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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Piaget and Video Games in Education

“It is usually just when an implicit conviction is about to be shattered that it is for the first time consciously affirmed.” Jean Piaget, The Child's Conception of the world, 1929

I have been studying Piaget for the Breadth portion of my Human Development research (which is required prior to formally beginning my dissertation), and though I have been rather bored by it for the most part (it is certainly not like reading Gee!), I have found a few real gems, such as the quote above. Now that I have finally turned to writing this section of my demonstration, I am definitely assimilating and accommodating new concepts into the organization of my mental schema... and surprisingly, playing an MMO following several hours of processing Piaget has lead me to see the relevance and application of his early ideas to our work as constructivist educational technologists, and especially as game advocates!

Well, more later... I have much more to write tonight to stay on schedule.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Games, Learning, and Society Conference: The Conversations

One of the best parts of a face-to-face conference, if not the best part, is the opportunity to strike up conversations with the presenters and attendees, who often have as much or more to offer each other than the presenters. This post is about some of the conversations I was able to enjoy while in Madison, Wisconsin at the Games, Learning, and Society Conference this week. Unfortunately, at the Education Arcade Conference last month, though the content was of a similar quality,the opportunities for interaction were severely limited. Thankfully, and it is a credit to the organizers, the GLS conference was very different (the sessions were intereactive - and all meals were had as a community) , so I got to speak to many people who helped further shape my thoughts about games in education.

Speaking of the organizers, I set out to the with explicit goal of being able to meet and chat with Constance Steinkuehler a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison who has been studying "the forms of learning, thinking, and socially interacting that MMOGs recruit from those who play." Her dissertation (currently in progress) "is an online cognitive ethnography of MMOGs that characterizes the emergent culture of MMOGaming and how participation is constituted through language and practice both within the game (e.g., virtual social interaction & joint activity) and beyond (e.g., the creation of fan fiction & websites)." Her work is well respected and the university is hiring her on faculty in the fall. When I met James Paul Gee at the University of California at Irvine after a talk he delivered a few months ago, I got the chance to tell him what I am studying (the potential of MMORPGs to serve as constructivist learning environments) and he suggested I might want to talk with Constance.

I got to briefly introduce myself to her after she spoke at the Education Arcade conference, but she was still working on her dissertation at the time and was not very accessible. It was silly of me to think she might be more accessible when she was running a conference, and indeed the only conversation I had with her was a very brief one at the bar during the community dinner Thursday night. I was able to reintroduce myself to her (at least I looked familiar to her), and after I explained what I am studying, she said "we're going to take over the world." She swore (three times) she be right back, but I soon moved on to watching people from all over the country (and world!) try to play horseshoes. So I've finally broken down and emailed her to try soliciting some more academic discourse... at her convenience. :) Ultimately, though this wasn't a good conversation, it makes a good story (that could only have happened face to face), and it serves as a lesson learned, as well.

Of course, I was also able to have some great conversations with several other presenters, exhibitors, and attendees, such as Christian Sebastian Loh, assistant professor of Instructional Design and Technology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He and I shared reflections about the conference several times over the two days.

One of the most exciting people I got to speak with was David McDevitt, a practicing high school social studies teacher who was involved in a pilot of Muzzy Lane's new educational game Making History. He presented during the first session I attended, the "Managed Gaming in the College and High School Classroom: Best Practices" symposium. His was some of the only work being done "in the trenches" of a public k-12 school, and I really appreciated his perspective:

One thing that I have come to realize
over the past few days is that there are many more people interested in
this than I would have ever thought. My plan while Beta testing the
game was just to make my classroom better and more exciting for high
school sophomores. I had no motives other than that. However, since
the testing I have come to find out that I seem to be ahead of the game
a little on this venture. I would have never known! (From a response he sent to my e-mail follow up after the conference.)

