Q&A with Oxnard Union High School District
Meet Jay Sorensen, Educational Technology Coordinator for Oxnard Union High School District…
Jay Sorenson, professional learning leader for Oxnard Union High School District (OUHSD), and Alludo were kindred spirits right from the start. Both knew the power of professional learning when you can let what teachers want to learn and earn, combined with district initiatives, guide the effort. The result is a PD trifecta where teachers, students, and the district win!
See how they did it…
AT A GLANCE
- Oxnard Union High School District is made up of more than 15,000 students and nearly 700 teachers across 21 schools.
- Jay understood the value of personalized, choice-driven learning and had already practiced this as a teacher and then as a professional learning leader.
- He was only limited by learners’ availability. After school was the main window of opportunity for professional development, and that just wasn’t enough.
- When he discovered Alludo, he realized he could offer personalized learning at scale to learners–anytime, anywhere!
- The Alludo solution at OUHSD features…
- Teacher and student-driven learning
- District support
- Evidence of learning
- The outcomes…
- Getting teachers exposed and trying new things
- Adult learners are now setting up their own meetups and sharing ideas
- Now there is a pathway to get teachers what they need and want–even when the district can’t afford that for every teacher
- The district can now meet all of the different learner needs and pivot with ease when priorities change
- Driving initiatives like new teacher onboarding, student support services awareness, and building community with new students!
- More than 13,000 students are engaged in Alludo (87%)!
- The Numbers
- Student and adult learners completed 70K+ hours of learning!
- 149,700+ microlearning Activities completed!
- 23,800 + Missions completed
- 8,400+ Levels achieved
- Student and adult learners completed 70K+ hours of learning!
Here is the full interview...
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background in education and what your current role is?
Jay: I started off as an elementary school teacher, taught nine years doing fourth, fifth, and some of that sixth grade was part of elementary. Then I moved to the middle school. I did one year teaching a middle school computer class, and then I became the tech TOSA in the Rio Rancho Public Schools school district. So, two years I was doing training, teacher PD and stuff as a tech TOSA before taking my job currently as the tech coordinator in the Oxnard Union High School District. And actually, for a brief time, I thought I was going to become a counselor. So I got my Master's in counseling, but it was around that same time when I went to my first Cue conference and sort of discovered the whole Ed Tech world and saw what was possible with that. And that got me really excited about EdTech things.
Q: What do you love most about your job?
Jay: Helping people. It always feels good to teach a new idea or a new tool and see people then be able to implement that and come up with their own things. I also enjoy some of the problem solving aspects of things and creating new things like I've done with Alludo.
Q: What's the flip side of that coin—what would you say is the most challenging?
Jay: Probably keeping up with everything, all the new tech that's always coming or evolving. Also, in my current role in the high school district—one, I never taught high school, so that's new. And because it's high school secondary, there's all the different subject matters and everybody is a little bit different. Whereas in elementary it was more like first grade is first grade, and for the most part, sixth grade is sixth grade. So just sort of keeping up with everything and how it applies to all the different subject matters around the district.
Q: What were you doing for PD before Alludo and what led you to Alludo?
Jay: Primarily after-school trainings would be the majority of it, which is always challenging. After school gets busy. Teachers have lives and grading and all that kind of stuff. So being able to access people basically was mainly done through after school trainings and what little PD days we had as part of the district. A little bit when I was the TOSA role and in my current role, going to classrooms and maybe modeling something or helping a teacher get set up or get started using a program. Primarily doing PD outside of classroom time.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the shortcomings of that or the challenges of that that you were trying to solve?
Jay: Like I said, just being able to get people. People's availability, you know, right after school is pretty much the only time you had to work with. And, you know, financially in general, people want to get paid for staying extra, staying after school. And so there was always the financial side of that from a district perspective. You're getting some of the diehards that just really want to learn the tool, but maybe not being able to get to everybody that needs it or wants it.
Q: How did you find Alludo?
