Ep 029 Candis Best and her Game Design for Student Success (GDSS)

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Candis Best is the Founder and CEO of Learningateway. Her career in higher education began as an adjunct professor. She has worked as a consultant, faculty member and subject matter expert for higher education institutions, companies and community-based organizations. Along the way, she added two masters degrees (business and psychology) and a doctorate in social welfare and policy development.

Candis’ vision for Learningateway is to introduce much-needed disruption to higher education by leveraging technology to provide academically inexperienced learners with a transformative educational experience. She believes that President Obama’s goal of a U.S. education system that is the envy of the world, is still achievable and she intends for Learningateway to lead the way.

Something great about her life right now is that everything she does is remote, so she can design her day in many ways, and she can be in her pajamas as much as she wants! This allows her to pursue her two missions, in education and her company.

Her most difficult time happened within Learningateway, where she targets underrepresented students who are struggling. One of the first opportunities she encountered happened when she partnered with a college who said she could work with the 180 most difficult students. She worked really hard to create something for them, but only 2 of them finished the program! What she did was to research what happened, interviewed some of them and found that they liked what was created, it was “life getting in the way!” This changed her approach, now she focuses a lot on building relationships. She was also able to improve her design skills after getting mentored by Amy Jo Kim. Something I realized listening to this story is what I’ve heard called “extreme ownership” when even if it seems it was outside of your possibilities, own that failure and figure out a way to design differently so it still works when such things happen!

Initially, she thought technology would be a huge challenge for her but she’s realized on the way that it’s something that can very well be addressed with a good team. The biggest challenge has actually been isolating the different things that might not have been working. And it was using game design what allowed her to approach it, using and thinking of small loops that are manageable and can be understood better, iterated on and improved massively! One time when she did this was when she did an interview with a completely different student population, a more privileged community. She was really surprised by how interested they were! This changed the perspective of how and who they were introducing their solution to.

Her process was influenced by Amy’s Game Thinking, but she has her own specific model for education, Game Design for Student Success. She has five stages, Discovery, First Contact, Onboarding, Habit-building and Mastery. This structure has allowed her to get into the conversation of higher ed, this solution actually requires the students to be involved. When a student approaches your solution it is important to understand that they don’t understand it, perhaps not even care about it! So you can assume that your player starts with apathy, so they need to know that it exists and have to get a reason to even just try it! And that first experience has to include success, this is something we usually forget in higher education. In a game, the first action, no matter what you do, you can’t fail, and this helps you get started and interested. This applies not only for the first year in college or university, it applies to every time you get started with a new subject!

A best practice for Candis would be to look for ways to turn it into a multiplayer experience, you want for students to relate to each other and help each other out. Right now she’s enjoying playing puzzle-type games on her mobile, especially Jigsaw Puzzle, it helps her decompress so she can come back stronger to the intellectual task she might have at hand.

Candis would love to listen to Nicole Lazzaro on Professor Game! Writing the Pilot by William Rabkin is the book that she would recommend to the Engagers. It is about how to write a TV series, which can be really useful for narrative, a fundamental game design element. The fact that it’s about a series makes it so it needs to have more than one season, just like a subject you might be teaching!

Her superpower is, and she was too humble to bring it up herself, creating a framework from game design that works specifically for education! The random question she got to answer was “How would you convince the principal of your school to allow you to use gamification in your classroom?” For the answer, click play above and listen!

Her final advice is that today is the best moment to experiment with game design for education, so if you’re at all interested she would say jump right on. There are many resources to get to understand it better, Candis even has a free webinar series on “Game Design for Student Success” which you can find more about at geniuscafe.info. There’s also MOOCs, online courses, books, YouTube videos, etc. Getting started doesn’t even mean that you need to have something online or complicated, it is about having a structure to make it fun, incorporate it into the way you engage with students. There are many people who are quite willing to help you out in the community of game design and gamification, so give it a shot! In fact, we met thanks to Scott Reinke reaching out!

We can reach Candis on Twitter @candisbest, or through the podcast homepage geniuscafe.info. She always loves to meet people who are interested in game design, gamification and/or education!

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