What’s this blog all about?

I have been reading a Blog written by Neville Smit at NevilleSmit.com. Neville is an online character in the MMORPG, Eve Online. What? Yep, you heard me right. Written by an in-world character. Curious? Excellent, as I think there is a lot to learn from this blog and the author. Anyhow, what has immediately caught my attention is the author’s approach to blogging. Neville writes:

What is this blog all about?

Good question – glad you asked. This blog is a learning tool for me. That’s it.

With the depth and complexity of EVE Online, I have found that one of the best ways to learn the nuances of the game is to write and dialogue about it. Therefore, I decided to start this blog, to give myself the opportunity to discover insights that might be useful.

What I see here is the characters gaming attitude. Low risk exploration; in this instance via his blog. And also his aim to share attitudes and knowledge.

I am finding the same for this blog about education – which is pretty much a game anyhow. When we walk onto the classroom we are just but gamers. Right? But I am digressing…

My point is that this blog is written to give myself “the opportunity to discover insights that might be useful” and to discover further nuances of education. On that note, and as part of my writing and dialogue, I am finding that I need to set some goals for reading and subsequent blogging:

In the short term:
*Keep exploring and writing about Game based Learning; for example by engaging with Kurt Squire (see reading list below).
*Keep playing in the MMO space. (Hooked on Eve Online)
*Think about connections between game design and design of learning spaces.
*Continue to think about game design and how it informs teaching and learning.
*I would love to bring gamers into the conversation and game designers. When classroom educators explore game based learning they appear to wrap the games up in curriculum and taxonomies (the usual stuff we do) and I suspect, miss the point somewhat.
*maybe meet some educators in Eve Online and form a league group? πŸ™‚

Anyhow, I am currently reading some papers by Kurt Squire that I have listed below. It is interesting to note that the listed articles are nearly a decade old … but still extremely pertinent. I will enlarge on my thinking on that at some later stage. Before then, perhaps readers of this blog will gift me with their thoughts. That’s an open invite.

References:

Squire, K. (2006). From content to context: Videogames as designed experience. Educational researcher, 35(8), 19-29.

Squire, K. D. (2008). Video game–based learning: An emerging paradigm for instruction. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 21(2), 7-36.

Williamson, D., Squire, K., Halverson, R., & Gee, J. P. (2005). Video games and the future of learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 87(2), 104-111.

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I am a gamer: In the presence of avatars.

A final reflection on Game Based Learning. #INF541

in-world explorations

i am a gamer

I began this unit of learning by stating that “my personal game history stretches waaay back.” Very tellingly this included games such as Space Invaders (released 1978) and PacMan – with many hours spent in video arcades. However, I am now thoughtful of the idea that I steered away from further immersion in digital games (no time?). And yet, I allow students to play them in the classroom, in a very unstructured way – just for the fun and social connection that games create.

We also began with the questions of which games we would explore. I naively said Minecraft, Stencyl & Storium but instead spent hours playing with Ingress, immersing in Second Life (game or not?) and learning Eve Online. Never before have I explored a MMORPG (massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing-game). Now there is no turning back. I am a gamer. In Eve Online just look for Wilson Nomesk. *smile

I have spent too many hours walking the streets with Ingress and in-world with Second Life and Eve Online intent on learning the affordances of these virtual spaces. Much time was spent customising my Second Life avatar but by doing so I learnt that these digital representations of ourselves have the power to connect us with these spaces. Many scholars study the use of avatars (a manifestation of a deity) and connect them with concepts of shared cognition and connectivism. These digital tools act as bridges into these digital realms of learning and exploration.

I now view games as beautifully designed learning experiences and their study resonates with me very tightly. I also see games as embodying tensions often felt in education. Tensions that are caused by disruptive technologies. It’s a battle between progression and change; status quo vs innovation; passive learning vs experiential learning. Perhaps games can teach us to take risks and be innovative when immersed in these battles?