And, in the continuing tradition of surprising connections my research is creating for me, he had some great advice for me when I mentioned I would be completing my final residency in Bloomington, Indiana this summer:

Most importantly--I spent some of the most fun years of my life in
Bloomington. Make sure to visit Nick's. It is a good hang out. Also,
the Irish Lion is a great place to get a drink. Neither is a huge
"college" hang out. Both a bit more quiet and adult in the behavior of

In the next session, Cory Ondrejka and James Cook of Linden Lab presented their thoughts on how "user creation changes everything" and at the very end snuck in a few gems... there is a Second Life "campus program" for teachers and their students to have access to the game, but of course this is only available to those over 18... BUT, they just non-challantly mentioned off hand that there is now a Teen Grid parallel version of Second Life for 13 to 17 year olds! When I spoke to them afterwards they referred me to Robin Harper who heads both projects.

The next morning I was lucky enough to be sitting with Cory and James at the "Leveraging virtual Omniscience: Mixed Methodologies for Studying Social Life in Persistent Online Worlds" session. In this workshop, Robert Moore, Nicholas Ducheneaut, & Eric Nickell shared their methods for researching social phenomenon inside the MMORPG Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). They then gave each table at the workshop a DVD with 30 minutes of video and system logs, the raw data from their research. They guided us through asking probing questions about the social space and using our computers to make sense of the data in an attempt to answer the questions. It was an ideal example of how to make a face to face session worth flying to Wisconsin for!

What happened at that table left me with a much greater understanding of the presenter's work, and it was something that could only have happened with the particular combination of people sitting there. In an effort to analyze the frequency of the word "please" in SWG, Cory did some amazing work at the command line, James helped and generated some helpful graphs, the woman next to me (who I am pretty sure was Megan S. Conklin) insightfully analyzed the video (and gave me a hand at a crucial time), while I spent most of my time on Google and crunching numbers. We were able to make some preliminary (and very rough) conclusions by the end of the session: 99.99% of the chat happening in the scene we saw was generated by automated adds, these adds had a frequency of please 200 times higher than ordinary "task oriented discourse", and the remaining chat had a frequency still twice as high as "usual." From this we were able to theorize about why this might be. I suppose the specifics of these results are not so important in the context of this post, but the experience gave me great insight into what the researchers were up to... to the point where I am obviously proud of my work at that table during those 15 to 20 minutes.

It wasn't only the sessions that generated great conversations for me, but also the interactive exhibits in the exhibit hall. There I met Fiona Littleton, who hails from Ireland, but studies in Scotland. Later, during a community trip to enjoy some Wisconsin beer at the beautiful University Union Terace, I got to speak with her a bit about her research into the differences in learning style between gamers and non-gamers. Her research was focused on college students, and I hope to be able to correspond with her about it's generalizability to k-12, or at least high school, students.

An another exciting exhibitor was Perry McDowell, who was demonstrating Delta 3D, a well-supported and fully-funded open source game engine appropriate for a wide variety of modeling & simulation applications (training, education, visualizations, and entertainment). The demo's are beautiful, but I did not get a chance to see the creation tools, and I wonder how accessible the system will be to k12 teachers and students, if at all. I think this sort of solution will be the only way that teacher-customizable games will make it into the classroom, so it gives me a great deal of hope to see it, even if it still requires too many technical skills at this point.

I spoke with Jeremiah Dibley and Donna Hardie, of pullUin software. These were some of the folks that were interested in my position at the OCDE, and it seems I will be able to demo some of their software as part of my "Video Games in Education" class in August.

Ann McDonald was another one of these people and I hope to be able to use her amazing jellies software, created by Jay Laird, of Metaversal Studios.

Meeting the presenters and exhibitors was great, but some of my greatest connections happened entirely socially. I was lucky enough to meet Brock Dubbels from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who is also a practicing classroom teacher. He actually offers a class in Video Games as Tools for Educators at the university! I was able to chat with him during the dinner event, and then after at the Union Terrace, on Thursday night. I'm sure it will be good to correspond with him about his ideas leading up to my (now seemingly far too short) three hour class in August.

The same evening I met Coe Leta Stafford, who was actually a presenter (but I didn't make it to her session), and with whom I had one of my best discussions so far about the new role of face to face instruction. She pushed back on my ideas well, and I'm not sure she totally agreed with me, though I would think she is the kind of person who would in this case. I came away with the sense that I need to be able to articulate these ideas better... and better support them... perhaps with research eventually, though this will almost certainly need to wait until after August 2006. This research might even be something I could work with my brother James (mentioned in the post linked above).

