Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Leaving story maps behind

I wrote on the first of this year about how I was excited to try using story maps as a management aid for my Spring Studio team, and in the middle of February I followed up with some of my findings from one iteration's use. The team just finished their second iteration, and after talking about it with them during our end-of-iteration review and retrospective meeting, we are going to drop the story maps and go to Scrum.

The problem with the story map—as we reified it—is that it presumes that the reader already has knowledge of the fundamental processes that are required to complete a story. For example, we had an activity on the story map called "Narrate my friend's story" with a story underneath it called "Read conclusion and result." (StoryConclusion, and Result are all key terms from our game design and are defined in a design log.) When I look at that story, I can imagine the steps required to complete it: sketch the UI, make sure I have actual conclusions and results, make sure it fits with the overall game UX flow, rough it in code with placeholder assets, start replacing placeholders with real assets, test the integration. The problem is that I am not the one doing these steps: rather, it is a team of people who never did this before. What happened in the first two iterations with the story map is that they would look at "Read conclusion results" and, in the discussion, I would explain that these steps were required. These steps weren't tracked explicitly, though, and so we ran immediately into cognitive overload, and the team moved forward with the illusion that they knew how to proceed. Note that this is basically the same phenomenon as in a traditional class, where you can tell the class something and they will nod but not take notes, believing that they understand; of course these students then fail to follow the proper steps when it comes time to execute the task independently.

I am hopeful that switching to Scrum will make it easier for the team to track its progress on smaller tasks. It will mean more attention devoted to planning meetings, as we break down stories into individually-measurable tasks. One reason I was hoping for a leaner approach using story maps is that this is only a three credit-hour course, unlike the six credit-hour studios of the past few years, and so this will eat even more time away from production. However, if we're not producing the right thing, then it doesn't matter how quickly we do it.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Rewriting departmental P&T documents to follow Scholarship Assessed

At the end of February, I gave a presentation at Ball State's Engaging Community series on the topic of publishing community-engaged scholarship. I was glad to be invited, although I don't generally describe myself as a "community-engaged scholar." I see community engagement as a necessary component of the authentic game studio experience: if my teams were not engaged with the community, we would not be doing authentic work. In any case, I took the opportunity to talk about the variety of research questions my colleagues and I have investigated, and the corresponding variety of venues where this work has been published. I have posted the slides, if you want to take a look, though as usual they may not make sense without the stories surrounding them.

Before me in the session were two respected colleagues, Chadwick Menning and Mellisa Holzman, who organize the Elemental sexual assault protection program. One of their main talking points was how to contextualize community-engaged scholarship for the promotion and tenure process. Given that a program such as Elemental is not conventional scholarship, some within the university perceived it as being solely a teaching experience (because it arose from a VBC seminar) or as service (because it involves helping people, I guess). Mellisa's sage advice was to contextualize and justify the work within your vita—a tactical maneuver that is facilitated by conceiving of the vita as a personal expression rather than a bureaucratic formula.

Inspired by their story, I began my talk with some extemporaneous remarks about my own P&T adventures. I told the audience that I didn't really have any trouble defending my work as scholarship because I had rewritten my department's P&T document to make it easier. Back in 2008, I chaired my department's P&T committee, and I had just recently read both Scholarship Assessed and Scholarship Reconsidered. With a favorable committee and authority from the department, I was the primary author of the changes that moved us from a laundry list of recognized activities toward a definition of what we mean by "scholarship". Here is the relevant section:
All works of scholarship will be judged according to the following standards (adapted from Glassick, et al., Scholarship Assessed: Evaluation of the Professoriate, John Wiley & Sons and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1997, p36). It is the responsibility of the faculty member to clearly demonstrate in writing that the standards listed below are satisfied by the body of work presented to document his or her bid for promotion or tenure.
  1. Clear goals. The scholar clearly articulates the basic purposes of the project, defines objectives that are realistic and achievable, and identifies the most important questions in the field.
  2. Adequate preparation. The scholar shows an understanding of existing scholarship in the field, brings the necessary skills to the project, and brings together the resources necessary to move the project forward.
  3. Appropriate methods. The scholar uses methods appropriate to the stated goals, applies effectively the methods selected, and appropriately modifies procedures in response to changing circumstances.
  4. Significant results. The scholar achieves the stated goals. The results of the project add consequentially to the field and open additional areas for further exploration.
  5. Effective presentation. The scholar uses a suitable style and effective organization to present the results of the project, uses appropriate forums for communicating these results to their intended audiences, and presents his or her message with clarity and integrity.
  6. Reflective critique. The scholar critically evaluates her or his own work, brings an appropriate breadth of evidence to her or his critique, and uses this evaluation to improve the quality of future work.
I should note that this section is followed almost immediately by a more conventional section describing what categories of evidence are recognized. However, whereas this was previously an exhaustive list, it is now a list of items that simply don't require much extra contextualization.
The following categories of evidence of scholarship are recognized by the department. However, support materials not fitting clearly into any of these categories may still be submitted. All evidence of scholarship should be documented according to the standards in [the section above].
  • Publishing refereed articles in journals or conference proceedings;
  • Publishing book articles, research monographs, or textbooks;
  • Writing reviews for national journals;
  • Presenting papers at professional meetings;
  • Conducting seminars, institutes, or workshops on computer science topics;
  • Evidence of success in developing, experimenting with, and implementing new teaching procedures and techniques;
  • Receiving grants or fellowships;
  • Adoption outside the department of software or electronically distributed materials that you have developed;
  • Serving as a professional consultant on matters of computer science to organizations or individuals outside the department.
There was no trouble with my department's approving these changes, and these policies have been in place ever since. When I have been considered for tenure, promotion, graduate faculty status, or merit pay, I simply provide a paragraph or two that establishes any unconventional work as scholarship given the six criteria.

This change did not instigate a visible cultural shift within my department: my colleagues are generally engaged in conventional disciplinary research. However, as far as I can tell, no one has pushed back against these changes either. Although I may be something of a black sheep in terms of how I conduct my research program, I don't sense anyone questioning the scholarly nature of it. I am sure it helps that, in addition to my more progressive work, I regularly produce traditional forms of scholarly output as well.

Although I am happy with this departmental policy, I also believe it does not go far enough in embracing Boyer's philosophy. Our document is patterned after a college document that uses a traditional three-category taxonomy of professorial activity: teaching, research, and service. That is, it misses the point that Boyer made, that everything a professor does should be scholarly—that the way of the scholar is scholarship. Worse yet, the college document reuses the word "scholarship" in place of the more traditional "research," which only further confuses the matter. Boyer's four scholarships simply don't fit into a model that separates scholarship from teaching and service. While I would like to see my department's document align with Boyer's model more explicitly, it's not a battle I choose to fight. Regardless, it was an epiphany for me when, as a young scholar, when I realized I could stop thinking about teaching, research, and service, and instead think about doing all things as a scholar.

(Erin Moore helped organize the university's session on Publishing Community-Engaged Scholarship, and she told me that she has received a few requests for more information about my department's P&T policies. I hope this post helps provide a bit more context than I could in some off-the-cuff remarks. As always, comments are welcome.)