Virtual Learning Space

Fig 1: A formal Space


An informal space

Fig 2: An informal space

What are we doing with these digital tools including games that are already in the hands of our students? A formal in-world learning space is shown in Figure 1. whilst an informal space is shown in Fig 2. This juxtaposition perhaps crystallises the dilemma that education is faced with. Utilising digital tools educators have the possibility to reinvent education both in-world and in the physical world. However, what we usually witness is ‘education’ replicating old structures and old pedagogies. To immerse in the learning potential of SL, OpenSims and Eve Online and other games is a fulfilling experience. To sit in a lecture theatre in 2L is a bizarre experience. *smile again

Fig 3: Custom built avatar

Fig 3: Custom built avatar

Since my days of playing Space Invaders in arcades or milk bars, digital games have evolved into a complex, multi-modal media form. These experiences are highly participatory; one example of active involvement is avatar creation, as shown in Fig 3. I had never paused to think of games as exquisitely designed experiences, customised by game designers and informed by scholarly studies in good pedagogy and game design. Why else would we all stick at playing difficult games – but to learn. Formal education can only hope to be informed by such a well researched, alternative approach to learning and engagement.

Ok… I’m off to play Eve Online… I enjoy the situated cognition.
Simon Csikszentmihalyi <----- a great avatar name. *./

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Know is a verb. Knowledge is a noun.

When immersed in writing for my Masters of Education program I begin to wake in the morning with ideas that are trying to crystallise. I find that I need to jot them down or else they become ephemera. I woke this morning with two ideas annoying me. An in-world problem and a real-world problem, both competing for my waking time.

A Real World Problem:
To generalise, educators as a whole do not really understand games, gaming culture and therefore Games Based Learning (GBL). I count myself as one of these educators. To understand games, gaming culture and by extension the possibilities of GBL requires us to develop an understanding of a culture that is possibly new to us. To develop a working understanding is hard work as it requires a process of immersion and exploration. If we take the plunge by immersing ourselves into this strange culture by playing games we become immigrants, rookies, NOOBS or apprentices. So, typical of immigrant behaviour we attempt to understand this new culture through the lens of our own world view of education, formed by past experiences. Evidence of this is seen in attempts to analyse GBL through the lens of familiar frameworks such as Blooms Taxonomy or the SAMR Model. I am not sure this way of ‘systemising’ GBL by referring to old frameworks is the way to go, although it’s great to see those old frameworks stretched and tested by new possibilities. These activities perhaps support Gee’s comments about schools locked in endless and pointless battles between traditionalism and progressivism (Gee, 2005). Such an approach also seems at odds with the magic of GBL where a more holistic approach to learning is built and learners are forced, quite rigorously, to problem solve as part of a wider community. With regard to the SAMR model, I would have thought that such an approach was totally unnecessary in the field of Games Based Learning? What is perhaps useful as a point of reflection is the TPACK model but only when the model promotes reflection on the influence of context on learning, such as the model proposed by TPACK.ORG.

However, the lack of dedicated frameworks to support the evaluation of educational games and simulations is reported to be a significant impediment for their uptake in formal education (De Freitas, 2006). So to overcome this perceived impediment perhaps new frameworks need developing. De Freitas does present a four dimensional framework, that many educators will not be familiar with – viewable online: How can exploratory learning with games and simulations within the curriculum be most effectively evaluated? Importantly what this framework introduces is the “context where play/learning takes place…” (De Freitis, 2006 p, 253). The important observation here is that educators should (if we must) look for or develop frameworks that allow us to view learning in a more holistic fashion rather than as tools to support us in our understanding of a hierarchy of learning behaviours (e.g Blooms) as we throw content at learners.

A Different Type Of Problem:

Avatar, Wilson NoMesk

Avatar, Wilson NoMesk

This second problem is much more exciting. My Eve Online avatar, Wilson NoMesk, is required to complete a training mission by deploying probes that will guide him in an exploration of a solar system. The difficulty is that he must at first develop the necessary skills needed to complete the mission. How does he do this…from a textbook? From a manual perhaps?

In his blog post titled Got The Manual, Can’t Play The Game, Matt Ives explores a perspective of formal eduction where students are given content but no authentic context to use that information. Wilson, is being exposed to a completely different type of pedagogy. He is placed in an authentic context before being given the content to learn. So how does Wilson go about acquiring the appropriate skills. The answer is that he hunts for information both inside and outside of the game. These differences remind me of the idea that Know is a verb before it is a noun: Knowledge (Gee, 2005). The philosophy the Gee expresses here is that any domain of knowledge, is firstly a set of activities and experiences.

