06 December 2012

MOOCs and gamification - are we already there?

Why MOOCs will not replace standard education.

Warning! This contains sweeping statements: this is true of too many students – but clearly not all!

Students do not want to learn anything, they want certification and prestige with minimal effort.  This fits neatly within the expectations of a rational person:
  1. self-interested
  2. utility maximising (Wealth)
  3. strategically thinking

We can also further assume that students will prefer:
  1. effort avoidance
  2. short-term over long term rewards

Students are obsessed with grades. Indeed, the existence of grades are themselves is evidence of this obsession.  If students were truly interested in learning something, without the need for some arbitrary quantifying mechanism, students would come to learn from teachers, and the learning process would be reward in its own right.  But this is a system of our own making. 

There is a need to signal to 3rd parties of the quality of learning that has taken place.  Enter the grades.  Grades are by themselves, a gameification of the real world.  Where ever there are rules, rational agents will naturally attempt to maximise their expected returns within the real-life rules of the game.  Students, like all human beings, well understand that the real-life rules are not the same as the official rules.  This means some rules can be broken, many can be bent.  Thus the rules often create perverse incentives.

Seriously, why bother?
Cheating is a very common tactic among students within the rules of the game.  There are pens designed to help students cheat in exams. Yet, plagiarism is the biggest problem and it has never been easier.  Detection tools provide a shield, but are ultimately ineffective against a globalised workforce that is willing to hire out their time to create original work for a pittance.  Term essays can be sold for as cheap as $50, high school for $16.  In large classrooms, this can be difficult to detect.

MOOCs as an antithesis?
I hear pollyanna whenever people tell me
 "All education will be online, and for FREE!"
Uh huh, Sure. Here's a nice instruction book
to guide you to the superhighway.  
Some online courses provide no grading whatsoever, however most do.  Currently no MOOC provides recognised certification, as there are far too many barriers to true authentication.  How can we be sure that this really is your work.  Without authentication, there can be no certainty, and hence no certification.  Indeed without certification then there are no consequences to grades achieved.

This is insane.  Why bother?  Students are only cheating themselves

Thus, we expect students to only take up a MOOC if they were genuinely interested in learning.  Yet plagiarism seems rife.  It seems the goal of effort avoidance, appears to be a particular strong one, and often trump all other goals.

Cheating is not going away.
If cheating will not go away, then neither will face-to-face schools.  Teachers, as ever will need to find new ways to trick students into learning things that they really do not wish to do.  The gameification of the real world by creating our system of education, and the related sub-games of  grades and certification, has worked in the past.  However, a consistent weakening of the system may lead to a lack of trust.  Grade inflation presents a greater risk to our business model, then would the rise of online MOOCs.

"Now, jump through these hoops. It's a
FUN game - really!" - teachers
Gameification of courses could help to lead to better intrinsic interest - yet this is really a game application of an already gameified system. Perhaps we just need to make our classes more relevant to them. We only need these hoops for students to jump through because we haven't been able to convince them to do it themselves ordinarily. 

Ultimately, students come to school for a piece of paper.  Most of them are totally disinterested in learning anything we have to teach them. That ought be a terrible indictment on our practices rather than just theirs

-Tetracarbon out
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