Games: Facilitated Online

Here is a recap of a Framegame (by Thiagi) that I conducted toward the end of last semester. The book provides great insights into facilitating an educational game ... I amended the core approaches to work within an online setting.

Audience: The audience for the session included a group of educators who meet
online Thursday nights to discuss and share ideas about various topics in the
field of education during an informal peer learning session. On the night of
the Framegame, 7 participants played in the game and a few others lurked in the
virtual "corner". While many of the weekly attendees are k-12 teachers, some
are educational technology specialists in college or corporate settings. Nearly
all of the participants are using Internet based technologies to support
learning activities. A growing concern is how to foster appropriate participant
interactions within the online learning environment.

Topic - Tactics to promote positive online
interactions:
While most
would agree that the goal is to create and support positive interactions (free
of "flame wars" or "cyber bullying"), many are unsure how to go about
it. Is it a matter of just setting strict online codes of conduct? Is it about
modeling good behavior? Is it about discussion moderation and tossing out the
bad apples?

Framegame - Take Five: I selected the Take Five Framegame to
generate possible tactics which educators could use to create and support
positive interactions in their online environments.

Online Communication: This group is made up of technology geeks
who love new online learning challenges, so I was not too concerned about
running this online versus f2f. While I ran into a few glitches, the following
online communications tools provided and effective and efficient means of facilitating
the game:

Game Play: The following outlines the planned script (talking points and actions)
for the session. The "Notes" sections
in italics below highlight deviations from either the basic Framegame or the
script.

  • Brief players: The topic for this brainstorm is tactics to
    use as educators to foster positive interactions within online learning
    environments. In the next half hour, we will explore this topic by coming up
    with a list of effective tactics to take back to the classroom to both foster
    appropriate participant interactions and address inappropriate conduct should
    it arise.
  • Individual brainstorm: For the next few minutes, please reflect on
    the topic and come up with a short list of effective techniques that you would
    use to foster appropriate and positive participant interactions in an online
    learning environment. Try to keep your list of solutions short and to the point
    as we will be discussing them in more detail in the next step.

[Note: Given 7 attendees joined the session,
I ran this version of Take Five as an individual version (per the suggestion on
p. 261 in Framegames). However, if I had been faced with a group of 10 or more,
my plan was to ask for volunteers to pair up and use the private text chat
function to communicate with a partner.]

  • Group Brainstorm on Whiteboard: Let us now move over to the whiteboard and
    begin forming a combined list of possible techniques. Using the text tool, take
    turns typing in your list of suggested techniques in the left hand column. Try
    to keep an eye on the list to avoid adding an item already offered by another
    player. Duplicate entries will be combined before we move to the next step.
    Let's try to get a combined list of 10 to 12 good possible tactics on the whiteboard.
    Also, please speak up if you would like clarification about a possible
    solution.

[Note: This process prompted participants to
share lengthy descriptions about each of the tactics ("Here is what I do with
my students ..." , which ate into the time previously allocated for the final
debrief. However, it didn't seem to make any sense to stifle the brainstorming
conversation (the point of the game) just to stick to the game script.]

  • Voting - Round 1: We
    will now begin the process of voting for the most effective approach. Using the
    pen tool, select the blue color and place a check mark next to the recommendation
    that you feel is the most effective tactic.
  • Scoring - Round 1: Now that we have all made our top choices,
    we will score this round. The most popular response for this round was
    "**". Therefore, those who selected this response should score 1
    points. As "**" suggested this tactic, s/he should score 5 points. As a
    friendly reminder, all scoring is on the honor system. Therefore, as I read out
    the score for each round, please keep a running tally of your points.
  • Voting - Round 2 - 5: Consider this list again (minus any item
    that is crossed out) and use the pen tool (with the red color) and place a
    check mark next to the recommendation that you feel is the most effective
    tactic. It can be the same item you selected in a previous round, as long as
    that item is not already in our top choices. [Repeat through round 5]
  • Scoring - Round 2 - 5: Now that we have all made our top choices,
    we will score this round. The most popular response for this round was "**".
    Therefore, those who selected this response should score 1 points and "**" who
    suggested the tactic should score 5 points.