What I woke to this morning was my mind working on two different topics. The first exists within a context of learning about GBL in a M.Ed program, supported by some pretty smart learning design. In effect, I am on a mission to a hunt for information. The second issue that is troubling me exists in a game scenario that is just as authentic and also has me searching for information, but this time so that I can assist my avatar in his gaming world (did I get that right?). In both cases there is a strong reason to learn.

I am going to paraphrase Gee again (Edutopia, 2012): When people are thinking because they have to get ready to take an action that they want to take and they want that action to succeed, they will think really well. But, when you ask them to think about stuff but there’s no action they are going to take and they don’t really care what the outcome is, they think really poorly.

That’s enough learning for today. πŸ™‚

References:

De Freitas, S., & Oliver, M. (2006). How can exploratory learning with games and simulations within the curriculum be most effectively evaluated?. Computers & Education, 46(3), 249-264.

Edutopia (2012) James Paul Gee on Learning with Video Games [Video File].Retrieved from https://youtu.be/JnEN2Sm4IIQ

Gee, J. P. (2005). What would a state of the art instructional video game look like. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, 1(6), 159.

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Digital Identity

Avatars of M.Ed Students

Avatars of M.Ed Students

Over the last year or so I have taken complete control of my Digital Identity. While completing studies in Digital Citizenship, I accepted the idea that I was going to have a digital footprint and it was my responsibility that it was a positive one. This has allowed me to blog freely and tweet regularly without fear of judgement. From a teaching perspective this confident view of digital identity is actually quite difficult to pass onto middle years students (I teach middle years). They are at an impulsive age where they will write and post without discretion and often do not see the repercussions of their digital interactions. No surprised there really. Some adults are pretty bad too.:-)

I wonder if games that allow these students to create and take ownership of an avatar would make the concept of digital identity much more real as, from experience, an avatar almost allows you to see yourself online – even if he/she is not a literal copy of yourself. An avatar is a bridge between the physical and virtual world, controlled by the gamer to learn about the world, execute their intentions and to accomplish goals and intentions (McCreery,Schrader & Krach, 2011). From a pedagogical perspective I see the avatar as a digital tool to be mastered.

Avatar creation is at first a very confronting process but in the end quite liberating. A well thought out avatar eventually empowers you to take ownership of and play in these virtual spaces – and connect with the developing narrative. I must admit, it took me a while to developed this creative game playing confidence. In Second Life I took my avatar to an empty sandbox to make sure he looked Ok before having a social debut, so to speak. This is a wonderful thing about learning in virtual spaces – these spaces provide a low risk environment where participants can learn via experimentation..

This sounds slightly weird but in this course of study (INF541) we have been presented with the idea that digital identity is an elastic idea that contributes to the overall view of the self. Over the last few years I have taught some students with particularly low self-esteem and weak views of self. I wonder if they would have felt a sense of liberation by creating, naming and playing with their own personal avatar? At the very least I am sure they would have had fun participating in such a creative learning process.

References:
McCreery, M. P., Schrader, P. G., & Krach, S. K. (2011). Navigating Massively Multiplayer Online Games: Evaluating 21st Century Skills for Learning within Virtual Environments. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 44(4), 473.

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How do I fly this thing? Information Behaviour.

What is information behaviour? The many ways in which human beings interact with information, in particular the ways in which people seek and utilise information. (Bawden, 2012)

Seeking information

The Universe is yours. Explore, Build, Dominate.

Just this morning, with some trepidation, I loaded Eve Online. Upon installation, I was immediately pulled in by the powerful narrative and graphics. A view of Earth appears: “The origin of our ancestors.” The Eve Gate has collapsed. Four different faces of humanity exist. A new kind of human in possible – immortality is real. This is a genuine participatory experience; very quickly I was faced with the need to build and name an avatar – a visual representation of the character that I am to play (Adams, 2009). His race and bloodline have also been chosen by me. I also had to pose him for some portrait shots. Talk about ownership and agency.
Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 11.17.06 am
This is Wilson, my Avatar. He now exists in Eve Online, on board his ship that he is currently learning to fly, while being fired upon! So, online Wilson is required to quickly learn skills of survival so as to participate in and contribute to the Eve Online universe that two years ago had something like 500,000 registered players.

