Monday, July 6, 2015

Getting Started: Learner Creation via Artifact Challenges

Stacy: I think it’s safe to say that we’re big believers in learner creation.

Rob: But you could argue that most teachers or instructors think their students are creating things all the time in their courses.

Stacy: Yes, but traditional assignments – compositions, quizzes, discussions – at least the way they are most commonly framed, are generally based on “closed” prompts.

Rob: Meaning that learners are asked to re-formulate information that has been shared with them, or to respond with the the best selection of course information that matches the prompt.

Stacy: So the activity is always confined to the original course information and its source(s), often the instructor and the “textbook.”.

Rob: Right. And the result is a primary focus on memorizing information in order to be able to respond correctly to traditional course prompts.

Stacy: And the result of using this pedagogical approach exclusively is that learners acquire information for short periods of time – producing copies of copies of information so that they can get through assignments – but they seldom move to an internalization or personalization of the information.

Rob: It’s difficult for them to acquire knowledge or wisdom.

Stacy: It’s difficult to really learn.

Rob: But that’s not to say that we have to do away with traditional assignments.

Stacy: Of course not. There can be tremendous value in any traditional assignment type. We simply need to position these within the context of student engagement – moving students to reflect on information genuinely, apply it personally, and connect it to their community.

Rob: We need to move students beyond the surface of information.

Stacy: Right. We want to design learning experiences that get learners to actually engage with information and with their own learning.

Rob: And a great way to do this is through Artifact Challenges.

Stacy: Nice job there. I like the way you snuck that into the conversation.

Rob: I thought you might appreciate that.

Stacy: But you’re right. Artifact Challenges are a great way to get learners to apply information personally, to internalize it.

So, the obvious question – what is an Artifact Challenge.

Stacy: Essentially, it is an activity that provides a prompt with the goal of having learners create something meaningful.

Rob: Anything?

Stacy: Generally it is a personal representation of the information or ideas being discussed. Artifacts allow learners to practice and/or internalize the concepts they are learning.

Rob: But a real key here is that the Artifact should be meaningful to the learner, right?

Stacy: Absolutely. It shouldn’t be my Artifact, or the Artifact that a learner feels like they have to create in order to satisfy rigid constraints. It should be something that is truly theirs and is an expression of their understanding/application of the information or knowledge they are internalizing.

Rob: Should we tell people what kind of Artifacts we’ll be creating in this learning experience?

Stacy: Of course. But better than tell them, wouldn’t it be better to “show” them?

Rob: I like the way you think.

Stacy: Me too!

Rob: So we should take them directly to our Make a Connection activity, where they will be asked to create an Artifact as part of introducing themselves to others in the experience?

Stacy: Yes. But wait!

Rob: What, we’re not ready?

Stacy: Yes, we’re ready, but I want to make sure we’ve shared some of our guiding “learning design” principles about Artifact Challenges.

Rob: Good idea. And these also apply to improvisations and, well, any learner creation activity.

Stacy: So, before you head off to your first Artifact Challenge, you might want to take the time to check out these design principles.
  • Effective learner creation is about the "why" as much as it is about the "what" – We have been working on Artifact Challenges for Power of Connections and, while there are so many cool things we could have participants create, we find that the value of their creation is directly dependent on its purposeful integration into a learning objective objective. Meaningful engagement comes when we can get learners to move past the act of creation into the acts of learning and accruing wisdom through experience.
  • For optimum student engagement, learner creation should be personalized/personalizable – Good creation prompts appeal to a diverse group (meaning they are valuable or interesting to a heterogeneous class cohort), but they are also activities that can be personalized to a degree by each individual learner. This makes every creation truly unique and personal, and gives the learner creations greater meaning.
  • Ideally, learner creation should be sharable if we want it to result in real engagement – For creation to be engaging it must matter. It is important that the created work having visibility within the learning community, that it get out of the learner’s head and into reality. This leads to multiple possible levels of impactfulness. It also, quite often, leads to greater reflection.
  • Creation is more than just making stuff – it can also be active engagement with and personal internalization of information –This last one may seem strange but it is extremely important. Learner creation is also about students engaging in the formation (creation) of their own ideas and opinions about information. It is about helping them move beyond passive consumption, which is fairly antithetical to real student engagement. A key to facilitating this type of creation is to find good models for turning information into something that feels more "active" and "dynamic" to students. In Power of Connections for example, we do this with dialogues, which are intended to invite learners into a discussion about the information. By doing this we model information engagement as well as create a gravitational pull that, hopefully, gets the student to do more than skim the information at a surface level.


  1. Do Artifact Challenges need a physical context?

    I’ll point this at Stacy but the question is really for anyone.I know that folks often use artifact challenges, like the ones we’re doing in this course, to prompt personalization of skill-based knowledge or to foster new ways of thinking about specific or processes at work. My question is whether or not artifact challenges have as much application or value when removed from such obviously practical contexts.

  2. You have outdone yourself this time. It is probably the best, most short step by step guide that I have ever seen. KISS English