What makes a good School of Webcraft Challenge?

We have been working hard with the P2PU community these past weeks to roll out the alpha version of the Webmaking 101 course for Mozilla’s School of Webcraft.

For this first phase we are rolling out five introductory challenges that take someone from being an absolute novice web developer to discovering the basic skills they will need to level up as a “web-crafter”. These skills vary from “understanding basic HTML tags” to “being able to give helpful feedback” and are connected to assessments and associated badges that feed Mozilla’s Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI); “a mechanism to demonstrate and capture the learning wherever it happens and then carry the evidence back to recruiters, formal institutions or our peer community.” If you want to learn more about OBI read this super post by my colleague Erin Knight.

In P2PU we are using an open process to design the challenges by sharing our work and implementing feedback as we go. As part of that process we have been reflecting on what makes a good challenge based on the work we have been doing for the Webmaking 101 course. Below an *illustrated* guide of what we came up with: 

What makes a good challenge?

    •    Simple setup, complex problem: The challenge uses a simple setup that requires learners to find the solution to a complex problem. For example, in the “Bring it All Together Challenge” learners have to create a portfolio site (simple setup) but the problem they have to solve has many layers (complex) ; they have to sketch, design and develop wire frames to build their own site. In doing so learners find meaning in taking the tasks that will help them solve the hard problem they are faced with.  

    •   Having clear goals:  the challenge has clear goals, such as “build an about page”, “work together with your peers”, “embed video into a web-page” etc. In doing so learners have a clear set of expectations of what they need to accomplish by the end of the challenge.

    •    Taking on a role: learners take on an identity or a multiple set of identities such as  programmer, collaborator … HTML viking! In doing so they become committed to the space and the community in which the  complex learning challenge is situated.

    •    Having a “need to know”: there is a real or fictional need for the learners to master the skills required to complete the challenge. The “need to know” can be tied to personal motivations such as creating your own portfolio site to find a job, or social motivations such as leveling up, winning a community-wide competition or even a fun factor such as a compelling story that draws you into having a reason to solve the challenge. By having a “need to know”  learners see the benefit in taking on the challenge.

    •    Assessment is embedded: assessment of how the learner is doing is taking place during the challenge rather than after the fact. For example in the “My Trusty Text Editor Challenge” learners have to debate about which text editor works best in order to complete the challenge; they have to research different text editors, compare them and provide arguments for the best one. The artifacts they provide to argue which text editor is best provide a form of assessment that is embedded within the challenge. 


    •    Smartools: By completing a challenge and obtaining a badge a learner unlocks certain smartools.  A smartool is something a learner can use again and again in other challenges. For example, Firebug (if Firebug was to be unlocked as a tool after completing challenge x) is a type of smartool.  In doing so learners connect the skills they have gained to actual tools they can use and master. Smartools can also be user-created, such as the library of images that correlate to HTML tags, in the “HTML is All Around You Challenge.”

    •    Achievements are meaningful: badges and achievements are connected to the challenge, what the learners have to do next and the identity they take upon. In doing so the achievement system helps learners reflect on their own learning pathway as well that of their peers. 

    •    There is risk-taking and exploration: Learners are encouraged to take risks, explore, and try new things. For example, in the “Mish Mesh Challenge” you have to create a grid based layout for your work; if you have ever done that for your portfolio you might know that there are several sizes of grids that you can create, so during the process you might tinker with many grid sizes (trial), make a couple of ugly layouts (error) until you find the one that works best for you. This tinkering process makes learners feel safe to try new things and fail multiple times before mastering a skill.

    •    Balanced scaffolding/Flow: scaffolding can help one overcome difficulties in a challenge that if too difficult could prevent them from moving forward and if too easy could prevent them from actually learning. Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi describes the state of mind when performing a challenge were the “tasks” are doable but increasingly challenging as “flow”. This emotional and intellectual state is common in things like games when the first levels of a game are very easy but after a certain point the game becomes extremely hard to beat. To learn more about Csikszentimihalyi’s ”Flow” you can watch his ted talk. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model is also a good lens to look through when creating a challenge.

    •    A sense of agency: Learners feel a real sense of agency and control over what they are learning and doing in the challenge. Allowing guru level learners to edit some challenges and remix them or having a requirement to create your own challenge after obtaining high ranked badges, would be such an example. By being on the “driver seat” learners get personally invested in their learning.

    •    There are many solutions to the same problem:  different users can solve the same problem in different ways. Being able to compare the different solutions that users have submitted is also equally important. In doing so learners understand that there are no wrong or right answers and can get inspired by the different solutions given by their peers.

    •    Fun & Replayability: the challenges are *so* enjoyable that users will “re-play” certain ones that lead to different outcomes or allow them to level up in the community. In general challenges that connect to an artifact and allow for different level badges have a high replayability value because learners can take the challenge again and again to create different versions of an artifact, such as a song for the “Your DNS Domain Name Challenge” and level up by obtaining a higher ranked badge.

We have outlined above some of the things we believe make a good School of Webcraft Challenge, we’d very much like you to get involved by sharing your feedback with us. 

Stay tuned for a “10 steps to create your own School of Webcraft Challenge” soon.

In the meantime, special thanks to  Jamie Curle, Content Expert for the Webmaking 101 course who helped me edit this post and Dan Diebolt for his feedback.

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