Scratch to Succeed

By Larry Trincia
Science Department
Delaware Technical Community College
George Campus

It is a challenge for me to incorporate some of the educational tools available into my science classes. Most of my physics classes involve a lot of problem solving. Solving problems, many problems, leads to good outcomes for students that do them.

On the other hand, much of physics is conceptual. One device I have used many times in several classes of my classes for learning physics concepts is the Immediate Feedback Assessment Tool (IF-AT).

I have received unsolicited positive feedback from my students with this activity. That’s great. But that alone is not why I like it. I believe it is a great way for students to learn.

IF-AT replaces the traditional multiple choice test.   Students, working in small groups, read a multiple-choice question on a test.   They talk about it together and choose one of the answers on a card that is covered with a solid colored covering, like a scratch-off lotto ticket. They select an answer by scraping off the covering, which reveals whether the answer is correct or incorrect.

A star beneath the covering means a correct answer. Absence of a star means they get to try again with partial credit. The instructor defines the relative points for each successive answer.

One positive aspect of IF-AT is that it gets students talking to each other. Students seem to have less inhibition talking to their classmates than to the teacher.

Another benefit is better retention of information. Epstein Educational Enterprises, the developer of IF-AT, maintains that studies show that immediate feedback enhances learning.   They say the last correct response on a test is the one students retain.   My classroom experience bears this out even though I initially dismissed their claims as marketing hype.   At the end of the activity, students have a test with all the correct answers they can study from.

What I have noticed is that grades are typically higher on these tests. Students tend to focus less on the grade than on the content of the test.

The down side of IF-AT is it increases the preparation time for the instructor. The IF-AT cards are pre-programmed. That means that tests have to accommodate the pre-programmed answers on the IF-AT cards.   IF-AT cards are purchased in batches, each of which has a unique key that corresponds to the programmed answers.   Once you run out of a batch, you have to modify your tests to conform to the next key. Not much work, but work.

Despite this drawback, I find that IF-AT is worth the time. They are perfect for questions that require critical thought. Here is an example of such a question from one of my quizzes in ultrasound physics:

As you perform a superficial Doppler study with a high frequency transducer, you see some grayish haze and scintillation. You notice there is a bone below your gate just about the same distance from your gate as your gate is from your transducer face.   An experienced technician tells you that you do, in fact, have an artifact that is sometimes referred to as “herbies”. What can you do to get rid of the artifact?

A) Increase your pulse repetition frequency


C) Use a different view which increases the depth of your gate

D) Use a different compression algorithm

This question requires the student to evaluate different options, which tests their understanding of a specific type of artifact encountered in ultrasound. Students have to vocalize and compare the different techniques presented and come to a consensus on the answer. This type of situation is the type of decision that mimics one they might encounter in their profession.

P.S. – If you think you know the answer, leave it in the comments!

I Want My Students to Fail

Amy Mann - Failure

By Amy Mann
Environmental Technologies Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

As a student I was taught that failure is not an option. I spent my educational career avoiding failure and chasing the “A”. The feedback that I received from teachers was all positive and strongly supported my efforts to avoid failure. This failure avoidance paralyzed me during my senior year of college when I began working on a laboratory research project.

I was trying to model contaminant transport underground and ran into all sorts of issues throughout the process. Each time my experimental design didn’t work or a piece of equipment wasn’t set up properly I was incredibly frustrated and wanted to quit. I hadn’t yet learned that failure is necessary to good design and should be embraced for the learning opportunities.

As a teacher I see many students who are like me, paralyzed by the idea of failure. Just this semester a student in my class commented that he wanted to drop my class because he failed the first test. With one taste of failure he was willing to give up on the course.

This fear of failure has significant repercussions for our students and our industries. As adults with some life experience under our belt we all know that failure happens. It is an inevitable part of the human experience. Our ability to roll with failure and learn from it is what takes us to the next level academically and professionally. In How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough (2013) asserts that grit, the tenacity to rise above circumstance and failures, is one of the single biggest indicators of how successful a child will become as an adult.

