Tuesday, March 29, 2022
By Jennifer Keefe
Step inside Richard Thomas’ classroom and you are immediately on a quest.
Dr. Minchan, the cybernetically enhanced rebel of the Resistance Army, might be encouraging you to engage with what you are reading more intentionally, or you might be traveling around the Hermagora Galaxy debunking myths using Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit.
That’s because Richard, professor, English, East Campus has turned his ENC 1101 and 1102 classes into gamified explorations of concepts related to writing and research.
Students in his classes earn not only grades but also points that give them a place on his leaderboard, which shows them their rank in the game compared to other students in the class.
Like a real video game, students also have a health bar that goes down if they miss or turn in an assignment draft late.
Richard is currently in the third year of his tenure process.
He’s playing around with his gamified courses for his action research project.
When he started planning his project, he looked at what his goal was for his students first.
“I started with the premise that my students needed to improve their writing, and the way to do that was to use the writing process of draft-feedback-rewrite,” Richard explains.
But what he found was that students weren’t doing the drafts. They were just skipping levels and turning in final papers for grades. Richard’s fundamental question became, “how do I get more drafts from students?”
The answer was gamification.
With his research, Richard was trying to test Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s Theory of Loss Aversion.
In a nutshell, loss aversion is the idea that the pain associated with losing something, in this case, hearts in a composition class, was more motivating than the joy of gaining extra credit or a bonus in the class.
Prior to researching about loss aversion, Richard hypothesized that instead of penalizing students by deducting hearts from their health bar, he could incentivize on-time draft submissions by rewarding them a heart each time they turned in a draft. He thought a rewards-based model such as this would foster a growth-mindset in students and develop a more positive attitude toward paper writing, but that was not the case. He’s still going through the results of his research, but Richard already says he’s realized that the punitive model is much more motivating than the reward-based model.
He’s still going through the results of his research, but Richard already says he’s realized that penalizing them and taking away health for not doing the work is more effective than raising the health bar for work turned in.
Richard says he still supports gamification as part of his teaching methodology, but he says he might be the one learning the big lesson here.
“What I learned from this is that the TLA embraces failure,” he explains.
“We all learn from it,” he adds.
But not proving his hypothesis hasn’t meant “game over” for the game-based format of Richard’s classes.
Instead, he plans to revamp his assessment plan once he has fully interpreted the results of his action research project.
He explains, “If I want students to feel a sense of mastery, that mastery is perhaps best achieved when their gamified accomplishments are explicitly aligned with the course’s concepts or skills.”
Richard earned a master’s degree in English language and literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from the University of California at Berkeley.
He began his teaching career as a part-time professor of English at Colorado Technical College’s Early College program in 2012.
He also taught English at Pike’s Peak Community College and rhetoric and composition at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
Richard came to Valencia in the fall of 2016 on a 10-month contract and became a full-time, tenure-seeking professor in the fall of 2018.
He has actually used gamification in his classes for about the past 10 years.
So many of his classes in Colorado Springs focused on technology that he realized gamifying them made sense.
Gamification isn’t just reserved for Richard’s online classes. His face-to-face classes get to play with language, too.
For example, he plays a game with them he calls 30 Random Words. In the game, groups of students sort the words into five boxes based on themes the groups each agree to.
Through a process he calls COG (connecting, ordering, grouping), the students connect the words by a chosen common theme in the boxes, order the boxes, and then group the boxes to form a thesis by showing how the words are connected.
They understand more about the process of developing a good thesis by the end of the exercise.
The end of the exercise is when Richard also reveals that none of the words are actually related.
He says the exercise “takes the concept of organization that they relate to and applies it to writing in an immersive experience.”
One of Richard’s best practices as an instructor has to do with feedback.
He tries to give his students feedback on drafts and papers within 48 hours so that they can continue the draft-feedback-rewrite process with as little interruption as possible.
He does this by using his tablet pen and the Canvas audio feedback feature.
He also utilizes a technique called view-comment-question where students watch a video, take notes, and then are required to submit questions about the concept to him. He answers the questions as part of his feedback.
Richard says all of his activities focus on a growth mindset for students.
He says he “wants to give students space to fail and to learn from failure.”
Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight