Using video games to communicate information: Interview with Eric Church of the Woodrow Wilson Center at #GLS11

I had the chance to sit down with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Eric Church for a quick interview I broadcast on Periscope.

Eric is interested in the ways that we might utilize video games in order to engage audiences and communicate information. While tools like infographics are quite popular right now, he says the Wilson Center envisions video games entering this space in ways that are more interactive.

This strikes me as a profound rethink of the way we, as consumers, acquire information. Whether through traditional textbooks, newspaper articles, television news or even the hip new infographics, we are talking about a process of direct flow of information. Through gaming, this process could become an alternating current of information.

There is so much potential here. Imagine, for example, reading about Congressional debate over the recent free-trade agreement legislation in the New York Times. In addition to providing reporting, photographs and perhaps video, the newspaper could also provide a link to a simple 5 minute video game that objectively communicates the important facts about the debate in a way that engages readers.

You can view the interview here.

4 Valid Concerns of Digital Badge Skeptics

There are a lot of folks who are skeptical of Digital Badges. As a vocal proponent of their value, I get frequent pushback from education, industry and policy stakeholders. In most cases, their skepticism is warranted and welcome. The following are the four most frequently voiced concerns they share:

“Digital Badges are meaningless.”

I’ve had many conversations during which someone equates Digital Badges with stickers or gold stars. If that’s all they are, the thinking goes, isn’t collecting evidence and issuing a Digital Badge a lot of extra work? This is a valid concern! If a Badge is meaningless, skeptics are right to wonder: What’s the point?

Let’s say I pay a conference registration fee and receive the conference’s Digital Badge. The logo may look nice and even important on my CV but what does it really communicate about me? It doesn’t convey anything about my learning or achievement. It doesn’t provide a potential employer with insights into my skill set. It doesn’t even validate that I made it beyond the bar in the hotel lobby! The sole meaning is that I paid a registration fee and what’s the point in that? Skeptics 1, Badges 0.

But, Digital Badges are not inherently meaningless. They can and will serve a point when they function as a micro credential. This necessitates that they align with knowledge, skills and achievements that are valued by Badge Consumers (such as colleges and employers). To this point, those issuing Digital Badges are wise to follow the Best Practices of publishing the criteria for earning Badges as well as the evidence that is provided in order prove that the criteria has been met.

2. “Digital Badges serve as extrinsic rewards.”

This is very common critique. If someone believes that extrinsic rewards have no place in education, work and life, then this statement goes much deeper than Digital Badges and there is probably little space for productive discussion. In my experience however, the friction is usually more about extrinsic rewards that fail to align with the credential.

Restorative Justice offers a good analogy as it seeks to repair an injustice with a restorative act/punishment that fits the offense. If I get caught littering at school, I may have to apologize to my community for the damage I’ve done and do a trash pickup around the school grounds. This may be instructive to how we design extrinsic rewards for Digital Badges. Awarding a student with extra recess time when she earns her Analysis Badge would be like putting a student in public stockades as punishment for littering; it just doesn’t fit.

Imagine instead that a student who earns her Analysis Badge is offered the opportunity to use it in order to do a job shadow with someone who works as a Data Analyst. Is it an extrensic reward? Yes. Does it align with her achievement? Yes. Is offering opportunities like this to deserving students good for kids? Absolutely!

3. “How can I trust that someone’s Digital Badges are valid?”

Colleges and employers have a problem: many of the skills they seek are not represented on transcripts and difficult or impossible to verify on resumes. Digital Badges offer a potential solution. Making a bad hire is expensive on many levels for employers and micro credentials that communicate information about an applicant’s skills may help employers make better informed hiring decisions.

This sounds great for all involved. There’s a big assumption at play here however: the credential must be trusted. When someone displays her Digital Badge, will the audience be able to trust it? Badge skeptics are right to be concerned about this.

Unless and until a tool is developed that is able to validate that Digital Badges are trustworthy, these waters will remain murky. But there is one encouraging and powerful mechanism at work to support Badges: evidence. Because both the criteria required to earn a Badge and the artifact(s) that prove someone met that criteria are “baked” into the Badge, discriminating consumers can (and should!) click to view the evidence and decide for themselves whether it is valid.

4. “Most people are doing it wrong.”

While I’m not aware of any published data that supports this, I think it’s a reasonable assertion. I also think there are few people with 10,000 hours of badging experience. There are more and more people every day who are diving into this nascent space and getting muddy but expertise is still scarce. This means that as easy as it is to identify wrong practices, statements about the right way are probably dubious. I believe it’s simply too early to go there and that it is perilous to do so.

The risk factor here is that someone who is excited use Digital Badges will get discouraged and quit before they’ve had a chance to do something that might be good for their students. This is not to say that we should avoid criticism and asking hard questions because these are important. Rather, the key is to approach the critique with a growth mindset.

