Design: The Secret Behind Effective Digital Learning Experiences – Part 1

The emerging world of simulations and game-based learning is gaining traction with students, teachers, and designers of digital learning environments. Why?

This blog is the first in a series on performance-based learning with simulations. Here, we characterize performance task design. In upcoming blogs, we’ll show how the richness of data depends on the strength of the performance task. Then, we’ll explore new ways to interpret data on student thinking in simulation-based learning environments.

A Simulation-Based Performance Task: Invisible Ink

In a recent blog, we invited you to explore an online simulation from PhET. Here we introduce you to another one, this time in the context of a performance-based learning scenario.

Before you start, watch this video to see how the “Concentration” simulation works.

Now try the Invisible Ink performance task with the Concentration simulation (below). Then come back and join us for a behind-the-scenes look at the task itself.

The Invisible Ink Task

You are a lab technician for a toy company that has patented a non-toxic form of invisible ink. Only you and your team of scientists know that the ink is actually a solution of cobalt chloride in water. Cobalt chloride is expensive. Water is less expensive, but the lab has plenty of water.

Using the simulation, prepare a batch of 0.7 L (liters) of cobalt chloride solution for your company’s next shipment. The concentration of the solution should be between 1.995 and 2.005 mol/L. Your procedure should be clear, efficient, and accurate.

Describe your procedure. Include observations, alternatives you tried, and how you decided your final procedure is best. Use evidence to support your conclusion.

© 2014 Victory Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Behind the Scenes: Making the Invisible Ink Task

A well-designed simulation without a well-constructed task is just play. The premise of simulation- and game-based learning is not play; it’s learning through play (more on this later). A well-designed performance task turns an engaging simulation into a rich, authentic learning experience with specific learning outcomes.

Performance Assessment/Task: A Research-Based Definition*

A performance assessment is a complex task designed to give students opportunities to synthesize their learning while demonstrating evidence of deeper understanding and higher-order thinking skills (e.g., critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, and collaboration).

A performance assessment is typically aligned to multiple standards. The task engages students in applying understanding, knowledge, and skills in an authentic (i.e., real-world) scenario while demonstrating evidence of learning toward a collection of expected learning outcomes. Students often generate a product or performance, evaluated against a set of criteria for quality and degree of understanding. A performance assessment, also known as a performance task, can also be used as an instructional approach.

© 2014 Victory Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

We designed the Invisible Ink task to align with multiple middle school NGSS and CCSS ELA standards (click to see the Invisible Ink task standards alignment). This performance task engages students in demonstrating evidence of mastery of the standards by evaluating design solutions, using a systematic procedure when conducting experiments, considering constraints, and supporting conclusions with evidence.

So What?

You may have completed the task by trial and error. This is where the difference between play and scenario-based learning becomes significant. This task welcomes student exploration, but it doesn’t stop there. In this example, to assess understanding on multiple standards with a performance-based assessment, the simulation is an integral part of the task but is not the task itself. Students engage in reasoning and designing solutions based on observation and discovery to reach the goal. A well-aligned, well-designed, complex performance task makes all the difference when you’re trying to capture data on students’ learning.

Did somebody say data? Stay tuned for upcoming blogs, where we’ll make the critical link between the design of a performance task and the richness of the data it can produce.

Credits

The Invisible Ink performance task was developed and designed by Victory Productions, Inc. © 2014 Victory Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Invisible Ink task was based on and integrates the online simulation called Concentration Lab, developed by PhET © 2013 University of Colorado.

* This definition of a Performance Assessment task was developed by Ronit Carter, based on extensive research.

Selected References:
Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2005). Understanding by Design. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Richard Stiggins, Judith Arter, Jan Chapuis, and Stephen Chappuis (2004). Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right, Using It Well. Portland: Assessment Training Institute.

This blog was written by Ronit Carter, Victory’s Director of Professional Learning and Leadership.

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