Tag Archives: motivation

Skateboarding as a Model for Student-Centered Learning

That's me, doing a handplant. Based on the fashion, I guess it is mid 80s, mabe a bit after. Photo credits probably Sami Knuutila or Samuli Holmala.

That’s me, doing a handplant. Based on the fashion, I guess it is mid 80s, mabe a bit after. Photo credits probably Sami Knuutila or Samuli Holmala.

If you haven’t yet watched Rodney Mullen’s TEDx talk, stop what you are doing (including reading this blog) for 18 minutes, and check it out below.

Ok, now we can continue. I hope you liked the video. If you are  a non-skater, I must emphasize that this is the man who has, maybe alongside Tony Hawk and Danny Way, invented most of the tricks and their key variations which constitute modern day skating.

When I was skating, virtually every day from early 80s to early 90s, these guys as well as Natas Kaupas, Mark Gonzales, Ray Barbee, Matt Hensley, Guy Mariano, and Jason Lee were my heroes. Many of them have since stretched their creativity beyond skating. Jason Lee has turned a Hollywood actor, Matt Hensley plays accordion in a popular punk band Flogging Molly.

And you must’ve heard of Tony Hawk who has built a hugely successful video game franchise on skating. Tony still rides, by the way, he just tried out whether he can still pull off a 900 on a vert ramp at the age of 48. Turns out he can:

So, skateboarding aligns with innovating, as you saw from Mullen’s TED talk above. I’d like to continue with this, drawing connections between skating and education, in particular student-centered learning.

Central concepts in learning are motivation, practicing/drilling, testing, and assessment. You have to be motivated to learn in the first place, then you have to practice, practice, practice, and finally test & assess whether you learned or not. And then iterate or move on.

In skateboarding, the motivating aspects are very intrinsic. You want to show yourself and your pals that you can land a trick. That’s it basically. It most likely hurts a lot before you can master it, but finally it is there. Then you can improve the style, create some variations, etc. But the bottom line is that there are very few external motivators, especially if you are a non-pro skater who doesn’t make a living from winning competitions and scoring sponsorship deals. The same applies to student-centered learning. The student really wants to learn something and this calls for…

Practice/drilling. Mullen didn’t mention it in the video but the saying goes that “innovating is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. This means that the heureka moment is only but a small part of coming up with the finalized innovation. For skateboarding, I would say that the ratio is even sadder, something like “0,1% inspiration and 99,9% perspiration”. It is easy to imagine all sorts of tricks, but really landing them is something else. I still feel sorry for my shins, although it has been 20+ years since they had several daily confrontations with plywood.

Assessment. In skating, most if not all assessment is self-assessment. Sometimes your skating buddies can watch you try something and then give hints: “you’re going too slow for the rail”, “put your front ankle like this”, “kick with back foot for the late shove-it”. These hints can help, but in the end it is up to you to implement them. While airbourne, you are supposed to do several things with your body simultaneously in order to successfully land a flip or a 360 or an ollie impossible. Only you can teach your muscles, hence self-assessment.

Finally, testing. In skateboarding, testing plays little role, if you don’t count the myriad of micro-tests you perform to yourself to try out whether your little plan to complete a trick works out or not. There are no standardized tests. Even competitions have no formal expectations of types of tricks that you have to perform in order to score well. This is what drastically separates skateboarding competitions e.g. from figure skating competitions.

Skateboarding will most likely enter the Olympics at the Tokyo 2020 games. This is one step towards the standardized testing model of skateboarding, of which I am not a big fan. And I am not alone. I am not one of those who deny skating of being a sport or a hobby, claiming that it is a way of life. However, I definitely think that you take something very essential away from it if you start to evaluate tricks according to some predefined and explicitly stated template.

By the way, I bought a deck last summer, to my calculations 21 years after I last owned one. I’ll leave you with your’s truly performing a 360 no-comply in summer 2015:








We Want Immediate Feedback, Nothing Wrong With That

As you might’ve noticed, I like gamification and am interested in how it could be applied in education. I see gamification as an important way to drive student motivation and engagement. Engagement, in turn, together with tools and services increasing teacher efficiency, can lead to better learning outcomes.

