Alternative Assessment in Sakai: Part 2 - Games and Interactive Activities

By: Wilma Hodges, Ed.D.

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the use of short, focused quizzing to reinforce concepts, encourage mastery, and selectively release content. Now, in Part 2, we will discuss a few ways you can use game dynamics to both engage and assess learners.

There are many different types of games that can be used as tools in the learning environment. The game-based learning continuum spans everything from simple, points-based badging, to immersive, 3D, virtual environments. However, you don’t have to have lots of integrations or sophisticated game apps to be able to use game elements in your classroom. Sometimes, the most effective games are the simple ones.

Use forums for role-playing activities.

As any RPG fan can tell you, role playing games can be quite compelling and fun. Setting up a fictional scenario and having students play a part in the story is an engaging way to explore real-world situations. This sort of play also allows students to demonstrate their understanding of the topic in a more authentic manner.

Role-playing exercises can be useful for teaching a variety of different subjects, such as history, political theory, medicine, psychology, literature, and the list goes on. You might assign students to take on the personas of characters in specific scenarios in order to generate discussion about subjects relevant to the course. For example, a nursing course might have one or more students play the part of a patient with a scripted set of symptoms, and other students could take on the role of a health care worker trying to diagnose the problem and provide treatment.

The Forums tool in Sakai can facilitate this sort of activity by using the “anonymous” feature for forums and topics. Posts can be set to display as anonymous to students in the class, but still display the author’s name to instructors. This allows the instructor to easily determine individual participation and assign grades, while still maintaining the fictional roles by not revealing students' names to the rest of the class.

Assess learning through narrative games and interactive fiction.

Interactive fiction or “choose your own adventure” games are deceptively simple text-based constructs. If you are familiar with old-school games like Zork or Oregon Trail, you know that these types of games present players with a series of choices, and based on the player’s selections, the storyline diverges along very different paths. Narrative games of this sort are excellent for teaching topics such as interviewing skills, ethical decision making, language arts, and more.

The low-tech nature of simple, text-based, interactive fiction activities makes them surprisingly easy to set up from a technical perspective. And, if you are so inclined, the narrative can be augmented by the use of images, audio, and video to make the story come to life even more. Of course, just like any work of fiction, time and creativity on the part of the author are required to develop the story.

You, as the instructor, might choose to develop the story yourself and award students points based on successfully reaching a particular ending. Or, you could make story development a collaborative activity where you provide a general premise, and then the students work together to write the story themselves. In this scenario, you would assess them based on their contribution to the project and their command of the subject matter as demonstrated in the student-authored narrative.

In Sakai, there are several tools you could use to create interactive fiction activities. One way to do this would be using the Lessons tool to create a branching storyline with a series of choices that take users down a different path of pages based on their selections. This could also be done in the Resources tool using html pages linked together with their own internal navigation. The Wiki tool is also a great choice for this sort of activity, particularly if you plan to make it a collaborative exercise.

Give students a choice.

Choice is one of the fundamental characteristics of all games. Players choose to play; they choose their moves, and their choices determine the outcome of the game.

Offering students a choice of assessments gives them a greater sense of ownership over their learning. Additionally, providing choice gives students the opportunity to tailor their course work to better align with their preferred methods of expression, as discussed in Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. There is almost always more than one way to assess the key competencies for a learning objective. Consider creating alternative sets of assessments that address the same competencies or objectives, and let students pick the one they want to submit. For example, you might offer a choice of a project, a presentation, a paper, or an oral exam on a given topic.

To go one step further, consider using Joinable Groups in Sakai to let students select their preferred method of assessment for each unit of instruction. Content, quizzes, or assignments may be released to specific groups based on group membership if desired. Or, if you would like to let students sign up for things like presentation time slots, exam dates, etc., Sign Up is the perfect tool for the job.

To be continued in Part 3: Portfolios and Peer Review

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