Grit is an American ideal. Our heroes are people like the Wright brothers, who wouldn’t give up on their concept of a fixed-wing aircraft. It took the Wright brothers more than three years and many crashes before they developed a successful design. Each “failure” was a learning opportunity that they used to refine their aircraft. If they had been afraid of failure, they would have given up after the first crash and aviation as we know it may not exist. American folklore is full of people with grit and the ability to embrace failure.

As instructors we should encourage early failure in our classes. During my first sixty minutes I tell my students that failure is a necessary part of the design process and is expected. I explain how homework and in-class work is a “safe place to fail” and should be embraced as a learning opportunity. I also read my students a children’s book called Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (2013). It is a story about a little girl who tries to design a contraption to help her Aunt Rose fly. Her flying machine works for a moment and then crashes to the ground. Rosie is ready to give up on her dream to be an engineer, but her Aunt Rose tells her

Your brilliant first flop was a raging success.

Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next…

Life may have its failures, but this is not it.

The only true failure can come if you quit.

I explain to my students that it may seem silly to read a children’s book in college, but that the message is essential to their success in school, as an engineer, and in life. As instructors, let’s shift the paradigm and start encouraging failure as a learning experience. It will help our students develop grit, which is a big indicator of success in life.


Beaty, A. (2013). Rosie Revere, Engineer. Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Tough, P. (2013). How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

Tales from the Zombie Apocalypse: Entry 2

Zombie Survival Banner

By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

A little over a month ago, I reported on my efforts of gamifying my class.  That post explained the what, the why, and the how of Zombie Survival: English 102 Style. To sum it up, I created a team-based game in which the players’ progress depends in part on their success in the course. Survey data revealed that the vast majority of the class enjoys the game and recommends it for future courses.

In this post, I want to report on some of my own observations of the game now that it’s been underway for a bit. I’ve noticed some successes and some failures, and I want to share those insights so that anyone else interested in gamification doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Why I Don’t Offer Extra Credit

Except for a few times early in my teaching career, I’ve never offered extra credit. I’m sure my reasons will draw some criticism, but, in a nutshell, I think that extra credit opportunities fail at the two purposes they ordinarily serve.

The first purpose of extra credit is that of a safety net. These are extra credit assignments meant to boost student grades. I’m not fond of this type of extra credit because it could account for a student passing a course when they really haven’t achieved the learning objectives.

For example, a student fails a test on trigonometric functions, but manages to pass the class due to a few extra credit points earned at another point in the semester relating to a completely different objective. In a well-designed course that employs the principles of mastery learning, safety extra credit shouldn’t be necessary.

The second common purpose of extra credit is that of a carrot. For example, an instructor offers two points of extra credit on the upcoming exam to the winning team of the Jeopardy review game. Or maybe an instructor offers a few bonus points to any students who attend an optional student life event. The problem with carrot extra credit, or motivational points, is that they can inflate grades by giving students credit that is unrelated to course objectives.

One of the primary benefits of my gamified course, however, is that I finally have a means by which to incentivize activities without threatening the integrity of course grades or learning objectives. Instead of extra credit, I dish out supplies or population or barricade. You see, Zombie Survival has an economy of its own. Teams need supplies to buy upgrades; they need population to earn points; they need barricade to hold back the zombie hordes.

When we do a review game in class, students don’t compete for extra credit.

They compete for survival.

Victory Point Leaderboard

By the end of our first game, the A Team pulled ahead for a clear victory.

Low Stakes Teamwork

Employers want employees who know how to collaborate. Obviously, then, school is an ideal place to learn those skills. But students hate group work, and, more often than not, instructors hate assigning group projects. They bring to the forefront all sorts of questions that are easier just not to think about. Who is responsible for what? How will I assign grades? How will I form groups? What if one student doesn’t do any of the work? What if one student does ALL of the work?

These questions are hard to answer for group projects especially because a grade is at stake. Now, I’m not saying that gamifying a course eliminates our need to teach collaboration skills or assign group projects, but I have witnessed several ways that transforming my class into a team-based game has provided opportunities for students to develop some of these skills in a low stakes environment.

