Expert Panel brings Clarity to MOOCs in Business+MOOCs Hangout

Clear as a [cow] Bell
    ‘Clear-as-a [Cow]-Bell’, by hynkle
The discussion on the Business+MOOC: the Hangout video recording with its expert panel is a must see for individuals within organizations considering implementing a MOOC and/or wondering how it might fit in with the orgnization’s strategy. Even if you are not a business person, but want to learn more about MOOCs, you’ll find the discussion enlightening. The recorded session brings clarity to what a MOOC can accomplish and what it can’t, as well as raising issues for further deliberation. Hosted by Jay Cross, the discussion features educators, business leaders, and the ‘rock stars of MOOCdom‘ as named by Cross. In this post I’ll list the panel members, highlight key themes of the discussion, provide links for further reading. I’ve also embedded the video recording at the end of the post. The session recording is an hour-long, which I realize is a significant time commitment, but it is highly recommend for those wanting further clarity about MOOCs. Note: the session formally begins at the 09:30 minute mark.

Why we Need Clarity
With any new phenomenon like the MOOC, it’s expected that there will be numerous misconceptions about what it can accomplish. There is a tendency to want to be part-of-the-action and get involved. This is a normal reaction. Though, better decisions can be made when there is full understanding of what the phenomenon can do for a given organization; how it might [or might not] fit in with the overall strategy. Numerous organizations may be considering the MOOC format to address a need or problem, yet its needs may be met more efficiently and effectively by another method or tool. These are the types of issues discussed in the session. Is a MOOC applicable to workplace training or education needs? What about to a business wanting to promote a service or product?

The Business+MOOC Panel
Host: Jay Cross
Educators:  Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, Terri Griffith and George Siemens
Business People: Jos Arets, Bert De Coutere, Lal Jones-Beyy (from Coursera) Mark Finnern,  Jerry Michalski

Highlights of Hangout: Themes and Statements 

  • Definition of MOOC (Cormier), Massive: means scale, requires mass to facilitate connections within a network, Open: goes beyond ‘free’, means no barriers, not in a closed environment (i.e. within a business, only for employees), Online: changes the nature of learning, Course: provides a format and structure, a ‘flag pole’ for learners.
  • The user/learner is in control, not the business or course organizers. For this reason outcomes cannot be controlled and may differ from those intended. Organizations can’t control the message.
  • Learners need to be self-directed, intrinsically interested in the topic, and responsible. In other words MOOC format will not work for compliance training, or required skills an employee needs to learn for the job.
  • Scale is needed. A MOOC is not a MOOC with thirty, forty or even fifty participants.
  • Why is certification required? The point was raised, is providing a certificate for proof of MOOC completion not contradictory to the MOOC concept? The certificate model can be viewed as a carry over from the traditional education model. Discussion included using peer feedback and review as evidence of a learners skill level for potential employers. Another option—individuals demonstrate competencies for potential employers through simulation exercises, workplace contracts, etc.
  • Difference between and xMOOC and cMOOC (Downes). Coursera model is an xMOOC which is massive, though different from a cMOOC; is a format that is structured around established learning outcomes of a given topic.
  • Design Model for MOOCs. What is the course design model for a MOOC? This point was raised though not explored due to time constraints, but was put on the table as an important topic for future discussions.

Further Reading:

The recorded session of the Hangout is below. Fast forward to the 09:31 minute mark within the recording, this is where the session officially begins. There may be more panel discussions on this topic offered by Cross in the future—stay tuned to Cross’ Web page to keep posted. Enjoy!

How to Create a Personal Learning Portfolio: Students and Professionals

6884659480_ba4592d655_cThis post explores Personal Learning Portfolios [PLPs], an extension of a Personal Learning Environment. I review briefly PLPs for professionals, but focus on the potential and promise that PLPs hold for our students.

I wrote recently about Personal Learning Environments [PLE], Personal Learning Networks [PLN] and the need for educators to develop both as a means to support their professional and personal growth and learning. A PLE can be viewed as a system that is built on the concept of creating a personalized framework for learning, tailored to one’s goals and interests.

