Just as many formal education practices are not designed to empower learners, few are designed to let learners explore and solve problems on their own. Our formal teaching culture often tends to force students to follow “recipes for success” and not encourage or even allow low-stakes failure.
Like many understand implicitly, James Paul Gee suggests that we let students learn from their mistakes, but provide safe environments with low stakes for those educational failures, so they learn to succeed when the environments have higher stakes.
With learners understanding that they are empowered to make the learning their own, give them a chance to do so via safe, well-constructed, authentic problems.
Guide Learning with Problems Principles
- Sandboxes: create high-risk, low-stakes problem-spaces for learners, where failure and experimentation is encouraged and celebrated.
- Well-ordered: scaffold experiences from easy to complex, building on (and practicing) prior knowledge to solve increasingly difficult problems.
- Fish Tanks: simplify problem-spaces, adding complexity only when expertise is gained.
- On Demand & Just-In-Time: provide needed knowledge when the situation/learner requires it.
- Skills as Strategies: frame the acquisition and mastery of skills as an empowering strategic means to problem-solution.
- Cycles of Expertise: build in practice so learners can become experts in problem tasks of increasing difficulty.
- Pleasantly Frustrating: balance teaching so challenges are neither boring nor overwhelming, but achievable (including with help from peers).
Specific Application: Guide Learning with Problems Principles in Canvas
In the videos, Gee shares examples of how good video games can guide learners with good problem design. Here are some ways you can use problems in Canvas. Some redesign will be required on your part. Think about how to create problem-based assignments that take advantage of the organization and feedback features in Canvas.
How to Guide Learning with Problems
- Use the calendar to scaffold units based on complexity. Repeatedly explain, in a variety of methods, how new content relates to and builds upon learned content.
- Use quiz feedback to provide immediate correct-answer reinforcement and incorrect-answer redirection.
- Demonstrate mastery of complex models, and let students try it themselves (with low-stakes consequences for failure).
- Use discussion forums to encourage (and credit) students to work together to solve complex problems.
- Credit students for creating and sharing problem-solving strategies.
- As complexity increases, increase the stakes for foundational problems/tasks.
- Map out and share the learning path — reinforce connections between lower-level content skills and higher-level strategies.
- Encourage self-testing, and use low-stakes (but not zero-stakes) relentless quizzing as a learning drill.
- Ask the students — employ multiple means of formative feedback (quizzes, surveys, muddiest point, in-class student response system questions, reflection papers, etc.) to gauge levels of student understanding and skills. Adjust teaching/curriculum accordingly.
- Create “wiggle room” in syllabus in order to move at students’ pace of learning.
- What other strategies can Canvas aid with?