Jay: Yes. So I was at the CUE conference in Palm Springs Spring CUE, and I had just been hired into my role as the tech TOSA in Rio Rancho Public Schools, and I was coming off teaching my computer class where I had just gamified my classroom. So, it was a brand new class that didn't exist before me, so I got to kind of make it what I wanted to. I gamified that class where I built out the whole course following this old kung fu movie, The 36 Chambers, and so the students went through these different chambers, and when they mastered it, then they were able to move on to the next one, which is kind of how it worked in in the movie. And I loved that experience. It changed my role as the teacher because on the front end I had to design this whole class before the class started, but day to day, students were working through. It was more personalized. They had some choice. They were able to work at their own pace a little bit more. They knew what the end goal was from the beginning, where they had to get to get the grade they wanted. I was just kind of going around and helping sort of facilitate that and then maybe stopping at times and doing a whole class instruction. But it really was more student-centered, and I loved that experience. So, I felt like that was a successful thing I had done in my class.
At the CUE conference, I saw a session about doing that for PD, and because I was now going to be one of the people providing a lot of the PD for my district, I was really intrigued by that idea. So I went to this session about Chrome Warrior, which is what Alludo was called at the time about this district that had gamified their PD, and I loved that idea. And as I was watching the presentation, I was having my own ideas of how I might do it coming off my experience doing it in my classroom. So, sort of took that idea, went back to my district, shared the idea with our superintendent, our tech director, the other TOSA that I was working with. Everybody was on board, and we had the idea to go ahead and build out our own game at that time.
And I'll add, we tried to do it outside of Chrome Warrior and Alludo. At that time we thought, “Oh, we can do this just using Google Apps.” We had a giant spreadsheet of all of our activities and the different levels and the different Missions and stuff, and in that spreadsheet you could click on it to get to a Google Form where people would fill out the form to submit their evidence that they had completed something. Each activity also had a Google doc that explained what the activity was, what the learning objective and what they had to submit. So we initially tried to do it on our own. Didn't take too long to realize that was foolish and we were doing a lot of extra work. And so then we shortly after that, reached out to Chrome Warrior at the time and said, “Hey, here's what we're trying to do.” And they're like, “Well, that's what we do.”
Q: You said it was foolish to do it on your own. Can you explain that?
Jay: Well, we were just trying to sort of manually do what Alludo already does. It is doable. I like to go and present about our success and what we've done with Alludo at conferences, and it's awesome to see districts that then maybe adopt, create their own game from that kind of like I did when I saw the Chrome Warrior presentation. I like to tell people it is possible you can do it without Alludo. The session isn't necessarily about Alludo, it's more about gamifying PD. But we found it was just so much easier in the management, the approvals, everything's in one system. Alludo has evolved so much over the years now too with the Store, and there's all these different aspects to it. And the reporting, we just didn't have all that as far as the function of here's here's a game, here's an activity, here's submitting evidence, you can do that on your own outside of Alludo, but it's so much more to manage and you get so much more benefits and data and all that stuff along with it using a program like Alludo.
Q: What were your primary goals as soon as you had purchased Alludo?
Jay: One is a way to—outside of the school day and maybe outside of that right after school training where parents have to go pick up their kids and they’ve got practice or they're doing afterschool programs—expand the time we had to work with. So more access.
Also, you know, I got to go to the CUE conference where I first learned about it. Not everybody gets to go to the CUE conference. A way to expose people to new ideas, a way of trying new things. When I was in the Rio Rancho Public Schools school district, our superintendent was very supportive of, “If you want to try something new, try doing things differently, go for it.” People might be open to that, but they don't know where to start. They don't know what to do. So putting these things in the game is just kind of puts it on people's radar like, “Oh, I never thought of having my students record a screencast to share what they had learned.” So it was just a way of exposure to new ideas, different pedagogy. We had a whole pedagogy Mission within our game. So not just try something, try a new tool or learn about something, but actually do the thing or change what you're doing, how you're teaching in your classroom. So I think that was a big part of it, too. It's just the exposure to different ideas.
Q: What were some of the applications besides the ones that you originally intended, that came out of that?
Jay: Well, we started to bring in other district initiatives. We had another district-wide program for PD that we were sort of experimenting with at that time, and we were able to bring in those district goals. That's kind of the beauty of a gamified PD program, is you can make it whatever you want and you can bring at any time, you can add new things, take things away. You can make it fit your district. So at any given time, whatever those biggest needs are, you can bring that in. And I think that's huge because districts are always changing leadership or changing what their focus is, or there's a new challenge that arises, and it's a great way to address those needs and challenges and goals district-wide.
