in which one learns that designing one-size-fits-all learning for twenty thousand students with no budget is exactly as hard as it sounds.
This project was the first in a move away from autonomous individual work to a project team environment. Our brief was to create a multimedia simulation module which introduced students to various concepts of academic integrity (plagiarism, ghostwriting, collusion etc) that would be a new gatekeeping tool, with every single student at the university required to complete the module prior to submitting their first assignment. The brief held some inherent significant pedagogical challenges, captured by the following:
- The module must take 30 minutes or less to complete
- The module must introduce students to 10 different concepts of academic integrity
- And most significantly, the module must be able to be successfully completed by every single student no matter their stage or experience of study - something like 22,000 students
The last point presented the greatest challenge - it is very rare that you are required to design learning that suits 22,000 different people with a stipulated 100% pass rate.
My role on the project team was initially pedagogical design. To this end I brought with me my previous work in games-based learning and rapid development with tools at hand and no budget (which was fortuitous given we had zero budget for this project) which fed into the design of the module. The project environment, though, enabled me to branch out into some new and rather unexpected skill sets - project management (organic and informal, but project management nonetheless), proposal writing, negotiation, comms, scriptwriting and learning the media development process. Acting, too, as is the peril of having no budget, but that is a particular career diversion I wish to never speak of again.
The approach we took was again informed by games, placing the student in a ‘first person shooter’ role, rather than the third person role more commonly taken in simulations. Students assumed the role of Brenda, modelled on our dominant demographic of mid 30s single mothers in Western Sydney. They would then make decisions on Brenda’s behalf via branching decision points. Our design diverged from the usual model of requiring the student to make the ‘right’ decision, though - even if a student made ‘bad’ decisions (whether this was intentional or genuine), they would still be able to complete the module and would still have achieved the specified goal of the brief - introducing students to the 10 concepts.
In contrast to my previous work, this project had significant internal impact - fulfilling a brief mandating it for 22,000 students will have that effect. From a pedagogical viewpoint though, I don’t feel this was effective work - too many compromises were made and at that point I wasn’t able to advocate for a better outcome.
I also found it more difficult to communicate this project outwardly - as my first experience with a project team working to a brief, I felt uncomfortable with the idea of associating this type of work with the personal ‘brand’ I’d built in the sector. It wasn’t until several years later that I would start to unpack my discomfort and how my work shaped my identity, and be able to move away from the ego of siloed design.
Another notable diversion for this project was, due to behaving more as a design studio fulfilling a commercial brief, there was no scholarship involved in this project, and no engagement with the literature (however superficially I may have approached this at the time). This was unfortunate for a number of reasons but most significantly because engagement with the simulation literature would have enabled design work that managed the learning process and the expectations and experiences of the learners. I felt this keenly in the feedback from students after implementation - many students felt the module was unengaging and patronising. Even today, most students choose to take the ‘read this policy document then rote answer multiple choice questions’ quiz instead of the simulation module, even though this is completely counterintuitive from a pedagogical point of view
Unfortunately at the time we were not in a position to undertake robust evaluation, nor reflect on project structures and processes, and it would be several years before I was personally able to reflect on this particular project and identify ways that we could have improved and lessons we could have learned for future projects.