The resilient researcher

Is it just me, but in the last few years everything seems to have got really hard. It’s become particularly hard to get research funding, as the economic climate worsens and funds get squeezed, pots of money become more elusive and bidding more competitive. Already this year I’ve had three funding proposals rejected, and it seems sometimes that I’m in a constant cycle of writing and rejection.

Of course it’s not all bad news, every now and then we get a successful bid, and everything is good again. However, these instances are few and far between: our research office reckons that, on average, for every twelve bids submitted, one will be successful. Add to that the peer-review publication process, job and promotion applications, and that’s an awful lot of rejection. It seems to me that the most important skill a researcher needs these days is not creativity, critical thinking, or astounding insights. It is simply the resilience to manage the inevitable grind of submission and rejection, and to maintain confidence and a sense of humour during the process.

I have a number of techniques and strategies for dealing with this:

  1. Always have more than one project, idea, publication, etc. on the go at the any time. When I get a rejection, I take a break, stand back and do something else for a while.
  2. Try to learn something from every submission, particularly the failures, making sure that I always request feedback, and take it on board next time.
  3. Do not to give up on a good idea. I used to bury failed proposals, but now I use them as sources of inspiration and ideas, even if not as a whole, I can often bits reuse elements.
  4. Have a Plan B before Plan A goes wrong. So that it doesn’t seem like going right back to the beginning, I try to have an alternative funder, publication, etc. in mind when I submit, so that I can see failure as part of a process rather than an end point.
  5. Talk to other people to reassure myself that it really isn’t just me, it’s a hard process, and everyone has to deal with rejection. Reminding myself that it really is ‘just a job’ is helpful too.
  6. If the above all fail, a bottle of wine and a good cry usually hit the mark.

I’d be really interested to know if this is just me, and how others in the same situation manage to stay sane.

Ian Bogost on Fun

I recently saw this video of Ian Bogost (of Persuasive Games fame) talk at UX Week 2013 about fun. He argues that ‘fun’ isn’t something that can be added to a task (a.k.a. the chocolate-covered broccoli model) but that it is intrinsically related to the structures of an activity and is generated by the feeling of operating in a constrained system. This is exemplified in the following quote from the talk:

“[we believe that] we have to bring something to the table that makes intolerable things tolerable … but what if we arrive at fun not through expanding the circumstances that we’re in, in order to make them less wretched, but actually by embracing the wretchedness of the circumstances themselves.”

This brings to mind Papert’s notion of ‘hard fun‘ and the idea that things are not fun despite being hard, but because they are hard.

Goodbye gambaloa

This week marks the end of the Game Based Learning for Older Adults (gambaloa) partnership project, which has run over the last two years.

Personally, it’s been one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever been involved in, providing space for European partners to meet, get to know one another, learn about our different cultures, and build trust. There was also some sampling of national beverages involved.

The question is now, however, how do we take this forward? How do we ensure that this growing network of people interested in the use of games for learning with older adults continues to talk and grow? At the moment, we’re hoping that the blog will be the focus of activity, and that the briefing papers on different facets of our research will provide an accessible introduction for anyone interested in the area. Longer term, we’re looking at new projects, new funding, and perhaps creating some sort of more formal network. If you’re interested, please get in touch (either through the gambaloa blog or with me directly).

It’s about time

Yes, I’ve been painfully rubbish at maintaining this blog in recent months. Well that’s all going to change now.

We’ve recently launched a new Masters Programme in Research with blogging as a core element. As we’ve been talking about the benefits of blogging, it’s reminded me how much I used to get out of regular reflection, sharing ideas, forcing myself to write for a public forum, and simply putting all the interesting bits and pieces I come across into one place. I’ve also been shamed by the students who, despite being new to blogging, are already embracing it with their thoughtful, critical and insightful posts.

I’m back. Expect more soon.

More on badge design

A couple of references that I’ve come across in the last couple of days.

  • Carla Casilli, who is the project lead for Mozilla’s Web Literacies and Webmaker Badges, has a great blog, which focuses at length on badge system design.
  • Antin & Churchill’s (2011) paper on the psychological functions of badges in social media. They describe five psychological motivations for using badges: 1) setting goals; 2) providing an overview of the possibilities of the system; 3) encapsulation of reputation; 4) status symbols and personal affirmation; 5) group identity.

Principles of motivational badges 1.0

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the use of badges as a way for learners to gain recognition for their achievements, because they’ve come up on a couple of projects I’m working on. While, in principle, I’m very much in favour of an open, flexible assessment system such as badges, I do have some reservations to their use.

An academic colleague surprised me last week by saying “badges are a terrible idea, they’re for children, my students would think they were back in primary school.” Now this is a colleague who I had seen the evening before taking part in a ‘who can make the best napkin hat’ competition, so I know she’s certainly not averse to games and playfulness. She’s got a point: badges – like game-based learning – won’t appeal to everyone and may demotivate many students, but that’s not a reason to disregard them wholesale, more a call to thoughtfully consider how to use them to best effect.

For a gamification project I’m working on, drawing on research on games and motivation (as well as a fair amount of game playing), I’ve created some principles of badge system design for learning. These are really a first attempt, and I’d really appreciate any comments, feedback, suggestions, and additions.

  1. Simplicity. Don’t try to encapsulate too much information in a single badge. A 2×2 (type and level) matrix is sufficiently complex. Each badge can then have a clear, uncluttered visual identity.
  2. Variety. Provide a large number of badge types, so that different learners on the same course can develop completely different badge sets but can still identify as part of a group. This allows for exploration and identification of possibilities.
  3. Exponential progression. As learners move through levels, badges should become increasingly difficult to achieve. Early badges should be gained quickly to give learners a feeling of mastery, later ones should take longer and be more complex.
  4. Fairness and clarity. Is is crucial that badges are perceived to be fair, so that the criteria for achieving one is clear and transparent (not necessarily before it is achieved).
  5. Surprise. The unexpected can be a massive motivator, so create badges that are not known in advance (but are still fair and clear why they were awarded in retrospect).
  6. Achievability. Each subsequent badge should build on previous ones to be seen as achievable, yet still challenging.
  7. Collections. Humans like to arrange things into sets and complete collections, so grouping badge sets into collections can add another motivational layer (but with associated complexity).
  8. Humour. Not all badges have to be serious (my colleague might disagree with me on this one).

As with any game-based element, I believe that badges can be used to motivate some of the people some of the time, if used thoughtfully and purposefully. My concern is that when they’re used ‘because we have the technology’ that they may end up actually pissing students off rather than motivating them. I’m going to finish with a quote from Werbach (2012) who reminds us: “don’t mindlessly attach extrinsic motivators to activities that can be motivated using intrinsic regulators.”

Werbach, K. (2012). For the win: how game thinking can revolutionise your business. Philidelphia, PA: Wharton Digital Press.

  • Nicola Whitton

    This blog contains my personal musings on games, learning, computers, engagement, fun, playfulness, technology, and other stuff that takes my fancy.

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