Q: What would you say have been the outcomes so far?
Jay: I think, like I said, getting teachers exposed and trying new things is a huge one. When we brought in the game, when I came to my current district, Oxnard Union, we weren't 1:1 yet and we were slowly moving in that direction. So it was a way to expose people to some things that were on the horizon. And I think there was sort of a big culture shift, again, with the idea of trying new things, but also collaboration. I feel like the district was a little more isolated. Schools were more isolated, kind of doing their own thing. Because we built it into the game and it was incentivized for people to cross-collaborate across departments at their school or across from school to school, people getting together more. We also built in kind of fun collaboration things like meeting up for what they call a Brew CUE, whether it's meeting for coffee and chatting or meeting for a beer after work and talking about some of these things. So more and more of that kind of thing started to happen, which I think was really cool. And then initially it was like me setting that up or someone at the district setting those up, but then we incentivize it for them to set up their own.
So now people are setting up their own meetups and sharing ideas, which is really cool. More people attending conferences. Sometimes you throw in points for them to go to your local affiliate. For us, it's Gold Coast CUE, attending those types of things. But then we made that part of the prize structure. We initially had by Level you would earn a prize, but now we have the Store. People can opt in to going to things like the CUE conference, and there's a path for them. If they fell in love with the CUE conference like I did, now there's a path for them to go year after year. Whereas in the past districts couldn't fund that, and there wasn't a way to maybe select who could go and who couldn't or who could get a new computer. Now there's a path for them to upgrade maybe the Chromebook that they got as a district. They want something more powerful. Now, there's a path for them to get the MacBook they wanted or whatever. So I don't think you can't take all the credit that Alludo caused all of that, but I definitely think there was a culture shift in our district.
Q: How did the district benefit from your use of Alludo?
Jay: Obviously, all of this stuff happening is a benefit for the district. It also shifts how districts think about how they're going to spend some of their money. Instead of putting it into all those time-sheeted after school trainings, maybe now you're doing it through this personalized PD. I think also, it's less one size fits all, and now we can meet all those different needs around the district. And you can put all those different things into the game and people can opt in to what they're doing. I think that's nice. Another big benefit I would say is during distance learning in the pandemic, we were really easily able to pivot because we weren't doing all of our training in person. We just, on the fly, built out a distance learning Mission. And now we had, “Here’s tips and tricks and things that you can do for teaching through distance learning.” And so people were able to continue to get PD. In the summer, we usually would do an in-person sort of conference for our district – an optional thing that people would come in and maybe for a week we'd have breakout sessions that our teachers would lead, and maybe we'd bring in some outsiders too. People would be able to come and choose which sessions they went to. Kind of like if you're going to a CUE conference, we would do that for our district, but we weren't able to do that in person. So we did it virtually through Alludo. And because we would normally pay people hourly, we just were able to give them a stipend. So if you attended these sessions and completed this Mission, and you were able to get a stipend. So we were able to pivot our in-person PD during distance learning as well, which was pretty cool.
And I'll add, I had multiple people come to me and say, ”Because of Alludo, I felt prepared for this moment of distance learning.” Because they had so much more exposure to a lot of these things that they wouldn't have maybe otherwise had. And so that was really cool to hear that.
Q: Any outcomes specific to students?
Jay: Obviously, I would assume students are benefiting from all these things that teachers are doing and trying and changing their pedagogy in their classroom. We also have since added a student game as well that we use for digital citizenship. That's the main goal. There's a required Mission each year for them to do around digital citizenship, but then there's some optional stuff in there, too. One is a tech focus. The whole game is called, “Smarter Things.” It's the Stranger Things theme, which is fun. And we have the, “Smarter Online,” the required Mission. But then we also have the, “Techie Things,” and the, “Life things.” And the, “Life things,” is just some of those things when I talked to people and came up with my own ideas of what are some of those things people always say, “I wish we learned this in school.” So we have things like what a credit score is and how to get information about getting scholarships or getting your Learner's Permit. Different things like that. And I just recently looked, and on top of the required digital citizenship piece, we've had over 15,000 Activities done over the few years that we've had this in those other, optional ones. And that's really cool to see. So students are going in and choosing things that they want to learn about, that they want to complete and getting points for those. So that's really cool.
Q: Did you have any outcomes in areas like prioritizing PD, administration of PD, engagement, measuring effectiveness, scale, onboarding, or other particular initiatives?
Jay: So engagement, I think like I've mentioned, I think is way up and people are doing a lot more PD and opting into it and hours and hours of PD that we can see teachers are doing that they might not have otherwise done.
Measuring effectiveness—I don't know that we have a great way to look at that and that's something I'd like to have more of.
The onboarding is an interesting one, too. So we've also—and this wasn't me, this was a different department that runs our new teacher orientation—they created a whole game for New Teacher Orientation. So in the past it was all the different departments and HR would come talk to them, and they had to learn everything. They're a new teacher in our district. To shift that a little bit from people coming in, and, “We're going to talk to you an hour about this thing and you're going to sit there and listen all day for three days,” as everyone comes in and gets their hour to tell them. We flipped that a little bit and we put it into a game and gave them time to do it. And some of them have done it, some of them outside of the time there, but they also had time there. But then the time that they had with people was a lot shorter, and we could really get to the important stuff we want to talk to you about, but you're going to still do demonstrate your knowledge of whatever the thing is, “How to fill out a timesheet,” or whatever the things are that we needed to talk to them about. So yeah, so onboarding teachers became its own game, which was kind of cool.
Going back to distance learning pandemic time, we also had schools built out games for students that were incoming freshmen, so they never set foot on campus. They’re at home. But as a way to sort of help them learn about their school and build community a little bit, they built games for incoming freshmen during the pandemic, which is a really cool idea. So every school had their own game for that. And so people are coming up with innovative ways of using Alludo on top of what we have done as a district. We have games for Academies. Some of our Academies at our high school built out games that are all four years while they're there. We've had, like I mentioned, the incoming freshmen. Schools that had their own games, and even some teachers have used it for a way to run their class, which is interesting.
Q: How many departments or what are all the departments using Alludo?
Jay: So we do have our Student Support Services built their own Mission, which is really cool. So they were like, “Hey, there's a bunch of things that we wish teachers knew or were doing more of.” Things they should know are ways to support some of our homeless or foster youth or all these different aspects that we want teachers to know about these resources, or here are strategies we want them to know. So, Student Services built out their own Mission. The other departments don't necessarily have their own Missions, but they do have maybe an Activity in there that through conversations, you know, I wish teachers knew this or wish teachers were doing this. We can just throw it in the game. And it's a way to—it's not going to hit everybody—I always give the example when I first started our game in Oxnard Union, I went around and talked to people and our helpdesk. In order to take over someone's computer when they're trying to help them, they needed to find the computer number and they always had to walk them through the steps of how to find that computer number to give to them so that they can then do that. Well, we just built that as an Activity. And again, it's not going to hit everybody. But now whatever the number was, 150 of our teachers know how to find that number on their own. And it just saves so much time. So little things like that are big wins, I think, as a district and that can touch different departments.
Q: How did you go about this shift to personalized PD?
Jay: I know I've touched on a lot of this here and there, but yeah, so like I said, I was coming off gamifying my classroom. I saw the success of that and the shift in my role and how I could support my students and was sort of applying that to my new role at that time as a TOSA. And when I saw how one district did it, I sort of combined ideas from theirs and ideas from my own experience in my classroom. I think I was lucky because I was in a great position of having a tech director, superintendent, another TOSA, who are all fully on board with the idea and could kind of see the vision as well. And I sort of built it out how I saw it, but they had their input.
Having district support obviously is huge, both financially and just conceptually.