I'm recalling just now that Coe Leta introduced herself by explaining that her mother made up her name. What a boon in today's Google driven world! (Apparently she was recently married, because you will find references to Coe Leta Finke, and this is her.) Mark Wagner, on the other hand, is a depressingly common name!

Another meeting that would not have happened if I did not fly out to Wisconsin was my brief conversation with Kristin Pilner Blair, who works at Stanford with teachable agents... the idea being that students might learn best by teaching content to computers! I had missed her presentation (and so had she it turned out - on account of not feeling well), but I got to chat with her briefly in the shuttle to the airport in Madison.

Perhaps my most exciting conversation, though one of the most brief, occurred over lunch the first day of the conference. I sat at a table next to Jay Lemke and a grad student of his named Andrew. I spoke with Andrew for most of the meal, but Jim Gee, Betty Hayes, and Marc Prensky were at the table as well. I have been wanting to meet and chat with Marc, but hadn't attended any of his sessions this time around, and hadn't had occasion to enter into conversation with him until I overhead the reaction of some teachers to his talk on "When and How Can Game-Based Learning Eliminate the Need for Teachers in Certain Areas?" (which had been just prior to lunch). I was able to chat briefly with him about the role of games in k12 education and to bring up the class that I am planning for August. Happily, he was interested enough to point me in the direction of some of his most recent writings, and to hand me his card. I hadn't remembered to stock up before I left, so I burned my last one on him. I hope I'll be able to correspond with him about the class, and perhaps about growing a games in education program at the OCDE.

Well, I will probably not get this kind of time for blogging this week, as I have to complete a draft of my next paper by Sunday to stay on schedule, but perhaps I will post smaller reflections between now and next weekend. I apologize for the length of this one if you've stuck in there long enough to learn I got to meet Prensky. ;)

Thanks for reading.


PS. Jason, I didn't look forward to checking all the links in this post!

My FURL Feed

I have been posting some annotated links in my FURL archive, and this is something I think I can keep up even when not taking the time to write for the blog. So, if you are interested in subscribing, click here.

Thanks for reading.


Catching Up... the Games, Learning, and Society Conference

Here I sit with with my I blog therefor I am T-shirt, listening to Billy Corgan's new album The Future Embrace. Outside the windows of my office, the sun shines on the trees, birds, bunnies, and the surprising variety of other wildlife in Irvine. (And, yes, my office is really painted forest green, too.) This weekend I've been sleeping in, taking care of the back yard, eating light, exercising, and spending time with Eva (and her friends). All this, and I'm finishing another week of my post-coursework research on schedule. So, it seems like a good time for catching up on Educational Technology and Life.

Over the past few weeks I have reflected often on how little I am posting to this blog now that I am not writing about a variety of topics on a deadline. As if on cue I've got a few very encouraging emails from readers (and listeners, it turned out) that I didn't know I had. I am considering something more like a one-hour a day approach to this blog... if I can afford it. Otherwise, I think I will be happy with weekly updates. In any case, I apologize to anyone who might be disappointed by my lack of consistency here.

I've certainly got plenty to blog about. I spent two days this week at the Games, Learning, and Society Conference. I never blogged about the Education Arcade Conference last month. I may yet return to it, but I want to be sure to get some of my thoughts related to the GLS conference posted... both so that I am forced to process the ideas enough to write about them, and so that my attendance might do another educator some good.

Here is the Program for the conference, and the following is my personal trajectory, as Jim Gee might say, through the GLS experience, which was almost certainly different for each attendee, as the trajectory through many good games is different for each player.

Workshop: Managed Gaming in the College & High School Classroom
Symposium: Brace for Impact: How User Creation Changes Everything
Case in point: 101 Uses for Second Life in the College Classroom
3 Individual Presentations: Games, Learning, and Identity
Symposium: Extending the Reach of Games

Workshop: Leveraging virtual Omniscience: Mixed Methodologies for Studying Social Life in Persistent Online Worlds
2 Individual Presentations: 'Effects' of Games
2 Individual Presentations: Students as Gamers
Symposium: The Future of Education and How We Can Get There

I am planning a post about the people I got to speak with during the conference and will follow this with as much as I have time to write about the content of each of these sessions. I may then also go into some detail about the Interactive Exhibits at the conference as well.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, June 24, 2005

At the GLS Conference... and Blogger Images!

