Review of Transform Deck and Toolkit

Transform Cards

The Transform Deck follows the fine tradition of inspirational decks such as Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys and Thinkerpack, IDEO’s Method Cards and, a favourite of mine, Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. What all of these decks have in common is a focus on inspiring ideas and sparking creativity – some in a very general sense.  How they differ is in their potential areas of application.

The Transform Deck is designed to focus on inspiring creativity in the design of learning – and more specifically in the design of learner-centred active learning – because these cards are about turning your content into activities which will engage and involve.

First impressions of the physical components of the deck are very positive.  These cards, if used as designed (and because you will love using them), will get a lot of wear. The box they come in is robust and the cards themselves are of high-quality card stock.  Their large size makes them easier to pick up and handle (individually). The fact that you might might need to get a larger-handed member of your group to shuffle them (if you want to) is more than made up for by them being easy to read even across a larger table – ideal for collaborative design.

What’s in it?

The deck has 52 cards, consisting of five suits of nine cards each – which represent 45 different activities, six cards with suggested ‘plays’ and an introductory card, which briefly describes how to use the cards. These seven card’s worth of suggestions are well thought out, and will no doubt provide many hours of creative ideation, but they are not the only way these cards could be used. Indeed the introductory card itself invites you to ‘…go wild. There are no rules’. And that is the beauty of presenting the ideas contained within as a deck of cards.

Cards are an ideal medium for the ideation phase of any design process. Their portability allows you to classify, organise, position them relative to each other, and any number of other operations, which can turn a smaller number of ideas or processes into an almost infinite array of other ideas or applications through combination and context-setting.

The suits are:

  • Assess – These cards relate to activities which can be used to assess a learner’s progress and/or would involve the learner themselves in assessing or evaluating something.
  • Arrange – Activities involving ordering, sorting, placing things in context, creating visual representations such as maps and so on.
  • Create – Activities which ask the learner to create physical and virtual artifacts, or take part in e.g. storytelling.
  • Solve – Problem-based activities where learners must act to solve or ‘win’ in some way – includes competitive play.
  • Apply – Activities which simulate or apply a learning process to ‘real-life’ scenarios.

There is inevitably some overlap between these suits, and for some of the cards you might argue they belong in a different suit, but ultimately that is largely unimportant. The idea of suits provides another classification which can be used to ‘play’ with the cards, and in that sense the category of any particular card is not an issue.

Anatomy of a Card

The cards are well laid out and easy to read, On the ‘face up side’ you can see the suit name and colour, the card number(more of that later), a title and two pieces of description – one of which describes the title in more detail and the other which gives a brief rationale for using that idea. At the bottom there a list of numbers. These refer to other cards which work well with this one – one of the suggested ways in which you can use the cards

On the reverse side, there is a brief example given of how the idea of the card might be applied to a specific kind of content.  For example, the ‘Matching’ card – card no 2, in the Assess suit, uses a brief example of how matching might be applied in an activity relating to Performance Management.

As well as the Examples – each card also contains three Tips, which, for example, suggest how the concept of the card could be practically implemented or how it could be extended or changed in some way.

Cards in Action

To give you a taste of the cards in action, I took three pieces of content I have been considering and applied three of the suggested ways to use the cards, to see what ideas it suggested.

A-Pick a card – with ‘Decision Making’ as content . Picking a card at random, got me card 28 – Share the Pieces.  This card description is ‘Learners each have piece needed to solve a puzzle – they must share to solve it’. The idea that suggested itself to me here was to give each member of a team a piece of information which is vital to feed into a decision that must be made. Each piece could then be revealed in turn with the group reflecting on what it adds (or what would be missing if it were not revealed).

