in which simple Moodle tools are repurposed to build the greatest game nobody ever played. A cautionary tale of fit for purpose design, knowing your audience and seeing the forest for the innovation.
The Moodle Dailies is still one of my most well-known projects, and represents both a solidification of my place in the online educational development community of practice found on Twitter, and the beginning of my exploration of games-based learning.
Having done professional development for teachers and academic staff for a couple of years at this point, it became apparent that a traditional model of face to face point and click workshop training for staff was not producing enduring impact on practice. And on the introduction of a new LMS at UNE in late 2010, it also became apparent that a traditional model of face to face point and click workshop training for staff was incredibly resource-intensive when 700 staff would need to learn how to use the new system.
In attempting to solve both of these issues at once, I looked to the games industry for inspiration. I was convinced that looking outside of higher education for strategies to solve problems within higher education was necessary, and during this time I had been following the work of a number of colleagues in the sector investigating games-based learning - particularly the work of Groom (2011) and Nardi (2007, 2009). Rather than the superficial engagement layer of gamification leveraged by the marketing industry, though, I wanted to explore ‘real’ games and their mechanics.
I positioned myself as a novice and began playing the games that I had previously scoffed at - MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, and mobile games such as Angry Birds - and as I was learning paid careful attention to how they scaffolded learning and engagement. I was invested and spent several hours a day playing, learning to do things I had previously dismissed. Imagine the impact, I thought, if we took the learning and engagement strategies from games and put them into staff training! Surely, this would produce the same level of engagement and impact on practice.
To do this, I once again took a system and used it to do something it wasn’t meant to do - game mechanics. I created a Moodle site that used simple Moodle features to create a streamed levelling mechanism and that used a visual interface for implicit, rather than explicit, learning. For this I worked entirely on my own - once again a pocket, siloed innovation initiative. But this time, I worked out loud, blogging and tweeting my design process as I went. And the positive reinforcement I received from the community of practice on Twitter gave me a sense of success and so I was able to ignore the fact that this time, the project failed miserably for its target group of ‘students’. The problem was that I was unaware at the time of the work of Csikszentmihalyi (1991) on the concept of ‘flow’ - key to the engagement metrics of games and something I failed to take into account in my design - the challenge I had created was far too high conceptually for staff to be able to meet with their skill set to enter and remain in a state of flow. Thus they did not engage at all.
The Moodle Dailies are probably the most striking example of all the artefacts in this portfolio of the phenomenon of internal failure with external impact. Rogue, pocket innovation has very little, if any, transformational impact due to its inability to overcome institutional cultural and structural issues. You can work quickly and productively on your own or with a few like minded intrepids, but this work so easily gets subsumed by the issues it fails to address. In my case, though, the impact I saw in the thinking and practice of my colleagues outside in the Twitterverse buoyed me and told me the work was worthwhile. This way of working was further validated by the literature at the time - particularly Christensen (2010, 2011) and Kamenetz (2010) - who focused on rogue, disruptive, student-facing strategies and a DIY mentality for innovation in education. This state of play would continue to shape my work over the next few years.
Christensen, C. (2010). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw-Hill
Christensen, C. (2011). The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1991). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins
Groom, D. (2011). “Massively Productive: Learning with the gamer generation”. ASLA 2011. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/31699254
Kamenetz, A. (2010). DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. Vermont: Chelsea Green.
Nardi, B. (2007). “Learning Conversations in World of Warcraft”. Proc. HCSS 2007. Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/5015743.pdf
Nardi, B. (2009). My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft. Michigan: University of Michigan Press