Personal Learning Portfolios for Professionals
Both posts generated meaningful discussion— with many comments coming from participants in the Education Technology & Media course (#ETMOOC). The topic of the course last week was ‘connected learning’, and discourse focused on PLEs and PLNs. Several themes emerged, yet one was consistent—the idea of a place within one’s Personal Learning Environment to document and record ‘open’ learning courses and content created, learning plans, Badges earned, and/or work completed; the concept of Personal Learning Portfolio was mentioned several times. In one post, How to make Learning Visible, Helen Blunden, a workplace training consultant, wrote about portfolios for professionals and shared her learning from a recent online workshop, Professional Learning Portfolios Workshop. Helen explored how the digital portfolio can be used as a record of formal and informal learning in the workplace as part of one’s PLE, and even presented the idea to one of her clients [her post is useful for those wanting to develop their own PLP].

Yet, it is the following comment made during an asynchronous discussion between myself and two other educators that sparked the idea of introducing the concept of a PLP to students:

“….my “hub” all of my digital work [this educator uses her blog as her ‘hub’, a platform for her portfolio]. It’s my portfolio, digital me, digital footprint etc. I felt scattered about, I no longer feel that way. Many people prefer to have a digital portfolio separate to their blog, in other places, like Mahara, I prefer autonomy of, and take responsibility for, my online life. If I had my time again as a classroom teacher, I would like to start this process from day 1.” [Comment from educator Penny Bentley on this post]

Personal Learning Portfolios: An Essential for Students
The comment above, feeling ‘scattered about’ is not uncommon. Yet, can we help students now, by showing them how to manage their digital lives and learning effectively by providing them with the [digital] literacy skills needed. This is where I see a Personal Learning Portfolio as an essential tool for students, both high school and college age individuals. As education becomes unbundled, fragmented, similar to a ‘jigsaw’ as described by author and professor, Richard DeMillo, a learning portfolio that is owned and controlled by the student, that establishes a student’s digital identify is almost obligatory. I suggest that a PLP could be used as a starting point for students to begin developing their own Personal Learning Environment, establishing a pathway and identity as a lifelong learner.

“It is now economically feasible for a student anywhere in the world to piece together, jigsaw like, a curriculum that matches his or her needs and to have both the curriculum and the student’s performance certified in a way that is accepted by academic institutions and employers alike. The focus on higher education has irrevocably shifted from institutions to students”. Richard Demillo, (2013)

We already are moving in the direction of ‘pieced together’ learning experience—with the prevalence of open and online courses, some which will be for credit, and some not. How will students record and potentially share their learning? What about media projects, or papers written? Or a learning plan and goals? This is where the portfolio comes in. The diagram below illustrates how the concepts work together. This diagram is adapted from Steve Wheeler’s blog post, Anatomy of a PLE.

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 5.47.36 PM
A visual representation of a Personal Learning Environment system; the personal network and portfolio are dimensions of the PLE, developed using digital tools and platforms to create a virtual space for creating, sharing, archiving, and collaborating on the Web. Adapted from Steve Wheeler’s blog post.

Definition of Personal Learning Portfolio
Following is my proposed definition and vision of a Personal Learning Portfolio for students, which is not the same as an e-portfolio or electronic portfolio that was prevalent and much discussed in higher education and K-12 sometime between 2004 and 2005. The e-portfolio of the past was used primarily for the institution’s purposes, as an assessment tool for instructors to evaluate student learning, and for assessment of program and school quality, used often for an institution’s accreditation process. The tool was institution and not student-centric. After reading An Overview of e-Portfolios, from the EDUCAUSE library, it is obvious who was driving the program and for what purpose, and it wasn’t for the student (Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005).

My ‘working definition’ of a PLP for students:

Personal Learning Portfolio is a virtual, personal space that serves as a dynamic planning tool, archive, profile, and showcase of an individual’s lifelong learning experiences, goals and achievements.  It is created by the learner, controlled by the learner, and is on a platform of his or her choice. Though the tool is geared to be an open tool that records the digital footprint of the individual, the learner controls who has access to any section of the portfolio at any given time.

