“Bus, do your stuff!”
That’s a phrase UW-Madison undergraduates may remember from their kindergarten days, when they got their first exposure to computer learning by using the popular “Magic School Bus” online games.
The Scholastic, Inc. series featured a zany teacher, Ms. Frizzle, who blasted her young students to exciting destinations in her flying school bus. Her cartoon class—and the computer user—explored volcanoes, tornadoes, and other phenomena as a way of learning elementary science.
Continuing Studies has its own Ms. Frizzle (minus the red hair and wild skirts decorated with colorful animals and planets): our innovative instructor is Dr. Jamie Henke, who teaches music theory to undergraduates in an in-person credit course and to adults in several noncredit courses.
A campus leader in innovation
In fact, Henke is a campus leader in online learning, having worked with various delivery systems over the last several years.
“Online education interests me because I want students to learn where they are comfortable,” Henke explained. “My goal is to help these students gain an understanding of the material in a place that feels natural to them.”
Henke also found that her adult courses are more effective when students play the computer music games she devised. The games came about through an evolutionary process that began with podcasts she recorded on the computer in her kitchen with the help of her colleague Dr. Alan Ng, Continuing Studies’ director of outreach technology.
After the podcasts, it was a natural next step to develop a learning game. Henke was awarded her first Simulations and Games grant in 2008. Offered through the Engage program at the Division of Instructional Technology (DoIT), these grants connected Henke and Ng with a talented team of experts in programming and game design.
“Over a period of weeks, we had lots of fun brainstorming ideas about how to make the games interactive—and a blast to use. Our best inspiration came from observing students try out the earliest versions and revising them to make them more motivating to them.”
Dan LaValley, a team manger for the project, polished the computer graphics and provided great screens for the game materials. Henke created the cartoon figures of composers that are featured in the games.”
Now that “Melody Mixer,” “Harmony Helper,” and “Counterpoint Constructor” have been widely used by students, Henke is convinced that games are a wonderful way to entice students into further learning outside of class. She has shared her results at several conferences and at recent campus sessions in support of Chancellor David Ward’s Education Innovation initiative.
Along the way, Henke has also collected several UW-Madison teaching awards: in 2006 she received the prestigious Chancellor’s Hilldale Award for Excellence in Teaching, in 2008 she was inducted into the UW-Madison Teaching Academy, and in 2011 she was recognized as an “Honored Instructor” by students here on campus.
Now it’s your turn to try out the games.
Click here to have a go at it—and you’ll find that learning music theory can actually produce quite a few chuckles! (You will need Java on your computer.)
Henke emphasizes that the three games are available for all teachers as part of the Wisconsin Idea. Feel free to share this post with any teachers you know.
Did you try out Dr. Henke’s games? What do you think?