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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Another Read/Write Web Class at the OCDE!

I'm blogvangelizing today, as Will Richardson would say. It's a small class, but we're planting seeds.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Moblogging at Golden West

This is a moiblogging demo on the fly!
--------------------------
Mark Wagner
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

The Read/Write Web at Golden West College

Today I'm talking to future teachers about the read/write web!

Oh, and I'm online again.

-Mark

Saturday, November 19, 2005

John Dewey on Waste in Education

Today - well, yesterday - I got nice new copies of Experience & Education and Democracy and Education in the mail, and I can't wait to write all over them as I annotate them. Meanwhile I am slowly working my way through the UCI Library copy of The School and Society. After a long work day and a healthy dose of "and Life" I stayed up and read Chapter three just now, once again jotting quotes down in text edit. This chapter was either less quotable than the last one, or else I was just more tired, but here are the top eight quotes, in the order they appeared:
"This is not a question of the waste of money or the waste of things. These matters count; but the primary waste is that of human life, the life of the children while they are at school, and afterward because of inadequate and perverted preparation" (p. 64).
Sounds like this could be said in frustration in any boardroom or department meeting in any school. It is also a great place to start a blog post about educational technology.
"... the fundamental organization is that of the school itself as a community of individuals, in its relations to other forms of social life. All waste is due to isolation. Organization is nothing but getting things into connection with one another, so that they work easily, flexibly, and fully." (p. 64)
Can this possible be written a hundred years before the read/write web? And how well does this concept express the need for Will Richardson's concept of connective writing? (See his later posts, too.)
"I wish to suggest that really the only way to unite the parts of the system is to unite each to life." (p. 72)
Dewey says this in response to the splintering of academic subjects and the isolation that occurs throughout the school system: between subjects, classrooms, and grade levels, but also between elementary, middle, high schools, and universities... not to mention district offices. This again touches on the philosophy of the modern senior project. I also think it encapsulates Dewey's message in a phrase.
"From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school in any complete and free way within the school itself; while, on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning in school." (p. 75)
This sounds like Prensky's talk about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants, and like so many other educational technologists and games in education enthusiasts, including James Paul Gee, who declare both that students need to power down when they come into the classroom, and that they acquire better life skills playing games than in school.
"The child should study commercial arithmetic and geography, not as isolated things by themselves, but in their reference to his social environment. The youth needs to become acquainted with the bank as a factor in modern life, with what it does, and how it does it." (p. 78)
Only a five years ago or so, when establishing her life skills class at the middle school where she works, my mom used a very similar - and still very necessary - argument. This was written a hundred years ago folks!
"The pupil must learn what has meaning, what enlarges his horizon, instead of mere trivialities. He must become acquainted with truths, instead of things that were regarded as such fifty years ago or that are taken as interesting by the misunderstanding of a partially educated teacher." (p. 78-79)
I thought this quote seemed familiar... even trivial, though I agreed with it... until I got to the end and realized it was a reflection of just how radical Dewey was. Can you imagine saying that in a high school redesign committee meeting in 2005!?
"There are two great things in breaking down isolation, in getting connection - to have the child come to school with all the experience he has got outside of school, and to leave it with something to be immediately used in his everyday life. The child comes to the traditional school with a healthy body and a more or less unwilling mind, though, in fact, he does not bring both his body and mind with him; he has to leave his mind behind because there is no way to use it in the school." (p.80)
Dewey was harsh, but if it was true in his day, it is doubly true today... especially if the students are online out of school and offline or severely limited in school. Also, I guess the situation is worse now, since there is now no way to use your body in school either. :(
"When the child lives in varied but concrete and active relationship to this common world, his studies are naturally unified. It will no longer be a problem to correlate studies. The teacher will not have to resort to all sorts of devices to weave a little arithmetic into the history lesson, and the like. Relate the school to life, and all studies are of necessity correlated." (p. 91)
Is this evidence of some sort of early math-across-the-curriculum movement? I am once again shocked that this was written a century ago... and once again find that this excerpt articulates Dewey's philosophy well... relate learning to life.

He ended his chapter with something that bears importance for me... his vision for how an experimental school and a university ought to work together for the benefit of both. This is something I can see in my future. :)

-Mark

December 7th is my Blogiversary

Yup... I just realized it'll be one year of blogging for me on the day that will live in infamy. My first post over at MSN Spaces, where this blog began, sure came at a meaningful time. I can't believe it's only been a year I've been fired up about the read/write web, and I can't believe all of the opportunities it has made possible.

So, how does one celebrate a blogiversary? I have some ideas in mind, but I thought that in the spirit of the whole thing I should post the question here and see what happens. :)

And, of course, thank you for reading.

-Mark

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Comments on John Dewey

I am always thrilled to get comments on this blog, and it seems my move to discussing John Dewey attracted some attention. I imagine this blog being read via RSS more often than not. So, subcribers, if you are interested, don't miss out on the comments on Monday's John Dewey Post.

Also, I'll take this opportunity for another periodic reminder that most of what I am posting right now is in my FURL archive, which can be subscribed to through this feed.

Now, it is very late... and I still have some "and Life" issues to take care of this... evening. (I'm a bit stubborn about the fact that it is not morning until after I've slept.)

-Mark

John Dewey on The School and The Life of the Child

I am taking a similar approach for today's post as I did for the last one. Here are my top ten quotes from Chapter two of John Dewey's The School and Society. Once again, it was very difficult to narrow it down to only ten! It is a strange thing to find a brethren in an author who wrote a century ago. Actually, speaking as a former English Literature teacher, I know this happens all the time - it's just a shock in this field!

Incidentally, I am getting precious little time to devote to these studies right now... and on top of that I am having to read library books, which I cannot annotate; I'm transcribing notable sections into TextEdit for later reference and composition... so, my iChat status tonight has read "Reading Dewey... Slowly"... it's very frustrating.