C-Combinations. This uses the numbers at the bottom of a card. First take one card and then find one of the other cards suggested as a combination – you could of course also choose random cards.  My content was Induction and the two cards were 42 ‘Trial and Error’ and 30 ‘Points and Achievements’.  This suggested a ‘Treasure Hunt’ with learners given simple scenarios of finding a resource, or seeking help with something, and having to approach existing staff (either facilitators with a simple script, or cards with info they can turn over to discover if they have approached the right person). They get minus points for ‘failing’ and positive points for ‘succeeding’, receive clues on where to go next , and can ‘redo’ until they successfully navigate the scenarios.

F-Spreads The Spreads ‘How-to’ invites the learning designer to lay out cards in an arrangement (like a Tarot spread), relating to, e.g. a learning theory. I decided to use Kolb’s Learning Cycle (Do, Reflect, Learn, Test) and apply this to Sustainability Leadership content. I picked cards at random (because I like synchronicity).  This is what I got

  • Do – Card 1 ‘Pros and Cons’ (Learners think about and list the pros and cons of various options)
  • Reflect – Card 19 ‘Inspiring Prompts’ (Learners freewheel ideas from a selected group of relevant prompts)
  • Learn – Card 36 ‘Quest’ (Learners pursue a set quest, using the Internet or other resource)
  • Test – ‘Pre-mortem’ (Learners imagine that something has gone wrong, and review why)

In my session idea, therefore, learners could be  presented with an option for sustainability action within their organisation and spend some time listing the pros and cons for this particular action, before reflecting on what they have discovered using real-life examples of other companies’ sustainability actions as a lens. It was more difficult to see how the ‘Learn’ stage and the ‘Quest’ card might work together so I swapped it with the ‘Pre-mortem’ card, to get the learners to draw conclusions from the ‘Cons’ they have already identified and imagine what those would look like in reality if they were allowed to play out in the organisation. Finally, their quest would be to create a new idea for a sustainability action – they can use the Internet to research what might be feasible, which would address those Cons, and that idea would then be put through that same cycle.

The Transform Deck will not design your session for you.  It makes no claims that it will. This is written quite plainly on the introductory card.  What it will do, is inspire you, probably for many years to come to create compelling and engaging activities for your learners.  I did not spend hours coming up with the ideas above. In total, I spent about 20 minutes playing with the cards, and obviously, if I really wanted to develop these ideas it would have taken some time to do that, but as a tool for coming up with the ideas in the first place, this tool is great. Alongside the learning ideas themselves, I also found myself thinking of numerous other ways that I might use the cards – different ‘games’ to play with the cards, alternative ‘spreads’, and ways in which individual cards might be used slightly differently e.g. card 7 ‘Amplify/Reduce’ made me think of similar ‘opposites’ ‘Earlier/Later’, ‘Hidden/Revealed’ etc.  You will not run out of ideas with this deck by your side.

Transform deck options

Where to get it

There are three options for purchasing the Transform Deck.  You can purchase the Deck alone, purchase the Transform Toolkit – which contains the Deck, a set of Digital Mini card which you could for example use in Miro or similar if you wanted to collaborate online, and membership of the Transform Toolkit forum, where you can access hints and tips and discuss how you are using the deck with other members. Finally, there will a limited number of

The Transform Deck is available from www.untoldplay.com

Sarah Le-Fevre is a games-based learning professional who specialises in organisational learning around systemic ‘wicked problems’, and helping businesses spot and exploit opportunities for ethical ‘for good’ innovation. She works with tools such as Lego® Serious Play® and the Octalysis gamification framework to create compelling immersive learning experiences. She is currently writing a book outlining a systems practice approach to delivering impactful learning within organisations.

A real board games nerd, she is considering having her floors reinforced to support the ever increasing weight of the boxes. When she is not designing or facilitating learning games she is the editor of Ludogogy Magazine, and also the community facilitator for Speculative Optimism, a futures-thinking based co-creation project to imagine and then realise better futures for people and planet. Sarah lives in Oxfordshire with her husband, younger daughter, and a beautiful (but very loud) Bengal cat. Contact her at sarah@ludogogy.co.uk

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