A ‘beta’ screenshot of a student’s portfolio to display his photos and design work. By onemorechris, Flickr

Helping Students to Develop a Portfolio – How?
I suggest that the concept of the PLP be introduced to students in high school or at the college level, and be viewed as the catalyst or a gateway to students developing their own PLE and PLN. The PLP for students is the first step, with the learning environment and network evolving over time.

Components of a PLP could include: 1) personal profile—a similar experience a student would have had in creating a profile for a social networking site such as Facebook, 2) educational record of one course, where student includes his or her learning created [assignments], and reflections [blog posts] from the course. Over time other courses could be added, including badges, earned, certificates and/or degrees, thus serving as an education record or archive, 3) blog, and 4) media projects, that students may have completed as part of the course, and this might be a place to include a video introducing him or herself.

Previous Research and Models of PLP
I am not the first one to come up with this idea, scholar Wendy Drexler proposed a similar idea in her research paper, The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy (2010). Drexler introduces the Networked Student Model in her paper, which builds upon the concept of the Networked Teacher Model, developed by Alec Courus (2008). What is useful in the paper for educators to consider is the research project where Drexler documents a project with a small group of high school students that completed a project to build a Personal Learning Environment using digital tools around a topic of interest. The results are worth examining for those that are considering moving forward with a PLP for high school and/or college students.

Closing Thoughts
If education is moving towards open learning, unbundling, and a student-centric model as it appears to be, we as educators will have no choice but to support the shift and get students to take charge of their own learning, be responsible and self-directed. We can support them as lifelong learners with guidance in creating a Personal Learning Portfolio that may lead to a learning environment and network of their own. My hope is that this post may prompt further discussion or consideration among educators about personal learning environments, networks and portfolios, so at the very least, readers can be a model to students of what a lifelong learner is and does.

Example of Student Learning Portfolios

  • David A. Dupell’s ePorfolio. David is a business student, a Junior at Temple University, Fox School of Business. All students have ePortfolios in this program (created and maintained by the student, though each has to be ‘approved’ before it is visible), and each student has a blog associated with his or her portfolio. The program at the school is an interesting one. The website states: “The FOX MIS community platform enables social education – a concept that integrates learning, teaching, professional development, placement, and administration and socialization by applying open source social media and Web 2.0 concepts.
  • Evelyn Thorne’s e-portfolio (2013). This site appears to be maintained [actively] by the student herself. She outlines the goals of her courses, assignments, and updates the site on what she has accomplished.  Her ‘logbook entries’ appear to begin with a question posed as it would have been for her studies, which she then reflects on and responds to.

Instructor Driven Portfolio Projects for Students

  • Personal Learning Portfolio, (2012). MAET East Lansing (Year 1). This site appears to created and maintained by the instructor for his or her class where the assignment is for students to create a portfolio. The page does provide a good example of clearly outlined expectations for students.  This appears to be a good introduction to the concept of portfolios and creating an identify on the Web.


Photo credit: Cesar Poyatos, Flickr

How to Create a Robust and Meaningful Personal Learning Network [PLN]

This post describes how educators can develop a personal learning network that supports meaningful and relevant learning. The MOOC, Education Technology & Media, etmooc, is used here as a working example of how to develop a PLN.

My Personal Learning Network is the key to keeping me up-to-date with all the changes that are happening in education and how technology can best support and engage today’s students.” Brian Metcalfe: teacher, blogger at

A visual image of participants in an open, online course- etmooc, which shows the potential to find and create personal connections as part of one’s PLN.  (image credit: Alec Couros)

I wrote a post recently about how to develop a personal learning environment [PLE], the need and benefits of doing so,  for educators in particular. A PLE is a self-directed learning space; a virtual  framework that consists of tools to collect, curate and construct knowledge that is customized to an individual’s learning goals and interests.

  What is a PLN?
Another dimension of the PLE is the personal learning network [PLN]. Though the two are often used interchangeably there is a difference. A PLN is an aspect of PLEs, where the individual has a group of people within his or her virtual professional network, and the relationship with each is based upon a common interest, collaborative project or research. Communication and connections are made via social platforms or other Web applications, with the primary intent of sharing or gathering information. Both the PLE and PLN are based on the theory of connectivism, a learning theory conceptualized by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. The premise of connectivism is that the learner connects with nodes [connection points that deliver content or facilitate interaction] within a network, and subsequently develops knowledge through this series of connections.