I am online at the tail end of the Games, Learning, and Society conference right now. I have many topics I'd like to blog about related to this conference and hope I will get some written on the plane or this coming weekend. In the meantime, I couldn't resist making this post when Peter Nguyen sent me an IM to say that Blogger now has an image upload feature! I can't wait to share this with the teachers I train.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Resources for St. John's, St. Paul's, and Salem

Welcome and Pre-Assessment (5 min)

Standards Aligned Resources (20 min)
California Learning Resources Network - http://www.clrn.org/home/
Grade Level Gold - http://www.gradelevelgold.com
kitZu - http://www.kitzu.org
SCORE - http://www.score.k12.ca.us/

Online Tools and Services (20 min)
Google Services and Tools - http://www.google.com/options/
FURL - http://www.furl.net
Blogger - http://www.blogger.com
Flickr - http://www.flickr.com
Bloglines - http://www.bloglines.com

Other Resources (Time Permitting)
See reverse side of handout!

Internet Safety (10 min)
Rules for Online Safety - http://www.safekids.com/kidsrules.htm
GetNetWise - http://kids.getnetwise.org/
Kid Safety on the Internet - http://www.ou.edu/oupd/kidsafe/inet.htm
The NetSmartz Workshop - http://www.netsmartz.org/

Monday, June 13, 2005

Going to the Games, Learning, and Society Conference

Well, it was expensive, but it is all aranged... I will be attending the Games, Learning, and Society Conference in Madison, Wisconsin next week. I expect this will be even better (or at least more interactive) than the Education Arcade conference in Los Angeles last month.

These are busy and exciting times!


MMORPGs as Constructivist Learning Environments: A Proposed Abstract for a Presentation

I expect that as my research becomes more focused on this topic, so will my blog posts. I will try to temper this with more from work if time permits.

In the meantime...

The following was written in response to a request for application the faculty chair of the Ph.D. in Education program at Walden University sent out to solicit students to speak about their research at the residency this summer. It felt very good to throw together this proposal tonight, so I thought I'd share it here. If nothing else, those who are interested might find it. ;)

Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games show a great deal of potential as constructivist learning environments; they provide context for learning, opportunities for inquiry, and frameworks for cooperative learning. There is little doubt that a good deal of incidental learning is taking place in these games, but the benefits, drawbacks, and issues surrounding their use for intentional learning in formal education are not well understood.

Mark Wagner is currently working toward completing KAM II: Human Development, but has also explored this topic in previous coursework. In EDUC-8437 -  DATA ANAL. IN ED RESEARCH he studied teacher perceptions of multiplayer online role-playing games. In EDUC-8813 -  MANAGEMENT OF TECH FOR EDUC he wrote about the management issues related to use of the games in formal education. For KAM II, he is investigating the relationship between constructivist theories of cognitive development and such digital game-based learning. For his dissertation, he plans a Delphi study to explore the potential applications of multiplayer online role playing games in education.

Mark's research is built upon the seminal theories of Jean Piaget, the influential work of Piaget's student Seymour Papert, and the twenty-first century work of educational technologists such as David H. Jonassen. He has also tapped into the contemporary publications of digital game-based learning enthusiasts such as Marc Prensky, James Paul Gee, and Clark Aldrich. In addition, he has become familiar with the work of other graduate students in the field, such as Nick Yee, Constance Steinkuehler, Kurt Squire, and those at the MIT Comparative Media Studies Department working on the educationarcade.org project.

This brief presentation will begin by establishing the broad themes of this research and how they might be applied in formal education. This will be followed by an illustration of how Walden coursework and the KAM writing process allowed Mark to explore and build upon these themes.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Annotation of "Learning By Design: Games as Learning Machines" by James Paul Gee

This was written as part of a Learning Agreement for my first KAM (Knowledge Area Module, a three month, three part research project). It is a sample of what I will include in my annotated bibliography.


Gee, J. P. (2005). Learning by design: games as learning machines. The journal of media
literacy. 52(1&2).

