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Despite the range of functionalities available in most learning management systems (LMSs), faculty and institutions still find themselves looking to add content or tools not available in their LMS to meet instructional strategies or goals. For this reason, the Learning Systems and Technology (LS&T) team at the University of Central Florida (UCF) created a program called Materia that produces customizable widgets for an LMS. Each widget has an author interface, which allows the user to easily customize the content to meet pedagogical needs. Once created, the widget can be shared with students and other instructors. Materia has been designed to work with any Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI)–compliant LMS and currently works seamlessly with Canvas. Best of all, the Materia platform is available under the Affero General Public License, which means any institution can use it free of charge. Feel free to learn how to implement Materia at your institution.
Materia has a growing catalog of widgets available for use by institutions or faculty members, though users can also create their own widgets on the software for specific purposes. The interactions that Materia creates can be graded or ungraded, with the grades automatically sent to the LMS gradebook. Plus, the interoperability means that students do not need to login to a widget separately from logging in to their LMS. Everything is seamless from the student’s perspective.
The earliest widgets the team created consisted of games as well as quizzing and self-testing interactions, such as a matching game, crossword puzzles, and flash cards that faculty could customize with their own content. Within the last few years LS&T developed a newer, more complex widget called Choose Your Own Adventure. Instructors can use this widget to build branching scenarios, thereby allowing students to make not only good but poor choices. But instead of ending the game with a failing grade for making a poor choice, instructors can design it to allow students to see what consequences their choices bring, back up a few steps, and make different choices. The game provides students with feedback on each choice they make.
I recently worked with two UCF faculty members, Marisa Macy, PhD, of the College of Community Innovation and Education and Dawn Eckhoff, PhD, of the College of Nursing, who faced similar student learning challenges. During a course that Dr. Macy teaches, her students are taught how to use play to assess a child’s development. She expressed concern that when student teachers had to complete this type of assessment on their own for the first time, even though they had information on how to conduct an assessment, they did not necessarily have the experience to know how to handle an uncooperative child. We decided we would use the Adventure widget to create a scenario that allowed student teachers to try different strategies when initiating a play-based assessment. If one strategy did not work (e.g., based on the student’s multiple-choice answer, the child left the assessment room and went screaming down the hallway), the game gave students the opportunity to make a different choice.
We named the widget the Play-Based Assessment, and in addition to the game’s allowing the student teachers to make different choices, the score would increase or decrease depending on their choices, and students received feedback on each choice. Once students were done with the assessment, they were required to write a reflection that included items such as what practices would they recommend, what practices would they incorporate, and what practices or responses would they leave out. Students really seemed to enjoy engaging with this widget and felt that no matter what their answer was, the feedback they received was invaluable to their overall learning experience.
Similarly, Dr. Eckhoff explained that some of her nursing students were unfamiliar with holistic therapy and would have no idea how to address this subject, especially if a parent came into the clinic and wanted to know what they thought about this topic on the spot. Together we authored the Holistic Therapies Adventure Widget. In this scenario a father brings his eight-year-old son with ADHD for his annual wellness examination. He states that his son is having some behavioral issues at school and that he would like to discuss holistic therapies, specifically essential oils. The scenario allows students to make choices that either agree with the father or tell him that holistic therapies are akin to magic beans and do not work. Like the Play-Based Assessment, the program allows students to make choices, and if a choice sends the father storming through the waiting room, badmouthing the practice, students can back up and make a different choice (with their score going up or down depending on their choice). Nursing students who used the Holistic Therapies widget enjoyed using the widget and loved that it allowed them to go back and make different choices; they also appreciated the explanations they received after each choice they made. One student even asked whether the instructor could make more of these types of widgets.
We designed these two engaging learning widgets to give students the chance to participate in scenario-based learning that provides them with practice opportunities before they take part in a live assessment or interact in live sessions with clients, patients, students, or parents before they have any real-life experience. Both faculty members said they would continue to use these widgets each time they taught their respective courses. If you wish to learn more about Materia, contact Kathleen Bastedo at Kathleen.Bastedo@ucf.edu.
Kathleen Bastedo, MEd, is an instructional designer at the University of Central Florida.