Districts need to see how maybe they're just going to rethink how they're spending their money. So, you know, when you set up a PD that's going to be a whole school or a whole day or whatever you're sending people to conferences, that can add up quickly. And maybe that isn't the perfect thing for everybody, you know, the one size fits all. When we started our game initially OU Express in Oxnard Union, we had it set up at the Levels and the incentives were by Level, and complete Level One and you got to shirt at the time and Level Two was a new device and Level Three was going to a conference. It was set up that way before we had the Store, and before the Store existed. Having the flexibility of having the Store and people can work towards the thing they want by completing the things that they want to know and want to learn is a win win. At the time, we weren't 1:1. Level three changed to a Chromebook cart, so that was the path for teachers to get a Chromebook cart because we couldn't afford the time to buy a Chromebook cart for every classroom. And we were using carts because we weren't 1:1. Well, then this became the path to, “Here's how you can get a cart for your classroom, which was a great option.” Again, as a district if you don't have the money for everyone, “Well, here's a path for that.” And now people are learning and working towards a thing that is your sort of goal anyway, it's just further down the line. And then when we went 1:1, now we had a bunch of people that kind of were more up to speed with what types of things we wanted to be doing and the shift we wanted to be making.
Q: Was OU Express specific to just teachers?
Jay: Adults. Yeah, so staff. So it's definitely more heavily teacher-focused, but we wanted to have things in there that were for everyone. Actually, our hashtag was #AllAboardOUHSD. Actually at the same time as well, we were in a transition from a Microsoft district to a Google district, so we needed to get everyone on board with that shift and getting familiar with their Google Drive and Google Calendar and all those types of things. So yeah, we wanted it to be for everyone. It's definitely more heavily geared towards teachers, because there's a lot of EdTech things and EdTech tools and using those, the whole pedagogy Mission is specifically for teachers. But yeah, we wanted to have things in there for everyone. And like I said, going around and learning, having an Activity like, “How to find your computer number” applies to everybody. So, we wanted it to be available to everyone, and then we needed to have incentives that apply to everyone. So it sort of evolved more and more to that over time.
Q: How did you go about getting district support?
Jay: Well, like I said, in my previous district, I was lucky because I kind of knew the mindset of the leadership at that time and thought it would be something they'd be on board with. And when I came back from that CUE conference and presented what I saw and what my vision was, they could see that, and they were on board. When I came to my new district again, I was fortunate because our assistant superintendent, who's now our superintendent at the time, was also on board with the whole idea. I didn't have to do too hard of a sell. But that's definitely a big challenge if you're in a situation where for whatever reason, financially, maybe it's not as feasible or not everyone is able to see the vision. And that's why I love presenting it at conferences, because I want to try and help people to come up with a way that they can see the benefits and how maybe, just with a slight shift in thinking at a district level, how it might work for them too.
Q: Did that mean you didn't really have to do much of a trial period?
Jay: So, that's actually a good point and something that I hadn't thought of earlier. So despite the people who I needed to be on board being on board, we then had to present it to all the staff, all the teachers. And we did that initially with a big flop. So we did it at our first well, again, we were in the first game in Paddle when I was in Rio Rancho Public Schools, we were building it all on our own that time, so it wasn't through Chrome Warrior or Alludo. We had to have it fully ready to go for our first day back – the big rah rah day where all the teachers come together and we get everybody excited and then we present some of our district initiatives. Well, Paddle was like one of three brand new initiatives that were being presented that day. I was given like 20 minutes. We had like three, all three of those things and like a rotation. I was given 20 minutes to sell it and explain it and get people to understand it and be excited about it. Internet went out for part of the time, and it just didn't take off district-wide. There were definitely some people that jumped right on board and started playing the game and were excited about it. And that led to some others getting excited from them or learning about it. But it wasn't like a district-wide success. So having a real good plan of your rollout I think is very important. I was lucky in that district. We had two district-wide PD days, so it wasn't till the second one when we got to do a relaunch of the game and gave them time to get in there and actually start doing it and understand it and we're approving them in real time. Then we started to get more success and we had people that actually completed multiple Levels and were able to go to the CUE conference that spring. And so then we got more and more success. But yeah, having a good rollout plan is important, not just, hey guys, here's this new thing. I'm sure you'll all be equally as excited as I am. That's not necessarily the case.
Q: What are the specifics of a good rollout plan in addition to having the time and getting them in there and using it?