Feedback loop.

Wow, lots of big words. So let’s stop and elaborate a little. First of all, by better learning outcomes I don’t mean just good grades. No, they entail actually comprehending things and being able to apply them in various ways. (Think Bloom.)

Secondly, what do I mean with teaching efficiency? I mean facilitating the teacher in any way possible to reduce the bottlenecks slowing down important classroom activities. Teachers need communication tools, automatic grading, intuitive presentation materials, etc.

Finally, motivation and engagement. When students are motivated, they tend to spend more time studying (quantity), but also, and more importantly, they are “open” to learn things (quality). That is why students need engaging exercises and other content.

This is where gamification kicks in (again, as one option among many). I don’t see it as a grand learning theory, not at all. It shouldn’t get us into any Skinnerian dystopia in education. No, I just see it as a means to an end, a way to engage students. There are many many parts in learning and education where gamification plays no role.

Sometimes gamification is criticized for relying on external motivators such as badges, leaderboards, rewards, and immediate feedback. More “noble” would be to find the intrinsic motivators like mastery & creation and tap to those.

Agree & disagree here. I also think indeed intrinsic motivators are more important. However, extrinsic motivators can kickstart the process and lead to craving for mastery and actually learning new things.

It is no accident we play these casual games and spend lots of time in doing so. They carefully build on our need for feedback and advancing in levels. After a while we find ourselves not being so interested in badges and points any more but actually wanting to crack the game. If we can leverage this phenomenon somewhere in the learning process, what’s wrong with that?

A final comment on feedback: it doesn’t always have to be positive. Negative feedback in appropriate doses, forms, and contexts can also drive motivation and learn to better learning outcomes. Mere positive feedback creates spoiled brats.

Flickr image CC credits: stoic

Gamification Ain’t Just Hyped Fabrication

The notion of play comes from inside, it’s in our nature. And I am not just referring to us humans. Take a look at this clip:

Play and gaming are something we get engaged in just because we want to. Why we want to, that varies a lot. I bet those baby ducks were into sliding just for the thrills, but there can be many other motivators, too. Mastery, prizes, social bonding, intellectual challenges, to name a few.

Gamification and game mechanics are studied a lot these days. Gamification sits right at the top of Gartner’s emerging technology hype cycle in 2013. Whenever a technology is in that position, be aware of what gets said or written about it. After all, it is called a hype cycle.

At the same token, not everything is baloney. There are reasons for a  technology to get up there. That’s also the case with gamification. It is not a silver bullet solving climate change or all economic crises. However, if applied well and in right contexts, it can turn out to be useful. And fun.

Gamification basically means applying game-like mechanics and components in non-game contexts. Such components are for example badges, leaderboards, storylines, and currencies. I am especially interested in applying these things in the domain of education.

Some say games and gamified educational materials can make school fun again. I am not in that camp. First of all, I believe that claiming current school to be “unfun” is mostly a reflection of us adults who went to school in the 80s or before.

Secondly, I think educational materials alone cannot do the trick.  Having fun / enjoying oneself benefits from a safe environment, with engaging social surroundings. Gamified materials can help for sure, but they amount up only a part of the equation.

It all comes down to motivation. How to motivate pupils to learn, that is the key question. If that requires splitting up content into chunks that manifest elements familiar from games, let’s do it! If those chunks can follow each other to form a game-like story, let’s do it more!

I started this post by stating that motivation varies per individual. I like water slides so in that sense I get motivated by similar things as the ducks above. I also like intellectual challenges found e.g. in crossword puzzles. I suspect most ducks don’t.

So gamification is closely related to personalized/adaptive learning. We like to play different games and get motivated by different rewards. Also—and this is important—many of us don’t want to play games, at least not all the time. For them we need to fade out the gamified layer instead of underlining it.