Complexity-Based Learning and Teaching: A Case Study in Higher Education

October 2014

Source: Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Vol. 51, No. 6, 618–630, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article describes a learning and teaching strategy based on complexity science and explores its impacts on a higher education game design course. The purpose of the strategy was to generate conditions fostering individual and collective learning in educational complex adaptive systems, and led the design of the course through an iterative and adaptive process informed by evidence emerging from course dynamics.

In 2011, the authors adopted a complexity-based strategy to design and administer an undergraduate course in game design. The purpose of this course was to engage students in collaborative teamwork, requiring them to design an educational game for the Edward Elgar Birthplace Museum based on aims and specifications provided by museum representatives and tutors. The course included both individual and collective activities, such as project workshops, lectures, collaborative formative tasks and individual learning journals complemented the project to facilitate learning.
The participants were 51 students that enrolled in the ‘Foundations of Game Design’ course, delivered in the academic year 2011/2012 at the University of Worcester (UK).
The participants divided into teams and were required to present the state of advancement of their project to a panel of evaluators comprised of their tutors and museum representatives.

Data were collected through students' journals about their perceptions and feelings of their teamwork and project activities, portfolios and the panel's evaluations.

The data demonstrate that collaboration was initially challenging for students, but collective learning emerged as the course developed, positively affecting individual and team performance.
The participants felt highly motivated and enjoyed working on course activities. The students' perception of progress and expertise were always high, and the academic performance was on average very good.
The authors argue that engagement in challenges and situations driven by dynamics of complexity is the key to promote the development of mindsets able to cope with complexity.
They suggest that educators should support the development of complexivist mindsets that acquainted with the types of educational activities which prompt students to face complex dynamics.
They also argue that designing a course based on complexity science can be highly beneficial, since the way in which activities were structured and defined required students to face complex dynamics and self-organise within teams.

Based on this analysis, the authors suggest that an iterative and adaptive strategy allows constantly promoting students’ feeling of increasing their abilities and understanding of the topics of the module. This strategy also fosters the idea of being able to accomplish required tasks either autonomously or with a team.

Updated: Jun. 28, 2018


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