James Paul Gee (2005) introduced a very clear research question in his introduction: “How do good game designers manage to get new players to learn long, complex, and difficult games?” (p. 24) He explored the answer to this question in contrast to the solution used by many schools when trying to get students to learn long, complex, and difficult tasks; schools can force students to perform these tasks, and schools often “dumb down” (p. 24) these tasks. In contrast “the designers of many good games have hit on profoundly good methods of getting people to learn and to enjoy learning” (p. 24). Gee also suggested that “these methods are similar in many respects to cutting-edge principles being discovered in research on human learning” (p. 24). Gee proposed thirteen “good principles of learning built into good computer and video games” (p. 25), and these thirteen principles he organized into three sections: I. Empowered Learners, II. Problem Solving, and III. Understanding. After stating each principle he offered a brief discussion of games in relationship to that principle and a comment on games that exemplify the principle.

With respect to Empowered Learners, Gee articulated four principles of learning. The principle of Co-design captures the idea that learners should “feel like active agents (producers), not just passive recipients (consumers)” (p. 25). The customize principle rests on the concept of differentiated learning, that “different styles of learning work better for different people” (p. 25). The principal of identity, then, suggests that “deep learning requires an extended commitment and such a commitment is powerfully recruited when people take on a new identity they value and in which they become heavily invested” (p. 26). Finally, the manipulation principle draws on the deep inter-connection between perception and action (p. 26).

Under the Problem Solving section fell seven more principles. Good games provide learners with well-ordered problems that “lead them to solutions that work well, not just on [early] problems, but as aspects of the solutions to later, harder problems” (p. 26). These problems should also be pleasantly frustrating such that learners feel them “to be at the outer edge of, but within, their ‘regime of competence’” (p. 26). Part of keeping the learner in such a place is to facilitate cycles of experience that include “practicing skills until they are nearly automatic” (p. 27) before they are once again challenged to grow. In games, information is given “on demand” and “just in time” so that it is received in context at a time when the learner can apply it. Using the metaphor of fish tanks, Gee suggested that “if we create simplified systems, stressing a few key variables and their interactions, learners who would otherwise be overwhelmed by a complex system… get to see some basic relationships at work and take the first steps towards their eventual mastery of the real system” (p. 27). Similarly, the metaphor of sandboxes suggests that “if learners are put into a situation that feels like the real thing, but with the risks and dangers greatly mitigated, they can learn well and still feel a sense of authenticity and accomplishment” (p. 27). Finally, “people learn and practice skills best” when the see skills as strategies to “accomplish goals they want to accomplish” (p. 27).

Gee shared two more principles concerning Understanding. In his discussion of system thinking he focused on the way “any experience is enhanced when we understand how it fits into a larger meaningful whole” (p. 28), and when discussing meaning as action image he related that “words and concepts have their deepest meanings whent hey are clearly tied to action in the world,” or in the case of games and learning situations, a virtual or simulated world.
In his Conclusion, Gee suggested that many of these principles are not only missing from traditional classrooms, but also from so-called educational game, while they are clearly apparent in seemingly non-educational commercial games. As to why this might be, he blamed not only the monetary cost, but the cost “of changing people’s minds about learning – how and where it is done… this may also change some people’s minds about computer and video game, as well” (p. 28).

The principles in this article are considerably more accessible that the 36 principles in his 2003 publication What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. The discussion of each is brief and includes up to date references to exemplars of each principle. While this work does not represent the results of a formal study, this article certainly makes an original contribution to the existing body of knowledge - a framework that others can use to discuss games and learning. However, the lack of a formal study makes it very difficult to judge his research methods and to adequately account for the researcher’s bias. Still, due to the examples he shares, his experiences are in some sense replicable, and the principles he shares are designed to be generalizable to other games and other learning situations.

Friday, June 10, 2005

iSight: Distance Education at it's Best

Walden University has academic offices in Minnesota, financial offices in Maine, Information Technology offices in Los Angeles, and my faculty advisor lives in Colorado. There is no question that I have benefitted from the perspective and experience of faculty and fellow students from all over the county, and the world. But, I absolutely acquiesce that the face to face residencies offer much more interaction and much greater development of my ideas than most of my communication with my advisor. From time to time we have spoken by phone when it was time to really hash things out.

