Monday, May 25, 2015

Gamification and game-based learning

I mentioned in a previous post that I have had some interesting experiences with teaching methods over the last couple of years. I felt frustrations when I was using the design that is standard operating procedure for most post-secondary courses: a lecture series, possibly with discussion seminars graded based on participation and then a couple of exams and a graded paper. I did not feel that the assessment forms really were sufficient for optimizing the learnings for my students nor the model provided me with sufficient feedback to know how to facilitate their learning.

Then I discovered 3dgamelab, and everything changed. Since 2013, it is the design I use, and shown in this video

It has three main advantages, in my experience:

  • formative assessment - This is different from summative assessment (i.e. a typical exam - write the exam, get a grade, move on). In formative assessment, the student will produce a learning artifact of some kind, but if it doesn't meet the requirements, I will send it back. Thus, the student learns through that feedback.
  • increased student engagement through active learning - I have dispensed with the lecture series (my lectures are now available on YouTube), and use the classroom time for students to do labs or simulations, keeping them active.
  • increased student agency - students can choose from a smorgasbord of assignments and complete them at a time of their choice.

The effects have been palpable, and it seems to me that the scholarship on teaching methods generally provide support for the veracity of the model. Next week, I'm presenting a paper on my experiences. Here is the abstract:

Gamification consists of the introducing game mechanics into activities to engage users with motivation beyond what is normally expected. Properties include introducing points accumulation, badges, levels, leaderboards, challenges or quests, customization, economies, avatars, and role-play. When introduced into education in the form of game-based learning, such elements can raise student motivation as well as decision-making capacity and cognitive development as students are given increased control over their learning path. In 2013, I changed my political science course design using the learning platform 3dgamelab. The experience was transformative on many levels, including learning achievements and the instructor-student relationship. This paper describes those experiences for the purpose of demonstrating the utility of game-based learning when teaching political science in higher education. It provides an overview of the literature on game-based learning in education and the significance of some integral components of a course design using 3dgamelab, including elements like active learning, the flipped classroom and formative grading. This literature provides important context for the experiences I have made transforming a lecture based course design to a game-based one. Five courses have now been delivered using this framework at the 200 and 300-level in Comparative and Canadian politics, with class sizes varying between 8 and 75 students. The paper identifies opportunities for instructors as well as potential sources of problems and how to re-think how political science education can be delivered in a more engaging way.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

New topics

I will be adding comments on two areas to this blog. One is about public administration. Most of the research on immigrant integration focuses on the human capital of the newcomers (what do they bring in terms of competence, education, experience), immigrant rights (how encompassing should they be), the size of the welfare state, or public policy (for example, does the host country have official multiculturalism or not). However, very little attention is given to how the programs that are supposed to facilitate immigrant integration are organized - who is doing what, with what mandate and funding? Those are all questions of public administration and management.

Secondly, I will add my reflections on teaching in political science on the post-secondary level. I taught my first course in 2010 and in 2013, I switched to gamification and game-based learning. That prompted me to think a lot about how teaching is done in this field. I'm presenting a paper on the subject at the coming annual CPSA Canadian Political Science Association in June in Ottawa. That will be quite exciting!

Thesis: Completed

I am finally getting back to this blog. It is done - the thesis has been successfully defended. Here is a 1 minute synopsis of it:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Measuring discrimination with a questionnaire?

A new report from Timbro, the Swedish right-wing think tank, has caused some commentary. The author argues that discrimination does not explain why immigrants face challenges on the Swedish labour market. This argument rest on the observation that employers in other countries (Canada, Denmark, Germany) answer a question from World Value Survey concerning privileging native born job seekers over foreign born such more negatively than Swedish employers do.

While I have to admit that I was surprised that Canadian employers would be presenting such answers to the question, the report, in my opinion, has a fundamental methodological flaw, and that is its reliance on the World Value Survey for its conclusions. This survey is a quantitative survey of values, taken in from across the world (as the name implies). It could be argued the aggregate data of the Survey gives us some idea about cultural differences across the world (though it is possible to question that, too, to some extent - after all, how do you develop distinctly separate categories of "traditional" and "secular-rational" values?) but I'm not sure that it is a useful in a smaller sample studie like this.

More importantly, it is inherently quantative, and I'm not at all convinced that quantitative methods can reveal a whole lot about discrimination in practice. At best, the report manages to show that Swedish employers have a self-image of not being discriminatory, but from there, it's a bit of a leap to conclude that they will not act in a discriminatory fashion in practice. Indeed, unconscious discrimation, i.e. acts that are not intended as discriminatory, but result in discriminatory outcomes because of ignorare, or prejudice that is assumed to be common sense, cannot be easily probed using a questionnaire.

Qualitative methods, like in-depth interviews, participant observation and so on would be more appropriate, and every time such methods have been employed in Sweden, significant discriminatory behaviour has been observed.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Management by mistrust

The Swedish minister of integration recently announced that immigrants who refuse to move to an offered job will received reduced welfare remuneration. As he says, "You have a responsibility to find a job and have to be prepared to move".

While this might seem fairly straight-forward to some, it is a continuation of a long series of policies of the last decade or so, which are united by a common theme. They all focus on compelling, or more accurately, coercing immigrants to 'take greater responsibility for their own integration', as the advocates of this regime would formulate it.

This regime is based on the underlying assumption that immigrants are not doing enough to settle in the new society (however this is defined). Thus, they need to be forced to do more to accomplish this. Several reservations can be raised:

1) I can't say that I've seen any research that would suggest that immigrants are unwilling to find jobs or settle in their new societies, or even that such attitudes, or inactivity on their part would be a significant factor in social exclusion or immigrant unemployment. Whatever these types of policies are based on, it is hardly the current state of migration research.

