Liz Lawley – Just Press Play: Enhancing the Social and Academic Experience of Undergrads

April 09, 2013
9:00 am - 10:00 am PST
By Educator Innovator

How one university is using “achievements” to enhance students’ academic, social & creative lives, while connecting undergrads to mentors and one another.

View the Conversation
During the broadcast, the conversation also took place on Twitter using the hashtag #connectedlearning.

Key Questions and Comments:

  • (03:54) The initial seed for all of this really came out of my colleague Elouise Oyzon having a conversation with our students in the lab late one night, and they said to her: “We should get achievements for being awesome.”
  • (05:33) Our biggest concern did have to do with the motivation component. Were we actually going to damage our students’ intrinsic motivation to engage in the activities that we wanted them to experience by adding some kind of external reward to it?
  • (09:32) When we looked at our best students…a lot of them aren’t straight-A students. They’re students who consistently engage with the other people in the program…they were deeply engaged in their learning experience. And that’s what we trying to make people aware of.
  • (11:20) When I’d seen you’d been previously interviewed by Howard [Rheingold], that you’d kind of disavowed the word “gamification.” And I just wanted to give you the opportunity to explain why.
  • (16:18) The 4 quadrants we ended up with, which are Create, Learn, Explore, and Socialize. Every single achievement in the system is worth 4 points, but the 4 points can be distributed in different ways.
  • (17:49) Anybody who’s looked at retention research knows that a major piece of whether or not you retain an undergraduate student has to do with whether they build some kind of connection with a faculty or staff member. But if you simply tell the students to do that, it doesn’t work.
  • (20:30) When we try all of these engagement methods…if we focus on recognizing the process of learning, we might do better than focusing on outcomes.
  • (24:07) When I do badge design workshops…getting people to think through “What are the behaviors and skills and attitudes that you want?” and working from there, backwards, works a lot better than…concrete, knowledge-based stuff.
  • (27:31) The ability of badges as reflective tools to surface these behaviors about ourselves…there’s a lot of power in that.
  • (28:05) Can you talk more about the faculty’s willingness to be “playful” along with the students? Did everyone jump at the chance, or was some prodding or persuading necessary?
  • (31:05) These three questions informed everything that we were doing and got applied to every single individual achievement:
    • 1. What behaviors did we want to reward and encourage?
    • 2. What feelings of competence could we engender?
    • 3. What did we want our students to remember and reflect on?
  • (33:00) I was wondering, Liz, if I could get your take on how it does need to be adapted into other settings…and what considerations might need to be applied to K-12? Would that same exploratory playfulness work in K-12?
  • (37:32) The sixty-four-million-dollar question for me, as someone who works in Open Badges, is to what extent the achievements which are unlocked by students within your immediate environment can be shared outside of that environment.
  • (40:32) The students themselves–how much input have they had in the creating of the achievements and the missions?
  • (43:45) In addition to achievements, we have quests. Quests are collections of achievements. What we intend to implement over the summer is user-generated quests, so anybody could put together their own collection of “this is my set of things that I think every student should do.”
  • (45:05) Have you considered allowing students to assign or reward badges to each other?
  • (47:29) Inevitably, you’re going to get some pushback from parents or someone within your university saying “Where’s the tangible outcomes? Where’s your metrics? Your Key Performance Indicators? How have you dealt with those kinds of naysayers?
  • (50:26) Have you had input and feedback from potential employers that your students go on to? Have they seen any impact? Are they evaluating students who have been through this model? Are [the students] more employable?
  • (56:40) I suppose the challenge for all of us is–as more and more institutions and teachers and organizations start to create their own badges–if they’re creating small, easy wins that are extrinsic, maintaining that quality is going to be something.
  • (57:45) What we’ve learned to-date is this critical separation between technology platforms…and understanding the local community of learners that you’re working with. Those are two very different axes that we’re all trying to work with.

Guests for this webinar included:

  • Doug Belshaw – Moderator, Badges & Skills Lead at the Mozilla Foundation
  • Liz Lawley – Guest Speaker, Professor of Interactive Games & Media at New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology, and Production Lead for “Just Press Play”. Liz Lawley is Professor of Interactive Games & Media at New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology, and Production Lead for “Just Press Play.” Just Press Play is a “gaming layer” for undergraduate education, which invites students in RIT’s School of Interactive Games & Media to engage in a playful way with their educational environments and experiences. The innovative effort utilizes an “achievements” system to decrease student attrition, build relationships between underclassmen with peers and mentors, and increase collegiate success. Liz is also the Director of RIT’s Lab for Social Computing; you can Follow her on Twitter at @lizlawley.
  • Andrew Phelps – Professor and Director of the RIT Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity
  • Cliff Manning – Communications Director at
  • Vishal Sachdev – Director of the MakerLab University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Business

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