Twitter 6x6
Twitter 6×6 (Photo credit: Steve Woolf)

PLN versus PLE
The personal learning network can be a rich source of learning that fosters connections that become part of our professional development as the quotation at the beginning of the post from Metcalfe describes. Yet building a PLN takes time, energy and purposeful actions, which is why I find it helpful to delineate the two concepts. A PLE can be created independently, building and collecting content sources from the Web, including creating content through blogs, podcasts, Slideshares, etc. A natural extension of one’s PLE is the development of relationships with individuals that emerge from the process of building the PLE, which is how the PLN develops. When connections from a PLN are engaged, knowledge creation becomes interdependent.

Example of a PLN
I will use my own PLE building experience to illustrate the process of developing a PLN, which I have developed  through a variety of vehicles: this blog, Twitter, Pearltrees, Goodreads, and by participating in various MOOCs. This process has allowed me to establish personal connections with numerous knowledgeable and interesting individuals. I developed the majority of these friends through comments on blogs [mine and theirs], Twitter and email. That is the beauty of a PLN, it is dynamic—expanding and contracting as time and energy allows.

Logo for etmooc from
Logo for etmooc from

How to use a cMOOC develop your PLN
The nature of cMOOC is to learn, to connect, to share and create knowledge, which makes MOOCs an ideal venue to build a PLN. Though the level of participation and involvement is up to the learner, if one does not want to, or is unable to build personal connections due to time constraints, that is acceptable and appropriate, there are no rules to cMOOCs. However if building a PLN is a goal, the onus is on the individual to reach out to make connections and develop learning relationships.

In the etmooc we are primarily using Google+ Community , Blackboard Collaborate and Twitter to interact. Blogs are the primary tools that make learning visible, where participants write about and share their experiences about what they are learning.  I’ve listed several strategies that might be helpful to readers who want to develop their own PLN within a cMOOC:

  • Participate in the introductions by creating a personal introduction and by reading others. In a large MOOC it’s impossible, and unnecessary to read all.
  • Engage with participants through introductions by commenting on fellow participant introductions, two or three is ideal.
  • [Try to] Participate in at least one of the events planned for a given week, i.e. webinar, Twitter chat, or Blackboard session. It is through these interactions that you are likely to find someone with a common interest. All the MOOCs I’ve been part of, have a community of organizers that provide support and resources in all aspects of participation, for example how to participate in a Twitter chat, how to use Twitter or set-up a blog etc. etmooc is a good example of such support.
  • Participate daily (if possible), by reading blog posts, daily updates, following/participating in Twitter conversations.
  • Contribute and share by commenting on others’ posts and engaging in conversation. I have found it is through conversation within a blog’s comment functions that I first established my PLN connections. I aim to be supportive of readers that do take the time to comment by responding to their comments and reading their personal blogs.
  • Look for opportunities to join and participate in sub-groups that often form within a MOOC. As we see from the web diagram of the etmooc, there are hundreds of participants—it is through the more intimate groups that spontaneously develop where  more meaningful and deep connections are made.

Closing Thoughts
Developing a PLN does require a commitment of time and energy, but the rewards are abundant. Not only does interacting within a virtual space satisfy the need for social interaction and connection, it also can be the method of professional development, personal satisfaction, relevance, adaptability, and most importantly—may allow us the opportunity to make a difference.


How To Create a Personal Learning Environment to Stay Relevant in 2013

“Our understanding of learning has expanded at a rate that has far outpaced our conceptions of teaching. A growing appreciation for the porous boundaries between the classroom and life experience…has created not only promising changes but also disruptive moments in teaching.” EDUCAUSE Review, 2012


This quote from Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education (Bass, 2012), gives a good a reason as any for educators to develop a Personal learning Environment [PLE]; a space where we can keep up with the experimental modes of learning, instruction, changing pedagogy and instructional methods that surfaced in 2012. In a previous post I introduced the concept of PLEs and touched on why educators may want to consider developing a PLE for 2013. In this post I’ll outline how educators can develop their own PLE, where to start, and I’ll provide specific action steps, and what tools to use. First though, I’ll share three convincing reasons why we should get serious about PLEs—why they aren’t just for students.

