Mini Games… are there any left to make?

Well, I’ve been at my new position at Athabasca for only a day and a half and I’m already getting into the groove of things… or so I would believe. Why do I say that? Well this is a new venue, but I’ve got an old problem to deal with. A prof wants interactivity, I’m going to suggest mini games, prof will say “cool”, but then find that for every game that is presented, s/he’s already “seen that one”. So what are we to do?

Well I’m not sure. I’ve been reading some of the new material on the subject from Epistemic Games (Graesser, Olney & Cade, 2009; Graesser, Conley & Olney, In Press) as well as Frazer, Argles &Willis (2007) and the venerable Mark Prensky, and it all seems quite compelling – we have the systems and the background to do amazing things! But… we don’t.

It comes down to how much time can an individual or team put into rolling their own game out (either a copy or a new concept) when in reality, the game is only going to be one small piece of the instructional puzzle. If the game is in reality, an engine, then you might be able to commit more resources to it and use it across multiple situations, but then it likely is going to suffer some for that compromise. Now, if we accept that these games will have compromises built in, but then understand that they are not really for direct instruction, we might be able to think of them more as distractions (Prensky). So if we can cook up a quick little game that is able to give a student a “brain break” while learning “directly” about a given topic, the break only needs to be superficially related to have some manner of impact. And not always on the pedagogic side, but perhaps more on the engagement side.

If we start to get “bang for the buck” there, then we can start into cooler things like tutoring systems and the like, but in the mean time, there is another way to deal with many of the topics that one might want to explore using some new fangled pedagogy – good old COTS (commercial, off the shelf) and some creative thinking…

Silly Spore Science

A while ago, my brother and I were talking about some of the games that are playable with little ones around and just about every one that came up was Wii only. Then this weekend, he noticed that his XBOX 360 had updated after not having network access for almost three months. The new interface was very subdued and “family oriented” compared to the edgy/industrial menu theme that the system shipped with. This got us going on talking about the we “family friendly” ads for the XBOX and then somehow we got on the topic of Spore as being one of those family friendly games (at least at the first two stages) one could play with little kids in the room.

Later, that got me thinking. I was really big up on Spore when it was being developed… thinking that it could be a great classroom resource and its “all platforms everywhere” would really help get it into people’s hands. But as we found out through the hassles of DRM and soft science (and Will Wright’s explanation), things didn’t really go the way that they could have. But what about being able to use this game in the classroom?

In true COTS form, I think you could take the game, with the instructor understanding the shortcomings and move through it explaining the shortcomings, much in the way that John Bohannon suggest in his review (the soft science link). But would this be “ethical/proper/allowed”? While I can’t answer that, I think it should be allowed.

Students could arguably learn just as much from comparing and contrasting popular/lay theories and ideas with peer reviewed work and understanding what is removed from a system arguably take just as much understanding of the system, if not more than merely appreciating the whole. So rather than trying to use this game to teach about evolution or the development of societies, it might work really well as a case study or low risk assessment to determine what students really understand about a given system.

Miss Bimbo Misses

I only caught wind of this over the weekend while I was away for a friend’s wedding, so I haven’t been able to post about it until now, but it seems that the global conciousness (GN) (what there is of it) seems to have awoken to this game. Noticing that OMG! this game litteraly encourages “bimboism” (my term). But I don’t think this is what really triggered the pique in interest, I think it was one part of the game – diet pills… and now according to the website:

As a result of this rather surprising media attention we have decided to remove the option of purchasing diet pills from the game. We apologise to any players whom this may inconvenience but we feel in light of this weeks proceedings it is the correct action to take.

The guys who made the game suggest that the game is a comment on society – then it truely is interesting how the media reaction is/can be interpreted – hating the image of one’s self in the mirror – The Daily Mirror:

The website’s creators – two young men named Chris Evans and Nicholas Jacquart – have spent the past week touring the television studios defending the game as a bit of harmless fun.

“We are not encouraging girls to have breast operations,” Mr Evans explained, rather disingenuously. “It is just part of the game.”

