Are Your Students AOK? Part II

It’s the end of the semester–time to reflect on the AOK experiment.

A few months ago I wrote about using AOK in my classroom. My hope was that such a game, for a variety of reasons, would increase retention in my courses. Alas, the retention numbers look the same this semester–an obstacle not likely to be overcome by one game alone. However, I’d say that AOK was a positive addition to my classroom and I plan to use it again next semester.

Here are a few thoughts on my sixteen weeks with AOK.

There were perhaps four obstacles to the more effective incorporation of AOK into my classroom and thus the complete adoption of the game by my students.

1. There were a few kinks early on with the AOK online interface. Students could not post their acts of kindness, points were not awarded. These should have been temporary setbacks, and, too be sure, the bugs themselves were fixed quickly (AOK support is marvelous). However, the initial trouble-shooting cooled the enthusiasm of some of the early adopters, those most enthusiastic about the game. Once those early adopters stopped posting, their classmates followed suit. Whether reasonable or not, students expect technology to work the first time out. If it does not, they move on.

2. Caught up in the day to day responsibilities of teaching, I didn’t post my own AOK’s nearly as often as I should have. If you expect students to follow suit, you have to give them something to follow.

3. Assignment design: Given that AOK is running smoothly and you may be more disciplined than I am about posting, the trickiest thing about incorporating AOK into the classroom was its placement in my LMS. Here at Silicon Classroom, we like to use PBWorks. AOK has a free widget one can incorporate into the sidebar of, I imagine, any LMS, but the widget itself is limited. It’s an activity stream rather than a full-featured stream and leader board. Crucial to the gamification of any classroom is a leader board students can use to track their progress and engage in a little friendly competition. While my class had a leader board on the AOK site, I couldn’t embed the leader board in the LMS itself. Students had to go to the AOK site to track their position relative to other students and so when I discussed AOK on a given assignment page, that discussion was divorced from their score/level. Based on some of the announcements I’ve received from AOK, it looks like an embeddable widget is on the horizon. Awesome.

4. Tied to the above is the need for some kind of assignment-specific badge which links to one or more flashtags. Let me explain. My students belonged to our Eng1110 group. Any time they posted an AOK using that flashtag (*eng1110) they received points. Now, in a few instances, I wanted make their AOKs assignment-specific and give them double points. For example, rather than posting about a general kind act, they needed to do something narrowly related to the course, say an additional instance of peer review, then post their AOK about that act. If you fast forward through the process, they would need to complete the act and “AOK it” using the hash tag *additionalpeerreview and then “AOK it” again using the general group flashtag *eng1110. The first hash tag allows the instructor, at a glance, to see who has completed the assignment. The second flashtag keeps their overall score up to date (we don’t want multiple points spread out across multiple leader boards–at least one leader board needs to capture a student’s overall engagement). Additionally, having an AOK badge one can place on web pages, one that clicks through to a specific flashtag, reminds students/players about the game and encourages participation (which is one click away). I’m going to take a guess and venture that a double-flashtag badge is a bit of tricky coding that the folks at AOK aren’t too keen on just at the moment. One quick hack is to create your own badge using a .jpg and associate the non-group flashtag with the image. You can see mine to the

right. When students clicked on that badge it took them to the assignment specific flashtag where they could “AOK” their act. I reminded them on that flashtag page to add the *engl1110 flashtag to their AOK, too, so that their points would be reflected on both leader boards. It’s an inelegant solution but the badge reminds students about the game and directs them to the flashtag page for the new flashtag as opposed to the one they have already committed to memory.

Now. On to the positive.

Despite early glitches and my own insufficient use of the platform, AOK was a great vehicle for that “ambient sociability” I discussed earlier. It gave me additional insights into what my students cared about and who they cared for. Every time a new post popped up, I was privy to a kind act by a student, or one they had observed. I found that through the course of the semester, I identified students not only by their writing, their intellectual selves, but also by their generosity. In more than one instance, in a hectic day, my response to a tone-deaf email (the dangers of online learning) was tempered by my additional insights. Yes, so and so seemed curt, perhaps even rude, but I knew their email was the mis-shaped, hurried message, not the messenger.

Equally important, students used AOK to document their own obstacles to academic success. Minneapolis Community and Technical College has roughly 14,000 students, many of them, particularly in this economy, struggling to make ends meet. Their economic challenges, from money for books to homelessness are daunting. Quite a few AOK’s were inspired by students helping other students to meet these challenges, challenges that, in an online classroom often go unobserved. I was grateful to have these obstacles made vivid in the electronic ether.

Finally, the folks behind AOK and the AOK community at large are a diverse and enthusiastic group. Even when I wasn’t online, there was a sense of continuous engagement with my students (who were participating) from other AOKers–a steady stream of positive comments, thumbs up, and “likes”. While a given AOK may not have been assignment-specific, the reaction to it happened in the context of the classroom, and thus, I believe, added to our sense of community.

Tips for using AOK in your classroom:

  • Post often. No sitting on the sidelines. If your students don’t see you posting, they won’t either.
  • Make connections. My most effective class-related posts came when I drew connections between student work. Perhaps one student had done a particularly effective review of another student’s essay. Commenting on that hard work gave the reviewer the recognition they deserved and the reviewee a little prompt.
  • If you don’t have time to comment on an AOK, a thumbs up will do. Students like the facebook-like micro-acknowledgements.
  • Embed AOK badges into your course pages, badges which click through to a hash tag if possible. Beyond the reasons I covered above, the AOK widget quickly becomes part of the “white noise” of an online course, particularly if it is located in a sidebar. Instead, reminders need to be bold, visual, and redundant. Embed them in pages. Embed them in pages. Embed them in pages.
  • Create a little cross-section competition. It’s easy enough to create competing flashtags for two courses, flashtags which incorporate coursework already assigned i.e. peer review, questions answered in a discussion forum etc.
  • Encourage you students to participate in flashtag campaigns happening outside of the classroom. As they engage the broader AOK community, that same community will find its way into your classroom.

photo by: Terrapin Flyer

Author Dominic Saucedo