[Note regarding scoring: For ease of facilitation
in this online environment, I made slight adjustments to the scoring scheme from
the original Framegame model.]

  • Conclusion of the Game: We now have a list of the top 5 techniques.
    Please add up your personal score and share it with the group. Congratulations
    to our winner!
  • Debrief: Let's more fully consider the list and discuss the merits of not only
    our top 5 choices, but how we arrived at this list. Do you think through this
    method we arrived at a good working list of 5 effective techniques? What
    surprises you about the list? Would you like to make a case for or against
    items that were selected or any that were not selected in the top 5?

[Note: Given the time we spent discussing
the recommended tactics during the brainstorm, we did not have time for a full
debrief. Instead, I offered to compile the list form the session so that the
group can pick up their discussion next time.]

Critique / Reflection:

  • Time: We spent about 40 minutes playing the game. As noted above, we spent
    more time than I had originally allocated for the brainstorm portion, which
    left us out of time for a full debrief. If I had more time, I would like to
    have heard more from the group about what they thought about the process
    (effectiveness, efficiency, etc).
  • Scoring / Voting: The participants were not that interested
    in the scoring and voting aspects. They were far more interested in discussing
    the topic than coming up with the most "popular" vote. Therefore, I'm not sure
    if the scoring or voting is a crucial element when you have highly motivated
    participants. However, I can see how it could add interest with less motivated
    participants and when you have enough participants to make it a team based
    game.
  • Quality of Participant Recommendations: The list of participant recommendations, as
    well as the ensuing discussion was great. I think this was due to the participants'
    interest in the topic, as well as the participatory nature of the brainstorm on
    the whiteboard. Each recommendation seemed to build on another until it seemed
    the group fleshed out the key tactics.
  • Interest / Engagement: Participant interest level and engagement
    was great! However, I purposely chose a topic that I knew the group would find interesting.
    Coincidently, this group had been criticized in a discussion board comment
    about some dialog that a listener found less than positive the week before. We
    were able to kick off our discussion by using that as an example of how
    difficult it can be to keep online interactions positive for all participants.
    This clearly helped to gain participant interest. In addition, the process does
    encourage participation from all players, both in posting recommendations as
    well as in voting. The participants indicated that they liked the game and felt
    it helped to bring out a good discussion and a list of tactics to use in the
    future. However, as usual, I INTERJECTED TOO MUCH!
  • Online Facilitation: The communication tools made this an easy
    game to facilitate online. See the screen captures from the session below.
    However, that being said, I had a group of self-described "tech geeks" who love
    to play with new technology. I can see how the whiteboard could become a
    free-for-all disaster in the hands of kids (but they would probably have a
    blast in the process!) However, I also see how this could be facilitated
    asynchronously using a discussion board and an online polling / voting
    mechanism, such as in a content management system.
  • My Key Take Always: I now appreciate how games can raise
    interest level and engage a group. In addition, the planning process and
    structure of the game helped me as the facilitator organize and prepare my
    thoughts. However, I can also guess that some audiences would not be as
    interested in the "game play" (competitive scoring) aspect - especially when
    discussing serious or heavy topics. I think if I would have pushed to stick to
    the voting / scoring scheme I would have definitely taken away from the flow of
    the discussion. In the end, I found Take Five to be a very effective format to
    get the group brainstorming to come up with recommended tactics. I will definitely attempt this format again
    in the future!



The top responses were:

1.      Scaffold / model

2.      Welcome / be tolerant of differing opinions

3.      Sense of humor

4.      Respond in civil manner (say sorry) (to
avoid flame wars)

5.      Work to create a "culture"

Additional responses were:

  • Transparency
  • Keep
    students interested
  • Cross
    your fingers / hope for the best
  • Responsive
    / openness
  • Peer
    pressure / policing themselves
  • Formal
    discussion moderator
  • Stick
    with it / continue the conversations even when tough
  • Explicit code of
    conduct (no one
    liked)