2) The regime itself lays the blame on failed integration on immigrants, and proposed more punishment or adjustments of them, for instance by "raising their competence" through vocational training programs by coercion. Doing so increases the "us" versus "them" divisions in society by finding "them" culpable for their own social exclusion.

At heart, then, this is just another proposal that is based on management by mistrust. I doubt it will have any positive effect, or make immigrants feel like they are treated with respect by the new country.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Preventing honour killings

CBC continues its coverage of these types of crimes. This feature discusses how a Muslim community centre acts to prevent such violence. It's not a large organization, its website showing that it only has about six employees, and yet, I would not be surprised if it was quite succesful. The difference between this community group and a public agency is that precisely because it's a group developed from the community, of the community, it has a different understanding, different cultural capital and legitimacy for the community. In contrast, a public agency has the problem of its exercise of power. By virtue of being a public authority, it has a barrier to building trust within the community, and I believe that trust is key in the prevention of these crimes. That includes not only helping the people who would become victims, but also, effectively, reaching out to those who might become potential perpetrators and influencing them so that they don't.

I also found it interesting that the group is cooperating with an American group that seems completely unrelated - because how would, at face, honour killings have to do with gang violence among African American communities, be related. Well, judging from what is said in the feature, it is linked through the destructive status mechanisms that drives violence in both cases. Also, they both have in common that they are solutions that come from within the community. That gives the group itself power over the issue and a voice in public space.

I think that is imperative if such efforts are to succeed.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Honour related killings in Canada and Sweden

This topic is currently receiving some attention in both Canada and Sweden. In Canada, this is due to two cases currently in the legal system, the Shafia trial , where members of the Shafia family (orginally from Afghanistan) stand accused of killing four sisters, and the extradiction procedure of the mother and uncle of young woman accused of being involved in her murder in India. In Sweden, the attention stems largely from the rememberance of it being 10 years since the murder of Fadime Sahindal, of Kurdish decent.

This is a very complex issue and one disclaimer needs to be made right away: I haven't studied these types of events or the processes behind as part of my work. I merely take part of what the ongoing public debate in public space and make reflections based on my experience stuyding ethnic relations.

Sometimes (and in my impression this is more explicitly so in Europe), the public debate is said to consist of two camps, one (predominantly to the left) arguing that honour killings are just another form of patriarchy, and one (arguably on the right) saying that it's an issue of culture, where some cultures condone and encourage such killings in the name of honour. What is particularly problematic is that both sides tend to mirepresent the other side's argument in an almost hyperbolic fashion. So the "culture as a cause" side argues that the other side are "cultural relativists" who would look away and even allow murder for the sake of "multiculturalism" or "respecting other people's culture" (and I've never actually heard anyone make any such arguments). Meanwhile, the "it's patriarchy side" wants to paint the other side as just another group of racists.

The reason I find it complex is that I don't think that either form of explanation is succifiently nuanced, but also that both sides seem to simplify the processes that might underly these phenomena to the point of misrepresenting them, which would also obstruct preventative work rather than facilitate it.

For those who want to explain this with culture, several questions immediately rise: how are the Kurdish, Afghan and Indian cultures similar? It's not the religion of Islam, clearly, since the Indians in question, it seems to me, are not Muslim, but Hindu (indeed, it was a marriage across caste-lines that was alledgedly the motive of the killing). Moreover, there are many, many people within each of these communities who are activists trying to combat these practices, including Sara Mohammed herself, the founder of the Swedish network above. Indeed, if I recall correctly, the Kurdish community organized a manifestation against these practices in connection to the murder, so it's fairly clear that it's difficult to assign this type of value to a culture in a wider, ethnic sense (unless someone wants to try and make the argument that Kurds who take exception to such practices are "less Kurdish" than those who condone them, which is an argument I would find absurd).

Yet, at the same time, there does seem to me some form of status mechanism involved - the perpetrators seem to share the "protection of the family honour" motive. Thus, there is some form of cultural capital that drives these processes. Exactly how that takes place, and what common denominators can be found, I could not say (since I have not studied these properly)*.

However, I am concerned with the public debate, because reductionism is not going to prevent more murders, and that goes both ways. Engaging in a rhetoric that paints an entire community of "others" as "potential honour murderers" is only going to exacerbate racialization and stigmatization. Likewise, denying that there are young men and women who, at the end of the day, risk their lives if they do not conform to a wider family's demands with regards to their love lives, is not going to help these victims.

Finally, the ways of addressing the issue seem to differ between the two countries. In Canada, it seems to be the immigrant communities themselves who address the issue. Many advocates I have heard speaking on the subject express their concern that these murders will increase prejudice against the own community, and also argue that these practices are not inherent in the culture and therefore police should be so concern with "respecting the culture" that they do not take firm action against such crimes. In Sweden, immigrant organizations are quite underfunded and hardly agents to speak of. Instead, it is the government agencies that own the issue, as described by Björling, a former member of a women's centre. The problem with that is that the predominantly ethnic Swedish civil servants have very limited insight into the communities and also lack competence in dealing with the issue. Indeed, the grassroot organizations seems to have been continuously sidelined by Swedish government officials, in a most destructive manner, according to Björling. It's a pattern I recognize.

My experience tells me that the Canadian model probably can be more succesful: it gives ownership to the issue to those closest concerned with it, including the advocates of victims, who are likely to be more knowledgeable about this. It would also avoid stereotyping and racialization. That said, I'm not aware of any study that has actually compared the two models.

*If I were to speculate, I would probably make a Bourdieusian analysis, thinking about cultural capital in fairly closed social network (Habitus) as one important driver. In that sense, the practice can be related to both culture and patriarchy, and distinct from some other patriarchal practices, but not cultural in an ethnic sense, since it seems like a phenomenon that exists within subsets of larger communities.