When I think to my first years of teaching, I cringe at what I thought was good instruction back then. My hindsight tells me that I was struggling, at best. Lucky for me and my students, nobody told me, “Wrong! Stop what you’re doing because you’re doing it wrong!” Mentors and colleagues encouraged my risk-taking and innovation and worked with me to develop into a better professional. We all start somewhere and it’s rarely at the All Star Game. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect a Digital Badge novice to be a model of Best Practices on her first attempts. It is also irresponsible to discourage her efforts before she’s had a chance to reflect and retry. When a teacher issuing Digital Badges “is doing it wrong,” we owe it to her and her students to encourage her growth and help her improve. When she is given the space and support she needs, she may go on to become one of the experts we desperately need.

Suggested activity for all vacationing teachers to take advantage of THIS upcoming Monday (and Friday)



I find a lot of my best inspiration for education when immersing myself in environments outside of education. When I’m thinking about preparing young people to be successful in the work environments of the future, I take field trips to cutting edge work spaces that are leading the way to our future. When I’m thinking about preparing young people to successfully collaborate with the innovative thought leaders of tomorrow, I go to where these minds gather today. One such place that probably exists in your own back yard isCreative Mornings.

Creative Mornings happens in 117 cities on the 2nd Friday of every month. While locations and speakers vary, there is a single theme shared around the globe at each site. This month’s theme is Revolution. Registration always goes live at 8am on that Monday (4 days prior to the event). It’s free, includes coffee and a pastry and gets you in a room from which you leave a more inspired person 2 hours later.

There are at least ten quizillion things that are awesome about being a teacher. Having a schedule that makes it impossible to attend Creative Mornings is not one of them. Depending on when in August you go back to school, this might be your last only chance of 2015.

So, do yourself a favor and pop over to their website and create a profile. Set a calendar reminder for Monday morning at 7:59am to login and register for next Friday’s Creative Mornings lecture. Go there on Friday morning feeling friendly and ready to walk up to strangers and say, “Hi.” You will meet some amazing creatives in your community and surely come up with great ideas for classroom connections.

Student-led Final Review

This post originally appeared on TeachPaperless blog 3 years ago. While some of the tools are now antiquated, I hope the ideas can help educators seeking to add creative, innovation, engagement and meaning to the final review process.

Others on this blog have been writing about student-produced/student-driven final exams. I’d like to add to the conversation the student-produced final review. This is the third semester that I have foregone handing out a big semester review before the final and instead left it up to my students to guide the review and I have not been disappointed. Just as there are a wide range of abilities in my classes, students produce an array of activities that go far beyond what I would have created, especially on the high and low ends of ability/readiness. I would be lying if I claimed that 100% of students subsequently took advantage of class review time to diligently study and prepare for the final exam but the vast majority do and, from my viewpoint, appear much more engaged in the whole process. I think that the student ownership creates buy-in and interest in what we are doing.

Note that while this is for high school Spanish students, most of the tools and resources here can be adapted to meet the needs of other subjects. This year, the most popular and beneficial study guides came in the form of the dice maker,, awards shows and Quizlet. Below is an abbreviated version of how I introduce this to classes (I post it to them on Edmodo — along with the *content* they can expect to see on the final exam — and those who create digital reviews share them with classmates on the group page):

One of the ways that you can demonstrate your own understanding of learning is to be able to show it or teach it to another student. To that end, you will help others study for the final exam (and they will help you) by creating a review activity or game. We will dedicate block day and Friday to preparing for the final exam by using YOUR review activities.

You must be able to explain the game to your peers. If you are unsure about your idea, run it by me before your create it. You may do more than one activity. If you have a bigger project to attempt, I am open to allowing you to work in pairs but clear it with me first. Same goes for any doubts you have…if you have questions, ask!

Some ideas:
1. Write stories that classmates can read. By reading them, they are studying and preparing for the test.

2. Record a listening practice. You can record a reading of one of our stories from class (They will be in your edmodo library) and have questions that classmates answer to demonstrate their listening comprehension.

3. Adjust one of these games to meet your needs:

4. This site is a gold mine of activities you can use: awards certificate maker to do your own awards show for classmates, dice games, board game generator to invent your own board game, crossword puzzles and more. A lot of you used this one last semester:

5. Create a story (usng target vocab!) in the form of a fake Facebook conversation:

6. Here’s another site with great resources, including a Jeopardy game maker:

7. Make your own online review game!

8. Make your own poster series (Hola meme addicts!). This site has some good resources:

9. Create a stack of digital flash cards. There are a ton of resources out there. Here’s one:

10. This is a step up from a dice game: Sentence Generator

This is but a partial list of what resources are out there. What would you add to the list? Have you had success (or struggle) with tasking students to take ownership of their own final review? Let us know how are hacking (or would hack!) the final review process in the comments!