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Faculty Development: Brian Bourke

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Gamification: A Reflection



                                             By Dr. Brian Bourke


Late in the Fall 2016 semester, I presented a session at the Faculty Development Center titled “Using Game-Based Approaches to Enhance Teaching and Learning.” In that session, I addressed both game-based learning, which reflects the inclusion of games as a part of instruction, and gamification, which represents the addition of gamed elements to something that was not originally intended to be a game. As I discussed gamification, I used examples of simulations in teaching, and I shared that I was publicly committing to gamifying an entire course for Spring 2017. In this article, I share my reflects on completely gamifying a course.

The course I decided to gamify is PSE 755, Instructional Support Systems in Postsecondary Education, and it would be online for Spring 2017. My gamification process was to create a scenario where students would assume a role, and as they progressed through the course, they would discover information pertinent to the scenario. In the scenario, students assumed the role of external consultant providing guidance for a newly hired president for a university facing a number of significant challenges, Troubled University.

At the end of every academic term, I reflect on my courses. What did I do especially well? Where did I falter? I tend to have a sense of the answers to these questions as the course progresses, but not with this gamified course. While we employ an asynchronous approach to online courses at Murray State, I took asynchronous to a different level. I decided to take a sandbox approach to the gamed experience, where students could move through the pieces of the scenario in any order, including optional experiences (click here for more about sandbox approaches to games). The course was still divided up into modules, but those primarily served as an organizational device to help students connect specific assigned readings to specific goals for the course. I did maintain some specific due dates for some course assignments to help ensure students wouldn’t wait until the last week of the semester to complete the entire course.

Sometimes students shared feedback about feeling a bit lost in the layout of the course. I thought I had addressed the potential for confusion by providing a week-by-week schedule that a student could follow if they so chose. Those same students also expressed confusion about there being specific due dates for some assignments but not all assignments. While students generally expressed liking the approach to the course (as one student put it, since it livens up the basic online course), I’ll have to think through what gamification can look like for students.

I liked taking a new approach and experimenting. Taking a sandbox approach to gamifying the course meant I had to have everything built and ready for the first day of the semester. I generally try to do this for every course, but having to create course content in some different ways presented some challenges. One of my concerns about the way I approached the course was that I’m not sure if there was enough of me in the course. What I mean is that in a typical online course I record micro lectures, and engage with students in discussion forums. I didn’t do those things in the gamified course. For the scenario, I assumed the role of someone at a state commission of higher education (equivalent to CPE), serving as a liaison between the consultant (each student) and the institution in the scenario. I wanted the students to have the opportunity to really get into the simulated role without having me jumping in as professor.

So, the big question is, while I gamify a course again? Yes, I will. But, I won’t limit gamification to online courses. There are opportunities to approach gamification through any instructional modality, where it’s online, hybrid, or face to face. I look forward to thinking through solutions to the challenges that gamifying can present, and welcome any questions about my experience, or even where to start with gamification.


Evaluating Student Work with Rubrics

By Dr. Brian Bourke

When it comes to assessment, we know that we need direct measures of student learning. Direct measures seem easy when we use exams, but what about papers and other student-produced elements? Faculty need some basis for evaluating work from one student to the next that approaches some level of objectivity. This is where rubrics come into play. The ultimate goals of using rubrics are twofold: objective approach to evaluating student work, and a tool for students.

Rubrics serve as an evaluation tool that provide faculty with a means of assessing student work against standards or metrics. While rubrics do not eliminate the potential influence of subjective bias in the grading process, they do offer standardization in evaluation. As a tool for students, rubrics provide a baseline for providing feedback. Students can see where the faculty member evaluated the work based on the rubric, and have a basis for understanding the grade. But, we should not rely on marking boxes in a rubric for feedback. As I stated, rubrics provided a baseline for providing feedback. Good practice is to provide additional comments for each criterion evaluated through the rubric. If the point of an assignment is to assess student learning, faculty need to continue the learning process through meaningful feedback.

I have seen rubrics that I would nominate for awards, they are so good. What makes a good rubric is clarity. When a rubric is built well, I can look at it without seeing a description of the assignment, and know only from the rubric what is expected for the assignment. I have also seen rubrics that I wish had never been created. Bad rubrics are most often bad due to the lack of what makes good rubrics good: clarity. When a rubric is bad, the language is often vague and unclear.