That’s the thing about games like Eve Online, a Massively-Multiplayer-Online-Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). To participate as a gamer you are required to learn quickly. And the learning that is needed is actually quite daunting. I had to log off after a 45min immersion as I began to experience information overload (aka sweat). What will keep me going back though is that experience has taught me that the game will actually support me in my efforts to learn, as will the community of players who participate in this game. That is how these games are designed. They use components of game mechanics such as narrative, competition, missions and quests to keep you engaged and learning. They are also collaborative. The Eve Online narrative tells me that I am immortal (phew) so presumably I can survive my ship being blown to pieces. So, the learning is hard but I suspect I will persist.

Immersion into virtual spaces such as Eve Online, Second Life and Ingress has helped me immensely with developing a strong sense of how learning occurs in these virtual environments.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 11.29.58 am Have a look at the highly complex graphical user interface (GUI) show in the image to the right (click to enlarge), including a user HUD at the bottom of the page. As a gamer in this space, I certainly ask myself if I can navigate this game and develop the appropriate knowledge and skill to survive. And yet, don’t we expect our students to do this on a daily basis? Picture textbooks or laptops as user interfaces to knowledge and learning. How do they cope with what we as teachers present to them?

Looking to literature for explorations on this issue Adams (2009) describes what are called information behaviours. Citing other work (McKenzie, 2002) Adam’s introduces the following terms (amongst other viewpoints):
*Active seeking: the most active mode
*Active scanning: including semi-directed browsing or scans of the environment
*Non-directed monitoring: which includes serendipitous kinds of discovery
*By proxy: A situation is which an individual gains the information through the agency or intermediation of others.

So that we (educators) and our students can cope in a world of ubiquitous knowledge need to view ourselves as knowledge workers who have highly developed informations behaviours.

I have for years encouraged secondary ages students to ‘take ownership’ of their learning. I say this to them, write it on assessments and repeat this philosophy to parents. My students generally know what I am on about. However, the lessons I have learnt via game immersion, alongside academic insights have made me think that I should ask my students how they actually go about about finding information. Perhaps they can tell me how they learn in game environments and thus develop an understanding of their own information seeking behaviours i.e how they as gamers and learners retrieve information in order to solve problems or make sense of situations. Where and when do they fit into the above categories?

As mentioned by Adams (2009), often educators and academics can hold onto beliefs that video games are trivial and therefore are resistant to their use in educational settings. As I am realising, to overcome such beliefs does take immersion so as to acknowledge the in-world learning that occurs.

Look for me in Eve Online, I will probably need your help!

Oops. Now what?

Oops. Now what?

References:

Adams, S. S. (2009). What games have to offer: Information behavior and meaning-making in virtual play spaces. Library Trends, 57(4), 676-693.

Bawden, D. & Robinson, L. (2012). Information behaviour. In Introduction to information science (pp. 187-210). London : Facet.

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Refocusing learning on pedagogy in a connected world

The negative response to NAPLAN via social media channels is astounding.

Obviously as a teaching profession we are struggling with the intent and effect of this testing. The published negative responses have reminded me of a paper I read recently that discusses what is termed an instruction paradigm. Such an educational model is typified by:

*accessibility to information
*memorising that information
*regurgitating that information in content-oriented examinations

and

*an instruction-oriented curriculum which breeds knowledge acquisition, not understanding.
(Yam San, 2002)

This author also states ” Schooling, and university education for that matter have never been about learning so much as about instruction and certification.” (p. 8). Immersed in such a paradigm universities and colleges exist to provide instruction by transferring knowledge from staff to students.

Our system of education is actively involved in a search for a pedagogy relevant to modern learners. Professional discontent regarding NAPLAN is perhaps symptomatic of this professional struggle.

Please gift me with your professional response to this post.

References:
Yam San, C. (2002). Refocusing learning on pedagogy in a connected world. On the Horizon, 10(4), 7-13.

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Resonator Online. Good work.

What is it about games that makes them so attractive?

Ingress Update: I initially commented on Ingress in an earlier post where I discussed Games and socially inclusive classrooms. Now, more than midway through a course of study in games based learning I am a tad behind in my readings and blogging. In fact, to be honest, this blog has been left in a ‘draft’ form for a number of weeks. Perhaps I have been playing Ingress too often, in addition to exploring MUVEs such as Second Life? However, I am rationalising that this is not too bad a scenario as I have been experiencing about the benefits of prolonged immersion in game environments.