As I mentioned before, the players’ success in Zombie Survival is directly impacted by their success in the course, and the game is designed so that a team’s success is the sum of its members’ success. Because of this, I have witnessed students encouraging their teammates to get work done on time and done correctly.

Additionally, every week, each team gets to choose one mission to undertake in the zombie apocalypse, such as scavenging for supplies or thinning out the zombie hordes at their gate. Teammates must agree on the mission they will undertake, and so it is not uncommon for my students to remain for a few minutes after class in order to discuss this strategic decision.

They might not think of it as group work, but Zombie Survival is teaching students to collaborate without the high stakes pressure of the dreaded group project.

A Good Game Provides Immediate Feedback

And, in this sense, Zombie Survival is not yet a good game.

You see, in a well-designed video game, players know right away if they have made the correct decision or clicked the right button at the right time.

They earn experience points, they see the bad guy’s life meter drop, or they otherwise get immediate feedback on their progress in the game. This is a core principle of game design. Immediate feedback allows losing players to self-correct, and it allows winning players to be rewarded and thereby motivated to keep playing.

In my game, I’ve got the reward thing down.  Students earn experience points for completing assignments. They level up and get in-game bonuses as they make progress in the learning objectives.

What I’m lacking is immediacy and player awareness of feedback.  For example, one of the mechanics of the game is that when that a student gets all of their assignments in on time for the week, they earn their group a reward (such as bonus supplies). However, in my current setup, students don’t get immediate notice of their rewards. It just happens behind the scenes when I update the spreadsheet that I track everything on.

Ideally, as soon as a student completes the required task, they should get the reward, and get recognized for it. This is hard with the way I’ve set my class up this semester, but I’ve got some ideas for next time around. My plan is to have students complete a Google Form whenever they have completed each week’s assignments. This would provide them with a sense of closure, and the Google Form could be set up to automatically edit the spreadsheet on which I track game statistics. If I put the spreadsheet in the same section of Blackboard as the form, students would then immediately SEE that their hard work has paid off.

A Good Game Lets Players Make Decisions That Matter

Ish Stabosz - D&D

I play Dungeons & Dragons.

If you aren’t familiar with D&D or other roleplaying games (RPGs), the best description I’ve heard to explain them to a non-gamer is that an RPG is like a movie in which the players write the script as they are acting it out. The game master (or GM) is like the director. The GM might have a general plot line in mind, but one thing RPG players never like to feel is railroaded, or forced into one direction regardless of their decisions.

This makes sense if you think about the fact that autonomy is regarded as a powerful intrinsic motivator. People want to make their own decisions, and they want their decisions to matter. If the choices that a player makes in a game don’t have any actual effect on the outcome of the game–or if they don’t have an opportunity to make choices–then the game isn’t as motivating as it could be.

I’ve noticed this problem with Zombie Survival. I mentioned before that every week, each team gets to decide one mission to undertake, but let me go into a bit more detail now that it’s relevant. Each team chooses to do one of the following:

  • Grow their population
  • Scavenge for supplies
  • Kill zombies
  • Gather food

The problem with the first iteration of the game was that after about the third turn or so, almost every group was always deciding to kill zombies because by that point they had accumulated so many zombies that any other mission would leave the team in open season for brain eating.

In the second run of the game, I’ve curtailed this a bit by limiting the maximum number of zombies that any team can have and also by making the payout on some of the other mission slightly better. I doubt that my work is done, though. Any game will go through multiple iterations during play-testing before it can achieve balance.

I could go on and on with lessons I’ve learned in my efforts at gamification, but my mouse is longing to click the publish button. I’ll be sure to have more wisdom to share in the next entry of Tales from the Zombie Apocalypse.

= = = = =


Sgt. Killzone avatar created using

Zombie picture created using

Advise Early. Advise Often.

Adviseme Us

By Amber King
Student Affairs
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

As a former high school guidance counselor, I am very familiar with the anxiety and pressure high school students feel about applying and preparing for college. I’ve heard many of my students express concerns about being prepared for college. Now that I am working on the other side as an academic counselor for incoming college students, I am seeing their concerns come to life.

