Building Blocks

Twine BallsHave you ever organized an entire course around a single type of simulation? I decided to do exactly this after hearing Nick Vaccaro discuss the use of digital interactive texts at the 2014 TLC. These texts, which are structured like the choose-your-own-adventure books that some of us read as children, are built with Twine, an open-source software program.

In a new first-year seminar, I’ve assigned three non-fiction books about which teams of students produce Twines. I rotate students into different teams for each book, which means that at three points in the semester they assess group dynamics and evaluate each other’s performance in their teams. These worksheets derive from my initial attempt to facilitate team collaboration with in-class writing exercises and so far they seem to be working as intended — as mechanisms for student self-reflection. On the days that teams’ final Twines on a book are due, each team scores another team’s work according to a rubric, which saves me time.

Overall the seminar is organized to function as a meta-application of its topical content: decision making during disasters. Although no team has suffered the equivalent of a civil war or tsunami, there are a handful of students who rarely say anything in class, whether to me or their classmates. Having announced at the beginning of the semester that what one gets out of college is a function of what one puts into it, I made the deliberate decision not to obsess about their lack of engagement with the social aspects of learning. In this particular case, it’s an easy decision to make: individual writing assignments account for a large portion of the final grade and the students who don’t talk also don’t write, or they write very badly without any effort toward improvement. If they aren’t interested in learning how to learn, there is not much I can teach them.

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