But, today we took things to a new level and met by video conferencing with our iSIghts. It was great, it was like were in the same room. I was holding up books for him... he showed me his new monitor, etc... things we would not have been able to do on the phone... not to mention we were shooting links back and forth via text chat as we talked. As Jason Ediger used to say, in Educational Technology, we have to first use the technology. ;)

The other good news is that I got a preliminary thumbs up on the objectives for my new KAM.

Synthesize a working theory of constructivist cognitive development for use in the application of digital game-based learning, with a particular focus on the tradition of J. Piaget, S. Papert, and D. H. Johnassen, and informed by the work of other related theorists such as G.W. Allport, M.L. Bigge, J. S. Bruner, J. Dewey, K. Lewin, E. C. Tolman, and L. Vygotsky.

Critically examine theories of digital game-based learning in light of a working theory of constructivist cognitive development, with a particular focus on the works of M. Prensky, J. P. Gee, and C. Aldrich, and informed by the work of other related theorists such as J. Cassell, K. M. Iverson, H. Jenkins III, C. N. Quine, K. Squire, C. Steinkeuhler, and N. Yee.

Design a three hour hands-on professional development session to provide educators with guidance in using digital game-based learning, informed by theories of constructivist cognitive development, to facilitate student learning.

I am actually culling these down a bit, but keep an eye out here for more on these topics over the next three months. I aim to be done August 28th. ;)

Thanks for reading.


PS. Speaking of Jason Ediger... if you haven't yet, go check out iSightEd.com. :)

Second Life to teach cultural proficiency?

On Monday, the managers of the OCDE Instructional Services division (whithin which is the Educational Technology Department) were trained in cultural proficiency. This has been a year long recurring process and was well facilitated. Tough questions were asked and courageous conversations were had (though not often enough about our own organization and values, if I may humbly offer my own opinion).

At any rate, one of the biggest questions was how to help propagate such conversations down to districts, sites, teachers, and students. I noticed one of the older participants from a different department suggest training via scenarios on video. I immediately made the leap to computerized role playing simulations (did I say games?). Later, one of the administrators suggested role playing as a model as well. We even did an exercise where we had to pair up with someone we didn't know and try to guess the answers to several questions about them without asking them. It really was a great illustration of how we react and what knowledge or generalizations we fall back on in the lack of any real data.

I wonder what would happen if this exercise were carried out in Second Life as a role playing simulation environment... when the man you are looking at might be a woman, and the dark skin you are seeing might belong to a white person... or vice versa etc. The participants could get a sense of how different they are treated if they change gender, skin color, or physical fitness in the game world. I think this could be powerful.

Personally, I am not yet over making "hot chicks" when given the chance to customize a character, and it is amazing to me how people behave when they know darn well there is a 50/50 chance that the player of the female character is actually a male! Within moments of creating my last character I was hit on in-game by a guy that totally creeped me out. Now is that a powerful way to establish cultural proficiency or what? (At least, if you ignore my stubbornly adolescent desire to create attractive female characters... which I'm sure will loose it's appeal someday... right?)

I can't find it right now, but there is a group in England also studying the use of Second Life to help students with disabilities develop social skills they might otherwise be very reluctant to practice.

Too, head on over to Second Life Future Salon to see some of the amazing events happening in-game. Clark Adrich presented some of his latest book during a panel presentation in-game not too long ago.

Second Life is definitely more simulation than game... there is no goal after all... but there are many promising applications.

At first I was bummed to hear an in-game mentor (which is a wide spread but voluntary position - there are serious educational implications here) describe the environment to me as a "giant virtual chat room" in which people just "hang out." Later I realized that when I was out of the game and text chatting with a buddy I missed the interaction of avatars that can gesture and look around and overhear others and meet new people etc. I figure that my buddy and I might as well meet and chat in second life rather than on iChat! Of course, things might have been more complicated if he tried to hit on me. Hmmm. At any rate, perhaps we're on to something here.

One person I talked to at the Education Arcade conference was studying the difference in student performance when online classes are held in a virtual environment rather than simple text chat rooms; it seemed his initial findings suggested the virtual environment was more effective. Wish I could make which of these business cards that guy belonged to. Unfortunately, this will have to come with a big disclaimer about me not knowing the source (again).