According to Mr Jacquart, the game is itself a joke: “It simply mirrors real life in a tongue-in-cheek way.”

Neither denied that Miss Bimbo was designed for children as young as nine; instead they insisted that it is not a bad influence on young minds.

My first reaction to this… and I don’t know if it is because several friends have had recently or are expecting baby girls… but I read this and thought – shockingly to myself – yeah right… like games don’t influence kids… I don’t know what or how this would be any different with violent games, but I think it is that the “harmlessness” here is something that is very real… just look at all the diet “supplements” you can pick up at the grocery store, these props are very real. Violent games on the other hand often require some impossible technology and fighting games have opponents who can lay the smack back.

Those who play the games (in the comments here and here) and say that they are indeed harmless and that the media is once again over – reacting. Pointing out that it may be just as much the media somehow apologizing for bad parenting.

So what is my final thought… same as with anything else… any media based experience (games, movies, what have you) needs to be experienced within the context it was intended for. Without any scaffolding, it can and is easy to take out of context. With scaffolding, these experiences can be actually educational. I would not want my neices or daughters playing these games on their own to be sure, but with some discussion around the game, they might actually be an interesting way to expereince a commentary about our society.

More than meets the mind

Going through a bunch of starred articles and found this quote from Virtual Learning Worlds:

I’m not sure why educators have this preconception of a learning game being a perfect standalone learning experience. Instructors don’t solely rely on a lecture in a classroom, they often have electronic support like video, images, or slides, they have assignment support like readings, as well as labs and activities.

I can’t agree with this more. There are so many people who want to be able to use a single delivery method (and call themselves teachers/instructors) and ignore the fact that people learn by reflecting and making connections with what else they know and have been presented in the class. Sure games have a number of “media channels” already, but those are all contributing (hopefully) to the game experience (working like intro or summative labs). But the learning only really happens when the ideas are applied outside the game world. So regardless of how or for who the game was created (education or commercial), you need to be able to bring in more than one delivery method to get any learning happening.

If you want to see some best practice on designing games that you can then built other connections to, check these out (pt1, pt2, pt3, pt4, pt5, pt6, pt7).

On Will Wright and Spore

It seems that there is significant interest for Spore from people outside the gaming world. John Seabrook of the New Yorker has an article that profiles Will, what he’s done and what Spore is going to be. If we need more evidence that gaming is going main stream (and I don’t think we do) this should be a good piece. With all this interest educators are also likely to perk up as even the most conservative likely use mainstream media for the majority of their news. I don’t think they would use it in their classrooms, but they may become curious about it at least because of how they are hearing about it.

eLearn 2006 – Monday

Cool papers:

  • A study on the collaborative learning cellular phones at the elementary schools (Tashiro) Miyagi University, Japan
  • Digital Storytelling: Self-Efficacy and Digital Literacy (Li, Morehead) Oakland University
  • Mobile Learning: A Review of Implementations (Barneveld, Shaw) Concordia University
  • The Educational Implications of Synchronous and Asynchronous Peer- Tutoring in Video Games (Moshirnia) University of Kansas

Quick notes:

Cells
Cells are a kid friendly size, have cameras, GPS and all sorts of other features that can be leveraged for the classroom. It is also the case that kids are generally well motivated to use them (note this is a Japanese study). The cell phone can’t replace the PC, but for size and features, it’s getting pretty close to the mark. In Japan, cell phones are in 85% of homes, so it makes sense to try to use these very capable tools in the classroom. In the study, it showed that young students can certainly use the phone to help with their classroom and field based experience.

Storytelling
Storytelling hits on ideas of dual coding (Paivio, 1986), multimedia learning theories (Mayer & Moreno, 2002), freeing student’s capability of growth (Dewey) and shared experience (Vygotsky). The process of storytelling also makes the use of the various related technologies more relevant to the creators so they feel that they become more capable after the experience. This is the same that we found in our own experience.

mLearning
This could be called – JILL (just-in-location-learning), LBL (location based learning), LOD (learning on demand), JIT (just in time) or WINWINI (what I want when I want it), but it’s differentiated from eLearning by it’s use of wireless communications and ability to make use of learning opportunities regardless of location (often with a push technology), where as eLearning is supported by an array of tools and media. mLearning is done when there is down time, or when there are gaps to fill for the students and often as a support for an already hybridized classroom. Barneveld and Shaw advises that while the movement toward mLearning has started, pedagogical, technical, logistical, usability, and social constraints are still significant issues to be overcome.