So again, in the order in which they appear, here are the quotes:
"It is all made 'for listening... there is very little place in the traditional schoolroom for the child to work. The workshop, the laboratory, the materials, the tools with which the child may construct, create, and actively inquire, and even the requisite space, have been for the most part lacking." (p. 31-32)
These observations came out of a story Dewey related about searching for a student desk and discovering that they were all made for listening, not for doing. He winds up criticizing much of the physical layout of a school for this same reason. I also chose this quote because it was his first use of the word "construct" in a way that might be considered vaguely constructivist... more on this below.
"Another thing that is suggested by these schoolrooms, with their set desks, is that everything is arranged for handling as large numbers of children as possible; for dealing with children en masse, as an aggregate of units; involving, again, that they be treated passively. The moment children act they individualize themselves; they crease to be a mass and become the intensely distinctive beings that we are acquainted with out of school, in the home, the family, on the playground, and in the neighborhood." (p. 32-33)
This has bothered me for some time! I'm not sure what the answer is... there are some strictly pragmatic reasons why this is so... but at the very least as educators we can strive to take every opportunity to allow our students to act as individuals. I see the read/write web, and certainly video games, as technologies that can facilitate this. Also, when asked how I envision the school of the future, I often must acquiesce that I run up against "the baby sitting problem" very quickly. I suspect necessity will mother an invention here, but I wonder how we will get around this.
"In this school the life of the child becomes the all-controlling aim. All the media necessary to further the growth of the child center there. Learning? certainly, but living primarily, and learning through and in relation to this living." (p. 26)
This is inspirational... and it once again sounds shockingly close to a modern educator speaking about media (say, a digital camera, iMovie, and a a site to post podcasts on). Also, it was at about this point that I started to be very proud of this blog's title, something that I've grown fond of but which never really sat right with me, Educational Technology and Life. Though I've used "and Life" to denote posts not relevant to Ed Tech, I see now that those last two words of the title are an integral piece of the equation. I'm sure I somehow felt that all along.
"Let the child first express his impulse, and then through criticism, question, and suggestion bring him to consciousness of what he has done, and what he needs to do, and the result is quite different" (p. 40)
There was a a host of quotable bits of advice related to the coaching model of teaching, but I thought this offered the most distinct strategies. :)
"Now, keeping in mind these fourfold interests - the interest in conversation, or communication; in inquiry, or finding out things; in making things, or construction; and in artistic expression - we may say they are the natural resources, the uninvested capital, upon the exercise of which depends the active growth of the child." (p. 48)
Dewey built a case for each of these and then summarized with this statement. I was once again amazed at how many of these I feel are facilitated by the read/write web and video games in education: conversation, inquiry, construction, and expression.
"There is all the difference in the world between having something to say and having to say something." (p. 56)
This is just plain quotable, and I like to think if I were still an English teacher today it would help me to apply this philosophy to much more of my curriculum, so that if my students were writing, it would be for a personal purpose... again the authentic audience offered by blogging might be effective in helping to accomplish this.
"Reading and writing, as well as the oral use of language, may be taught on this basis. It can be done in a related way, as the outgrowth of the child's social desire to recoount his experiences and get in return the experiences of others, directed always through contact with the facts and forces which determine the truth communicated." (p. 56)
This quote builds on the last one, and I think it further illustrates my suggestion that student blogs might be a good tool for student expression.
"Life is the great thing after all; the life of the child at its time and in its measure no less than the life of the adult." (p. 60)
I know this is a bit out of context... but it is the sort of writing that is attracting me more to Dewey than I expected, and it once again made me happy about the title of this blog. :)
"I have been speaking of the outside of the child's activity... the real child, it hardly need be said, lives in the world of imaginative values and ideas which find only imperfect outward embodiment." (p. 60)
Now this is certainly a sort of proto-constructivist quote. Also, as someone who has always valued the importance of imagination, I am drawn to this philosophy. Finally, here are the inspiring words with which Dewey concludes the chapter:
"Unless culture be a superficial polish, a veneering of mahogany over common wood, it surely is this - the growth of the imagination in flexibility, in scope, and in sympathy, till the life which the individual lives is informed with the life of nature and society. When nature and society can live in the schoolroom, when the forms and tools of learning are subordinated to the substance of experience, then shall there be an opportunity for this identification, and culture shall be the democratic password." (p. 62)
As always, thanks for reading.

-Mark

Monday, November 14, 2005

John Dewey on The School and Society

I'm finally diving into the reading for my next research project, and I'm beginning with Dewey. I'm having to read actual library books at this point, and I find myself transcribing a shocking amount of quotes into TextEdit.

I thought I should share some of them here, and I've tried to cut it down to the top ten quotes from the first chapter of The School and Society, 2nd Edition... written in 1915. The original was written in 1899! It's amazing to me that these things are as true now as they were a century ago, or rather, the real shock is that the opposite is true.

And yes, over the next two months, all of this will be brought home, via Vygotsky, Bruner, Bandura... and then Squire, Steinkuehler, and Shaffer... and finally to serious games and games for change.

So, in the order they appear, the top ten quotes from "The School and Social Progress":

"[School work] is somewhat remote and shadowy compared with the training of attention and of judgement that is acquired in having to do things with a real motive behind and a real outcome ahead" (p. 12). This sounds like an educational technologist in 2005!

"The radical reason that the present school cannot organize itself as a natural social unit is because just this element of common and productive activity is absent" (p. 14). This has been difficult for me to articulate in 2005, but is still absolutely true.

"[When introducing real word occupations into the curriculum] the entire school is renewed. It has the a chance to affiliate itself with life, to become the child's habitat, where he learns through directed living, instead of being only a place to learn lessons having an abstract and remote reference to some possible living to be done in the future. It gets a chance to be a miniature community." (p. 18) So let's see, we've got project-based learning, school to industry connections, and small learning communities - maybe even professional learning communities... sounds like cutting edge 21st century educational reform to me.

Dewey sees sewing as a "point of departure from which the child can trace and follow the progress of mankind in history, getting an insight also into the materials used and the mechanical principles involved" (p. 20) This reminds me of Seymour Papert's gears, which I talked about with AB 75 principles just today! This is of course, also the foundation behind inquiry based (and project based) learning.

"The children worked this out for themselves... aided by questions and suggestions from the teacher." (p. 21) Ah, I recognize a modern coaching model of teaching!

"Plato somewhere speaks of the slave as one who in his actions does not express his own ideas, but those of some other man. It is our social problem now, even more urgent than in the time of Plato, that method, purpose, understanding, shall exist in the consciousness of the one who does the work, that his activity shall have meaning to himself." (p. 23) As a former philosophy minor, I really appreciated this one. I think I can build upon it by saying "it is our social probelm now, even more urgent than in the time of Dewey..."

"Knowledge is no longer an immobile solid; it has been liquefied. it is actively moving in all the currents of society itself" (p. 25) Dewey's accompanying arguments about the changes in transportation and communication technologies (and world markets) sound a lot like Friedman's The World is Flat.

"It is an education dominated almost entirely by the mediaeval conception of learning. It is something which appeals for the most part simply to the intellectual aspect of our natures, our desire to learn, to accumulate information, and to get control of the symbols of learning; not to our impulses and tendencies to make, to do, to create, to produce, whether in the form of utility or of art." (p. 26) So, we are all calling this the industrial age system of education, but infact, Dewey, in the industrial age, called it mediaeval. I think I will now call this mediaeval in my presentations!

"The obvious fact is that our social life has undergone a thorough and radical change. If our education is to have any meaning for life, it must pass through an equally complete transformation. This transformation is not something to appear suddenly, to be executed in a day by conscious purpose" (p. 28). This is interesting first for the call for transformation, which of course is even more intensely necessary now, and second for the suggesting that it cannot happen in a day. Dewey here was explicitly interested in an evolution of the educational system! This should sit well with educational technologists who have tried to implement too many changes too fast.

"When a school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with the instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guaranty of a larger society which is worthy, lovely, and harmonious" (p. 29). This sounds like it come from a daring 21st century school district mission statement. How many people believe this? And when will we act on these beliefs. How about a serious game to help change people's perceptions of a 'good' education?

I'm sure some of you have had this awakening long ago, but I am glad to be starting this project by finally taking the time with Dewey. I hope it will serve as a foundation for my own work... and perhaps these quotes will serve as a foundation or inspiration for others. Thanks for reading.

-Mark

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Spotlight Courses for District Technology Leaders

I'll be speaking twice at the meeting next week, so here are the slides I'll be using to promote upcoming educational technology classes and professional development opportunities. I'm happy to say we're got exciting options in the categories of multi-media, iPod in Education, the Read/Write Web, and of course Video Games in Education. Some new partnerships with Pinnacle, Apple, SMART Technologies, and others are also announced, as is the 2nd Annual Assistive Technology Institute.

Incidentally, as I write this, the OCDE website seems to be down! But, the Ed Tech website is up for a change! :)

Go to register.ocde.us if you are interested in registering for any of these classes.