Writing a (good) rubric for the first time can be challenging. Starting from scratch without a sound example is a daunting task. Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources. To help sort through the mounds of rubric resources that come up in a web search, I have created a Google Drive folder with some resources. In it, you’ll find a document with two sites I find most useful. Also in the folder is an example of a rubric I use, along with an accompanying form to help provide students feedback based on the rubric criteria. If you have other rubric resources you find particularly useful, send them to me, and I’ll include them in the Google Drive folder.

The Promise of Faculty Learning Communities

The Promise of Faculty Learning Communities

Dr. Brian Bourke

As faculty, we focus on learning. We craft learning outcomes at both the program and course level that aim to facilitate student learning from lower to higher level thinking. We read articles, books, and blogs, and attend professional conferences to continue our own learning within our fields. With so much time focused on learning in these arenas, it can be difficult to learn more about the reason I work at Murray State: my teaching. The reason it can be a struggle to learn more about our own teaching is that for many of us, this kind of learning is best facilitated through social learning. Another term to put a twist on social learning is learning community. 

This semester, we are launching the first Faculty Learning Community (FLC) at Murray State University, focused on online teaching. The purpose of this post is to share some thoughts about the importance of community in learning, and how we, as faculty, can create opportunities for our learning in communities of colleagues. 

When I think about learning communities, I think about the works of Ernest Boyer and John Dewey. Both emphasized (at different times in history) the importance of community to learning. 

We sometimes treat learning as an individualized, segmented process. But for Boyer, Dewey, and other scholars, learning is a shared experience that is enhanced within the context of a community of learners. Part of what makes learning communities work are the opportunities for individuals to connect in meaningful ways, and to exchange ideas with people to whom they feel connected. 

The connectedness of peer to peer learning is what drives our approach to our initial FLC at Murray State University. With this first foray into FLCs at Murray State, we take as our focus online teaching. Through a series of online discussions, explorations, experimentations, and reflections, a small group of faculty with a range of experiences teaching online, will learn with and from one another. As we engage in this social, connected learning, each participant will come away with perspectives shaped through interdisciplinary discussions. Through these efforts, we will continue to make Murray State University the finest institution that we know.

Fostering community in online courses

Fostering Community in Online Courses

Dr. Brian Bourke

One of the biggest challenges I’ve experienced in teaching online is attempting to match the development of community that I often observe in face to face courses. Community is an important aspect of learning in college. In a face to face course, communities can form by students sitting near other and talking before and after class, or through instructor-designed interactions. However, in an online course, community is almost entirely reliant on instructor-designed activities.

This sounds simple enough: create opportunities for students to form communities in online courses. But how? And how do I make it relevant to the course? Let’s face it, we don’t want students spending their time logged into Canvas to engage in idle chit-chat. There are some principles of learning that I see as tied directly to the formation of community in online courses:

  • Experiential learning – while asking students to reflect on their past experiences is indirect, it still draws in prior knowledge and experiences, and it encourages reflection, and then through interaction connects prior knowledge and experiences with current practices in the field of study.

  • Transformative learning – by grouping student responses into key concept areas, and asking them to reflect on their colleagues’ responses, my hope that is that students consider different perspectives, and challenge their preconceived notions of the course topic.

  • Collaboration and connection – I see this activity as a means to help promote collaboration and connection. In asking students to post a reply to a specific post of a fellow student, I am aiming to promote collaboration among students, and help form connections.  This assignment occurs early in the course to help spur connections and create an atmosphere of collaboration.

I most often utilize discussion forums to structure these interactions. There are a variety of tools available beyond discussion forums, some of which are apps available within Canvas. Some examples of Canvas-embedded apps that promote interaction are and Trello. Both tools offer spaces for student interaction in a whiteboard space, which can be a welcome departure from the doldrums of discussion forums. My advice is to try one out from time to time. I actually have a course development shell in my course list that I use to test things out before unleashing them on students.

I’ve noticed something as students have had more than one online course with me and with other students: in the discussion forums, some students actually reference something a peer brought up in a previous semester. To me, this signifies an emerging community among a group of students. I want to see more this, so I make sure to jump into the conversation and thank students for their contributions and for making the connection to a past interaction.