Three Reasons Why Educators Need a PLE
Education is in a phase of disruption (not news to anyone)—and it’s not just a blip or a bump, but is what Harvard professor and author Clayton Christenson describes as disruptive innovation. This concept describes what is happening in higher education now. We can see disruption in the new forms of course delivery  (i.e. Udacity, Cousera), teaching methods (i.e. flipped classrooms), and new learning models (i.e. competency based learning). These experimental forms of teaching (MOOCs) and assessing (peer review, assessment centers) are changing how educators teach, and impact the student/instructor relationship. Below are three [convincing] reasons why educators should consider creating a PLE:

  1. We need to disrupt ourselves: The model of higher education is at a turning point. PLEs provide a framework for us to expand our knowledge in our areas of expertise, and in teaching and instructional methods that are and will be appropriate and relevant for the digital era.
  2. The Instructor’s role has changed. The learner is moving to the center of the learning and teaching model, and relies upon a variety of sources for learning. PLEs will help instructors not only stay relevant in his or her field, but will provide an opportunity to learn how to use tools that will enhance instructional methods and adapt to the changing paradigm.
  3. Access to the Internet has changed how we teach and learn—forever. New tools devices, and applications are changing our culture and society. Education is not immune. We need to adapt and respond—PLEs will help us to do so appropriately by responding from a position of knowledge and understanding.

Creating a PLE: Where to Start
Begin with a model: As I wrote about before a personal learning environment is considered to be a concept rather than an entity—and concepts need a framework or model to flesh out the details.  As with any other model, a diagram is helpful in describing, shaping and explaining the concept. However, by the very nature of PLEs each diagram will be unique. If you peruse this site, you will see what I mean, no two are the same.

Personal Learning Environment: Janson Hews
Personal Learning Environment: Janson Hews (Photo credit: Janson Hews)

There are several helpful articles describing how to create a PLE on the Web, including several with a focus on creating a Personal Learning Network (a component of the PLE). Below are guidelines gleaned from the resources collected, which I’ve compiled into four steps.

Chris Sessums “Weblog Brainstorming” diagram,
  1. Decide on upon areas of focus: establish personal goals for learning. A PLE is holistic, and can include professional and personal interests.
  2. Determine which Web 2.0 tools to use: A PLE requires use of Web tools and applications to create a personal and virtual learning space. A PLE is also dynamic—the learner is an active participant and doing the three key functions: Collect and curate relevant content, resources into a meaningful collection in a virtual space, Construct and create to develop new knowledge and understanding. This could be through blogs, Slideshare presentations, Wikis etc. Sharing is inherent to a PLE, learning does not happen in a vacuum, but involves communicating with others. Another phase in a PLE is collaborating, working with peers to create new knowledge through digital objects, documents, etc. Start slow, it takes time to learn a new application and build and develop content and resources.
  3. Establish time each week to developing the PLE. It takes time to develop and grow a robust PLE.
  4. Create a diagram of the PLE. The purpose of the diagram is to provide a framework for learning goals, identify tools and provide a digital footprint and record of the PLE.

Closing Thoughts

  • PLEs are dynamic, they change and adapt to learning needs and goals.
  • Start small – developing a PLE takes time.
  • If you are able, share your thoughts or diagrams – I am sure readers would appreciate hearing from other educators.

To read the follow-up post on Personal Learning Portfolios and how to create on, click here.


Photo Credit: Learn, by Marc Brannan, Flickr

One Essential Resolution for Educators in 2013 – A Personal Learning Environment

This is part one of a three-part series for educators that describes how to create a rich, robust learning network and virtual space—a personal learning environment that supports professional and personal enrichment for lifelong learning.