Incidentally, all you people who have been saying you're coming to my games in education class on December 13th, now is the time to register. :D

Serious Games for District Technology Leaders

Here are the slides I've prepared for next week's District Technology Leaders meeting at the Orange County Department of Education. I doubt they stand up well on their own, but they might be interesting to some of you who are following this blog, and I'd certainly love any comments or feedback you can offer.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Frustration with Non-connective Writing

Or would that be unconnected writing?

It's funny, just when Will is finally finding a name for (and struggling with) the writing we are all excited about, I am participating in a delphi study which necessitates that I keep my answers to questions confidential throughout several iterations of a survey. But I'm writing good stuff and wish I could share it here! How will I (or anyone for that matter) reap the benefits of connectedness if I can't... share.

Well, back to writing that won't be seen here for a long time. This is a really weird feeling... not unlike realizing some of my friends and colleagues would probably not appreciate the Mark's Mail project I dreamed up a few days ago. :)

-Mark

UPDATE: Jarek Janio, author of the delphi study I mentioned above has left a comment below and I've replied. I didn't want subscribers to miss it. :)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Serious Games Summit: McDowell, Cannon-Bowers, and Prensky on The Role of Pedagogy and Educational Design

I spent the final session of the summit at McDowell, Cannon-Bowers, and Prensky's panel discussion on The Role of Pedagogy and Educational Design in Serious Games. This turned out to be a debate between Cannon-Bowers and Prensky moderated by McDowell. Apparently McDowell had the idea following Presnky's comments at then GLS conference which incensed so many teachers (and instructional designers, like Cannon-Bowers). At this point in what were a very long two days for me I sort of gave up on note taking and enjoyed the entertainment value of this session. We all laughed often, mostly at Prensky - or thanks to Prensky I should say - though Cannon-Bowers was a great sport about it. She argued for the use of sound instructional design when creating serious games to teach, and Presnksy advocated simply creating a good game, and he made frequent use of his "game developers suck the fun out" quote. The session was a blast, and I'm afraid you just had to be there. If you are interested though, you can read Dennis' reflections on it here.

This concludes my (belated) coverage of the summit, though I'm sure these thoughts will resurface here often in the coming months.

Now what were those other blogging topics I felt so behind on before I left? Or, better yet, where was I in my KAM research?

-Mark

UPDATE: For those who were there and will laugh, I want to say "Function F7." :)

There are a few other gems I found in an email I sent myself from my blackberry... I'm pretty sure these were all Prensky:

"Mouths making promises their brains couldn't keep."

"In the UK it's against the law to say 'you will learn.'"

"So, I'm for intelligent design."

In the end, it made me want to be funnier in my own presentations. :)

Serious Games Summit: Herdlick on Making Educational Games That Are Elegant, Fun and Really Educational

For the eighth session of the summit I attended Catherine Herdlick's Making Educational Games That Are Elegant, Fun and Really Educational, which turned out to be - happily for me - an overview of game development for academics and others who might come to work with game developers.

Because this session was laid out in such a logical sequence I have only doctored up my initial notes and simply offer them here:

Herdlick talked about the development process in terms of these stages:
- concept
- design/prototype
- alpha
- beta
- gold / GMC
- launch

She framed her presentation with the question "How does this process shift when we have educational design values?" and the answer was integrated throughout her presentation.

She went into testing and code locks early on, but then settled into this outline of the partnership between a designer and educator...

Before you approach a developer... a checklist.
- Play lots of games.
- Embrace conflict. Or at least consider embracing it.
- Create educational design values:
Identify your concept (probably content related)
Specify what player is learning
Prioritize your educational goals
Identify the audience
Describe feelings you want the game to evoke
- Prepare documentation about the topic.
- Identify a project leader on your end.
- Clarify scope. (Really small games can impact people, too.)


Concept
- Provide documentation / overview of content
- Discuss design and educational values
- Select one concept from several - best fit

Design / Prototype
- In-depth research on topic, if necessary
- Re-evaluate and discuss scope

Alpha
- Prepare placeholder content
- Research distribution options and challenges
- Discuss assessment
- Re-evaluate & discuss scope

Beta
- Finish and polish written content
- Test with target audience
- "Shop" your game around
- Developer - integrate assessment tools, if applicable

Gold / GMC
- Evaluate usefulness of assessment tools

Launch - and change lives :)

She then discussed a few specific examples which I did not capture, and then answered some questions.

This was a good overview for me to take back to the OCDE, and for me in preparation for my own future work.

-Mark

... and Life: More Roses (because we are all fragile)

I though I would break up all this text with another image. I'm not sure this quite captures what I saw when I was trying to get a shot of the blossom, but couldn't avoid catching the sagging and falling apart flower in the frame, and then realized the more powerful image was of both of them.

I'll also offer a brief editorial thought for the day: Be Gentle.

Serious Games Summit: Games for Change (Life Changing Stuff Here)

By the second breakout session of day 2 (the seventh of the summit) I was feeling much better. I had a chair, and some food in my system.

I attended the inspiring Games for Change and the Theory of Change: The making of good social issue games.

Suzanne Seggerman, the acting director of Games For Change in New York kicked off the session by explaining they are talking about social change, and offering this mission statement:
Games for Change provides support, education and visibility to institutions and individuals using digital games for positive social change, with special assistance to non-profits and foundations entering the field.
I think she actually said aloud "to effect positive social change," which is straight out of the Walden University mission statement!
... Walden's student-centered programs prepare its graduates to achieve professional excellence and to effect positive social change.
(Unfortunately, I note that the mission statement has been revised on the new website... it has been tightened up, but I don't know if I like "transform society" as well as "effect positive social change.")

At any rate, lets say that what these people were talking about resonated with me and fits well into the work I've been doing at Walden for the last two years And it certainly fits into the KAM I am currently working on, Principles of Societal Development.

In New York Games for Change hosts a salon every other month and they encourage their satellite chapters to do so, too. I later got Celia Pierce's name as the contact person in the LA chapter, which I aim to get involved with, but I have yet to locate her or the chapter. I guess I'll have to start at the top... (Actually, creative googling finally helped here... as did remembering I met her at the Education Arcade in May and that she is associated with UCI.)

They recently held a conference in NYC, which featured 15 serious games for change. Presenters included Ben Sawyer, Ian Bogost, Erik Zimmerman, and many others. They discussed open source and low cost tools, and alternative business models. All good stuff. From the conference they learned that foundations and non-profits need to know more about this space and the possibilities, and academics need to know about the funders - and about others like Games for Change. (It was strange to realize I was there as academia... or at least they didn't even ask who was an educators during the show of hands!)

They spent some time at the outset establishing a definition for social change. Google, it turns out, will point you to 369 definitions. The definition she settled on went something like this: Social Change... a process whereby the beliefs and behaviors of a group become modified over time. It grows out of both the natural process of societal change, as well... (damn she went too fast!)

The focus of their organization, then, is the idea that games can act as a catalyst for change. Games can be directly transformative (something my brother James has been interested in when I talk to him about this). So, goes the presentation, these games should be driven by a theory of change and a concrete plan for how you will transform the audience.

Mario Armstrong, I think, got up to discuss "Why a Theory of Change (ToC)?" And wow, was he too fast for my notetaking, too! At any rate, he said a ToC defines the building blocks to achieve a long-term goal. Key elements include interventions and outcomes (he noted that the world is always changing, but we must intervene to get the outcomes we want!), and a pathway to change.

He was most interested in how a social context changes... not individuals, as is the tradition for most serious games. He also stressed the need for long term effectiveness, and offered the contrast between the short term effectiveness of showing starving children to get donations for food and the long term effectiveness of showing children's lives being improved. (In the first case people give like crazy, but then stop giving... it seems hopeless. In the later case, people become long term givers.)

He asked the question, "how do we change society?" and expanded this to mean how we change institutions, infrastructure, and cultural mores. In a pitch for a serious game he would expect to hear something like "this is my game for change and I think it will affect society in this way... because it will change cultural mores this way..."

Barry Joseph spoke next about his program, Global Kids (He's the online leadership director). The program aims to transform urban youth into successful students and global/community leaders by engaging them with, well, cool stuff. He was going fast, too.

He game a rundown of some of their other programs and then finally talked about Playing for keeps, a program in which students create a serious game each year, a process that changes their sense of self, their sense of power, and their level of efficacy. He was moving too fast for me to even transcribe the slides, never mind what he was saying... and it was all gold.

He showed off a prototype serious game created by students... a game about racial and gender profiling by airport security. It was powerful, though unsophisticated graphically. Some of the challenges they face in this process are unifying the content, meeting their educational goals, and mastering the core mechanics.

Catherine Herdlick, a developer, talked next but I took few notes. After lunch I attended her session, though, and took plenty, so stay tuned.

Finally Benjamin Stokes got up to talk about his Peter Packet project. Brilliant. Just brilliant. I only just now visited and check it out. This teaches social responsibility and the principles of networking! Not to mention the implicit value that the Internet should be used for altruistic purposes. (The embedded add for Cisco routers made me laugh, too!)

Stokes asked what kids can do as far as advocacy, and explained that they built the skin of a game around real world advocacy strategies, such as "invite adults to contribute" or "email your senator." He claimed that kids can and will opt-in to raise awareness and funds, and he relayed stories of kids checking their points, or "total money for poverty" online.

It occurred to me that perhaps the ONE campaign needs something like this... the ONE Game. I find this a doubly good idea now that I know about Bono's interest in serious games, too.

It also occurred to me that none of my doctoral work thus far would be lost if I were to refocus my efforts into this space. Hmm...

They concluded the session with the suggestion that the funding community loves "theories of change."

They offered to put each of us on their mailing list, and I'm sure the offer would extend to anyone reading this... check out gamesforchagnge.org/maillist.html or email suzanne@weblab.org to be added to the mailing list.

Then, with a final stroke of brilliance, they asked us to go get our box lunches and return to the room to talk more over lunch!

At lunch we each were able to introduce ourselves, what we do, and why we were there. A few points of discussion were worth capturing as well (just using my blackberry at the time as we ate)...

Some of the developers suggested development tools: RPG Maker 2003, Gamemaker.nl, Kids Programming Language (.net), Squeak, and Alice 3D.
One of them suggested that 2D programming is better for younger kids. Later they mentioned MUPPETS for MMOs, NEL, and moved into a discussion of "open" development for games; there seemed to be agreement that open source development works for technical things like software, but that it might not work for an artistic team endeavor like a serious game.

Someone said this gem: "Saying I want a game is like saying I want a meal. How much does a game cost is a similarly flawed question."

Here was another that sat well with me. :) "Don't think that because you are doing good, you have to be poor."

Also, participants recommended these books: Buzzmarketing, and Secrets of Word of Mouth Marketing.

I'm sure I will be writing about these folks again...

-Mark

The OCDE Educational Technology Podcast

Hey! I almost missed this. While I was out of the office, Robert Craven got our first podcast posted!

Check it out!

Serious Games Summit: Michael and Chen on Assessment in Serious Games

If you've been following along you may have noticed that the first day was a bit slow for me at first, but got better, and then much better as it went along. The same can be said for the content of the second day. I did not make it to the morning keynote, which did look interesting however not terribly relevant to my work, so I started at rock bottom.

For the first breakout session of the day, the sixth of the summit, I attended Michael and Chen's Beyond Q&A: Assessment Methods for the Next Generation of Serious Games. Michael and Chen are the co-authors of Serious Games: Games that Educate, Train, and Inform, the book I read on my way out to DC. Unfortunately, this was a round table, so like Prensky they did not prepare a presentation. They did however prepare some questions to prompt the participants.

It's worth noting that this session was very full and I was trying to take notes while standing in the back. Neither the powerbook nor the blackberry proved terribly comfortable for this, and I wasn't feeling too well, so I have considerably fewer notes for this session than the others. I don't think I missed much, though.

The moderators lead in with this question: "What do you see as the future of assessment in serious games?"

Howard Phillips of Microsoft replied that many games have been nothing more than assessment (speaking of the edutainment variety I presume), and that in the future we will assess fuzzier elements of knowledge. This was something of a running theme throughout the summit. Jim Belanik (spelling?) from the Army Research Institute reported that they are doing to do just that; they are trying to create technology that will be able to make judgement calls without the human present... but right now the human is necessary, he concluded.

Others were very interested in the use of pre-assessment to level students before beginning a game. At which point someone jumped in with the question of how we will get picky teachers to use this? Later, someone offered the opinion that our biggest barrier is teachers... and that if we can help them feel comfortable with games, then we're in. Much later someone suggested that games should be promoted as tools for teachers, and that after school programs might be the gateway to the schools.

This was followed by the question of the difference between a test and an assessment, which oddly enough, occupied them for quite some time. I hadn't seen that conversation since I was in my credential program. An English professor named Dennis put this one to rest with the very math teacher comment that "tests are a subset of assessments."

Dennis also suggested that success in a game could be a form of assessment. Someone echoed this later by saying that "games are assessing the player all the time, you just don't notice it." John Fairfield (of Rosetta Stone?) pointed out that there will be a wide variety of skills displayed in success of any given game and that successful players do not necessarily acquire the same skills.

Erick Lauber was sitting up front, though I didn't see him, and he brought up what he called a serious issue... the transfer of training is not being dealt with head on. He's fascinated by the power of serious games to jump this hurdle we've been facing for so long. None of these lines of conversation led anywhere, but perhaps they will spark someone elses' thinking if I share them here...

Someone from simSchool mentioned that they are trying to represent how a learner grows... from an AI standpoint.

A representative from the Navy asked another important question... what will you get out of a game that you won't from traditional training?

Owen (and that's all of his name he was gonna tell us) said that we want to teach knowledge, skills, and confidence... efficaciousness.

About the time I noted that I was getting bored (my fault, not theirs), Jake Troy, who is involved in language learning games, said "there is a war for kids attention" (a metaphor that resonated with me), and that "we can assess when they are getting bored" by tracking when they start exploring instead of pursuing a goal, or when they stop playing, or switch games, etc.

This question went unanswered... what methodologies are game developers using?

A strand of discussion did come up around Chen's prompt: when you bring games into the classroom, how do we deal with cheats? And if you put things in player logs, how can we protect these from hacking? I think the most hopeful response was that playing the game has to be the easiest and most engaging way to learn things. There was also a comment that this is where the instructor comes in.. if a student is running around invulnerable (or whatever) then they are clearly not getting anything out of the game, and the teacher can clearly see that; the teacher must provide a context such that playing the game legitimately is the most rewarding. Finally, someone suggested using biometrics to combat cheating. Ha! That way lies policing, something I am not at all interested in; with policing comes cheating.

In a related comment, someone expressed their feeling hat students must know if and how they are being assessed. That way exploring is not punished. Then, too, they will be more motivated to play by the rules... because of the context.

Another brilliant suggestion was that we can track players' access to reference or help in game. (Oh, and by the way, this guy said, games are cheating... you get to restart and try again!)

Toward the very end, some discussion of multiplayer games arose. How will we assess? A game like WoW stores amazing amounts of data, but we are back to fuzzy issues when it comes to assessing or evaluating that data. One participant said that in his project he found MMO data overwhelming, but having sat with the guys from Linden Lab at the Games Learning and Society conference I have a sense of how a good programmer can make use of overwhelming data to draw conclusions. (See this previous post.) Someone did point out that the same computer that stores an MMO's data can be used to sort through that data. Another even suggested a way to sort and analyze the data by defining flag points and comparing players' and experts' paths through the game. Others also said this data was just what they wanted, complete with text to speech and speech to text!

Ha ha ha... I just stumbled on Dennis' weblog, and he has some very detailed notes on the sessions he attended - they rival or exceed mine. In the case of this particular session, they definitely exceed! Check them out. Dennis is D. G. Jerz of Seton Hill University. Check out his blog and his other Serious Games Summit posts as well. The link to his RSS feed is a bit hidden on the page, so I've offered it here too.

Thanks for reading. I once again hope some of you find this helpful... even if the link to Dennis' weblog is the most useful part. ;)

-Mark

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Serious Games Summit: Burak and Sweeney on PeaceMaker

NOTE: I took a lot of notes on this session, and it was beginning to frustrate me how long it was taking to write this, so I just powered through and the organization may lack for it. And of course, I've left much out. Regardless, I rediscovered a few gems and hope they will be helpful for others, too.

Now, the fifth breakout session (on Monday afternoon) was the essence of why I attended the summit - even more so than the previous session on Food Force. I attended Burak and Sweeney's PeaceMaker: A Game That Teaches Peace in the Middle East. (The game's website can be found at peacemakergame.com.)

I'd been looking forward to a game like PeaceMaker since first reading Jim Gee talk about the Palestinian first person shooter Under Ash. He mused (if memory serves) that this would be a powerful thing if American teen agers could play both sides of the conflict and come to understand it from the inside out. This is exactly when Burak and Sweeney have painstakingly created.

The game comes out of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, which has the first masters degree in entertainment technology (an MET), and which focuses on multi-disciplinary group projects, including the "first responder" training game, Hazmat: Hotzone.

Burak and Sweeney pitched their idea for a game about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to their faculty, and were originally told their proposal was "widely out of scope." So they refined their mission, focusing on a 2D simulation of the conflict, on a young audience (high school students it turns out), and free online distribution. The looked to serious comics, such as MAUS as a model of how a traditionally "low" art medium could be used for a much more serious purpose. Because they wanted to teach both perspectives on the conflict, they suggested that a game was a more appropriate medium than a book, and they took great efforts to present a balanced view, involving representatives from both cultures from the very beginning of the project. As for non-violent gameplay, they felt that "peace is challenging", that there are "warriors for peace", and that "this is not less challenging than going to war." In peace, and in game development, they offered this advice "Don't be afraid to take small steps."

In the Israeli version of the game, which was made first, allows the player to take on the role of the Israeli Prime Minister and two work with the leaders of eight different factions to achieve peace. A sort of thermometer display similar to the depictions of relationships in the Sims is used as feedback. Some events, such as the first event - a suicide bombing, happen and players can react and take various actions throughout the game. Though the game is about peace, the player can take military action, but in most cases this is not the right choice. However, in extreme situations, this can improve the situation. Clearly the underlying systems of the game will reflect the designers beliefs about reality, but I for one find it important that there is at least some reasonable motivation behind violence in the game - for it to be otherwise would I think miss the point of much of the conflict. To achieve the desired emotional impact, the designers used real pictures and real footage as much as possible. (They even showed screen shots from the news and from violent games to express the thought that "emotional impact comes from real events, not just the spectacle.")

The Palestinian version is newer and more sophisticated. It was also more difficult for them to sort out simple things such as an answer to the question "what can this person do?" (In answer to this, many actions are greyed out at the beginning of the game, because the Palestinian president simply doesn't have those options until some progress has been made). Ultimately, though, there are more groups to balance and more actions to take in this version of the game. I think it is important that they pointed out "peace" was a suitable victory condition for an Israeli, but nor for a Palestinian... a two-state solution must be reached. The struggle here was now between national approval and world approval.

The research necessary to create these games offers something for other serious game developers to consider. The began by exploring paper based negotiation simulations, both from Carnegie Mellon professors and from the US Institute of Peace. They also explored existing computer simulations including Kuma War, and Under Ash.

The leap for then was how to make a game about peace. Conflict was still a key, but instead of A vrs. B, they wanted A, B, C, and D to cooperate for equality. For gameplay (and verisimilitude) this had to be engaging and challenging! They offered players actions to take, but other (AI) actors in the game would act if their needs were not being met (Hamas for example).

They shared some graphical representations of some iconic games and where they fell on a chart of goal orientation v. open endedness (on the x axis) and simulation v. game (on the y-axis). Peace Maker was just left of the origin toward goal oriented, but was balanced between sim and game elements. They also charted pace and mood by action oriented v. slow paced (on the x-axis) and heavy v. light in tone (on the y-axis). Here PeaceMaker was heavy and slow paced (in the upper right quadrant).

The first prototype was a board game. It has many elements they wanted, and "sounded right", but was not engaging. They were able to categorize the actions into Fighting, Helping, or Waiting, and they realized that the core struggle was between the security of the players' people and the trust of the other side. It is significant, I think, that they said at first it feels as if each action hurts one and helps the other, and that is only when you learn to "climb" the actions that progress is made. They reached this point as a dice game. Then, the vision team worked on interface, visual, xperience, sounds, videos, and scripted a flash demo. Meanwhile, an engine team worked on code, balance, fleshing out actions, and a working java game.

The underlying assumptions behind the system they created are powerful ones.. in life, I mean:

- You can make a difference.
- The other side wants peace, too.
- You lack complete control of your own side.
- Small concrete steps, not grandiose plans.
- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the possible!"

Incidentally, though I didn't get to see his poster session, Mark Baldwin had some powerful things to say about using games to teach positive mind habits. (See his Self-Esteem Games: Modifying Mind Habits Using Science-Based Psychology Games session for more information.

There is a Pilot program currently underway, both in Pittsburgh, and in the city of Qatar. Students in the two cities will play the game and communicate about it as an assignment. They are currently testing the game, the content, and the educational message. Already they are getting emails from the community, from gamers, and from non-gamers interested in the game.

Currently they plan to publish online in the spring, in a manner similar to Food Force for free download. They hope to create a 2 player version when they are done, and eventually a multiplayer version. In the long term, they suggested they might move on to other conflicts, because after all "unfortunately we have many of them." Also, they hope to move the game beyond the university realm to a profit or non-profit home. I wrote in my notes at this point "this is brilliant." (Earlier, I wrote "TOO MUCH SITTING" at that point in the day.)

Some interesting questions (and suggestions) came up in the Q & A at the end of the presentation. Someone asked if the game was open source. It is not, and their are no plans to make it open, but it will be multi-platform (it is built in Flash). They were asked how long they've been working on it... and it's only been just over a year! When asked "what about people who are not supportive of your ideas?" they responded that most responses are positive, except when it comes to the two-state solution. They acquiesce that people from Hamas would not want to play the game, but many Palestinians feel the game is a way to make their dreams come true in a way they cannot in real life.

When asked how hard it is to play, they relied that the Palestinian version is slightly easier because they've had more time to design it. They said a new player is only 30% likely to pass the game in the first try. Most still get caught up in it. Some get frustrated... "and by the way, the fact that peoplecome to this game and feel that this problem is difficult to solve is a good thing." What is really important, they concluded, was that players feel challenged.

One particularly important question was "are players learning something they didn't know?" To this, the speakers responded that they only have player testimonials and that they want a mehod to measure changes in attitudes. Some testimonials, though, are powerful: "It's crazy, anything you do, someone gets angry", "I wanted to take revenge sometimes, and I couldn't... these guys made something that made me change my attitudes to win." Wow.

Another participant asked if they have an educational person or team involved in the inter-disciplinary design team, too. Apparently they did not on the design team, but they do now for creating teaching materials to accompany the game; they are working with education students at Carnegie Mellon. They are not interested in asking questions, though, they want to record players' actions and through the game see what changes they make. They want teachers to be able to look at the history of a student's game and discuss the choices they made. They would prefer to offer tutorials and hyperlinks online, but are not sure about lesson plans.

Another participant then made the brilliant suggestion to let the teachers create a community around the game, because they will create and share lesson plans etc. I thought this was a beautiful intersection of serious games and the read/write web.

I came to a personal conclusion by the end of this session as well. suppose I will still keep playing WoW for the MMO experience, but I need to start playing Serious Games, whatever their quality. I need the hands-on exposure to these games, too. And most are free. :)

Note: I haven't played WoW since I've been back... though there may be other reasons (in the "and Life" category) for that as well.

-Mark

... and Life: Roses Overhead

It's finally Saturday after a crazy week of traveling and trainings. I have much more to write today before moving on (and there's the gym and household chores), but thought I would take a moment to share my appreciation of the roses in our back yard.

I took some pictures of the bushes that are over head high. The yellow roses are the most impressive right now, and this is my favorite shot. I was standing on a chair to capture this. :)

-Mark

Serious Games Summit: Roche on How the United Nations Fights Hunger with Food Force

After lunch on the first day the summit began to really hit its stride... at least in my experience, the following sessions were the reason I attended...

For the fourth breakout I attended Justin Roche's How the United Nations Fights Hunger with Food Force.

The session opened with some amazing, amazing statistics. Though the United Nations' World Food Program (WFP) is feeding 90 million worldwide, 60 million of them children, there are 800 million that need food! The WFP owns 20 planes, 40 ships, and 5,000 trucks. "Thousands and thousands" of people work for the WFP, and while the US is the biggest donor in total, he Netherlands are per capita. Every 5 seconds a child dies of hunger.

There is a great need to mobilize people behind the efforts of the WFP. But, why develop a game like Food Force? Roche suggested that it has a powerful effect on children (and young adults, and people of all ages it turns out), and the WFP is targeting future decision makers. (Their target was 8-15 year old students). Though there are ways that students can help right away, this is an investment in the future of the program.

The development of the game was an effort to match the distribution profile of America's Army which can boast of 17 million downloads since 2002 (and which absolutely drives the Serious Games Summit). This has certainly been successful: the WFP's game, Food Force has been downloaded 2.2 million times in 200 countries since it was released this past spring. (There are 500,000 hard copies in circulation, and it has been the #1 action and adventure game at Apple.com.) When it was first released, BBC Technology ran the story and the Food Force servers crashed with the first 10 minutes. :) They approached Yahoo for support, and got it. Yahoo still hosts the game for free, a donation that amounts to something in the neighborhood of 30 to 40 thousand dollars each month.

The story behind the game's design was as bitter sweet as the work of the WFP. Apparently the game was conceived in 1999 by an italian lady (whose name I could sadly not capture while taking notes... should've been recording all of these), but she was tragically killed in a plane crash in '99. It took another year for the passion to transfer to others... and another two years before the funds were found. (They could, of course, not use funds earmarked to feed hungry people!) Roche, then, was brought on to finish development and launch the game, which came online in April 2005. The game was developed for about $475k dollars, but the commercial value (had many not donated their time and resources) would probably have been 5 times that.

At this point in his story, he showed us a demo. The missions are structured to help teach about specific aspects of the WFP's work, and each has four components...

1.) A briefing
2.) The actual mission
3.) Feedback on player performance
4.) A video that explains the real world consequences of WFP's work (and which also serves as the motivation and reward for finishing missions).

The six missions are related to jobs performed by the WFP: air surveillance, creating energy pacs, air drops, locate & dispatch, the food run, and future farming. My primary critique remains that the game interface in these missions really has nothing to do with the point the WFP is trying to get across in the game. Still, it is undoubtedly successful. Roche shared that he often has kids tell him they want to work for the WFP. Even I had that reaction when I played it! In fact, Roche considered this desire for players to work for them to be their best feedback on the effectiveness of the project when asked how they evaluate their success.

Due to the success, several big name gaming companies are now helping them localize food force in other nations... Konami in Japan, Shandra for China, Ubisoft in French, Rai Television in Italian, and the TNT Corp in dutch. Naturally, Roche said further partnerships were necessary as well. He says they attract the attention of these partners because it is a good deal for them... they can frame it as part of their corporate responsibility and they can have their brand associated with a proven product in the educational and serious games marketplace. This is something of an inspiration for similar games in the future, or for future installments of the Food Force "franchise", which Roche suggested is possible, though unfunded at this time.

In addition to the serious game, the WFP also provides online educational resources and and works with a variety of educational partners as well: Feeding Minds Fighting Hunger, the American Federation of Teachers, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and others. Roche mentioned that the website offers a community for teachers. (Actually, now that I click on the "Discussion Area" link in the teacher menu, it turns out this vitally important read/write web feature is only "coming soon"!) Students are encouraged to use the website to post their scores (which is easy to find) and to discuss the game and the real world issues. (Although, now I realize I can't find a student discussion area either).

While the web site seems to still need some work, Roche also talked about next steps for the game... more partnering, CD-ROM production for distribution, and more language translations. He said they realize they may have a franchise, and that they obviously want to move toward a multiplayer game. Later he suggested he'd like a mobile phone version and a console based version - perhaps on playstation, or as an XBox 360 Live downloadable game. Perhaps most importantly, he said, "there are definitely more stories to tell." He was also using the session to recruite developers who want to contribute. Unfortunately, all of this is currently unfunded.

As far as lessons learned for others, he suggested identifying the needs of your partners, and to simply keep pitching a great idea.

Incidentally, and as always, any errors or inaccurate reporting in this post are mine. :)

-Mark

Friday, November 04, 2005

Craven and Guerena at "Just DO it!" PLC Training

Robert Craven and Mike Guerena demonstrate collaboration... and the use of technology to support our professional learning community... as they try to get the sound system to work for presenter Richard DuFour. :)

Can you tell I managed to get back online today? For some reason I still can't get on the wireless here... but Mike can at the end of the table, so he's sharing his connection over an ethernet cable! Cool.

-Mark

Serious Games Summit: Sandford on COTS Games in Education

There was no question where I was going for the third breakout of the summit, Richard Sanford (of NESTA Futurelab) in Teaming Up for COTS Games in Education: NESTA Futurelab & EA.

Before the session I got an opportunity to re-introduce myself to Jim Gee after interviewing him by phone a few weeks ago. He was sitting in the same row with me... engrossed in his Nintendo DS. I felt bad for interrupting his game. :)

Sandford opened with an intro to teaching with games, answering the questions what is it? and why? His focus was on education between the early years and university, mainly in school settings. He was not interested in edutainment.