Thanks for reading.


More on Food Force

I played Food Force, by the way. It lasted me about an hour (for all six missions), and while it wasn't cutting edge it was more fullfilling than either playing Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith or Second Life for an hour (both of which I did earlier the same day - this was during my "break" in case you couldn't guess). I actually learned about the World Food Program, something I knew nothing about before, and was excited about it.

Unfortunately, when I tried to visit the details on the lesson plans posted at the web site (above), the links were broken. Has anyone had any better luck?

At any rate, try it out... try it with students... and let me know what you think.


Thursday, June 09, 2005

Independent Writing: The Challenge (and Promise) of Blogging (and Research)

I suppose this is a quick transitional "... and Life" post... ah, but I do manage to sneak some Educational Technology in... online discussion boards, blogging as thinking, and blogging for children.

If you've been following along, then you are probably wondering what happened to me, but you can probably guess why I haven't been posting.

On the 29th of May I turned in my last paper in my last class of my doctoral coursework. I took a week off for a quarter break and then started up work on my first Knowledge Area Module (or KAM) at Walden University... which incidentally finally rolled out a new (spartan) look for their web presence just today.

So I didn't post much during my quarter break, and now I am beginning to deal with the reality of 16 months or so of solitary research and writing, sans classmates, and sans professors. I suppose at this point I am supposed to be working with colleagues, and luckily I think I am getting to that point, both professionally and academically. Still, I've found that with my online course discussions over the past 20 months or so, and with my blogging over the last seven months or so, I've become very accustomed to processing my thoughts through writing. I knew I was going to need to communicate with my faculty advisor more during this period, but I even found myself sending him emails with content like this in addition to the discussion of the objectives for my first KAM...

I am already noticing how strange it is not to log into my [personal start page] and check the discussion boards in my classes first thing each night. Also, I am already getting more into real research than I did a year ago. There are books all over the desk and searches all over my... desktop. The final paper in my last class was a great warm up. I just hope I can keep it up for another 16 months or so. ;)

Anyway, apparently I've also become accustomed to processing my thoughts by writing each night... good thing I started blogging.

Ironically, after formulating this thought earlier in the week, I then got this email from a friend's wife earlier today...

The other day [our daughter] asked if she could have a blog. [My husband] and Ithought this would be a good idea given proper security precautions, but *you* are the expert :) Anything in particular we should know?
I know you are busy, and there isn't any rush. Just thought we'd touch
base with you on this one.

Even though I have about a hundred emails in my follow up folder (this is really becoming a management issue for me) and there was no rush, I took this one on straight away and wrote this response...

It's great to hear from you.. and thanks for thinking of me. I hope this helps...

Somewhere I saw a great list of rules for parents to discuss with their child bloggers, but I'm having trouble finding it now... read it in an RSS feed a while back.. makes me wish I archived everything forever. I did find this though. Making these rules explicit (in a conversation) would be a great place to start. You might consider having her post under a pseudonym to start, both for security reasons and because what she writes may very well be with her for the rest of her life... what if a future lover or employer were to google her writing at this age... is that something she wants out there? (It sure wouldn't bother me, but I've heard this suggested elsewhere.)

Anyway, the two most important things are this (and I suppose they're pretty much common sense):

1. Be sure to lay down some ground rules off the bat (like the above)... make sure she understands the dangers, but also make sure she understands the potential. Talk to her about the power of writing to help the writer process and compose her thoughts... help her see that self-publishing is a powerful privilege... if appropriate you can discuss the freedom of speech, and the "flattening" of the world... the read/write web is causing an information reformation similar to the printing press... you can talk about the roll of blogs in relation to the main stream media.. consider the importance of everyone being a reporter in her lifetime. If she understands the power and potential of blogs (and her potential to contribute something to others) it will be less likely she will abuse it. ;)

2. Read the blog. Subscribe, but be sure to read the comments, too... with her if appropriate. It might make for good conversations, and it will help her to deal with anything unpleasant that might come up.

That being said, I doubt much unpleasant will come up, and I'm sure it will be a powerful and meaningful experience for her, and for you guys.

Boy, have you guys all seen this before somewhere? I realize I have a bear of a time giving credit when I am reading so many feeds every day... and I don't find most blogs easily searchable. Does anyone have a solution for this?