S/A Peer Tutoring
First generation of tutors relied on strict rules and could not analyze the actions of the player or itself. Second gen systems started to use algorithms to shape the experience. These tutoring systems don’t really fit to what is out there right now. They are really only good at closed problems and even with semi-closed problems like chess, even super computers can’t do what even (or perhaps especially) children can do. Kids get creative with the games that they play, generating their own FAQs (especially Pokemon FAQs) and helping others in online games (MMOGs like Everquest, WoW and the like) with a seemingly undying passion. These tutoring systems are asynchronous, synchronous systems respectively and are almost time less and continuous. Moshirnia (who teaches Latin – how cool is that?) notes that game and school is the same in Latin. Extending this to modern language and schools, this suggests that learning to be scaffolding on any COTS game to detail content that may not even be considered in traditional channels of curriculum content.

In a nutshell:

So these are the four papers that I found interesting today and to try to get them into a common theme was a bit of a challenge. For the most part, this was a day about mLearning, or learning that is in a convenient context. This way, the gaming bit comes in as well. If we are wanting to use the tools that are common to students these days, we want them to forget that there is a barrier between the classroom and the “world”. Cell phones can be used to store and annotate photos that can be used to tell stories that can be sent back and analyzed by an instructional team and then when convenient, have fresh and relevant content pushed out that can then be written up like FAQs (like Toronto notes for Med students?) in a game or used to aid students in some manner of online, real time RPG.

eLearn 2006 – Saturday

Cool papers:

  • Effective Use of Cellular Phones in a Large Class for Activating Students’ Participation (Wada, Nakanishi, Tatsuta) Dokkyo University, Japan
  • HipBone Games in Higher Education: Supporting Critical and Creative Thinking (Bures) Bishop’s University, Canada
  • Playing Games: Best Practices for Educational Games in E-Learning (Bakisian) University of San Francisco

The theme of Saturday morning was bringing the culture outside the classroom into the classroom with cell phones being used as clickers and games that are used to constrain message board posts. The afternoon was in two parts as I had to run out to the mall with the wifey (hence the Macca post – I was very temped to buy the Red iPod, if only to support the AIDS cause). But when we got back, the last session that I wanted to get to was full (or at least it looked like that from the peep hole) and the door was locked!

Back to the morning, the big take away message that I got from the session was that in order for new technologies to be integrated into the classroom, the instructor must be comfortable with them. This is not rocket science, I’ve talked about it in my bits on Comfortable Computing, and it’s something that came to light in one of the projects that I’m presenting on as well. The students were comfortable with the phones to use them to send messages to the instructor, but if the instructor wasn’t able to do something efficiently with those incoming messages, then those students likely won’t get a positive experience either. Underlying all this was another message that is good to see – if you don’t have good instructors, no amount of technology will make them any better.

The next interesting paper dealt with “hip bone games”, developed by Charles Cameron (based on Herman Hess’s glass bead games I guess), as a means of shaping discussion board posts. This game is certainly “old school” in that it’s based entirely on text and the appeal of it is rooted in the personal attachment that the players have to their moves/posts. The way that the games work (basically, though I might be getting this wrong) is that you have an opening post and the next person to post must connect their post to the last and fill in space on a “board” as spaces are filled and the next round of moves starts, subsequent posts have to define how their post connect to all the posts that are connecting into the same spot. In a Soduku-esque manner, the first move is easy, the last few are the “kickers”. Bures found that these games lead to memorable experiences for her students and due to their associative nature, help not only the students navigate content, but also save the instructor from umpteen look alike papers that follow the “flavour of the month”. The issue with this system is that the game must be paced so that the keeners don’t fill in their moves before anyone else just to get off easy, and the laggards don’t get left in a position that is overly difficult.