PLE, Francesc Esteve, FLICKR

I plan to embrace 2013 with a new focus and direction, an emphasis that is different from a resolution. Resolutions don’t work, yet I still look forward to each New Year with a sense of anticipation, energy and a new plan. This year is no exception. I’ve spent much time considering carefully where I want to invest my time and energy, and it begins with a personal learning environment (PLE). A PLE is the hub of personal and professional development, and what better time than the New Year to commit to a renewed focus on one’s personal development.

This year I’ve selected three areas to focus on, of which I’ll write more about in the coming weeks, but the fulcrum of all projects is my personal learning environment. In this post I’ll share briefly what a personal learning environment is, why it is an essential dimension to any educator’s personal profile, share examples of other educators PLEs, and in parts two and three will explore how-to create a personal learning environment specific to educators.

Personal Learning Environment (PLE) Defined
A personal learning environment is a concept, not a thing or an event, but encompasses formal and informal learning experiences and interactions with various resources and people through a network of Web 2.0 platforms. It becomes a system that each individual [learner] manages, creates and builds, a learner centered, self-directed environment.

Personal Learning Environments (PLE) are systems that learners create and control to manage and direct their own learning. In this environment learners do the following:

  • set their own learning goals
  • manage their learning, both content and process
  • communicate with others in the process of learning  [modified from Wikipedia]

Part of the PLE is a Personal Learning Network, which is an essential sub-system of the PLE. It is the people, the personal connections within one’s PLE that are sources for new knowledge, collaboration partners, and serve as ‘nodes’ within the personal network that contributes to the wholeness of the PLE. Individuals become interdependent within a PLE, not independent [learning in a vacuum] or dependent [consuming knowledge only, and not creating knowledge].

Lifelong Learning
Lifelong Learning (Photo credit: Stephen Downes)

A Model for Life-Long Learning
The concept of a personal learning environment is based on the premise of lifelong learning, and [obviously] not a new idea given the history of the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom by Socrates and his followers. Yet a model for life-long learning was formalized as recently as 2007 by the Eurpoean Union with the launch of the Lifelong Learning Programme 2007–2013, with its primary goal to support the development of quality lifelong learning across four phases: K-12, higher education, vocational training and adult education. The focus of the adult education phase is on the development of a network between people, institutions and other countries in education and training.

Examples of PLEs
Despite several excellent projects resulting from the efforts of the Eurpoean Union, describing how to create, build and interact within a personal learning environment is somewhat difficult to outline as I’ve discovered as I write this post. Mostly because PLEs are personalized, open, dynamic and unique to each person. Furthermore, environments take time to develop and are dependent on the motivation of the learner, and the direction and goals of him or her— all of which contribute to unique systems.

Below is an excellent example of a PLE where the learner describes the functions within her PLE, and the tools used for each.

Michele Martin’s PLE, The Bamboo Project Blog, April 2007

Click here to view more examples of visual representations of PLE’s from other lifelong learners. The visual images are representative of the model or framework of each learners’ PLE, showing the Web 2.0 platforms used to catalogue, curate, develop, create, connect, record and/or save an individuals work, personal connections and knowledge created.

Next Steps for PLE
Over the next two postings I will provide guidelines and suggestions for how to develop a PLE, though my experience is limited, I will share how I have started to develop my PLE,  share resources and tools that may be of support to readers wanting to further develop their own. I would welcome any feedback or suggestions from readers, so please comment and share on your experience with PLEs if you are able to. Happy New Year!


Is ‘Reality Broken’? How One Game Can Change Education For the Better

Games lubricate the body and the mind.” Benjamin Franklin

screen-shot-2010-11-07-at-1-45-21-pm1-1If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, what kind of gamer would he be?  An author, inventor, scientist, civic activist, Franklin was also an avid player of chess and checkers as described in the Journal of Occurrences in my Voyage to Philadelphia (1726). Franklin believed that engaging in strategic games sharpened the mind, and provided insight into mans moral behaviour. Fast-forward to the 21st century meet another avid lover of games, author, speaker and activist of sorts, who wants to change the world— Jane McGonigal, Ph.D and author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Can games be used in higher education? Can they be part of a solution to fix what some consider ‘broken’?  McGonigal’s answer is yes. Though the book is not specific to higher education, it speaks philosophically and practically about the role that games play, and the potential they have as a vehicle to improve real lives and solve real problems.