So, why do I personally and professionally find Ingress intriguing? Here are a few reasons:

Narrative: The narrative that surrounds this game is simple and yet intriguing. The fantasy world of Ingress is framed around the idea that “The world around you is not what it seems.” Each time a player logs onto the game, their personal scanner reveals the story and a virtual world by announcing with a digital sounding voice “Downloading latest intel package”. This short briefing sets the scene for wondering the streets late at night hacking enemy portals. Yes, I do this…although living in inner city Melbourne I can also do this covertly from the relative safety of a CBD tram πŸ™‚ If I do not engage in the game for a while the scanner announces “Welcome back, it’s been ten hours since your last login, I’ve been worried about you.” Oops, nothing like a gentle slap on the wrist from the game designer.

Graphics/Audio (sensory feedback): My mobile is turned into a high tech digital scanner via a UI that is quite intuitive to use. The graphics are crisp and because the game is GPS dependent you are required to continuously engage with the screen – take care! A virtual world is overlaid upon a map of your location and portals appear that beckon for your attention. The background sound effects of a science fiction genre work to keep you in the game. I usually put headsets on as I play the game rather secretively in the alleyways and streets of my neighbourhood. By the way, this game is classed as an augmented reality massively multiplayer online role playing GPS dependent game. Not that that sounds all that fun. But it is. πŸ™‚

Rewards: Each time a portal is hacked you are rewarded with digital devices (Resonators, Shields, Xmp Bursters and Link Amps just to name a few) that help you play the game. The more you play the more powerful these tools that you collect. Part of the intrigue is also learning how to effectively deploy these mysterious devices. In fact you need to work out for yourself what each tool is for. Talk about self directed learning! Under the banner of rewards Digital Badges are also earned. For me this is the biggest reward of the game. For example I have gained badges for being an”
Explorer – earned for visiting and hacking unique portals
Pioneer – given for capturing unique portals
Recharger – for recharging portals with exotic matter
Trekker – walking a long distance
Connector – Linking portals
Guardian – controlling portals for consecutive days
Sojourner – Hacking a portal in consecutive 24 hour periods.

Woohoo! These badges are earned through persistent play and because they are hard to get they are very rewarding.

Punishment: If I do not play regularly or deploy my resonators correctly, I lose control of the portals that I have spent considerable time and resources on capturing. I also know to keep a good eye on my XM reserves as inefficient play leaves my scanner without power i.e a moment of being unable to play the game. Ouch, another slap πŸ™

Social: I am only just at the point where I am discovering how collaborative this game is. The early levels of the game (Leveling up is rewarding too) keep you focussed on developing basic skills of play. Then the game introduces you to a wider community of players, or they introduce themselves. All of a sudden I was not playing alone as I started receiving instructions of what not to do. Keep playing and you will see!

So, I now know that I need to collect XM (exotic matter) while hacking, capturing, recharging and controlling portals wherever I can. And then the game becomes more complicated and a collaborative approach needs to be developed. Missions also become available.

This is fun stuff.

Importantly, Ingress has allowed me to connect deeply with a few key ideas as mentioned by Quick & Atkinson (2014) when discussing gameplay enjoyment:

* a belief among game scholars that enjoyment is related to learning outcomes
* players will keep learning through a game if they enjoy it
* the greatest threat to the effectiveness of serious game design is if players do not enjoy the game
* a strong relationship exists between the experience of enjoyment in gameplay and perceived learning

The conclusion that Quick and Atkinson (2014) make is seemingly simple and yet worth reflecting upon deeply, especially if we are to deploy games in our classrooms. They write “These works provide early evidence that enjoyment is not just critical for having a positive experience, but it may be essential for games that aim to support learning.” (page 52).

On a side note, these ideas and writings also let us know that game design is informed by critical studies in games (Ludology).

As educators we are therefore called upon to think about not just the players of these games (our students and the context that they are learning in) but also the game design – so that we may develop a good understanding of our students gameplay experience. Professionally, I can think of a few key ‘games’ that are deployed in secondary classrooms that are dead set boring and yet tolerated, whilst other games that are fun and perhaps better designed for learning may be seen as a waste of time – by some.

My suggestion here. Get out and play some games whilst thinking about what makes the experience fun or otherwise – and what you learn in the process.

References:

Quick J.M.& Atkinson, R. K. (2014) Modeling gameplay enjoyment, goal orientations, and individual characteristics. International Journal of Game-Based learning, 4(2), 51-77

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