Thursday, December 19, 2013

Quest Based Learning: A Model for the Flipped Classroom

Forty minutes of class time per day can be very limiting. It certainly does not provide an opportunity to teach everything and support students while working on their projects.  Furthermore, it limits the possibilities for students to extend their learning based on their interest in the content.  The ideal of differentiating instruction within this framework poses another challenge for sure. Over the past few years I have heard more and more about the 'flipped classroom'.  I think it's common to think of the flipped class model as having students watch a video or read the course content prior to a lesson so that class time can be devoted to discussion or work with the guidance of the teacher.  This is certainly one approach, but I am becoming increasingly aware that my classroom is flipped in a different way.

My course is conducted through 3dgamelab, a quest based 'learning management system'.  Essentially, students are presented with available quests that they can complete for experience points (XP).  The XP approach coupled with the achievements, badges, and awards provides a gamified layer which is appealing to many students.   More importantly, however, the quests provide what Jane McGonigal refers to as 'blissful productivity'.  Students are excited to complete a task, receive credit and feedback for it.  Often this leads to the next quest in the quest line which provides a nice approach to scaffolding the learning. 

I teach video game design and development.  I like to provide opportunities for my students to extend their learning as there are so many wonderful tools and learning materials available online.  This works beautifully in a quest-based classroom as students tend to work on these 'side quests' outside of class and they earn points which ultimately contribute to their grade.  It provides students with choice in the learning process.  This is great for differentiating instruction as well as allowing for extension activities for students who would like to continue the learning beyond the course requirements.  

Many of my quests include video tutorials that I have created (or curated) either during lessons in class or specifically for the purpose of demonstrating specific skills.  This allows students to work at their pace and review the content as many times as they need to rather than being expected to comprehend everything the one time it is presented.  This also solves the age old issue of re-teaching topics for a student that misses class for any reason.  

Generally speaking, my students have 3 large projects throughout the semester.  These are the main quest lines and during class this is what students typically work on.  However, to the observer, the learning environment looks more like a studio than a classroom.  I devote most of the class time supporting students as they work on their projects.  When I think of the goal behind the flipped classroom model, I believe this approach exemplifies the philosophy.  Students could complete the three main projects and succeed in the course, but most embrace the opportunities to complete side quests that are either related to the main quests or not.  Typically, I allow students to work on any quests they like on Fridays, adopting something similar to the google 20% time approach as it allows for student driven learning and often sparks interest for students to continue the extension activities outside of class.

One of the things I like best about the Quest Based learning environment is that there is a growing library of available quests through 3dgamelab that can be cloned and edited to suit your needs.  There have been many occasions where I have adapted some of the quests graciously created by others to offer additional learning opportunities for my students.  Likewise, I like to think that I have contributed a great many quests that can be used by others. On a similar note, once you put the energy into developing a quest or quest line it opens up new learning opportunities for students moving forward.  Last week was Computer Science Education Week featuring the Hour of Code challenge.  My students all participated, but the spirit of the hour of code should not only be celebrated during that one week.  My students can continue to complete the quests for XP and these quests are now already in place for my future classes adding to the value of my course moving forward.  

Scaling the course becomes intuitive due to the quest setup which enables the use of prerequisites to open up new quests.  You can set a quest to open after another quest is complete, based on a certain number of XP earned, etc.  One of my long term goals is to scale the game design and development curriculum down to the elementary level and up to the high school level.  Quest based learning lends so well to this as you can develop quests and break them up into different courses or have one course that is scaled based on working through the quest line.  If an elementary school student were to engage in the course and work through quests in order to reach higher level quests, why hold them back?  Likewise, from the standpoint of differentiation, it works well to allow students to start with quests at a level that they can handle.  

I hope that more educators start to see the value in this approach to teaching and learning.  Aside from teaching all of the skills and concepts in my curriculum, I believe that the opportunity for extending the learning will help cultivate a love of learning and demonstrate to students that they can continue learning out of interest rather than obligation.  After all, isn't the development of lifelong learning an esteemable goal in teaching?

What experiences do you have with a flipped class model?  Have you experienced quest based learning as a student or teacher?  I'd love to hear your feedback.  

Are you interested in learning more?  I got my start in one of the 3dgamelab teacher camps where I was able to be both a student (following the tracks that interested me) and an instructional designer as one of the tracks guides participants through the process of understanding quest based learning and creating quests for class use.