Reality may indeed be broken, and if games can change the world as the title suggests, I considered this a worthwhile read. And worthy it was; I discovered a unique, collaborative game, Superstruct  that appears to have great potential to develop solutions to at least some of the educational challenges we face today. In this post I’ll review the book briefly, share examples of socially conscious games that aim to have a positive impact, and details of the game Superstruct mentioned already.

I’ll admit that I didn’t hold computer or video games in high regard before I read the book, which is why I did not consider games as a viable vehicle for instruction. In a K-12 setting maybe, but higher education? Certainly not. Narrow minded thinking on my part I admit. McGonigal’s admits there is a stigma associated with video games, but she did change how I view video games and gamers by explaining the why, before the how.

Why Games Make Us Happy
McGonigal outlines the physical and emotional responses players feel when they play computer and video games; the why, before she tells the reader how games can change the world.  Why do people play computer games for several hours each week or even each day? There is a neurochemical reaction triggered in when we play a well-designed computer game. This physical response gives the player focus, motivation and creates a sense of flow, which is described by McGonigal as intense engagement.

Book Highlights

  • Hard and meaningful work is something that all humans want [and need], and our reality, our everyday lives of work and social interaction fall short.
  • That’s exactly what the game industry is doing today. It’s fulfilling our need for better hard work… “(McGonigal, p 29).
  • Which is why, according to McGonigal gamers seek alternate realities in online games that provide numerous benefits that:
    • build collaborative and networking skills in players via online teams of gamers that compete with other teams around the globe.
    • enhance real life experiences by engaging family members and friends in everyday challenges. McGonigal has created numerous successful games that are changing the lives of thousands of individuals; one is the Super Better game [I wrote about his game in my running blog] another Chore Wars to help family members build relationships through household chores, or Lost Joules making a social game of saving energy and living ‘green’.  One worthy game,  an alternate reality game, world without oil, challenges players to survive and create alternative life skills in the face of a global oil crisis.

Superstruct for Higher Education
I was looking for a solution in the book specific to higher ed. McGonigal provided one example of a K-12 school using a game based environment, but no reference was made to higher education. Yet there is an answer within the book. It’s through a game called Superstruct that is designed to encourage individuals from different organizations and backgrounds to team up online to tackle a significant issue or threat to society.

Superstructuring isn’t about just making something bigger. It’s about working with an existing foundation and taking it in new directions, to reach beyond present limits. It means creating flexible connections to other structures, to mutually reinforce each other. Superstrucuting means growing in strategic and inventive ways so that you can create new and more powerful structures that would have been previously unimaginable. (McGonigal, p 318)

Superstruct created by the Institute for the Future, was implemented on a grand scale in 2008 and played as a massively multi-player forecasting game with more than 8000 citizen future-forecasters from September to November 2008. Players could pick any of the five Superthreats, and start investigating the future by visiting one of the five Superthreat hubs. What happened afterwards was collaboration extraordinaire, results included online discussions, blog posts, group work, wiki collaboration. You can read more about the projects at

McGonigal outlines how to play Superstruct in chapter fourteen, and highlights a critical element, “The most important rule for inventing a superstructure was that it should be unlike any existing organization. It should be a fundamentally new combination of people, skills and scales of work.”

The Potential
Think of the potential of people coming together to address a significant and complex problem such as the future of higher education. Superstruct is not just a game in this context, but can be applied to a real problem, with real people, professionals, and individuals coming together from different sectors to come up with real solutions. It is  possible. I suggest the players could include, business people, high school educators, students of higher education, recent graduates, faculty from community colleges, public and private colleges and a representative of government and parents.

At the end of a specified period of collaboration, a small group of the ‘players’ would work together virtually, to synthesize the ideas generated and identify the viable and potential solutions. The next steps would need to be actionable, not simply a new policy or recommendation. The key to change is action. Though how these actionable steps would or could be carried out is beyond my expertise. Though could this work?  I believe so. The strength of this approach is the inclusion of diverse group of players, and the multitude of participants that could contribute.  What do you think?

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