Jay: I think the big picture is important, and they need to see what it is. But yes, getting them in there and doing it, because once they have submitted something and then got approved and hopefully learn something or maybe just got excited about the points. For some people points are everything, and they’ve got to be on that leaderboard. That's a small group of people. But yeah, getting them in there and successful and understanding what it is, but then also understanding big picture what we're trying to do, but also, “Hey, there's benefits in here for you besides just the learning,” but there's maybe something for completing a Level or there's the Store where, “Hey, you have this path to this thing that you want.” Getting them understanding all of that is important.
Q: Is there anything else you would have done differently or advise somebody else who's just starting this journey?
Jay: So, advice beyond having a good rollout plan. Because I'm in my second district with a game, I sort of got the opportunity to do things differently. You know, the first time I had a vision and shared it with our leadership, and they were on board. What I didn't do then that I did in my current district is then go around and talk to people before as I'm building it. “What kinds of things do you want? What kinds of things are you looking to learn? What kinds of things do you wish other people knew?” Again, going back to the computer number or computer name example, talking to those different departments both about what do you want to learn as a learner, as a secretary in the HR department or whatever. But also, “What do you wish other people knew? What are your pain points? That, “Hey, maybe we could just build a little five minute Activity and people would know how to fill out those timesheets correctly,” because you keep having to send them back. Going around and having those conversations, I think, is huge. Starting building with that empathy piece of what are the end users looking for, looking to learn, and wanting other people to know, I did some of that. Probably more would have been better, but I did go around.
I also talked to teachers about incentives. What kinds of things do they want to work towards? Because we have the Store now, I'm constantly able to add new things. People put in requests of like, “I wish we had this.” That's another great example of the personalized nature of it. We're not going to and we can't afford to buy, let's say, a rolling white board for every classroom. Not every teacher even wants that. But some teachers really want another whiteboard, because maybe one was taken away when we put up the TVs or whatever, or they're just not enough or their room is constructed a certain way that doesn't work for them. So now there's a rolling whiteboard that can be thrown in there. Some teacher would say, “Get this out of my classroom,” if all of a sudden everyone got one. And that's not the best way to spend our money. But someone who really wants one has that path. So there's all kinds of different personalization things in there that I think are really beneficial. Going around and talking to folks to find out what those things are is really helpful.
That's actually another big thing; it's all optional. None of it is mandatory. We haven't done anything mandatory in there, and I think that's huge. And so the game is there when you're ready for it. For some people that may be never, and that's okay. Other people, like when we switched to distance learning, all of a sudden they were like, “Hey, I want to know this stuff. And here's it's already set for me. There's a path and I can get some nice rewards for doing it.” But also mixed in, there are counselors. We actually built a whole Mission for paraeducators during distance learning. We needed to provide PD for them. We didn't have a way to do it in person, so we built out a whole Mission for a paraeducator. So counselors, paras, speech therapists, nurses. It's been a big mix. So, yeah, it's not for everyone, and it probably never will be. And that's okay, I think. But it's reached a lot of people, which is really cool to see.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about PD goal setting before and after Alludo?
Jay: When it was after school, we were very limited. Now it's just how do we get people more engaged? What areas? What do we need to add to the game? What new initiatives or new things are coming around that need to be added? And then we can think about what are those things that would be better to be an in-person training. In our district, we're getting these interactive TVs put into the classrooms. That's not the best as an Alludo Activity. We can support it in Alludo and there can be Activities like, “Hey, did you know there's this feature?” and chunk some of those things in there. But people need to be up and touching their TVs and doing that so we can sort of think about how best to use our in-person time. And I think that applies to the classroom, too. When I talked about my shifting role as a teacher. You know, it's not always the best for me to be up there teaching the whole class. Well, I can use something like EdPuzzle for kids to go and learn a certain thing. Now I can pull a small group and, “What's the best use of my time with this small group or with this individual student?”
One other thing that popped in my head. So I mentioned it before, but another like, what not to do. Don't mandate it. I don't think we haven't mandated any of it. It's all been optional. I think that's a huge part of its success. And like I mentioned, it's there for you when you're ready. And some people may never be ready, and that's okay. But for other people, it's been around for five years and then they discovered it. Whether it was because of a specific Activity or because of the distance learning or whatever it was, or because we incentivize something with a stipend for them. And then they did it for that, but then they discovered they love it. We have people like that that hadn't played the game, fell in love with the game, and now they're one of the people doing approvals, you know.