Finally, the last presentation that is bloggable is one that I had to do “homework style”. Bakisian opens the paper noting that game playing is pervasive through time and culture, but the challenge is to create games in the pedagogical realm that are “authorized” or relevant academically. Bakisian suggests that instructors make their own games in order to maximize the relevance to their course. These should be easy but have depth (something that I think Gee and Prensky would have issues with). Starting with games like Jeopardy, flash cards and similar “drill and kill” games, people can start to see what it might take to make games. Bakisian arrives at 5 Cs for best practice in game design:

  • Creativity (Students, instructor and everyone else needs to figure ways to get beyond text)
  • Concentration (Games help focus students on the content – assuming they are engaging)
  • Competition
  • Change (Learner centered and non linear)
  • Construction (Games can be about the effort, not the score)

This seems to be a good way to get going in terms of thinking about games, but I think the same Cs can be applied to COTS.

More COTS research

This is stolen from Silversprite and the GU Gamesblog who dug up two interesting articles. The first is one that I found yesterday as well when I was chatting with my niece in England over MSN looking for any games that UNICEF might have available to help people understand it’s work (like Food Force). The forward is by Lord Puttnam of Queensgate, CBE – President of UNICEF UK so I guess that is how it came up, but it is published by the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association. It does have a rather British tilt, but I like how it profiles the various designers in the field and give solid figures as to why this is a phenomena that can not be ignored for much longer. It also gives a number of case studies (including the Chilean PDA spelling game) and addresses concerns that teachers have raised.

The second is a new report out of futurelab. It has of it’s key findings, six that I think are truly important:

  • Many teachers found the fixed length of lessons to be constraining in both the planning and implementation of games-based learning in schools.
  • There was a range of gaming ability amongst students which had an impact on teachers’ lesson plans. In general, there seemed to be an expectation that students would be more competent using the game in class than they were seen to be.
  • While teachers needed a certain level of familiarity with a game to be able to use it in their teaching, achieving particular educational objectives through the use of the game was more dependent upon a teacher’s knowledge of the curriculum with which they were working than it was on their ability with the game.
  • Teachers followed either competence or content-based curricula. Despite initial assumptions, the particular curriculum followed by teachers did not appear to be the primary factor determining success in integrating a game into classroom teaching. Rather, the particular context in which a teacher worked – their experience, their teaching style, their familiarity with the curriculum followed and the wider culture of the institution – appeared to have more impact.
  • Using games in a meaningful way within lessons depended far more on the effective use of existing teaching skills than it did on the development of any new, game-related skills. Far from being sidelined, teachers were required to take a central role in scaffolding and supporting students’ learning through games.
  • Where previous studies have suggested that games need to offer a fully accurate underlying model to be of benefit for formal education, this study suggests that for the game to be of benefit to teachers, it need only be accurate to a certain degree: there may be wider inaccuracies within the game model, but these do not necessarily preclude the game from being used meaningfully in a lesson.

Distilled, this suggests that the major issue is that not all kids are at the same skill level – and it may be quite a stretch to get minimum proficiency in terms of manual dexterity for lessons to be fair – which causes issues as does having fixed time classes, something that anyone who has ever been “game locked” can certainly attest to as being “not good”. It also supports what was mentioned in Kenneth’s letter – it’s the teacher’s skill at communicating content, and not necessarily skill at using tools that is the most important.

More GTA:SA Fun

Well, it is getting even more weird for Rock Star and Take Two. The City of LA is going after them in court for illegally hiding porn. This certainly gives any attempts to help GBL out yet another monkey to bear on it’s back. People, it seems, think that when ED/IT people talk about game based learning that they mean using these types of games, when in reality these games would likely never be used in a classroom.

I was reading some paper and found a quote (I forgot who) on edutainment software. Essentially saying that it took the worst parts of education and gaming and put them together. Using COTS games leads people to think about the games that are in the news, not titles like CivIII or one of the Tycoon games. Maybe when talking to people, we need to change how we refer to games that can be used in the classroom – Classroom Friendly COTS? CF-COTS?