He then gave an overview of two approaches of teaching with games. The first was Racing Academy, a drive to re-establish engineering in schools. (Pun intended by Sanford?)
Racing Academy is a massively multiplayer car racing and vehicle engineering simulation which allows students to engineer and race realistic virtual models of cars. Online facilities allow teams and communities to collaborate and compete on the web. The prototype is aimed at older teenagers but there is scope for it to become a multi-generational learning environment.
The second was the Homicide project.
Homicide is a criminological role-playing game aimed at teaching natural science and other subjects to pupils in lower secondary education. The game places the pupils in the role of investigators trying to solve a series of murders in a fictitious small-town called Melved.
He also mentioned that NESTA Futurelab is preparing a Games Handbook based on a three year lit review. The document is aimed at an audience of academics and policy makers... and I can't wait to get my hands on it.

In discussing their partnership with EA: Europs, Sandford talked about the negative perceptions of gaming - and recalled that at one time Socrates was against writing! (I wish I knew the source of this claim though.) Of course, he also focuesed on what he called the positive reality, that people learn a lot from games. With several of them in the room, he cited "people like Gee, Prensky, Squire" in his explanation. He suggested that games are broadening their reach in society and introduced a partnership between EA and Futurelab - a 1 year investigation into the use of commercial mainstream games in the classroom, which will provide practical evidence of the potential for school use of these games. This has been done (by Squire for example), but never on this scale. Sandford saw this as "running to catch up with teachers" who are already implementing these games. He is asking "how are games used in the real world?"

After 4 or 5 months of investigating titles through a rigorous and comprehensive selection procedure, Futurelab decided to focus on The Sims 2 (which can be used to create content), Knights of Honor (an RCS game, like AoM), and Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 (which has a detailed physics engine). The study includes 4 schools, 12 teachers, hundreds of students (ages 11 to 16), and a broad range of curricula in both UK and German school systems.

The most significant thing about this project, for me, was that they are currently taking the time from September 2005 to January 2006 to work with teachers to improve their understanding of the games and to develop materials to support their use in class. The project will first be implemented with students from January to March 2006. This will include pre and post polls of student attitudes toward games for learning. Sandford made an interesting point here... "No one ever asks students what they think... but research already shows students are as hard to sell on this as the teachers are." I suspect this is true, myself, given my experiences teaching the hero's journey through Star Wars, including field trips. Fifteen year olds literally told me "Do we have to watch those movies, their lame!" (This was around 2000). Sandford was proud that their project is "giving a voice to students."

Toward the end of the hour, Sandford asked "what's next?"... He called for a better dialogue leading to shared expertise between industry, academia, and practitioners... a true integration between learning and play... and a second change to make good our edutainment mistakes!

In terms of the challenges ahead, he focused on assessment (proving the value of serious games), consistency (value for all - though I didn't entirely understand this point), and wider attitude changes (to overcome the prejudices against games).

He also argued that games literacy should be pursued; we can't presume that all students know about games. Also games are still threatening to teachers' competencies. Of course, these ideas are nothing new to educational technologies.

-Mark

Serious Games Summit: Prensky on Mobile Serious Gaming

Sweet! I got this posted before work! I hope it's not too sloppy...

For the second breakout session of the summit I attended Marc Prensky's round table on mobile serious gaming... primarily because it was Prensky, but also because it is something I am interested in and know little about. I was already familiar with Prensky's recent What Can You Learn From A Cell Phone? - Almost Anything.

I was shocked by two of Prensky's opening comments right off the bat. He did not prepare a presentation, and it was a round table session after all, but he mentioned he had just found out he was doing the presentation the day before. I figured that was odd since it was in the program and all, but then, I learned this week that he really exercises his sense of humor freely. :) I was also happy to realize that he concludes thoughts with phrases like "that would really be a lot of fun" and "that'd be neat" and "which would be a very cool thing to do"... when following comments like "imagine kids got to play real games while parents are ligging them around on history trips" for example.

The other surprise was that he said he didn't know of many mobile serious games. Again, it was a roundtable and he was quickly mining the expertise of those in the room, which if you've been reading this blog you'll know I think is a perfect use of face to face time.

It was however no surprise to hear Prensky roll out his favorite quote, from a game developer's round table years before: "When you add an instructional desigher to the team, the first thing they do is suck the fun out!" (He used this again in a very entertaining way during the final "debate" of the summit!)

The rest of this post may or may not be useful, as this was a fast moving round table and I was only typing notes. I've chosen to err on the side of sharing too much, just in case it might be useful to someone who was not there... though I did cut some random notes that had too little context to pass on.

I wish I had taken better notes, but someone mentioned Ian Bogost (of Persuasive Games), something about an airport security game that is meant to be played while waiting in line at the airport! (Or perhaps Ian mentioned this?)

Karen Schrier of MIT spoke quite a bit about the role of mobile gaming in her thesis. She worked on a location based (or augmented reality) game using PDAs (pocket PCs) with GPS. Students are asked to think critically and answer the question "who fired the first shot" at Lexington, Mass by collecting evidence from around the battlefield (and by collaborating - not competing - with others to share this information... they all get slightly different information, so they need to count on each other). They interact with virtual historic figures and items before making their own hypothesis about what may have happened. It seems it was a mod of an existing .net based augmented reality game being developed at MIT. Someone said something about "River City" and it was all very reminiscent of Chris Dede's work at Harvard University with MUVEES. (Incidentally, did anyone else notice that the screen shots all changed there recently... from something very like Second Life to something a good bit less sophisticated looking?)

Prensky mentioned that most mobile games are developed on PDAs, Pocket PCs in particular... perhaps because of availability... or difficulty of developing on phones. Someone asked how the students get the machines... it turns out a historical society at the site signs them out to families. (But I have question marks after this in my notes, so perhaps it was just hypothetical... still the thought is worth recording and sharing.)

Another participant mentioned YellowArrow.net, which was described as something of an art project which can be used for a whole lot more... something about challenge and texting. It seems it may be an example of using a web based back end for augmented reality.

A man I think identified himself as Alan Jackson (I think) introduced the Gizmondo, a handheld device with a camera, SMS, GPS, etc. They called it the mondo for short.

Once the amazing possibilities of this device were tossed around a bit, someone else brought up a game platfrom Georgia tech was working on, which would use simple mobile phones in conjunction with real world objects (such as stickers) and Skype to turn the entire campus into a learning environment. The point here was that they wanted anyone with cell phones to be able to use their system, instead of requiring special devices. They are not making anything for the phone, but rather something to use the phone with. This takes the most advantage of the high phone to student ration Prenksy has observed. In fact, it was suggested that even if you only use sound, you can use "phone tree" technology to create a game.

Louis Johnson from USC suggested that sound is nice, but that the games we want will demand more, and that we need to be able to use all the various functions of a phone at once. Imagine taking a call while playing through a level... while in line.

He also talked about his explorations into an interactive speech enabled game for learning language and culture. He felt that people want a mobile device that they can take with them. It sounds like USC is exploring the PSP as a platform for text to speech and speech to text. Prensky mentioned that there are already some Chinese and Japanese mini games for learning languages.

There were many other ideas and terms tossed around, including DS training for adults, mobile language studio (which lead to Johnson's remarks), flash mob (which I mostly didn't understand), a partnership with NASA, and a game related to the author Herman Hess in some way.

Prensky asked what I think are a few more important questions, too.

"Look at the affordances of this platform," he said, "and consider... what would benefit from a game designed on these platforms?" Later he added these thoughts: "These are always on, always connected, and always with you! Can you put business executive training on a phone? If there is competition? Now kids have cell phones that are made for them. Kids and parents can talk for free... is there something we can make for them that would contribute to their lives and communication?" (If so, and its a game, it sounds like a serious - and noble - game in indeed... perhaps even a Game for Change.)