Suffice to say I read pretty much all of these ideas somewhere else... probably in one of the feeds to the right on this page.

At any rate, I thought my response might be worth sharing here. I'm often surprised what kind of connections throwing something online produces.

Unfortunately, returning to why I am not posting as often right now... one of the other things I have lost with the end of coursework is the motivation to write posts on different topics several times a week. I am pretty well working on different variations on the same topic for the next year and a half or so.

I find I still have much I want to write about, but less time to do other writing now. I'll keep at it though...

Thanks for reading.


Friday, June 03, 2005

Food Force: An Educational Video Game

Joystiq carried this story yesterday...

The U.N. World Food Program has begun promoting its new game, “Food Force”, to help educate children about the conditions faced by the hungry in war-torn battle zones. The game unfolds on a fictitious island packed with dense jungles and vicious rebel forces. From the outset, Food Force appears to be a standard shoot-em-up action/adventure, but instead of packing heat, you’re carrying around food supplies. The challenge is to deliver the goods to starving civilians while avoiding any hostile forces. You are also in charge of setting up Sim City-esque farm projects.

I had a chance to download and launch it on OS X. I haven't played it yet, but it looks very promising. There is even a whole section for teachers at the Food Force website. It's also for a good cause so there is now a new banner on the web version of this blog - between the ONE banner and the Google adds on the right.

Food Force

Please comment if any of you play this game or use it with students.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

EASE History: Online Resource for Teachers

I received an email from Brian Collins at Michigan State University yesterday. He wrote to share the following:

A group of us at Michigan State University have created a new website called EASE History.

EASE History is a rich online environment that supports the learning of US history and by connecting historical events, campaign ads, and core democratic values. It features over 600 videos and photographs from 1900 to the present.

This project can be viewed at http://www.easehistory.org/

I haven't explored all of it, but I've checked it out, and it seems an exciting and relatively robust resource. (Initially it reminded me of kitZu, but the purpose of the media seems to be different, though I suppose some of it could be used in student projects.) The learning theory behind it is gunning for concepts similar to the 21st Century Skills I've mentioned here often. From the FAQ page...

What is the goal of this learning environment?
EASE History's goal, which mirrors that of the Cognitive Flexibility Theory, is to prepare learners to become more flexibly adaptive thinkers. Flexibly adaptive thinkers are well informed, open-minded, and creative. Working in EASE History, learners see that there are no simple answers or one best example; that variability exists through real world examples. Our fight is against reductionism, the inclination towards simplicity and order.

At any rate, perhaps the most remarkable part of Brian's email, for me, was the last line...

Could you feature us in your blog?

I'm not sure if he was just Googling wildly, or if this was a reader getting in touch with me, but I have a funny feeling I will find out now.

Enjoy EASE history, and if you have any comments about the site, please share them below. I'd love to hear if and how it is used, and I'm sure Brian would, too.


MMORPGs as Constructivist Leranng Environments: Management Issues

I'm on something of a break this week... not from work, but from Walden, and consequently from this blog. But, as a mid week post, here it is, the paper I turned in on Sunday. I won't say it's great by any means (it was certainly done on more of a deadline than it should have been), but it was an interesting first foray into this topic and lead to me discovering a good selection of new resources.

MMORPGs as Constructivist Learning Environments: Management Issues

If nothing else, perhaps by putting this out there it might help someone else who is interested in the topic, and it might even help make a connection between people who are interested.

I'm amazed at how well getting the word out there works. I published my dissertation topic in the OCDE Educational Technology Promising Practices newsletter and have actually received calls and emails from "like minded individuals" across the county. I had lunch with Geogre Masters of Buena Park high school (and iPod add fame) two days ago, who I might not have met otherwise, and tonight Amanda Donnell, site tech coordinator at Andersen Elementary in Newport-Mesa IMed me to let me know there was a bit on ABC news about learning from video games (they referred to Johnson's Everything Bad is Good For You and a visual attention study at the University of Rochester).

Anyway... I actually bought a "I blog therefore I am" t-shirt a few months back, so here is an attempt at living up to that after-classes. We'll see how I do once I start in on my KAMs next week.