An Interview with Roxanne Russell

(Guest Gamer)

Roxanne Russell, Ph.D.

Roxanne Russell, Ph.D.

Roxanne Russell is an instructional technology, design consultant, and teacher with 19 years of experience. She and her partners at Full Tilt Ahead, LLC ( bring brawns, brain, and beauty to the design, development, facilitation, and evaluation of online learning for mostly higher education.

An incurable academic, she publishes and presents in all of the right places and was cited for groundbreaking work on the cultural dynamics of the instructional design process in the 2014 edition of the Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology.

TGL: What’s your specialty area?

When it comes to live training and facilitation, my specialty is in preparing university faculty to create and facilitate learning experiences online. I started teaching undergraduate writing courses face-to-face in 1995 and online in 2003. I became so fascinated with the online learning experience that I changed my focus from writing and humanities to instructional design and technology. I now translate my lessons learned for faculty who are new to online learning. As a form of train-the-trainer activity, faculty development offers me the chance to stay ever reflective about whether I do what I say to do.

TGL: How long have you been designing and using games?

Ever since I read my first batch of student evaluations from Freshman Comp: “She told me what I should be doing but didn’t show me how to do it.” After this feedback, I realized that my approach of throwing a bunch of resources at them and expecting them to make sense of it wasn’t going to work--even if I did place them in groups to do it.

As a learner who had tended to be bored by lectures myself, I looked for approaches that would let me provide instructive guidance but did not require me to lecture. That is when I first started using interactive techniques in the classroom, quickly realizing that making those activities competitive or timed would up engagement. My first game was designed to have students anticipate opposition through rapidly drafting questions about their peers’ essay topics as 22 different famous people in one minute intervals. 

TGL: What is one important lesson you have learned about interactive approaches in online learning?

Online learning environments may require more upfront preparation and explicit instructions. In face-to-face environments, it can be easier to read participant reactions and adjust accordingly on the fly. Although this is possible in live online sessions as well, the restrictions of user and technology can limit agility. As a face-to-face facilitator, I like to have several possibilities at hand and stay flexible to levels of my control vs. participant control in the roll out of a lesson. In online sessions, I have found it easier to start with tight centralized control, as participants become used to the technological environment, and then I scaffold the introduction of participant interactions and eventual distributed control. I made the mistake of approaching my first online session as an open environment for all and ended up being derailed by technology issues before getting off the ground with the content.

TGL: What is one piece of advice you would offer for using games in online sessions?

Always have a back up plan. For every tool and every feature. This plan should include a separate set of materials and guidelines. One recent version upgrade to a web conferencing system could derail an entire lesson because it impacts just one feature.

TGL: What is your favorite game for the online learning environment?

Variations of Thiagi’s games that involve skeptics. Since I work with higher education faculty, I have to be sensitive to the fact that they are so much smarter than me and their peers. And entirely too serious to waste time playing games. If skepticism is not only welcomed but also integrated into the lesson, the participants can let go of some of the inner resistance. This skepticism layer works particularly well in the online classroom since chat boxes or webcams for the skeptics display next to primary content and presenters in the flat presentation space of online web conferencing platforms.

TGL: Are your online participants open to using games?

Although the faculty I have worked with have been receptive to participating in games that I use during my sessions, I have not seen a great deal of uptake by faculty in using games in their own sessions. I see them using interactive techniques, (for example, polling and breakout groups), but I have not yet seen them introduce competition or leveling. I’d like to provide faculty with more resources and tools for developing their ideas into games that can be rolled out online and that they will be confident facilitating.  My plan is to bog down Thiagi’s concise resources with magniloquence to make it more palatable to this audience. 

TGL: What is an aspect of live interactive online learning that you would like to see get more attention?

I am very interested in the role of the technical producer in smaller scale online learning environments. For large training sessions or webinars, there is usually someone behind the scenes to run the show for the primary speakers and participants. To introduce interactive techniques and gaming into smaller live online sessions, like course level facilitation, I see great value in the role of a technical producer for set up and participant management—even if this producer is someone recruited from the participants and trained on the spot with quick guides.