"How can we use use this for storytelling?" he also asked. "How can we story tell on these machines? Interactive stories?" As someone who has studied and placed a great deal of importance on stories, I was particularly interested in this idea.

Someone else brought up that as AI improves and virtual things become more real, perhaps bonding benefits might be realized (for old people who might benefit from pets for instance). To editorialize for a minute... I'm very much looking forward to bonding with AI, and finding what common ground there may be, but I've finally realized that even if we have other intelligences to talk to, they won't have the same sort of biological impulses we do, which is so important in creating who we are, and we may always find more in common with our flesh and blood counterparts. Ok, enough science fiction... back to mobile gaming.

It is important to note that an representative from an education company asked, "How do we get one for every kid?" At this point I was about to finally contribute something to the conversation (rather than just taking furious notes), when Prensky spoke up again and gave a great response, which he concluded with the suggestion that these days he's happy to say "ok, kid. Find a computer" if a student doesn't have one. I feel the same way, by assigning collaborative group work (never mind differentiated instruction), teachers can take advantage of the technologies students are bringing into the classroom in stead of restricting them through some misguided sense to deliver something equal. I feel public education, including individual teachers, often deliberately delivers instruction to the lowest common denominator, which can't possibly be good for our society (to say nothing of teacher expectations). I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir when I say we need to put these devices to work rather than trying to regulate, control, or ban them from schools.

Prensky actually went on with this point, talking about the wonderful number of things these devices can do and expressing his frustration that all we're used to hearing about is phones and cheating. I was shocked! People in the room argued with him here! They seemed genuinely concerned about phones and cheating. Clearly I need to find a way to deal with this. I think Prensky asked "How can we improve [our teaching] using what we have? Open cell tests?"

BTW, three people in the room... of around 40 I'd say... didn't have cell phones! (At least, not on them.) I had two, my ancient Nokia, and my blackberry from work.

More to come...

-Mark

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Serious Games Summit: Mayo on Games for Science and Engineering

I'm catching up on Serious Games Summit posts...

Kurt Squire's morning session was canceled (I later overheard he arrived late... must've been travel troubles), so I attended Merrilea Mayo's Enders Game for Science and Engineering: Games for Real, for Now, or We Lose the Brain War.

This session was rather alarmist in tone, but did provide a steady supply of statistics that those interested in serious games can use when making the case to policy makers. Unfortunately, it was lacking in concrete examples of serious games for science and engineering. And sadly, it had little to do with Orson Scott Card's science fiction novel. (Incidentally, I have an interesting Orson Scott Card story that really ought to be blogged at some point... later.)

Mayo focused on the brain war, or talent war between the US and the rest of the world. (Editorial: I'm not at all sure why this is framed as a war. Why is it good for us to bring free enterprise to other countries, but then not participate in a global market by keeping our talent to ourselves and denying others their talent? I suppose there is something to say for competition, but I'm not convinced that America losing the #1 spot in some of these fields isn't... at least ok.) She even explored the bell curve and the way that China's smartest people will be smarter than our smartest people - never mind that there will be more of them. She noted that the US does not have a strategy for being 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, or even 10th place in these fields. Here she may have a point. Perhaps we need a strategy for survival, and reaching our potential, in a more level playing field.

This was all very reminiscent of Friedman's The World is Flat, which incidentally is now available for download on iTunes, too.

My favorite contribution of Mayo's was the phrase that "games might be a bronze bullet"... a useful bullet, but not a magical silver one. (Again we see a rather violent metaphor at work here, though.) One of her most intriguing subpoints was that if we educate through games, we need not work through the school system in order to have a national impact. In addition, the possibility for individually tailored learning experiences according to learning style and rate are great. At the same time, each copy of a game would be of uniform quality, while teachers are not. Using statistics of MMO subscriptions, Maya also made the suggestion that games that teach have the potential to reach more people than all of higher ed. (Turning this potential into reality would require an extraordinarily compelling game, though!)

She went on to provide some evidence that games can actually teach people better than lecture can. I missed much of this, as she was moving rather quickly, but I did latch on to one compelling statistic: In a traditional lecture, a student has the opportunity to ask an average of 1.1 questions per hour... about what I've had here, I might add... while in 1 to 1 tutoring situations a student might get to ask 20 to 30 questions per hour... and in a game, students will have to make a decision (admittedly, this is not a question) every second or so! (Prensky cited this again in the final session of the summit as well.)

She also made a strong point that games can help deliver information along with an emotional component, thus encouraging recall.

She concluded that "the opportunity is now" by making comparisons between the fledgling serious games industry today and the fledgling nano-tech industry of ten years ago, in which she was a participant. (So, is nano-tech no longer a fledgeling industry?) Naturally, she finished with a call to action and the slogan "Innovation or Third World Nation" - which, while alarmist, was at least catchy.

"Help us avoid being a third world nation," she said.

Finally, it's worth noting that this session was very full! I even saw Jim Gee lying on the floor in the isle. There were other familiar faces as well, from the Education Arcade and GLS Conference, but I've yet to get to know them all by name. When I mentioned this to Mike Guerena over iChat he responded that high attendence is good. And yes it is; these are all people, relatively smart and powerful people, interested in making the world a better place.

-Mark

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and why we are here...

It's a funny thing to attend Teacher Expectaion Student Achievement (TESA) training and Professional Learning Community (PLC) training on either end of my time at the Serious Games Summit... it's framed my cutting edge experience with a strong reminer of why we (as educators) are here and how technologies such as serious games should be applied. They must serve as tools for helping students and educators (and thus society) to reach more of their potential.

If only my pBook was online here (there is patchy wifi, but I haven't got a good IP address yet) I could multi-task and get some of my other posts up... perhaps I can at least work on them... but at the risk of appearing "arrogant" and "disengaged" in front of my OCDE colleagues (and we can't have that anymore).

Oh well. 'Doing my best to uni-task, which admittedly includes the necessary level of distration, such as emailing my blog. As a card carrying digital alien - a digital imigrant (Prensky 2001) who has achieved resident alien status (to extend the metaphor) - I really do find it tough to "power down" and listen to someone present an all text powerpoint, however visionary the content.

Thanks for reading.

-Mark
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Mark Wagner
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Computer Using Educators and Professional Learning Communities

UPDATE: I am posting this the morning after writing it. Blogger was down last night... and Google News (my browser homepage) and Google! Did anyone else experience this phenomenon? It was downright weird. I'm not sure if this is exactly what is under Dave Winer's skin, but perhaps we have come to depend on Google too much. Anyway, my post, which is itself just an update...

Today I was in Palm Springs for the conference planning committee meeting... preparing for the Computer Using Educators conference in March, something I highly recommend to all California educators! This year the OCDE Educational Technology unit will be running a room (with a mobile iBook lab) throughout the conference, hosting CUE workshops, and providing some exclusive OCDE content.

Tomorrow and Friday I will attend a Professional Learning Community training with the DeFours, finishing my 7 (working) days out of the office, which will make next week a busy one, too... but I suppose that never changes.

Regardless, I have notes on nine more sessions at the Serious Games Summit, though, and will be blogging that before moving on with my research this weekend. I think the re-processing will be useful for my coming project, which explores social constructivist principles of societal development. The comments on my keynote post are a powerful motivator, too! Thank you for those.

I've been FURLing some good stuff in the mean time. Subscribe.

-Mark