuff,” was repeated many times as he did his work.

After the reading, the teacher started singing “Old Macdonald Had A Farm:”  “On his farm he had a cow…with a moo moo, here, and a moo moo there…” Then she asked the children to call out suggestions for what was on the farm. One boy kept saying “tractor.” “After being ignored three times, he stopped. In a few more grades, he will probably not even bother to make a suggestion as teachers continue to ignore his critical thinking.

As critical thinking does, the boy’s thoughts stimulated mine. What’s on a modern farm?

A milking machine, with a chugga, chugga, here, and a chugga, chugga there

A harvester, with a tatata, tatata, here, and a tatata, tatata there

A banker, with a foreclosure, foreclosure, here, and a foreclosure, foreclosure, there

A frustrated farmer, with a fuck, fuck, here, and a fuck, fuck there

We need to be realistic about critical thinking if we are going to encourage it. Ironically, those who oppose it are correct when they stated that teaching critical thinking results in: “challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority” (Texas Republican 2012 Platform, later retracted). See Stephen Colbert for critical thinking on that!

I support teaching critical thinking, but we need to think about how we will handle the consequences. Based on articles critical of general testing, my son Ross put his name on a middle-school standardized test and handed it in without answering any questions. His teacher called me; she was extremely upset about the “terrible” action he had taken. I thought, I guess this is not a good day for critical thinking.

Educators, if you are serious about critical thinking, start looking ahead, get ready to be made uncomfortable and to think on your feet.  Students who think critically will rock your world!