Student after student comes in to take the placement test and leaves feeling defeated when they are told that they do not test into college-level courses. Other students do end up testing into those college level classes, but come back feeling ill-prepared or overwhelmed.

What can we do to help these students? We all want them to be successful in college, but how can we make that happen?

I truly believe a lot of the work lies in advising these students early on in this process, which will require a lot of work with the high school guidance counselors. To help more students test into these college level courses, I think every student should take the placement test at the end of their junior year of high school. At this point if the student is not “college level,” they could be offered developmental classes in their high school.

Our developmental instructors could help design these developmental classes that students would take during their senior year. I think many high school students would rather have these developmental classes in high school as opposed to waiting until they reach college.

Students always want to see a purpose in the class they are taking. They want to feel like they will use this material in their future. Offering these developmental courses in high school would serve a purpose, and students could make the connection about using this in the future, so I believe they would be more dedicated to the class.

If the high school junior tested into college level courses, they could take other math courses that their high school offered whether that be a higher level math course or an advanced placement option. In order to make this happen, I believe academic counselors need to make themselves more visible in the high schools and work a lot with the high school staff. It would also require our instructors to work with the high school teachers. I think everyone involved would be willing to do this to help our students feel more academically confident coming into college.

For the students who come into Delaware Tech “college ready” but later drop courses or do poorly in their courses because they are overwhelmed or unprepared, I think one way to help is continued advisement. Before students can register for any classes they participate in an initial advisement session, and then prior to registering for their second semester they first attend a program advisement session.

Two advisement sessions is a lot, but for high school students who are used to having their hands held through everything, this may not be enough. We have great opportunities for these students like the First Year Experience and New Student Orientation, but I think they still need more advisement. Students can always seek out additional advising time on their own, but we all know if students feel overwhelmed they are not that likely to seek us out.

I think holding continuous meetings with students throughout their first semester would benefit them. I also think we need to have more conversations with these students while they are still in high school about what they can expect from college. While a counselor could do this, it would be even more beneficial if we could have Delaware Tech students meet with these high school students and let them know what college is really like.

With the belief becoming more and more accepted that everyone needs a college education, I think we are going to see more and more students that are not prepared for college. Advisement may seem like too simple of an answer, but I think it is a step in the right direction. There would need to be a lot of collaboration and work put into these programs, but I do believe it would make students more successful, which is what we all want.

Plickers! The Student-Friendly Student Response System

You’ve probably heard about clickers, a student response system that allows you to conduct immediate, in-class assessments. But for many instructors, departments, and institutions, the cost of purchasing a set of clickers for every student isn’t in the budget.

Maybe you’ve thought about using Kahoot! or Socrative instead, which basically turn any computer or smart phone into a clicker. But, if you’re not in a computer room, or if you don’t want to isolate students without a mobile device, these apps still won’t do.

Enter Plickers, or “paper clickers”.

By Molli Carter
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

Plickers is a free student response system that requires only the instructor to have a mobile device, but still gives students  the opportunity to engage in formative assessment an interactive way. Plickers works by turning the instructor’s device into a QR code reader that scans the entire classroom, gathering data from cards that students hold up to indicate their response.

Get started with Plickers today!

First, download the Plickers app on your mobile device. Sign up for an account either from your device or through the website,

Second, head over to to print out the cards your students will use to join in the fun. I used the Standard Plickers Card Set. It works quite nicely. The cards are printed on card stock and passed out to students. I have my students keep their cards in their notebooks for easy access when we need them.

Third, set up your Plickers classroom. Log into your account and assign each student in your class a card number.  Students will use the same number every time they use Plickers.

Finally, design your assessments and let the fun begin.  In your account, you can create short multiple-choice or true/false questions. Once you are ready to use them in class, open the Plickers app on your phone or tablet and have your students get their cards ready. Depending on the direction the student holds the card, your device will read interpret their response. You can project the answers as they are coming in anonymously—great instant feedback for students–and then as the instructor go back and get data on individual student responses.