So I've been able to scale out that. That's another thing that's helped me a lot and a recommendation. Don't try and do it all yourself. That was sort of me in the beginning, and now it's scaled out where people are incentivized to do approvals because they can earn points and people are going in and doing approvals and there are people that have completed the Levels and now they're able to go in and do approvals, which makes it more scalable and doable as a district, because now there's not just one person.
And that's the other thing where I've seen districts not be as successful as it was all on one person who that person left or took a new position or whatever. And now there's no one running it, and it's just kind of sitting there. So, that's the other advice is don't ignore the game. You need someone actively in there, not just doing approvals, but thinking about how it needs to be tweaked, what we need to add, what we need to change.
Q: What advice would you give to professional learning directors to create a sustainable program with numbers like this?
Jay: I think it's a lot of those things that we've talked about. Obviously having the district backing and the money behind it. But I think the whole empathy piece of like, think of those people that you want to play, what are they looking for? What do they want? What do they want to learn? What do they want to earn? You know, making sure that you're meeting their needs. Meeting the district needs obviously, the district has goals of things they want people to do. And you can incentivize that with points in the game. But if I'm a teacher that hasn't played, “Why do I want to do this?” Might be because there's some they just got their TV, and they do want to learn some how to do some specific thing. The incentives obviously go a long way. And like I said, from a district perspective, rethinking, “Well, we're not going to spend all this money on this after school training or sending a large group to some conference, some event. But we're going to put that money into purchasing things for the Store and incentivize it that way.” And if those things in the Store are things teachers want, and the Activities are things people want to learn, and there's things in there the district wants, it's a win win.
Julia: You have to look at it from all the different perspectives—the district, what you have available, and more importantly, what is it that the learner needs. They have to get value out of it in order to continue to come back.
Jay: Yeah. There's some sort of Venn diagram there; in the middle is the perfect of all of that. Yeah, exactly.
Julia: I think there's a lemur in the middle.
Jay: I think you're right. I see the visual.
That shift from the Level-based rewards to the Store is a big part of that, too. Those diehards that year one completed all three Levels because they wanted a Chromebook cart or they just wanted to be on the Leaderboard, well, why would they keep playing at that point? Maybe, maybe just the Leaderboard. But again, that's a really small group. But having the Store allows us to keep adding Activities and keep adding new Missions or Levels. And for them to keep wanting to work towards that, if there's someone who, like me, fell in love with the CUE conference and every year they want to go the CUE conference, there's a path for them. So they're going to keep playing because they need to keep earning those points that they can then spend. I have people all the time that are like, “Hey, how much is the iPad Pro?” Well, it's this many points. “I'm going to work towards that.” So giving them a reason to keep playing and us to keep adding material to it. Again, it's a win win.
Q: How did you start with student programs?
Jay: For a long time, we had teachers asking for students to be able to have Alludo, so they could build games for their classes. Not a lot, but there were teachers that definitely wanted that. And I love that idea. Like, if I was back in the classroom, I would probably build out a game similar to what I did in my old middle school computer class with The 36 Chambers. Then, we had a tech requirement as a district that was there before I came, that students had to pass this tech test. But we weren't 1:1. There was no path for every student to be properly prepared for this tech requirement that we had for them to graduate, which just didn't make sense to me. And so I had the suggestion at the time we had a tech advisory committee (TAC), so our TAC meeting where we were discussing this tech requirement, and I threw out the idea of, “Hey, if we use Alludo for students, we could have this path for students and replace that exam. But instead they're going to do some of those tech things in the digital citizenship through this student game.” So people were on board with that. And then we really kind of slowly brought that in. We're finally to the point where we have a Level for every grade level now, and we have this whole theme game and we got the stickers that students can earn and put on their devices that they keep for the four years that they're with us. So it sort of came from a couple of different needs and a shift that we were making as a district.
I love all the different ways that teachers and sites have built out their own games for students outside of our “Smarter Things” game.