If you are looking for a way to use technology but aren’t sold on depending on the students to provide the technology, Plickers may be for you. Or, if you’re just looking to change things up a bit, substitute Plickers for polleverywhere, Kahoot!, or Socrative to keep your teaching innovative and fresh. If you use it, let us know; we would love to hear what you think!

Core Teaching Strategies from Karl Kapp


By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

“Being a great professor is an art and a science,” says Karl Kapp in the introduction video to his latest course offering on

You might recognize Kapp’s name from some of my previous posts. He’s the author of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, a book that sparked much of the thinking that went into my English 102 Zombie Survival Game, and his keynote speech at the 2015 RECAP conference at West Chester University taught me to look at games in a whole new way–eventually inspiring my most popular blog post to date.

So, when I got wind of Kapp’s newest course on Lynda called Core Strategies for Teaching in Higher Ed, I was immediately interested. Kapp’s course promises techniques that he’s honed during his almost 20 year career as a college professor. Some of the topics to be covered include understanding your students, teaching a love of learning, grading fairly, developing critical thinking skills, continually improving your teaching, and adapting to a changing environment.

Check out the course introduction video here. If that gets you interested, you can view some of the other materials for free by clicking on the “Chapters” heading.

And, if you’re interested in viewing the entire course, but you don’t have a account, they offer a 10-day free trial. The course provides 2 hours of material, easily viewable within the free trial period.

In fact, with 10 days, you’ll probably have enough time to check out Kapp’s Gamification of Learning course as well!

Prepping for Presentations


By Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

It’s about halfway through the semester, which means many instructors will soon be making their lesson plans to prepare students for the most dreaded part of the semester: presentations.

Every semester around this time, I like to dig through the Forward Thinking archives and compile old posts that are worth revisiting as we start prepping ourselves to prep our students to prep for presentations.

So, without further ado, here we go…

Presentation Problems offers resources that I use with my own students: a 3-minute on effective presentations, an article about overcoming presentation anxiety, and a blog post about what NOT to do in a presentation by marketing guru Seth Godin.

This TED Talk by Julian Treasure offers advice for “How to Talk So That People Will Want to Listen”. Of the many interesting facts that Treasure shares is that “we vote for politicians with lower voices”.

PowToon to the Rescue!, written by Dr. Kim Bates, discusses an alternative to PowerPoint. PowToon allows users to create animated movies and slideshows.

In Visualizing Instruction, Stacey Pounsberry shares three pieces of ed tech for creating visual aids.

Strike a (Power) Pose! offers commentary on Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about how our body language shapes our attitudes. This is some powerful scientific data, and I show my students a clip from this talk to give them real, science-based steps they can take to increase their confidence.

And finally, The Right Tool For the Right Job discusses the strengths and weaknesses of PowerPoint in different contexts.

Stranger in a Strange Land

Book ShelvesBy Angelynn King
Head Librarian
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

Although librarians teach in a number of ways, most of our classroom contact comes in the form of guest appearances in other instructors’ courses – what we call “one-shots.” Continue reading

Super Evil Megacorp Fails at Global Domination, Makes World a Better Place Instead

Ish Stabosz - baseball fieldBy Ish Stabosz
Center for Creative Instruction & Technology
Delaware Technical Community College
Stanton Campus

Ninth inning. Two outs. Two runners in scoring position.

Your team is up by one, so it all comes down to this last batter. Get him out, and the game is yours.

He swings and hits. Good contact, but it’s headed straight for right field. Should be an easy out.

But then you notice that the right fielder isn’t there. Well, he’s there, but his head is in the clouds. He stands idly by, gazing at the sky, as the ball lands a few feet away.

By the time he comes to his senses, the damage is done. Two runners are in and the game is lost.

Your team has just been AFK’d.

Continue reading

I wish my teacher knew…

I wish my teacher knew

By Jennifer Adams
Nursing Department
Delaware Technical Community College
Owens Campus

You may have seen news reports and tweets about third grade teacher Kyle Schwartz who gave her students the writing prompt, “I wish my teacher knew…Continue reading